Equipping Ourselves for the Field

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

 (1 Thessalonians 5:14-22 ESV)

When we first heard the Great Commission we heard Christ commanding us to evangelize to the unsaved. There is no doubt that we have received this charge to go out into the mission field and preach the Gospel and reclaim the lost for Christ. Yet, our zeal for this one aspect of God’s good work for us may eclipse the other aspects of our charge. Indeed, the fields we are called to work are not just the hearts of the lost, but of every brother and sister, and, of course, our very own, laboring to conform ourselves to the image of Christ until we are called home to be with the Lord.

Looking at the first two verses of our opening passage, we can see that Paul’s exhortation is for us to be invested in the lives of our fellow believers with the intent of being in close fellowship with one another. In our pursuit of being united in spirit, we will come across one another’s shortcomings as we are all continuing to put to death our old selves. Paul says that when we face such adversity of character, we are to be single minded in our effort to remind our fellow believer of their calling with love and patience. We need to remember that they have been given the same mission from God. Our Lord did not give us isolated fields to tend alone, but has placed us together in His infinite wisdom so that we may come to one another’s aid in our times of weakness.

In John 13:34, 35, Christ tells us that everyone will know we are His disciples by our love for our brothers and sisters. This Christ-like love should have us willing to lay down our lives for one another should we be called to, just as Christ did by dying for our sins on the cross. Blessed by God, we live in a place of peace and plenty, making the prospect of dramatic displays of love and sacrifice rare which is perfect since this post is about living the Great Commission in the seemingly mundane of our everyday. Our demonstrations of Christ-like love are not reserved for single moments of great visible sacrifice, but this love should be pervading every action we make. On the surface we may find ourselves and others at peace, unaware of the spiritual undertow that is carrying us away from glorifying God. Remember that within each of us are skirmishes made by the forces of evil attempting to hinder us from doing God’s work. At times we are besieged by our own sinfulness, and it is then when a refreshing word from a fellow heir in Christ can steel our resolve to rally against sin. These moments are quiet, and require wisdom to discern and faithfulness to see that God is glorified through our resisting of sin.

We have to be ready, vigilant as we watch over our own hearts so we are prepared to reinforce our fellow believers in their time of need. How this happens is through the work of the Holy Spirit giving us the strength to work on our own hearts. Who we are when we are alone correlates with our ability to execute God’s will when we are with company. As we go further into the opening passage Paul exhorts us to have the proper attitude and practices that prepare us for adversity. God is glorified when we have an attitude of joy and thanksgiving regardless of circumstances. It shows a maturity of faith in and understanding of God’s provision that He works all towards His glory and for our good. We need to be in prayer, not ineffectual and repetitious prayer that is measured in frequency and volume, but earnest communion with God that is an expression of fellowship with our Father. An attitude of joy and thanksgiving should see its expression through prayer, coming to the Father and honoring Him by acknowledging His generous provision. To abide in the Lord in these ways defends our hearts against the weeds of sin taking hold as we find satisfaction in Him.

We glorify God in victory when we resist sin. It also keeps us from becoming impotent in times of need. Paul tells us to never quench the Spirit, which is to never put out our fervor for what is good with sinfulness, loving God’s Word and studying it for ourselves. The Bible is God’s divine revelation to man of His character. Having a fuller understanding of the Father is critical in fighting temptation. By studying Scripture, we can attain deeper knowledge of our Father and His will for us that equip us for the mission we have here today. Will we remember that we can go to our Father in prayer and that he will comfort us instead of grumbling about our plight? If we know He will comfort us, will we then share this comfort with a fellow believer when they need to be comforted? Whatever we study in Scripture will profit us, equipping us with words to continue laboring on the heart.

 

What is lawful and what is beneficial?

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.”

(1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV)

What is helpful (beneficial in other translations)? And what is lawful? As Christians are we permitted to do whatever is not outlawed in Scripture? Certainly. But are those doings the most beneficial or helpful? Maybe. Maybe not. In specific situations Paul challenges Christians to be discerning about not just what is right or wrong to do, but what is profitable or unprofitable regarding others’ consciences. In context that is what Paul is clearly saying. Further applied, believers should be contemplating the effects upon their own conscience and worship.

First, we need to be considering others’ consciences. If we read the surrounding verses we find that there were cases where Christians might eat what had been offered to idols, without sin. But we must not merely consider what is lawful, but what is expedient, what is most edifying to others. We are by no means forbidden from the common offices of kindness. Nor are we allowed rude behavior to any, however they may differ from us in religious sentiments or practices. According to Paul’s advice, Christians should take care not to use their liberty to the others’ harm, or to their own reproach. Further down the page we find the principle for all such decisions or practices in life. In eating and drinking, and in all we do, we should aim at the glory of God, at pleasing and honoring him. This is the great end of our religion and directs us where we find no specific commands for our situation. A holy, peaceable, and benevolent spirit will disarm the greatest of enemies.

