Posts Tagged 'spiritual gifts'

The Master Multiplier, Part 5

We all enjoy getting presents. Whether it’s at Christmas or for our birthday or some other occasion, who doesn’t like ripping open a gift? And most of us like to give gifts; we get a lot of joy and satisfaction watching the other person opening their gift from us. It’s just built into us, I guess. As we get older, it becomes harder to buy a gift for us. And even though we could have bought a certain item, it feels good to receive it as a gift from a friend or loved one. It makes us feel a little special and we realize that we mean something to them.

God is the giver of perfect gifts. He gives us gifts that we can really use. Starting with the gift of His Son, God continually gives gifts to His people. We’ve already looked at some:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:24, 25 | TNIV)

God gives everyone life and breath and, as Paul said, “everything else.” That’s a stunning declaration that some people have a difficult time dealing with. God gives life but He also sustains life. You’re alive today because God is keeping you alive. You woke up this morning because God decided to give you another day. Think about that!

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7 | TNIV)

Here Paul was referring to his evangelistic efforts. He was a great preacher – one of the best that ever lived, yet he acknowledged that he was just one of many doing the work of God. As God gave opportunities, Paul planted seeds of faith just like a fellow like Apollos did, but ultimately it was God who was bringing about salvation in men, not Paul or anybody else.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 | TNIV)

God gives all of us victory over death, hell, and the grave through Jesus Christ. Death doesn’t have the last word! We do! That word is “victory!”

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 | TNIV)

In times of difficulty and stress, God promises to give you wisdom if just ask Him. Wisdom is the one thing we all need more of, and if we ask God, He will give us more than enough. He gives perfect perspective, allowing us to navigate through all the twists and turns of life.

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.”. (James 4:6 | TNIV)

And God gives us even more grace – He gives us an over-abundance of grace. He never gives just enough, but always more than we think we need.

But then, we read of this gift in 1 Peter:

If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11 | KJV)

God gives abilities with which we may serve Him. Think about that for a moment. God makes us able to do that which He asks of us. Yet how many of us face the prospect of serving Him with fear or doubt? We always think “the other guy” can do it better than we can. Well, according to Peter, that’s baloney.

Let’s consider what Peter meant when he wrote of these abilities from God, because as always, there much more going on than meets the eye.

Be like Christ – Suffering

In various ways, Peter had been writing about suffering; that is, suffering on account of the faith. He was writing to people who were suffering various degrees of persecution, and his purpose was to show that this kind of suffering was inescapable; that the best way to deal with it was to be prepared for it. In chapter 3, Peter wrote about Christ’s suffering for us. Of course, our Lord not only suffered for us, but He also died for us. As a Christian, how do you respond to that? According to Peter, here’s how you should:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin. (1 Peter 4:1 | TNIV)

That’s right; we should have the same attitude as He did. We need to think and reason and respond to suffering or persecution as He did. Peter covered that a couple of chapters back:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21 – 23 | TNIV)

According to Peter, when we suffer barbs of criticism because we follow Christ, or indeed if we are persecuted to a greater extent because of our faith, we are “done with sin.” That’s a funny thing for the apostle to say. While it sounds like he is saying that “persecution drives the sin out of us,” that’s not at all what he is getting at. It’s really the other way around: Because we are “done with sin,” we are now facing various kinds of persecution. Or, another way to put it might me: Because you are now taking your faith seriously and have stopped this sin or that, you will face mockery or jeering or worse forms of persecution. Your new life of faith and holiness makes you a target!

But your attitude through it all should be that of Jesus. The Christian who keeps the faith and remains true to Christ during persecution does not do evil. He doesn’t fight back, for he will withstand persecution as Christ did. Consider this:

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53 | TNIV)

That’s right. Jesus could have called on thousands of angels to get Him out of the predicament He was in with the Jewish religious leaders and with the Romans. But He didn’t. He faced it. He submitted to His captors. Christ never gave evil for evil, and the Christian who has the attitude of Christ toward suffering will not strike out against his persecutors.

