Posts Tagged 'The Church'

Heaven

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What is heaven? Is it a place? Is it an idea? Is it “up there”? Or is it “out there”? Lots of people have lots of ideas about this place known as heaven. All religions speak of a place where “true believers” go to after death. Depending on what religion you are a part of, heaven may be full of angels, clouds, virgins, harps, saints, flowers, and rolling hills. What Christians know about heaven comes from the Bible. But that doesn’t stop them from coming up with sentimental visions of a place that bears little resemblance to Biblical reality.

There’s an old joke about heaven that goes something like this:

Once upon a time, a Christian man died and went up to heaven. Upon arriving at the Pearly Gates, he was ushered into his eternal destination. An angel came up to him and took him on a walking tour around heaven. He was very impressed with the streets of gold and marveled at all the magnificent mansions he passed by. On and on they walked and the man was wondering where his mansion was. The angel told him his home was located on the outskirts of town. As they walked out of town, the angel stopped just in front of a small cabin. Pointing to the very humble structure, he informed the man, “And here is your place.”

The man was taken aback. Why wasn’t his eternal home a palatial palace like all the buildings he passed by. The angel grinned and said, “The engineers did the best they could with all the stuff you sent up before you arrived.”

Of course, this is only a joke. Or is some of it actually true? Let’s put our sentiment aside for a while and consider what the Bible has to say about heaven.

2 Kings 2:9 – 12

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart. (2 Kings 2:11-12 | NIV84)

This is an incident involving Elijah and Elisha. There is a lot of speculation as to precisely what happened to the great prophet Elijah, but one this is certain: he didn’t die. What happened to him? Elijah was a man, but he was a man who walked in the presence of God. That fact is demonstrated by the appearance of a “fiery chariot.” Elijah was transported bodily upward away from the surface of the earth. But where did the prophet go? Jesus gives us a clue:

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man. (John 3:13a | NIV84)

According to Jesus, who should know, there is no way that Elijah went to the place He, Jesus, came from. So what did the Chronicler mean when he used the word “heaven”? In the Bible, the word “heaven” can describe any one of three places:

(1) God’s throne room. This is the “third heaven.” See 2 Corinthians 12:2, 3.

(2) The physical universe where the stars and planets and galaxies are. This is the “second heaven.”

(3) Earth’s atmosphere – the sky. This is the “first heaven.”

Elijah could not have gone bodily into the “third heaven,” as Jesus Himself indicated. It’s highly unlikely he was beamed up into the universe someplace since Elisha watched him ascend. Elijah, then, was taken up into our atmosphere, the so-called “first heaven.” Many Bible readers simply assume that at this point, the prophet was somehow made immoral and taken INTO heaven (the “third heaven”), the place where God resides. We know this didn’t happen because Jesus said it didn’t, and the Sons of the Prophets knew it didn’t, too. They knew that Elijah had simply been moved from one place to another.

“Look,” they said, “we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.”“No,” Elisha replied, “do not send them.” (2 Kings 2:16 | NIV84)

Fifty men searched for days and couldn’t find Elijah, but that doesn’t mean he had vanished. In fact, Elijah was alive and still active long after the fiery chariot took him away. He actually wrote a letter to King Jehoram years after the events recorded here in 2 Kings 2:16. The text of the letter is found in 2 Chronicles 21:12 – 15, and begins like this:

Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet, which said: “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: ‘You have not walked in the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah.’ (2 Chronicles 21:12 | NIV84)

Like a chess piece, the Lord simply plucked Elijah up and moved him to another location in Israel where he lived out the remainder of his years. The Lord graciously moved him out of the way and out of the limelight so that his successor, Elisha, could do the work to which he was called.

So the first thing we learn about heaven is that one must die to get there.

Matthew 6:19 – 21

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 | NIV84)

Jesus is not telling us not to save for our retirement or not to acquire things during our lifetime on earth. For Him, as it should be for us, it was all about keeping life in the proper perspective. It’s fine to be prudent in our investments, but obsessing over them is wrong. It’s nice to have nice things if we can afford them, but to chase after material things at the expense of caring for our spiritual side creates a terrible imbalance. The most important aspect of our lives should be – yet seldom is – the spiritual aspect.

What did Jesus mean when He referred to “treasures in heaven?” Broadly speaking, Jesus is referring to things like holiness of character, obedience to God’s Word, service to God, and to our fellow man. In other words, spiritually speaking, we are preparing for our eternal life in heaven by living right (or righteously) while here on earth.

The life we live here in the flesh should be lived with an eye to our eternal life. Keeping a “heavenly perspective” will serve to keep our lives in balance.

