Posts Tagged ‘partnership’

The Fellowship Imperative

The Fellowship Imperative

Fellowship with God and with Other Believers

© C. O. Bishop 9/8/17 THCF 9/10/17

Hebrews 10:19-25

Introduction:

As we completed the first half of Hebrews chapter ten, we saw that Jesus offered one sacrifice forever, obliterating our sin-debt, and imputing eternal righteousness to us, as believers. This is a super-important concept: if our sins have been forgiven, and “taken away” by the blood of Jesus, then there is no more offering for sin. The Old Testament system of blood sacrifices is completely over—obsolete—done. . And we cannot go back to it.

Now, I wonder how the Hebrew believers must have felt, with the temple service closing behind them, and no real understanding of what lay before them This is not a new thing, though: Remember that Abram was called out of the land of his upbringing, to go out to a new place, where God would bless him. But he was not given a road map. He was just told to go. He left, not knowing where he would end up.

When I first became a believer, the question arose, “What about all the other religions? How do you know this one is right?” My only answer, at that time, was, “I don’t know anything about all the other religions. I only know that this is my stop…this is where I get off the bus.” I knew I needed Jesus Christ, and I trusted in Him. Later on, I learned more, and came to realize that, indeed, there was no other way. He said so Himself.

Many years later, I was called to sing in a wedding, in Colorado. They sent me a bus ticket, and I took that Greyhound bus to a place I had never been, arriving far behind schedule, in a snowstorm at 1:00 AM, to a dark crossroad, where I had been told that I would be met. There was no one there…but I had a choice: Get off the bus, now, in faith, and wait in the dark, snowy night for my friends to arrive, or stay on the bus and get off at another stop which would look better, but not be where I was told to expect them, and I would have no way to contact them. (This was years before cell-phones became a reality.) As it turned out, after hours of waiting, they had finally gone home, briefly, and they were coming right back. I waited less than 30 minutes before they came swooping out of the dark to rescue me. The point is that sometimes we have had to take a step of faith, and trust that God knows what He is doing. At that point, frequently, we can’t go back…we have to look forward. But we can go forward, and we are called to do so.

The Call to Fellowship

We have already been transferred out of the darkness of the lost world, into the glorious kingdom of God’s light; we can now take the next step, and enter the holy of holies by his blood. We are not told to just “wait on God to come and fellowship with us.” We are commanded, and exhorted to deliberately seek out His company. We are free to enter His presence, now. There is no barrier, today, for believers. This is the state of affairs, today; He says:

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,

20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;

21 And having an high priest over the house of God;

We see four points, here:

  1. We have confidence to enter the holy place of God’s presence.
  2. We are entering confidently, solely because of the Blood of Jesus that stands between us and God’s judgment. 
  3. We enter by the avenue of the Cross, by faith…through the torn body of the Savior, represented by the veil that was torn, in the temple.
  4. We enter, knowing that our High Priest, Jesus, had already entered in and made the way for us…and that it is He who invites us to that Fellowship.

 With these truths as our basis for confidence, the writer urges us forward. It has taken him nine and one half chapters to “build his case” for the supremacy of Christ, and the efficacy of his blood sacrifice, but now, with that foundation laid, he urges us to take action.

He says for us to draw near to God. We could not do so before, because we were without access to God. Ephesians 2:11, 12 say that “in time past…” we were “…Gentiles according to the flesh…without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of Promise, having no hope, and without God, in the World.” We literally had no access to God. But now we have that access through Christ. Over in Romans 5:1, 2 Paul says, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access into this Grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the Glory of God.”

We have access by faith in Jesus, and we are invited to join Him there, at the Throne of Grace.

 

The Invitation to Fellowship with God

22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

We are invited to enter in with full confidence. We are not entering as those who have “crashed the party”…we are entering as members of God’s household—His own offspring. We are not even entering as “guilty children” who have misbehaved and who are expecting punishment. The punishment was dealt out at the cross. We are entering, in good standing with the Holy God who created us, and redeemed us. We are entering as those who have been washed, and made holy like Jesus. Do I always “feel” this confidence? No, because my heart is deceitful (God says so), and I am always conscious of my failings. But God says that I have been washed, and made holy! (1st Corinthians 6:11 “But you are washed…sanctified…justified…”). You are arriving clean! All you need to do is clean your feet at the door!

A small child enters into his father’s house with utter confidence that he belongs there…because he does! And he enters in, knowing his father is not too busy to address his concerns and questions. He goes there expecting good things. He wipes his feet because he has been taught to do so, initially, but as he matures, he does it because he does not want to bring dirt into his father’s house.

