Posts Tagged ‘Christian living’

Christian Living And Relationships, Part Two

Christian Living and Relationships (Part Two)

© C. O. Bishop, 5/20/16 THCF 5/22/16

Romans 12:3-11

Introduction:

We began looking at the practical outworking of our new relationship with Christ, two weeks ago, reading and considering Romans 12:1-3. We saw that we were to submit ourselves to God, as living sacrifices; daily making the choice to live for Him: to serve God, not self. It isn’t easy; which is why it is called a “Living” sacrifice: it can never just be a “done deal”—we always have to either renew that choice, or fail to do so.

Those verses, telling us how we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and how we can avoid being pressed into the mold of the world, are based upon our individual relationships with Christ. A proper relationship with Him in a growing, ongoing bond of love, will result in a changed life. It also results in changed relationships with other people, as we saw in Ephesians 4:1-6; another passage where Paul begs us to walk worthy of the vocation to which we have been called. We are to maintain unity with one another, and forbear (tolerate) one another, learning to love and appreciate one another, just for who each of us is in Christ.

Here in Romans we are reminded of some of the gifts of service that believers are given by which to be a blessing to one another, and we are told in what spirit to use each of them.

What does “Christian Service” look like?

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

One of the more obvious dangers in Christian service is the temptation to serve in the same spirit as do those of the world. We desire human recognition, and like to feel appreciated. Many times churches create titles and “jobs” within the church organization, so that a person feels proud to do the job they have been assigned. But this practice establishes boundaries, and territories, and effectively divides the body. Everyone is thus encouraged toward “self” expression, and “self” fulfillment, “owning” the ministry, and can easily forget who the head of the body actually is. Paul caution us to “not think more highly of” ourselves, but, rather, to think soberly.

I have known of communities where deacons, for instance, attach that title to their name, and actually introduce themselves as “Deacon So-and-so.” Many pastors do the same thing, and in many circles they are expected to do so. Then we invent honorifics to go with the title, or even supplant it—the “Right Reverend so-and-so… your excellency…your Grace”… do you see how that feeds pride?

The fact is, I don’t need a title, or a “territory”. I can sit and listen to someone else teach, and take careful notes, so as to actually learn from their teaching; and I will be perfectly happy. I have no need for the limelight. I would be happy to serve from the back pew, and have frequently done so. I have taught because I was asked to teach, and, since I keep getting asked to continue teaching, I conclude that this is what I am supposed to be doing. I also do it, even in private, because that is my gift—it is simply what I do.

The result seems to be that folks get fed, and understanding increases. I don’t need an “office” or title, to do any of that. If it is the job—the gift—Jesus gave me to do, then I will either do it, or fail to do it. I am given to believe that my gifts are in this area, and when I pray, “Lord, I just don’t know what to do!” the immediate answer is “Feed my flock!” So, by faith, I press on. If He gives me a different job, or assignment, He will let me know it.

All the gifts have this in common: they don’t need “titles”, or honorifics; they just need a willing heart. But we each have different gifts, though all the believers are part of that one Body of Christ. That is the source of Unity—our position in Christ. But each of us has something to offer. Each of us can choose to be a blessing to those around us, but it will be done in different ways. Many years ago, a teacher told me, “If I go to church to be a blessing, I will almost always come home blessed. But if I go there to get a blessing, I can frequently come home empty and sour.” The Agapé love always seeks to bless those around it…not to receive a blessing. But the result is that it is always blessed.

For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:

So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

Notice it says that we are members one of another. We are not just “employees of the same company—co-workers”; we belong to one another. We are truly part of a select brotherhood, because we are born from above, of the same Father. We are one body, and, though we may feel somewhat alienated from one another at times, due to sin, we really are one.

All of us know what it means to “hurt all over”, because of an injury or illness. I have actually heard of people who endured a fairly small injury (a mashed finger or the like) but who then went into shock and died…the whole body responded to the injury of one member so drastically that the body shut down completely. In contrast to the physical body, that mutual care will not shut us down; it will empower us, but we are to have that sort of deep compassion and care for one another, so that if one member is hurting, it is a concern for all. And, if one is blessed, it is a joy to all, as all are invigorated by the goodness of God, seen reflected in another person’s life.

What is a Prophet?

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

When we consider the New Testament gift of prophecy, we must remember that even the Old Testament word does not mean a “teller of the future”, but a spokesman for God; a mouthpiece for God. In Exodus 4:12, God told Moses, “…go, and I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say!” That is pretty much the definition of a prophet, through all the ages. In the early days, it frequently (but not always) involved “fore-telling”. In fact, when we use the word “prophecy”, or “prophetic,” we usually mean “the telling of the future”. But all the word really means is being “a mouthpiece for God”.