Be Like Christ – Purpose

In verse two, Peter contrasts two philosophies:

As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:2 | TNIV)

The person who doesn’t know God or knows God but isn’t serving Christ is not living for the will of God but does everything he can to fulfill his own human desires, which more often than not run contrary to God’s will. But the true believer’s goal in life is to accomplish God’s will and he actively finds ways to do just that. In verse 3, Peter touches on some of things that the believer used to spend his time doing:

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. (1 Peter 4:3 | TNIV)

It’s amazing how much time you have on your hands when you aren’t trying to find a party to go to or recovering from the party you were at the night before! Before you were saved you did those things, but now you don’t. Another amazing thing happens when you start taking your faith seriously: You’ll probably lose some friends. And it likely won’t be your idea:

They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. (1 Peter 4:4 | TNIV)

Really, what Peter is talking about here is living a life of holiness – separated to God, though not physically separated from the world. You still have to live in this world of sin, but living for God means you don’t participate in all the things the world thinks are so great and necessary. The people you once spent time partying with or, as Peter might have said, “sinning with,” may not be interested in God’s will and because they likely won’t understand it, maybe they’ll “heap abuse on you.” It’s illogical to be sure, but who said sin in logical?

But when you get to thinking they’re right and you’re wrong, remember these words:

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:5 | TNIV)

That’s right; they may live like there’s no God and like they aren’t responsible to Him for the sinful choices they make, but it doesn’t matter what they believe: There is a God and they will stand before Him and give an account of how they lived their lives and, more importantly, why they rejected Him. And before you think there are exceptions, know this: Every human being, at some point in their lives, will be given the choice to serve God. That’s Peter’s point in verse 6:

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6 | TNIV)

Peter uses the term “dead” to refer to individuals who heard the presentation of the Gospel – who where given the choice – while they were living, but now at the time he wrote this letter are now dead. The point is that these individuals had heard the Gospel, but they rejected it.

Be Like Christ – Service

Fortunately, not all people reject the Gospel. A great many accept it and their lives are good examples for us to follow. The rest of the world may live like there’s no end in sight, but the truth is, there is an end coming:

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. (1 Peter 4:7 | TNIV)

Christians ought to be clear-headed and see things with a God-given perspective so that they may pray more effectively. See how important prayer is? It’s linked to how you perceive your world. If you’re so dull-witted that you think everything is hunky dory, then your prayer life will probably be lackluster, boring, and a waste of God’s time. However, if you begin to take your faith seriously, pretty soon you’ll start to see your world the way God does, and your prayers will reflect that. Your prayers will become serious prayers that God takes seriously.

However, a believer can’t just pray all the time without a thought to other members of the church. Prayer is important, but so in maintaining a good relationship with other believers:

 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:8, 9 | TNIV)

Love exists between believers, or it should, and we ought to love each other “deeply.” That’s a good word but it’s not the best. Other translations use the word “fervently,” but even that word isn’t strong enough. The Greek word carries the idea, for example, of an athlete straining his muscles in an effort to win his race or reach his goal, or of a horse running at a full gallop. It’s an intense word that suggests an intense effort. More important than any other thing, believers should practice love for each other fervently. According to John, this how other people know we are true believers:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7, 12 | TNIV)

This kind of deep love, Peter says, “covers over a multitude of sins,” which is an awkward way of saying that as we love each other the way Christ loves us we will forgive each other. It’s not that love excuses sin or hides it, but rather forgives it. This kind of love accepts the person just as he is, faults and all. This does not imply that the local church should never deal with gross sins, but that the Christian should never hold past sins against a brother who has turned his back on those sins.

Use your gift(s)

And that’s the background that gets us to God’s gifts to us:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10 | TNIV)

It’s not a coincidence that Peter mentions using one’s gifts from God right after a discussion about loving each other. Spiritual gifts need to be used within the context of love. Whatever gift or gifts God has given you, you are to use them in love. God gives us gifts in love and He expects us to exercise them the same way. Peter briefly mentions a couple of those gifts in the next verse, but his point is that without your spiritual gift or gifts operating in your church, your church will suffer.

If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11 | TNIV)

Now would be a good time pause and examine your own life to see if you are using your God-given gift or gifts to benefit the Body of Christ. Getting by in this world of sin isn’t always easy for the child of God but He has given us the tools to not only get by but to live in victory in spite of circumstances. We owe each other in the church love and the faithful exercise of our spiritual gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the Numbers, 2

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Last time, we talked about the big census taken of Israel and the fact that the Levites were to be excluded from that census because God needed people to care for His Tabernacle and tend to the religious needs of the people and His priests. The Levites would not be counted upon to fight for Israel. But is was essential that each Israelite knew who he was and to what tribe he belonged.

Another reason for the big census was to organize the people for their journey. It is here, as at no other time in Israel’s history, that the first steps toward nationhood were taken. Prior to the census, Israel was very loosely knit and resembled a mob more than a nation. From this point on, however, there would be a definite structure to the camp and an “address” for each family of each tribe.

