Growing With Christ
By Douglas Beyer
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Once upon a time an angel entered the storehouse of heaven and announced, "I've run out of the fruits of the spirit--love, joy, peace--can you restock me?"
"Oh no!" said the guardian. "We don't stock fruit here. Only seeds!"
In this day of instant coffee, instant pudding, instant replays, instant pictures, instant loans and instant debt, some Christians want to skip the growth process. We want instant sainthood--not seeds, but fruit! We want to be grown up, but We don't want to grow up.
Other Christians want to skip the growth process in a different way. We prefer to remain in the raw, unprocessed state in which Christ found us.
The Reader's Digest section entitled "Pardon, your slip is showing" quotes a church announcement: "Spiritual growth is postponed until September." They said more than they intended. What do you say? Are you postponing Spiritual growth?
If there were a yardstick to measure the spirit, And you could record all the past; I wonder what answer you'd find to this question: Are you taller this year than last? (anonymous poem paraphrased)
Christ does not intend that you be saved, sanctified, and petrified. He gives you freedom to be what you are with the hope of becoming what you were meant to be.
You can't even know what you are until you know what you are becoming. You can't know the tadpole unless you know the frog. You can't know the caterpillar until you know the butterfly. You can't know the Christian until you know the glorified saint (1 John 3:1-3).
Beware of postponing the growth process until September--or until you die.
Don't count on death to do for you then what you are unwilling to do for
yourself with God's help here and now.
Analogies Of Growth
The writer of Hebrews gives us two vital analogies of growth. "There is much we have to say about this matter, but it is hard to explain to you, because you are so slow to understand. There has been enough time for you to be teachers--yet you still need someone to teach you the first lessons of God's message. Instead of eating solid food, you still have to drink milk. Anyone who has to drink milk is still a child, without any experience in the matter of right and wrong. Solid food, on the other hand, is for adults, who have trained and used their tastes to know the difference between good and evil" (Hebrews 5:11-14 TEV).
Children are born to grow. They are cute when they drink milk and say "Da-da," but not when they are entering high school. They are born to grow.
There are too many spiritually retarded Christians who are hooked on religious pablum. They are especially frustrating to pastors. If pastors don't constantly nurse their babies, they complain, drop out, or find another church that specializes in elementary nursery care.
Even Baptist churches might consider infant baptism of adults. It would work like this: Fred Elder is tired of tithing, visiting, and serving. He wants to shed his adult responsibility and return to the dependent status of a child, receiving instead of giving care. He applies for infant baptism. If the request is granted, he is baptized and welcomed into the church's cradle roll. Judging from the number of middle aged spiritual adolescents in our churches, it is an idea whose time has come.
But scripture brings us back to reality by reminding us that children are born to grow.
The biggest misunderstanding of growth occurs not in our churches, but in the sleasy areas of our city. Signs proclaim "Adult bookstore," or "Adult movies." Don't you believe it. They pander to people whose moral judgment has become so infantile that they no longer distinguish between right and wrong (verse 13), good and evil (verse 14). Far from being "adult," they refuse to grow up.
The first analogy of growth is that children are born to grow. The second is foundations are laid to build on.
"Let us go forward, then, to mature teaching and leave behind us the first lessons of the Christian message. We should not lay again the foundation of turning away from useless works and believing in God; of the teaching about baptisms and the laying on of hands; of the resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgment. Let us go forward! And this is what we will do, if God allows" (Hebrews 6:1-3 TEV).
The scripture lists three great building blocks in our faith foundation.
1. Salvation by believing in God instead of "useless works."
2. Education about baptisms and laying on of hands, i.e. the enlistment, equipment, and deployment of new converts.
3. Anticipation of the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
These are the foundation stones. There are two mistakes you may make
regarding them. You may foolishly attempt to build without these foundational
truths. Or, on the other hand, you may foolishly attempt to lay the same
foundation again and again and again. "Let us go forward...." If we don't, we
face distressing alternatives.
Alternatives Of Growth
When Jesus said, "Be perfect" (Matthew 5:48), he meant you must prepare for the complete process. C. S. Lewis reminds us that it may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird, but it is a far sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. You are like an egg at present. You can't just go on indefinitely being an ordinary decent egg. You must be hatched or go bad!
Although I may not know you personally, I know one thing about you for sure. You are a different person than you were ten years ago. Physically, almost every cell in your body is new--for better or worse. And spiritually, you are also different--for better or worse.
Although neither you nor I know what you will be like ten years hence, we both know that you won't be the same.
We have two alternatives in this constant change: We can take responsibility to direct the change toward positive growth, or we can blunder aimlessly without purpose or direction in our lives.
Having considered the analogies and alternatives of growth, it is time now to
look at the activities of growth.
Activities Of Growth
Paul tells Timothy about three activities of growth: "If you give these instructions to the brothers you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, as you feed yourself spiritually on the words of faith and of the true teaching which you have followed. But keep away from those godless legends, which are not worth telling. Keep yourself in training for a godly life. Physical exercise has some value in it, but spiritual exercise is valuable in every way, because it promises life both for now and for the future. This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed. We struggle and work hard, because we have placed our hope in the living God, who is Savior of all and especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:6-10 TEV).
Diet is the first activity of growth. Paul warns you to avoid the junk food of "godless legends" which have no nutritional value, but instead, to "feed yourself spiritually on the words of faith and of the true teaching which you have followed." To feed yourself spiritually on the words of faith means something more than mere Bible reading. If you have a headache, you can put an aspirin on top of your head, and you'll still have a headache. It must be consumed and digested. Likewise, you can read the Bible and stay the way you are. Or you can feed on it--take it in and live it out. Like aspirin, it does no good until it gets inside.
Exercise is the second activity of growth. Paul concedes that physical exercise has some value in it, but he argues that spiritual exercise is valuable in every way. As important as tennis, handball, golf, jogging and aerobics may be, there is something even more important. Lack of spiritual exercise produces flabby faith.
Hard times are the Christian's calesthenics. They are designed not to punish us but to strengthen us.
"Ill fares the church to hastening ills a prey When life gets easy and people decay." (paraphrased proverb)
Christians are like tea--their real strength is not drawn out until they get into hot water.
Spiritual exercise is more important than physical exercise because it builds strong muscles not only for life now, but for life hereafter. The day will come when your body will lie in the grave, but your spirit will live forever.
Hope is the third activity of growth. Paul says, "We struggle and work hard because we have placed our hope in the living God." All natural growth ends in decay, but Christian growth ends in glory and immortality. The dullest people you know may one day become creatures so glorious that if you saw them now, you would be strongly tempted to worship them. John on Patmos knelt to worship an angel who said, "Don't do it! I am a fellow servant of yours, and of all those who obey the words of this book. Worship God!" (Revelation 22:8-9).
We shall grow greater than the greatest angels in the heavenly hosts: we shall become like Jesus! "My dear friends, we are now God's children, but is not yet clear what we shall become. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2 TEV).
Paul agrees: "We shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God: we shall become mature people reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature" (Ephesians 4:13 TEV).
You have incredible growth potential!
Are you old enough to remember the ninety pound weakling who had sand kicked in his face until he sent off for the Charles Atlas body building course? Charles Atlas was the model of every puny kid in our block. But there is a better model--Jesus Christ. He is our hope and our help.
Who can you trust now-a-days? Would you go to a doctor whose office philadendrun had died? Would you eat at a restaurant that doesn't have garbage cans? Would you bank at an S & L with temporary offices in a mobile home? Would you let a mechanic with clean fingernails work on your car? Would you listen a preacher who puts a calendar instead of a clock in the pulpit? We seem to be going though a dependence depression...a time when faith in our fellow man is overpriced and people are no longer accepted at face value.
Solomon said "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not to thine
own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy
paths" (Proverbs 3:5,6). The secret to security is found in two commands and a
promise: trust the Lord with all your heart and obey the Lord in all your ways
and the Lord will direct you in all your paths.
Trust The Lord With All Your Heart
The Lord deserves our exclusive trust. Leaning on our own understanding is practical atheism. Many Christians who abhor theoretical atheism nevertheless often act as though there is no God. They lean on their understanding just as though God had nothing to say. They pray fervently, "Oh, God, lead, guide and direct me;" then they grab the steering wheel. "When in doubt ask God" is good advice provided you make up your mind always to be in doubt until you consider what God wants.
Your own understanding is a notoriously unreliable guide. Life can only be understood backward--if at all. But it must be lived forward. We stand now on the wrong side of the tapestry of life. It is a confusion of colors, knots and loose ends. But God assures us that on the other side there is a beautiful pattern.
God has a wonderful plan for your life. He couldn't have a plan for the whole that doesn't include a plan for the parts. There could be no will of God for the world that doesn't include a will for your life.
You can't unscrew the inscrutable. You don't have to understand God's plan, you only have to stand on it. Just because you don't understand electricity, you don't have to sit in the dark until you do. Knowing how to turn on the light is enough. Anatole France said, "It is better to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot." Lean not to your own understanding.
Sure it takes a lot of courage To put things in God's hands To trust in him completely-- Your life, your hope, your plans To follow where he leads you And make his will your own. But all it takes is foolishness To go the way alone. Lean not to your own understanding.
Show me what a person trusts with all his or her heart and I will show you that person's God. Only the Lord Jesus is worthy of your complete trust. Trusting him is not so much a duty as it is a privilege.
Trust him when dark doubts assail you; Trust him when your strength is small; Trust him when to simply trust him Seems the hardest thing of all.
Reliance on the Lord calls for obedience to the Lord. Moses slew an Egyptian and then spent the next forty years hiding in the Sinai desert. In slaying the Egyptian he did in a small way what he would later be doing in a big way, but he didn't do it God's way and at God's command and time.
Understanding can wait, obedience can't. The Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All you have to do is follow. Christianity is not a voice in the wilderness, but a life in the world; it is not an idea in the air, but feet on the ground going God's way.
Count your obligations. Name them one by one. And it will surprise you What the Lord wants done.
Whatever the Lord will have you do he will help you do. You can depend on him to keep his promises. Neither his commands nor his promises are metaphors. God says, "If you have the will, I have the way." But you can't expect a way to be opened to you across the Red Sea if you are in Pharoah's army!
Discovering God's will for your life is not a technique, but a relationship. The Bible affirms that God is related to his people in the same way a husband is related to his wife (Hosea 2:19ff; Ephesians 5:31,32). In a healthy marriage, how does a husband give guidance to his wife? There may be some marriages where the husband "lays down the law" and directs his wife by giving her strict commands and specific advice. And God has, on occasion, done this too--especially in the Old Testament. But that kind of guidance is usually found in marriages under duress. In better times, the guidance comes in a different form, whether from a husband to his wife or from God to his people.
Usually when my wife and I try to reach a decision on a matter of importance we talk it over in a climate of love and trust. The mutual sharing is so intimate that at the conclusion, neither of us is sure what each contributed to the ultimate result.
At its best, God's guidance is like that. Occasionally he plays along with the Gideons among us who want to put out fleeces to verify his direction (Judges 6:36-40). And sometimes he speaks directly and specificly to the Saint Paul's who are sent on some Macedonian mission (Acts 16:9,10). But usually his direction is as quiet and subtle as the mutual understanding between loving couples.