Luke 10:10 – 20

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19-20 | NIV84)

Jesus had appointed 72 “missionaries” to go and preach His Gospel. They did this and more:

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Luke 10:17 | NIV84)

They, of course, were thrilled with the work they had done in Christ’s Name, and our Lord shared their joy. Then however, He brought them back down to earth with another bit of perspective necessary for living life in balance. These missionaries, and Christians today, ought to rejoice primarily in God’s grace; namely, the fact of salvation by grace. Accomplishing any good work for God is cause to rejoice, but nothing compares to being saved by grace. We ought always to remember and rejoice over the simple fact that our names are written in heaven.

John 14:1 – 4

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

This advice was given to some very troubled disciples, and they had good reasons to be troubled. Jesus had just told them that He would be leaving them soon. He told them that a traitor was in their midst. And Jesus told Peter that he would fail Him before all was said and done. What our Lord told His disciples, and what He is telling us through His Word, is His remedy for anxiety.

When we, like the disciples, feel anxious, according to Jesus we should: Continue in our belief in God and in Him. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves in or how bleak the outlook may be, our hearts should never be troubled and our faith shouldn’t waver. Think about these disciples. Their leader was going to be leaving shortly. Trust in God is a sure remedy for anxious feelings.

Furthermore, our Lord talked about the kind of life all believers may expect to enjoy. The future for followers of Jesus will be marked by a reunion (or a joining) with Jesus Christ. He will not forget those who belong to Him, and at the right time He will come back or take them to be with Him.

Jesus indicated to His disciples that there are “many rooms” in heaven. The idea is that there is an infinite number of “dwelling places” in heaven, each one specifically prepared by Jesus for individual believers. These “dwelling places,” or “mansions,” as some translations read, will be permanent; they will be our homes for all of eternity.

This aspect of heaven has both a future aspect but also a present aspect. In the midst of hurried and harried lives, we can think ahead to heaven and our heavenly home and that should calm our nerves and give us a sense serenity.

Acts 1:7 – 11

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7, 8 NIV)

While it is a good idea to pause periodically to think about heaven, Christians do have work to do in the here-and-now. Jesus told His disciples that nobody knows the future; nobody knows what’s going to happen in the days ahead, only God the Father does and He usually doesn’t let us in on His plans. While the disciples, past and present, wait for their Lord to return, their job is a simple one: to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. We are to take Christ’s message of forgiveness of sins and salvation by grace to as many places as we can get to and share it with as many people as will listen.

We know that our Lord will return someday. While we wait we are to busy ourselves with fulfilling the Great Commission. We don’t have the luxury of standing around, looking wistfully into heaven waiting for the Lord to step out on a cloud and call us home. No man knows when that will happen.

Hebrews 12:18 – 25

So see to it that you obey him who is speaking to you. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, how terrible our danger if we refuse to listen to God who speaks to us from heaven! (Hebrews 12:25 TLB)

Thoughts of our heavenly reward and of our heavenly home are useful for encouraging us when we may be tempted to become discouraged. But heaven may also be used as part of an overall admonition. The writer to the Hebrews does this.

So take a new grip with your tired hands, stand firm on your shaky legs, and mark out a straight, smooth path for your feet so that those who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall and hurt themselves but become strong. (Hebrews 12:12, 13 TLB)

Christians need to remain strong in their faith, especially in light of the facts of who God is, what He has done, and where He comes from. Previous generations dealt with God, for example, at Mount Sinai, which was all well and good for them at that time, but that’s in the past.

But you have come right up into Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the gathering of countless happy angels; and to the church, composed of all those registered in heaven; and to God who is Judge of all; and to the spirits of the redeemed in heaven, already made perfect (Hebrews 12:22, 23 TLB)

No longer do believers deal with God, symbolically speaking, at Mount Sinai with all its attendant laws and regulations. That old order of things has passed away. Now we are able to approach God on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, where the Temple was built and Jesus crucified. From the hill of that city He ascended to heaven. The “city of the living God” on earth was a mere reflection of the heavenly Jerusalem, the place where saints who have been made perfect and angels dwell. It is also the place from where God judges.

Jesus is the reason why the old order has wasted away. The blood of Jesus, which provided atonement and forgiveness for sins, made this entrance into heaven possible.

So see to it that you obey him who is speaking to you. (Hebrews 12:25 TLB)

Considering, then, what Jesus’ shed blood has wrought, we Christians need to pay attention to what He says and do what He tells us to do. Our eternity in heaven depends upon it, in once sense.