The interesting part of the story is that the people of Israel were divided up into four camps or neighborhoods by God Himself. The order and placement of the tribes had nothing to do with birth order or size. The tribe of Judah went first, but was the fourth son of Jacob and the tribe bringing up the rear was the largest tribe of all. The position of each tribe is of moral significance and full of spiritual meaning and application.

It is significant to the placement of each tribe that they surrounded the Tent of Meeting. The people were to never forget that “God was in the midst of His people” no matter where they found themselves. This is also significant:

Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father’s house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting. (Numbers 2:2 NKJV)

Let’s examine each standard of Israel and find out why they are important to us, today.

The standard of Judah, Numbers 2:3 – 9

Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun were the fourth, fifth, and sixth sons born to Jacob by Leah. It is common knowledge that Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son, so it is surprising that these tribes were the ones to lead the other tribes.

“Judah” means “praise the Lord.” That’s probably why they were to lead the way. The importance of praise cannot be overstated. The psalmist knew this:

Hallelujah! Yes, praise the Lord! Sing him a new song. Sing his praises, all his people. O Israel, rejoice in your Maker. O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King. Praise his name with dancing, accompanied by drums and lyre. For Jehovah enjoys his people; he will save the humble. Let his people rejoice in this honor. Let them sing for joy as they lie upon their beds. Adore him, O his people! And take a double-edged sword to execute his punishment upon the nations. Bind their kings and leaders with iron chains, and execute their sentences. (Psalm 149:1 – 9 TLB)

Yes, the “praising camp” should lead the way. Praise is the first, most obvious sign that a soul is right with God. When a believer thinks more highly of himself than is reasonable, there is no praise. Praise comes when a believer sees himself in light of God’s righteousness and holiness; when he sees an accurate picture of himself. Pride and praise don’t go hand-in-hand; humility is essential. It is only we see our own needy and guilty state, and by faith lay hold on God’s mercy and the all-sufficiency of Christ that we can praise God with a sincere heart.

Yes, they knew about him all right, but they wouldn’t admit it or worship him or even thank him for all his daily care. And after a while they began to think up silly ideas of what God was like and what he wanted them to do. The result was that their foolish minds became dark and confused. Claiming themselves to be wise without God, they became utter fools instead. (Romans 1:21, 22 TLB)

True, genuine praise can stop that from happening. It keeps the our focus where it should be: on God, not on ourselves. Praise keeps our priorities straight; it keeps our lives in proper perspective. Most of all, though, praising God keeps our minds clear.

Praise is indispensable in the life of the Christian. It may be all about God, but the benefit is all ours.

The standard of Reuben, Numbers 2:10 – 18

On the east was Judah, and to the south were Reuben and the tribes associated with it. Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son. “Reuben” means “behold a son.” Of all the relationships possible in life, sonship is the best relationship a believer can have. After praise comes the testimony of true sonship. All believers are children of God, but not all have the close relationship required in sonship. No wonder the testimony of true sonship follows praise.

How can you tell if a believer has a relationship as close as sonship demands? They are the ones whose lives are full of praise to God.

So, dear brothers, you have no obligations whatever to your old sinful nature to do what it begs you to do. For if you keep on following it you are lost and will perish, but if through the power of the Holy Spirit you crush it and its evil deeds, you shall live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. And so we should not be like cringing, fearful slaves, but we should behave like God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family, and calling to him, “Father, Father.” (Romans 8:12 – 15 TLB)

Not every Christian can do this. Only those who have learned to yield themselves to the Holy Spirit within them. Only those who are living disciplined lives for God are able to praise Him as sons.

The standard of Ephraim, Numbers 2:18 – 24

To the west we have Ephraim the tribes with him. We might call this the “Rachel Neighborhood.” “Ephraim” means “double fruitfulness.” Abundant fruitfulness is sure to come after true praise and a life of devoted sonship. Bearing fruit is essential for the believer, it’s not an option even though a lot of Christians think it is. In the Kingdom of God, it’s not normal for a Christian to be barren; to be fruitless. In fact, it’s so abnormal there is only one cure:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1, 2 NKJV)

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.(John 15:6 NKJV)

That’s pretty serious! And it’s an expectation the Lord for all of us. We are to bear fruit. But how does that happen? Abundant fruit will definitely come after praise and a life of sonship. We praise God not because we are fruitful, but because in the atmosphere of praise, fruit will grow.

