Unity

Walking In War (Ephesians 6:10-20)

"Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places. And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground."

Here we see individual responsibility in the midst of corporate unity. This is not like spiritual gifts or the “Five Fold Office” mentioned earlier in Ephesians where God gave “some” to be apostles, evangelists, etc. This is a clear call to all of us.

"Yes, stand—truth banded around your waist, righteousness as your chest plate, and feet protected so you are steadied by and ready to proclaim the good news of peace with God. Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed. And please pray for me. Pray that truth will be with me before I even open my mouth. Ask the Spirit to guide me while I boldly defend the mystery that is the good news— for which I am an ambassador in chains—so pray that I can bravely pronounce the truth, as I should do."

 In Romans 13: 12-14, Paul writes, "Put on the armor of light… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." He was expanding on the words of Isaiah:

  • “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.” Isaiah 11:5
  • “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head” (Isaiah 59:17).

Paul talked other places about the nature of our fight. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. We destroy arguments…and take every thought captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:3- 5).

 Let’s be clear: God makes the armor. We ask for it, and He gives it, not because we are awesome, but because He is. Then we have to put it on.  Paul says, “It’s time to move. Put on that which God offers you for your good and His glory.”

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  • Put on: The Belt of Truth (aletheia, reality as opposed to illusion).
  • Stand For: The truth that God is real; Jesus was God in the Flesh; his life, death and resurrection bring us salvation, forgiveness and hope. If this is not true, “we are of all people most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
  • Stand Against: The error that Christianity is wishful thinking (“I want it to be true!”), merely human thoughts (“The Bible just shows us how people thought about God”), or only one way of many equally effective ways.
  • Put on: The Breastplate of Righteousness    (dikaiosune, right standing with God)
  • Stand For: The truth that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are absolved from the penalty of sin, freed from the power of sin, and guarded while in the presence of sin.
  • Stand Against: The error that we are born good (“I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way”), or that we can become righteous through our works .
  • Put on: The Shoes of Peace (eirene, peace with God; tranquility in salvation)
  • Stand For: The truth there is spiritual peace with God through our commitment to and ongoing life with Jesus Christ. This is not the same as saying that if you are a Christian, there will be peaceful coexistence of others on earth, or that you will always feel interior peace. This is a claim about a truth that is greater than our circumstances or our feelings. Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory.”
  • Stand Against: The error of false saviors (spiritual or material) and fleeting peace, which is usually some form of indulgence or avoidance. If something calms the chaos in our life no matter how little and how temporary, we tend to overindulge. Money? Sex? Being noticed and admired? Food? Vacations? Or if something brings anything unsettling, we avoid. People who annoy us…situations that aren’t just to our liking…a controlled environment (diet, exercise, social groups)
  • Put on: The Shield of Faith (pistis; “Trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of difficulties.” – Tim McGrew)
  • Stand For: The truth that there is wisdom in an ongoing trust in and response to God. A belief that the Bible matches the world.  We often think of faith as just trust in God. I think we have to include trust in God’s revelation. The Bible tells us that we are to be faithful in little things if we expect to be trusted in big things (Luke 16:10). But if the Bible is wrong, then God has not been faithful in little things. If you don’t understand the little things in the Bible, press in to them. Read. Study. Pray. Ask qualified, godly people for advice. Trusting that the biggest things are true in Christianity will trickle down; trusting that the smallest things in Christianity are true will build up.
  • Stand Against: The error that we should trust in Idols (self, hidden knowledge, politicians, the economy, health, pop psychology, etc).
  • Put on: The Helmet of salvation (soterios; saving)
  • Stand For: The truth of God's promises of eternal salvation and ongoing sanctification in Jesus Christ. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… “ (Romans 12:2)   “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5) “…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
  • Stand Against: The error of gaining salvation from anything other than Christ, or evolving spiritually by thinking positively
  • Put on: The Sword of the Spirit (The Bible) 
  • Stand for: The truth of the power, trustworthiness and sufficiency of God's Word to tell us what we need to know about Christ and His plan for the world.     
  • Stand Against: The error of giving anything else equal weight in your spiritual formation; trusting outside sources or inner revelation over clear Biblical truth.

Note: In Bible times, there was no stainless steel. A sword unused became rusty, dull, and pitted. Swords were kept clean by frequent use or by honing them against a stone (the Rock of Ages) or another soldier’s sword. “Iron sharpeneth iron” (Proverbs 27:17)

  • Put on: Prayer (proseuchomai; literally, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes. “They Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  “Whatsoever you ask in my name…” (John 14:13) Accordingly, praying is closely inter-connected with pístis ("faith") in the NT. – (biblehub.com). In fact ,James 5 talks about the prayer of faith (“
  • Stand For: The truth that prayer is powerful and necessary. We are told to constantly pray (1 Thessalonians 5:16) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
  • Stand Against: the error that prayer manipulates God or that prayer is unnecessary. God is not a machine. He’s not programmed in such a way that we can manipulate Him. God will answer prayer how he chooses to answer prayer. The prayers of the righteous are powerful, but not coercive. On the other hand, prayer is clearly not irrelevant. Part of being faithful is praying faithfully, and in the end praying what Jesus prayed: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

A final thought involving shields: We often read this individually: “You, Anthony! Stand!” But this letter was written to the churches in Ephesus. It’s a group command. Everyone then who saw the Roman army knew how this principle worked (see the cover of your bulletin). Now, in order for the group to stand, individuals need to stand to. It doesn’t absolve us. But it reminds us again of the importance of unifying around Christ, then standing against everything that comes against us – together.

Walking in Light (Ephesians 5:1-19)

1 So imitate God. Follow Him like adored children, and live in love as Christ loved you—so much that He gave Himself as a fragrant sacrifice, pleasing God. Listen, don’t let there be a hint of sexual immorality among you. Any demoralizing behaviors (such as impurity and greed) are inappropriate topics of conversation for those set apart as God’s people. Don’t use abusive language (swearing, obscenity) or spurt nonsense. Don’t make harsh jokes or talk foolishly. Make proper use of your words, and offer them thankfully in praise. This is what we know for certain: no one who engages in loose sex, impure actions, and greed—which is just a form of idolatry—has any inheritance in the kingdom of God and His Anointed.

Don’t be fooled by people who try to excuse these things—they just use meaningless words to show empty souls. For, in His wrath, God will judge all the children of disobedience for these kinds of sins. So don’t be persuaded into their ignorance; and don’t cast your lot with them because, although you were once the personification of darkness, you are now light in the Lord. So act like children of the light. For the fruit of the light is all that is good, right, and true. 10 Make it your aim to learn what pleases our Lord. 11 Don’t get involved with the fruitless works of darkness; instead, expose them to the light of God. 12 You see, it’s a disgrace to speak of their secrets (so don’t even talk about what they do when no one is looking). 13-14 When the light shines, it exposes even the dark and shadowy things and turns them into pure reflections of light. This is why they sing, ‘Awake, you sleeper!
 Rise from your grave,
 And Christ will shine on you.’ (Some scholars think this verse may have been an early “baptismal hymn.)

15 So be careful how you live; be mindful of your steps. Don’t run around aimlessly as the rest of the world does. Instead, walk as the wise! 16 Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times. 17 So understand and be confident in God’s will, and don’t live thoughtlessly. 18 Don’t drink wine excessively. The drunken path is a reckless path. It leads nowhere. Instead, let God fill you with the Holy Spirit. 19 When you are filled with the Spirit, you are empowered to speak to each other in the soulful words of pious songs, hymns, and spiritual songs; to sing and make music with your hearts attuned to God; 20 and to give thanks to God the Father every day through the name of our Lord Jesus the Anointed for all He has done.”

 What do we need to bring into the light so that we can walk in the light and live in unity with others? (Note: Paul is not pointing out how they are to earn their salvation. He is showing them how to live out their salvation as they seek to conform to the image of Christ. So don’t see this as “This is how I get saved.” It’s, “This is what life in Christ is meant to look like. I honor the sacrifice of Jesus and I love my neighbor as I walk in the light of Christ.”)

1. Our sexuality. We are called to self-sacrificial, boundaried love, not selfish, unboundaried lust – specifically, God designed sex to be experienced by a man and a woman in marriage. The intimacy Christ shares with His Bride, the church, is shared with no other. It’s an analogy. There is a reason God puts borders around our sexuality. Chaos in some form comes when properly placed fences go down; life flourishes when they stay up. This is not to say that sexual sin is unforgivable – which is good news for all of us, I suspect. It is forgivable. It’s noting that sexual sin is outside of God’s design, and a life lived in the light of Christ does not embrace it or applaud it, but seeks to live out sexuality in a way that honors God, protects others, and allows us to live in purity.

2. Our words must be true and helpful vs. false and destructive. This is speaking truth in love. If we just speak truth without showing love, we are destructive. If we show love without speaking truth, then we are false, and we just enable. Our speech should be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we can provide answers to everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

3. Our circumstances. We are called to contentment and generosity, not greed.. Philippians 4:11-13: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Contentment is such a gift. Do we have to have physical comfort and material things to be happy, or do we look to Christ to strengthen us in our times of need? And those who have plenty – do you look around to identify those in need? A greedy community will never last, because it is full of resentment, competitiveness, and selfishness. A generous community is full of applause, kindness, and self-sacrifice, and it will flourish as everyone looks out for the needs of others, and commits to contentment no matter what the circumstance.

 4. Our time (mindful and purposeful vs. lazy and unfocused). Mindful is not the same as obsessing, and purposeful is not the same as driven! It simply means be alert, aware, prepared, and engaged as you are able. Remember, David had men in his army who ‘understood the times, and knew what to do.’ (1 Chronicle 12:32).  There was a time in American history when Christians could coast (in the sense that culture largely agreed with them. Not anymore. We have our work cut out for us. We are now in a place where we need to be “ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us” more than ever. This might not be a bad wake-up call. We have to revisit our Bibles, engage in conversation with other Christians, study, read, listen not only to the church conversation but to the cultural one.

5. Our attitude. We are to be helpful and thankful vs. leeching and grumbling. Ever had a friend who always complained, always borrowed and never lent, and always wanted their life to be better but never helped anyone else’s life to be better? What about the friend who looked for the good, lived generously, and looked to improve the lives of those around them? One drains, the other fills. One divides, one unifies. 

