knowledge

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 5)

  • A Labor Foreign Secretary (1966-68) named George Brown got this response from another guest at a diplomatic reception: “I shall not dance with you for three reasons. First, because you are drunk, second, because this is not a waltz but the Peruvian national anthem and third, because I am not a beautiful lady in red; I am the Cardinal Bishop of Lima.”
  • When Barbara Bush, the wife of then Vice President George Bush, Sr., was on a diplomatic visit in Japan, she attended a lunch with Emperor Hirohito at Tokyo's Imperial Palace. In spite of her best efforts to start a conversation, the Emperor would only smile and give very short answers. She finally complimented Hirohito on his official residence."Thank you," he said. "Is it new?" pressed Mrs. Bush. "Yes." "Was the palace just so old that it was falling down?" “No, I'm afraid that you bombed it."

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It’s embarrassing when a leader or an ambassador poorly represents something of which you are a part. They are supposed to be a compelling face for something or someone, and it’s hard. At times they fail, sometimes hilariously and other times more seriously. We tend to think of this in politics or schools or sports teams, but Paul wrote to the first followers of Christ,

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20

As followers of Christ, we are His ambassadors to a world that is not our home. We represent another King and another Kingdom. "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20).

As ambassadors for Christ, we have the same kind of responsibility as the previous spokespeople I mentioned. But now we are going to the Kingdom of the Earth on behalf of the Kingdom of Heaven, and things of eternal import are at stake.  We’ve been talking about spiritual health for the past six weeks. It’s worth noting that we don’t become healthy through Jesus just for our sake. We are made healthy as part of preparation for evangelism and discipleship.

“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others...not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell [people] of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” (Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison).

We are made new with a purpose: to fulfill the Great Commission.

We represent Jesus whether we like it or not. We don’t stop representing Christ … ever. We will be an ambassador for better or worse.

When I was in high school, I worked at a restaurant, and I talked with my non-Christian friends about Jesus. One day a girl said to me, “I notice you say X about your faith, but then you do Y. How does that work?” (I don’t remember what the issue was.) That was a really uncomfortable conversation.

People can’t see God, but they can see us. They can be drawn to or pushed away from the One we represent based on how we, as ambassadors, represent God. I gave one verse from Paul earlier. Here is the broader context:

“ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17- 21).

It is in this light that we need to understand 2 Corinthians 6:1:

“As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain…”

Paul is not saying that God’s grace is unable to save us. He’s not saying that the people reading the letter aren’t Christians. He refers to them as co-workers!  He’s just pointing out that we can be healed and be made new…and watch an opportunity for bringing others to the Great Physician slip through our fingers.  

So, how can we make sure that doesn’t happen?[i]

KNOWLEDGE

First, an ambassador must have some basic knowledge. After I had my second blood clot, I went to my doctor to find out what to do. He said some stuff I knew, then said we were done. I said, “Should I be taking shots until the Coumadin kicks in?” He agreed that would be a good idea. “Should I rest and elevate my leg?” Sure. Why not? I basically walked him through my treatment. I didn’t go back. He did not have saving knowledge – or if he did, he didn’t know how to communicate it well. Knowledge isn’t the only thing, but it’s a crucial thing. And as some of you have experienced, a doctor who lacks knowledge can have a very real impact on how you view the medical profession in general.

An ambassador for Christ needs two kinds of knowledge: factual knowledge and experiential knowledge.

By factual I simply mean never stop learning more about what you believe and why. Knowledge can’t save you, but it can ground and stabilizes you.

  • I was glad I had already wrested mentally with the problem of pain and evil before I wrestled with it experientially when by Dad died and when I had my heart attack. [1]
  • I have found that the more I study God’s plan for marriage and human sexuality the more I am strengthened in the face of temptation. [2]
  • When I hear challenges to the existence of God from atheists, the nature of God from other religions, or the character of God from well-meaning Christians who have non-biblical views of who God is and how he works in the world, I am glad for the solid theology of my Mennonite upbringing, and the Christian voices that have filled me with truth.[3]

By experiential I mean commit to walking in the footsteps of Jesus and committing to life in His Kingdom.  We are called to explain the hope that lies within us. We are going to need to talk about the transformational nature of discipleship. I can talk about being in the military, but I don’t know what it’s like to be in the military. I can talk about football, but I don’t know what it’s like to play football. Ask me about basketball, crossfit, pastoring, teaching or marriage – I’ve experienced it. In all of those, I immersed myself in it for a while. They weren’t just passing fancies. I didn’t dabble. I entered in as fully as I could.