We may practice confession initially because we have been taught to do so. As we mature, we do so because we do not want Sin to hamper our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Psalm 66:18 says that when I cling to sin in my heart, God closes his ears to me. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” We learn to cherish that relationship with Him, and develop a hunger for his presence, so we are anxious to not allow sin to keep us from experiencing that fellowship with Him. But there is another aspect to fellowship: fellowship with other believers.

 

The Exhortation to Fellowship with the Church

He also tells us to hold fast to our faith-relationship with God, and to encourage one another to live the life Jesus died to provide.

23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)

24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:

25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

 It is easy to allow ourselves to become sidetracked by the “cares of the world”, so to speak:

  • money issues,
  • health issues,
  • relational issues,
  • political issues,
  • employment issues, etc.

We are exhorted to keep the relationship with God in the forefront of our minds, and to cling to that relationship as being of primary importance. He says to “hold fast without wavering”. We are not to allow anything to come between us and Him. The basis for our faith is the character of the one who made the promises: He is faithful!

Then the writer says something really odd: he says we are to “provoke” one another…we usually think of “provocation” as having only negative connotations, but, in this case, it means to “stir up” one another. We are to consider the best ways to be an encouragement to one another, to stir one another up to Love, and to good works. You may have noticed that there is a whole lot of “one another” references in the church-related scriptures. Why is that so? Can’t we just go in, sit quietly on a pew, listen attentively, sing songs, give money and go home? Isn’t that what church is all about?

Well…no! Actually, it is not! Even the worship is not, in itself, “church.”

So what is “Church?”

Sometimes I hear people say “Well, my ‘church’ is when I am out in the woods” or “when I am out fishing, alone with God!”…or something similar. The poet, Emily Dickinson, wrote a whole poem dedicated to this idea: she considered the birds singing in her yard to be preferable to the presence of other people. On the other hand, she also claimed she knew the way to heaven instinctively, and could get there on her own. This is sad, but quite common. It is the proud, ignorant statement of independence, without the wherewithal to survive the consequences.

The fact is, people who say such things do not understand what the word “church” means: the English word “church” is usually translated from the Greek word “ecclesia”, which means an “assembly.” It literally means the “called out ones”. It requires being together with other believers. It is certainly not the building, nor is it even, specifically, the teaching or worship.

I can listen to the radio, if I know that a very good teacher or preacher is to be speaking. This is not “church.” I can be awestruck by the majesty of a storm, or the breathtaking beauty of the creation as a whole, and respond in genuine worship. But that is not “church”, either. “Church” means the “assembly” of likeminded believers. This does not negate the need for private prayer and worship being experienced by every individual believer: both of these are good and necessary; but we meet together for corporate prayer and worship …which cannot be done alone. We also meet for mutual encouragement, and teaching, and comfort. None of these things can be done alone.

Church is not a place, nor is it a building, nor even a religious experience. It is, literally, the assembly of likeminded believers for the specific purposes listed above. That is why we are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together”. The word in this particular passage is the Greek “episunagogen”: which is where we get the word “synagogue,” that the Hebrews used to describe their own assemblies…the assembly—gathering together. The Hebrew Christians were still calling it the synagogue, which was fine—it simply means assembly. But it cannot possibly be “one person alone with God,” although that is also very desirable. In the Jewish culture, it is required that there be ten families, in order to have a “synagogue,” officially. But Jesus said “Where two are three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Is that a church, then?

Well…perhaps it could serve the purpose, to some degree, but the “assembly,” proper, also has some organization to it: it is an intentional meeting together for corporate worship, prayer, teaching, preaching, fellowship, encouragement, and comfort. It would be hard to do all of that with just two or three people. You could encourage one another, pray together for each other’s needs and concerns…possibly even share some teaching. But I doubt you could call that a “church”, because it lacks the structure assigned by God. God says the church possesses elders (always plural) who serve as pastors, shepherds and overseers. It has deacons (again, always plural), who serve as caretakers of the flock at a physical level.

The Universal Church is strictly an organism, not an organization: it is the Body of Christ, and consists of all believers from the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, all down through time, until today, with all the believers today, whether alive or dead….and it will be completed at the Rapture. Most of its members, we can safely assume, are already with the Lord …and, until the Rapture, it can never “gather together in one place”…at least not one physical place. (It could be argued that we all meet together at the Throne of Grace…and that is true, but we are not conscious of each other’s presence and cannot function collectively as described in scripture. I can’t encourage Peter, for instance, though I am encouraged by his historical example.)

But every Local Church combines certain aspects of an organism with many aspects of an organization. It does have organization. Things are to be done “decently and in order”…in an orderly fashion. The local church gathers together in one place, wherever that place may be. There are possibly millions of local assemblies, all over the world, meeting at any given time.