The Bible contains little specific advice on the techniques of divine guidance, but much on the proper way to maintain a loving relationship with God. Abraham didn't know where he was going, but he knew with whom he was going (Hebrews 11:8-10). And for the person of faith, that's enough.
If you want divine guidance, get close to God. The nearer you are to him, the less likely you are to make dumb mistakes. The problem is so many of us are like the fifth carbon copy--there's so much between us and God, the impression is very light. Azariah, the prophet, made it clear to the armies of Israel: "The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with him" (2 Chronicles 15:2 Living Bible).
Finding God's will comes in reverse order to what we usually expect. The trick is not to know God's will and then do it, but to do God's will and then know it. Paul says, "Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God--what is pleasing to him and is perfect" (Romans 12:1,2 TEV).
God shows you two parts of his will: (a) the end of your path of obedience, the glory of God in heaven; and (b) the next step. Between the next step and the end of our journey is a vast unknown territory that will be disclosed and proven as God's will as you surrender to him each day.
The surest method of discovering God's eternal will for your life is found in the right use of the present moment. Each hour comes carrying some small portion of God's will. Jeremiah prayed, "O Lord, I know it is not within the power of man to map his life and plan his course--so you correct me, Lord; but please be gentle" (Jeremiah 11:23).
Annie Johnson Flint wrote: He's helping me now--this moment, Though I may not see it or hear, Perhaps by a friend far distant, Perhaps by a stranger near, Perhaps by a spoken message, Perhaps the printed word, In ways I know and know not I have the help of the Lord. He's helping me now--this moment, However I need it most Perhaps by a single angel, Perhaps by a mighty host, Perhaps by the chain that frets me, Or the walls that shut me in; In ways I know and know not, He keeps me from harm and sin. He's guiding me now--this moment, In pathways easy and hard, Perhaps by a door wide open, Perhaps be a door fast barred, Perhaps by a joy witholden, Perhaps by a gladness given; In ways that I know and know not, He's leading me up to heaven. He's using me now--this moment, And whether I go or stand, Perhaps by a plan accomplished, Perhaps when He stays my hand, Perhaps by a word in season Perhaps by a silent prayer, In ways that I know and know not, His labor of love I share.
Grow with Christ by growing in your dependence.
There are two ways to get to the top of an oak tree. You can climb or sit on an acorn. Too many Christians are trying the latter method in their approach to Christian growth. The purpose of these lessons is to help you get off your acorn and exert yourself in Growing with Christ.
The Apostle Peter did a lot of growing. In his early ministry with Christ he blew hot and cold. He was up and down like a yo yo. "You'll never wash my feet," he protested to Jesus. Then when Jesus explained that refusing to receive ministry excluded him from being a disciple, he went to the other extreme saying, "Not just my feet then, but my hands and head" (John 13:7-9). I'll follow you though all the others forsake you," he blustered. Then a few days later we find him denying three times with an oath that he even knew the Lord (Matthew 26:33-35).
Peter was a slow learner. Christ could probably have finished his ministry in two and a half years if he didn't have to keep explaining things to Peter. But though he was slow, he learned his lesson well and eventually earned his name--the rock. At the end of his life the last recorded words he wrote were, "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen! (2 Peter 3:18).
These final words from a man who had been through a number of painful growing
experiences speak of two important ways in which Christians grow.
Grow In The Grace Of Our Lord And Savior
All true spiritual growth begins with divine grace, not human effort. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not good advice on how to try harder, but good news that God's grace reaches losers who have tried and failed.
Grace is unmerited favor. There is no way you can deserve it or earn it or bring it about anymore than you can deserve the taste of strawberries or earn good looks, or bring about your own birth.
A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain on a fresh mowed lawn is grace. Somebody loving you is grace, and so is loving someone else. Have you ever tried to love somebody?
The unique feature of Christian faith is the doctrine that people are saved by grace.
There's nothing you have to do. There is nothing you have to do. There is nothing you have to do. Salvation is a free gift.
Grace means you don't have to work your tail off to be loved by God. And if you do, you may have trouble being loved by your wife or husband or children.
Grace says: "Here's your life. You might not have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you."
Grace says: "Here's your world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. But don't be afraid. I am with you. It's for you that I created the universe. I love you."
You can't improve the content of grace, but you can improve its container. What you are is God's gift to you. But what you become is your gift to God. And when you have become all God intended, by grace you will look back on it with profound thanksgiving.
Growth in grace is essential to life. There are many imitations but no substitute for grace. Instead of God's new wine, religious adolescents try to substitute a spiritual pepsi that often loses it fizz three hours after it is uncapped. Like the dreamer who lost his vision and inspiration, they try to live on the experiences of the past. Some Christians seem to be saved, sanctified and petrified.
All natural growth eventually ends in decay. The the beautiful trees in your yard will someday become firewood, sawdust, and compost. All natural growth ends in final decay. But growth in grace ends in glory and immortality.
Growth in grace is not just gradually giving up sin, but becoming by grace what Christ is by nature. God never demands that you "repent a little bit." You can't find that in your Bible. Your growth is stunted whenever you pray in effect, "Lord, make me pure, chaste and holy--but not yet, please!"
Give your life to God. He can do more with it than you can. Yourself in your own hands is a pain and problem. But yourself in the hands of God is a power and a possibility.
Ruth Carter Stapleton's spiritual advisor gave her words of wisdom when he said, "Remember two things, Ruth. First, God will do everything you cannot do in order that you might live. Second, God will do nothing you can do in order that you might grow."
Grow in the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. "O Jesus come and dwell with me, Walk in my steps today. Live in my life, love in my love, And speak in all that I say. Think in my thoughts, Let all my acts thy very action be. So it shall be no longer I, But Christ that lives in me." (See Galatians 2:20.)
The second part of spiritual growth of which Peter speaks is Growth in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior. There are two ways to grow in knowledge: knowledge about him and knowledge of him.
Grow in knowledge about him. Unless you know more about Jesus Christ today than you did this time last year, you forfeit your claim to be his disciple. Disciple literally means "learner." The most important body of information for a Christian is the story of Jesus.
"Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, Sweetest that every was heard." (Fanny Crosby)
Will Rogers said, "Everybody's ignorant, only in different subjects." The one subject on which no Christian should be ignorant is the life and ministry of Christ.
Because Jesus is an historical person, there is much you may learn about him. It is important to acquire factual information about him which may be rigorously tested for accuracy. Our theological seminaries must engage in historical, critical Bible Study.
But the church is more than a Biblical research society. Growth in knowledge about Christ is essential, but not sufficient for your spiritual welfare. It is not enough to merely know about Christ.
The best theological book in my library is not as good as one the devil himself could write. But for all his information, he is still the devil.
I believe, for example, in the literal virgin birth of Christ, but that doesn't make me any better or worse a person than believing any other piece of historical data. Neither the devil nor I get much credit for what we believe about Jesus or God (James 2:19).
Grow in knowledge of him. The most important kind of knowledge is not information, but relationship. We are talking about the difference between knowing someone and knowing about someone. You can know about Socrates, but you can never know him. On the other hand, you can know personally the risen Christ. He not only died to be your Savior, he arose to be your friend and companion. Your knowledge of him can be both factual and relational.
Your growth in knowledge is never complete until you know the love of Christ which passes knowledge (Ephesians 3:19), the peace of God which passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), and the ways of God which are past finding out (Romans 11:33).
So get off your acorns! Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen!
Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, first told the story which has been remembered for a hundred years. Once upon a time a flock of geese gathered in the corner of a barn yard every Sunday. Their most eloquent orator got up on the fence and spoke about the wonders goosedom. He recounted the exploits of their forefathers who dared to mount upon on wings and fly. He spoke of the mercy of the Creator who had given geese wings and the ability to soar through the sky. All the geese were deeply impressed and nodded their heads in solemn agreement. They returned week after week to hear further lectures on the history flying and to sing (squawk is a better word) about the glories of the sky. All this they did. But one thing they did not do. They didn't fly. Instead they waddled off to the comfort and security of the barnyard.
Just a some geese have lost interest in flying, so some Christians have become domesticated. To them Paul speaks this challenging word: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
What flying is to a goose, the "work of the Lord" is to a Christian. It is anything anyone does anywhere and anytime that fulfills God's purposes.
Too many have made the mistake of dividing work into categories of sacred and secular. They turn the church into an institution staffed by paid professionals and funded by laity in secular jobs. They suppose that the work of God goes forth only on weekends when members of a great army of preachers and missionaries move out to "do their thing." But in truth the work of God goes forth when members of a vast army of working men and women strategically infiltrate all society by virtue of their jobs and become God's partners in bringing life abundant to a dying world.
Notice that Paul doesn't address his remarks to the apostles and prophets,
but to the "beloved brethren." That's you!
Three Great Characteristics Of Our Work For The Lord
Paul says there are three things that should characterize our work for the Lord: it should be steadfast, unmovable and always abounding.
Is your work for the Lord steadfast? There are three kinds of Laborers: shirkers, jerkers and workers. Shirkers are "lily Christians"--they toil not neither do they spin (Mt. 6:28). Their favorite verse is "I pray thee, have me excused" (Lk. 14:18). Instead of standing on the promises, they are sitting on the premises. They aim at nothing and hit it every time.
Our churches are full of willing workers. Some are willing to work and the rest are willing to let them. What we need are more standbys and fewer bystanders.
Jerkers are a slight improvement over the shirkers. But their problem is they are all jawbone and no backbone. They volunteer for leadership positions, but burn out before the job is finished. They run on an adrenalin high until they meet resistance. It usually comes in the form of criticism, or inertia, or one of the shirkers we have just met. Then they quit. They leave to others the odious job of picking up the pieces of a broken dream. They go up like a rocket and come down like a rock.
You may feel that your abilities are severely limited, but there is one ability that everyone can have: dependability. Dependability is the most important ability of all the virtues. It is more useful than brilliance or creativity. Do you finish what you start? Are you dependable? Stopping at third base adds no more to the score than striking out. A diamond is a chunk of coal that stuck to its job.
Besides the shirkers and jerkers, every church has a few workers. They are the loyal laborers who are always on the job week after week, year after year. If at first they don't succeed, they try a little ardor. In trying times they keep on trying. They are the ones to whom Jesus will say someday, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things, enter now into the joy of your Lord" (Mt. 25: 21).
We need people who are growing in their commitment to the point where they are steadfast and unmovable. Notice that the word is not "unmoved." The word Paul used refers to being loosed from one's moorings. With faith firmly anchored to the "Rock of Ages," you can face frustration with unshakable resolve. You may, indeed, move from one job to another, but you must never move from your central purpose in life.
Is your work for the Lord steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding? God wants you to soar like an eagle, not scratch like a sparrow.
The word Paul used for "abounding" is the same word Jesus used to describe exceeding others (Mt. 5:20), exceeding a minimum (Lk. 15:17), or exceeding what has been done in the past (Mk. 15:4). It means to go beyond the bare minimum. Those who do only what is required are slaves; those who do more than required are truly free.