As Christians, we can’t dabble. We can’t pick and choose parts or pick and choose times and expect to be able to tell people what it’s like to really be a sold-out follower of Jesus.  G.K Chesterton is famous for saying:

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

I’m not talking about perfect knowledge or perfect discipleship. That’s impossible on this side of heaven. If someone expects that level of expertise, everyone on earth is going to fail them. I’m talking about the process of being committed to that process of learning and growing within the framework of the gifts, talents and opportunities God has given you.  

TACT

This knowledge must be deployed in a skillful way with wisdom and persuasiveness.  Paul notes all the ways in which he “becomes all things to all people” in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 “so that I may save some . . .”

It isn’t possible to never give offense as an ambassador for Christ, because the message of the cross can be offensive (Luke. 6:26; 1 Corinthians 1:23). But we must do our best to take away needless offense.

“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way…” (2 Corinthians 6:3)

The message of the Gospel is difficult enough without us giving people additional reason to turn away. We must pray for the wisdom to know how to connect and genuinely enter into the lives of those around us without compromising our morality or faith. It’s part of being “in the world but not of it.” (John 17:15-16). [ii]  I'll explain this more fully in my final point, which is...

CHARACTER

Because ambassadors bring themselves along in everything they do, their presence can either make or break the message. After talking a about tact, Paul talks more about his character, or what it is about his life that has  “commended” him to them. After he describes the suffering he endured for the sake of the gospel, he writes the following about how to live:

“…in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God…” (2 Corinthians 6:5-7)

“Purity” is used here probably to refer to sexual purity, but it has a broader meaning that encompasses all of life. We are called to be pure from the inside out – morally clean, able to live without fear of what others may find out about us. Think of this as free transparency. Can someone check your internet history right now or your business’s books? If there is a video of how you interact with people throughout the day, would you be embarrassed if someone saw it, or would you be willing to say, “Sure, have a look!”

“Understanding” refers to an in-depth understanding of the Christian worldview (2 Timothy. 2:15). It’s what I talked about earlier.  It doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers, but you are constantly seeking in some way to understand your faith more fully. Study…listen carefully…think and pray and talk with others about your life….learn to process your life with Christ so that when others ask you to talk about what it means to be a Christian, you can draw from past experiences.

 “Patience.”  This is staying power; being long tempered instead of short tempered. Not easily provoked.  We can listen to or see things hostile to our faith without getting immediately angry and defensive.   If someone says, “I think Christianity is stupid,” and starts to rant, can you listen patiently, trying to understand what they are saying?  Or do you get angry and tense and lash back as soon as you have an opening?  When someone posts a comment that challenges your faith or a position that you hold because of your Christian worldview, do you start a fight, or do you patiently engage for the sake of their salvation?

“Kindness” refers to cultivating a high view of other people and treating them with respect.  It’s meeting real needs – not just spiritual, but relational, financial, emotional…. It’s treating people in God’s image as if they bore God’s image.  In talking with those who are skeptical of Christianity, I have fielded questions like this:

·      The Bible is just an old book with a lot of errors. Why would any intelligent person pay attention to it?

·      Believing that Jesus was a God who died and came back to life is like believing in the Easter Bunny. 

·      You are so judgmental about sex.  Why don’t you want other people to be happy?”

So do I respond with anger and defensiveness?  Do I quote, “The fool has said in his heart there is not God” and stomp away, content to have struck a blow for the Kingdom of God? I need to relate to others with patience and kindness. It’s how God treats us, and it’s intended to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  My goal is not win the argument, though that would be nice. My goal is that they be reconciled to Christ, and God forbid my attitude get in the way.

I’ve realized over the past number of years that people skeptical about my faith expect me as a Christian to attack or belittle them.  Somewhere in their lives, they have seen Christians either act like that or be portrayed like that. Whether fair or not, it’s the impression that's out there.  We need to change that impression one person at a time.

“Sincere love” – This is the ‘agape’ we talked about several weeks ago – “deliberately living in a way that shows esteem or value of something or someone as a precious, beloved prize.” If we don’t have this, we are just obnoxious noise makers even if we could speak the language of angels (1 Corinthians 13).