We gather for the express purpose of mutual care, encouragement and blessing. We learn to “stir up” one another, to love and to good works. Notice the stark contrast, then, between “fellowship,” which we are commanded to embrace, and “forsaking” which we are commanded to avoid:

Fellowship” and “Forsaking” are Polar opposites!

We are not called to be solitary creatures, though some of us may feel that we would like to be. God created us to be social creatures. We do better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, in a corporate experience. Is it healthy to have the capacity to stand alone? Absolutely! God calls us to do so, in fact! All the Old Testament prophets stood alone. We have their example. But, on a lifestyle basis, we are called to be a blessing to others around us…and we can’t do that unless there are “others around us!” Even in the Old Testament, Solomon (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11) stated that “Two are better than one…and a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Conclusion: The Fellowship Imperative

When we choose to exclude ourselves from the flock, we also estrange ourselves from the Shepherd. (Sorry…you may not like the “sheep” idea, but it comes from God, not from me, so please try to understand and appreciate the truth of it.) The more I learn about sheep, the more I see why God refers to people as sheep—and why people rebel against it and claim they are not like sheep. Isaiah said, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray…” Like it or not, that is what we are. We need the Shepherd, and we need the Flock!

The fact is, if a believer chooses to forsake the assembling of himself together with other believers, knowing that he is commanded not to do so, then, because it is deliberate disobedience, we can safely say that it is sin, and it will definitely limit one’s walk with God. There are many who will disagree, saying “I don’t need other people, in order to walk with God.” I can sympathize with them, because there is an antisocial side to my character as well. But, ask yourself this: of ALL the things God calls us to do, as New Testament believers, what percentage have something to do with other people? The answer is, “virtually all of them”, at one level or another.

We cannot “work with God”, without working with people, because all of the work he has called us to do has to do with the flock at large…other people!

We have to choose to submit ourselves to God’s assignment: go where He sends us, stay where He plants us, and do what He commands. It may not be fun: but the reward comes later. Jeremiah had one of the roughest service assignments of any of the prophets. It looked as though there was no fruit and no reward. But he was faithful, and he is enjoying his reward today. Furthermore, there was fruit, eventually. Millions of people have read the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, and have believed God’s Word, though virtually none of the immediate recipients responded in faith.

We must look to God for direction, but we must meet with others to carry out those directions.

Lord Jesus, encourage our hearts to walk with you and to fellowship with you at the throne of Grace, and to draw near to the brothers and sisters by your Holy Spirit.


Unity Despite Differences

Responding to Differences with Unity

© C. O. Bishop 10/21/16 THCF 10/23/16

 Romans 15:1-7

Introduction:

1We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.

Romans 15:1-7 concludes Paul’s argument in Romans 14:1-23. I have no idea why the translators (or Erasmus…whoever) chose to place the chapter division at Romans 14:23 instead of seven verses later. The second word, “then”, shows that it is definitely a continuation of the idea being taught all the way through chapter 14. It is actually the conclusion of the context, though the concept in verse 23 has such impact that possibly they chose to end the chapter on that note just to maintain the impact of that statement. I just don’t know.

But Paul says, in v.1-3, “We then who are strong ought to bear (endure) the infirmities of them that are weak, and not to please ourselves.” I wonder how far this can be taken. Doesn’t this ultimately pool infirmity and ignorance, so that the whole body grows weaker? Or is it really a matter of “bearing up under” their weakness, while they get stronger, and not causing them to stumble as they are trying to grow? That is what these two chapters are about.

Partnership and Fellowship

Imagine a team competing in an obstacle course. By the rules of the game, the whole team has to complete the course; so it would be of no use for the strongest to simply rush ahead, saying “See you at the finish line!”. On the other hand, the weakest member may not be able to complete the course at all, without significant help. And even if he can, the others are not promoting group success if all they do is stand around and criticize the weaker member. So, what is the solution? (It is interesting: in the context of sports, even amongst unbelievers, no one ever has a problem with this question.) Teamwork is the solution.

The weakest member in that team on the obstacle course is being helped along by all the others, and he in his turn is helping where he can, and willingly accepting help from the others because it helps the team effort by hastening his own success. His pride does not induce him to reject their help, because, if he did, they would all lose. Their pride does not induce them to say, “Well, you just need to work harder!” They all know that all of them are part of the team, and all have value. All have to succeed, or none will. They are all partners in this struggle. Incidentally, that is what the word “fellowship” means…”partnership;” having something in common.

So, in terms of the church: while we are each individually accountable to God, we are also collectively accountable. We are a single organism: our testimony and health as a local assembly is dependent upon how we deal with one another. What did Jesus say about that? “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love (Agapé) one for another.” It seems to me that there are two forces at work, here: the one says, don’t put a stumbling-block before your neighbor. The other is the need for edification…building up the brethren. We have to grow!