Under Jehoshaphat’s guidance, the people were able to sing and praise God and THEN He gave them the victory.

Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. (2 Chronicles 20:22 NKJV)

They praised God and He blessed them. We modern Christians have it all backwards; we won’t praise God until He blesses us. The next time you have a need or if you’re just feeling down, start praising God. You won’t feel like doing it, but do it anyway.  And when you do, you won’t believe how good you’ll feel.

The standard of Dan, Numbers 2:25 – 31

Finally, on the south-side came Dan and his tribes. “Dan” means “judging.” Of Dan it is said:

...they shall break camp last, with their standards. (Numbers 2:31b NKJV)

It’s not insignificant that the ones who “judge” come last. The privilege of judging isn’t for all. It’s the last thing a believer should be doing, only after he’s spent time with God in praise, in a life of consecrated sonship, staying connected to Jesus like a branch is to its vine.

What does all this have to do with us?

By finding and keeping to their designated places, the families of Israel were taught some important lessons vital to their survival as they embarked on their journey across the desert, facing perils of all kinds. They were taught discipline; taught to keep their places whether marching or standing still. They were taught to depend on each other for protection on all sides. They were taught to keep looking up – to keep their eyes on the standards and to pay attention to the voice of their leaders. And they were taught whether they were marching or standing still, they were following the will of God.

But the most important lesson of all was this one: Yahweh was their Covenant-making God and He was the God who fulfilled His Covenant and He, Yahweh, must be central to their lives.

That’s why the Tabernacle was in the center of the camp. It was put their by God’s design to be the intersection of all the day’s activities. It was to be the major focus of their attention; an ongoing reminder that God was with them, leading them and commanding their worship and authority.

As Christians, we are not Israel. We don’t have tribes or a Tabernacle. What God told them He isn’t telling us. But at the same time, we’re supposed to learn something. God is still in the business of making covenants with His people. He makes promises and He keeps them. By now, the children of Israel knew who they were and they knew their place. Do we? Do we know to Whom we belong? Do we know our place in the Kingdom? Is God at the intersection of our daily activities?

All believers, all members of the Body of Christ, have their appointed place.

Our bodies have many parts, but the many parts make up only one body when they are all put together. So it is with the “body” of Christ. Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But the Holy Spirit has fitted us all together into one body. We have been baptized into Christ’s body by the one Spirit, and have all been given that same Holy Spirit. Yes, the body has many parts, not just one part. (1 Corinthians 12:12 – 14 TLB)

When God put you in the Body of Christ, you were put there to serve. You are part of the church to do something with the spiritual gifts God has given you. As you exercise your gift or gifts, you are serving God in the place He has put you. Do you remember a woman called Dorcas? She was a seamstress; she made clothes. That was her place and her job in the Kingdom.

But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Dorcas,” and she opened her eyes! And when she saw Peter, she sat up! He gave her his hand and helped her up and called in the believers and widows, presenting her to them. (Acts 9:40, 41 TLB)

Why did Peter do this? It was because members of her church came and found Peter and begged him. Dorcas, a woman whose only talent was sewing pieces of cloth together but who used that talent in the context of her church, was seen as being so indispensable to the church that its members sought out Peter so that he would come, pray, and bring her back to life!

Find your place in the Kingdom – in your church – and be faithful to it. Do what God has called you to do.

The Body of Christ

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1 Corinthians 12:12-31

The human body is the perfect metaphor for the Church of Jesus Christ. If we were to quickly scan this twelfth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we’d see that in the first half he wrote about the Holy Spirit and the various spiritual gifts He distributes among believers. In this second half, he writes, not about individual members of the Church but of the Church as a whole – a single unit. He doesn’t use the body metaphor to push some kind socialist agenda or the notion that our individuality vanishes when we become Christians. Rather, the human body is a living organism made up of many “parts” or “members.” Similarly, the Church is like a body, specifically the Body of Christ, because it also is a living organism, made up of many and diverse “members.” Not only that, man is the hands-down crowing creative achievement of God – the most wonderful and glorious of God’s creations. So is the Church. This fact is lost on most Christians, by the way. A recent survey gives some startling and sad information about church attendance in America.

Numbers from actual counts of people in Orthodox Christian churches (Catholic, mainline and evangelical) show that in 2004, 17.7% of the population attended a Christian church on any given weekend.