Are you abounding in your work for the Lord? Here's a good thing to remember, And a better thing to do Work with the construction gang-- Not with the wrecking crew.
Paul says you should be" always abounding in your work for the Lord."
The Christian life is the life of "always." The Bible tells you, "Let your
speech be always with grace (Col. 4:6)....Rejoice in the Lord
always; and again I say rejoice (Phil. 4:4)....As you have always
obeyed, not in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your
own salvation (Phil. 2:12)....Be ready always to give an answer to every
one who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Pet. 3:15)....Lo, I am
with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mt. 18:20).
One Great Promise Of Our Work For The Lord
After stating three great characteristics of our work for the Lord, Paul offers one great promise: "Your labor is not in vain, in the Lord."
Any labor not "in the Lord" is in vain indeed. It is equivalent to polishing the brass and arranging the deck chairs on the ship Titanic.
A good test of the vanity of all you do is to ask the question: what will it matter one hundred years from now? It won't matter unless in some way what you do touches the life of some eternal soul. In that case, it matters much and it matters forever.
1 Corinthians 15:58 comes at the end of the longest chapter in the Bible on the resurrection of Christ and his followers. For fifty-seven verses Paul argues that just as Christ arose, so you will rise with him on the last day. Then he says, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
You labor is not in vain in the Lord because you and those whose lives you touch are going to live forever. Compared to you, a diamond is not forever; long after it has been worn to dust, you'll still be going strong.
But if your work is not "in the Lord" it is wasted effort--no matter what you think you may have accomplished. It's hard to be a star on a losing team.
But the game of life isn't over till it's over. The message of the Book of Revelation which many find so confusing is really quite simple: no matter how bad things seem at the moment, when it's all over, the scoreboard will show Christ wins--and so do you. If you can remember that promise, it will help you to face frustration in the work of the Lord and still be steadfast, unmovable, and always abounding. Frankly, I'd rather lose in a winning cause than win in a loosing cause, wouldn't you?
The work of the Lord is ultimately the world's highest paid labor. Though our profit-sharing plan, we have become rich--and, what's more, we can take it with us! (Mat. 6:19-21). Our reward is not just pie in the sky by and by when we die, but abundant living here and now (John 10:10). Christians discover that they are paid best for those things the do for nothing.
What on earth are you doing for heaven's sake? I mean it literally. What are you doing on earth for the sake of heaven? Too many people spell service, "serve us." What are you doing for heaven's sake?
Do all you can Where you are With what you have.
To show his love Christ died for you. To show your love you must live for him. Grow in your commitment to Christ.
Let none hear you idly saying, There is nothing I can do! While the souls of men are dying, And the Master calls for you. Take the task he gives you gladly, Let his work your pleasure be; Answer quickly as he calleth "Here am I, send me! Send me!"
Some unknown writer has chronicled the following prayer life.
At five years of age. Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray theLord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
At ten years of age. Our Father who art in heaven hallowed bethy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. And, please God, help me lick Jim Martin, and don't let Eloise like him better than she does me, and don't forget to send me a toy airplane.
At fifteen years of age. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us. And God bless father and mother and Eloise. And please let me be chosen for the basketball team.
At twenty years of age. Dear God, make me a good sport at college, and don't let me ever do a mean thing, even to Jim Martin, and help me to keep decent in every way, so that I will be good enough for Eloise when I get through. And take care of Mom and Dad.
At twenty-five years of age. (Not praying)
At thirty years of age. O, my God, help me to carry on whenwe go over the top tomorrow morning. Don't let me be afraid to die if my number comes up. But, O God, let me live to see Eloise and little Mary again. O, my God, when will this awful war be over? If I have to go, take care of Eloise and comfort her.
At thirty-five years of age. Dear Father, help me to make a success of this new undertaking. Let me make good for the sake of Eloise and the children, but don't let me become so besotted with success that I will grow cruel and mean and grasping.
At forty years of age. O God, spare my little son. Spare mylittle son. Spare his life. O, God, my little son! Nevertheless, Thy will be done.
At forty-five years of age. O, God, take care of our childrenaway from home and guard them from temptation. Let Jack grow up to be splendid man and a comfort to his mother in the loss of Ned.
At fifty years of age. Father, show me the right thing to dofor Jim Martin. Shall I help him go out West or start him up in business again here? Give me thy guidance.
At fifty-five years of age. Our Father, help Mary bear thetrial that has come upon her. Help her not to become bitter or hard because of it, but to grow finer and more understanding. If it is thy will let her love win her husband back, but if not, give her the strength to give him up, but don't let it warp her, dear Father, or make her petty.
At sixty years of age. Comfort the children for the loss oftheir dear mother. Comfort all those who mourn, and make them believe in thee and thy world of light and happiness beyond, where Eloise is gone.
At sixty-five years of age. O God, I ought not to complain,but the loss of my dear one is too heavy upon me. Give me courage to go on alone. God help me to teach these grandchildren of mine, before I die, not to expect too much or too little of their fellowman.
At three-score and ten years of age. O God, I thank theethat my time is come and I am going to join Eloise. Don't let them mourn for me. They wouldn't if they knew how lonely it has been without her. Just putting in time. Comfort them, Father, and use the love they have for me to loose their hold on the things that do not matter. God bless them and keep them. Amen.
Are you growing in your prayers? Can you see progress? Paul writes to the
Philippians, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God"
(Philippians 4:6). Three things important things this teaches us: be fearful for
nothing, prayerful for everything, and thankful for anything.
Fearful For Nothing
Jesus' remedy for fear is found in Luke 12:4-7. "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot afterward do anything worse. I will show you whom to fear: fear God, who after killing, has the authority to throw into hell. Believe me, he is the one you must fear!
"Aren't five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one sparrow is forgotten by God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows."
At first glance Jesus seems to be contradicting himself: "Fear God (and)....do not be afraid." Actually it is the most profound prescription ever given against the epidemic of fear. Nothing else seems to work. Trying to stop worrying is like trying to go to sleep. The more you work at it the more impossible it becomes. Relief is not found in pretending that what frightens you is not real, but in acknowledging God who is greater than your fears. Fear him and you will have nothing else to fear. David says, "I will fear no evil, (not because the evil isn't real and dangerous, but because....) thou art with me" (Psalm 23).
You need Exodus 20:20 vision: "Do not fear; for God has come to prove you, and that the fear of him may be before your eyes" (Ex. 20:20 RSV). Paradoxical as it appears, a God-fearing man or woman is freed from the fears that afflict others. The second verse of John Newton's great hymn, "Amazing Grace," says it well: "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved."
Fear can be a good thing when it leads you to strong confidence in God instead of yourself. But the problem is your god may be too small. You may worship a god too feeble to protect you. You are like deep sea divers encased in suits designed for many fathoms deep marching bravely to pull plugs out of bath tubs.
Meet your fears with faith and love. "God is love" (1John 4:16). And "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4). Of course, so does alcohol, stupidity and rage, but God's love does it better. The same channels through which the polluted waters of fear flow can also carry the healing waters of faith and love. What a difference it will make when you realize that nothing can happen to you that is too big or too bad for you and God to handle together.
The Bible contains examples of God's "chickens" who overcame their fears.
Abraham, the mighty man of faith, chickened out in Egypt. He told Pharaoh Sarah
was his sister so he wouldn't kill him to marry her. Moses chickened out at the
burning bush. He said, "Here am I Lord, send Aaron. I can't even make a public
speech." Saul hid at his inauguration. And David saw Bathsheba skinny dipping
and thought "I want to meditate with her." He chickened out, killed Uriah, her
husband, and became the worst father in biblical history.All these were first
class chickens, but they became great lions of faith when they learned to fear
God instead of circumstances.
Prayerful For Everything
You are fearful of nothing when you are prayerful for everything. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication. Let your requests be known unto God." You fear much when you pray little. Nearly every pastor has heard the story of the deacons who visited their pastor in the hospital. They said, "Pastor, you will be happy to know that at the last Deacon's meeting we voted to pray for your recovery. It carried, 8 to 5!"
A woman asked another pastor to pray for her gall bladder in his pulpit prayer. He said, "It's not my habit to be so specific in public prayer."
"Oh, but you are!" the woman exclaimed. "Just last week you prayed for all the loose livers."
Nothing is too trivial to be brought in prayer to the throne of God. Whatever is the subject of your thoughts must be the subject of your prayers--whether in penitence or in petition. Those who are not accustomed to addressing God over small matters will have no habit to help them when the great trials come. Too many people pray for emergency supplies when they should be praying for daily rations.
Praying about trivial things is no sign of trivial faith. People of little or no faith can pray about great things: world peace or global catastrophes. Saints pray for their "daily bread." Your reluctance to pray for small matter is due more, I suspect, to a sense of your own dignity rather than God's.
Being prayerful for everything doesn't mean God will give youeverything. Remember the little girl who prayed, "Lord, please make Boston the capital of Vermont, because that's what I wrote on my examination." You find it hard to get what you want from God because you don't want the best. God finds it hard to give because he would give you the best, but you won't take it.
If you had been living when Christ was on earth And had met the Savior kind, What would you have asked him to do for you, Supposing you were stone blind? A child considered and then replied, I expect that, without a doubt, I'd ask for a dog, with collar and chain, To lead me daily about. And how often thus, in faithless prayer, (We acknowledge with shamed surprise). We have only asked for a dog and chain, When we might have had--opened eyes.
God finds it hard to give because we want less than the best.
"In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,
let your requests be known unto God."
Thankful For Anything
"What have to be thankful for?" one man complained. "I can't even pay my bills."
"Just be thankful," his friend replied, "that you are not one of your creditors."
"With thanksgiving, let your requests be known unto God." Your thanks should be as fervent for mercies received as your petitions for mercies sought.
Thanklessness starts early. Many children write letters of request to Santa Claus before Christmas. Few write him letters of thanks after Christmas. It's the old story repeated in many forms of ten lepers who begged and received healing from Jesus. Only one (a Samaritan) returned to give thanks.
A thankful heart doubles your blessings, causing you to enjoy them twice: once when you receive them and again when you remember them.
Count your blessing instead of your bruises. Think how much happier you would be if you could forget your troubles as easily as you forget your blessings. Don't wait until your cup is empty to be thankful for the time when it was full. Remember the guy who grumbled because he had to get up in the morning until the morning when he couldn't get up.
Paul told the Thessalonians, "In everything give thanks" (1 Thess. 5:18). The famous Biblical expositor, Matthew Henry, had the misfortune to be robbed by thieves. Afterward, he found four things for which he was thankful. That day he wrote these words in his diary: "Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed."
Grow in your prayers to where you are fearful for nothing, prayerful for everything and thankful for anything. If you do, your benediction is found in the next scripture verse: "And the peace of God which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).
Who needs to go to a baseball stadium filled with fanatics who sit on hard bleachers for two or three hours and eat cold hot dogs to watch a game they can't see without binoculars? Why put up with that when you can sit comfortably at home in your reclining Lazy-Boy, munch potato chip and enjoy a bird's eye view on your TV?