  • Philippians 2:3-4: “Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” 
  • Matthew 20:25-28: “Do you want the Kingdom run like the Romans run their kingdom? Their rulers have great power over the people, but God the Father doesn’t play by the Romans’ rules. This is the Kingdom’s logic: whoever wants to become great must first make himself a servant; whoever wants to be first must bind himself as a slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as the ransom for many.”

6. Our focus. We need to stay focused on God and the person of Christ vs. idols  “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:21, 25). Idolatry happens in any circumstance where there is something you feel you must have to be happy, that is more important to your heart than God himself. We would not lie, cheat, steal, gossip, lust, or abuse others unless first we had made something—human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage, sexual desire, fame, comfort—more important and valuable to our hearts than the grace and favor of God as experienced through the person and work of Jesus. (HT Tim Keller, “How To Find Your Rival Gods,” christianitytoday.com) We need to stay focused on God and the person of Christ

  • Psalm 34:5 “Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.”
  • Colossians 3:1-3  “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.”
  • Hebrews 3:1 “Dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God's messenger and High Priest.”
  • Hebrews 12:2: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 

Walking in Light (Ephesians 5:1-20)

 

EPHESIANS 5:1-20

1  imitate God. Follow Him like adored children, 2 and live in love as Christ loved you—so much that He gave Himself as a fragrant sacrifice, pleasing God. 3 Listen, don’t let there be a hint of sexual immorality among you. Any demoralizing behaviors (such as impurity and greed) are inappropriate topics of conversation for those set apart as God’s people. 4 Don’t use abusive language (swearing, obscenity) or spurt nonsense. Don’t make harsh jokes or talk foolishly. Make proper use of your words, and offer them thankfully in praise. 5 This is what we know for certain: no one who engages in loose sex, impure actions, and greed—which is just a form of idolatry—has any inheritance in the kingdom of God and His Anointed.

6 Don’t be fooled by people who try to excuse these things—they just use meaningless words to show empty souls. For, in His wrath, God will judge all the children of disobedience for these kinds of sins. 7 So don’t be persuaded into their ignorance; and don’t cast your lot with them 8 because, although you were once the personification of darkness, you are now light in the Lord. So act like children of the light. 9 For the fruit of the light is all that is good, right, and true. 10 Make it your aim to learn what pleases our Lord. 11 Don’t get involved with the fruitless works of darkness; instead, expose them to the light of God. 12 You see, it’s a disgrace to speak of their secrets (so don’t even talk about what they do when no one is looking). 13-14 When the light shines, it exposes even the dark and shadowy things and turns them into pure reflections of light. This is why they sing, ‘Awake, you sleeper!
 Rise from your grave,
 And Christ will shine on you.’ (Some scholars think this verse may have been an early “baptismal hymn.)

15 So be careful how you live; be mindful of your steps. Don’t run around aimlessly as the rest of the world does. Instead, walk as the wise! 16 Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times. 17 So understand and be confident in God’s will, and don’t live thoughtlessly. 18 Don’t drink wine excessively. The drunken path is a reckless path. It leads nowhere. Instead, let God fill you with the Holy Spirit. 19 When you are filled with the Spirit, you are empowered to speak to each other in the soulful words of pious songs, hymns, and spiritual songs; to sing and make music with your hearts attuned to God; 20 and to give thanks to God the Father every day through the name of our Lord Jesus the Anointed for all He has done.” 

What do we need to bring into the light so that we can walk in the light (following Christ; imitating his sacrificial love; being filled with God’s Spirit) and live in unity with others? (Note: Paul is not pointing out how they are to earn their salvation. He is showing them how to live out their salvation as they seek to conform to the image of Christ. So don’t see this as “This is how I get saved.” It’s, “This is what life in Christ is meant to look like. I honor the sacrifice of Jesus and I love my neighbor as I walk in the light of Christ.”)

1. Our sexuality. We are called to self-sacrificial, boundaried love, not selfish, unboundaried lust – specificall, God designed sex to be experienced by a man and a woman in marriage. The intimacy Christ shares with His Bride, the church, is shared with no other. It’s an analogy ☺ There is a reason God puts borders around our sexuality. Chaos in some form comes when properly placed fences go down; life flourishes when they stay up. This is not to say that sexual sin is unforgivable – which is good news for all of us, I suspect. It is forgivable. It’s noting that sexual sin is outside of God’s design, and a life lived in the light of Christ does not embrace it or applaud it, but seeks to live out sexuality in a way that honors God, protects others, and allows us to live in purity.

2. Our words (true and helpful vs. false and destructive). This is speaking truth in love. If we just speak truth without showing love, we are destructive. If we show love without speaking truth, then we are false, and we just enable.? Our speech should be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we can provide answers to everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

3. Our circumstances. We are called to contentment and generosity, not greed.. Philippians 4:11-13: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Contentment is such a gift. Do we have to have physical comfort and material things to be happy, or do we look to Christ to strengthen us in our times of need? And those who have plenty – do you look around to identify those in need? A greedy community will never last, because it is full of resentment, competitiveness, and selfishness. A generous community is full of applause, kindness, and self-sacrifice, and it will flourish as everyone looks out for the needs of others, and commits to contentment no matter what the circumstance.

4. Our time (mindful and purposeful vs. lazy and unfocused). Mindful is not the same as obsessing, and purposeful is not the same as driven! It simply means be alert, aware, prepared, and engaged as you are able. Remember, David had men in his army who ‘understood the times, and knew what to do.’ (1 Chronicle 12:32). There was a time in American history when Christians could coast (in the sense that culture largely agreed with them. Not anymore. We have our work cut out for us. We are now in a place where we need to be “ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us” more than ever. This might not be a bad wake-up call. We have to revisit our Bibles, engage in conversation with other Christians, study, read, listen not only to the church conversation but to the cultural one.

5. Our attitude. We are to be helpful and thankful vs. leeching and grumbling. Ever had a friend who always complained, always borrowed and never lent, and always wanted their life to be better but never helped anyone else’s life to be better? What about the friend who looked for the good, lived generously, and looked to improve the lives of those around them? One drains, the other fills. One divides, one unifies.

  • Philippians 2:3-4: “Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
  • Matthew 20:25-28: “Do you want the Kingdom run like the Romans run their kingdom? Their rulers have great power over the people, but God the Father doesn’t play by the Romans’ rules. This is the Kingdom’s logic: whoever wants to become great must first make himself a servant; whoever wants to be first must bind himself as a slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as the ransom for many.”

6. Our focus. We need to stay focused on God and the person of Christ vs. idols “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:21, 25) Idolatry happens in any circumstance where there is something you feel you must have to be happy, that is more important to your heart than God himself. We would not lie, cheat, steal, gossip, lust, or abuse others unless first we had made something—human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage, sexual desire, fame, comfort—more important and valuable to our hearts than the grace and favor of God as experienced through the person and work of Jesus (HT Tim Keller, “How To Find Your Rival Gods,” christianitytoday.com). We need to stay focused on God and the person of Christ

  • Psalm 34:5 “Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.”
  • Colossians 3:1-3 “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.”
  • Hebrews 3:1 “Dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God's messenger and High Priest.”
  • Hebrews 12:2: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Our Life (with others) Part 4

Last week we talked about building each other up with our words – how we  “communicate grace to those who hear them.”  But there is another layer to this discussion – how do we live with grace? We talk a lot about church community, but true community doesn’t just happen. There’s more to life together than just words. There are attitudes and actions. There’s a climate we create in the church.

I don't know what every individual experience has been like in this church or at other churches you may have attended. I do know this: life together can be hard. We are flawed people in whom God continues to work, but God wouldn’t have to do that if we had it all together. So let’s talk a little but more this morning about how to do life together.

THEREFORE, put away your lies and speak the truth to one another because we are all part of one another. When you are angry, don’t let it carry you into sin. Don’t let the sun set with anger in your heart or give the devil room to work. If you have been stealing, stop. Thieves must go to work like everyone else and work honestly with their hands so that they can share with anyone who has a need. Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them. 

It’s time to stop bringing grief to God’s Holy Spirit; you have been sealed with the Spirit, marked as His own for the day of rescue. Banish bitterness, rage and anger, shouting and slander, and any and all malicious thoughts—these are poison. Instead, become kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through Jesus, our Liberating King. (Ephesians 4:21-32, The Voice)

It’s interesting to me that stealing, lying and relentless anger * are all listed together. They seem unconnected, but I don't think they are. They all create distrust, anxiety and a lack of safety. They all make us want to retreat or withdraw rather than engage honestly and openly. They all undermine community. In a setting like this, you are never safe.

  • If we are a community of lies instead of truth, then we don’t know if people are being honest with us or not (about God, life, themselves or ourselves), so we are always guarded and increasingly cynical. I was talking with a friend who left the faith, and she noted a pivotal point when she was a teen. Her church said no one was supposed to see movies, but her parents told her, “Just don’t tell anybody we are going.” My friend said to me, “That’s when I learned about hypocrisy.”
  • If we are a community of out-of-control emotions, we don’t know if it is safe for us to even be honest and engaged. What if I offend someone and they just keep holding a grudge? What if someone is angry or hostile and doesn’t deal with it? So we are always guarded and increasingly withdrawn.
  • If we are a community that takes instead of gives, we don’t know if people are out to use us or help us. Don’t think just money here: think time, energy, relational burdens. We’ll just be sucked dry if we are the only one giving while everyone else is taking. Our friends always unload on us but never let us unload; we volunteer ourselves into the ground while others don’t find a way to plug in at all (the 80/20 rule). We always reach out to others and nobody reaches back, but just waits for us to reach.  It’s hard to flourish when we are surrounded by takers and not givers. If this happens, we are always drained and increasingly reluctant to give.

 Paul is calling us to be “givers” of three absolute necessities in life together as a church community:

  • Honest Speech.  People are meant to learn truth in a church community about God, life, and themselves. We want to be the kind of people that, when we talk, people listen, because they know we are doing our best to be honest and true.
  • Emotional Safety. People shouldn't be intimidated or bullied in a church. The reality of our emotions should be recognized, but they must be properly expressed. The Bible talks a lot about the importance of guarding our hearts, because what’s in it will overflow. In a church community, people guard their hearts so that they can guard their eyes, their attitudes, and their posture, and in so doing they guard the hearts of others.
  • Generosity. In genuine church community, people will share their resources with those who are in need. I don’t just mean the offering. It’s buying a copy of SpeakUp, getting a baby bottle and filling it up with change for PCC, supporting fundraisers, offering resources to friends in need, volunteering time and energy in the church and the community. It’s seeing a need and filling it if you are able to do so. 