“Truthful Speech” - We can’t compromise on the reality, and we must be willing to defend it even if it is offensive.  Remember, God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and neither should we. 

 “The Holy Spirit…the Power of God” - We depend on the power of God to take God’s word, our words, our lives, and point people toward Christ.  We don’t have to force the issue.  We “plant and water,” but God brings the harvest. Be content to be faithfully present, looking for opportunities to plant and nourish God’s truth.  At the right time, speak up. At the right time, challenge and encourage. Just always remember that the Holy Spirit is at work, which is good news indeed.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

We, the community of the healed and healing, takes the Good News of the Great Physician to a world in desperate need of the redemption offered by Jesus alone. May we are do this with sincere lover, and with the power and protection of the righteousness of God.

[1] So, there’s this book, Learning To Jump Again, that explains my journey through this :) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005H11AHO/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[2] I recommend the following (out of many good options)

  • Real Sex, by Lauren Winner
  • The Thrill Of The Chaste, by Dawn Eden
  • Fill These Hearts, by Christopher West
  • The Mingling Of Souls, Matt and Lauren Chandler
  • The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller (youtube speech given for Google employees)
  • Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Matthew W Rueger

[3] I recommend the following as good starting points that give the Big Picture

  • The Story Of Reality, by Greg Koukl
  • The Reason For God, Tim Keller
  • Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
  • How Shall We Then Live? Francis Schaeffer
  • How Now Shall We Live? Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey

[i] I am indebted to Grek Koukl at Stand To Reason (str.org) for a lot of teaching on three characteristics of a good Christian ambassador.

[ii] How can we tell the difference between tact vs. fear or compromise?

  • Someone who is tactful does not compromise the truth; they simply remember that “well-spoken words are like apples of gold in pitchers of silver.”
  • Someone who is tactful does not avoid confrontation; they confront with respect, care and love, remembering that everyone is created in the image of God.
  • Someone who is tactfful seeks to build bridges, not burn them. Tact does not post mean mean or mocking memes. Tact does not name-call. Tact isn’t defensive. Tact listens, engages, seeks to understand even before being understood.
  • Someone who is tactful enters into accountability so that others observe and weigh in on how they are doing.

GC:engage - Becoming An Effective Ambassador for Christ

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The Great Commission 

When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later make the analogy of ambassadorship: we areall representatives of Christ. In order to represent him well, we need knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method) and character (an attractive manner).*

When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later make the analogy of ambassadorship: we areall representatives of Christ. In order to represent him well, we need knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method) and character (an attractive manner).*

Wisdom (an artful method) 

“The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” (Proverbs 16:21) 

“Therefore, we are Christ's representatives, and through us God is calling you.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

If Christ is calling people to himself through us, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness, it’s probably important to think about how to make a compelling presentation about Christ and the Christian worldview. Here is where both character and knowledge play an important role.

Character (Attractive Manner)

 “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV) 

 “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25, NIV)

When you talk with others about your faith, remember that your manner of interaction – no matter the topic – speaks volumes about the God you serve. You want to make a winsome, compelling case for Christ and His Kingdom, so be careful not to be defensive and frustrated or to feel like you have to answer every question that a skeptic has. Listen to understand before you respond.  You’ll get your chance; meanwhile, a lot can be learned from listening first (James 1:19; Proverbs 29:20; Proverbs 18:2)

Think in terms of the next meeting. Keep the door open for another discussion. You probably won’t convince anyone to radically change his or her worldview in one sitting. Anything important takes time. In the long run, it’s probably better to value the relationship than win the argument. You can win an argument and never see a person again. But if you build a relationship even in the midst of disagreements, you can revisit the questions again and again. If either one of you gets upset over anything other than the cross of Christ, you both lose.

Knowledge (an accurately informed mind)

“Be careful not to let anyone rob you [of this faith] through a shallow and misleading philosophy. Such a person follows human traditions and the world's way of doing things rather than following Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, God’s Word) 

“The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans. Rather, they are powerful weapons from God. With them we destroy people’s defenses, that is, their arguments and all their intellectual arrogance that oppose the knowledge of God. We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, God’s Word)

The first bit of information you need is why someone struggles with the idea of God. 