Every true baseball fan knows the answer to that question. "Ya gotta be there to understand what's it's all about," they declare. Watching it on TV or hearing it on the radio or reading about it in the newspaper is never quite as good as actually being there. Being there adds something to the game that no color TV or Lazy-Boy recliner can match.
For example, there's the spirit of the game: the electric excitement in the air, the thunder of crowd over a homerun. There's the fellowship of the game: sports fans feel they are part of something bigger than their little world. They rise to their feet yelling instructions to the players and, umpires and go home saying, "We won," or "We lost." It's a spirit and fellowship that is hard to capture when you are sitting alone in front of a TV screen.
Why go to a ball park when you can watch it on TV? Indeed, every sports fan thinks the answer is so self-evident that the question is dumb. But let me ask a another dumb question: why go to church when you can worship God in other places? It is true that you can sing hymns as well in the shower as in the choir loft--maybe better! And you can read the Bible in bed as well as in a pew. And you can probably hear better sermons and anthems on TV than in your own church. Since going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than swimming in the ocean makes you a fish, why bother?
The answer is, "Ya gotta be there to understand." There is a spirit and fellowship you can't get in any other way. Worship at its best, like baseball at its best, is a group event--a feeling of love and respect for God which you share with other people. Worshiping God by yourself is like eating steak and lobster by yourself: you miss the joy of sharing something good with someone else. Good food tastes better when is eaten with family and friends. Good jokes are funnier when others join in the laughter. And Christian faith is better when it is a part of Christian fellowship.
That's what the writer of Hebrews was trying to get across to some Christians
in the first century A.D. when their church attendance became irregular: "Not
forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but
exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the day approaching"
Irregular church attendance is old problem. That makes me sad and gives me hope. It makes me sad to know that there were some who could sit at the feet of the apostles, but who prefered to sit at home. But it gives me hope because we can learn from the mistakes of the early church how to deal with the same situation today.
We should find it easier than they. They suffered religious persecution while we enjoy religious freedom. To many of us, however, religious freedom means our choice of churches to stay away from.
Our excuses are manifold. Our reasons are as unreasonable as this explanation of why fire trucks are red. Fire trucks have four wheels and eight men. Four and eight are twelve and there are twelve inches in a foot. A foot is a ruler. Queen Elizabeth is a ruler and her ships sail the seven seas. Seas have fish and fish have fins and the Finns fought the Russians who are red. Since fire trucks are always "rushin'"...therefore, fire trucks are red!
Excuses always betray your value system. They tell what you consider to be more important than going to church. Let me say something that will probably surprise you: You should not go to church if you have something better to do! I remember reading the headline of a magazine article which declared, "Don't ever read a good book." The point of the article was that you should never waste time reading a good book when there a better one you could read. Since you don't have time to do good things, you should do only the best.
Are you really putting first things first? Do you give God the first day of the week, the first hour of the day, the first tithe of your income? Are you seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33)? You'll find the rest of your life goes better when you do.
No one can break away from the church without feeling the fracture in his or her soul. When Adam and Eve sinned, they failed to meet God at the appointed hour. God was there, but Adam and Eve were absent (Genesis 3:9). "Where are you?" God asked. And God continues to ask that same question of about 40% of our church members every Sunday. We sons and daughters of those first parents do the same thing they did. The further from God we get, the less interest we have in meeting him. Like motors, we start "sputtering" before we miss and start "missing" before we quit.
One of the hardest questions I'm asked is "How many members belong to your church?" I honestly don't know. The only thing I'm sure about is that the reported number isn't right. There are people on the rolls of our church who don't belong to our church. What's the difference? Well take Mrs. Imma Deadwood, for instance. Imma's name is our our church rolls, but her time doesn't belong to our church. Her affection doesn't belong to our church. Her energy doesn't belong to our church. Her money doesn't belong to our church. She never refers to the church as "my church" and the pastor as "my pastor." It's always "those people" and "that preacher." Since her visits to the church are so infrequent, she has no feeling of belonging to the church family. The church is not a spiritual home to her. To be perfectly honest, there isn't one ounce of Imma that truly belongs to our church.
Church membership without church attendance whenever possible is a disgrace. If your son died saving your neighbor from a fire, how would you feel if the neighbor skipped the funeral to watch TV? Don't you see that God's Son died to save you. Of course it isn't his funeral we celebrate, but his resurrection. How much more should you be present in gratitude?
When Astronauts Gus Grissom and Ed Young returned from their Gemini flight, President Lyndon Johnson telephoned them to congratulate them and invite them to the White House. Then in his characteristically Texas way, he added, "If you can make it." You and I know Grissom and Young made it! But suppose they had not made it? Suppose they were tired after a hard week in space and planned to sleep late and mow the lawn? So they sent their regrets to the president's invitation. Or perhaps without regrets they just didn't show up. The table was set for them, but their place was inexplicably vacant. Of course, it is unthinkable that anyone would spurn an invitation from the President. Yet every Sunday thoughtless Christian spurn an invitation from the King of Kings to sit at his table on the Lord's Day.
The Lord's day is a firm foundation on which to build a six-story week. You'll find that all the rest of life fits better when you acquire the habit of regular church attendance. Just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25), so Christians love the church and give themselves for it.
I love thy kingdom, Lord, The house of thine abode, The Church our blest Redeemer saved With his own precious blood. For her my tears shall fall; For her my prayers ascend; To her my cares and toils be given, Till toils and cares shall end. (Timothy Dwight, 1800)
After we come together, what do we do? Hebrews 10:25 suggests "exhorting one another." We need each other. Separation kills. Take a glowing coal from the fire and lay it aside from the rest of the coals, and it will grow cold. Take a budding branch from a tree and lay it aside, and it will dry up and die. Take a child of God from the family of God where he or she is sustained by the fellowship of the church, and he or she will grow spiritually dead. A coal can be tossed back into the fire and a branch can be grafted back into the tree, but only the dying Christian can put himself or herself back into the life-giving fellowship of God's church.
The word for "exhorting" is paraclete, one of the names of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit comforts, encourages and exhorts people through people. The
Spirit of Christ can meet you in many ways, but especially where two or three
are gathered in his name. You go to church so that the Holy Spirit can meet your
needs through the strengths of others and meet their needs through your
strengths. That's how we "stir one another up to love and good works" (Hebrews
"Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. It is not good preparation for your first Sunday in heaven to have misspent your last Sunday on earth.
If you want to be there when the roll is called up yonder, shouldn't you be present when the roll is called down here? Paul warns, "Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8). In other words, what you've got coming later is what you've got going now. What you weave in time you will wear in eternity.
It's strange, but true.... Some people hope their faith is strong enough to get them to heaven when it isn't strong enough to get them to church. Some people hope to spend eternity praising and serving God with the saints and angels in glory, but won't spend two hours a week doing the same thing on earth. Believe it or not!
Grow in your fellowship. Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, but encourage one another. And so much the more as you see the day approaching.
Given the title of this chapter, I'm surprised that you are reading it. Who wants to grow in sacrifice?
It brings to mind the old story of the pig and chicken who met a poor, hungry man. The pig said, "We ought to do something to help that poor guy."
"Why don't we give him a ham and egg breakfast?" the chicken suggested.
"That's easy for you to say," the pig responded. "For you it is a generous contribution, but for me it is a personal sacrifice!"
The pig has a point. Who wants to grow in sacrifice? Nearly everyone wants to grow in dependence, knowledge, commitment, prayers, and fellowship....but sacrifice?
But, on the other hand, if we are serious about growing with Christ, we will certainly have to grow in our sacrifice. Nearly everybody knows and loves John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." But a companion verse, I John 3:16 carries the same thought one step further, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."
Some wise man has said, "The four most important words in the English language are I, me, mine and money." Sacrifice is something most people avoid if they can, perform if they must, and brag about forever.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who buy fur coats and
those who buy firewood. The first seek to warm themselves; the second seek to
Self-centeredness is the religion of our age. Its Bible is the sales catalogue; its temple is the shopping mall; its high priests are advertising executives; and its creed is "please yourself."
Consumer mentality may be good when deciding between brands of toothpaste or wall paint, but it is fatal as a philosophy of life. It destroys life's most valuable relationships.
Self-centeredness destroys marital relationships. The only difference between a marital relationship and a martial relationship is a misplaced "I." The same misplaced "I" will turn a united home into an untied home. In a futile effort at fairness husbands and wives try to balance their equally self-centered interests. It usually ends with the husband telling the wife what to do and the wife telling the husband where to go. Self-centeredness turns holy wedlock into unholy deadlock.
Self-centeredness destorys civic relationships. Some citizens swing to the right and others swing to the left, but most are self-centered. They evaluate every law and governmental action by how it benefits them personally. President John Kennedy called attention to this in his famous speech when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
Self-centeredness destroys divine relationships. Ever since the garden of Eden mankind has been arguing with God whether it is "My will be done" or "Thy will be done." Grammarian C. S. Lewis said that man was created to be an adjective, but is sinfully trying to be a noun. God cannot possess the self-possessed.
Self-centeredness just doesn't work as a philosophy of life. The problem is self-seekers never find themselves. Jesus said, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 16:24-25).
Christians know all that, but their minds have been so corrupted by the spirit of the age that they continue to talk the talk while they no longer walk the walk or live the life.
We are like the Romeo who wrote to his Juliet, "I would climb the most rugged and precipitous mountain to see the light of your eyes. I would swim any body of water far wilder and wider than the Hellespont to sit at your side. I would go through tempests and torrential rains to sit at your feet. Yours forever. P.S. See you tomorrow night if it doesn't rain."
You fool yourself, but not your Lord when you sing: I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord Real service is what I desire; I'll say what you want me to say, dear Lord-- But please don't ask me to sing in the choir. I'll say what you want me to say, dear Lord, I'd like to see things come to pass; Don't ask me to teach girls and boys, dear Lord-- I'd rather just stay in my class. I'll do what you want me to do, dear Lord, I yearn for thy kingdom to thrive, I'll give you my nickels and dimes, dear Lord-- But please don't ask me to tithe. I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord, I'll say what you want me to say; I'm busy just now with myself, dear Lord-- I'll help you some other day.
Your problem is not weak will power; it is strong won't power. God can't have his way while you are in the way.
Are you flirting with Christ or following him? Flirtation is attention
without intention. A flirt is someone who wants all the excitement of a
relationship with none of the responsibilities. Do you want the candy and
flowers of salvation, but not the loyal devotion of self-sacrifice? Do you want
the crown, but not the cross? If so, then you are not following Christ. You're
just flirting with him.
The polar opposite of the self-centered religion of our age is the self-sacrifice of the religion of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Romans, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1).
We are motivated by mercy. It is the mercy of God, not the fear of God that moves us to sacrificial love. The big "therefore" in the first verse of chapter twelve looks back to the first eleven chapters of Paul's epistle to the Romans. It marks the transition from the doctrinal to the ethical, from the theological to the practical, from what Christians believe to how they behave.