Corrective teaching can be used to build up the believers, but it has to be done very gently. I know of a pastor who gave correct teaching (not even intended to be “corrective”) regarding the Bible’s stance on alcohol. He did not mean to cause division, nor to give any cause for offense, but a couple who held to total abstinence were so offended that they left the church. They were gone for over eight years, before finally returning, realizing that their response had been wrong.

He never condemned them at any level…but they condemned him. He had reached out to them, but they were adamant, and refused restoration. When they finally recognized that their bitter condemnation of another servant (the pastor) was sin, they repented, and apologized to him for their bitterness, and came back and reestablished fellowship with the other believers there.

We have vegetarian acquaintances who have frequently eaten at our house. When they eat with us, we serve them and ourselves food that does not contain meat. We have had vegetable soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit, peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, tea, coffee, etc. We have never placed anyone in the uncomfortable position of having to refuse the food we offer. On the other hand, they are fully aware that we habitually eat meat, when they are not there… and they are not offended by that. It is OK for them to choose vegetarianism. There is no call for corrective teaching: there is nothing to discuss. We simply serve a meatless meal when they visit. Now: some of these are not even believers…how much more should we be moved to accommodate our brothers and sisters? We are not to risk losing fellowship over things that God does not condemn. We are partners in much deeper matters than food.

No Meddling!

 Romans 14:1 through 15:5 make it pretty clear that neither those who are strong nor those who are weak are to try to “twist the other person around” and force the others to live as they themselves do. We are to love one another, and accept one another, appreciating our differences in gifts, and our variety in expression.

Let’s take another example: I personally have no desire to drink wine (or any other alcoholic beverage), but I do not condemn those who do. I do see it as a potential hazard, and in our culture especially, I see it as a possible snare and potentially destructive to our testimonies. But there are those who condemn the use of alcohol entirely, and they condemn anyone who believes otherwise, as well. How does that square with this passage? This is a good example of the need to compare scripture with scripture:

There is no question that the normal drink in the time of Christ was wine, not water, nor even grape-juice. Wine was the only means by which fruit juice could be preserved. It was seen as a normal beverage, but one that had to be taken in reasonable quantity…Drunkenness was spoken against as early as the time of Noah, and was warned against in the Proverbs, 1700 years later, as also in the epistles to the church, another 700 years after that. There is no question in any dispensation, that drunkenness is sin.

But: gluttony also seems to be sin, and no one condemns another person for “eating lunch.” Excess in eating may be sin; but food is necessary. Excess in wine is sin, but the use of wine is not only permitted, it is blessed by God, and even commanded by Him under certain circumstances. Some believers may feel uncomfortable with that statement, but God’s Word makes that completely clear. (Judges 9:13; Psalm 104:14, 15; Deuteronomy 14:26)

When Jesus turned water into wine (John 2), it was not only definitely an alcoholic wine, but apparently a supernaturally aged wine, so that it was seen as superior to what the householder had been able to offer on his own. (And, by the way, the exact same Greek word (oinos) is used for that wine, as is used for the command not to be drunk with wine (Ephesians 5). Either Jesus created alcoholic wine for that wedding, or we are commanded to not get drunk on grape juice.) This should never be a source for contention!

But: we believers are continually seen by unbelievers as tearing each other up over peripheral issues like this, while absolutely wallowing in sin that is specifically forbidden. What do I mean?

What Really Bothers God?

Take a look at Proverbs 6:16-19…God says there are several things he really hates. Pride and haughtiness (arrogance) is one of them. Gossip is one of them. Spreading discord (stirring up trouble) among brethren is one of them. Lying is another. But all of these things are commonly seen in Christian circles among those who would be completely shocked to see one of their members buy a bottle of wine or smoke a cigar, or whatever thing they think “ought not to be done.” Some take it even further and condemn coffee, or even the use of anti-depressants, or other things about which the Bible is utterly silent.

Some churches establish dress-codes, including limits on hair-length for men, grooming codes (Trim that beard, mister!), or forbidding make-up on women, etc. This entire attitude is expressly forbidden by Romans 14 and 15.  Dr. McGee makes an interesting point: He says if you were at dinner at the home of someone who had household help (cooks, butlers, etc.), and if the cook were to serve you cold biscuits (his example), you would never consider criticizing the household staff (aloud, at least), because they don’t work for you!

But we seem to forget that the believers around us also do not work for us. We are each accountable to God. If the Scripture really is silent about an issue, or at least does not forbid it, we had better do the same. Don’t condemn what God doesn’t condemn. Do not deny someone else’s freedom, nor use your freedom in such a way as to damage another believer.