(http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html?p=1)

That’s just pathetic. Less than 20% of Americans actually attend services regularly. We have a real problem here.  This, despite the fact that a majority of Americans “claim” to be Christians!   Of course, attending church services in no way makes you a Christian. However, getting up on a Sunday morning, leaving your home, and going to a church service is a powerful witness to your neighbors.

There are tons of good reasons for regular church attendance, in addition to the fact that the New Testament urges Christians to. But that’s a subject for another post. For now, let’s consider the Church as the Body of Christ.

The Church is one Body

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12 NIV84)

Recall that up till now Paul had been discussing individuals within the church and the gifts the Spirit had given them. Now it’s as though he pulls back the camera lens to focus on the forest rather than on the trees. He refers to the “forest” of believers as a “body.”

The main point of this verse is that there is just one body – one unit – made up of many parts. Think about what that means. A body with two heads would be a monster. There can only be one Head of the Church, and that’s Christ. There may be many churches, but there is one Christ.

…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5 NIV84)

Individual members may have different gifts, but they are all brought into unity under Christ. Dods comments:

The same spiritual life exists in all Christians, derived from the same source, supplying the with similar energy, and prompting them to the same habits and aims.

Each member is united by one Spirit

For we were all baptized by none Spirit into one body… (1 Corinthians 12:13a NIV84)

Now, how does a person become part of the Body of Christ? This verse tells us. It’s not referring to being baptized in water, as some sacerdotal churches teach. Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that makes us part of the Body of Christ. You can see that the Holy Spirit is an indispensable member of the Trinity! He’s often neglected, but thank God for what He does in us and for us. He lives through believers (gifts of the Spirit), enables believers to live God-glorifying lives (fruit of the Spirit), and He makes believers part of the Body of Christ.  You may become part of a local church by confession of faith, but you become part of the Church by an act of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63 NIV84)

The Body of Christ includes every member

…whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13b NIV84)

In other words, all Christians share in the fellowship of Christ. Regardless of color, social status, location, sex, or gifts, all believers are “given the one Spirit to drink.” That’s Paul’s fancy, artistic way of saying all believers are able to have close communion with Christ through His Holy Spirit.

This is an amazing declaration, when we consider it. There are those members of the Church we think are closer to God because of their position within the Church. The pastor, for example. He must be closest of all to Christ. Sunday school teachers and elders must surely be closer to Christ than the average member. Not so, according to Paul. Regardless of the gift a member may possess – from the splashy, obvious gifts church leaders may exercise, to the almost unseen and always under appreciated gifts of the prayer warrior, all are able to be as close to Christ as the Holy Spirit makes possible.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 NIV84)

There is no distinction between the worship leader and the sound man and the treasurer. All believers were once “far away” and we’ve all been “brought near by the blood of Christ,” not by our talents and gifts.

Each member has his own function

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (1 Corinthians 12:18 NIV84)

A foot can’t do the work of a eye. An ear can’t do the work of a hand. The liver does something the heart can’t do. There are many different Spiritual gifts and God has blessed His church with a diversity of gifts as He sees fit. God is the One who sovereignly distributes the gifts of the Spirit as it pleases Him.

And here’s why attending your local church is so very important. All believers – all members of Christ’s body – have been given spiritual gifts to be used in the church. You don’t use spiritual gifts in your office or your classroom. The gifts are specifically given to bless and minister to other members of the local church. If you are part of the majority of church “members” who do not attend church regularly then you are robbing the congregation of something God wants it to have.

You may not have a splashly spiritual gift, but don’t be discouraged! Be a part of the congregation and do what God has enabled you to do for the good of that congregation. And if you don’t know what your gift is, pray that God will show you. All believers have a spiritual gift – at least one! Find out what yours is, jump in and let the Spirit use you in your church. If you are a member of Christ’s Body, there is something you should be doing for Him. Find out what it is. A useless member is a betrayal of Christ’s character.

All members are interdependent

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:21 NIV84)

Here’s an admission that you will seldom hear from any of the majority of church members who lay out of services week after week: each member of the body needs the help of the others. Yes, as hard as it may be for you to admit, you Lone Ranger, self-made Christian you, you need the rest of us. In fact, you can’t survive without us.

When members of the church lose their sense of unity, they’re heading into rough waters. Those who may feel inferior may just wander out of the church never to be seen again. Those who feel superior to the rest of us may lose their sense of spiritual values and perspective and become hypocrites who talk all-day long about God while they have virtually nothing to do with Him or His church.

