Hebrews 10: 23-25- “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
“Church” could mean several different things.
- the universal body of believers (the “catholic” church)
- the local church community (“My church really gathered around.”)
- The building and the services in it (“Let’s go to church.”)
When I ask, “Why Church?” I am asking, “Why does the local church exist?” I am going to focus for our purposes today, I am talking about the local church as a community. The Bible has no vision of someone who is in the church without being in a local church body. It would be like my cut-off toes claiming to still be a part of my body. Well, yeah, sort of, but not in any way that meaningfully matters.
Just as a body is one whole made up of many different parts, and all the different parts comprise the one body, so it is with the Anointed One. We were all ceremonially washed through baptism together into one body by one Spirit. No matter our heritage—Jew or Greek, insider or outsider—no matter our status—oppressed or free—we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Here’s what I mean: the body is not made of one large part but of many different parts. Would it seem right for the foot to cry, “I am not a hand, so I couldn’t be part of this body”? Even if it did, it wouldn’t be any less joined to the body. And what about an ear? If an ear started to whine, “I am not an eye; I shouldn’t be attached to this body,” in all its pouting, it is still part of the body. Imagine the entire body as an eye. How would a giant eye be able to hear? And if the entire body were an ear, how would an ear be able to smell? This is where God comes in. God has meticulously put this body together; He placed each part in the exact place to perform the exact function He wanted. If all members were a single part, where would the body be? So now, many members function within the one body. The eye cannot wail at the hand, “I have no need for you,” nor could the head bellow at the feet, “I won’t go one more step with you.” It’s actually the opposite. The members who seem to have the weaker functions are necessary to keep the body moving; the body parts that seem less important we treat as some of the most valuable; and those unfit, untamed, unpresentable members we treat with an even greater modesty. That’s something the more presentable members don’t need. But God designed the body in such a way that greater significance is given to the seemingly insignificant part. That way there should be no division in the body; instead, all the parts mutually depend on and care for one another. If one part is suffering, then all the members suffer alongside it. If one member is honored, then all the members celebrate alongside it. You are the body of the Anointed, the Liberating King; each and every one of you is a vital member. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
For in the same way that one body has so many different parts, each with different functions; we, too—the many—are different parts that form one body in the Anointed One. Each one of us is joined with one another, and we become together what we could not be alone. Since our gifts vary depending on the grace poured out on each of us, it is important that we exercise the gifts we have been given. If prophecy is your gift, then speak as a prophet according to your proportion of faith. If service is your gift, then serve well. If teaching is your gift, then teach well. If you have been given a voice of encouragement, then use it often. If giving is your gift, then be generous. If leading, then be eager to get started. If sharing God’s mercy, then be cheerful in sharing it.
Love others well, and don’t hide behind a mask; love authentically. Despise evil; pursue what is good as if your life depends on it. Live in true devotion to one another, loving each other as sisters and brothers. Be first to honor others by putting them first. Do not slack in your faithfulness and hard work. Let your spirit be on fire, bubbling up and boiling over, as you serve the Lord. Do not forget to rejoice, for hope is always just around the corner. Hold up through the hard times that are coming, and devote yourselves to prayer. Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and home to others. 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. Again, my loved ones, do not seek revenge; instead, allow God’s wrath to make sure justice is served. Turn it over to Him. For the Scriptures say, “Revenge is Mine. I will settle all scores.” But consider this bit of wisdom: “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink; because if you treat him kindly, it will be like heaping hot coals on top of his head.” Never let evil get the best of you; instead, overpower evil with the good. (Romans 12:4-21)
So, why is the local church part of God’s plan for his people? There are a LOT of definitions for church, but here is what I am running with today: The local church is here to create mature disciples of and faithful ambassadors for Christ
- FOCUSING ON CHRIST
In gathering as a local church, we corporately remind ourselves and each other who is at the center of this community we are building.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching (start with right understanding of God) and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (move to righteous community).” Acts 2:42
C.S. Lewis wrote:
“We don’t come to church, to be a church. We come to Christ, and then we are built up as a church. If we come to church just to be with one another, one another is all we’ll get. And it isn’t enough. Inevitably, our hearts will grow empty, and then angry. If we put community first, we will destroy community. But if we come to Christ first and submit ourselves to Him and draw life from Him, community gets traction.”
It’s too easy to forget about the author and finisher of our faith in the rat race of ever day life. Every Sunday, we all turn our eyes on Jesus, because without Christ, there is no church and there will be no community, at least not the kind the Bible envisions.
- SERVING ONE ANOTHER
The word translated one another is used 100 times in the New Testament. About 1/3 focus on unity, 1/3 on love, 1/6 on humility an deference, and the rest are a smorgasbord (kiss each other, pray, teach, be hospitable, bear burdens, etc.) Here’s a brief list of only 59:
- “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)
- “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
- “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
- “…Love one another…” (John 13:34)
- “…Love one another…” (John 13:35)
- “…Love one another…” (John 15:12)
- “…Love one another” (John 15:17)
- “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
- “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
- “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
- “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
- “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
- “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
- “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
- “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
- “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
- “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)
- “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)
- “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)
- “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
- “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.”
- (Galatians 5:15)
- “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Gal. 5:26)
- “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
- “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
- “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
- “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)
- “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)
- “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
- “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
- “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)
- “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)
- “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)
- “T each…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)
- “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
- “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)
- “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)
- “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)
- “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)
- “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
- “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)
- “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
- “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
- “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)
- “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)
- “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)
- “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)
- “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)
- “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)
- “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)
- “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)
- “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)
- “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)
- “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)
- “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)
- “…Love one another.” (II John 5)
We can’t “one another” if we are not around others. To not be involved in a local church is to reject the role that you are expected to play in serving the family of God, and to deny others the opportunity to use their gifts to serve you on behalf of God. In church community, we are meant to minister and be ministered to.
If you are…
A unifier or peacemaker
Can work nursery
Can fix or cook stuff
…we need you. The church needs you to serve and be served.
Are you the kind of person who offers all kinds of caretaking challenges to those around you (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually)? These are all kinds of opportunities to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
We need you. It’s part of God’s plan for his church to mature well by learning to love and serve well.
If you have surrendered your life to Christ, you are part of God’s body and thus this body, andyou bring something into our midst that the church needs. You might just be a big toe, but as some of us know, it’s really, really nice to have all your toes.
- MTURING IN CHRIST
If you reject life in a church community, you are rejecting the plan that Jesus has for your growth and discipleship. I don’t say that to pressure you to stay in this church in particular; I’m talking in a much broader sense. It is crucial that we commit to ongoing, purposeful, engaged life with a local church.
“Henri Nouwen defines "community" as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or a clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.
As I look around on Sunday morning at the people populating the pews, I see the risk that God has assumed. For whatever reason, God now reveals himself in the world not through a pillar of smoke and fire, not even through the physical body of his Son in Galilee, but through the mongrel collection that comprises my local church and every other such gathering in God’s name. ― Philip Yancey, Church: Why Bother?: My Personal Pilgrimage
We don’t mature through ease. We mature through pressure, conflict and tension. One person sharpens another like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). There are no shortcuts to maturity. We must go through the things that God uses to make us mature. Think of how Jesus brought a zealot (Simon) and a tax collector (Matthew) together into his disciples. This is marriage, too. If you ever hear someone who is married say, “We never have any conflict,” they aren’t maturing as God intended. They are avoiding things. I promise you that they have work to do in every possible way, and God has placed their spouse in the life to love them well, and one of those ways is by helping them mature. If there is no conflict in your life, you aren’t growing. If you aren’t growing, you are simply existing at best and dying at worst.
In the same way, there is plenty of opportunity in the local church.
"Yes, the church fails in its mission and makes serious blunders precisely because the church comprises human beings who will always fall short of the glory of God. That is the risk God took. Anyone who enters the church expecting perfection does not understand the nature of that risk or the nature of humanity. Just as every romantic eventually learns that marriage is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle to make love work, every Christian must learn that church is also only a beginning.
The composer Igor Stravinsky once wrote a new piece that contained a difficult violin passage. After several weeks of rehearsal the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said that he could not play it. He had given it his best effort but found the passage too difficult, even unplayable. Stravinsky replied, "I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it." - Phillip Yancey in Church, Why Bother?
4. MISSIONAL LIVING
17 Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed One, that person is a new creation. The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun! 18 All of this is a gift from our Creator God, who has pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through the Anointed. And He has given us the same mission, the ministry of reconciliation, to bring others back to Him. 19 It is central to our good news that God was in the Anointed making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other.20 So we are now representatives of the Anointed One, the Liberating King; God has given us a charge to carry through our lives—urging all people on behalf of the Anointed to become reconciled to the Creator God. 21 He orchestrated this: the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5)
God’s plan for the spread of the Gospel is for us to embody the very righteousness of God. For us to be a representative of reconciliation for broken relationships with God and with each other.
- Does your spouse know this and experience this through you?
- Do your kids (or your parents) know this?
- Do your friends see this?
- Those with whom you work?
- When you post online, does the Facebook world see you as an agent of reconciliation in a broken world?
The Church is here to create mature disciples of and faithful ambassadors for Christ. May God give His church the wisdom, grace and strength to do this for the good of the world, and for His glory.
* * * * * * * **
From Carl F. George, Prepare Your Church for the Future (Tarrytown: Revell, 1991), 129-131.
Dear ones, don’t be surprised when you experience your trial by fire. It is not something strange and unusual, but it is something you should rejoice in. In it you share the Jesus’ sufferings, and you will be that much more joyful when His glory is revealed. If anyone condemns you for following Jesus, consider yourself blessed. The glorious Spirit of God rests on you. But none of you should ever merit suffering like those who have murdered or stolen, meddled in the affairs of others or done evil things. But if you should suffer for being a Christian, don’t think of it as a disgrace, as it would be if you had done wrong. Praise God that you’re permitted to carry this name.