Writing to a church in a city he had not yet visited, Paul is undistracted in his purpose to set forth the mercies of God. He describes the condemnation of the whole world in sin (1-3:20). Then he announces justification by faith in the finished work of Christ (3:21-5:21). Then he declares sanctification and renewal through union with Christ (6-8). Finally, he explains the vindication of God's dealing with Israel's rejection of Christ (9-11). His theme through it all is the mercies of God. We are motivated by mercy.
We would not work our souls to save For that the Lord hath done. But we would work like any slave For the love of God's dear Son.
We are motivated by the mercies of God to present our bodies, not just our hearts or souls, as a sacrifice. Christian life is physical as well a spiritual. You can't give Christ control of your heart unless you also give him control of your body.
"It's my body. I have the right to do anything with it I want, don't I?"
No, it is not your body. And you don't have the right to abuse it or misuse it. Paul asks, "Don't you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourselves but to God; he bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God's glory" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
God wants your body as a sacrifice. The Romans knew all about sacrifices. They had seen the blood, heard the death cries of victims, and smelled the burning flesh. But this is sacrifice with difference--not an animal but yourself, not a dead corpse but a living body.
Invited to a beer party, a Christian girl responded, "I'm dead and cannot come." That's the attitude of Paul who said, "I am crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
The hardest funeral you'll ever attend is your own when you die to self.
When asked to undertake responsibilities which interfere with their own self-interests, many people respond, "I don't want to be tied down." Christians, on the other hand, are not just "tied down," they are nailed down--to the cross.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice." A religion that does nothing, gives nothing, costs nothing, suffers nothing is worth nothing. Nothing left loose does anything creative. No work horse plowed a field until it was harnessed. No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is turned into light and power until it is channeled. No life grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.
Montaigne observed, "It is easier to sacrifice great things than little things." To give your life for Christ appears glorious. To pour yourself out for others, to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom and go out in a blaze of glory is heroically appealing. But that is not the way it usually works.
You think that giving your all to the Lord is like laying a $l,000 bill on the table and saying, "That's it, Lord. Here's my life. I'm giving it all." That would be comparatively easy. But what usually happens is that the Lord sends you to the bank and has you turn the $l,000 bill into quarters. Then you go though life sacrificing two bits at a time. You bless someone who curses you. You do good to someone who has done you evil. You go the second mile with someone who has compelled you to go the first.
It would be easier to go out in a flash of glory; it's much harder to live the Christian life little by little.
Self-sacrifice is a gift. During the second world war a soldier was seriously wounded in battle. When he awakened in the field hospital the doctor said, "It's all right, kid. You're going to get well. But I'm afraid you've lost your arm."
The soldier smiled, and in a faint voice, replied, "I didn't lose my arm--I gave it."
Give your bodies as a living sacrifice. Those who give up are quitters. Those who give over are cowards. Those who give out are weaklings. Those who give in are compromisers. But those who give all they are and have on the Lord's altar of sacrifice and service make this world a better place because they have lived in it and heaven more beautiful and enjoyable because they are there.
Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service--nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.
I laughed at the cartoon which showed the foreman of the jury addressing the judge and saying, "We have decided, Your Honor, not to get involved."
To grow with Christ is to grow in your involvement. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10).
"Do-gooder" has become a bad word. It is a social disease spread by those who
meddle uninvited in other people's business. But despite its bad image, take
another look at the word. Do-gooders at their worst are certainly better company
than do-baders. Doing good has been given a bad reputation by those who haven't
given careful attention to their opportunities and priorities.
The Do-Gooder's Opportunity
"As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good." We are not responsible to do all the good that needs doing. The word, opportunity, comes from the Latin meaning "at the door." There are some good deeds which lie at your door, and some that lie at other doors. Paul, who wrote in Greek, used the word, Kairos, meaning the "right time." Doing the right thing at the wrong time causes more grief than good.
A well-intentioned farmer received some large pills from the veterinarian for his sick mule. But despite his good intentions, he couldn't get the mule to swallow them. "That's easy," the vet reassured him. "Just get a piece of hose the same size as the pill. Run the hose down the mule's throat. Put the pill in the hose and blow."
The next day the farmer returned to the Vet looking terrible. "What happened?" asked the Vet.
"The mule blew first," said the farmer.
Be careful about trying to push your good deeds down somebody's throat. The timing has to be right. Doing good at the wrong time will surely cause trouble. "As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good."
If God writes "Opportunity" on one side the door, he writes "Responsibility" on the other side. The reason we often fail to find opportunities is that they come disguised as hard work. While opportunity is knocking, we are out in the backyard looking for four-leafed clovers.
Great opportunities come to those who make the most of the small ones. Teresa of Avila said, "Many people neglect the task that lies at hand and are content with having wished the impossible."
"As we have, therefore, opportunity let us do good." Jesus has given us the keys of the kingdom with the promise that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever we release on earth will be released in heaven (Matthew 16:19). I don't pretend to know all that that involves, but at least it means that we have the awesome opportunity and responsibility to change things in heaven and earth.
Opportunities always look bigger going than coming. There is an old legend of three horsemen crossing the dry river bed river bed late at night. Out of the darkness came a mysterious voice saying, "Stop. Dismount and pick up a handful of pebbles. Put them in your pockets."When they obeyed, the voice said, "You have done as I commanded. Tomorrow at sun-up you will be both glad and sad."
Mystified, the horsemen rode on. When the sun rose, they reached into their pockets and found that a miracle had happened. The pebbles had been transformed into diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones. Then they remembered the prophecy: they were both glad and sad--glad the had taken some and sad they had not taken more.
At the end of time, when we review our opportunities, that same gladness and sadness will be ours.
We walk this good, green earth but once. We have but one chance to live In a kindly way as we pass along. There is but one chance to give. There is only one chance to smile a smile, To hold out your hand to a brother, Such a very short time to work the art Of sharing with one another. Every day is a new chance to see The best that there is on life's way, And each setting sun brings the time to reflect "I've done what I could for today." Marie Gilchrist
Too many of us are waiting for God to do something for us rather than with us. We are like Charlie Brown who said, "I'd like to be able to feel that I'm needed.
Sally said, "Don't forget, Charlie Brown, that people who are really needed are asked to do a lot of different things."
Charlie ponders that and concludes, "Well, I'd like to feel needed and yet not have to do anything."
G. K. Chesterton said, "I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that fall on them unless they act."
In the year 109 A. D. Roman soldiers built an aqueduct in Segovia, Spain. For 1,800 years that aqueduct carried sparkling water from the mountains to the hot, dusty Segovians. Around the turn of the twentieth century, thoughtful Spaniards decided the aqueduct should be preserved for posterity and be relieved of its age-old labor. They diverted the water to modern pipelines. Shortly thereafter the aqueduct began to fall apart! The blazing sun dried out the mortar and made it crumble. Soon it lay in ruins. What ages of service could not destroy, idleness disintegrated. What happened to that ancient aqueduct can happen to us too.
We were not made to be meant to be oceans In which God's blessing are stored. Instead we were meant to be channels Through which God's blessings are poured.
If we take "serve" out of service, all we have left is "ice." Many Christians need to be defrosted.
Biologists in Marineland conducted an experiment in which they chilled a porpoise until it was paralyzed. They put the helpless creature in a pool with other porpoises to see what would happen. The other porpoises lifted it by their flippers until it could breathe at the surface.
Are there people close to you who need a lift? "As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good."
We shall do so much in the years to come, But what have we done today? We shall give out gold in a princely some, What what did we give today? We shall lift the heart and dry the tear, We shall plant a hope in place of fear, We shall speak with words of love and cheer, But what have we done today? (Anonymous)
"As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith."
The problem with doing good is that unless we get our priorities straight we are very apt to irritate others and frustrate ourselves. The switchboard of our lives is often jammed with calls vying for our attention, allegiance and commitment. All kinds of activities, from mowing the lawn to studying the Bible, compete for our energy. All manner of pleas, from the widow of the Unknown Soldier to the One Great Hour of Sharing, compete for a share of our income. It takes great concentration to discern the voice of God amid all this clatter.
The danger is in letting the urgent things crowd out the important. "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). It isn't God that loads you down until you bend or break with an ulcer, nervous exhaustion, heart attack or stroke. These may come from inner compulsion coupled with the pressure of circumstances, but not from God. The Psalmist reminds us, "He knows what we are made of; he remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14 TEV). He remembers it, but we tend to forget it. We may not be able to do everything we want to do, or that others want us to do, but we can do everything God wants us to do. But only if we get our priorties straight.
Top in our scale of priorities must be that which glorifies God. "As we have, therefore, opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." Your church is your family. Your have more in common with your brothers and sisters within the "household of faith" than with blood relatives. It is your highest privilege and responsibility to care for others who, like you, have been born again into the family of God.
Grow in your involvement by serving the family of God as your highest priority in every opportunity.
A great religious revival is sweeping the western world. The Gallup poll reports that one in three Americans claims to be "born again," and that one out of five attends Bible study or prayer meetings at least once a week. Church attendance is up after a seventeen year decline. Evangelical and fundamentalist churches are thriving in most places. Millions listen daily to television evangelists and healers. Religious books and tapes and records are on the "best seller" lists.
Yet, at the same time that religion is flourishing, morality is floundering. Soaring rates of abortion and crime, the disintegration of the family structure, and the explosion in pornographic books, magazines, movies and video tapes shows that the moral glue of our society is coming unstuck.
After reviewing the data, the Gallup poll concluded: "Religion is increasing its influence on society, but morality is losing its influence. The secular world would seem to offer abundant evidence that religion is not greatly affecting our lives."
A teenager wrote this letter to a popular Christian magazine. "I love Jesus and I have complete faith and trust in God....I also like to drink with my friends and smoke cigarettes. I don't see any harm in it myself, but I need to know if this has anything to do with having eternal life. Is it wrong for me to do the things I want to do even though they may be against God's wishes? Can I live this way and still be sure that I will have eternal life?"
The writer of that letter sees Christian faith as a kind of hell fire
insurance. People with that attitude wonder how many violations will be allowed
before the policy is canceled. But salvation is not an insurance policy; it is a
relationship. The Colossian Christians may have been making this same mistake as
the letter writer and many others in our religious and immoral society. Paul
writes to them, "As ye have, therefore, received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk
ye in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have
been taught, abounding with thanksgiving" (Colossians 2:6,7). There are three
strong actions verbs which describe our relationship with Christ: walk, root,
Walking In Christ
Too many believers have substituted words for works. They say, "Lord, Lord," but do not do the will God (See Matthew 7:21). They talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk.
"As ye have received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk ye in him." But Christian life is not just taking a walk, it is going somewhere. "Quo vadis?" the ancient Romans asked. Where are you going? You are not necessarily on the right road just because it is a beaten path. Jesus said, "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and a only few find it" (Matthew 7:13, 14).
Heaven is not a cash bonus for following Jesus; it is where the path leads. And hell is not a fine levied for following Satan; it is where the path leads.
Too many churches "dip 'em and drop 'em." But the faith through which the covert enters salvation is the same faith in which the convert walks the rest of his or her life. Saving faith is walking faith.