Isn’t it interesting:  In Genesis 18:25, Jesus is identified by Abraham as being “the Judge of all the Earth” (compare John 1:18, John 5:22); but, during his earthly ministry, he condemned very few: mainly just those who were busy condemning others. He endured the natural perversity of the human race in order to offer Himself for our sakes…and he did not endure the vicious, self-righteous condemnation that the Pharisees, Scribes, and Lawyers, along with the Priests and Temple Rulers pointed at everyone they didn’t like. Does that mean that the Judge of all the Earth doesn’t care about sin? Absolutely not! He cared about it enough to condemn the whole world for sin (Romans 3:19), and to substitute Himself for the whole world, so as to die in our place (1st Peter 3:18). So, what can we learn from this? Verse four begins to give the answer:

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

v.4: The Old Testament writings are for our learning, that we, through patience (endurance) and comfort of the (Old Testament) scriptures might have hope. I think (in context of the previous chapters) that Paul is pointing out that the Old Testament writings do NOT place us back under the Law. We are to learn from them, not be oppressed or enslaved through them. Remember what James and Peter said, in Acts 15:10, 19—Peter said that the Jews were “tempting God”, by placing a yoke (a burden) on the Gentile believers, which none of the Jews, either present day or at any time in history, had been able to bear. The Jews, born and raised under the Law, had uniformly failed to keep it. But now they were insisting that the Gentiles keep the Law to be saved. Peter pointed out the failure in logic, and James decreed that “…we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God.” (Wow! That is a really good thing to hear! A Comfort, in fact! It gives me Hope, so I can Endure!)

It is so easy to fall into a trap of “adding things to faith.” We are saved by Grace, through faith…plus nothing. The result is to be good works “…which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) This by no means disposes of the Law…we are to study it and learn from it. But we are not to use it as a weapon against one other, nor allow the enemy to use it to enslave us again. (Colossians 2:20-23 reiterates this message.) Our interaction with the Word of God should produce Endurance, Comfort and Hope, not guilt and hopelessness.

Conclusion: The Goal is Unity.

Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

Paul says that we are to be like-minded toward one another “according to Christ Jesus”. We are to glorify God with full unity. That is tough to do when we are always sparring, jousting and bickering over petty doctrinal issues, or even behavioral issues.

Notice: Unity and conformity are not the same idea. Legalists preach conformity. Christ preaches unity, based upon the Agapé love.

Jesus endured our natural stubbornness, and wrong-headedness, loving us through the Cross. Shouldn’t we “Forbear one another in Love”, as we are commanded to do in Ephesians 4:2? We are to put up with each other’s quirks and habits, and value one another for who we are in Christ!

In v. 7, Paul concludes that we are to “receive one another” (present tense) as Christ received us (past tense) to the Glory of God. How can that include the rejection and condemnation that is so prevalent among churches? Do you see why the unbelievers might see us as hypocrites? And yet, there is a difference between hypocrisy and failure. A hypocrite is pretending to be something he is really not. So, a person who seems to be quite pious, and whose life may meet every outward requirement for holiness, may in fact be a counterfeit, and only doing all the things he does because it gains him a good standing with others like himself, and he may even be convinced that it gains him a good standing with God. But it does not. Jesus pretty harshly condemned that sort of “outward show” of religiosity.

On the other hand, a believer, who truly has been born of God, and who truly desires to serve God with his life and live a blameless, committed lifestyle, may fail frequently and be deeply grieved by his own failure. He is not pretending at all. He is a saved sinner, still struggling with the reality of his old sin nature. Paul went through this struggle also (Romans 7). Can’t we at least appreciate that a brother or sister is trying? That he or she has a love for God, and a hunger for God’s Word? Can’t you extend to him the same grace that God has extended to you, forgiving his failures, and bearing with him in his imperfection, as God bears with you in yours?

There is not a single one of us who was required to “clean up” before being saved. We do “wash up” before “coming to the table”—either the Lord’s Table or the Word of God. We call it “confession.” But confession is all the “washing up” required of us. 1st John 1:9 tells us that this is how we restore fellowship with God. Here are three things to remember:

  1. Faith in the shed blood of Jesus for our sins is how we were born into the family of God, establishing the basis for fellowship with God and with other believers. (John 5:24)
  2. Obedience (walking by faith) is how we keep peace in the family (1st John 1:7) and maintain fellowship with God and each other.
  3. Confession (again, by faith) is how we restore fellowship with God (and others) when we have sinned. (1st John 1:9)

If the issue in question is not actually spelled out in the Bible as sin, don’t add to another believer’s burden. We are already completely accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6). So we must completely accept one another, particularly in the vast areas of liberty where God’s Word does not command the body of Christ in any specific way. And what will the result look like?