For the time for judgment has come, and it is beginning with the household of God. If it is starting with us, what will happen to those who have rejected God’s good news? It is written in Proverbs, “If it is hard for the righteous ones to be saved,what will happen to the ungodly and the sinners?” So even if you should suffer now for doing God’s will, continue doing good and trust your futures to the judgment and mercy of a faithful Creator.
Four points in this section, three of which we’ve covered already in this book, and the fourth, which will be our focus today.
- First, it is not a strange or unusual thing for the people of God to face trials or be persecuted because of their faith.
- Second, it’s not persecution if you are reaping the sin that you sowed. Don’t do evil things, and don’t meddle in the affairs of others.
- Third, in the midst of trials, remember that Christians get the Holy Spirit now and glory later.
- Fourth, God is a righteous judge– and it starts in His people.
What does this mean? Honestly, there is a lot of speculation surrounding this. It’s probably a quote of a common proverb, and figuring out Peter’s specific purpose in this context is not an easy thing. His audience probably made the automatic connections because it was their culture and their proverb. It’s a little harder 2,000 years later But, we are going to give it a shot :)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
‘Judgment’ may mean affliction and distress God sends to purify His people.
In the Old Testament era, the Jews believed that if God was going to judge the world for something, He would begin with His own people.
- See Ezekiel 9:1-7; Ezekiel has a vision of God’s judgment for sin, and it begins in the Temple.
- In Jeremiah 25, when God talks about judging the nations, the first cup that Jeremiah delivers is to Jerusalem. In fact, God judges Judah with the Babylonians before he judges the Babylonians.
- In Malachi 3, when God approaches the temple, Malachi wonders if anyone will be left standing as God purifies the priests.
- The Talmud states (Bava Kama, fol. 60,1): "God never punishes the world but because of the wicked, but he always begins with the righteous first..."
The idea seems to be that if God is going to judge those who are not His people, expect Him to clean house first. He will deal with His own before He moves to others. It’s not a good show to hold the world accountable for something you overlook close to home. Those who have positioned themselves closest to God will be the first to be held accountable.
It’s one reason I get frustrated when I hear discussion that natural disasters in the U.S. are God’s judgment on the United States. If God uses natural disasters under the New Covenant in the same way he did in the Old Covenant – and that’s an “if” we can discuss in Message Plus - then the first place we should look when we think something is God’s divine judgment is within our own walls. It’s hard to imagine that God would let his church rot from within while cleaning up all around it. We are to be salt and light; if the world is lacking salt and light, that’s an “us” problem, not a “them” problem.
“Judgment” might simply be discipline (Hebrews 12:4–11) designed to purge the sin from our lives and teach us obedience. 
“Scripture makes a distinction between God’s purifying discipline of the church and His ultimate condemnation of the wicked. (1 Corinthians 11:31-32): ‘But if we took care to judge ourselves, then we wouldn’t have to worry about being judged by another. In fact, the Lord’s hand of judgment is correcting us so that we don’t suffer the same fate as the rest of the rebellious world: condemnation.’”
The judgment or condemnation of sinful actions in God’s people is always meant to bring about maturity, conviction, and repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10; James 1:2–4; James 4:8) so that, as Romans 8:17says, “we may also share in his glory.”
Another way of viewing this is to think of this as the way in which God separates the wheat from the tares (weeds) in the church (Matthew 13).It is a winnowing the separates true believers from social club members. In this way, judgment begins in the house of God. There’s a sifting among God’s people by God Himself.
So, Judgment begins in the house of God means:
- Disciplinebegins in the house of God.
- Accountability begins in the house of God.
- Weeding (holiness; separation)begins in the house of God.
- Justicefalls first in the house of God.
- Integrity and purityis demanded first in the house of God.
- Moral responsibilitybegins in the house of God.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Here’s the hard summary:
If we are looking for God’s righteous judgment to fall on something in our culture, God’s righteous judgment will begin in the church, and it might be accomplished through the culture we want judged.
God won’t judge lust in the culture until we’ve dealt with lust in the church. 34% of women, 37% of pastors, an around 65% of men in the church currently struggle with or intentionally access pornography. Pastoral stats are about the same.
God won’t judge abortion in our culture until we have dealt with abortion in the church. TheAlan Guttmacher Institute reports that 43% of aborting women identify themselves as Protestant, while 27% identify themselves as Catholic. That’s 70% of all abortions in the U.S. The best place to protest, pray and offer counsel is close to churches.
God won’t judge sexual sin in the culture until we have dealt with sexual sin in the church.
- Approximately 45 percent of Christians indicate having done something sexually inappropriate, and 23 percent having sex outside of marriage. The church has its own #metoo movement right now.
- Since 1993, about 2.4 million young people have signed a TLW pledge. Just 12 percent kept their promise. The rates for having sexually transmitted diseases "were almost identical for the teenagers who took pledges and those who did not.".24(http://www3.dbu.edu/jeanhumphreys/SocialPsych/evangelicalmind.htm
- “For the last twenty years, thousands of men from across America struggling with sexual sin have come to our intensive counseling workshop. Over half were pastors and missionaries.” – Harry Schaumburg, “Sexual Sin In The Minstry”
God won’t judge materialism and greed in the culture until we have dealt with materialism and greed in the church.
- “Meaning and purpose comes from working hard to earn as much as possible so you can make the most of life.” This is a view held by one-fifth of practicing Christians (20%); it’s held by 37% of those under 40.” (Barna and Summit Ministries)
- “Today, on average, evangelicals in the U.S. give about 4% to the church. In 2002, Barna discovered that only 6 % of born-again adults did so—a 50 percent decline from 2000, when 12 percent did. And in 2002, just 9 percent of Barna's narrow class of evangelicals gave to the church.16” So, 9% give an average of 4%. (http://www3.dbu.edu/jeanhumphreys/SocialPsych/evangelicalmind.htm)
God won’t judge gossip and lies in the culture until we have dealt with gossip and lies in the church. I am pretty sure I have seen just as much fake news spread on social media by Christians than by non-Christians. We seem eager to want the worst to be true of others, and we have no problem distorting facts or fabricating them to further our agenda.
God won’t judge the vulgarity and the coarseness of our culture until we have dealt with vulgarity and coarseness in the church.
The White House Correspondent’s roast was disrespectful and demeaning to our President and his administration (as well as a lot of other people). Our President has been just as offensive in his disrespect and demeaning of others. Why would Christians decry one and not the other when God is displeased with both? If judgment is going to begin about what people enable or even applaud in our culture, let it begin with what people of God defend and applaud.
I hear a lot of discussion about how our nation is increasingly offering legal challenges to Christian actions and morality. Even as President Trump appoints more professing Christians to political positions than any other President and issues 25 page memos from the Justice Department on religious freedom, we seem to be losing ground in how people view us and how our rights play out.
My opinion – and it’s just my opinion – is that the OT gives us insight meant for us today. God will get His people’s attention, even if He has to use Babylon as the means to do so. If there is to be judgment, it will begin in His people, and it will begin in His Temple, with His priests. And the church is the temple, and we are all priests.
“If my people….” We love that verse in 2 Chronicles 7. It’s worth noting there are two “if’s”. This was for Israel and Solomon, but I think there is a broader, timeless principles worth noting. God cannot and will not bless unholiness in His people. As we read, think of Israel as Christians, the temple as the ‘church’, and the land as their ‘sphere of influence’ or reputation:
19 “But if youturn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given youand go off to serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. 21 This temple will become a heap of rubble. Allwho pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ 22 People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them.’”
“13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.”
God’s judgment of His children is not meant to lead to crushing guilt. Godly sorrow is meant to bring repentance. God’s judgment/discipline/ winnowing/pruning of His church and his children is for our good and the good of his church: to refine us, to purify us, to mature us, to transform us into the salt and light the world so desperately needs.
Jesus died to pay the penalty for all of the sins I mentioned or for any of your sins you might be thinking about right now. Grace and forgiveness are beautiful things designed to turn our stories of brokenness and failure into hopeful stories of redemption and life.
It’s clear that we need the power of Christ in us. This is about God equipping us, in the midst of our surrender, repentance, humility, and commitment, to live as He called us, and to be the instrument through which the land is healed. Paul used the language of sweat equity: we take up our cross; we die daily; we train with the commitment and intensity of an Olympic athlete. But the only way we can do “all things” is through Christ, who strengthens us.
Judgment begins in God’s house. But so does mercy, love and truth. God’s plan is for His church to be the city on the hill that cannot be hidden, shining light into darkness, bringing hope where there is despair. What begins in refining judgment ends in redeeming grace.
We must go through the refinement to get to the redemption.
And it’s in redemption that the beauty of Christ is seen in us, in the church and in the world.
Adam Clarke: “The inspector of another; meddling with other people's concerns, and forgetting their own; such persons are hated of all men. But some think that meddling with those in public office is here intended, as if he had said: Meddle not with the affairs of state, leave public offices and public officers to their own master, strive to live peaceably with all men, and show yourselves to be humble and unaspiring.”
Paul wrote in Romans 8:1 that “there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but the Spirit.”This doesn’t mean we don’t call out sin when there is sin; it means, literally,“exact sentence of condemnation handed down after due process”(biblehub). Jesus has already paid the final and eternal judgment for our actions on our behalf.
The classic vampire claim is that they can’t come into your house until you let them. Kept outside, they can do nothing. Left inside, they will drain your life. Though Hollywood has turned most vampire stories into gory bloodbaths, this wasn’t always the case. Some of the earliest stories (such as Bram Stoker’s classic work) were deeply connected with Christianity, with the vampire as the figure of Satan or at least of sin. It was meant to shock the reader into recognizing the seriousness and horror of what sin does.
This doorway metaphor echoes biblical imagery. Right before Cain killed his brother, God reminded him that “sin crouches at the door; its desire is for you, and you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) Sin is the ultimate vampire, the one that wants in to drain our souls.
These spiritual vampires that crouch at the door of my heart want me to be harsh in my home; they want me to love money and fame; they want me to ignore God; they want me to reject the guidelines of the Bible; they want me to overlook my friends and hate my enemies; they want me to objectify people and love things. They want me to shame the name of Jesus in my testimony.