As far as I can tell, a person who simply gives the clear meaning of scripture and can tie it all together, so that the listeners can see it all as God’s Word, not just a collection of disconnected pamphlets by forgotten writers, is a good teacher. That would be one who is gifted to teach. But if they are also used of God to bring a corrective message, or a message of encouragement, or a message from scripture that builds up the believers for the work of service, then they are functioning as a New Testament prophet.

1st Corinthians 14:3 states that “he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” That is the definition of a prophet’s job, in this age. The Old Testament gift of foretelling the future seems to have pretty much disappeared by the end of the book of Acts. We are told nothing further about it in the epistles, at least. Even false prophets are not warned against in the epistles, so much as false teachers.

A prophet, then, must have the faith to pursue God, personally, and absorb the Word of God, and learn the will of God, as revealed in Scripture. The prophet has to have the faith to see God’s will in black and white, and be able to declare it firmly, though humbly, knowing it to be true, because Jesus says so. “Let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.” This is Paul’s message to the prophets in the New Testament Church.

What is “Ministry?”

Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;

Ministry means service. The Greek word, here, for service, is “diakonia”. The companion word, “diakonous” is where we get the word “deacon”, in English. It simply means servant. We disdain the word servant, as if it is a “low-caste” calling, to which no one should be relegated. But God calls it a gift, and a high, holy calling. It is interesting to learn that the root of the word “menial” which we really don’t like, is exactly the same as that of the word “ministry” which we claim to love. Jesus taught this lesson in John 13, doing a menial task (foot-washing) that was ordinarily relegated to the lowest servants, in order to demonstrate the principle of ministry to his disciples.

Every believer is called to this life of service, but some are gifted beyond others, and can throw themselves into any task without reserve, as it is their joy to serve. There are no restrictions as to who can serve God: anyone can serve, but not all at the same tasks. He chooses our tasks. There may be human restrictions of a practical nature: a life-guard, for example, is in a position that absolutely demands that he or she be a very strong swimmer, and specifically trained to work in deep water to bring a struggling or injured person to safety. A church pianist must be someone who has endured the discipline of learning to play the piano well enough to accompany singers, in any key needed. There are many other human limitations, and we recognize them; but anyone can serve, and there are innumerable ways in which to do so. If you have a heart for service, God will give you an avenue in which to serve faithfully. And faithfulness itself is worthy of reward. God says, “Well done, thou good and faithful Servant!”

What about Teaching?

Teaching, as we mentioned earlier, is the gift of being able to read, study and understand scripture, and to teach what it means, accurately, in keeping with the rest of the Word of God, so that the hearers are not just hearing, but understanding the scriptures, themselves. It was mentioned in the Old Testament as well as the New, and is a valuable gift, as well. A teacher does not necessarily have to be a leader, but an elder (overseer, pastor, bishop) has to be a teacher, as far as I can see. 1st Timothy 3:1-8 states some of the qualifications of being an elder, and one of them is “apt to teach”—able to teach. I do not think that this is just the ability to teach carpentry, or cooking, or mathematics, as, in the first place, those are not related to the work of God. It is also not just the rudimentary abilty that ALL people have, to transmit information. It is specifically referring to the spiritual gift of teaching that is vital to the health of a church. This, along with the gift of prophecy, is how the Flock is to be fed…and they are to be fed on the Word of God, not philosophy, or other bits of human wisdom. God’s Word is clean “sheep food.” That is all we have to offer. But how can we tell if we are gifted?

Teaching has not been accomplished until learning occurs. I teach several classes at work; each has numerous tests associated with it. Some of the tests are quite difficult. None of the tests could be passed by someone who has not received the teaching. So, my “report card” is “what percentage of my students can now understand and use what I taught…and are they doing so?”

A Bible teacher should grade himself or herself by the same standard: “Do my students better understand the scriptures?”, and “Are they better able to apply them than before?” It is much harder to tell, for sure, as there is no “sit down and take the exam” kind of test to apply. But I knew a woman (now home with the Lord) who taught “Good News Club” Bible classes in her home for many years, training little children to understand the Word of God. Her report card? Most of the deacons in her church, before she died, were men whom she had taught as little children, in her home. She had led many of them to Christ. That is a great “Report Card!”

Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

Exhortation–Encouragement

Encouragement is a pretty vital gift, too—the ability to see a need in someone’s life, and strengthen them by drawing alongside and being a friend, or a helper, or to encourage them to make good decisions. Some people are a constant encourager to those around them. Some are not. We are all told to encourage one another, and those of us who do not come by it naturally have no excuse—we are still told to do it. But there are those who are gifted by God to be an encourager to other believers. Encouragement flows out of them wherever they go. They are a tremendous blessing to the Church. We so badly need encouragers.

Giving with Simplicity

Giving, obviously, requires having something to give. But I remember hearing about a woman who picked blackberries all summer, with the express intent of having enough to buy her daughter a student violin. How precious that violin was to her grown daughter many years later.

Giving can be done in a showy manner, making a spectacle of the gift—and that practice is condemned by Jesus. Or it can be done simply, privately, with no fanfare, no attention to the gift or the giver…just meeting a need. That is a blessing in itself. Seeing to the need of another person without regard to one’s own benefit is the simplest definition of Agapé Love. When we consider what Jesus did at the Cross, we see that he completely personified that love.

Ruling with Diligence

Not all administrators are diligent…and not all are gifted to rule. But it takes diligent work to do a good job of overseeing any sort of job, or group of people. Some people are gifted to do the job of administration, and can do an efficient job without damaging the people with whom they serve. Others simply want power, and cause offense, as they bully the others in their group.

This desire for preeminence is rooted in self-will, and has nothing to do with the gift of administration. The Love of God has to be the motivating power in every area of the church, but especially in those who rule.

Showing Mercy, with Cheerfulness

Mercy is a gift that goes along with service and encouragement. It is tremendously valuable, because it mends hearts, comforts the feeble and quiets the fearful. It is the Compassion of God in human form. The “Report Card” on this one is how it is received. If little children and the elderly are blessed when they are near you, and people are comforted by your presence, then perhaps you are gifted in this area. It is difficult to tell about and describe, but it is easy to see in others. God said that Mercy was more valuable, and acceptable to Him than sacrifice.

Love is the Conclusion

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.

10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;

11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;

Love– the Agapé love as well as its companion word phileo—brotherly love—is the key to all relationships in the body of Christ. Those two loves never lead to evil; only to what is best. So a person who is claiming to express agapé love, but is doing wrong, is faking the love for the sake of cloaking the evil. Paul says, love is to be without dissimulation—without fakery—no pretension.

We are to completely avoid evil, and see it as abominable, wherever it appears…but especially in ourselves; in our motives, and our thoughts, since that is where God is looking: God says he “is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). We are to cling to what is good, without exception. Our love for one another must be pure, drawing us closer to one another and to Christ.
We should be most comfortable in the company of other believers, and give each other full respect and honor as children of God. In business and productivity, that Love should produce an excellent work ethic, as we recognize that we are serving God as well as our employer. If our spirit is right with God, it should produce a fervent love and worship for God, and a fervent desire to do His will and draw others to Him as well. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:31)

These are the principles by which we are to guide our walk with God, our relationships with other believers and our relationship with the World around us. I trust that, as we meditate on this passage we can see it come to life in us, and transform us into the hands and feet and heart of Jesus, doing His work in this World.

Lord Jesus, change us into your likeness. Teach us to discern your will and search for ways to serve one another in Love. Make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be.

 


Have we Circumvented the Cross?

Circumventing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013

Introduction:

I re-read an old novel a few weeks ago, one that is widely known and appreciated, in which the heroine goes to a tiny Appalachian community (setting in 1912), and is mentored by a Quaker missionary, who has tirelessly worked to gain the confidence of the people, and to bring the love of God into their homes and hearts. (All sounds good so far, right?)

The two women and the various others in the story demonstrate the grace and love of God in their lives, and gradually people are won over, hearts soften, people desire to learn literacy, begin to read their Bibles, and God’s character miraculously begins to show up in people’s lives. That all sounds great, too, right? And it really does…except that, after I had finished the book, and actually began to think about it, I realized there was something missing. The writer had preached the love and grace of God, and had seen transformed lives, and visions of Heaven, even, all without a single mention of Christ! There was no blood sacrifice—nothing offensive about this Gospel, because it left out the Cross, and left out Jesus Christ, entirely. Even the vision of Heaven was without Christ—just a bunch of happy people wandering around playing with babies.