Concerning our own conscience and worship we have what many would call Christian liberties. And while it is true that through Christ’s victory over sin and death through his resurrection we have been made free, shouldn’t we try to stay away from what could potentially be vices as much as possible? So often proclaimed Christians will walk that fine line of those Christian liberties just because they can, teetering on the brink of sin. Imagine a circle, where everything inside represents what is lawful while everything outside represents what is not. As one gets closer and closer to the boundaries of the circle, one gets closer and closer to being outside of the law. But by staying near the center, we stay “safe”. Let me be clear. My point is not that we should confine ourselves only to activities that would be in the center of the circle and fearfully avoid all else. This can quickly turn into legalism and self righteousness, much like the Pharisees during the life of our Lord. But what I am advocating for is a purity of mind and discernment to go along with it. Why be tempted at all if it can be avoided? Why have to fight sin if we can quickly flee from it in the first place? The body is for the Lord; is to be an instrument of righteousness to holiness. Let us make it our business, to the latest day and hour of our lives, to glorify God with our bodies, and with our spirits which are his.

Certainly we have freedom in Christ and we are to stand on this freedom. In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul rebukes even the apostle Peter for backsliding on this freedom.

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’”

(Galatians 2:11-14 ESV)

Peter had apparently been in Antioch for some time, long enough for others to observe that his custom amongst Gentile Christians was to live like them (freedom in the Gospel), rather than that of a Jew (bondage under the law). In time, a party of Jews set of a sequence of events that led to Paul’s confrontation and rebuke of Peter for going back to living as if under bondage to the law. What follows in the book, is a description of the freedom we have in Christ as well as an entire allegory given over to define this freedom.

The understanding that many Christians have about the freedom Christ purchased for us through his death is all about doing whatever you want (with those stipulations mentioned earlier of course). But between the book of Galatians and the book of James where he talks about the law of liberty, we get a clearer picture of the Biblical definition of Christian freedom. This freedom we have seems to have no relation to the morals or the spiritual standards of God. Our freedom has nothing to do with God’s standards and everything to do with our motive. A Jew who lived his whole life under the code of Moses could be the same externally after he is saved. The law in the Old Testament did not change. The difference would be that at some point when he came to Christ his motive for keeping the law would change.

Under the fear of consequence, Old Testament Jews tried to keep the law but never could. As Christians who have the indwelling Christ we will. Our freedom is not to disobey, but freedom to do what’s right not through obligation but through genuine desire. Freedom is defined as the ability to be able to do what you want. People are free to steal, kill, get drunk, etc. But a mature Christian finds himself lacking any desire to do that.

So Christian, rejoice in your freedom. Know that Christ defeated sin and death and purchased our freedom. But let’s be discerning and wise about that freedom. For while the Bible says nothing about our styles of wit, our partaking of alcoholic beverages, or our association with worldly entertainment, it does commend sober-minded self control and maturity. Shouldn’t we want to have more in common with Jesus who is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26 ESV) and not Lot who we cannot even mention without thinking also of Sodom and Gomorrah?

One need not be a Bible scholar to recognize that Scripture consistently celebrates virtues such as self-control, sober-mindedness, and restraint of that bodily appetite. These are what we ought to regard with the utmost, modeling them in our lives rather than trying our hardest to justify doing the the very things that hold so many unbelievers in bondage.

An Eternal Perspective for Believers

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

(Philippians 2: 3-8 ESV)

In my last post I talked about counting others as more significant than ourselves. I focused on Philippians 2: 4, having us introspect and consider how our lives reflect Christ’s humility in serving the Father. On that point, I want to elaborate and have us consider the eternal perspective Christ has for his people, a perspective we should have for ourselves and by extension, our brothers and sisters.

Let us take a look at the following verses:

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

(1 Corinthians 3: 10-15 ESV)

Paul tells us that wisdom must be applied to living, and the consequences of how we build on the lives Christ laid his life for are eternal. Foremost, these verses are directed to preachers and how they must build their ministry solely on the foundation of Christ. Yet this passage also applies to every Christian tasked with making their lives pleasing and acceptable to God. In the surrounding chapters, Paul preaches on the need for Christians to  live by God’s wisdom: wisdom that is unlike the foolishness of men. We can choose to live wisely or poorly, and based on how we live God will reward us for our diligence. God values our worship and He chooses to reward us for our faithfulness in upholding His commands. But that’s the thing, it’s not about this life, but the life to come. Consider Ephesians 2:10 when Paul says “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God has given us all that we need to complete the good work in our lives.

But how does this apply to Philippians 2? We’re called to build our brothers and sisters up, and sometimes that stewardship means spurring them on towards their sanctification. What I need to make clear is that none of us, on the Day of Christ’s Judgment, will be held responsible for the outcome of another Christian’s walk. It’s clear that each of us will be judged by our own works, but part of our work is the encouragement, and sometimes the admonishment of another believer. We can never truly know what is inside the heart of another person, but with God’s wisdom and in prayer we can speak truth to a fellow believer who is in need of the refreshing Word.