Thanks to Jesus, the most it can do is crouch at the door of my life. But I still have my free will, and I can still choose to whom I open the door of my heart.
This isn’t the only time the Bible uses this image: When John records in Revelation 3 that God says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” he was talking to the church – the Christians - of Laodicea. They needed to continue to open the door of their heart.
I need Jesus as much after my salvation as I did before. That’s what I want to talk about today: how, after salvation, God has a plan in place for us to help us resist the ongoing temptation of the sin that so easily besets us (Hebrews 12:1).
After we visit our local hospital or doctor for a particular ailment, we learn about ‘after care’; that is, what we need to do so that what the doctor has made new will continue to flourish. This is called compliance:
“Accepting life-saving treatment. The extent to which a person’s behavior coincides with medical advice. Adaptation or adherence to medical advice.”(d3jonline.tripod.com)
We can undermine our newfound health. In medical terms, this is called non-compliance.
- “A patient who does not follow the doctors' orders is called a non-compliant patient.” (from Wiki Answers)
- “We eat foods that kill us, we don't stick to our exercise regimens, and we don't follow our doctors' orders, even when we remember what they tell us. If you ask people whether it's smart to get a colonoscopy if the doctor says you need one, no one's going to say no… but no one wakes up and says, 'Yes, today is a good day for a colonoscopy.'" (“Mind Your Body: Doctor’s Orders – Without Distress.” (www.psychologytoday.com)
Granted, some people have had bad experiences with doctors whose diagnosis or after care were deeply flawed. For the sake of this analogy, let's assume we are talking about a doctor who has given an accurate diagnosis and a true course of after care (we are moving toward our involvement with the Great Physician after all...gotta keep this analogy on track!)
Non-compliance is a huge problem because obedience is hard!
Assume that the doctor gave a blueprint for ongoing health. For whatever reasons, we just have a hard time following even if the advice is spot on. “I’m not that sick…My doctor doesn’t understand…it’s so complicated…but fried food is the nectar of the gods.” So even though we were freed from whatever ailed us and are given new life, we can flounder when we could be flourishing.
We do the same thing spiritually. “I’m not that sick… it’s so complicated…surely God wants me to be happy, and THIS makes me happy.” So even though we were freed from the sin that was killing us and were given new life, we can flounder when we could be flourishing.
“Where do you think your fighting and endless conflict come from? Don’t you think that they originate in the constant pursuit of gratification that rages inside each of you like an uncontrolled militia? You crave something that you do not possess, so you murder to get it. You desire the things you cannot earn, so you sue others and fight for what you want. You do not have because you have chosen not to ask. And when you do ask, you still do not get what you want because your motives are all wrong—because you continually focus on self-indulgence.
You are spiritual adulterers. Don’t you know that loving this corrupt world order is open aggression toward God? So anyone who aligns with this bogus world system is declaring war against the one true God. Do you think it is empty rhetoric when the Scriptures say, “The spirit that lives in us is addicted to envy and jealousy”? You may think that the situation is hopeless, but God gives us more grace when we turn away from our own interests. That’s why Scripture says, ‘God opposes the proud, but He pours out grace on the humble.’
So submit yourselves to the one true God and fight against the devil and his schemes. If you do, he will run away in failure. Come close to the one true God, and He will draw close to you. Wash your hands; you have dirtied them in sin. Cleanse your heart, because your mind is split down the middle, your love for God on one side and selfish pursuits on the other. (James 4:1-8)
There is a dance between what God does for us and what God asks us to do. David asked God to create a clean heart in him (Psalm 51:10); here, James tells people to cleanse their heart. We know that God helps us resist temptation (“Deliver us from the Evil One" – Matthew 6:13), yet we have to fight too (“God gives us more grace when we turn away from our own interests”).
There is a war of love that rages in our hearts. Proverbs tells us to guard it, because everything in our life flows from it (Proverbs 4:23). I read a book last year by James K.A. Smith entitled You Are What You Love. It was a deeply challenging book in many ways; here’s one snippet of what he had to say.
“To be human is to be animated and oriented by some vision of the good life, some picture of what we think counts as “flourishing.” And we want that. We crave it. We desire it. This is why our most fundamental mode of orientation to the world is love. We are oriented by our longings, directed by our desires.
We adopt ways of life that are indexed to such visions of the good life, not usually because we “think through” our options but rather because some picture captures our imagination. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, succinctly encapsulates the motive power of such allure: “If you want to build a ship,” he counsels, “don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire? What if the center and seat of the human person is found not in the heady regions of the intellect but in the gut-level regions of the heart? It’s not just that I “know” or “believe” [in some end design to life]. More than that, I long for some end. I want something, and want it ultimately. It is my desires that define me. In short, you are what you love.”
What we do with what crouches or knocks at the door of our heart will depend a lot on who or what we love. How we experience the new life that God offers us through Jesus is going to be deeply influenced by how much we work with God in doing the hard work of re-ordering our loves. Since James talks about loving the world and loving ourselves, let’s contrast that to love for God.
LOVE OF SELF/WORLD LOVE FOR GOD
Eye for an Eye Forgiveness
Self-sufficient Asks for Help
Boasts in self Boasts in Christ
Loves the Stage Loves to Build It
Winning Arguments Winning people
Self-justification Christ’s justification
Self-righteous judgment Compassionate love
We know what we love by our thoughts, our daydreams, our fears, our time and energy, our money. It’s what we think is part of the good life, so we order our lives around those things. We adopt a way of life that centers on its fulfillment. And we get incredibly defensive when some calls us out, because it shakes us. We can’t imagine life without it.
Time for an honest self-check: In the following list, what do you love more – I don’t mean in your words, but in how our order your life? What do you long for? Which one do you think represents the good life? For which one of these have you adopted a way of life that centers around its fulfillment?
One thing that stands out to me: a life characterized by love of God looks very, very compelling. That’s why His yoke of obedience is easy, and his burden of sacrifice is light (Matthew 11:30). It’s hard, but it’s easy and light because it brings goodness and the life more abundant that Jesus promised (John 10:10).
So, how do we reorder our loves and experience the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13)?
First, pray for God to do the work only God can do. He must create a new heart in you.
Second, repent of your disordered loves and commit your ways to Jesus. Walk in obedience.
Third, focus on Jesus. Read the gospels. Study the person and work of Jesus. Sing about Jesus. Pray in worship of Jesus. Commit yourself to living in the path of life that Jesus has laid out for us. That must include filling yourself with truth, which is can be found not just in Scripture but in teachings, books, podcasts, counseling, and mentoring.
When we hear those competing knocks on the doors of our heart, let’s let the right one in.
Paul, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed, commissioned by order of God our Savior and Jesus the Anointed, our living and certain hope, to you, Timothy, my true son in the faith. May the grace, mercy, and peace that come only from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ mark your life. As I said that day I left for Macedonia, stay in Ephesus and instruct the unruly people in the church, once and for all, to stop teaching a different doctrine. Tell them to turn away from fables and endless genealogies. These activities just cause more arguments and confusion. Instead, they should concern themselves with welcoming in and bringing about the Kingdom of God, which is all about faith. Our teaching about this journey is intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.Yes, some have wandered away from these traits and have fallen into a life of endless blabber and nonsense— they wish to become scholars of the law, but they don’t know what they are talking about, and they make these grand pronouncements but clearly don’t understand what they just said. (1 TImothy 1:1-7, The Voice)
Kids ask all the time, “What’s that for?” It's a natural question. We see designed things, and we figure they were designed with a goal in mind. But even when we know what something is for, we are very good at coming up with all kinds of ways to use things differently than the designer intended.
- I remember telling Vince what the intended use of the family scissors was, but he soon realized it could also be used on the dog.
- Sheila told him the purpose of having good clothes and run-around clothes….
- Heads: You should think; you can run full speed into other people (football concussions)
- Lungs: You should breathe; you can inhale substances
We can get frustrated if we aren’t on the same page with other people about what a thing is meant to be. What is the purpose of the following:
- Fishing – To catch fish? To relax? To talk?
- Supper - To eat? To connect?
- Marriage - Happiness? Family? Love? Growth? Spiritual symbolism?
- Think of the tension in our culture as we disagree about what it means to be male/female, or masculine/feminine. We are disagreeing on fundamental questions of design and purpose.
It is important that we learn the purpose of a thing and then commit to fulfilling that purpose. So what is the purpose or the goal of the Church? According to Paul, the church exists to bring about the Kingdom of God, through faith, characterized by love.
At least three things stood out in Timothy’s church that undermined this goal. (I’m trying to summarize in a way that takes a particular situation and generalizes the principles. Plus, it’s not entirely clear what Paul meant by some of these, so there is some speculation involved).
- Righteousness By Association. Genealogies were a big deal in ways we don’t understand. Herod tried to erase all record of his genealogy because he was ashamed of it; in doing this, he destroyed a lot of Jewish historical records. Apparently, the Jews were trying to reconstruct lost genealogies by finding obscure people and basically make up a story for them, and they would make every connection they could to try to fit into the family of someone important, mainly because they wanted to be in the line of the anticipated Messiah – as if that somehow made them better. This is the group that in some fashion asks the question, “Do you know who I am?” with the assumption that if you only knew, you would know how important and valuable they are.
- Religious Jet Set Fantasies. The Greeks were more enamored with the myths, the equivalent of Hollywood gods and goddesses, fantasizing about a life of luxury and indulgence with the gods.[i] Perhaps the Greek converts were trying to apply this kind of thinking to heaven. When Jesus gave the Beatitudes, the Greek word ‘blessed’ (makarios) had to do with ‘participating in the life of the gods’ – and Jesus made clear it’s not a jet set fantasy. The poor, the humble, the persecuted, the mourners – they all have a place in the Kingdom of God. Apparently, early preachers were replacing the reality of the kind of blessedness that comes with ‘taking up your cross’ with an early version of the health/wealth/prosperity Gospel. This is the group that in some fashion asked the question, “Do you see what I have?” as if cultural standards of health and wealth somehow translated into revealing that they are clearly good people. If you could only see how God has apparently blessed them with comfort and things, you would know how important and valuable they are.