When he spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but, “Next time,” he says, “I will not only shake the earth but the heavens too.” By this he means that he will sift out everything without solid foundations so that only unshakable things will be left. (Hebrews 12:26, 27 TLB)

When God spoke to previous generations of believers at Mount Sinai, the earth moved. But, as Haggai 2:6 says, the next time earth hears His voice, all creation will shake and a sifting – a sorting and reshuffling – of the universe will take place. God as Judge will review the material and spiritual worlds He Himself created, and His creation will either be destroyed or reformed. Anything that can be moved (“shaken”) will be destroyed. This refers to the things made for this present world order. But there are things that cannot be shaken, and these things will remain for all eternity; things like God, Christ, the Church, love and holiness.

It’s a powerful admonition to live right and live righteously. It’s also a powerful reason to not get too attached to the things of this world. They are so temporary in every sense of the word. It’s also a powerful reminder of something else. We are living in a “post-Christian” world where vast numbers of people live as though they have no soul. It would do us well to remember that when men and nations rage against God and seek to take His place on earth, God’s reaction is surprising:

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… (Psalm 2:4 NIV)

In God’s eyes, nothing is more ridiculous than a frail, puny man living in defiance of Him, His people, and His Word. William Arthur Tell wrote, There is a heaven to gain and hell to shun, and it is the Bible that tells us how to do just that. The Bible also tells us something else worth remembering. The Church of Jesus Christ, comprised of God’s saints from all generations, will emerge from the ashes of the old order intact, redeemed, and victorious. It may seem to you as though the Church in America today is weak or impotent and as carnal as can be. But we are not yet what we will be. In the end, as Jesus Himself indicated, the gates of shall not prevail against the true Church (Matthew 16:18).

The Mission of the Church

 

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What is the “mission” of the church?  Another way to put that is, What is the “purpose” of the church?  Some people see the church as a social club; sort of a religious version of any number of clubs or societies you may find in any town or city.  Some people think the church is a place where people come to “get saved.”  Still others see the church as a sort of “religious bank” that gives out money to people who can’t their electric bills. 

The fact is, most people don’t know what the purpose of the church is, which probably explains why church attendance in mainline denominations is steadily declining.   Churches that are growing tend to be ones that are focused on their “mission” or their “purpose,” and very often these churches are not affiliated with any denomination, which frees them, as they see it, to pursue that “mission” or “purpose” without being straitjacketed by unnecessary man-made rules and denominational regulations.  So they say. 

Since the idea of the church came from God, let’s consult God’s Book, the Bible, for answers.

1.      Foretold in the Old Testament

It may surprise you to know that the church, a New Testament “thing,” is actually first hinted at in the pages of the Old Testament!  Through these “hints,” we get an idea of what the “mission” of the church is.  You won’t find the word “church” anywhere in the Old Testament, but you do find a very early precursor to the church – another special group of people God called into existence and separated from all other people on the earth:  the nation of Israel.

(a) A light to the nations, Isaiah 42:1, 6-7

See my servant, a whom I uphold; my Chosen One in whom I delight. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will reveal justice to the nations of the world.  (Isaiah 42:1  TLB)

I the Lord have called you to demonstrate my righteousness. I will guard and support you, for I have given you to my people as the personal confirmation of my covenant with them.d You shall also be a light to guide the nations unto me. You will open the eyes of the blind and release those who sit in prison darkness and despair.  (Isaiah 42:6, 7  TLB)

In this chapter of Isaiah’s book, the prophet is beginning his rage against idolatry.  Also in this chapter, the  nation of Israel is referred to as “the servant of The Lord.”  In Matthew 12:17-21, this prophecy of Isaiah is applied to Jesus Christ.  We can see how parts of this chapter can be applied to Israel, but clearly it finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Verse 1 is often applied to Israel – the “ideal Israel” – but the Matthew passage indicates something else.  It refers primarily to Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel.  Isaiah wanted his readers to consider or think about God’s servant.  In a sense, though, these verses do refer to Israel.  After all, it is through Israel that God chose to communicate to the world.  God’s gracious dealings with Israel and especially His covenant relationship with its people would be extended to all people thanks to the work of One of Israel’s very own, Jesus Christ. 

So we see a sort of progression here. Israel was (and will be again in the future) a light to the nations.  Jesus Christ is a light to the nations.  Jesus Christ works through the church. 

(b)  A universal pilgrimage, Psalm 67:1-4

Send us around the world with the news of your saving power and your eternal plan for all mankind.  (Psalm 67:2  TLB)

This brief psalm is a prophetic psalm in that it reveals the ultimate purpose of God for the Earth.  At one time it was thought that this psalm taught that the church would finally convert the whole world in a post millennium utopian missionary kind of way.  Post-millennialism is view of Eschatology that insists (get ready for this) we are already living in the Millennium and that the church is in the process of converting the world.  When this conversion is complete, Jesus Christ will return.  Yes, there are Christians who believe this.  Post-millennialism comes in and out of favor depending on world events and who is in the White House, it seems.