Remember that Christ had it all before the foundation of time, but He chose to give up His equality with God and came down in the body of a man to save us from ourselves. He was tempted like all of us, knew the outcome of His earthly ministry, and during the final hours of His life He comforted His disciples when death loomed over Him, knowing they would inherit His ministry after He ascended to heaven. Let me close by reminding us to look at Christ as our example of having an eternal perspective for ourselves and others. Our lives are interconnected and each of us has a part to play in each others’ lives. God had that in mind when He had our lives intersect. There is a good work God has in store for all of us; let us help one another see that we all value what is eternal.

Counting Others More Significant

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

(Philippians 2: 3-8 ESV)

Paul’s command for us to live selflessly is easy enough to understand. We should imitate Christ’s humility in His service to the Lord and to His children. Nobody questions that Christians should be paragons of humility, but to live out Paul’s command, not just to understand it, is much more difficult to practice. We are to imitate Christ’s love for God’s children by counting them more significant than ourselves even if we, by our own human estimation, do not see them as more significant than ourselves.

By one standard or another, people fall on a sliding scale of importance. I bet we have all taken a look at a brother or sister’s life and have deemed it less than our own lives or another’s. There is a certain reality that a pastor has more impact on the flock than say, the sister who is in charge of handling parking detail at church. Now take a look at where you are now and the position you fill at your local church. Can you count both of these people more significant than yourself? At RGC, we’re so small we don’t have someone who takes care of parking, so imagine someone filling a job we didn’t even need. Are we still counting them more significant than ourselves as we sing, write, lead, or just serve in the capacity that we do? The reality is that one person does a little more than the other, but all are placed by God to fulfill His purposes.

In an older post I wrote a couple months back, I talked about how our lives should be lived as worship to God, and how part of that worship is done by living out God’s command to love His children. Sometimes those God has placed in our lives are believers weak in the faith, and we can all be dismissive of them because of who they are at this present time. Worse yet, I have heard Christians call others useless and worthless. These are painful estimations other believers’ lives, estimations from people who presume too much, having forgotten God’s calling for their own lives.

When I was a freshman in college I had two roommates. One was a professing Christian and the other a nonbeliever, respectively, we’ll call them Ben and Jerry because those were totally not their names. The first day we met I asked them of their religious background so I could get my evangelistic battle plan ready. No more than five minutes after our introductions Ben announces his plans to drink excessively and have his face look like the bottom of an unkempt latrine, which became somewhat prophetic of our actual bathroom, because I was uninterested in mothering my roommates. He kept his word and engaged in other acts that sullied his ambassadorial role in Jerry’s life, and in so doing, reaped my ire.

I cared for Jerry and desired his salvation. I know that. But I also know I did not care for Ben’s. Regardless if his life did not reflect that of a young man made new in Christ, or that his superficial understanding of Scripture left more doubt that assurance in my mind of his faith, I never extended him any love. I was too quick to count him as lost and beyond correction. I hated him so much that I refused to listen to God calling me to be a Christ-like example to him as much as I was to be for Jerry. Maybe I can claim ignorance that I did not know the deeper points of Scripture, but on the Day of Judgment Christ will judge my heart, and He knows and I know that deep down, I chose to ignore my conscience to love Ben.

When we find ourselves in the company of brothers or sisters in the faith who are struggling with their old, sinful selves, it is not our place to decide their worth to God. Let’s remember that God has chosen us, besides ourselves and our sinfulness, to save us and call us His children. By no worth of our own, God sent Christ to die for all of us so that we might be united with Him and to live lives as God intended for us that glorify His name.

For however long it may be, God has placed people in our lives that we are to effect. Specifically as it relates to this passage, God has placed fellow believers in our lives that we are called to build up. You may find them incapable of growing from their immaturity, and you may even question their adoption in Christ. But we cannot forget that all things are possible through God, and if He wills it, through us God may choose to accomplish what we hope to see in our lives. Be faithful to your calling in Christ; worship the Lord.

The Cost of Unity

Unity is quite an important idea in the New Testament. In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays for unity. We read, I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17: 20-23 ESV) Not only is it important but unity is a good thing. None would argue against it. No one would say, “Let’s cause division in the church.” So why is it that there are so many different schools of thought for those who say they believe in God? We have Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christians, and more. The ones listed are just the well-known ones.

In 1 Corinthians 1:10 the Apostle Paul appeals to the church that “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that [they] all agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among [them] and that [they] may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” So it’s true that we don’t want to be divided. He also tells us in what we are to be united in: mind and thought. We are to be united in our beliefs, in our faith.

How unfortunate is it that unity in our day often comes at the cost of our convictions and our theology! And it is quite easy to appear united. All we have to do is compromise. We have to comprise our belief in being saved through faith alone. We have to compromise our doctrine of Christ’s humanity as well as divinity. The danger lies in our end motive. When our goal becomes unity, when we meet together for the sake of unity, more often than not, that “unity” is short and temporary. It can hardly even be called unity. But unity that comes about because of a pursuit of righteousness and truth. That is a sweet thing. A good and often long lasting thing to have.

Easy though it is to have false unity, true unity is not a difficult thing to attain. Our gracious God in Heaven gives us the means. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV)

If we desire for unity, it must be the right kind of unity. If truth and sound doctrine are at stake, we must be willing to even reject unity. The end goal must be truth. It is only through the process of being truth seekers can we be truly united.

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