As if that weren’t challenging enough, Paul continues:

Banish bitterness, rage and anger, shouting and slander, and any and all malicious thoughts—these are poisonInstead, become kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through Jesus, our Liberating King.”

Bitterness in the New Testament carries the idea of poison - the bitter root that leads to bitter fruit. This is not a new concept. In fact, it pulls from the Old Testament.

"Beware lest there be among you… whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit…They will end up destroying everything in the country." (Deuteronomy 29:18)

"See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no 'root of bitterness' springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled." (Hebrew. 12:15.

Note the community language: many become defiled; a country is destroyed. No wonder this grieves the Holy Spirit. Then Paul gives a contrasting list things that will either build or undermine truth, safety, and generosity in a community. In the process, he paints a bleak picture of life outside of Godly community, and a beautiful picture of life inside godly community. First, the things that characterize life that ruins Christian community.

  • Rage -  panting with anger. People cringe around you. They want to get away from you because of what you will say or do.
  • Anger -  a fixed disposition.* A simmering animosity.
  • Brawling - clamorous outbursts, like shrieking. Everything escalates.
  • Slander - calling something or someone bad that is good.
  • Malice – an eagerness to do evil. A desire to spoil or destroy.

 Think of this whole process as a smoldering ember of bitterness that will eventually burst into flames of rage. It simmers as anger, it begins to consume everything around it in outbursts and general meanness, and it just burns through a community leaving a charred mess in its path. Armies have sometimes practiced total destruction when invading or retreating. Everywhere they go, the consume everything they can, then burn what’s left. That’s what Paul is describing here – people who just leaves devastation in their path. Has anyone ever had someone try to relate with you when they had these attitudes? Have you ever tried to approach someone else? It’s a recipe for disaster. 

  • If you are just mad at someone, that’s a bad time to speak into their lives. Reign it in. You will just blow things up otherwise.
  • When somebody gets a new job while you struggle, or they find someone who loves them while you are lonely, or it looks like God is transforming your friend’s life while you feel stagnant, it’s easy to say snide things out of frustration and jealousy. That’s an issue you, God, and some godly friends or counselors need to hash out. Don’t put that on your neighbor.
  • If someone has hurt you, and you just want to tell other people about it so you can take them down a notch because it’s about time other people saw how ugly they were just because you don’t like them – stop. If you are harboring the thought that you just really hope something bad or hard happens to someone else because you don’t like them…that’s got to be surrendered to Christ.

 And in that surrender, God works to bring out the godly replacements: kindness, compassion and forgiveness. They characterize life as it is intended to be lived inside Christian community.

Notice that Paul writes “become” or “rather than simply “be.” Kindness, compassion and forgiveness are not states we simply luck into. We have to abandon one approach to life and embrace another. We must seek them out, and we must commit to cultivating these things even when we don’t feel like it.

 Kindness is giving what is suitable and useful or beneficial. It’s making life appropriately pleasant to other people.

The word used here is Xrestus ("useful, kindly"). It was a common slave-name at the time, a spelling variant for the unfamiliar Christus (Xristos). In Greek the two words were pronounced alike." (F. F. Bruce, The Books of Acts, 368).) Kindness brings us back to the loving service that Christ displayed, the idea of a self-sacrificial commitment for the good of others. You don’t have to like people, but you have to be kind. Hold your tongue if you are inclined to insult or gossip. Channel your emotions constructively. Guard your heart so you can protect their heart.

There’s something to be said for being nice in a culture that is increasingly just mean. What if Christians would be known for loving service, whether through acts of kindness such as gifts, time and energy, money, friendship, employment, etc. Considering how Christians are viewed today, I think that might be shocking in a really good way. 

Compassion is tender-hearted, gut level sympathy. It implies that we genuinely feel for those in pain or in sin.  This is the most emotive word in the list Paul uses.

  • Is your response to people around you who are sinning to grieve the impact sin is having in their life and those around them?
  • Does it break your heart that a fallen world breaks people?
  • Have you prayed for Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner?
  • When you see someone post something obnoxious about Christianity or applaud sin, do you explode and attack or does your heart break as you carefully engage?
  • Have you prayed for whatever your spouse or kids (or parents or siblings) are going through that is making them so hard to live with, and then tried to engage and understand?

 I have a feeling many of us will need to do some serious praying for the miraculous addition of “gut level sympathy.”  It’s more than just a purposeful decision to be kind. It’s asking God to align our heart with His.

 Forgiveness: sacrificial, underserved favor. We have a Christ who willingly suffered to reconcile us to God. Are we willing to suffer to reconcile with others? And by suffer, I mean put our indignation, anger, bitterness and rightness on the altar and say to someone, “I forgive you,” even when it costs us a great deal.

And it will. All forgiveness is costly. It cost Christ a crucifixion to forgive me; why should I expect that when I am called to forgiveness that I will not be called to die to something in myself? There may be someone in this room who has wronged you. I hope that they are convicted to repent and seek forgiveness. Meanwhile, if you have been wronged, are you able to put your anger and bitterness on the altar? Are you willing to forgive as one who has been forgiven?

It is only when we die to ourselves that we can rise in Christ. It was after his death that Jesus rose in the glory of Risen Savior. It is after we lay down our life – first to Christ and then with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness for others - that we can rise into the light of the glory of this Risen Savior.

 And that is also when as a community we experience the beauty of life together in Christ.

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* Note: this is a reference to unreasonable anger.  Paul wrote that when you are angry, don’t sin. Jesus was clearly angry at times; God is described as angry at times in the Bible. There is a righteous anger that sees sin and it’s destructiveness and is angry at the things that break the world. 

Proverbs 6:16-19, NIV There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

It is possible to have the heart of God and be angry. But what may start out as a righteous indignation can become a way in which we give the devil room to work. That’s when we become that inferno, and we are in danger of becoming the inferno that consumes and destroys everything. 

Our Life (with others) Part 2 & 3

We've been in Ephesians (specifically Ephesians 4) talking about the different ways God equips people in His church to minister in order to bring maturity and growth in Christ. 

  • We looked at the gifting of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in the early church (and noted it was a partial list).
  • We looked at how a (sometime different) expression of those gifts continues for the sake of creating a well-rounded church.
  • We talked about how the point of these gifts (as with any gift) is the growth and maturity of the church, not the influence of the person with the gift or even the gift itself.
  • We noted the Bible does not tell us to pursue these gifts. They are given as God sees fit.
  • They are not markers of spiritual elitism.
  • Each of us individually ministers to other people in ordinary, every day life in a way that aligns with those different gifts.

 And we noted that life together is hard. Often our interaction includes challenges or confrontation. Encouragement is fun. Everybody likes that. However, conversations that are meant to move us deeper into discipleship with Christ are often very hard. Last week after the service, someone asked me, “Do I have to listen to everybody who wants to confront or challenge me?” Great question. Let me add a couple more.

  • Do we have to agree to listen to or meet with anybody who calls us up and says we have to talk about something in our life?
  • What if we are trying to listen, but people are jerks?
  • What if we are at a place in our life where only one kind of voice/approach  are coming through clearly right now?
  • What if we have been hurt or mislead by someone before – do we need to keep listening?
  • What do we do if we approach someone and they don’t listen?
  • What if people think we are always out of line when we weigh in on something?

It’s a good thing Paul keeps writing. 

“ If you have heard Jesus and have been taught by Him according to the truth that is in Him, then you know to take off your former way of life, your crumpled old self—that dark blot of a soul corrupted by deceitful desire and lust— so that you are transformed as God renews your mind, attitude and spirit. Then you are ready to put on your new self, modeled after the very likeness of God: truthful (speaking and living what’s real), righteous (approved by God), and holy (living within God’s design).

 Sounds good, right? So, how does that look? 

THEREFORE, put away your lies and speak the truth to one another because we are all part of one another. When you are angry, don’t let it carry you into sin. Don’t let the sun set with anger in your heart or give the devil room to work. If you have been stealing, stop. Thieves must go to work like everyone else and work honestly with their hands so that they can share with anyone who has a need. Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.

 It’s time to stop bringing grief to God’s Holy Spirit; you have been sealed with the Spirit, marked as His own for the day of rescue. Banish bitterness, rage and anger, shouting and slander, and any and all malicious thoughts—these are poison. Instead, be kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through Jesus, our Liberating King. (Ephesians 4:21-32, The Voice)

 Paul is showing us two ways that life together can go wrong or right: with our words and with our attitudes (that lead to actions). There is a lot to unpack here, so today we are going to focus on the first part: how we build each other up and are built up with words.

 “Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29)

There are 4 Principles For Conversation found in Ephesians 4.The first three are for the speakers, those of us who believe that, in the course of life together as Christians, we need to step into someone else’s life to challenge or confront. (I’m not talking about easy conversations. I’m talking about the hard times in life together). The last part is for the listeners.

#1. Not even one rotten word (worthless; rotten; corrupt)

 “Rotten” is a broad word so let’s narrow it down with other examples from Scripture.

  • Slander (Psalm 50:20, 21). Defaming someone’s character.
  • Gossip (Proverbs 16:28) Spreading stories.
  • Arguing (Philippians 2:14) Constant confrontation.
  • Criticizing (Matthew 7:1) Consistently judgmental perspective.
  • Complaining (Philippians 2:14) Nothing is good enough.
  • Filthy language (Colossians 3:8) Crudeness; offensiveness.
  • Boasting (James 4:16) Relentless self-promotion.
  • Lying (Exodus 20:16) Deliberate deception, especially about others.

  “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Your words are a gauge of what’s in your heart. So when we read that we are not to let rotten, worthless corrupt words come out of our mouths, we need to realize this is addressing our hearts as well.

If you are a slanderous, gossipy, argumentative, critical complainer who boasts and lies and generally speaks crudely… you might want to think twice about deciding you should be stepping into other people’s lives and calling them out on their stuff.  You might have the most insightful thing in the world to say… and never be heard because you have allowed these things to fester in your heart – and they spill over in your words.

By the way, if you ever get frustrated that no one will listen to you, check this list – and then have the courage to ask others to give you some feedback based on this list. You might have great stuff to offer, but if you are harboring these issues in your life, people are already having trouble getting along with you, and they you are piling on with words. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

 So the first step in communication: own your stuff. Take an honest look at the state of your heart. Pray for the Holy Spirit to bring you discernment – and then ask a trusted friend or two to join in.

 #2. Words that build up…

 This word carries with it the idea of building a home; (figuratively) it is constructive criticism and instruction that builds a person as a suitable dwelling place where the Lord is "at home." (biblehub.com).