  • Some have experienced emotional pain, and find it hard to believe in God. Perhaps they have been abused, their health has failed them, or they have lost someone they love.  In the midst of these situations, they have felt serious disillusionment because they expected God to intervene. If this is the case, they don’t need a syllogism; they need empathy. Sometimes the best way to be an ambassador is to weep with those who weep.
  • Some have had experiential disappointment. Christians have failed or hurt them; churches have ignored their questions or been judgmental and legalistic. In this case, they may find it undesirable to believe. Why would they want to be a part of a group of people like that? If this is the case, acknowledge the hurt and frustration. Yes, Christians can be hypocrites. Yes, churches can wound people. The best thing you can do is to model true Christianity. They need to see faith in action more than they need a Bible verse. 
  • Some have intellectual frustration.  For them, there’s no perceived reason to believe. Because science and reason provide sufficient explanation of life as far as they can tell, they have no need for a God hypothesis. In this case, you may need to provide evidence (science, philosophy, history, archaeology, etc.).

The second bit of information you need is a clarification of terms. Ask what Greg Koukl* calls Columbo Questions: What do you mean by that? How did you come to that conclusion? Have you ever considered another idea? You will not only build a friendship, you will better understand the nature of someone’s skepticism. It’s frustrating to provide answers to questions nobody has. Take the time to find out what questions need to be answered.

The third bit of information you need is the truth that will address their circumstance. This is where you will need to give a reasoned argument, not simply make an assertion. An assertion is essentially a statement of opinion. It may be right or it may be wrong, but it’s nothing more than a statement of belief. “There is no God” is an assertion; so is, “There is a God.”  You will need to challenge bald assertions while building a positive case for your position.  You don’t need to be an expert, but it would be good to know something about the particular issue at hand.

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Tactics, Greg Koukl (I am indebted to Mr. Koukl for the knowledge/wisdom/character template. You can learn more about Mr. Koukl and his ministry, Stand To Reason, at str.org).

Stand to Reason’s Ambassador’s Creed

Love Your God With All Your Mind, JP Moreland

 

Of Food and Freedom

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The Apostle Paul often used real-life situations to highlight the unchanging truths hidden beneath the surface.  In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addresses an issue that, while not sinful on the surface, was still causing harm to members of this fledgling church.

“Now let’s talk about food that has been sacrificed to idols. You think that everyone should agree with your perfect knowledge. While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.  But the person who loves God is the one God knows and cares for.” 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 (NLT) 

Corinth was filled with pagan temples. It was common for worshipers to offer animals to the god as a sacrifice. After a tiny part was burned on the altar, the remainder would be given to the temple priest, servants or local magistrates who then sold the surplus to the town butchers. If you lived in Corinth, there were several ways that you might come in contact with meat that had been sacrificed to idols: 

  • Buying meat in the marketplace. At the end of the day, a lot of meat was taken from the temples and sold.  Christians who was shopping always encountered the possibility that they were purchasing meat previously offered to an idol. (1 Corinthians 10:25).
  • Eating dinner at the home of friends and neighbors. If your neighbors invited you to dinner, there was no good way to know if the meat they served had been sacrificed to an idol (1 Corinthians 10:27).
  • Eating in the pagan temples themselves. Some of the pagan temples could accommodate huge crowds for public affairs or community social functions.  The subject had nothing to do with the idol worship, but often the meeting would include a meal. If you were a Christian attending one of these public meetings, the meat served at this banquet had probably been offered to the temple god earlier that day.

 Two different views arose in the church at Corinth about how a believer should handle this. One group considered the food to be defiled by its association with the pagan idol. This group refused to eat the food, and they were offended by other believers who did eat.

The other group claimed that the food itself was not defiled in any way.  Since these idols were not gods at all, the meat was not really defiled. It could be eaten guilt-free. Paul goes into great detail as to why this belief is better than the other – but he doesn’t stop there.

This second group of believers looked down on other believers who abstained from eating the meat sacrificed to idols. The first group thought those eating were traitors to their faith. Predictably, the church was full of confusion, tension, arrogance, and probably a lot of gossip.

 This tension is bigger than just meat offered to idols, though. It’s really about relationships in the community --- and that community is the church of Jesus Christ.  

 “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge.  Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1)

Paul isn’t saying that knowledge is unimportant.  Having correct knowledge is crucial!  Rather, he’s saying that knowledge alone tends to create pride. But when knowledge is joined with love, it becomes a much better guide to righteous behavior.