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable… (1 Corinthians 12:22 NIV84)

The English “weaker” comes from the Greek “asthenes,” which means “sick,” “weak,” and “feeble.” We’re not sure which members Paul is referring to, but we can guess. Who is a weak church member? Is it one who occasionally has lapses in his faith? One who may not be as Biblically literate as you are? Or how about the ones who seem to be spiritually immature? Well, hold on to your hymnals! Paul says members like that are indispensable!

...and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. (1 Corinthians 12:23a NIV84)

The “less honorable” member is not the same one as the “weaker” member. Look at another translation:

And we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while of course the parts that may be seen do not require this special care. (1 Corinthians 23b, 24a TLB)

What does Paul mean by this? Well, remember, he’s referencing the human body. Some parts of it we always keep covered for obvious reasons. And as we get older, we cover up even more! What Paul is getting at is this: The human body is built according to God’s design and so is the Church.

So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that might otherwise seem less important. (1 Corinthians 12:24b TLB)

Do you get it? Referring to the human body, everybody can see your face, but you keep your private parts covered up all the time. But that doesn’t mean your face is more important that your private parts. Or how about your heart?  Nobody sees it (if we can see your heart, you’re beyond help!), but you can’t live without it!  God has skillfully blended together all your bodily organs and parts so that there is complete harmony between all them all. And so it is with the members of His Church. All its members, from the one behind the pulpit that everybody sees, to the one who vacuums between the pews week after week, are vitally important to the survival of the Church.

There is no division in His Body in His sight

…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:25 NIV84)

We must treat each member of the Church the way God sees them. Here’s how He sees them:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NIV84)

There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called… (Ephesians 4:4 NIV84)

God sees all members of His Body, regardless of their gifts and talents, as indispensable. And that’s how we ought to see each other. We shouldn’t play favorites. The things that divide society have no place in God’s Church.

Each member should care for the other

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26 NIV84)

There is no place for jealousy or envy or strife in the Church. Because God is One, His Church should reflect that oneness in unity. There should be no divisions in the Body of Christ.

This verse describes the what real care looks like. When we love each other in Christ, the Church (including your local church) will function like a human body.

The Church is an organism. It is not a club, or a society, or a guild, or an association, or even a fellowship. To view it as such is to lower its dignity.

And yet, like those groups, the local church does have a membership roll, and a chain of leadership. If you join a local church, you have certain obligations to that body of believers. As a Christian you possess certain spiritual gifts your local church needs. As a Christian you owe Christ your dedication, commitment, and service. You owe that to His Body – from the great invisible Body of Christ in which all believers from all time have been placed by the Holy Spirit, to the local church you joined by confession of faith and promised to be loyal to.

So, what will you be doing next Sunday?

 

The Adventure of the Floating Axehead

Day1681 KINGS 6:1- 7

Elisha was a powerful prophet and a true happy warrior for God. His mentor was Elijah, and in some ways Elisha’s ministry has been overshadowed by that of Elijah. Elijah’s ministry was very public, while that of Elisha was much more private in nature. Elijah is known for some really spectacular miracles and Elisha is not. Here in 1 Kings 6, we have recorded for us a miracle under Elisha’s ministry. It is not spectacular, like calling for fire to rain down from heaven. But it is a miracle and it reveals something of this prophet’s character and that of the men he was mentoring. It’s the Adventure of the Floating Axehead, and it’s a miracle because, generally speaking, chunks of iron don’t float.

Setting the scene

One day the seminary students came to Elisha and told him, “As you can see, our dormitory is too small. Tell us, as our president, whether we can build a new one down beside the Jordan River, where there are plenty of logs.”

All right,” he told them, “go ahead.” (2 Kings 6:1-3 TLB)

The hypocritical Gehazi had been sternly dealt with and branded with a life-long shame and dishonor because he lied to the prophet Elisha, his employer.

Because you have done this, Naaman’s leprosy shall be upon you and upon your children and your children’s children forever.” And Gehazi walked from the room a leper, his skin as white as snow. (2 Kings 5:27 TLB)

Gehazi was Elisha’s long-time servant, and had seen the prophet minister in great power. Still, he thought he could lie to this man of God! Gehazi was hypocrite, yes, but he was worse than that: he was stupid. It’s significant that immediately following the punishment of one of Elisah’s “inner circle,” we read about an entire school of men who were undeniably faithful to the prophet.