 God builds the foundation of our new life through Christ; we are the “living stones” that build on this foundation. As with any home, quality matters. God allows us to play a role in building up the church by building up the people in the church. We used to sing a song, “Building up the temple… building up the temple of the Lord.” That’s the idea.

 So if “no unwholesome talk” was what not to do, here’s what you should do. Think of everyone as the dwelling place of God, and you by your words will help to build a place where God is at home. What does this look like? Jesus said to pray that God’s kingdom would come to earth. What characterizes God’s Kingdom? Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, truth, grace, purity, hope… Is that what we build with?

What difference would it make if we consciously thought about this with every word we said. My kids get on my nerves – am I building up or tearing down the dwelling place of God with the next thing I say?  My spouse annoys me… my friends let me down…am I doing my best to bring about the things that characterize God’s Kingdom on earth?

My brother or sister in Christ needs someone to speak into their lives. I guess it’s me (we think with fear and trembling!) What attitude and words can I use that will build up the dwelling place of God? 

 #3. “When they need it the most”

Proverbs 27:14 says, “If one blesses his neighbor with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be counted as a curse to him.” Sometimes we just shouldn’t talk.  If you are going to speak a challenge into someone else’s life, you have to meet them where they are. The pressure is on you to see and understand the person to whom you are talking and speak according to their needs.

Proverbs 25:11 says, “Words spoken at the right time are like golden apples in a basket of silver.” In other words, they are precious. They are in short supply. Anyone can say worthless and corrupt things. It’s easy. Beautiful speech is hard. If you can speak appropriately, you will stand out as you bring richness and beauty to your relationships.

If that sounds hard, it is. That sounds like time spent together…friendship… relationship…investing in someone’s life so that by blood, sweat and tears you have gotten to know them, and NOW you are at least in a position to bring life to them and build them up according to their needs.

How many times do we walk away from a tense situation with someone thinking, “They have issues. I was just faithful to say what God laid on my heart. If they can’t hear it, it’s their problem.” Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. Maybe you did not take the time to pray, to prepare, to make sure you were in a position to build up according to their needs, not vent according to yours. Maybe you barged in when they weren’t ready for you. Maybe you were a spiritual bull in an emotional china shop. Maybe you are the issue.

If you are speaking, do it with fear and trembling, with your radar up for signs that you are bringing offense that comes from you and not your message. Pray for wisdom. Make sure you are on solid ground biblically (am I speaking truth?) and relationally. Ask permission. Rewrite emails 5 times. If appropriate, ask others for their discernment. If you offend, listen and learn.

#4. To those who hear them…

And now we get to the one receiving the message. You are supposed to listen. Proverbs 12:15 reads, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”

In a community of ‘give and take’ with people who are often different from you, there will be times when people speak your language, and times when they don’t. Sometimes people will approach you at just the right time, and other times they won’t. So what do we do if we as a listener have a lot of reasons not to listen, or we have trouble hearing what others have to say because of how past experiences have formed us?

First, set boundaries. It’s okay to draw lines. Maybe some people shouldn’t have permission to speak into your life because of their track record, and you say, “No thanks. I have others around me who are helpful right now.” Maybe there are others you want to hear, but you are really nervous, so you meet them with a third party. When I was coaching, I had the AD read emails from angry parents. I know a couple where one of them filters certain email messages for the other one. Boundaries are okay.

Second, if speakers have to own their stuff, listeners do to. People will offend you. And maybe it’s them – but since I already covered that - maybe it’s you. Maybe you are overlooking a heart that is for you and you are only seeing an approach that offends you. Maybe you are reading into what they say. Maybe you are letting past experiences distort how you view the present one.

If you are listening, do it with openness and humility, with your radar up for signs that your past experiences or your personality are making it hard to hear what’ being said. Set clear and safe parameters for communication if you need to. Try to hear without needing to defend. Filter the message through others. See what the Bible has to say. Pray for God’s wisdom. 

Our Life With Others: Unity within Diversity (Ephesians 4:4-16)

Church life can often be difficult because of at the remarkable diversity of people involved. There can be a lot of frustration and tension: Why don’t other people experience God or read the Bible the way I do? Am I the only one that thinks music/sermons/prayer/small groups/ outreach/Israel/spiritual gifts/Bible study/discipleship/theology is important?  This tension is nothing new. There’s a reason Paul basically wrote an entire book focused on the unity that Christ brings transforms relationships within the church. In Ephesians 4:4-16, Paul talks about the importance of embracing a diversity of gifts or roles in the church, and why it is important in building unity. 

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously extended to you. Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love. Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together. 

 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were all called to pursue one hope. There is one Lord Jesus, one living faith, one ceremonial washing through baptism, and one God—the Father over all who is above all, through all, and in all. This God has given to each of us grace in full measure according to Christ’s gift as the Scripture says, ‘When He ascended to the heights,
He put captivity in chains;
And in His triumph, He gave gifts to the people…’ 

It was Christ who handed down to us such gifted leaders—some apostles ,some prophets, some evangelists, some pastor and teachers —  so that God’s people would be thoroughly equipped to minister and build up the body of Christ. These ministries will continue until we are unified in faith and filled with the knowledge of the Son of God, until we stand mature in His teachings and fully formed in the likeness of Jesus, our Liberating King. 

Then we will no longer be like children, tossed around here and there upon ocean waves, picked up by every gust of religious teaching spoken by liars or swindlers or deceivers. Instead, by truth spoken in love, we are to grow in every way into Him—Christ, the head. He joins and holds together the whole body with its ligaments providing the support needed so each part works to its proper design to form a healthy, growing, and mature body that builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:4-16, from The Voice)

Before we discuss this passage more, I need to make several points.

1) Apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher is probably not meant to be an exhaustive list of gifts, as can be seen by the addition of elder and deacon(ess) in other passages. Hebrew literature uses lists of five a lot. It’s like saying, “For example…” These are not the only gifts that God gave to his people.

2) There are aspects of leadership in church life that are clearly represented in each of these categories that are needed in the history of the worldwide church, individual churches now, and in our personal growth in Christ. While they are relevant, I don’t think they are all exactly the same as they were in NT times. For example, there are no apostles today like there were in the Bible (you had to see Jesus in the flesh). In the early church, we already see that ‘prophecy’ moved largely away from talking about the future and became mostly about proclaiming truth boldly. But no matter the differences between now and then, there are aspects of each of these gifts that are important in the ongoing process of building, leading and growing the church today. 

3) It’s not a list of spiritual winners vs. losers. Paul says “some” not “all” were given these gifts. I wouldn’t get consumed by asking, “Where am I in this list?”  Like I noted earlier, it's probably a "for example" kind of list; besides, we are not told to seek these gifts or self-appoint ourselves into the role. There are other gifts of the Spirit that  are no less meaningful, and there are plenty of fruits of the Spirit that are a sign of God’s work in your life. They too build up the church. (See the list at the end of this post for a surprisingly diverse list of spiritual gifts. Just be a faithful follower of Christ.

4) It’s about the timeless principle of servicing and building maturity and unity. There is no record these terms were used as a title like some use them today. The gifts aren’t the point. The person with the gift is not the point. Anytime the pursuit of one of these offices or the elevation of someone in one of these positions becomes the point, we are in trouble. Life together in Christ is the point. We are given different gifts for the sake of the church. We need each other if we want to have a healthy, growing and mature body that builds itself up in love. We are talking about this today because apparently these things are crucial for unity – which leads me to believe that they can be a source of disunity to if we aren’t careful.

When we are done today, I hope we will have accomplished several important goals. First, that we appreciate the diversity of passion, gifts and purposes within the church. Second, I want us to be aware of how it looks when the gifts are exercised poorly and when they are exercised well. Finally, I hope we are moved to encourage others and learn from them as we see them display these gifts.

NOTE: I am pulling from a book called Primal Fire, written by Neil Cole, Dezi Baker, Ed Waken, Phil Helfer, and Paul Kaak. There is also a website for the APEST model on Alan Hirsch’s Website, The Forgotten Ways (http://www.theforgottenways.org/what-is-apest.aspx). You can take a test there to see in which areas you are strong, but as I noted earlier, don’t become consumed by the need to find yourself in a category. Just be faithful; feedback from Christians around you is probably more important than your own self-reflection.

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CHURCH PLANTERS AND MISSIONARIES (the foundation of apostolos)

We get our term missionary from the Latin form of apostolos, “sent one”. Alan Hirsch says those with an apostolic gift are those who “initiate visions and ideas and then step back.” These people are constantly looking for new places and new people. They lay a foundation and then move on. A modern day term would be church planter (or missionary). They have a passion for establishing a solid church (doctrine).

You can spot a true apostle not because they tell you they are one, but because churches arises where there was no church before – not because of them and their positional power, but because of their inspiration. You can see this show up in other ways too: people we would think of as pioneers or innovators. They always have a new idea, a new suggestion for how to more firmly establish the church in a community. They are never content with the status quo, but are certain things can be done better.

The Hurdles

  • They can tend to be loners because they don’t feel understood, or because they are often on the move.
  • They can be very black and white about methods (“My way works!”) and people (“You are a leader or you are nothing.”)
  • They can leave a mess after they start something by leaving – or staying.

The Counterfeit (The “super apostle” in 2 Corinthians 11-12)

  • They point to themselves
  • They insist on financial gain
  • They are not willing to relinquish power or authority

 

TRUTH-TELLERS IN THE CHURCH (the insight of prophetus)

Those with a prophetic gift help God’s people hear the voice of God and obey. It is more about forthtelling than foretelling. They bring edification, exhortation, and consolation (1 Corinthians 14:3-4). They force us to face truth, not just settle for understanding or empathy. They often speak truth however they see fit regardless of the consequences. A single issue can drive them tirelessly.

If apostles are passionate about establishing a solid church foundation, prophets are passionate about holiness. People who encounter prophets feel challenged. You can spot a genuine prophet because they don't think of themselves as a prophet – they just think that Christians should call other Christians to holiness. It’s just life to them.