"If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know" …" (1 Corinthians 8:2) 

We use factual knowledge in much the same way a building uses a foundation. I’ve been watching the construction of a drugstore here in Traverse City.  It is a very well built structure – cement blocks covered with a brick veneer.  There is nothing flimsy about that building!  But before any of that construction began, they spent over a week digging and pouring massive foundations, wide and deep. The building will be secure for a long, long time.

I think we use knowledge is a similar way – to substantiate our worth and position in a world where we are often timid and uncertain of ourselves. Sometimes it’s a tool to establish ourselves as worthwhile individuals among others who are obviously less well-informed.  Remember, the foundation isn’t wrong or unimportant to that drugstore that is being built.  Nor is knowledge bad or unimportant in the relationships we’re building.  It is a tool - and like any tool, must be used properly.

So, the first step in making knowledge useful is to know its limitations. Christians are fallen creatures with limited knowledge – being saved doesn’t miraculously turn us into all-knowing beings.  God alone has unlimited or complete knowledge!  Humility is precious, and nothing tempers our knowledge like humility. The true purpose of knowledge is to promote the welfare of others. Knowledge must be accompanied by and delivered in love.

 Those who have the greater knowledge and spiritual maturity are the ones who should accommodate the less mature. They should abstain from activities that might harm the faith and life of those who are weaker.  Paul already said in verse one that the whole “eating thing” doesn’t make believers better or worse in God's eyes, but that this sense of superiority can cause harm to others. It’s a stumbling block to the weaker brother or sister and it can lead them into confusion…and possibly even lead to sinful behavior in the young believer’s walk. So, rather than causing a brother to sin, it was better for them to forgo their Christian liberty (change their behavior) in these cases.

Our choices and our behaviors should be motivated and characterized by self-sacrificing love for those around us, rather than by knowledge (or freedom) alone. 

Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom

“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you."
John 16:13-15

KNOWLEDGE is the basis for understanding and wisdom.  Knowledge is the accumulation and familiarization with information and facts…and facts are statements of truth.  For us “Christ-followers” --- the Bible is our reference manual. Here are some examples of facts:

  • There is one God 
  • Jesus is the perfect and sinless Son of God
  • Jesus came to earth and suffered and died on a cross for our sins
  • Jesus rose again from the dead and gives new life to all who trust in Him.

Bible facts include people, places, things, concepts, laws, and on and on.  Knowledge of these facts is extremely important! The Old Testament prophet, Hosea, speaking to the Israelite nations says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (and then he goes on to rebuke the priests for not giving the people knowledge). Knowledge is the stuff upon which our understanding and wisdom are founded.  When God’s people are destroyed and waste away, it isn’t because God has lost either His love or strength.  It’s because His people lack knowledge. Without understanding God and His word, God’s people are destined for destruction.

The world says, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you!”  The Bible makes it clear that what we don’t know will make us miserable, and eventually destroy us.

UNDERSTANDING is the process of working with the information or facts (reading, rereading, meditating, discussing, etc.).  As we do this we begin to see meaning and principles emerge.

  • One writer’s work elaborates on another’s. 
  •  Prophecy bears itself out in stories. 
  •  Stories undergird teachings.  
  • Parables make difficult sayings clear.  

The more we read and consider ideas and instructions found in the bible, the more practical understanding we gain.  Lights begin to come on.  Statements of fact that previously seemed disjointed begin to make sense.

WISDOM is the goal of knowledge and understanding.  Wisdom tells us what to do next, how to apply what we have learned.  Wisdom shows up in the action phase of our growth curve as believers. Wisdom is a gift that remakes us so that we may succeed in life.

Wisdom draws its basis from knowledge of God, coupled with a growing understanding of what He is intends and expects for us and from us.  Those with wisdom know which principle to apply in each situation. Those with wisdom know what to do next; they know which way to go. They do the right thing.  In contrast, there are many who have great knowledge and even understanding, but consistently do the wrong thing.

Wisdom is God’s ability flowing into and replacing our inability.  It is His strength overcoming my weakness.  It is His heart and focus displacing my self-absorption.  It is Him in me!....and it is orchestrated by His Holy Spirit.

 Knowledge and understanding only have eternal value as they result in wisdom – wisdom that shapes our decisions and actions in conformity with God’s plan