That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The result will be that the church (or the family, or whoever else is in view) will actually bring honor and glory to God, not cause offense and shame. Romans 2:24 tells us that the name of God is blasphemed among the people of the unbelieving world, specifically because of the inconsistencies that the world sees in the lives of believers. Paul’s conclusion?

Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.

That is pretty clear: If you have any confidence at all that Jesus has received you, then you need to apply that same level of acceptance to the brothers and sisters around you, and receive them as well. We have the assignment (Ephesians 4:3) to “keep (maintain) the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.”

That is an order, folks! And, it applies to every Christian relationship. Let’s take it seriously.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you would shine the light of your Word, administered by your indwelling Holy Spirit into each of our hearts, and allow us to see our own behavior and heart attitudes for what they are. Bring us to repentance for the hardness of our hearts, and teach us to love the brethren. Allow us to maintain the unity that your Spirit provides, so that unbelievers will be drawn to You and not be turned away.


Living with these “Saints below”

Living with the “Saints Below”

Mutual Service and Care: Galatians Chapter 6

© C. O. Bishop 5/22/15 THCF 5/31/15

Galatians 5:25-6:5

Introduction:

Paul has pretty much completed his defense of Grace as a life-principle, and his explanations of how to put Grace in the driver’s seat, so to speak. He completes the letter with a series of observations regarding how Christians are to get along with one another. He says:

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Effectively, he says, “Since you already have been saved, redeemed, resurrected and baptized into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and, in fact, you are already seated with Christ in Heaven…doesn’t it make sense that you function by that principle as well? That you, in fact, allow Him full ownership in your life?” Then Paul begins to address the question of “what would that look like?”

He says we are not only to live by Grace, ourselves, but we are to extend God’s Grace to those around us, as well. (Remember Jesus’ command? “Love one another; as I have loved you, love one another”.) So, verse 26 says:

  • Don’t live for pride and self will…that is the source of envy and provocation.
  • Do practice Agapé Love and Unity. That will provide a lasting bond, and eradicate sinful relationships.

This is the only way we can present a testimony that unbelievers cannot condemn without clearly rejecting Christ as well. Remember that Jesus gave the World two ways to judge the church:

  • “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have Love (agapé) one to another.” (John 13:35) and
  • “…that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:21)

Love and Unity—those are the two criteria by which the World is to judge us. Without the first, they will not believe we are his disciples; without the second, they will not believe that He is the Messiah. Is either of those results acceptable to us? If not, then perhaps we need to take seriously the command to Love one another and pursue Unity.

So, what does it look like when we “get along” the way God says we should? We proactively take care of one another’s needs, but also work to carry out our own responsibilities.

Cleansing and Restoring One Another

1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

This is what we might call a “packed” verse: It is loaded with meaning.

Who are the recipients—those expected to respond? “Brethren”—believers—you and I, as well as all believers who have ever read the scriptures, are addressed by this command one way or another. But he specifically addresses the believers “which are spiritual”; so not all of them are qualified to respond. Remember that it is entirely possible for a believer to be carnal (1st Corinthians 3:1-3). We are not to shun such a person, or gossip about him, but to “Restore such a one”. And being “spiritual” does not mean “pious”…it means that the Holy Spirit is currently presiding in your life. If you yourself are out of fellowship, then you need to address your own sin before trying to “straighten out” someone else. The Holy Spirit is residing in every believer…the question is, “Will you let Him do more than just ‘reside’?” If He is allowed to preside…to rule in our hearts—then He will over-rule the sin-nature and we will not only bear the “fruit” of the Spirit, listed in chapter 5, but, when we are called upon to help another brother or sister, we will do so without a critical spirit, and without judgment.

“If a man be overtaken in a fault”—this is talking about someone who has fallen into sin of some sort. It could be anything…the point is that they have been “overtaken”—they have stumbled, and have fallen. Christians, unfortunately, have the reputation of “shooting their wounded”—far from restoring them, we tend to abhor them. But here we are clearly told that the object of the correction—always—is restoration. If you are coming down on them as a judge, you are not the “spiritual” one that you think you are.

I remember a church where the young pastor fell into sin (petty theft, of all things), and was reproached by a coldly angry (and much older) deacon, with: “We don’t need your kind, here!” Somehow I doubt that this response helped much toward restoration. The younger man was promptly and permanently out of the ministry. No restoration, no forgiveness, no counseling—nothing. The last I heard, he was driving a truck, somewhere, and lucky to have a job at all.

Consider further: if you see a person physically sick or in pain, for example, you try to find out what is wrong before jumping to conclusions. They may have something wrong that will require medical care—or perhaps they just stubbed their toe. There may be a need that you can meet, or perhaps you may simply offer comfort. It pays to find out for sure what is going on before you jump in to straighten someone out.