The hurdles

  • They can think everything that comes to mind should be proclaimed
  • They assume all their insights are 1)corporate and 2) preeminent.
  • They can be lonely. Rejection of their message can feel like a personal offense, and they can become impatient with those who don't ‘get it’ 

The counterfeit 

  • They say they are special – only they know God’s secrets
  • Their proclamations bring glory and power to themselves
  • They are wrong in foretelling (predicting the future) and forthtelling (their insights aren’t correct)

 

TRUTH-TELLERS IN THE CULTURE (the growth from euangelistas)

 Those with an evangelistic gift are “tellers of good news.” If prophets have a passion for holiness, evangelists have a passion for the mission of the church – sharing the gospel and equipping others. A love for Christ and a love for people are inseparable. They are more comfortable with the lost than the found. You are more likely to find them at a bar than a Bible study. They don’t wait for people to come to them – they go get ‘em. Evangelists are the “first impression” of Christianity to the world.

 People who encounter evangelists will feel that an evangelist cares about them even if they disagree with them. Evangelists will tend to ADD people to a church, but not START it (apostle) or REFINE it (prophet).  Evangelists give the church a tender heart for those far from Christ. You can spot a true evangelist when they are surprised at how much you admire their effectiveness. “It’s just what Christians do, right?”

 The hurdles

  • Evangelists are often very charismatic and extroverted, and the message can become about them (cult of personality).
  • Numbers can equal success to them, and they can favor popular thoughts over deep ones in an effort to draw a crowd (numbers = success).
  • They think their method should be everyone’s (tracts, door-to-door, revival meetings, seeker’ services)

The counterfeit

  • The evangelist is judgmental angry and unappealing (not a heart for the lost)
  • The gospel is shame-based rather than grace-based

 

PROTECTOR OF THE COMMUNITY (the unity of poimenas - shepherds)

 Those with a pastoral/shepherding gift show concern for the continuing care of a specific community – protecting, caring, strengthening and maturing in doctrine and relationships. They don’t care about position or title – they are interested in people and relationships. They want to lead their sheep (the congregation) to a place where they can feed themselves. They are team builders. They create an environment where people flourish in their relationship with God and others. They are not inclined to leave a church community because they are invested in the lives of the community.

The hurdles

  • They can be skeptical or critical of the other categories (apostles are too transient; prophets are not nurturing enough; evangelists are too focused on non-Christians).
  • They can be so concerned about relationships they overlook sin (peace keepers vs. makers)
  • They are relationship-oriented more than task-oriented (people get frustrated by the lack of a clear vision or agenda).

The counterfeit

  • Fail to protect and nourish in orthodoxy (belief) and orthopraxy (action)
  • Are not invested in the church community
  • Will follow the money
  • Will not sacrifice on behalf of the church

GATEKEEPERS OF THE WORD (the instruction of didaskalous - teachers)

 Those with a teaching gift find that scriptural truth is both sacred ground and their playground. They absorb truth; then they instruct, correct and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3; Titus 2). Identifying and correcting errors in doctrine is of primary importance. Church planters establish a church in solid doctrine; teachers are the gatekeepers. Books and podcasts are their best friends; they don’t have to be prompted to study. They are always looking for new topics to learn and teach because they have an insatiable desire to know and understand more. They then equip others to teach others. They are good at teaching others how to learn and modeling how to pass on the teaching. The Bible is clear about approaching this position with fear and trembling (James 3:1) Like all the other positions, they don’t do it for applause or clout; it’s just what they do.

The hurdles

  • The teacher can become the authority rather than the Bible
  • They can confuse knowledge with wisdom (bogged down in details…divisive)
  • Divide over details

The counterfeit

  • Claim to have secret knowledge everybody else has missed
  • Elevate their teaching to near perfection
  • Add to or detract from Scripture

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What’s the point of all this? We are different. God gifted us that way. All these gifts/approaches/emphasis are necessary if we are to be a well-rounded church –and if we want to be a well-rounded person. And we must both do them and accept them with patience and grace.  Look at the difference between the following statements or questions. 

WHAT NOT TO SAY

  • “Why are you so focused on people outside the church. Don't we have enough to deal with in here already!”
  • “You are so inward-focused in the church. Don't you have a heart for missions and outreach?”
  • “Wow! You are obsessed with doctrine. Can’t we all just agree to disagree?”
  • “Why don't you spend more time reading and studying and learning about the Bible?”
  • "The  most effective evangelism is d00r-to-door. Why are you wasting your time with Pub Theology?
  • “I wish you didn’t spend so much time empathizing with people in sin. Step up! Tell it like it is!”
  • “Why are you always so blunt? You're just going to offend people over and over again.”
  • “You've  got so many ideas, and you just keep talking about new ways to do ministry, and you hasveno idea how hard that will be.”
  • “Why are you so reluctant to think outside the box and start or try new things?”

Notice how in all these things there is a 'ministry projection' - that is, the assumption that what we are passionate about or gifted in the true sign of Christian maturity. When people are different from us, we can be prone to judgment, criticism, withdrawing ("No one understands me!"), and eventually leaving for another church. Usually two things happen at that point. Either we find a church where everybody is just like us in terms of passions and gifts, or we move from church to church because no place is spiritual enough for us. If the former, we never grow because there is no one there challenge us or expand our understanding of how God works in people's lives. In the latter, we never grow because we never get our spiritual roots down deeply.

Instead, we need to practice 'ministry affirmation.' We should seek to know, understand and grow as we see God at works in those around us who are very different from us. We should applaud when others are successful and looks for opportunities to partner with them (not subvert or criticize them) in the work of the Kingdom. As we do this, we begin to appreciate the breadth of the kingdom of God, and we begin to grow as all of the people around us build up our lives. 

The first list  of questions conveyed judgment, frustration and 'ministry projection.'  This second list approaches others with a request to learn, to understand, to grow and appreciate how God uses all kinds of people to bring his church into maturity and unity.

WHAT TO SAY

  • “You really have a heart for people outside the church. Can you help me learn how to be bold and compelling when I talk about Christ?”
  • “I love how you are passionate about the people in our church. How do you approach people and situations so effectively?”
  • “You clearly value the Word of God tremendously. What’s a good way I can begin to study and learn?”
  • “You seem to connect with God very deeply outside of traditional devotional times. What have you found meaningful and why?”
  • "You have a way of reaching out to people far from Christ that is way out of my comfort zone. How do you do it? What's it like? How do you see God at work?"
  • “You connect really well with people who are struggling. I find that people don’t seek me out. How do you do it? What can I do to connect with others?”
  • “I’m not very good at boldly challenging people. Will you hold me accountable?”
  • “You have a ton of good ideas about how we could do church more effectively here in TC. I’m not good with ideas, but I can implement them. Let’s talk…”
  • “I’ve got some ideas about church. I know you are much better at details than I am, so do you mind if I run some ideas by you? I’d love to hear your feedback.”

 This is how "we are to grow in every way into Him—Christ, the head. He joins and holds together the whole body with its ligaments providing the support needed so each part works to its proper design to form a healthy, growing, and mature body that builds itself up in love.”

__________________________________________________________________________

 

 SPIRITUAL GIFTS MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE 

Prophecy (boldly proclaiming God’s mind and purpose) 1 Corinthians 12, 14; Micah 3:8

Serving (a wide variety of ministries that “make the dust fly”) 1 Peter 4; 1 Corinthians 12:5

Teaching - (explaining God’s truth) Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4

Working - (bringing energy to a project) 1 Corinthians 12:6

Exhortation (motivational skills; encouragement) Romans 12

Giving (joyful, sacrificial generosity) Romans 12

Mercy (compassion) Romans 12

Intercession (prayer) Romans 8:26, 27

Wisdom  (knowledge rightly applied to situations) James 1:5; Numbers 27

Words of Wisdom (giving insightful, practical knowledge)1 Corinthians 12

Words of Knowledge (giving insight into doctrine/spiritual truth) 1 Corinthians 12

Faith (unwavering commitment) 1 Corinthians 12

Healing (miraculous interventions for sickness) 1 Corinthians 12

Discerning spirits (insight into the “spirit” of a situation) 1 Corinthians 12

Tongues (gifted in human or heavenly languages) 1 Corinthians 12, 14

Interpretation of Tongues (translating those languages) 1 Corinthians 12, 14

Apostle (the office is unique to the founding of the church; the gifting is present) 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4

Leadership (church planters and church sustainers) Romans 12

Pastor (“shepherds” who guide and lead) Ephesians 4

Evangelist/Missionary (boldness in sharing the gospel) Acts 1:8; 5:32; 26:22; 1 John 5:6; Ephesians 4

Helps (helping/serving the poor and downtrodden) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Romans 16:1-4; 12

Administration (the ability to give oversight) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Samuel 11 and 16

Celibacy (refraining from sex) 1 Corinthians 7:7

Marriage (committing to a covenant with integrity) 1 Corinthians 7:7

Hospitality (openness and friendliness) 1 Peter 4:9-10

Craftsmanship (building, construction) Exodus 31:3; 35:30-35

The Arts (music, poetry, prose, painting...)  Exodus 31:2-6;  Exodus 35:25-26; Psalm 150:3-5 Luke 1:1-3

Voluntary Poverty (forgoing wealth without envy or jealousy) 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Business Sense (reward from hard work and investment) Ecclesiastes 3,5

Courage (as seen in Gideon) Judges 6

Strength (as seen in Samson)  Judges 13

Architectural Engineering  (planning; constructing; building) 1 Chronicles 28

God Loves Us - But What Does That Mean?

Father, out of Your honorable and glorious riches, strengthen Your people. Fill their souls with the power of Your Spirit so that through faith the Anointed One will reside in their hearts. May love be the rich soil where their lives take root. May it be the bedrock where their lives are founded so that together with all of Your people they will have the power to understand that the love of Christ is infinitely long, wide, high, and deep, surpassing everything anyone previously experienced. God, may Your fullness flood through their entire beings. (Ephesians 3)

In Ephesians 3, Paul prays that we can understand God’s love. What does that mean? We need to begin by looking at what God's love is - and what it's not.

God does not have vague feelings of love. He’s not emoting general feelings. God demonstrated agape love through Christ. This is a sacrificial, preferential, and demonstrative love. It is not a feeling-based ‘like’.  As an idea of how counter-cultural this is, it’s worth noting that the Greek word agape was hardly ever used in Greek-speaking societies, but in the New Testament it occurs 320 times. In other words, Christ’s love was very different from culture’s love (both then and now).

We need to wade through how our culture has formed our definition of love. After all we use it all the time (pizza, our favorite show, new shoes, a song, our family, and God). I think we usually mean “like” when we say “love.”