Leaving this view of Eschatology aside, this psalm is not a missionary psalm but it certainly does contain applications useful in missionary endeavors.  We see, for example, that God is the source of all blessings and benefits His children receive.  These blessings and benefits make life on Earth all the more enjoyable.  But there is a purpose in these good things from God:  they are tokens or signs of His presence that the nations – the lost – of the world may see.  As it relates to Israel, surrounding nations should have been able to look at her and deduce that Israel’s God was at work in the lives of His people and their nation.  Shouldn’t the same thing be true of the church today?  The lost should be able to witness God’s blessings and His presence in the church and come to the conclusion that God is real and that He is interested in His people. 

How glad the nations will be, singing for joy because you are their King and will give true justice to their people!   (Psalm 67:4  TLB)

Obviously this hasn’t happened yet; this verse is yet to be fulfilled.  But what it teaches is profound:  God is interested in people and He may be their Sovereign as surely as He is Israel’s.  Of course, these “nations” must acknowledge who God is and that He is their God, the One who gives all blessings and benefits.  He worked through Israel to accomplish this, and He is working through One who came out of Israel, Jesus Christ, to the same end.  And Jesus Christ is working through His people today, the church, to accomplish God’s goal of becoming the God of all nations and all people.

(c)  God’s initiative, Romans 9:25, 26

Remember what the prophecy of Hosea says? There God says that he will find other children for himself (who are not from his Jewish family) and will love them, though no one had ever loved them before. And the heathen, of whom it once was said, You are not my people, shall be called sons of the Living God.  (Romans 9:25, 26  TLB)

Just as Psalm 67 speaks of salvation coming to the nations, Paul makes the case in Romans 9 that God is even now calling all people to be a part of “His people.”  This great call is God’s initiative – it was His idea and He has taken the first step.  It doesn’t matter what your heritage is, you are being called to be a part of His family!  All those who were not God’s people (Gentiles), are now being called by God’s grace and benevolence to become His people.

Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it.   (Ephesians 2:8, 9 TLB)

2.  Emphasized by Christ, Luke 4:18-20; 24:46-49; Matthew 24:14

When Christians think about the “mission” or “purpose” of the church, the so-called “Great Commission” comes to mind.  Versions of Jesus’ last orders to His disciples (and to us) are found in Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; and John 20:21.  Luke has a different kind of “great commission” that begins with Him attending religious services.

(a) The Nazareth Manifesto, Luke 4:18-20

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.  (Luke 4:18, 19  TLB)

In reading this passage of Scripture, Jesus defined His role as the Messiah.  The only hope for all these needy people would be Him.  Jesus acknowledged that He was the One who had been commissioned to bring the Good News to lost humanity.  Jesus as the Messiah is concerned with both the spiritual and material needs of people.  His message is a simple one:  the blessings of God’s salvation is for all.

(b)  Luke’s ‘Great Commission,’ Luke 24:46-49

And now I will send the Holy Spirit upon you, just as my Father promised. Dont begin telling others yetstay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.  (Luke 24:49  TLB)

The entire chapter has one major thrust:  it would be up to the disciples to share what they saw – the ministry, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus – with those who had not.  These people were eyewitnesses!  Their testimony would be accurate and true.  But before they could begin that witnessing, Jesus made it clear they had to wait for something to happen.  In order for this disparate group of people to be effective witnesses, they needed the Holy Spirit.

(c)  Preaching the Gospel, Matthew 24:12

And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it, and then, finally, the end will come.   (Matthew 24:14 TLB)

Without getting into the eschatology of this verse, there is a very important lesson for today’s Christian.  Throughout chapter Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of false messiahs, terrible natural disasters, and widespread persecution of believers.  In spite of all those awful things taking place, the Gospel – the Good News –  would be preached all over the world.  Think about that!  Nothing can stop the work of God from being accomplished. 

3.  Enacted by the early church, Acts 11:19-26; 13:46-49

Meanwhile, the believers who fled from Jerusalem during the persecution after Stephens death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, scattering the Good News, but only to Jews.  (Acts 11:19  TLB)

(a)  From Jerusalem to Antioch, Acts 11:19-26

The death of Stephen was a watershed event.  It triggered mass persecution of Christians which forced members of the fledgling church to flee Jerusalem to the far ends of the Roman Empire.  This literally forced the church to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus to take the Gospel to the world.  Had it not been for this persecution, it may well have been that the early church would have been content to remain in Jerusalem.

But many Christians – the leaders of the church especially – remained in Jerusalem, riding out the storm of persecution.  This group of believers became the “mother church,” and they were concerned about all these Gentiles from all over the Empire who were, apparently, converting to this new faith.  Upon examination, church leaders acknowledged that God was indeed doing great things among the Gentiles. 