"As ye have received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk ye in him." "As" and "so" refer to the same faith. The faith you had when you received Christ is the faith you need to walk in him. It is not what you eat but what you digest that makes you strong. It is not what you read, but what you remember that makes you informed. It is not what you profess but what you possess that makes you Christian. "He who has the Son has life" (1 John 5:12).
Since God is love (1 John 4:16), we walk in love (Eph. 5:2).
Since God is light (1 John 1:5), we walk in light (1 John 1:7).
Since God is true (2 Cor. 18), we walk in truth (3 John 4).
The word Paul uses for "walk" is peripateo which includes a prefix meaning "to walk around." He is talking about your lifestyle. Like it or not, you have to live somewhere forever, so you had better learn how to live--and the sooner the better. You can't control the length of your life, but you can control its width and depth.
Day by day, day by day O, Dear Lord, three things I pray: To see thee more clearly To love thee more dearly To follow thee more nearly Day by day.
If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to
convict you? You received Christ Jesus the Lord, perhaps years ago, but are you
walking in him now?
Rooted In Christ
In a marvelous mixture of metaphors Paul calls us not only to walk in Christ, but to be rooted in him. The Christian is not only on the move with Christ, but firmly grounded in Christ.
In the ancient manuscripts the word "rooted" is a perfect passive participle which means that we are rooted in the past and that this rooting has present effects. It is from our roots in Christ that we draw the life giving juices that flow through us enabling us to bear fruit for him today.
A plant is only as good as its roots. Although they are unseen, they are essential--and so is Jesus! The reason so many apparent Christians wither and die soon after they profess their faith is that they have been stuck like cut flowers into the church's pot. You find them in the bud vases of a popular preacher, or the floral arrangement of a religious peer group. But they have no roots in Christ. And consequently, they have no staying power. They wilt like last month's corsage.
Where are your roots? If they are in a religious experience however exciting, if they are in a group relationship however warm, if they are in family tradition however strong, if they are in professional achievement however successful, if they are in anything other than Jesus Christ, your spiritual life juices will eventually dry up and you will die.
If you are rooted in Christ, then you will grow in him. You will draw constantly on his sustaining power.
His love has no limit; His grace has no measure; His power has no boundary known unto men. For out of his infinite riches in Jesus He giveth and giveth and giveth again. (Annie Johnson Flint)
A city dweller moved to the country and bought a milk cow. Soon, however, the cow went dry. He complained to a neighboring farmer, "I just don't understand it. I was as kind and considerate to that cow I knew how to be. If I didn't need any milk, I didn't milk her. If I needed only a quart, I took only a quart."
The neighbor tried to explain that the only way to keep milk flowing is not
to take as little as possible, but to take as much as possible. That is also
true of your life in Christ. The only way to grow in Christ is to receive from
him all he has to give.
Built On Christ
In a third metaphor Paul calls you to be "built up" in Christ. In the ancient manuscripts the words "built up" and "established" are present passive participles which indicates a continual process. Every Christian is in a building program that is never finished. We are all Christians under construction. Some of the ugly scaffolding may be in place and dangerous wiring may be exposed, but thank God he is not finished with us yet!
Whether you are a colonial mansion or a pup tent for Christ, there are two things that can be said about you if you are "built up in him:" your foundations are firm and you are filled with thanksgiving.
Your firm foundations are laid in the faith "as you have been taught." That's why Sunday Church School, Bible Study Classes, and personal study is so important. You are laying a foundation for your faith. The wise person builds in fair weather to be ready for foul. (See Matthew 7:24-27.) Don't wait for the storms of sickness, death and failure to break upon you before you have laid your foundations.
"The faith" in which you are established is the truths you believe (1 Timothy 4:6), preach (Galatians 1:23), contend for (Jude 3), and never give up (1 Timothy 4:1). Jesus Christ is the "chief cornerstore" of your foundation (Eph. 2:20). You must begin your foundation with him and fit everything else you believe in line with him. If you begin with something else as the cornerstone and try to fit Christ into some vacant hole, your foundation will be as "wacky" as a house of cards.
"How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in his excellent word!"
On the plains of western Kansas I heard farmers joking about the difference between agriculture and farming. "They are the same," they said, "except farming is doing it."
What's the difference between theology and thanksgiving? They are the same, except thanksgiving is doing it. Those who are walking in Christ, are rooted in Christ and built up in Christ "abound in thanksgiving."
I like to be around thankful people, don't you? And I think I know why. If they are down, they never despair; if they are up, they are never proud. They are always thankful because they look at life as a gift.
Accepting life as a gift means you can't grumble when it is bad, or brag when it is good. To grumble because you have less of this world's goods is to regard them as a right instead of a gift and thus to insult the Giver. To boast because you have more of this world's goods is to deny that everything you have is an unmerited favor. "Who made you superior to others?" Paul asks. "Didn't God give you everything you have? Well, then, how can you boast, as if what you have were not a gift?" (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Unlike the agnostic, the Christian knows whom to thank when he or she feels profoundly grateful. One of the sure signs of apostasy is failure to thank God (Romans 1:21). An ungrateful person is like a pig under a tree eating acorns, but never looking up to see where they come from.
Since you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, grow in your walk in him, rooted and built up in him, established in your faith and overflowing with thanksgiving. That's the life!
The world has always been full of religious nuts. With a long list of do's and don'ts they try to regulate their own and everybody else's behavior to their liking. They are full of good advice, but empty of good news for those whose character fails to conform to their legal regulations. Not even Jesus measured up to their standards. Their religion does not address our deepest need. The one thing we don't need is some religious nut handing us a new rule book. As one man said to his wife who belonged to Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility in Lake Wobegon, "Why do I need to go to church? I already know how to be better than I am."
What Jesus wants is not religious nuts but spiritual fruit. Our memory verse for this week declares: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness self-control; against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Christian character is formed not by outward compulsion but by inward compassion--not by legal regulation but by spiritual reformation. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit who lives within you. If you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you will produce the fruits of the Spirit as surely as an apple tree produces apples--not because there is a law on the books saying, "Thou shalt produce apples," but because it is your nature to do so.
There are three clusters of fruit listed in our memory verse. The first is
personal, the second is interpersonal, and the third is regulatory.
First Cluster: Personal FruitLove.
Love is the "first fruit" of the Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4) and since God is love (1 John 4:16), the first effect of the Spirit's presence in your life is love.
The circumference of your character is measured by the radius of your love. Jesus asked, "If you love those who love you, what reward do you get? (Mat. 5:46). Unless your love reaches beyond the close circle of immediate friends, your "reward" is to be confined to the tiny island of self, cut off from the world God loves (John 3:16) and would love through you.
Of course it's difficult. Those who deserve your love least often need it the most. As a bulletin graffiti poet put it:
To live in love with the saints above, O that would be glory! But to live below with the saints we know, O that's a different story!
Philosopher George Santayana said, "Love is very penetrating because it penetrates to the possibilities in people rather than to the facts about them." The facts may be very ugly, but the possibilities in people are as bright as the promises of God. The same God who though his Spirit lives in you also lives in them--at least potentially. You stand on holy ground whenever you stand close to a Christian brother or sister.
Martin Luther observed, "Too many Christians envy the sinners their pleasure and the saints their joy because they have neither." People lack joy in life not because they are Christians, but because they aren't Christian enough. No one has any greater reason to be happy than spirit-filled Christians. They are joyful not because they are trying to find joy, but because it springs forth from the Holy Spirit within them like fruit on a tree. Their joy is produced not by what is around them but by what is within them. Those who have experienced the true joy of the Lord will never be satisfied with merely having fun.
Peace is not just a human achievement; it is a divine gift (John 14:27). It
is the holy calm breathed into the human soul by a forgiving God. Over and above
all your frustrated efforts to keep the peace there is a peace that keeps you.
"The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds
in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).
Second Cluster: Interpersonal FruitsLongsuffering (patience).
The heart that has peace with God has patience with people. Some people seem to be born losers, but Christians are born again losers. They have learned how to lose their lives that they might find them (Mat. 16:25-26). Self-seekers never find themselves. On the other hand, through selfless service to others Christians discover and develop their true selves--the kind of person the Father created, the Son redeemed and the Spirit renews from within.
Suffering itself requires no talent. It attacks us, often without warning, and takes us captive. But what then? The Holy Spirit within us enables us, like Jesus, to suffer long. Because "love suffers long" (1 Cor. 13:4), when we are slighted, we slight the slight and love the slighter.
It may be that impatient people get things started, but it is patient people who get things done. A young boy was lovingly patting his father's old work horse when someone asked, "Can your horse run fast?"
"No," he answered, "but he can stand fast!"
The Holy Spirit enables us to stand fast under great stress.
Gentleness, or kindness, as it is more often translated, is the fruit of the Spirit most highly prized by others in the lives of Christians. Wives look for it in their Christian husbands, and husbands in their Christian wives. Children look for it in their Christian parents and parents in their children. The unsaved especially look for it in the lives of Christians and often take it to be the point at which their faith is validated or judged to be hypocrisy. Kindness has converted many more sinners than zeal, eloquence or argument.
If someone were to pay you a dollar for every kind word you have spoken and collected fifty cents for every unkind word, would you be rich or poor? The most persuasive evidence of the Holy Spirit's presence in the lives of Christians is their kindness. Where kindness is absent, we may assume that the Spirit is absent or, at least grieved (Eph. 4:29-32).
Abraham Lincoln said, "Kindness is the only service that will stand the storms of life and will not wash out. It will wear well, look well, and be remembered long after the prism of politeness or the complexion of courtesy has faded away. When I am gone, I hope it can be said of me that I plucked a thistle and planted a flower wherever I thought a flower would grow."
The fruit of goodness is a hybrid variety of kindness--the flavor of each enhanced by the other. Goodness is found on everybody's plate, kindness on the plate of the hurting and starving. The spirit-filled Christian is good to everyone, but kind to those who are especially needy.
Jesus quibbled with the lawyer, "Why do you call me good? There is none good
but God (Mark 10:18), thereby making a subtle allusion to his own deity. But if
God the Holy Spirit who is good dwells within the Christian, his fruit in the
Christian's life is goodness. The fruit of goodness corrects the vitamin
deficiency which the Reformed theologians called original sin and total
depravity. "Good-nature," Henry Ward Beecher wrote, "is one of the richest
fruits of true Christianity."
Third Cluster: Regulatory Fruit
The first three fruits of the Spirit are personal. Love, joy and peace are part of the inner consciousness of the Christian. The next three fruits are interpersonal. Longsuffering , gentleness, and goodness are what the Christian needs in dealing with others. The last three fruits are regulatory. Faith, meekness and self-control are what the Christian needs to provide a balanced diet of all spiritual fruits. You cannot grow strong in your Christian character by "pigging out" on any one of the fruits of the Spirit. That's why you need the third cluster.
Faith, or faithfulness, as it is more often translated, is not a mystic sensation that comes on rare occasions, but a sturdy confidence in God who directs all you do. It is saying "Amen," to the Heavenly Father. It is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation. It is not trying to believe something regardless of the evidences, but daring to do something regardless of the consequences.