What a clear picture of the state of the church of Jesus Christ today. There are many faithful members – members who live for and work for the cause of Christ not only in their churches but out in the community. These people take their faith seriously and they respect leaders in the faith. And yet, among these faithful, you will always find people like Gehazi; people who have sat under the same good teaching, enjoyed the presence of God, and maybe even done work for the Kingdom, but when push comes to shove, they come down the same side of the equation as Gehazi. We, the faithful, may be tempted to become discouraged or cynical as we look at how the Gehazi’s have infested the church, but our Lord has already anticipated this condition and given some good advice:

Let both (true believers and the Gehazi’s) grow together until the harvest, and I will tell the reapers to sort out the thistles (Gehazi-like people) and burn them, and put the wheat (true believers) in the barn. (Matthew 13:30 TLB)

These “seminary students” were young prophets being taught by Elisha. Apparently this “school of prophets” started small and grew quickly under the teaching of Elisha. But it was more than just his teaching; there were the miracles. Under the ministry of Elijah and Elisha, God worked wonders to authenticate the sermons the preached. The purpose behind the miracles was primarily to show the people of Israel that Yahweh was real and Baal was not.

The fact that they ran out of room at the school shows that there were many genuine true believers in the land that felt the burden to get God’s Word out to the people. A lot of people mistakenly assume that when a church grows like this prophet’s seminary grew, that’s a good thing. This isn’t necessarily so. Commenting on the “church growth theology” so prevalent today, Bill Hull, discipleship guru, sees two flaws in its premise:

First, numbers themselves do not indicate greatness. Large groups can gather for any number of events, such as lynchings, mob riots, or Tupperware parties. The more accurate observation concerning a large church gathering might be “the number of people gathered here indicates that those leading the church–pastor and the music leader–must be highly talented.” That would be a good and generally true judgment.

The second flaw of such a superficial measure is that you have asked the wrong question. “How many people are present?” The right question is “What are these people like?” What kind of families do they have, are they honest in business, are they trained to witness, do they know the Bible, are they penetrating their workplaces, their neighborhoods, reaching friends and associates for Christ?

We’ll see that the young seminary students in this story were men of exemplary character, just like their mentor. Notice they were ready to build their own residence hall! They didn’t think twice about it. They were basically broke (they had to borrow an axe!), but they had spunk and they had a plan. They were workers – no job was beneath these “preachers in training.”

A true leader with students of great character

Please, sir, come with us,” someone suggested. “I will,” he said. (2 Kings 6:3 TLB)

This is a refreshing verse. We have here a glimpse into Elisha’s character, and that of his students. First, it shows that Elisha wasn’t above doing a job far below his calling and capabilities. Here he was, Elijah’s successor and a great prophet in his own right, going out with some students to build a house. Second, he was obviously respected and loved by his students.

But we see something else. All these men wanted was a place to live, not a palace. They knew where some logs where and that was good enough for them. Elisha didn’t tell them go and send for some cedars of Lebanon or marble or oak paneling or anything like that. They were content to use the resources around them.

And they didn’t let their inexperience and lack of resources stop them. Many pastors and church boards would LOVE to have people like this as members of their congregations! They are they exact opposite of the kind of people this little saw describes:

Once upon a time there were four men named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. But Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it. But Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about it, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, and Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody and Nobody did the job that Anybody could have done in the first place.

The man who lost the axehead

When they arrived at the Jordan, they began cutting down trees; but as one of them was chopping, his axhead fell into the river. “Oh, sir,” he cried, “it was borrowed!” (2 Kings 6:4, 5 TLB)

Here are some things we can learn from the man who lost the axehead:

First, he lost his ability to work. The moment this man dropped the axe into the Jordan, he could no longer work; his effectiveness was gone. There’s a lesson here for all Christian workers. It is possible to lose your effectiveness for the Lord. There may be many reasons why God would allow this to happen, but we are reminded of Samson, who, on account of sin, lost his God-given strength:

Then she screamed, “The Philistines are here to capture you, Samson!” And he woke up and thought, “I will do as before; I’ll just shake myself free.” But he didn’t realize that the Lord had left him. (Judges 16:20 TLB)

Second, he lost his ability while he was working. He wasn’t lazy and he wasn’t engaged in a sinful activity, he was in the middle of cutting down a tree, like the other prophets. He was working hard, but he was working so hard he didn’t notice the axehead slipping off the handle. In other words, he wasn’t careful; he was careless. In his haste, or maybe zeal, to get the job done he didn’t notice he was losing his ability to work.