(b)  Mission to Gentiles, Acts 13:46-49

Acts 13 begins what we call “Paul’s First Missionary Journey,” and it tells the story of how the Gospel spread, truly, to the four corners of the world.  Paul was a fearless missionary, a true trailblazer who went where no preacher had gone before!  But Paul was only doing what the Great Commission told all believers to do.  Paul’s message to the Gentiles whom he was evangelizing was a simple – and very familiar – one:

Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, It was necessary that this Good News from God should be given first to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and shown yourselves unworthy of eternal lifewell, we will offer it to Gentiles. For this is as the Lord commanded when he said, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to lead them from the farthest corners of the earth to my salvation.  (Acts 13:46, 47  TLB)

Notice the quote the Old Testament in verse 47.  We’ve come full circle!  What started out as something Israel was supposed to be; what would become what Jesus was; has now become the “mission” and “purpose” of the church:  to be a that light for the lost.

 

 

Church Membership…What’s It All About?

The old days, when church membership was taken very seriously!

The old days, when church membership was taken very seriously!

What does it mean to be a member of a local church?  A lot of churches today dont even have a membership roll.  Cant you just go to a church, give to that church, participate in the life and ministry of that church and not be on that churchs official membership roll?

It might surprise you, but being a member of a church is not about whether your name is on the roll or not.  In fact, the New Testament teaches that being a member of a local church is all about doing things, not signing a register.  Being a member of a local church means that you will do three basic things within that church:

         Build up other members

         Support church ministries

         Meet needs within and without the church

To these things Christians are called, and the very best place to do these things is within the local church.  In an age when church attendance is dwindling, its vitally important to understand that being a part of a local church is something God takes very seriously.

Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lords coming is getting closer.  (Hebrews 10:25, CEV)

1.  Build each other up, Romans 15:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13

In considering the nature of the Church, we need to think about the responsibilities of people that make the local church.  Evangelism, missions, and prayer are all important aspects of being part of the church, but according to the New Testament, we belong to a local church to encourage other members and to receive encouragement ourselves.  This is what “building up” means:  we build each other up.  There is not a Christian alive who doesn’t need fellowship with other believers.  Living daily in the world, exposed to sin and degradation constantly, our faith is apt to get worn down.  We get our “spiritual batteries” recharged at church!

(a)  A united community, Romans 15:1-7

Even if we believe that it makes no difference to the Lord whether we do these things, still we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves; for we must bear the burden of being considerate of the doubts and fears of othersof those who feel these things are wrong. Lets please the other fellow, not ourselves, and do what is for his good and thus build him up in the Lord.  Christ didnt please himself. As the Psalmist said, He came for the very purpose of suffering under the insults of those who were against the Lord.    (Romans 15:1-3  TLB)

In this group of verses, Paul associates himself with “mature” or “strong” believers – those Christians in Rome who were sure of their beliefs and secure in their faith.  Ideally, we should all be that strong!  But in reality, there are many “weak” Christians in our churches.  These people have a kind of wavering faith – a faith that is easily swayed by what they see or hear.  Paul’s advice is not to the “weak” to “buck up” and “have faith,” instead the weaknesses of “weaker” believers, which he refers to as a “burden,” must be borne by those of us who are “strong” and “mature.”  Unfortunately in many churches, the opposite is true.  The more “struggles” a brother has, the less “love” we tend to show him!  Paul faced a similar situation in Corinth, and to that church, he gave this advice:

Next is your question about eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. On this question everyone feels that only his answer is the right one! But although being a know-it-all makes us feel important, what is really needed to build the church is love.  (1 Corinthians 8:1 TLB)

Paul’s point to both churches is a simple one.  We who are strong in faith should NOT lord it over those who are not.  We who are strong have no right insult or humiliate weaker believers.  Rather, we must be united WITH them in their journey to maturity by bearing their burden of weakness.   In other words, treat them the way Jesus treats all people but putting their needs ahead of His own.   Paul quotes Psalm 69:9 and applies to Jesus.  He didn’t live to please Himself, and neither should we.

(b)  An orderly community, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13

Dear brothers, honor the officers of your church who work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because they are straining to help you. And remember, no quarreling among yourselves.  (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13  TLB)

If we are to be patient with and bear the burdens of weaker believers, we are also to show honor to leaders in the church.  This was a problem in the church in Thessalonica.  Many in this church had been expecting Christ to return and therefore they quit working.  Church leaders apparently admonished them to “get back to work” but their admonitions  were being ignored.  To make matters worse, it seems many in the community experienced conversion at about the same time and became members of the church at the same time.  The fact that some had risen to positions of leadership and others hadn’t bothered those who hadn’t and they, therefore, weren’t giving those who had become leaders the proper respect. 