“Like” is an instinctive reaction. It’s something we usually don’t control. It’s an instinctive response to how someone looks, or their humor, or how they make us feel when we are around them. We don’t usually choose to like someone. I increasingly think the most of us get married because we are in ‘like’, and it is only through life together that we learn how to love. It was easy to date my wife; we were on our best behavior, we showed our good side; we were reeling each other in. It was easy to like each other. That’s infatuation, right? The honeymoon stage? We liked how we felt around the other person. But it really wasn’t until we were married that we were forced to discover what love was. Love is purposeful choice. We had to make a decision to demonstrate selfless, sacrificial preference and servanthood to the other one even when it was hard.

Think of this way: I can love someone I don’t like. Sheila and I like each other about 80% of the time (or 95% if Sheila is reading this!). Now, I want to be liked, so when I find out what I am doing that brings out that dislike response I want to address it.  But I am far less concerned about whether or not my wife likes me in any given moment than if she loves. And I know she loves me even when she doesn’t like me. How do I know this? Because we go to counseling together when we need to, and that’s hard. We hash stuff out; we keep learning how to be honest, and blunt, and graceful, and forgiving, and that’s hard. And my wife walks into those things with me, so I know she loves me even on the days that I have given her good reason not to like the man she loves.

  • Like is easy; love is costly
  • Like is selfish; love is sacrificial
  • Like wants to be filled up; love wants to be poured out
  • Like looks for the next object of pleasure; love looks for the next subject of service
  • Like is restless; love is relentless
  • Like requires worthiness; love offers worth

This is why I am so glad that God did not like the world so much that He sent His son. The Bible is pretty clear that a lot of things and people have made God very unhappy. God does not always like the world, but He loves it.

 I don’t know about you, but I can get caught up wondering if God like me. That’s usually based on how successfully I am navigating life. When we do well, we assume God likes us, and other people should to. When we fail, we assume God dislikes us, and others should as well. If the cost of love is a measure of the depth of love, the cross shows that you are being offered salvation, forgiveness, and new life from a God who loves you profoundly. If you find yourself asking, “Does God like me?” you are asking the wrong question. “Does God love me?” is the only one that needs to be answered.

I have good news: you can be the most likable person in the world or the most unlikable person, and that has no bearing on whether or not God loves you. How do I know? Christ died for you. 

What Is Christian Unity (Build Up Part 2)

 I got a lot of really good questions about unity after last week’s sermon. Does unity mean we never confront sin? Do we just ignore false teaching?  Does unity mean we avoid any type of tension at any cost? So this Sunday I am going to offer four points to clarify what biblical Christian unity looks like.

 1) Christian Unity Is Between Christians

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously extended to you.  Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love.  Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

We should show Christian love to everyone, but we simply can’t have the kind of unity that should happen between disciples of Christ with those who are not also disciples.  I have great friends who do not share my allegiance to Christ. We unite around other things - a love of philosophy, sports, books, social issues - but we don't unite around Christ.Unity must be with regard to something. Saying "we are unified" as Christians doesn't mean anything unless we have a common cause, allegiance, motivation – in this case, the unity the Holy Spirit brings through Christ.

2) Christian Unity Has Boundaries.     

There are plenty of “secondary issues” within the faith that Christians legitimately disagree about and should not break our unity.

  • Is the earth old or young? 
  • How will End Times unfold?
  • How is the Holy Spirit active today? 
  • What is the purpose of church services and how should they be done? 
  • Does God predestine who will be saved, or do our choices make a difference?
  • Is Song of Solomon about marriage and sex or is it an allegory for Christ and the church?

Yes. Sure. Different perspectives are found within the boundaries of united allegiance to Christ (Check out Romans 14:1-12 for a practical example). However, there are things that will either make Christian unity impossible or will destroy unity within the church if left unchecked. 

Theological Boundaries (the person and work of Christ)

 The Bible clearly shows that Jesus was God in the flesh (a member of the Trinity), who lived, died and rose again. Sin destroys peace within us and between God and others, and  punishment is our just reward. God (through Christ) provided a way out of that penalty of eternal death, and Christ alone has brought salvation and made peace between us and God. Once we give our allegiance to Christ, we can be “conformed” to increasingly reflect His image but we will never be Him.[i] One day we will stand before God to give an answer for our lives. Those who enter into reward instead of  punishment will do so only because they have accepted Jesus' offer to pay their debt.

Christian unity is not possible if we don’t agree on these things, because these points are all integral to the person and work of Jesus. I can think of at least five different phrases I have heard about Jesus from others who claim allegiance to Christ that give me a lot of concern.

  • “I am a Christian because I follow Jesus’ teachings. I don’t think he was God, but He showed us how to live.”[ii]
  • “Jesus is one of many ways to God.”[iii]
  • “Jesus is only about love, not anger. We have to lighten up on all this talk about sin and wrath and hell.”[iv]
  • “You can be just like Jesus! You can be a little god too!”[v]
  • “Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just names or titles for different ways God has shown himself.”[vi]

 We can’t be in Christian unity if we are fixing our eyes on a different kind of Christ.

  • If he was just a good man, Jesus is not divine and should not be worshipped.
  • If there are many ways to make peace with God, then Jesus is not the only way and is certainly not the necessary way, and his death and resurrection were unnecessary.
  • If sin and its eternal consequences aren’t important, then Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection aren’t important, and the day of judgment should not concern us.
  • If we can become just like Jesus, then the bar for what it means to be God is incredibly low, and there is no way Jesus should be worshipped.
  • If there is no Trinity, then Judaism and Islam have been right about the nature of God all along, and Christ was not who we thought he was. If thats true, then his life, death and resurrection did not accomplish what we claim they did.

When Paul is writing about the importance of unity, he’s not saying that anything goes as Christians when we look at Jesus. He clearly calls out false teachers numerous times in his letters (Galatians 5:7-12; 1 Timothy 1:3-11; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-19). Even if we attend church together, if we are not united about the most important thing, we may be respectful friends who genuinely like each other, but we are not united around the same Christ.

Moral Boundaries (Committed Discipleship)

Christian unity does not require perfection. Sinfulness will always be present within our Christian unity on this side of heaven. When that happens, we don't just step over our brothers and sisters when they fall down, and we certainly don’t kick them while they are down. We don’t enable sin, and we don’t berate and humiliate sinners. We help them back up like we have constantly been helped up, and we revisit the foot of the cross not to regain our salvation, but to ask for the forgiveness only Christ can give.

However, unity doesn’t mean we act like sin is no big deal. Paul writes numerous times about how to confront sin in the context of church (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13); (1 Corinthians 5:6-7; (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). Why? Because sin can begin to permeate the church, and that will destroy our unity. There’s a reason God says not to do these things that goes beyond our individual holiness. True unity cannot be sustained if these things are allowed to flourish in a church.

Unity does not require that we overlook sin.  If we are going to be unified around Christ, we have to have a healthy respect for the reality and devastation of sin. The more our personal sin hurts others or draws others in, the more crucial it becomes to confront for the purpose of the individual and the unity of the group. If we overlook or enable these things, they will take our eyes off of Christ, our walk as a disciple will erode, our unity with others will crumble, and our witness for Christ will be compromised. So the fact that we are sinners is not the thing that divides us; it should actually unite us at the foot of the cross. It’s what we do with or how we respond to the sin that cannot help but bring disunity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together:

“Reproof is unavoidable.. Where defection from God’s Word in doctrine or life imperils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the world of admonition and rebuke must be ventured. Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship…”

As a church community, we are in this together. Unity requires a community of grace, forgiveness and hope that always points us toward a Christ who offers all these things to us. But sin corrodes, and it must be addressed.               

3) Christian Unity Confronts Tension

Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

Unity is not the absence of tension.  If it were, we would never be unified. We would always hide our true self from others, or avoid people or situations that make us uncomfortable, or never have the hard conversations about protecting doctrine or living holy lives.We must confront it instead of retreat from it. The Bible does not say blessed are the peacekeepers, it says blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Keeping peace is easy, passive, and ultimately destructive. Making peace is uncomfortable, but necessary and always fruitful. The unified do not hide.

We must learn how to say, “I love you and I am for you, so we must have this conversation.” Then we pray for wisdom, we may seek godly counsel, and we turn to the Bible for our foundational truths because it is” profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”(2 Timothy 3:16)

 4) Christian Unity displays Christ-like love

“ Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts fall under the rule of Jesus’  peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-16)

Love is the ultimate gift of the Spirit as seen in 1 Corinthians 13.[vii] It’s the glue that is meant to hold the church community together. The Bible is really specific about what Christ-like love looks like (and I am pulling this list from 1 Corinthians 13).

  • Patient (good things take time)
  • Kind (it’s a basic human quality)
  • Content (not jealous)
  • Humble (not boastful or proud)
  • Decent (never rude or crude)
  • Other-centered (not self-absorbed)
  • Composed (not easily provoked or resentful)
  • Forgiving (doesn’t keep tally of wrongs)
  • Rejoices in Truth (doesn’t avoid it)
  • Rejoices in Justice (is not content to let injustice unfold)
  • Bears all things (endures and protects insults, burdens, and hardships)
  • Never loses faith (does not become cynical or jaded)
  • Hopeful (never forgets that Jesus saves)
  • Persevering (keeps going even when it's tough

This kind of love is the greatest gift given us to preserve the unity that Christ brings, Is far more than emotional connection. It comes from fixing our eyes on Christ and walking with others in loving, faithful discipleship. Paul gives an example of how this looks in Romans 12:14-18.

If people mistreat or malign you, bless them. Always speak blessings, not curses. If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration. And if others are weeping, join in that as well. Work toward unity, and live in harmony with one another. Avoid thinking you are better than others or wiser than the rest; instead, embrace common people and ordinary tasks. Do not retaliate with evil, regardless of the evil brought against you. Try to do what is good and right and honorable as agreed upon by all people. If it is within your power, make peace with all people.” (Romans 12:14-18)

This kind of loving unity will never compromise truth or holiness, but it will always guide the attitude and presence we bring to any situation.

 

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[i]  Paul’s Creed (from 1 Corinthians 15:3-11) often considered the earliest creedal statement: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” Note the three key subjects: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; the fact the Jesus died for our sins; and the reality of grace as the means of salvation.

The Apostles Creed(150 AD) reads: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
 and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
[‘he descended to hell’ was added much later in response to doctrinal challenges].
The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
[‘the holy catholic (universal) church' was added in the 4th century], the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” As a response to different doctrinal challenges, this creed is more broad (and more specific) than Paul’s.

 The Nicene Creed (325 AD) reads: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets; And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the Life of the age to come. Amen.” This was written in response to the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. In 381, it was revised to address the Macedonian heresy, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.   