However, emotional and relational things are not quite so easy to pin down, and frequently cause a rift, if left untouched. Let’s say someone has acted “snappish” toward you…and you are offended. Then probably you are not “spiritual” at that point…you are miffed, or hurt, and seeking self-satisfaction. So you have to deal with your own response first.

If (rather than being offended) you have concluded that something is wrong, and that they may need help, then possibly you are on the right track. Your desire, at least, is to restore or to help. So you go to them (privately) and ask whether everything is OK. Perhaps you are convinced that they are at odds with you, and you don’t know why, so you ask “Have I offended you in some way? You seem uncomfortable around me, and that worries me.” If they continue to insist that all is well, then you have to back off and let them deal with it, but you can pray for their deliverance. (And it is completely possible that they are telling the truth; that there is nothing wrong, and they are simply tired or not feeling well. I used to keep after my wife when she was just not feeling very good, asking her what was wrong, until I angered her, and then there really was something wrong… it was me. I was a slow learner, I guess.) My motive was restoration, but I was not applying the portion about a “spirit of meekness.” Meekness means “yieldedness”; it is sometimes translated gentleness, but I think it goes further than that. If they say, “nothing is wrong” then I need to back off…or maybe explain why I asked, what I thought I observed…but if they say that I am mistaken, “but thanks anyhow”, then it is time to stop asking.

So, what about a situation where sin is definitely involved; and you are trying to restore a fallen brother to fellowship? Then gentleness and yieldedness are critically important.  Further, the enemy can use a wounded soldier as bait to wound or destroy others. So we are admonished to consider ourselves lest we also be tempted.  Can he drag you into his sin? Maybe…or perhaps he can aggravate you to the point that you are in sin yourself—a different one, but just as fatal to fellowship.

I have read that in a jungle tribe in Indonesia, when a man goes to the forest to cut wood, he takes a live rooster along, and tethers it to a stake, with string, then sprinkles seed on the ground, and sets snares  in a broader circle all around him. As soon as the rooster decides that he is not hurt, and sees that there is seed to eat, he begins scratching the dirt, and calling his hens. Of course, his hens are miles away, but other wild roosters hear him calling, and come to fight him, thinking they are driving off an interloper. When they get there, and start strutting around trying to pick a fight with the captive rooster, it is only a matter of time before they find themselves snagged in one or more snares. So, when the wood-cutter is ready to go home, he carries several roosters home to eat, but his captive rooster lives to strut another day.

When a Christian is in bondage to sin, we need to be vigilant, knowing that while they themselves may not intend to snare us, the Enemy surely may be looking to trip us up. We are called to offer restoration, but God warns that it may be hazardous duty. Along this line, I think it is fair to offer this warning: Men: as a rule, help men! Let a Godly woman deal with the sisters, as a usual matter of course. More men have fallen prey to sexual sin than any other thing, I think, and it is easy to confuse the tender Love of Christ with other feelings, and get confused about why you are there. Stay far back from the edge, and you won’t have to worry about losing your balance. I have read that the most common “last words” of people who die at the Grand Canyon are “Hey, look at me!” and “Hey, watch this!” People get too close to the edge, and a single mistake becomes fatal. Just a word to the wise….

Supporting One Another

2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

This is a command, too, and it is a little confusing in English, because we tend to compare it with verse 5, below, and say, “Well, that seems to be a contradiction!” But it is a pretty easy study, if you want to look up the Greek words used—they are not even similar words. The one here in verse 2 is “baré” meaning a crushing weight, or an oppressive load. It is used figuratively to speak of life’s hard experiences and pressures. The word in verse 5 is “phortion”, meaning an assigned load—a ship’s cargo—a backpack, etc. It is also used figuratively to speak of life’s responsibilities. There are things that are our own burdens that no one but Jesus can share, and there are others that are crushing loads that can be a catastrophe if we are alone, or a bearable burden with the fellowship of a friend. This word in verse two actually derives from a verb (bareo) meaning to oppress, or to weigh down. This is not a normal load of life, but an overload.

When a person simply has a job to do, and is able to do it, we may leave them alone to do their work…or share it, if it something that can be shared. But if a catastrophe has overwhelmed them, as a good neighbor, we are to lend a hand. This is true for spiritual things as well. There have been many times that I have been able to help a person think through a situation, and overcome what seemed an insurmountable obstacle at the time. But some of those same people, at other times, have done the same for me, encouraging me when I was discouraged or depressed, without a trace of condemnation…just the Love of Christ.