"Some bear faith in their hands--like gold, A precious thing to own; Some build a wall of faith, and crouch Behind the sheltering stone. But mine shall be a golden flame That warms me with its light, And all who look will smile to see My candle in the night. (Audrey Carpenter)
All the fruits of the Spirit will begin to stink the moment the mold of spiritual pride touches them. They must be disinfected with meekness.
That is not to say the Christian's character will be timid and mousy. Meekness has been too often confused with weakness. It is strong enough to inherit the earth (Mat. 5:5). Anyone can be meek before circumstances or events, but the Spirit-filled Christian is meek before God. That kind of meekness becomes strength when it faces the trials of living. The word translated meekness means "under control, tamed." It was used of taming wild horses. Their spirit is not broken, but broken in and harnessed for service. The spirit of the meek Christian is not broken, but broken in and harnessed for service. The great Biblical expositor, Matthew Henry, defined meekness as "the opposite of self-will toward God and ill-will toward others."
None of the regulatory fruits of the Spirit is suited to the taste of our generation which is sated with the junkfood of self-indulgence. Besides, people of our day much prefer the sweetness of love, joy, and peace to the tartness of faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.
Without self-control, however, the rest of the Spirit's fruits will be unused or misused. Love becomes saccharine sentimentality, joy becomes heady euphoria, peace becomes complacency, patience becomes leniency, kindness becomes blandness, goodness becomes self-righteousness, faithfulness becomes slavishness, and gentleness becomes weakness.
The wise Solomon counseled: "It is better to win control over yourself than over whole cities (Proverbs 16:32 TEV). Aristotle concurs: "I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self."
The Spirit produces fruit in our lives enabling us to grow in our character with Christ. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. Against such there is no law. And for such there is no law. It cannot be commanded from without; it must grow from the Spirit within until we are remade in the image of Jesus Chirst.
It is often said that one picture is worth a thousand words. In some cases that may be true. But are you aware that with one thousand words we can write the Lord's Prayer, the Hippocratic oath, the Gettysburg address, the Boy Scout motto the Twenty-third Psalm, a Shakespearean sonnet, and the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution?
Words are important. They can do much good and much harm. A Greek philosopher asked his servant to prepare the best dish possible. The servant prepared a dish of tongue, saying, "It is the best of all dishes, because with it we may bless and communicate happiness, dispel sorrow, remove despair, cheer the faint-hearted, inspire the discouraged, and a say a hundred other things to uplift mankind.
Later the philosopher asked his servant to provide the worst dish he could. A dish of tongue again appeared on his table. The servant said, "It is the worst, because with it we may curse and break human hearts, destroy reputations, promote discord and strife, and set families, communities and nations at war with each other."
A tongue three inches long can slay a man six feet tall.
Knowing the power of language to do both good and evil, Paul writes to the
Ephesians a verse worth memorizing: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of
your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister
grace to the hearers" (Eph. 4:29).
Be careful that you don't get caught in your own mouthtrap. "Opened by mistake" applies more often to mouths than to mail. It is not always easy to say the right thing on the spur of the moment. We can sympathize with the guy who met an old friend after many years.
"How is your wife?" he asked.
"She is in heaven," replied the friend.
"Oh, I sorry," he stammered. Then realizing that this was not the thing to say, he corrected himself: "I mean, I'm glad." That seemed even worse so he blurted, "Well, what I really mean is, I'm surprised."
Many a loose tongue gets its owner in a tight place!
There's probably a good market for a new brand of toothpaste which has shoe polish in it. It's for those who put their foot in their mouth.
"If your lips would keep from slips, Five things observe with care: To whom you speak, of whom you speak And how, and when, and where." (W.E. Norris cited in Best Quotations for All Occasions, Doubleday, 1945, p. 216)
Corrupt communication refers not just to verbal accidents, but to verbal sins. Paul makes this even more explicit in the next chapter of Ephesians. "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person...has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Ephesians 5:4,5).
Any attempt to control the flow of verbal sewage which pours forth from movies and other forms of popular entertainment brings loud cries of "Censorship." Flying the proud banner of "Freedom of Speech" dirty minded men and women fill our ears with filthy words and stories. That is understandable for those who know not the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. But even the friends and followers of Jesus can get caught up in this bad habit. Perhaps it has always been so. What God's word to the Ephesians is his word to us too: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth."
Some of you need to wash your mouth out with the soap of God's Spirit. You need to clean up your language--not because it is offensive to women and children, but because it is offensive to God himself. Jesus said "You will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word you have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned" (Mat. 12:36). Every careless word you have spoken will someday come back to haunt you, and you will account for it.
Wisdom is knowing when to speak your mind and when the mind your speech. It is amazing that people will fight for the right to say what they think and then say so much without thinking.
The Norwegian bachelor farmer said, "The best rule I know for talkin' is the same as the one for carpenterin': measure twice and saw once."
Human minds are like wagons: the lighter the load the noiser they sound.
The tongue is both the best and worst of dishes. It is both corrupt and commendable. Paul suggest two good things about commendable communication: it builds up and ministers grace to the hearers. It builds up the hearers.
All around us are people whose lives are in disrepair. To "edify them" is an old-fashioned way of saying to build them up. An encouraging word from you, spoken at the right moment, can mend a broken heart.
Eliphaz paid Job a great compliment when he said, "When someone stumbled, weak and tired, your words encouraged him to stand" (Job 4:4 TEV). Such words, the wise Solomon said, when fitly spoken are "like apples of gold in pictures of silver" (Proverbs 25:11).
Sometimes silence is golden, but sometimes it is plain yellow. Many people don't talk much about their faith because they don't have much to talk about. They say something by what they don't say. Peter denied the Lord by his silence at Christ's trial long before he denied him by cuss words to the servant girl (John 18:15-27). His silence spoke louder than words. "I don't care" was his message on that awful day.
Frances Havergal prayed, "Take my lips and let them be filled with messages for Thee." Yielded to the service of Christ, our lips can build something beautiful.
Verbal carpenters must begin construction on the hearer's turf. They start where the hearers are, not where the speakers are.
Jesus didn't just reach down to us. He came down and reached out. We build up hearers not when we speak down to them, but when we come down and reach out to them.
In New Testament times the Greeks thought the Romans were bourgeois, the Romans thought the Barbarians were crude slobs, and the Barbarians thought the Greeks were aristocratic prudes. Paul became all things to all people that by all means he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). He didn't talk just to get something "off his chest," but to build up the hearers. It ministers grace to the hearers.
Commendable communication not only builds up the hearers, it ministers grace to them. Along with baptism and holy communion, words are a means of grace. When two or three are gathered in Christ's name and Christ himself is present (Mat. 18:20), conversation becomes communion, rather than mere communication.
"If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified and he confesses with his lips and so is saved" (Rom. 10:9-10 RSV). The gospel is gospel not just when it is believed, but when it is confessed. The rock on which the church is built is not Peter's confession, but a confessing Peter (Mat. 16:18). Where the gospel is believed and confessed, there is divine grace.
What is in the well of your heart must come up in the bucket of your mouth (Mt. 12:34). Your words will minister either grace or disgrace. Having received an ugly letter from one of his members a pastor returned it to the sender with this note: "The enclosed letter came a few days ago. I am sending it to you because I think you should know some idiot is sending out ugly letters over your signature. Sincerely...."
"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Col. 4:5 NIV).
The same God who gave birds the power of song gave you the power of speech. Grow, therefore, in your conversation that is commendable. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."
Next week you will continue to grow with Christ by growing in your sharing. Memorize the key verse, 1 John 3:17, and read the next chapter.
Every Christian knows, and most Christians can quote John 3:16. But how well do you know 1 John 3:16? It is an interesting coincidence that when the Bible was divided into chapters and verses, 1 John 3:16 became the living commentary and personal application of John 3:16. Read them together. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life....This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (John 3:16 & 1 John 3:16 NIV).
To lay down our lives for our brothers sounds like heroic martyrdom that few
of us will have to suffer. But 1 John 3:17 brings this teaching home to each one
of us. Commit it to memory so you will not forget what the gospel expects of you
in personal human relations: "But whosoever hath this world's good, and seeth
his brother have need, and shutteth up his compassions from him, how dwelleth
the love of God in him?" (1 John 3:17). This verse speaks to us of those who
have what others need, those who need what others have, and those in whom God's
Those Who Have What Others Need
It is important that we first discern who these people are. Those who have what others need rarely see themselves in that category. Like an oak comparing itself to a giant redwood, they may feel downright poor. But let us attempt to look down on our world from God's point of view. Of course it's very hard to conceive of the five billion souls who inhabit planet earth. It would be easier to do if we scaled everything down so that we can see the world as a global village of 100 people. Of those 100 people, 70 would be unable to read and only one would have a college education. 50 would be suffering from malnutrition and over 80 would be living in substandard housing. Six of the villagers would be Americans and those six would possess half of the village's entire income. The rest of the 94 would exist on the other half. And, incidentally, most of those six would claim to be Christians.
The goods of this world are distributed unequally. The two most asked questions by Americans today are: "How can I lose weight and where can I park my car?" The rich young ruler and the rich man in Jesus' parable (Luke 16:19-22; 18:23-25) did not enjoy the level of comfort and privileges I take for granted every day. He did not have air-conditioning in the summer, and central heating in the winter. He did not eat fresh fruit and vegetables all year round. He could not travel with comfort and speed to distant parts of this world. He could not talk to loved ones 1000 miles away by simply dialing eleven digits. He couldn't have a decayed tooth filled or even take an aspirin for a simple headache.
Of course I have all these advantages not because I am rich, but because I was fortunate to be born at a time when the whole family of man is technologically richer. But the point is that our age is accountable to the Creator for much greater opportunities than any other age, especially when we have what others need.
The goods of this world are distributed unequally. It seems to have always been this way. Jesus said, "You have the poor always with you" (Mt. 2611). And Christians have always struggled with their response to the needs of the poor. In 350 A.D. St. Basil in his fourth homily on Luke 12:18 wrote: "The bread that remains uneaten in your house is the bread of the hungry. The tunic hanging in your wardrobe is the tunic of the naked. The money that you keep buried away is the money of the poor."
More recently Thomas Merton has written, "It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God's will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about rent--try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God's will yourself!"
A preacher's wife was ill and couldn't attend church one Sunday. When her husband got home she asked him how the sermon went over. "Oh, about half-way," he said.
"What do you mean, 'half-way?'"
"Well, I told them the rich ought to share with the poor. The poor were
Those Who Need What Others Have
People are poor for different reasons. Some are poor because of sloth. Others are poor because of disease, famine, or catastrophe. Still others are poor because of exploitation.
Those who are poor because of sloth deserve God's judgment. The wise Solomon advises, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, or overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest--and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man (Prov. 6:6-11).
Paul admonishes, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us....For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat'" (2 Thess. 3:6-12).
Those who are poor because of disease, famine, or catastrophe deserve compassion. "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor'" (Zechariah 7:9-10).
Those who are poor because of exploitation deserve justice. "'What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?' says the Lord, the Lord Almighty."(Isa. 3:15) "He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God" (Prov. 14:31).