It is true that we are one in Christ and unity transcends social position and race.  However, in the Body of Christ, there are people with different callings and gifts and therefore different responsibilities.  In an orderly church, church leaders are to be respected and honored.  As we read on in Thessalonians, we realize very quickly that the respect and honor are given in respect to the quality of their work, not merely by virtue of their office.

2.  Support church ministries, 2 Corinthians 9:6-13

Everyone must make up his own mind as to how much he should give. Dont force anyone to give more than he really wants to, for cheerful givers are the ones God prizes.  God is able to make it up to you by giving you everything you need and more so that there will not only be enough for your own needs but plenty left over to give joyfully to others.   (2 Corinthians 9:7, 8 TLB)

We can do more good together than we can separately.  This is the guiding principle behind giving in the New Testament, and this another reason to be a part of the local church.  Some modern churches fall all over themselves to find Biblical evidence that Christians ought to tithe.  The fact is, the tithe is NOT part of Christian responsibility.  GENEROUS GIVING, however is.  Christians are expected to give generously.

 (a)  A generous community, verses 6-10

It seems that Paul’s guiding principle for Christian giving is really a proverb of his day:  “scanty sowing, scanty harvest; plentiful sowing, plentiful harvest.” It’s not found the Bible precisely like that, but we do have many Biblical proverbs, like these:

When you help the poor you are lending to the Lordand he pays wonderful interest on your loan!  (Proverbs 19:17  TLB)

The unjust tyrant will reap disaster, and his reign of terror shall end.  Happy is the generous man, the one who feeds the poor.  (Proverbs 22:8, 9  TLB)

But we don’t have to go all the way back to Old Testament days to see where Paul got his inspiration from.  These words of Jesus are so popular, they’ve been set to music!

For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to givelarge or smallwill be used to measure what is given back to you.  (Luke 6:38  TLB)

Let’s hope Christians do more than just “sing” these words!  Let’s put them into practice.

(b)  A community glorifying God, verses 11-13

Yes, God will give you much so that you can give away much, and when we take your gifts to those who need them they will break out into thanksgiving and praise to God for your help.  (2 Corinthians 9:11  TLB)

These verses say a lot more than we see on the surface.  When we give away to people in need, it is not the needy person who is the real beneficiary, it is God Himself!  How so?  Because He will receive the glory for what you did in His name.

3.  Serve the needy, Acts 6:1-7; James 1:27

The last reason (at least for the purpose of this brief study) for being part of a local church, is to better help those in need.  Helping the needy caused the first conflict in the church and this conflict served to show the early church leaders an important reason for the church’s existence.

But with the believers multiplying rapidly, there were rumblings of discontent. Those who spoke only Greek complained that their widows were being discriminated against, that they were not being given as much food in the daily distribution as the widows who spoke Hebrew.  (Acts 6:1  TLB)

The church’s response to this “crisis” shows us the importance of being involved in the work of a local church:

Now look around among yourselves, dear brothers, and select seven men, wise and full of the Holy Spirit, who are well thought of by everyone; and we will put them in charge of this business.  Then we can spend our time in prayer, preaching, and teaching.  (Acts 6:3, 4  TLB)

So the whole church was involved in the apostle’s plan of action.  These verses are significant.  Here we see:  (1)  The wisdom of the apostles.  They could have easily picked men to do the work, but they sought input from all the believers.  (2)  The wisdom of believers.  God works through church membership!  He speaks to members, not just to the leadership. 

Now, some people may read this and think, Who needs a  pastor, then?  Who needs elders?   We serve a God of freedom, but He’s no anarchist!  God wants order in His church just as surely as He wants order in a marriage.  In the church, Christ is the Head, but the New Testament teaches a plurality of elders and pastors with input from members.  This is why being involved in your local church is so important:  God works through all of you – pastors, elders, deacons, members – to get His work done in the most effective manner.

Here, the needs of some widows were met more effectively when some structure was put in place.  A lot of Christians despise “organized religion,” and anybody who has ever had to deal with a denomination can empathize with them, but some organization is essential, and if that organization is Bible-based, it will work.  It has to!  It’s God’s idea.

But it must be noted that this organization was for a purpose.  It was not Peter and John building a kingdom for themselves.  It was for the purpose of ministry.  The church needs to look after those members who are in need.

The Christian who is pure and without fault, from God the Fathers point of view, is the one who takes care of orphans and widows, and who remains true to the Lordnot soiled and dirtied by his contacts with the world.  (James 1:27  TLB)

Of course, there is more to being a Christian than just looking after orphans and needy widows.  But James’ point is well taken.  It’s hard to consider a person a true Christian if he continually avoids fellowship in a local church and if he can continually turn a blind eye to the needs that exist within his congregation!  One of the purposes for being part of a local church is to make sure those needs are met.  God’s plan, like His ways, are perfect.