Bear in mind, however, that we are working for Jesus, not for the other people. So if they do not respond in kind, we need to remember that He is the one to whom we look for reward. There was a time when I worked on a crew where each welder had a certain span he or she had to weld, and most felt that when their section was done they had no further responsibility, so they walked off. I felt that we were a team, and if my partners had trouble with their machines, or something, I stayed, and welded as far into their area as I could reach. But eventually there were times when my machine was the one with problems, and they just stood back and watched me struggle. Once someone even threw stuff at me while I worked. My first response was anger: I thought, “OK, that is the last time I will lift a hand to help those miserable wretches!” But right away, God reminded me that they owed me nothing…they were lost sinners, and I worked for Him, not them. If I would only offer grace to those who would respond in kind, then that was my reward—their response. But if I offered grace when there was no hope of reward, God would provide the reward. So, I repented, and renewed my commitment to serve those around me.

Serving One Another

3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.

This is not a change of subject: The subject here, beginning all the way back in Galatians 5:16 is “what does it look like when believers walk in fellowship with God?”  And the immediate context is the service of “washing the feet” of a sinning brother or sister…restoring them to fellowship, not just letting them stew. If you think you are above that, then you have a problem; you are deceiving yourself.

Look back to John 13, and see Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, which was a job reserved for slaves, in a rich house, and relegated to the individual in houses without slaves. Jesus, the real master, was deliberately giving an object lesson to proud men who would not have stooped to serve in that way; and in Peter’s case a man too proud to permit it, as well, since he considered it inappropriate for the Lord to wash his feet. The issue was not “whether” their feet were dirty—they were dirty! They had no plumbing or sewers or street-cleaners (or even sidewalks) in those days, so wherever you walked you were probably treading in some serious filth. And, as it was a semi-desert area, they wore sandals—not gumboots. The picture for us to see is that every believer needs his or her “feet cleaned” every so often, whether by personal confession, because we can see for ourselves that we have “stepped in something”, or by someone coming to us to let us know that we have gotten dirty…again.

All of us were cleaned by Jesus when we believed the Gospel…but we still live and walk in a dirty world. He said we will need cleansing, and that we are to perform that service to one another just as he did for the disciples. He was not telling them anything they didn’t know, or condemning them for needing their feet washed. (In the physical sense, he got dirty too!) But he was setting up an object lesson about restoring a sinning believer. Paul reiterates it here in Galatians 6, and lets us know that if we think we are too good for that service, then we have a real problem, and have deceived ourselves. He goes on to say that our work will demonstrate who we really are.

4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

We need to examine our own hearts and see what the character of our own work really is: I am deeply impressed by a man or woman with a servant’s heart, for whom no act of service is too lowly or menial. The man or woman who quietly steps in to serve, not seeking recognition, and does not shun the dirty jobs, is pretty impressive, in my mind. Please bear in mind that the word “Menial”, comes from the same root as “Minister!” Funny how we don’t like “menial” but we do like “ministry”. Seeing the kinds of service one chooses tells me a lot about a person’s character.

I remember a young woman many years ago sharing how she had gone to a women’s retreat, somewhere, and as it turned out, the women were asked to take turns serving in the kitchen, as that was part of why the price was low. Her first thought was “I didn’t come here to serve! I came here to be served!” But the Lord caught her attention with that rather blatantly selfish thought, and she immediately realized that her attitude was precisely the opposite of Jesus, who said “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many!” (Matthew 20:28) She changed her attitude, served with grace, and was blessed by the experience.

Pulling Our Own Weight

5 For every man shall bear his own burden.

Remember, this is the Greek word “phortion”, and means our personal responsibilities. Whatever burden God has assigned as your portion in life, is yours. You bear up under it, and you do it in such a way as to honor Him. That is simply being a good and faithful servant. He gives each of us work to do…and it is ours to do, not something we shuck off to someone else. We are to bear our own burden in this way. The crushing load of verse 2 is a whole different matter. When someone is so sick they can’t take care of themselves we may organize a list of families to take meals to them…but when they are well, we stop. Why? Because the issue was the crushing load of the sickness…we helped bear that burden, but when they are well, they take care of their own needs. We each have responsibilities of our own, and God says we are to discharge those responsibilities faithfully.

Conclusion:

Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is “Yes!” We are to watch over one another for the mutual good of all…not meddling in one another’s affairs, but being sensitive to one another’s needs and situation, so that no one is left to flounder under a load they can’t carry; no one is abandoned to the enemy when wounded by sin, and no one feels they are too busy or too holy to help a fallen brother or sister. This is where the agapé love can get very practical, very personal, and not always very comfortable.

If you can commit yourself to this lifestyle, then God can use your life to His glory. If not, then you will be the one people are trying to restore, not the one doing the restoration: the one who needs help, instead of the one helping.

Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to serve. Allow us to see ourselves through your eyes, and become the selfless servants you have called us to be, fellowshipping with you in the joy of service.

Amen.