- Worshiping The Law. Apparently the Judaizers were returning to teaching that observance of the Law could save people – our righteousness, God’s favor, and our worth was earned by being a good person. This is the group that in some fashion is asking the question, “Do you see what I do or don’t do?” with the assumption that if you only knew, you would know how important and valuable they are. In a church that taught that our attempts at self-earned righteousness was worthless, and God’s loving grace was the only thing that will justify and save us, this was ‘blabber’ and ‘nonsense’ that was causing confusion.
This strikes me as revealing three ways in which people fight for acceptance, value or a sense of worth: family of origin, success by cultural standards of success, and a resume of good works. This can even become something we believe will help us gauge whether or not we have God’s attention or affirmation.
But what happens when your family of origin is lousy? What happens when you live paycheck to paycheck, or when health and comfort disappear? What happens when, despite your best efforts, you fail to do what you ought to do? If we have placed your hope and worth in those things, then our life crumbles. Our stability is gone. We try harder and harder to make those things bring our life meaning – and that leads to pride and judgment if we achieve it, or anger and bitterness if we don’t.
So how do we avoid this? How do we accomplish the goal or design for the church? We live IN FAITH and WITH LOVE when we surrender to Christ three crucial things.
- A Pure Heart: “The heart was regarded as the inward part of the person and the center of one's spiritual and thought life. The total inner life of the believer, cleansed from sin, could be depicted with the term pure heart” (biblegateway.com).
Right away, we are relieved of the obligation to be good enough on our own power. We find stability in the positional purity that Jesus offers; that is, when we surrender our life and commit our self to Jesus, He purifies our heart. This is a supernatural work of God. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow…create in me a clean heart, O God.” Nothing we do contributes to this. Our dirty heart is made clean because God makes it clean. God moves us out of spiritual darkness and places or positions us into the light of righteousness. Our positional purity as a Christian never wavers even when we sin, because it was never about us being good enough. It was about Jesus being good enough.
Our family, success or moral strength do not place us here. There is no room to boast and no need to despair. God does the heavy lifting.
- A Clear Conscience: [ii] A pure heart had to do with our interior life; a clear conscience reminds us that our actions need to align with a pure heart. This is a part of what we call conditional purity. We can make choices that either encourage or undermine the new purity God has given us. We can say anything we want to about how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to God, but what do we do matters. Does our exterior lives confirm what we claim is happening on the inside?
“The conscience is that part or faculty of the mind that gives awareness of the standing of one's conduct as measured against an accepted standard.” (biblegateway.com)
I may say that I love my wife, but if I constantly mistreat her or betray her with my words or actions, you would have good reason to believe that I am lying. My conscience would in no way be clear. Our interior lives and exterior lives are meant to align. A positionally pure heart is meant to lead to conditionally pure actions that result in a clear conscience.
And in that kind of community – whether in the home or in the church – the Kingdom of God flourishes not just because of what is happening in us, but what is happening around us because of Christ at work in us. None of us are perfect – there’s a reason the church must model repentance, grace and forgiveness – but the more we are committed to living in a way that our conscience remains clear, the more we make the beauty of the Kingdom of God tangible.
- Genuine Faith: This has to do with what we believe. It’s about embracing the fundamentals of Christian doctrine – particularly, the person and work of Jesus. We need to increasingly understand “the reason for the hope that lies within in us.” [iii] We don’t all need to be Bible scholars or answer all manner of obscure question, but we need to be committed to “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
A pure heart and a clear conscience are built on the person and work of Christ, and it’s in the Bible that God has revealed what we need to know in this area.
God promises that the Holy Spirit will work in those who have committed to following Jesus, but we are tasked with knowing Scripture so that we can know more about Jesus: studying, listening, talking with other Christians, praying, etc. Look at any other area of life: if you want to become knowledgeable, you must do the hard work that leads to knowledge. God will help to turn your knowledge into wisdom, but knowledge doesn’t occur magically. We ‘study to show ourselves approved unto God” even as “he who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.”
We live in a culture that is increasingly dismissive or hostile toward Christianity. Some of it is unfair; a lot of it is because the world is having a difficult time seeing pure hearts, clear consciences, and genuine faith. That’s a call to revival. Perhaps more than ever, it is important that the church as a body fulfill God’s design and purpose for his representatives on earth.
The church is meant to be a place where being in the family of Christ is far more important than the family from which you came; where spiritual blessings like a pure heart are far more important than material wealth and comfort; where a clear conscience motivated by a pure heart characterizes our community; where God is worshipped not only in spirit, but in truth.
[i] “As the term is used in the New Testament (always in the plural--1 Tim 4:7; 2 Tim 4:4; Tit 1:14; 2 Pet 1:16), myths is consistently a pejorative and polemical classification. It classifies material not simply as untrue or legendary but as pernicious in its (or its author's) purpose to justify immoral or improper behavior on the basis of a divine or traditional pattern.”– commentary from Biblegateway. In the case of the early church, I suspect they brought in the idea of ‘blessedness’ from the Greek ideals and tried to apply them to what God must be like, and to what God had in store for them in this life (and perhaps the next).
[ii] “The concept of individuality bred into us in the West was foreign to Paul's culture. Conscience tends to function individualistically in us to produce feelings of guilt. For Paul and the ancient Mediterranean culture in general, conscience was the internal judgment of one's actions by that one's group--"pain one feels because others consider one's actions inappropriate and dishonorable" (Malina 1981:70). Honor and shame, rather than guilt, were the operative feelings. Therefore, Paul's readers would perceive the conscience as sending internal signals evaluating the rightness or wrongness of behavior (past, present or future) as a member of a group.” – commentary from Biblegateway
[iii] “Heresy in reference to a doctrine denotes one "that was sufficiently intolerable to destroy the unity of the Christian church. In the early church, heresy did not refer to simply any doctrinal disagreement, but to something that seemed to undercut the very basis for Christian existence" (Brown 1984:2)…doctrines pertaining to God and Christ and the nature of salvation and justification, because the very substance of the gospel message and the salvation that rests on it lies in these things. Teachings that tend to characterize and distinguish the various Christian denominations (views about baptism, Communion, church government, gifts of the Holy Spirit and the role of women in ministry, among others) may certainly be held to with passion, but the differences here derive mainly from biblical passages capable of more than one reasonable explanation. The term heresy is not appropriate in this latter context. As Paul saw it, heresy posed a dual threat. It endangered the church and individuals who would be drawn into error, perhaps beyond the reach of salvation. It threatened the church's evangelistic mission in the world, by contaminating the gospel.” - commentary from Biblegateway
“We believe that the Church is Christ’s symbolic body in the earth (Colossians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 12:27), and that it should reveal His character, His message, and His love to the world. We believe that the Church is to go into all the world, preach the gospel, and make disciples. This will lead people to have fellowship with God (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15,16) and community with others (1 Corinthians 12:13).”
- from the CLG Statement of Faith
I (Karl Meszaros) was somewhat surprised to be the guy to speak on this subject. I’ve been a Christian for roughly 16 years. I came to Christ in a very logical fashion. I basically read myself in. I started with the creation; I then read about how we got the Bible. Finally, I ended with studying about the nature of God. Reading really helped with many theological things.
God the father was a fairly easy for me to understand. He seemed like a black and white kind of guy, so there was no problem there. Jesus was also not a problem for me. The idea that God took human form and became one of us was a powerful concept. The Holy Spirit was a little more difficult as there are more debates on the work and the person of the Holy Spirit. However, I was able to work through my issues there as well.
While all this paid dividends, it didn’t help me too much with understanding the church. I became a Christian when I was 28. Because I wasn’t raised in the church my ideas about who and what they were. My view was that they were more like the Amish in the movie Witness. When I was around Christians, I found that they weren’t these perfect little people. I found myself agreeing with Nietzsche when he said, “I would believe in their salvation if they looked a little more like people who have been saved”.
The more I was around Christians, the more they let me down, the more I questioned the value of the church. Given today’s technology and sheer amount of material available, I began to wonder why I even need the church. What’s the point; what possible value could it have?
Does it feel like I jumped into the middle of a sermon? Did you notice where I started? I started at what is the value of the church to me? We do this with several church things: Am I being fed? Do I like the music style? Do I like the programs? We start at ‘me’ and not at Jesus. I would like to put forth that we often get into theological trouble when we start with ‘I’ and not Jesus. With that in mind, I would like to clear our heads of our preconceived notions of what the church is and what it means. Let’s begin where the church started…with Jesus
Jesus and the Church
The first time we see ‘church’ show up in the Bible is Matthew 16:18. There we read (beginning in verse 13):
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
There are many things that we can say about this passage, but I want to focus on the word “church.” The word in Greek is ekkelsia. It literally means ‘assembly’. The word originally was used for civil or political purposes. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, ekkelsia was used for Israel. In Acts 19, the word is twice used to describe a mob and once for a voting group. If you were writing in Greek, you could use the word for any group of people.So what we have here is this: Jesus is going to build a new group of people.
What’s the Point of the Church?
So now we have the meaning, but what are supposed to do with it? Many theologians look at the Church as a convergence between the great commandment in Matthew 22:37-39 and the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20.
- Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22)
- Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28)
The Church, said Archbishop William Temple, “is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for its nonmembers.” Church exists to love God and to make disciples. I don’t think it’s a secret that the church and its members stumble in their attempts at meeting these lofty goals. There is a story often told about Stravinsky. He had written a new piece with a difficult violin passage. After it had been in rehearsal for several weeks, the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said he was sorry, he had tried his best, but the passage was too difficult and no violinist could play it. Stravinsky said, 'I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it.'
The Church: Some Assembly Required
Notice that we don’t see here anything about the individual? There are no “I” statements. ‘Church’ is a word built on plurality. It reminds of how the Avengers are called to assemble. They don't fight alone; they need each other in order to accomplish their goals. Church isn’t an individual sport either. Though not spoken specifically about Church, one of the 1st things we hear God say is that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). “There are two things we can’t do alone,” said Paul Tournier. “One is to be married, the other is to be a Christian.”