PRIORITIES AND VALUES, Part 2

On Being the Body of Christ

To the casual onlooker, a church may appear to be some kind of social institution or a club made up of like-minded individuals. To an outsider looking in, a church may be a fancy, ornate building where funerals and weddings take place. To a person with a secular mindset, a church may simply be an association with a particular set of beliefs in common. However, Christians know better. With even the tiniest bit of Biblical insight, the Church is seen as a number of things:

  • the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23);
  • the temple of the Lord (Ephesians 2:21, 22);
  • the household of God (Ephesians 2:18, 19);
  • the army of the Lord (Ephesians 6:10—13);
  • the assembly of the saints (Ephesians 2:19);
  • the workmanship of God (Ephesians 2:10);
  • the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23).

The Church is truly a remarkable thing, founded, built, and maintained by Jesus Christ Himself for the benefit of His people. Of all the metaphors used to describe it, the most fitting one must be “body of Christ.” Understanding what this foundational truth really means is vital in understanding our mission as believers.

1. Redefined relationships

a. Family values, reordered: Matthew 12:46—50

This brief, interesting incident is found in all three Synoptics (Mark 3:31—35; Luke 8:19—21). The point of this story is to demonstrate a spiritual truth: one’s relationship with Christ takes priority over any earthly relationship. A relationship with Jesus Christ changes everything. Or at least it should.

Jesus was teaching a large crowd, probably inside a packed house, and for some reason not revealed to us, His family wanted to speak to him. In fact, it seems they were “butting in,” or interrupting His work. Clearly His family’s spiritual values weren’t yet in alignment with His. In his account of the same incident, Mark gives us this added piece of information:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20, 21)

When somebody tapped our Lord on His shoulder while He was teaching all those people, Jesus’ took advantage of the interruption to make a point about priorities:

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48)

This statement can be difficult for modern American readers to grasp with their emphasis on familial relationships. What was Jesus getting at? In no way was He diminishing His family, but rather He was giving the priority to His Heavenly Father and to fulfilling the Father’s will. Jesus’ remarkable answer indicates that spiritual ties are far more important than the ties of blood. No earthly relationship should be allowed to take precedence over obedience to the will of God. At the same time, Jesus taught something very profound about the nature of His Church: it is the family of God.

b. Renunciation, Luke 14:26

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be disciple.”

This is a troublesome verse because of the word “hate,” which is so strong. But Jesus is not advocating the hatred of any anybody. In the context of this verse, this “hate” is not absolute but relative. The Jews viewed social customs as being very important, and if one broke from the accepted social customs of the day pertaining to things like family loyalty, such an action would have been interpreted by onlookers as “hatred.” Jesus could no more contravene the commandment to honor one’s father and mother any more than He could teach people to hate themselves, especially in light of His teaching to “love others as you love yourself!”

Jesus’ point here is a simple one. A believer’s choices in life—all of his choices—must be related to his commitment to Christ. No earthly relationship or tie should interfere with one’s service to the Lord.

c. Radical commitment, Luke 14:27—33

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (verse 33)

More strong words from Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is known for saying many strong words himself, among them:

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.

Is serving the Lord really a death sentence? Are you supposed to really give up “everything” to be be a Christian? What Jesus is saying is simply this: Look before you leap! Just like the man who wanted to build a tower needed to either count the cost or become a laughing stock, so the person who thinks they want to become a Christian needs to realize that following Christ is no “bed of roses” and that following Him requires commitment and dedication.

2. Christians are interdependent, 1 Corinthians 12:12—27

The Church is a single unit; it is the Body, not bodies, of Christ and the same Spirit works in the entire Body. However, the Church, just like a physical body, is a unity which also contains differences.

a. Unity of the Body, vs. 12—13, 27

The human body is a living organism that has many members or parts (arms, legs, eyes, ears, lungs, etc.); each member is different, yet each member contributes something vital to the whole body. Paul concludes that the Body of Christ is like a physical body. The unity of its members, like the unity of a physical body, is vital.