A Bloodless Sacrifice for Sins

You recall the story of Cain and Abel. Most people may primarily remember that Cain killed Abel, which is true, of course. But they forget the root cause: Abel had correctly approached God with a blood-sacrifice for sin, as had been demonstrated in Genesis 3, but Cain had brought a bloodless sacrifice—a worship offering, perhaps, but one that ignored the fact of sin. The sin issue has to be addressed, one way or another, before worship and interaction with a Holy God can begin. God rejected Cain’s offering quite gently, reasoning with him that he (Cain) knew what was required, and that if he did what was right, He (God) would certainly receive him (Cain) as well; there was no respect of persons here.

Cain rejected the plan of God, and, in anger, went and murdered Abel.

Why would he reject God’s plan? Apparently he did not want to confess that he needed a savior. He did not want to bring a blood sacrifice, confessing his own sin…he apparently thought he should be able to address God as an equal. (We are most certainly not God’s equals. We are not the creator; we are the created beings, and sinners, besides.)

But taking it a step further; what if he simply confessed his sin, and threw himself on God’s mercy and Grace, but still brought a bloodless sacrifice? Would that be OK?

No! The Holiness of God must be satisfied, or fellowship can never occur. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  What do you think he was talking about? By acting like Him? By seeing him as a great teacher, and trying to obey his teaching, and follow his lifestyle? Or by admitting that only His blood can save, and that I, personally, need a savior, or I cannot be saved?

Why do we reject the Cross?

Today people reject the cross for a variety of reasons, but all can be traced to two fundamental reasons: They consider it offensive, one way or another, or they consider it utter foolishness, and will not consider the possibility that God’s Wisdom is so far beyond theirs that it seems to be foolishness, simply because they can’t begin to understand it.

They either think it offensive: (a) that a Holy God should require a blood sacrifice for sin (such a heathen-sounding thing!) or (b) that He should consider them a sinner, and that everything they do is tainted by their sin.

Interesting that those are the two grounds for rejecting the Gospel, today— those are also the reasons that were mentioned in 1st Corinthians 1:23. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block (an offense) and unto the Greeks foolishness”. But he went on to say that Christ is the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. In another passage (Romans 1:16), referring specifically to the Gospel of Christ, Paul stated that “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The Power of God! The Gospel is Christ, in a nutshell. And he is the only way given for us to be saved (“…neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12) Has it ever occurred to you that when the book of Romans states that the Gospel of Christ is the Power of God to save those who believe, it is stating an “exclusive” truth? There is no other thing in the scriptures, described as being the “power of God” to save believers; Just the Gospel. There is no other way given by which we may approach God; Just Christ. And yet, as a race, we continue to reject God’s only plan of salvation. There is no “Plan B”. This is it, folks! If you are not specifically preaching the Cross, you are not telling people how to be saved. If you are not specifically dependent upon the Cross, yourself, then You are not saved. There is no other way.

What about the religions (or preachers) that ignore the cross?

When a religion (or preacher) circumvents the Cross, regardless of how nicely they teach the rest of the scripture, what must we conclude? Surely such nice people must have a right standing with God, mustn’t they? Surely if I follow their teachings, I will also have a right standing with God…right? All those nice, pious, gentle, pleasant people can’t be wrong, can they?

Then what about sin? How do they deal with sin?

What do we do with Sin?

There are only three ways that human religions deal with the issue of Sin:

  1. Deny that it exists at all. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad.
  2. Admit that it exists, but deny that it ultimately matters… God is too loving and kind to condemn anyone. Just do your best to live right, and God will accept you.
  3. Admit that it exists, and that it matters (God hates sin!) and demand that the sinner do many good works to expiate all the bad works (penance, alms, service). God will accept you if you do enough good to overbalance all the bad.

Any of those three will result in the eternal loss of the adherent. Your faith will not save you if the object of your faith cannot save you. It matters who you trust and what you believe. If you trust in a crook, you lose your money; if you place your faith in a false God, or a false religion, or a false creed, or false principle, you lose your soul…you are eternally separated from God, in eternal punishment.

Truth is not dependent upon what people believe.

Truth is a fact, regardless of what anyone thinks:

  • Either God is Holy, or He is not.
  • Either He created all things, or He did not.
  • Either Man is a sinner, or he is not.
  • Either sin requires a blood-sacrifice for forgiveness, or it does not. (Doesn’t that sound primitive and gory? Surely we have progressed beyond such savagery… Doesn’t that argument sound familiar? “Ye shall not surely die…” Satan can sound pretty persuasive!) It doesn’t matter what I think about it—it either is true or it isn’t.

There is no middle ground. These are black-and-white issues. Truth does not depend upon public opinion. God addresses each of these questions numerous times in the Bible.