One reason we need others is that Church is meant to be the place where we work out our theology together. Things like the creeds and the councils help us illuminate our theological path. The people I know who most often get off track theologically are those who tend to stay away from Church.
Church is also the place we work out our lives together. We started attending one of CLG’s small groups last year. I wasn’t too excited about it. The groups I’ve been in had been strictly social and my schedule is a little tight for social things. However, this group was different. William and Esther are a part of the group; they started asking hard questions. I was really uncomfortable at first, but I grew a lot because of it. It was Hebrews 10:24-25 in action: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”
If you’ve been to my Facebook wall you’ll notice that I have conflicts with people from church over mostly unimportant things: Lebron vs Jordan, digital vs paper. And what in the world does the Captain see in Maria? However, I’ve also wrestled with many weightier topics over many a meal with people from this assembly.
- What is the value of prayer?
- How do reconcile Hell with a loving God?
- What is the nature of the Trinity?
- Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
The Church isn’t always an easy place to be. Like Nascar car drivers in a tight race, we sometimes trade paint. It’s not uncommon to be rubbed the wrong way or to wonder why we should even show up. There are some Sundays I would consider atheism if would get me a couple more hours worth of sleep! However, church is necessary for discipleship and growth as a follower of Christ. Earl Palmer summed up the value of church well:
"When California's Milpitas High School orchestra attempts Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the result is appalling," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if the performance made old Ludwig roll over in his grave despite his deafness. You might ask: 'Why bother? Why inflict on those poor kids the terrible burden of trying to render what the immortal Beethoven had in mind? Not even the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra can attain that perfection.' My answer is this: The Milpitas High School orchestra will give some people in that audience and this will be their only encounter with Beethoven's great Ninth Symphony. Far from perfection, it is nevertheless the only way they will hear Beethoven's message."
This is the value of assembling to me. We are flawed and often times struggle to produce what it is that God would have us do. But, it is only in assembling that we can show a lost and hurting world the reality of Jesus Christ.
Paul, an emissary of Jesus the Anointed commissioned by order of God our Savior and Jesus the Anointed, our living and certain hope, to you, Timothy, my true son in the faith. May the grace, mercy, and peace that come only from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ mark your life. As I said that day I left for Macedonia, stay in Ephesus and instruct the unruly people in the church, once and for all, to stop teaching a different doctrine. Tell them to turn away from fables and endless genealogies. These activities just cause more arguments and confusion. Instead, they should concern themselves with welcoming in and bringing about the Kingdom of God, which is all about faith. Our teaching about this journey is intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith. Yes, some have walked away from these traits and have fallen into a life of endless blabber and nonsense— they wish to become scholars of the law, but they don’t know what they are talking about, and they make these grand pronouncements but clearly don’t understand what they just said. (1 Timothy 1:1-11)
Kids ask all the time, “What’s that for?” It's a natural question. We see designed things, and we figure they were designed with a goal in mind. It’s cute when you are explaining tools, funny when you are walking through a store, and awkward when they start discovering themselves. Then they start to discover they can come up with all kinds of ways to use the new things they find. You tell them what a hammer is for, but they find out all kinds of things they can do with it. You tell them what the intended use of the family scissors is, but they soon realize it can also be used on the dog. You tell them the purpose of having good clothes and run-around clothes….
Part of growing up is understanding the purpose and design of things. We can get frustrated if we aren’t on the same page with other people about what a thing is meant to be. What is the purpose of the following:
- Fishing – To catch fish? To relax? To talk?
- Supper? - To eat? To connect?
- Marriage - Happiness? Family? Love? Growth? Spiritual symbolism?
- Church services? - For the saved or the unsaved? To learn? To connect? To feel?)
Another part of growing up is learning the difference between what we CAN do with things and what we SHOULD do with things. We can harm ourselves and others if we ignore what we should do with a thing and instead settle for what we can do. For example, we should use our Lungs to breathe, be we can inhale harmful intoxicants if we want to. Sex should be an activity that both creates new life and unites us physically, emotionally, even spiritually with our spouse. We can use our sexual organs to do a lot of other things instead.
Part of growing up is learning the purpose of a thing – What is that for? – and then committing to fulfill that purpose. Part of growing up in Christ is learning the purpose and design of the church - Not what CAN it be, but what SHOULD it be?
According to Paul, the Church (of people) exists to bring about the Kingdom of God, through faith, characterized by love. Love is not Eros - the love of the worthy, the beautiful, that you take for your benefit. It is Agape love, which is irrespective of the merit of the object of love. It acts sacrificially for the benefit of the other.
How we won't accomplish the goal: ignoring core doctrine and engaging in endless debate about secondary issues or speculative ideas. The goal of church is not to get so caught up in speculation and debate about issues that do not involve Jesus Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the necessity and means of salvation he offers us.
- The Jewish people in Paul’s time did this with genealogies. They would find obscure people and basically make up a story for them, and they would make every connection they could to try to fit into the family of someone important… but none of it mattered.
- The Greeks were more enamored with the myths, the equivalent of Hollywood gods and goddesses, fantasizing about a life of luxury and indulgence with the gods.
It doesn’t build anyone’s faith and it certainly doesn’t promote love. It’s a religion of trivia. And it usually results in self-promotion, pride, and self-righteousness. We have our own things within the church that distract and polarize us. When I was growing up Mennonite, churches split over whether or not women should wear a head covering. One church started over a hymnal issue. That’s silly. I am not sure it’s any sillier than some other things we divide over.
- Demanding that others agree with a particular Bible teaching from a particular perspective (Creationism; End Times)
- Overhype of encounters with the supernatural (stories of visiting Heaven or Hell)
- Following people or movements religiously (Leaders become infallible; conferences or churches become meccas)
- Arguing about a particular approach to a complex issue (Growing Kids God’s Way; Marriage teacher X; Biblical Economic Model)
- Hyper Patriotism or political loyalty (“You aren’t following the issue like I am? You aren’t an unwavering Democrat or Republican or Independentt?)
God created the world in a particular way; there will be a time when God wraps up the world; Heaven, Hell and the supernatural are very real; marriage and the family are big deals Biblically; we are supposed to be good stewards of our money; as long as we have the freedom to impact our government by our voices and our votes, we should. So please hear me clearly. NONE OF THOSE THINGS I LISTED ARE BAD THINGS. But they shouldn’t consume our time or become our priority. None of those issues further the goal of the church. They can help us; they can give structure to how we live and view the world, but they should not dominate your thoughts, time, or conversation.
They CAN, but it SHOULDN’T. If you are passionate about any of these things personally, awesome. Study, learn, pray, be discerning, be God-honoring in how you prioritize it and in how you communicate about it to others, But these things should not divide us. It’s not what church is about. Part of growing to maturity in Christ is understanding the purpose of the Church and committing ourselves to fulfilling that purpose. Speculation and division and anger over secondary issues is not the purpose of the church.
If it doesn't inspire us to the kind of love Paul mentions here, it’s doing nothing to build our faith characterized by love for the purpose of building the Kingdom of God. We need to major on the majors. We need to be about the Gospel.
How do we accomplish this goal, this design? We live IN FAITH and WITH LOVE when we surrender to Christ three crucial things:
- A Pure Heart: What We Want (Attitudes, motives, priorities). This is not a call to perfection. It’s asking, “Do you love what God loves? Do you value what God values? Are you motivated by love or guilt? Are you earning God’s favor by right living or honoring God through right living? Do you treat others well because they bear God’s image or to impress other people?
- A Clear Conscience: What We Do (Actions, thoughts, words). A pure heart had to do with interior motives; this reminds us that our action need to align with our heart. We can say anything we want to about how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to God, but what do we do matters. Does our exterior lives confirm what we claim is happening on the inside?
If I said that I loved my wife – my attitude, motives and priorities were all aligned properly – that would be admirable. But if I constantly mistreated her or betrayed her with my words or action, you would have good reason to believe that I am lying. My conscience would in no way be clear. Our interior lives and exterior lives are meant to align. A truly pure heart leads to a truly clear conscience. And in that kind of community – whether in the home or in the church – the Kingdom of God flourishes not just because of what is happening in us, but what is happening around us because of us.
- Genuine Faith: What We Believe (Doctrine, truth). We need to increasingly understand “the reason for the hope that lies within in us.” The reason we even care about a pure heart and a clear conscience is because of the person of Christ. And we learn about Christ through Scripture. Genuine faith is built on a trust in the person and work of Christ and the reliability of the message in Scripture. For this reason, a church community has to be one in which we all are continually striving to learn the truth of Christ and experience the presence of Christ.)
The reason we even care about a pure heart and a clear conscience is because of the person of Christ. And we learn about Christ through Scripture. Genuine faith is built on a trust in the person and work of Christ and the reliability of the message in Scripture. For this reason, a church community has to be one in which we all are continually striving to learn the truth of Christ and experience the presence of Christ.)
If Christ is who he claimed, and the Scripture reliably tells me about Him and His plan for the world, then my response is to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor. If that is the priority of our heart, and that is what is expressed in our actions, then that is “the journey intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.”
God has placed within us all a longing to belong. Sometimes we feel it in our families; sometimes we don’t. The same goes for school, work, social circles, and church. We long for that place that will always take care of us and never leave us. A place where we don’t have to wear make-up, and we can wear sweats until supper time. In this sense, home is something bigger than “house” or “family” or “what I know.” Home is a place we want to go, and when we leave, we want to return.
When Paul writes to Philemon about how Philemon was to welcome Onesimus back, he’s talking about building a home, a koinonos, a community of people with common interests, feelings, work and heart (v.17)). It’s an active word, an event word, a group word. It is not passive, solo or selfish. It’s about life together in Christ within a church community. And in order for that life to be a meaningful reflection of God's heart for the world,several key things must be in place.