[ii]  Google the term “moralistic therapeutic deism” to see this in action. Michael Horton provides a good overview of this position at http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=917

[iii] " I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherence to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.” (Brian McClaren)  For a good response, check out a book by Ravi Zacharias called Jesus Among Other Gods.

[iv] The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement: "God is love". If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil (Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, pp. 182-183).”John Piper has a good response at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/defending-my-fathers-wrath

[v] “Man…was created on terms of equality with God, and he could stand in God’s presence without any consciousness of inferiority…. He made us the same class of being that He is Himself…. He lived on terms equal with God…. The believer is called Christ, that’s who we are; we’re Christ.” (Kenneth Hagin, Zoe: The God Kind of Life, pp. 35-36, 41).

“Why didn't Jesus openly proclaim Himself as God during His 33 years on earth? For one single reason. He hadn't come to earth as God, He'd come as man.”  Kenneth Copeland, Believer's Voice of Victory magazine, Aug. 8, 1988. p.8.

"The most remarkable "messiah" at (the time of the writing of this book) ... is to be found at camp Manujothi Ashram in the desert in South India. It is the extreme American evangelist, William Branham, whom Christians have to thank for this false messiah. His name is Paluser Lawrie Mathukrishna. When Branham was on (a) tour of India, Brother Lawrie became a disciple of his, and Branham described him as the "Son of God" and "Christ returned." (Kurt Koch, Occult ABC, 1978, p. 66) Read more at http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/thirdwaveteachings.html

This is also a key teaching of Mormonism. Here is a short but good response from Hank Hannegraaff: http://www.equip.org/perspectives/little-gods-are-we-little-gods/

[vi] This is a position called Modalism, which has been considered heretical (so far from orthodox Christianity that it cannot be authentic Christian belief) since almost the beginning of the church. Two popular names associated with this movement are Tommy Tenney (because of his Oneness Pentecostal roots) and T.D. Jakes (who is a Oneness Pentecostal). Here’s a link to a great article that gives a very thorough discussion of this issue: http://thecripplegate.com/modalism_oneness_and_td_jakes/

In an unusual (and false) twist, Benny Hinn has been promoting Tri-theism, the idea that each member of the Trinity is its own Trinity. ”God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person; separate from the Son and the Holy Ghost. Say, what did you say? Hear it, hear it, hear it. See, God the Father is a person, God the Son is a person, God the Holy Ghost is a person. But each one of them is a triune being by Himself. If I can shock you - and maybe I should - there's nine of them. Huh, what did you say? Let me explain: God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person with his own personal spirit, with his own personal soul, and his own personal spirit-body.” (Benny Hinn” program on TBN, 10/30/90) 

[vii]The apostle bookends his famous chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13) with these two (perhaps surprising) charges: “earnestly desire the higher gifts” and “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1). God means that we desire all of his gifts, not to glut our selfishness, but to selflessly strengthen others — “so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:5)… Desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13; cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3). Compared to other “higher gifts” (such as tongues, healing, and prophecy† among others), love is “a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).” 

 Read the entire article at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/10-reasons-to-desire-all-the-spiritual-gifts.

 

OUR ROLE (IN THE CHURCH): BUILD UP (EPHESIANS 2: 11-22)

When we talked last week about being “raised up,” we talked about how we are saved by grace, and we have value, worth and dignity in Christ. God is glorified when God is seen in us, shining through the cracks of our brokenness, making something new and better of us to accomplish good works He has planned for us. But as we continue reading Ephesians, Paul is going to talk about purpose.  Why are we here? What good am I?  What can God possibly do with me, and how will he do it? Let's pick up in Ephesians 2 beginning at verse 11:

 "So never forget how you used to be. Those of you born as outsiders to Israel were outcasts, branded “the uncircumcised” by those who bore the sign of the covenant in their flesh, a sign made with human hands. You had absolutely no connection to the Anointed; you were strangers, separated from God’s people. You were aliens to the covenant they had with God; you were hopelessly stranded without God in a fractured world.

But now, because of Jesus and His sacrifice, all of that has changed. God gathered you who were so far away and brought you near to Him by the royal blood of the Anointed, our Liberating King. He is the embodiment of our peace, sent once and for all to take down the great barrier of hatred and hostility that has divided us so that we can be one. He offered His body on the sacrificial altar to bring an end to the law’s ordinances and dictations that separated Jews from the outside nations.

 His desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body. Jesus, the Great Preacher of peace and love came for you, and His voice found those of you who were near and those who were far away. By Him both have access to the Father in one Spirit.

And so you are no longer called outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God’s people, members of God’s holy family, and residents of His household. You are being built on a solid foundation: the message of the prophets and the voices of God’s chosen emissaries with Jesus, the Anointed Himself, the precious cornerstone. The building is joined together stone by stone—all of us chosen and sealed in Him, rising up to become a holy temple in the Lord.  In Him you are being built together, creating a sacred dwelling place among you where God can live in the Spirit."

In Ephesians 2, Paul uses three analogies to show how our role in the church it to live and build together in a sacred church community where the presence of God is both welcome and obvious: One body (Identity) One citizenship (Allegiance) and One building (Purpose). As Christians, we are part of a church. We aren’t just raised up so we can shine. We aren’t saved in isolation. We are raised up together so that we can bring the practical application of God’s goodness into the world. So, let’s make this practical.

In high school, I was on a basketball team. Ten individuals had to become one. We were united.  We were a Flame (which was our mascot). Our identity was worn proudly on our shirts. Our allegiance shifted. When we went out for the team, we had to choose basketball over a lot of other things, and we had to give up our independence to the will of the coach. We all had a purpose: win. If you watch March Madness or the NBA, the team that clicks is the team that wins. The Pistons who won the NBA championship several years ago weren’t the best players in the NBA. They were the most united.

In marriage, two individuals become one. Sheila and I were united almost 25 years ago. We were no longer our own; we were not only “one,” we had a claim to each other. Our identity was now wrapped up in the other one. Our allegiance shifted. We had to choose each other over our family and over other people. We were now surrendered to the will of God and the desires of the other. We are united in purpose (at least ideally), whether it’s vocations, or mission, or raising kids.

 In church we see the same principle, but in some ways it is much, much more complicated.

 One Body (Identity)

We are all part of one body. This addresses the issue of Identity. It’s not just a question of who I am anymore. It’s a question of who we are. And the “we” is everybody committed to following Christ. The barriers that come with this are huge. At that time Paul wrote to all the churches around Ephesus, the Jew/Gentile barrier was the biggest hurdle (and the one mentioned here). But there was also men/women, slave/free, rich/poor, etc. When individual people form the “body” of Christ on earth, it’s hard.

  • We unite emotional with intellectual.
  • We unite people who worship God best through music with people who worship God best through study or hiking or praying or painting.
  • We unite people who grew up with the Bible or in church with people who didn't.
  • We unite Charismatics with Traditionalists.
  • We unite introverts and extroverts.
  • We unite the expressive and the stoic.
  • We unite Republicans and Democrats.
  • We unite people who think marriage is awesome and people who think marriage is a nightmare, so when we talk about the church as the Bride of Christ, or we use marriage analogies for God’s love or our relationship with God, we have to be careful
  • We unite people who work for PCC and RTL and people who have had abortions, so we speak truth with so much grace, and we offer the hope of God’s healing by being a part of the healing of others.
  • We unite people who think ‘family’ means home and people who think ‘family’ means hostility.
  • We unite people who love that God is a Father and people who cringe at that connection because of their fathers.
  • We unite people we just don’t like, and people who let us down, and people who ignore us when we need attention, and people who pay too much attention when we want to be left alone, and people who are hypocritical, and people who are a little too transparent…

 It’s hard. But God plans to reconcile us to God through this “one body.” Christ died not only to save us as individuals but to unite us as one humanity. We are individual ambassadors, yes, but the church is the corporate ambassador.  

One Citizenship (allegiance)

We are all citizens of a new country. This addresses the issue of Allegiance. As a Christian, a citizen of the Kingdom of God, my time, my money, my emotions, my relationships are all surrendered as an act of allegiance and obedience to Christ. In the Old Testament, God commanded that His people not worship any of the other pagan Gods. In the New Testament, this worship of idols has more to do with priorities. No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). You can’t serve God and something else.

As citizens in the Kingdom of God, we pledge our allegiance to something greater than our wants and desires. We pledge our allegiance to something greater than America. My money is God’s, my reputation is God’s, my sex life if God’s, my time is God’s, my entertainment and vacations and work and friendships – all God’s. And that’s hard, too, because we like being the ruler in our Kingdom of Me. Jesus said,“By this the world will know that you are my disciples: that you love one another.” (John 13:35)

 If we want to be a disciple, we have to accept the authority of Christ and follow. If we want to be a follower of Christ, He will demand our allegiance. Being our own authority figure is not an option for us if we are followers of Christ.

 One Building (purpose) 

Being “built up” does more than just establish comraderie. It gives us a purpose. What are we here for? What plan does God have for our life? We are being placed by the Master Builder to form the walls of a sacred dwelling place, a holy temple, where God can dwell in Spirit. We sometimes over-personalize the fact that the Spirit of God dwells within us. We only claim it personally, and we forget that the Bible also talks about it the Spirit of God dwelling in us corporately.

When Paul made this claim, he upended the prominent role of the temple at that time. The temple building was the heart of the Jewish nation – politically, socially, musically, morally, etc.  It was also the heart of Greek and Roman communities too (think of Cult of Diana in Ephesus). Many believed the temples were where heaven and earth met. 

Paul made it clear: we don’t have to go to a geographical place or a particular building to go to a place where the Spirit of God dwells. The Spirit of God dwells with God’s people. So, what difference does that make? How does it tie back in to the previous analogies? There is an interesting comment in Philippians where Paul talks about a fruit of Spirit-filled living that is often overlooked.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2)

 Paul is basically saying, “If the work of God in you has done anything at all, you should have the same mind (the mind of Christ), the same love (agape, self-sacrificial), and be in one accord.” We let God unite us. Because Christ is in us, we build unity by asking for forgiveness – and we are able to do the hard work of forgiving.  Because Christ is in us, we build unity by speaking truth humbly and with grace, and by listening humbly and with grace. Because Christ is in us, we build peace by entering into life together with a very different and very challenging people and make it work.