Third, he lost something that didn’t belong to him. The axe was borrowed. These student prophets were so poor, they had to borrow at least one axe and probably other tools as well. How applicable is this to Christian workers? Think about the gifts of the Spirit. They don’t belong to any Christian; they are “on loan” from the Holy Spirit, to be used in service to the Body of Christ. To help us all understand the relationship between the gifts of service God gives us and our using them properly, Jesus tells a brilliant parable in Luke 19. A king was going on a trip and he gave his fortune to three men to take of. Two of them invested the king’s fortune wisely and the king, when he came back, was happy that these men had increased his fortune and he rewarded them accordingly. The third man, though, played it safe and he didn’t do anything with his portion of the fortune. The king called him “wicked” and “vile” and he was punished – everything the king gave him was taken away and given to the man who did the best job.

Then turning to the others standing by he ordered, ‘Take the money away from him and give it to the man who earned the most.’

“ ‘But, sir,’ they said, ‘he has enough already!’

“ ‘Yes,’ the king replied, ‘but it is always true that those who have, get more, and those who have little, soon lose even that.’” (Luke 19:24 – 26 TLB)

In other words, when it comes to the gifts God gives us to serve Him, we had better use them or we’ll lose them.

To this man’s credit, though, the very moment he realized he lost the borrowed axehead into the Jordan River, he did something about it: he asked for help. He wasn’t above asking for help when he needed it. He asked the man of God to help him – not to pray, mind you – but to find the sunken axehead. A lot of us who are engaged in the work of the Lord; people like Sunday School teachers, church board members, and even pastors, seem afraid to ask for help when the task exceeds our abilities or when we hit an impasse. We’re often content to whine and complain about being “part of the 10% that does all the work” and “why doesn’t so-and-so do this so I don’t have to.” Becoming discouraged, frustrated and cynical IN the work of the Lord often leads to becoming discouraged, frustrated and cynical OF the work of the Lord. There is no shame or dishonor in asking a godly person for help, like this student did.

Well, when he asked Elisha for help, he was able to carry on.

Where did it fall?” the prophet asked. The youth showed him the place, and Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water; and the axhead rose to the surface and floated! “Grab it,” Elisha said to him; and he did. (2 Kings 6:6, 7 TLB)

Elisha was definitely a man of action here. Let’s pause for a moment and read a couple of verses found in Deuteronomy. They form part of the Law and have to do with…you won’t believe it…this very problem!

If a man goes into the forest with his neighbor to chop wood, and the axhead flies off the handle and kills the man’s neighbor, he may flee to one of those cities and be safe. Anyone seeking to avenge the death will not be able to. These cities must be scattered so that one of them will be reasonably close to everyone; otherwise the angry avenger might catch and kill the innocent slayer, even though he should not have died since he had not killed deliberately. (Deuteronomy 19:5 – 7 TLB)

This law had to do with the Cities of Refuge, places to which an innocent could flee to escape an avenging family member. The point is, the example Moses used was that of a loose axehad! In the days before government regulations, apparently this was a big problem. Elisha knew the Law and he knew this student should have been more careful in his use of the axe, but he didn’t lecture him and rake him over the coals. Instead, he raced to rescue.

A minor miracle took place this day: a hunk of iron floated on the water. It wasn’t spectacular, like fire coming down from the sky or a racing chariot of fire, but it did defy all physical laws on Earth! Of course, ships and boats made of iron float, but that’s no miracle. For an axehead to float; that’s a miracle! As far as we know, the only people who knew this miracle took place were Elisha and some of his students. The sunken axehead miraculously floated up to the surface of the Jordan, was scooped up and put back on its handle and, presumably, the young man was able to get back to work.

But take care to notice what Elisha did just before the axehead floated up from the murky depths of the Jordan: he threw a stick into the Jordan. There is a great spiritual lesson here: that stick is like the Cross of Christ. Did you know Christ went down into the waters of death for you? He did! The Work He did on the Cross accomplished your salvation – it freed you from your sins and the guilt of your sins.

He personally carried the load of our sins in his own body when he died on the cross so that we can be finished with sin and live a good life from now on. For his wounds have healed ours! (1 Peter 2:24 TLB)

But along with that stunning, ultimate miracle of miracles, there are other “minor” miracles. The Cross of Christ is effective for all eternity, and for today. If you are tired IN the ministry or even tired OF the ministry, His strength can rejuvenate you. Ask for help! Let others step in and share their strength with you. If you feel like that sunken axehead, stuck in the muck and mire of life, the power of Christ through the Cross can raise you up as surely as that axehead.


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