Equality (in Christ)
Paul wrote to Philemon, “Open your heart to [Onesimus] as you would welcome me…accept him as a brother…” There are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. We all bear his image. Christ died for all of us. We all are made righteous because of what Christ has done, not what we can offer. None of us can earn our way into heaven or grace. True church community doesn’t elevate men or women, rich or poor, extroverts or introverts, blue-collar or white-collar, single or married, pastor or parishioner. True church community doesn’t put people on a pedestal based on background or education.
This can be hard. We might want to be noticed. We might want to believe we simply are better than others. We might want to be able to rule… but that’s not communion. That’s not self-sacrificial, broken living for the sake of those around us. We give up our right to pride, to be noticed, to be seen. We give up pointing out our background or degree or importance. We give up our expectations that others serve us. We give our claims to power.
In a church community of genuine communion, we will do our best to make sure the ground is level at the foot of the Cross. When we look up, all we should see above us is Christ. When we look down, all we should see below us is dirt. All around – those whom Christ loves. That, I think, would feel like home.
Trust (in Christ)
Paul noted that God may have been at work in this situation in ways that Philemon did not understand: “Perhaps that is why [Onesimus] is parted from you.” The verb in Greek indicates that God parted Onesimus from Philemon. In other words, God is often at work in ways we don’t understand. We should be actively looking to see what good God is bringing out of situations that look bad – which also means actively looking to see what God is doing in even those who have hurt and offended us.
This is not easy. It’s one thing to look for how Christ is working in the beautiful people who make you happy, but the ugly ones who tick you off? Really? The person who gossiped about me? Overlooked me? Said some things that really hurt me? Shamed me? Who betrayed me? We must give up our right to anger, judgment, bearing a grudge, giving excuses, getting even, hoping for something bad to happen.
Trust reminds us that God might be working in their life too. This good news for all of us. For every time I trust God in the midst of a situation like that, someone else is trusting God about me in the midst of a situation that I cause. We are all in this together. This doesn’t mean that God causes every situation. And trusting that God is present and working is different from not speaking truth or enabling ongoing bad behavior around us. But I think we would be surprised at the things that are redeemable.
In a church community of genuine communion, everyone will be looking to see God at work in the lives of others in the midst of their sins and imperfections. That, I think, would feel like home.
Love (from Christ)
The Greeks always had a pragmatic reason for doing loving things:
- hospitality made trade and travel safer
- self-sacrifice in war helped create military machines
- the love of children or parents kept households together
- male friendships were the basis of politics and business.
Paul had a different approach. He says, “I choose to appeal to you on account of love” and then shows Philemon what the love Paul was talking about looks like. “And if he has wronged you or owes you anything, charge it to me. Look, I’ll put it here in my own handwriting: I, Paul, promise to repay you everything.”
“Charge it to me,” is a commercial term of paying the debt of another. When Paul “wrote with his own hand” (v.19), it was a legal promissory note that Philemon could use in a civil suit and sue Paul for the money (or Paul’s estate, if Paul died). Who would show love for the sake of showing love? Who would embrace someone else as part of their family if there was no practical payoff? Where did Paul get the idea that a third party could pay the debt of another? From Christ, or course, who died for us all while we were sinners, dead in our trespasses and sins.
One sign that we understand the gospel is that we don’t simply know about it – we live it. We try to find ways to embody Christ’s commitment, love and sacrifice for those around us. We are committed to a life that imitates Christ’s death by being broken and spilled out so that others may live. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he had quite a bit to say about love. Among other things he wrote, “Love patient, love is kind; love is not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. It does insist on its own way, and it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
But there’s an interesting twist when it comes to translations. In 1 Corinthians 13, there are no adjectives in the Greek. We translate them that way (“Love is patient”), but in the Greek it’s a mass of verbs, things love does and does not do. At one point Paul even takes what would normally be two Greek adjectives and makes a new verb. It should read something like this: “Love patients; love kinds; love does not envy, boast, act arrogantly or rudely. It does not insist on its own way; it does not act irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
That’s the kind of love where people are breaking off a piece of their heart constantly for others. It’s not a place where you show up and take and absorb and simply accept the sacrifice of others. It’s a place where you accept and give. You receive to pass it on. It’s a church community where we seek to bear burdens that are not ours, to pick up the pieces when we didn’t break it. It’s a church community where we say, “Charge it to me. I will spend time in nursery with kids that aren’t mine, and bring food to a potluck when I know others don’t, and mentor someone who should have known better.”
It’s a church community where we choose to bear the weight of grace not because there is something in it for us, but because Christ bore the ultimate weight of our sins and gave us the greatest grace of forgiveness and salvation – and we have opportunity to do what we can in remembrance of Him.
That, I think, would feel like home.
Gerald and Lydia Sittser and their children were driving through Iowa in 1991 when a drunk driver hit them at 85 mph. Gerald lost his mother, his wife and a four-year-old child in moment. He sat beside the isolated highway and watched them die. He eventually wrote the following in a book entitled A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss:
“Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same… It is not true that we become less through our loss – unless we allow the loss to make us less, grinding our soul down until there is nothing left. Loss can also make us more. I did not get over my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life until it became part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it… One learns the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s own soul… The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering.
Life is characterized by loss. The weather changes. Cars break down. Favorite shows go off the air. We move into a new house. We leave a community and lose friends. Pets die. We lose our youth and our health. Then there is the loss of a marriage, of a parent, of a vocation, a dream, a life.
But though life is full of loss, it’s also full of new life. Age brings things that youth can’t. Some weather changes are good. We can enjoy new cars, houses, friends, pets, shows. The losses that threaten to overwhelm can enlarge us, deepen us, offer us something unexpectedly blessed on the other side. But the unexpected blessing follows the loss. Hope follows grief. Character follows the furnace in which that character was forged.
So as followers of Christ who want our emotional health to reflect the character and heart of God, let’s look at a biblical perspective on grief and loss.
Enter into your Grief
When King David’s friend Jonathan died, we read the following in 1 Samuel 1:17-27:
“Then David composed a funeral song for Saul and Jonathan, and he commanded that it be taught to the people of Judah. It is known as the Song of the Bow, and it is recorded in The Book of Jashar:
‘Your pride and joy, O Israel, lies dead on the hills! Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen! Don’t announce the news in Gath, don’t proclaim it in the streets of Ashkelon, or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice and the pagans will laugh in triumph.
O mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor fruitful fields producing offerings of grain. For there the shield of the mighty heroes was defiled; the shield of Saul will no longer be anointed with oil. The bow of Jonathan was powerful, and the sword of Saul did its mighty work. They shed the blood of their enemies and pierced the bodies of mighty heroes.
How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan! They were together in life and in death. They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions. O women of Israel, weep for Saul, for he dressed you in luxurious scarlet clothing, in garments decorated with gold. Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies dead on the hills.
How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan! Oh, how much I loved you! And your love for me was deep, deeper than the love of a mother or wife! Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen! Stripped of their weapons, they lie dead.’”
It wasn’t just that David mourned the loss of his friend. He ordered it to be recorded and taught to thousands; it was written and named. It’s not a song with a happy ending. It’s just a primal mourning for the loss of a great friend. The world had changed. Goodness had been lost. It ought to be remembered, grieved, commemorated, never forgotten.
The depth of our grief reveals the weight of the thing we lost.When is the last time we considered that God is honored when his people offer songs of lament about their grief and loss? Jesus was a “man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.” If grief is a gauge of love, then both his love and his grief was deep. Perhaps we, too, should grieve deeply that which we love deeply, and do it without shame. If nothing else, we show all those around us what matters most in life.
Embrace the Journey
There was a day between Good Friday and Resurrection. In some traditions it’s called Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, or Saturday of Lights. It’s that day between death and resurrection where all that was happening was burial. The Apostles Creed notes not simply that Jesus died and rose again; he died, was buried, and then was resurrected.
“It is a long day, this Silent Saturday. In many ways it represents life as it is for all of us. Though we like to say that we live on the other side of Easter, and that of course is true in the ultimate sense, it is also true that we live somewhere between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The crucifixion is behind us, but death is still with us and the final victory lies somewhere in the future.” - Ray Pritchard, “Silent Saturday,” crosswalk.com
Silent Saturday is the day after the funeral, the weeks after the job loss or surgery, the months after the divorce, the years after a dream died. This is the dreaded in-between, that place where it feels like nothing is happening. We wonder if there is something wrong with us as people (or as Christians). Do I lack faith or dedication? Are God’s promises even real?
It’s important that we remember that God is just as present in these in-between times. The burial day for Jesus was part of God’s plain. It wasn’t the pain of loss; it wasn’t yet the triumph of new life. It was…burial. It was a time that tested faith and hope.
- Psalm 27;13-14: “I believe that I will look upon the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the living. Wait for the Lord…be strong…take courage…wait for the Lord.”
- Psalm 33:20: “My soul waits for the Lord…”
- The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
- James 5:11: “We consider those blessed who remain steadfast…”
These are not wasted times in the Kingdom of God. Peter Scazzero uses the analogy of compost. As we throw scraps on the garden, we see the broken husks of things that were once full of life but are now empty shells. It seems as if their story is over. But give it time – from that which was dead will spring new life. It’s in these times that some of the best formation and preparation happens for the new life that is to come.
See the Loss in the Light of the Gain
God is able to salvage the broken parts of the world. Paul writes in Romans 8:28 that “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
This is not a promise of earthly happiness and ease, but of spiritual and eternal goods. How do we know? Because the verses before talk about how “creation groans” in its broken state, and the verses after that don’t claim that will change in this life. Paul notes that God will use these situations so that we will be “conformed to the image of His Son.” We will be called, then justified (or made righteous) and ultimately “glorified.” So in what ways can grief and sorrow conform us to the image of Christ?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can endure all these things because Christ strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11–1
We increasingly realize that this world is not our home, the people matter more than things, that time is precious, that the truly good things in life are not found in money, or health, or entertainment, or fame.
When God responds to Job, God does not tell Job the why. He basically asks Job, “Do you understand how limited your power and perspective is? Do you trust me even if you don’t (or can’t) understand?” Job responds, “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:3)
I don’t know why my dad died so young. I heard, “God wanted him home.” Stop it. You don’t know. “God knew that in the future he might fall away.” Stop! I even heard the “lack of faith. Should have claimed his healing more boldly.” Really? You know this?