So we are raised up not just for our sake, but for the sake of others in the church. There are lots of other ways we can talk about using our gifts and talents, but this is a foundational purpose that all of us can participate in no matter our education, background, abilities or skill level.  We can become part of the ‘body’ of believers; we can give our allegiance to Christ; we can become part of what God himself uses to build a sacred dwelling place where God lives in Spirit.

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  • What are our divisions today? Race, culture, gender, economic or marital status? Spiritual or educational background? Different ways in which we experience God?
  • What tends to hold you back from participating as a part of the church body?
  • How would our corporate life together change if you fully gave your allegiance to the lordship of Christ?
  • What are the implications of the church being the temple of the Holy Spirit? If we were all conscious of that, how might our lives change? If the American church were purposefully conscious of this as we address social issues, do you think our approach would change or stay the same? 

Our Position in Christ: Raised Up (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Why do we treat a canvas that is painted differently than a blank canvas? Why do we put our kids’ pictures or stories up on the refrigerator? Why do we keep a letter from the one we love for years? Because something added value. Something made these things more than just the sum of their parts. There was canvas or paper and something to make marks. Yet a painting can sell for millions of dollars, and we keep the letters and drawing for years. Something added value -  in this case, it was the personal touch of the one who took ordinary things and created something of great value.

I wonder how many of us feel like we are just the canvas. That we are worthless, useless, unworthy of love, incapable of offering anything of value to the world? And how many of us long to believe that we are that letter or picture in whom someone takes delight instead of that discarded, crumbled up paper that’s only fit for the trash? In Ephesians 2, Paul gives the ultimate added value by showing what Christ does in us and for us. First, he explains what kind of material God has to work with.

As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience. I’m not talking about the outsiders alone; we were all guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world.

We all have had our fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers. As a result, our natural inclinations led us to be children of wrath, just like the rest of humankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I like to think of myself. However, that’s the raw materials. That’s us before Christ. We’re not just plain canvas; we are stained and soiled. We’re not just paper – we are torn and soggy. Paul doesn’t pull any punches. We were corpses, dead in life. We were the zombies in a much more serious sense of the word than most horror movies show. Those are just biological problems. Ours is deeply spiritual.

 I find it interesting how how an increasing number of modern stories use a thing like a zombie – the Walking Dead -  to make a point that we find in the Bible 2,000 years ago.  It’s as if no matter how far from Christ people wander, there is this lingering dread that we will somehow be dead even while we live, just wandering through a world that robs us of life and offers us nothing in return. A recent book series called The Zombie Bible takes incidents from the Bible or early church history and inserts zombies – which sounds silly, but the author (who takes the Bible very seriously) uses them to stand in for the deepest expression of being dead in our sin. 

This world was one of hunger, filled with those who would devour you—both among the dead and among the living.… Like a violent fever, the hunger eats away mind and spirit. In the end, everything that we truly are is gone. Only the hunger remains. Even other men and women are no longer anything but… meat for our desires and obsessions. Then we are lost— unless some other brings a Gift. We cannot recover ourselves alone.” – From What Our Eyes Have Witnessed

A recent book and movie called Warm Bodies described the rise of  these walking dead as the result of people giving in to what they believed was the meaninglessness of life.  One of his characters says of himself, 

We recognize civilization, but we have no role in it. We are just here. We do what we do, time passes, and nobody asks any questions…We may appear mindless, but we aren’t…We grunt and groan, we shrug and nod, and sometimes a few words slip out. It’s not that different from before… I’ve never thought of these other creatures walking around me as people. Human, yes, but not people. We eat and sleep and shuffle through the fog, walking a marathon with no finish line, no medals, no cheering… We view ourselves the same way we view the Living: as meat. Nameless, faceless, disposable.” – Warm Bodies

 That’s not a bad description of what many of us wrestle with. How often do we shuffle through the fog of life with no goal?  We think we have no role in life. We believe we are just here. And if that’s what we are stuck with, that's lousy. But Paul says we are not fated to shuffle through life as nameless, faceless, disposable people driven by hungers that can never be satisfied.

But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace. He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King.

He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed. For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing. For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

Lots of worldviews offer a solution for the problem of walking in our own life of death and feeling like we are worth nothing. Let’s go back to the two books I cited earlier.  Warm Bodies has a solution: “We will exhume ourselves. We will fight the curse and break it. We will cry and bleed and lust and love, and we will cure death. We will be the cure. Because we want it.”

 The problem is, that never happens. It’s a humanist salvation story, but nothing in the history of the world suggests that solution will work.  Humanity’s never been the cure of the deepest, darkest aches in our souls. We’ve always been the problem. Even when we fix a particular issue, it’s only a matter of time before we ruin it again.

  • We said, “Hey, let’s get more energy by harnessing the power of the atom!” and then figured out how to use it to kill a lot of people.  
  •  We said, “Let’s cure disease with stem cells!” and eventually began to plunder the bodies of unborn babies for our benefit.
  • We said, “Hey, wouldn’t we be healthier if we could learn about sex earlier and more explicitly? The problem with our culture is that we are prudish and repressed. ” And eventually we found ourselves in a culture where STD’s are epidemic, and  pornography and the hook up culture first desensitizes us then damages us, sometimes deeply but always profoundly (and never beyond hope of redemption, I must add).

 Nothing in human history suggests we are able to save ourselves. G.K. Chesterton, a famous author, was once asked by a newspaper, “What’s wrong with the world today?” He famously responded, “I am.”  On the other hand, the other story I mentioned actually got the solution right:

“What do we know to be true? Nothing is broken that cannot be remade. Nothing is ill that cannot be healed, nothing captive that cannot be freed. That is what [Jesus] taught us.” – from What Our Eyes Have Witnessed, The Zombie Bible series.

That’s actually the gospel (which is what you would hope to find in a book series with the word ‘Bible’ in the title). That’s part of the good news. Paul says we can do nothing on our own – our default is to be one the spiritually Walking Dead – we don’t raise ourselves up. Now, through Christ, we are raised and made fully alive.  Heaven’s poetry is etched on our lives – other translations say we are His handiwork. God plans for us to be the ones through whom good work is done in the world .

So if Christ is “raising us up”, if God is restoring all these things in us and putting us on His mission, there are at least three important things that follow.

1. This should bring to us a staggering amount of humility. Paul says none of us can boast about how we contributed to the project of moving from spiritual death to life. “Don't’ go around bragging as if you did something amazing.” Any time we think, “I just wish people could be like me,” we have missed the point. We should be thinking, “All that I am is a gift of grace. I will pray that God works in the life of others so they too can experience God’s grace.” Paul never says, “Look at me!” He always says, “Look at Christ in me.”  I would guess that’s because the minute he says, “Look at me!” someone else could say, “Do you mean all of you? Do you realize what you were doing 10 years ago? You killed people!” 

 Why would I say, “Look at me”?  Just ask my wife if I have given a perfect picture of what it means to be a godly husband.  “Oh, do you mean all those times you overlooked my heart? Do you mean those times we argued and you overwhelmed me with your words and presence? Do you mean that time you ran yourself into the ground and your family paid the price?”  Ask my boys if I have been a perfect father. Ask anyone in this church if I am a perfect pastor. Ask my friends if I have been a perfect friend. For every time I want to say, “I’m awesome!” someone around me is thinking, “Except when you’re not.”  What I have to say (if I look at myself honestly) is only this: “Don’t look at me. Look at Christ in me. He’s the hope of glory.”

 The fact that Christ steps in and raises us up should bring about an incredible amount of humility.

2. This should change how we view our value and worth. If you are the product of God’s hand - if God is raising you up so you can bring good into the world in a way that will be empowered by Christ working in you - then you should never say, “I guess I deserve to be mistreated. I guess I deserve to be belittled. I don’t matter. My life is nothing. Everybody else is cool and doing great things and I’m just stuck with my personality or looks or circumstances.” If that’s the voice in your head, I promise you it’s not the voice of Christ. The voice of Christ says, “Just bring what you’ve got. I’ve got this. It’s my job to take what you as you are and craft you into something that will be for your good and my glory.”

 Now, God will ask us to step up.  It is often through the process of walking (and stumbling, falling, and getting back up) that Christ does this work in us.  But we “run the race” only because Christ has shown us the track, and strengthened our legs, and given us the right kind of shoes, and given us a prize on which to fix our eyes. We are called to run the race, but the glory for the ground we cover belongs to Christ alone.

3. This should change how we treat others. This is why we should never treat others in a way that shames them, or belittles or mocks them. We don’t brag about our spiritual exploits to other people. We don’t take advantage of people, or hurt them with our words, our attitudes, or our hands.  We are, after all, created for “good works.”

 That’s not a reference to the Old Testament Law – it’s a term that simply means we are to do good to others as representatives of Christ’s presence on the earth. Certainly that will include walking in the path of life that God has shown us, but it goes beyond just that. We look for opportunities to do good. We look for opportunities to affirm in those around us that they matter, and love them as Christ would love them.  

 If heaven is writing poetry on the lives of my wife and children, who am I to step in and deface the work of Christ? Whenever my words or my attitude send them a message that they are failures, or that they have to earn my love or pride, or that they are an annoyance, I deface the work of Christ. Every time I give my wife a look that tells her without words that I am annoyed or think she just doesn’t get it, I step in and write shame and anger into the poetry of heaven. I need to model grace and speak words of life to my family and friends. I need to honor and not shame them, to speak truth but always with grace, to affirm their gifts and talents, and to display the compelling nature of Christ through my words and actions. 

We often wonder if God has a plan for our lives. Yes. He wants to raise us up. His plan is that we become a testimony to the incredible riches of His grace as He makes us into something beautiful. 

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QUESTIONS FOR DEVOTIONS OR DISCUSSION

  • What spiritual force compels us to choose sin? (1-2)
  • What characterizes people going the wrong direction? (v.3)
  • What has God done to get us on the right road? (v. 4-6)
  • What does God want to accomplish by this? (v. 7)
  • What is the means of our salvation? (v. 8-9)
  • Why did God save us? (v. 10)
  • What has being “raised up” looked like in your life?
  • Of the three implications listed (humility, value and worth, the treatment of others), which is the most challenging for you? Why?
  • Grace is a gift; we can’t boast about receiving it! Does this mean there is nothing about our walk with Christ that is up to us?

Prayer:  Pray that you and those around you can do more than know that we are raised with Christ. Pray that we can all experience what it means to experience the reality of being “raised up” in our humility, our sense of value, and our relationships with others.

(Thanks to N.T. Wright’s Ephesians: Studies for Individuals and Groups for some of these questions)