Church members come from a variety places: different walks of life, social classes, ethnic groups, each with different talents and interests, and yet the same spiritual life is present in them all. This spiritual life has the same source, provides the same energy, prompting them to fulfill the will of God both in their individual lives and in the corporate life of the Church.

b. Diversity in the Body, vs. 14—17

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. (vs. 14)

Pastor, teacher, caretaker, pianist, evangelist, deacon, member—each has a role to fill in the Church, just like each part of a physical body has a role to fulfill. If a role is neglected, the whole body will suffer. The caretaker should not be upset that they are not a Sunday School teacher. The secretary shouldn’t fret because they are not an elder. The evangelist is not suited to function as the pastor. No, every member has a role to fulfill in the Church and the Church is better off for that!

c. Placement within the Body, vs. 18—26

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

This is the highest possible appeal for unity: all parts of the body are the result of God’s sovereign activity. God created the human body completely and perfectly. God created the spiritual body as it is and bestowed upon each member a particular function as it pleased Him.

Without all the members—or the parts—of the human body, it would be a shapeless lump of flesh. Yes, the lump would have a sort of unity, but no variety of functions. It is the existence and the interaction of all the parts of the body that give it meaning and purpose. Thus Paul makes his point:

As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (vs. 20)

3. Assume responsibility for one another, Galatians 6:1—10

In the closing verses of the previous chapter, Paul contrasted with works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Paul’s conclusion: Christians are supposed to be living Spirit-led lives.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16, 25)

In chapter 6, Paul is going to help us understand what it means to “keep in step with the Spirit.” It begins with care and concern with other members of the Body of Christ.

a. Restore the fallen, vs. 1

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

Here is a good way to keep in step with the Spirit because it reveals the true character and spiritual maturity of a believer. This is the clearest evidence that one is living by the Spirit: the presence of agape love manifesting itself with concern for one who has lost his way.

Paul’s hypothetical situation is a simple one. The one “caught in a sin” does not mean that a person’s sin was discovered by somebody else, rather Paul has the idea that a believer is “caught unaware” by sin in himself. Technically speaking, this should never happen if a Christian is living by the Spirit as described in chapter 5, but human beings are weak and if a spiritual failure takes place in a believer, a more mature believer—one who is living by the Spirit—has a responsibility to help the damaged believer repair that damage. This restoration probably won’t be quick; it will more than likely be a process, which will further demonstrate the maturity of the one walking in step with the Spirit.

b. Interdependence and independence, vs. 2—5

…each one should carry his own load. (vs. 5)

While it is true that as members of the Body of Christ we function in relation to one another, always ready to offer a helping hand—spiritual or otherwise—to a brother or sister in need, the fact is according to verse 5 the duty of every Christian is to carry his own load. That is, we are to strive to not be a burden to the Church. There is no contradiction between verses 2 and 5:

Carry each other’s burdens… (vs 2)

Verse 2 is referring to burdens much too heavy for one to bear by himself. The Greek word bare means “heavy burdens.” The word in verse 5 translated “load” is phortion, a word that is best rendered “pack.” In other words, each Christian has his pack to carry—he has his own work to do, so let him take pride in how he does it.

c. Sowing and reaping, vs. 6—10

Here is the famous group of verses which teach what many refer to as the “law of reciprocity,” that is, you reap what you sow. But the context reveals much more.

Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. (vs. 6)

Christian love is to be manifested in caring for those who have fallen into sin, but it is also to be manifested in a more extensive way through fellowship. So the mature believer, having been taught the Gospel from other his teachers, had an obligation to share with them “all good things.” This is generally taken to mean material and financial support.

For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. (Romans 15:27)

With verse 7, it appears as though Paul is changing his topic. We have this impression because of the way verses 7 to 10 are generally taught: as a unity unto themselves. However, if they are read in connection to what Paul had just wrote, the real meaning becomes obvious:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (vs. 7, 8)

Some believers may fail to support their teachers adequately, and perhaps they thought such negligence was not all that important and went unnoticed by God. Paul in very strong language informs them that this most certainly not the case! “Don’t think you can outwit God by being cheap with your teachers,” Paul in essence said. If you think short-changing those who have taught you the Gospel was no big deal, you are deceiving yourself.

God has written an unalterable Law of the Universe that has been proved to be true a million different ways from the beginning of time. The nature of the harvest is determined by the planting. This is a tremendous spiritual principle Paul has given us. It applies to every area of life, although what occasioned it was the idea of making sure you paid those who taught you God’s Word!

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (vs. 9, 10)

Paul ends this section of the chapter on a very upbeat note. No believer should neglect doing good because doing good is really sowing the kinds of seeds that result in great blessings. However, it may take a while between the sowing and the reaping. It may require great patience before the blessing is realized. But the word of encouragement is positive: if you sow good seed, you will be blessed. There is, however, a proviso: if we do not give up. Believers cannot simply give up doing good. We must be consistent in our acts of kindness, compassion, and in manifesting God’s love to others, even if the promised blessings are slow in coming. The harvest will come, but not necessarily in our time. Solomon’s words are worth remembering:

…a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… (Ecclesiastes 3:2)

Our primary concern is as it should be: with other believers.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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