The Bible does not clarify why God allows us to suffer in a particular instance. There are broader principles: free will, a fallen world, God’s glory, our benefit (pruning), Satan’s schemes. But this particular time may not be known until after the fact, maybe not until we reach heaven and can see truth and reality clearly.
Paul said his suffering was “for the sake of the body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). Our suffering enables us to more fully “bear another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). As we pass on the comfort of God, we are in turn comforted. We gain an appreciation for the community of the broken, journeying together toward a resurrection. We recognize the importance of the moment; we take risks we might not have before because we recognize that life is a vapor, and some things must be done now or they might not be done at all. We reach out and look up more than ever.
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)
“Know” in the original language means to “know through experience.” If we want to experience Christ’s resurrection in us, we must share in his suffering. We enter into the life Christ offers when we enter into the life He lived – in its fullness. We must know one to know the other.
“Do not lose heart,” said Paul, “for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding glory that outweighs them all…” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). What we suffer is “not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The Surface, Break the Power of the Past, Live in Brokenness, The Gift Of Limits) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.
Some Recommend Songs
Mercy Me (“I Can Only Imagine”; “Homesick”)
Tenth Avenue North (“Hold My Heart”; “Worn”)
Steven Curtis Chapman (“With Hope”)
Julie Miller (“You Can Have My Heart”)
Adam Again (River On Fire"; "Babylon")
Some Recommended Books
Robert Kelleman, God’s Healing for Life’s Losses
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed and The Problem of Pain
Timothy Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering
Phillip Yancey, Where is God When It Hurts?
When Paul wrote about being “transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:2), he used the word for the metamorphosis a butterfly experiences when it leaves the cocoon. When we give our life to Christ, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and convicts us, we develop a longing to be free of harmful traditions and habits and experience freedom.
Here’s the thing: if a butterfly is robbed of the struggle, it will never be able to fly. If God’s creation gives us insight into the mind of the Creator – and I think it often does – there are times that He is going to let us struggle. He will do all the things only God can do – but there is purpose to the struggles he allows us to have (or perhaps even wants us to have).
Today we are going to talk about the importance of living in brokenness. This is not a call to shame and depression; it’s a look at the metamorphosis, the struggle to break free of all kinds of things that threaten to wrap us in sin and failure. Our text is the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father.
But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
The Lost Younger Brother
- He basically tells his father, “I want to live as if you were dead.”
- He sells his inheritance at a loss; he has no sense of the life that has been offered to him
- He moves to a country that is “far away” in more ways than one
- He loses everything the father gave him
- He settles for the most “unclean” work imaginable rather than go home.
He is arrogant, rude, selfish, irresponsible, and blind to his path to destruction. He is content to be degraded and used to live far from the Father. Jesus’ Jewish audience was probably tracking with him so far – yeah, that’s a bad kid. His heart and soul are a wreck and his life followed.
The Lost Older Brother
- The older brother should have helped heal the broken relationship between his father and brother. Instead, he apparently does nothing. He lets his younger brother publically shame himself so he can benefit.
- He keeps everything his father gave him with entitlement instead of gratitude. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you.”
- He becomes combative and argumentative, bitter that a sinner like his brother would be celebrated when they came back home.
- He brings out a scorecard: “What? Not even a goat for me?”
- The story begins with the younger brother insulting his father leaving the house; it ends with the older brother dishonoring his father by refusing to enter.
He is arrogant, rude, selfish, judgmental, and blind to the corruption in his heart. Jesus’ audience was probably a little more surprised by this twist. The older son was supposed to be the good guy, but his heart and soul were a wreck also.
Two brothers in two fields. Both far from the Father in ways that look very different. One is wildly sinful, the other properly sinful. One is obviously rebellious, the other subtly so. One shames his father by challenging him, the other by failing to defend him. Only one makes it back home. What changes? What’s the difference between the two?
One of them was willing to reveal his brokenness with the hope of recovery and restoration.
- “I have sinned against heaven and earth” vs. “I have never disobeyed.”
- “Just make me a slave!” vs. “All these years I’ve slaved for you!”
- “I’m not worthy to be your son” vs. “You’ve never given me what I deserve!”
One sees his sin and is driven to repentance; the other refuses to see his sin and responds with judgment. One is humble and vulnerable before God and others; the other refuses to concede he could have done anything wrong. One longs to return home; the other refuses to enter his house. One knows what it’s like to be found; the other never knew what it was like to be lost.
The younger brother reached a point where he said, “This is who I am - and it’s not good.” He “came to his senses” and saw himself as he truly was – through the eyes of the Father. The older brother never saw himself as he actually was. He never comes to his senses. At this point in the story he remains blind to his sin, unbroken and unrepentant.
Did you notice that nobody went to get the older brother for the party?
- the village would certainly be buzzing with the news of the returned sons
- a party had started for his long lost brother on his property
- his father had to butcher one of the older brother’s cattle and go through the process of preparing it, which I assume took a while.
- there were servants who were certainly a part of all of this
And nobody goes to get him.
But why would they? What would he bring to a party like that? Well, we know what he brought to his father. Judgment. Anger. Jealousy. Accusations. Unhappiness. Pride. Grudges.
Luke records a story where Jesus was in the house of a Jewish religious leader when a “sinful woman” shows up to wash his feet with very expensive perfume. They criticized him, but he responded: “Whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47). It's not that the Pharisees didn’t need forgiveness –they just didn’t think they did. They didn’t know what it was like to feel the weight and the cost of their sin – and then find forgiveness, healing and hope.
Genuine brokenness brings repentance and transformation.
Brokenness and repentance are not important just because they restore our relationship to God – it is in this struggle that we grow to understand grace and forgiveness. The younger brother and the sinful woman were changed. Even while they were “the worst of sinners” (to quote the Apostle Paul), God the Father extends his forgiveness, grace, love, and restoration. “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience… (1 Timothy 1:16)
Kenneth Bailey, author of The Cross & the Prodigal, notes that a Jewish son who lost his inheritance among Gentiles and returned home would meet a community group that would break a large pot in front of him and yell, “You are now cut off from your people!” The father probably ran in order to get to his son before he entered the village so that his son does not experience the shame he deserved. The village would probably have seen this emotional reunion and realized they would have to do what the father did and accept the lost younger son in spite of what he had done.
This is where brokenness and repentance sends us – back to the Father who loves us, runs to us, embraces us, cleans us up, restores us, invites all of us to celebrate with him.
**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The Surface, Break the Power of the Past) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.
In Part One of this series, we looked at the importance of honest introspection. We must look beneath the surface of our lives in order to, with God's help, see ourselves as we really are. In Part Two, we are going to look at one of the most significant ways in which our character, personality, and perspective on life are formed.
The legacy of our family profoundly impacts us (Exodus 20:4-6; Exodus 34:6-7; 2 Samuel 12:10). History is not destiny, but it is significant, and perhaps the most formative influence of all is our family of origin. How we were “parented” -whether by our biological parents or others who filled the role - will impact in many ways. It can even influence our view of God.
When we commit our lives to Christ, our past is not erased. We need to take a deep look inside at all the things that have formed us. We don't do this because we are stuck with our past, or because we want to spend our lives back there, but because it’s an important step on our way to seeing God clearly and passing that better view on to others.
“A father has a powerful influence in deep and subtle ways. Even though children know intellectually that God is fair, loving and kind and patient, it’s hard for them to relate to God at a gut level in a deep way if their own father is not that way.” David Dollahite. Professor of Family Life at BYU
Our perspective can distort our view of God anywhere from a little to a lot.
- If you think love is earned, then you probably think you have to earn God’s love.
- If you think family is stifling and parents just don’t understand, do you think that might impact how you view God the Father who offers you a new family?
- If you think the solution to conflict is to withdraw or shame the other party, what happens when you have a gripe with God? What do you think God does? (And what do you do?)
- If you experienced parents that abandoned you, or were embarrassed or burdened by you, or used you, or hurt you, or communicated that you were just not important enough for them to live sacrificially …. What do you think God thinks of you?
On the other hand, you may think love is given not earned, and family is a place of safety, and conflict is resolved through healthy confrontation and resolution, and that you are loved sacrificially, deeply, closely, and safely – and that probably effects your view of God.
Part of the good news of the Gospel is that our past is not beyond redemption. We are more than the sum of our past experiences. God has offered us a way past the defining power of history.
1) Embrace the work of Christ
“Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.” (John 3:6-7)
“Everything connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.” (Ephesians 4:21-24, The Message)
God does not give us amnesia. Our past will still call to us. We will need to learn how to honestly express our feelings and emotions rather than stuffing them as if nothing happened. We still have to ask questions like, “Why am I feeling like this?” There is a reason, and it should be sought. The good news is that, through the work of Christ, we can begin to make new and better memories. We can be rebuilt.
2) Find Yourself In God’s Story
Joseph carried a hard family legacy into his slavery in Egypt. Yet we find him years later a changed man, free of the deception and manipulation that marked his history.
“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you!” (Genesis 45:4-8)
How is this change of heart possible? Joseph saw the hand of God at work. All those terrible things that shaped me? God has shifted them around and made something new. Joseph saw that his life was more than the sum of his experiences. From an earthly perspective, Joseph should have been a wreck. But God took the ugly pieces and made something beautiful.
3) Find Your Place in God’s Spiritual Family
“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes… You are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” Galatians 3:26-29
“Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)
God’s Word and His Spirit will work in us, but we need to reach out to His people and let them help to rebuild us. With the help of God’s Word, His Spirit, and the company of our Christian friends, we can move past the parts of our past that have been broken, look up and see God with ever increasing clarity, and live in such a way that we more clearly reveal the heart and the presence of God.
**The posts in this series (Look Beneath The Surface, etc) are built from a summary of notes I used when preaching a sermon series based on Peter Scazzero's Emotionally Healthy Church and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (both the books and the study guides). Most of the main points comes from his work. I note when I quote him directly, but most of what you read are this insights paraphrased or adjusted to fit my audience and venue. Learn more at his website and his blog, and by all means order his books and read them thoroughly.