  • He clearly states, numerous times, that He is Holy. He cannot abide Sin.
  • He gives a fairly detailed account of the creation, with many later references to that historical fact, all pointing to the fact that He is the Creator, and has full authority over His creation.
  • He gives a detailed account of how man fell into sin, and many references to that historical fact, all agreeing that Man is a fallen creature, lost, apart from God’s Grace.
  • He demonstrated the blood sacrifice in Genesis chapter 3, accepted a blood sacrifice (and rejected a non-blood sacrifice) in Genesis 4, demanded a specific blood sacrifice in Exodus 12, and ultimately declared Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, in John 1:29, and many other New Testament references. He concludes (Hebrews 9:22) that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”…and that only the blood of Christ can achieve the satisfaction of the Holiness of God. (1st John 2:2, cp. John 1:29)

Now: you can believe whatever you want to about these things. Only you can choose. But if you reject these truths, no one else can take the blame, either. You are fully responsible for your own choice.

Assuming that you have chosen to believe God, and have placed your trust in the shed Blood of Jesus Christ as full payment for your sins, then you have become a child of God, by the new birth. You are responsible to Him, personally. He has assigned you the job of being His ambassador to the lost world. You have been given a message to deliver. Two questions, then, remain:

  1. Do you know what that message is?
  2. Are you willing to deliver it?

Both are a yes-or-no issue, but we recognize that even if our answer is “yes” to both, there are degrees of practical competence involved. How well do I know the message? How willing am I to deliver it? There is always room for growth. We grow stronger with study and practice.

What is the Gospel? 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 states the portions of the message that must be there:

  1. The death of Christ for our sins
  2. His burial (demonstrating that he was really dead, ) and
  3. His resurrection, demonstrating that he really is the savior.

If we leave out this message, or selected parts of it, then we are not delivering the message, period. When one claims to be “Preaching the Gospel”, but is circumventing the cross, they are NOT preaching the Gospel, and may be inviting people to avoid eternal life.

The whole message of salvation is wrapped up in the preaching of the Cross.

Paul’s message:

At Athens, though Paul had been preaching Christ faithfully in the Synagogue and in the marketplace, when he was called upon to speak publicly, he gave a “slick” sermon that has appealed to human reasoning down through the ages, ever since. It was NOT effective then, nor has it been effective when people have emulated it to any degree, since then. People do not come to Christ because of reasoning—they come to Christ because they believe the Gospel; they choose to place their trust in the Blood of Christ. The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect.

Paul left Athens immediately after delivering that sermon (no church was established there), and went to Corinth with a new resolve to “know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified”. He was resolved to “…preach the Gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect.” Has it occurred to you that we can “muddy the water” by our meddling with the truth, adding our arguments, our persuasion, etc.?

Paul delivered the message he was given. We need to do the same. Preach the cross of Christ. Do not make the Gospel more palatable by excluding the part people don’t want to hear. That is the part they desperately need.

What would the Passover be without the Passover lamb? Just a skimpy meal? The real Passover saved the believers because of the scarcely dry blood of that lamb, on the lintel and the two doorposts. The Cross, even 1500 years before Christ, was the salvation God prescribed. Do we like that? Not really, perhaps, but it is the simple truth. We cannot save ourselves, and God only offers one way whereby He, himself, can save us.

We either believe it, and are saved, or reject it and are lost. It’s a black-and-white choice.

And, as His emissaries, we either echo that message, offering that salvation to others; or we dampen and water down the message, and condemn our listeners. Again, it is a clear choice.

When we deliver a “comfortable” message, only preaching the goodness and grace of a loving God (which we all want to hear), then we ignore the holiness and judgment of a righteous God, and thus circumvent the Cross. The result is eternal loss. We have made people comfortable in their lost state, and convinced them that there is no need for a savior. Remember that John 3:16 states that “how” God loved the world was that he gave his only begotten son. (“…God so loved, that he gave…” The means of loving was the giving of Christ) Yes, we preach the love and grace of God—but we preach the Cross as the means of receiving that Love and Grace.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul said, regarding this very matter, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for, if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.” If you can approach God just by “being good”, then Jesus died for nothing…he wasted his life, and his death was pointless.

If you preach a message that circumvents the cross, then you declare that Jesus died for nothing; that his death was pointless. And if a church approaches God in that way, it is a false church, and leading its people to Hell. Sounds harsh…but it is the simple truth.

We don’t want to be accused of any such thing. We preach the Cross, and encourage our listeners to place their trust in the blood of Jesus as full payment for their sins. If you desire to be the ambassador God has called you to be, then learn the message, and start learning to deliver it.

God help us all to be the Men and Women of God that he has called us to be.