After we visit our local hospital or doctor for a particular ailment (see Part One in this series on the Great Physician), we can sometimes be completely healed of the problem. We can get a new start. But we also discuss with the doctor or nurse about a plan so our new health will continue to flourish. This is called compliance:
“Accepting life-saving treatment. The extent to which a person’s behavior coincides with medical advice. Adaptation or adherence to medical advice.” (d3jonline.tripod.com)
On the other hand, we can undermine our new-found health. In medical terms, this is called non-compliance.
“It is estimated that 125,000 people with treatable ailments die each year simply because they do not take prescribed medications properly or they skip them altogether.” (“Why You Need To Follow Doctor’s Orders,” health.heraldtribune.com)
“Most patients believe…that the less medicine they take the less sick they are. That is precisely why although we know than penicillin will cure a strep throat in 7 days we prescribe a 10 day course of the antibiotic. Many patients will stop as soon as they feel better.” (“Medicine: Facts and Fictions at ghthomas.blogspot.com)
“We eat foods that kill us, we don't stick to our exercise regimens, and we don't follow our doctors' orders, even when we remember what they tell us. If you ask people whether it's smart to get a colonoscopy if the doctor says you need one, no one's going to say no… but no one wakes up and says, 'Yes, today is a good day for a colonoscopy.'" (“Mind Your Body: Doctor’s Orders – Without Distress.” www.psychologytoday.com)
Preventative medicine and follow-up plans trip a lot of people up. Those in the health profession agree: non-compliance is a huge problem. Why?
Because it’s hard!
The doctor gave a blueprint for ongoing health – and for whatever reasons, we just have a hard time following it. “I’m not that sick…My doctor doesn’t understand…it’s so complicated…” So we get more sick when we could be flourishing.
The Apostle Paul had a plan to help us be compliant once we have been spiritually healed by the Great Physician. By "compliant" I don’t mean non-thinking robots who legalistically follow and judge, and I don’t mean that we can save ourselves in the sense that only Christ can. Christ has a plan for how we can spiritually flourish while we are under His care. In Ephesians 4, Paul explains how the church has been put together in such a way that we can all join together to experience the fullness of life in Christ.
And [God] has given us apostles (founding messengers), prophets (forth-tellers), evangelists (those who tells the good news by vocation), pastors (shepherds who care, feed, and protect) and teachers (instructors of Scripture)….
We spend a lot of time talking about whether or not we fit into any of those categories, but we don’t always connect that phrase to the rest of the paragraph. There is a REASON God has given all these things:
"To equip the saints for the work of ministry , and to build up the body of Christ."
Not only is there a REASON, there is a GOAL, a target:
“Until we all attain to: unity because of our faith, knowledge of the Son of God (experiential knowledge), maturity (a spiritual process involving intelligence and virtue), and stature (being filled up with the presence of Christ when we are ready)."
And then we read the RESULT - the expected outcome is if we follow the doctor’s plan for health:
"We will no longer be immature and simple, tossed around by the waves and carried away by every new teaching, deceitful people, or clever lies that sound like the truth. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we will be put together one piece at a time as we become more and more like Christ, the head of the church."
This sounds like a great plan for ongoing health and life. Is there a practical way to understand how this can be accomplished?
1) Biblical Teaching (sound doctrine)
“The Mayo Clinic found that over half of patients couldn’t list their diagnoses, treatment plan, or prescribed medications and their common side effects… Physicians need to communicate well… so what they’re saying makes sense to the patient in every respect.” (“Compliance Follows Alliance,” www.cpso.on.ca)
One of the goals of a church is to help people understand the spiritual diagnosis, the treatment plan, and the expected results – as well as learn how to communicate well on behalf of the Great Physician. He has given us his Spirit, his manual (the Bible), and a great hospital staff (the congregation). But understanding the manual is not always easy, and we all need sound knowledge and wisdom to go with a heart for the hurting. So churches can help to provide ongoing "compliance" techniques by:
- Preaching accurately
- Offering classes on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life
- Choosing songs that accurately capture the truth and wonder of God
- Studying books from other Christians who have something important to say about the Doctor.
Are people or churches perfect? Nope. That’s impossible. But we can do our best to be accountable to God and to each other as we continually grow in our ability to present the Gospel in its fullness. Philippians 1:9-10 notes:
"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more (a love that has scope and power) in knowledge (precise and correct) and depth of insight (moral discernment), so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure (sifted; free of hypocrisy) and blameless (not offensive) until the day of Christ…”
2) Godly Relationships
"A physician friend and I often speak about the difficulty she and her colleagues have getting patients to do what’s recommended, or change the healthy or unhealthy behaviors they need to address in order to improve chronic and temporary health conditions. She’s come up with her own hypothetical solution. If only she could get all of the friends and family of her patients in a room to support her advice—she’d have better compliance and healthier patients. She’s seen it over and over again as a physician practicing with all ages of patients. She’s seen the epiphany and the behavior change occur not when she’s repeated information for the umpteenth time, but only when her advice is corroborated and supported by a spouse, a sibling, a close friend, a trusted neighbor.” (a paraphrase from “Following Doctor’s Orders: Behavior Change in 82-year-olds.” Behavior Change.net.)
I give this analogy not because Christ in insufficient to change lives, but because there is something to be said for the support of others. There was more than one disciple who followed Jesus. There are many observations in Scripture about the importance of friends:
- “Where there is no guidance, people fall; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)
- “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor…” (Proverbs 12:26)
- “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
- “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
3) Lifelong Perspective
"I tell patients that treating them is more like a marathon than a sprint. It matters a little less to me what happens today, tomorrow or next week, and much more to me what happens over the next 10 years…” (“Why You Need To Follow Doctor’s Orders,” health.heraldtribune.com)
The analogy here breaks down a bit – it does matter what you do today if we are talking about spiritual health. But the overall point is solid. The Apostle Paul wrote:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Following Jesus is not something we do just in the moment. It’s a journey. There will be ups and downs. One reason the church must stress Biblical teaching and relationships is because we know that as in any long race we will be injured, or distracted, or tempted to drop out. Through the presence of the Christ in our lives, the foundation of Scripture and the support of godly friends, we can all finish the race and keep the faith.
And that's just what the Doctor ordered.
- Android: ”In September 2012, there were more than 675,000 apps available for Android, and the estimated number of applications downloaded from Google Play was 25 billion.”
- Apache: “Since April 1996 Apache has been the most popular HTTP server software in use. As of September 2012 Apache was estimated to serve 54.98% of all active websites and 58.49% of the top servers across all domains.”
- Linux: “Linux has been ported to more computer hardware platforms than any other operating system. More than 90% of today's 500 fastest supercomputers run some variant of Linux. 60% of web-servers run Linux versus 40% that run Windows Server.”
- Wikipedia: “23 million articles…100,000 active contributors… editions of Wikipedia in 285 languages…365 million readers worldwide… 2.7 billion monthly page views from the United States alone.”
Answer: they were all open sourced (or group sourced). In other words, the people creating them did not directly profit from them. They did it because they wanted to contribute to something in a meaningful way. The reward was not money or fame; it was being a part of something bigger than themselves.
Paul beats this drum over and over: Being part of a church means we belong to something bigger than ourselves . Unfortunately, the church in Corinth was floundering in their understanding of how this looks in ordinary church life.
"In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk... Do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter... For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. … For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment… So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together… " (1 Corinthians 11: 17-33, condensed form)
How could the church proclaim unity while ignoring the physical needs of those who came with little or no food? Christ said, “My body is broken; my blood is spilled out.” But at these suppers, there was no bread broken for the hungry or wine poured for the thirsty. There was no breaking and pouring of self on behalf of others. There was no self-sacrifice. There was no sense that they were a part of something bigger than their own self-indulgence.
Paul called the ability to see other people and their needs and respond appropriately as “discerning the Lord's body.” When they didn’t, their selfishness was killing them. Without this “discernment of the body” – seeing a need and responding appropriately in the context of community - there is no church. In chapter 12, Paul continues the same theme, but he moves the focus from an easily observable community event to an issue we sometimes treat differently – but shouldn’t.
12 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed... 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good... a message of wisdom... a message of knowledge... faith... gifts of healing... miraculous powers... prophecy... distinguishing between spirits... speaking in different kinds of tongues... the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you...” But God has put the body together... 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other... 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
Those truly filled with the Spirit do everything in the service of something greater than themselves – the flourishing of the Kingdom of God. It’s not about particulars experiences and individual blessings and gifts(though God clearly blesses people in individual ways). It’s about the broader Kingdom of God.
Paul wrote, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Everybody is somebody in the Kingdom of God - we all have something to share, and it must be properly expressed in the context of community. We all contribute. The church flourishes because it has a body.
And just like the Lord’s Supper, we have to “discern the body.” If we take even the good services, works, and gifts from God and bring them into church life without realizing we are part of something bigger than ourselves – that there is a community around us that will be edified in particular times and in particular ways - church community will pay the price.
Paul said, “There should be no division in the body…each part should have equal concern for each other." If true self-sacrificial living is a significant element in church life, we won’t be asking, “What can I do so people can see that I am spiritual?” We will ask, “What can I offer the Kingdom of God that is both good and beneficial to others as I enter into life in something bigger and far greater than myself?”
While in Ephesus, Paul wrote a letter to the fledgling church in Corinth. He had to tackle a couple of serious issues that were not only dividing the church, but also harming their witness in the city of Corinth. Though Paul dealt with specific moral issues, his goal was far more encompassing. He wanted to say something important about life in the Kingdom of God.
Imagine (if you will) PauI taking a break after writing the first couple of chapters. He decides to meet a friend for breakfast to talk throughs some of the issues as he prepares for what is now referred to as 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. ( I should note that all the cultural details I give in this conversation are taken from some very detailed history of the Greeks and Romans culture of that time. Sarah Ruden's "Paul Among The People" provides an excellent historical background for this imagined conversation).