Half of the people of this world live on less than $200 a year. You could too. How? By doing it their way. First, get rid of all your furniture except one chair and one table. Throw out all TV sets, lamps, and radios. Dispose of all your clothing but your oldest dress or suit. One pair of shoes may be kept for the head of the family. Shut off the water, gas and electricity. Remove all appliances from the kitchen. Keep in the pantry only a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few moldy potatoes, a handful of onions, some dried beans. Take away the house and move the family to the tool shed. Your neighborhood will be a shantytown
Move the nearest medical help ten miles away. It will be staffed by a midwife. Get rid of the car. Forget newspapers, magazines, books. You won't miss them, because you must also give up literacy. Count your emergency fund at $5.00. You'll have no bankbooks, pension plans, or insurance policies.
Cultivate three acres as a tenant farmer. Provided there is no drought, you
can expect from $100 to $300 a year in cash crops, paying 1/3 to the landlord
and at least 1/10 to the moneylender. You'll make a living, but you must lop off
25 to 30 years in life expectancy.
Those In Whom God's Love Dwells
We have seen those who have what others need and those who need what others have. Now consider those in whom God's love dwells. John asks, "Whosoever hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his compassions from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" The answer is obvious: with great difficulty.
To have God's love dwelling in us means we love those God loves. Of course, God loves everybody (John 3:16), but especially the needy (Psalm 107:39-41). And so must we!
The word John uses for "compassions" is a very earthy term in the original Greek. It literally means, "guts." It is the feeling deep in the pit of your stomach when you see someone in need--a feeling you can listen to or "shut up."
It all depends on how much of God's love dwells in you. For you it is a spiritual issue. If your neighbor is broke, he or she has a financial problem, but you have a spiritual problem. What do you about his or her need depends on how much of God's dwells in you.
God promises to help those who help the poor. "Blessed is he whohas regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble. The Lord will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness" (Psalm 41:1-3).
On the other hand, God will refuse to hear the cries of those who refuse to hear the cries of the poor. "If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered" (Prov. 21:13).
Foy Valentine writes, "The God of the Bible, the God Christians know through personal faith in Jesus Christ, is no abstract First Cause or Prime Mover, or Great Unknown out in the abstract Great Somewhere who can be placated by a bit of discrete crying in the chapel. He is a personal God who is very deeply and very definitely concerned....God cares and God is concerned. And since God is concerned, his people have an obligation to be concerned too."
Paul writes, "The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had: He alwayss had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to become equal with God. Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant" (Philippians 2:3-7).
If God's love dwells in us, we are more than mere helpers; we are servants. Servanthood is not just giving greater help (100% instead of 10%), but giving help in a different way. It goes beyond giving to becoming--becoming one with the oppressed, the lonely, the poor and the needy.
Public servants dole out service and then in the process often become the masters of those who receive their service and end up losing their servant role. Christian servants, on the other hand, remain servants of the servants of God (John 13:15-16). Their charity to the poor is not even their own love; it is God's love dwelling in them. They give not out of guilt, but out of gratitude--not because they must, but because they may--not from high pressure, but from high privilege.
It all depends on how much of God's love dwells in you. Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, understands the source of her celebrated charity. She said, "Pray for me that I do not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus even in the guize of ministering to the poor."
Those who have what others need and those who need what others have to strike a vital balance through the indwelling love of God. Paul writes, "This does not mean that to give relief to others you ought to make things difficult for yourselves: it is a question of balancing what happens to be your surplus now against their present need, and one day they may have something to spare that will supply your own need. That is how we strike a balance: as scripture says: 'The man who gathered much had none too much, the man who gathered little did not go short!" (2 Cor. 8:13 JB).
My conclusion is the same conclusion John drew from this teaching: "My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action."
We have been growing with Christ in our dependence, knowledge, commitment,
prayers, fellowship, sacrifice, involvement, character, walk, conversation, and
sharing. In all these ways we must have the proper attitude. Unless we grow in
attitude, our growth may produce lots of leaves but no fruit. "Finally,
brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things
are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things
are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on
these things" (Philippians 4:8). In this lesson we will experience the virtue
and praise of thinking on these things.
As scarce as truth is, the supply always seems to exceed the demand. Winston Churchill complained, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."
In a day of illusions And utter confusions Upon our delusions We base our conclusions (permission to quote requested)
Ben Franklin observed, "One of the tragedies of life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts."
The Hebrew word for truth is ameth, a word which is spelled with three letters: aleph the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, min the middle letter, and tau the last letter. From A to Z, truth embraces all of reality. From beginning to end, whatever is true deserves our attention and respect. The first question we must ask of any proposition is not is it modern, or workable, but is it true? Let the philosophers and Pontius Pilate quibble over the definition of truth (John 18:38). Christians know him who is the Truth (John 14:6), and respect all truths as part of his creation (John 1:3).
All truth is worthy of our attention, but not all truth comes in the same size. Stretch your mind with big truths (e.g. creation, and redemption, life and death, heaven and hell) instead of shrinking it with small truths (e.g. daily frets and worries). One of the great values of Bible reading, prayer, and worship is that it puts you in touch with bigger truths which helps you to sort out and make sense of the smaller truths of everyday life. It connects you with the timeless traditions of the Christian faith. C.S. Lewis writes, "All that is not eternal is eternally out of date." When your mind grasps that which is true, it grasps that which is eternal.
Whatever is true--think about it!
Noble (Honest) Things
Secondly, give your mind to thinking about honest things, or as most other versions have it, noble things. Nobility is in even shorter supply in our modern world than truth. It sounds quaintly old-fashioned, even Victorian. The expression, "noble effort," has overtones of frustration and failure. Where are noble things to be found? P.T. Barnum said, "No man ever went broke underestimating the public taste." As one who made his fortune with "freak shows," he knew what he was talking about. Motivated by public demand, the entertainment industry continues to produce very little that ennobles its consumers. Cheap thrills are vastly more popular than precious thoughts.
An old poem of unknown authorship expresses our wistful longing for nobility.
I have three tame ducks in my back yard, Who wallow in the mud, and try real hard To get their share and even more of the overflowing backyard store. They're fairly content with the task they're at Of eating and sleeping and getting fat. But when the wild ducks fly by In a streaming line across the sky, They cast a wisful and quizzical eye And flap their wings and attempt to fly. I think my soul is a tame old duck Wallowing around in the barnyard muck, It's fat and lazy with useless wings But, once in awhile when the north wind sings And the wild ducks hurtle overhead It remembers something lost and almost dead, And it casts a wistful eye And flaps its wings and tries to fly. It's fairly content with the state that it's in But it isn't the duck that it might have been!
True nobility is a divine gift. It is not conferred by the King of England, but by the King of Kings. It is inherited by new birth from our Heavenly Father. Our pride is not in the "blue blood" of our human ancestry, but in the red blood of Christ our Redeemer.
You can't control the length of your life, but you can control its height, width and depth.
Whatever is noble--think about it!
Right (Just) Things
Thirdly, set your mind to thinking about just things, or as many other versions translate it, right things. The supply of truth may exceed the demand for it, but when it comes to rights and justice, the demands exceed the supply.
An old legend tells about a robber in Cairo who, climbing out of a window, fell and broke his leg. He complained to the Cadi, and demanded justice from the owner because the window casement was defective. The Cadi sent for the owner, who laid the blame on the carpenter. The Cadi sent for the carpenter, who laid the blame on the mason. The mason blamed a pretty girl, who in passing attracted his eye by the pretty gown she wore. The girl blamed the dyer who dyed the gown. The dyer had no excuse to offer, and the Cadi sentenced him to be hanged in his own doorway. Everyone was satisfied, but the executioner came back and said he could not hang the dyer because the door was too low. "Then," said the Cadi, "go, get a short dyer and hang him. We must have justice, though the heavens fall."
The demand for justice exceeds its supply. Our age cries out for rights: civil rights, women's rights, children's rights--even animal rights. The trouble is many who stand up vigorously for their rights fall down miserably on their duties.
Jesus moved his disciples to do justice before he moved them to demand it. In the Sermon on the Mount he did not say, "Do your duty," but "Do what is not your duty" (Mt. 5:38-42). It is not your duty to go the second mile and turn the other cheek, but Jesus told his disciples to go beyond the bare requirements of simple justice. You may do more than your duty, but you should never do less.
Let us cry, "Let justice roll down like waters" (Amos 5:24), but also realize we are the irrigation system. We do that best not by demanding justice for ourselves, but for those who are weak and helpless. To the question, "When will there be justice in Athens," Socrates said, "When those who are not injured are as indignant as those who are."
Whatever is just--think about it!
Fourthly, set your mind to thinking about things that are pure. Paul told Titus, "Everything is pure to those who are themselves pure; but nothing is pure to those who are defiled and unbelieving, for their minds have been defiled" (Titus 1:15). A Christian girl complained that her boyfriend knew lots of dirty songs. "Does he sing them to you?" her friend asked.
"No, but he whistles them!"
Air pollution, water pollution, and noise pollution are threats to your physical environment. Heart pollution is a threat to your spiritual environment (Mt. 5:8; Titus 1:15). Pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth--the so-called seven deadly sins--are toxic substances which contaminate your heart and blind you to the presence of God.
Whatever is pure--think about it!
Fifthly, set your mind to thinking about things that are lovely. As Solomon's affection was focused on one who was "altogether lovely" (Song of Solomon 5:16), so the Christian's attention is fixed on Christ. Human love is blind, friendship tries not to notice, but agape finds its fulfillment in the loveliness of the Savior.
We become what we love. If we love what is truly lovely, we become lovely; if we love what is shabby, we become shabby.
Whatever is lovely--think about it!
Honorable (Of Good Report) Things
Sixthly, set your mind to thinking about things that are of good report, or as other versions translate it, honorable things. We are all familiar with the "honor system." In many schools it is an educational plan in which the teacher has the honor and the students have the system. It has been that way since the beginning. Adam and Eve were put on their honor in the Garden of Eden. God had the honor; they had the system.
But the Bible which opens with stain of dishonor in Genesis closes with a
concert of praise to the honor of God. In the last book of the Bible, the
beautiful and mysterious, Revelation, the four living creatures sing "Glory,
honor, and thanks be to him who sits on the throne"(Rev. 4:9-11). Then a hundred
million angels lift up their voices singing, "The Lamb who was slain is worthy
to receive power, wealth, wisdom, honor, glory and praise" (Rev. 5:11-13). Then,
finally, and all the redeemed sing, "Praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honor, power
and might belong to our God forever and ever" (Rev. 7:9-12).
Think On These Things!
"What if your mind were like T V, Where all your thoughts were plain to see? While others watched what would they find-- An honest, pure and Christlike mind? Or would you have to hang the sign Of NETWORK TROUBLE all the time? (Charlotte Parks Course, Decision Magazine)
Despite inflation, a penny for most people's thoughts is still a fair price. A lot of stuff that passes for food for thought is nothing but the baloney of propaganda.
We are not always what we think we are, but what we think, we are! "The soul is dyed the color of its leisure thoughts," so states the slogan written in living color in a flower bed at the entrance of St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
Grow in your attitudes. "Whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
You can choose to dwell in the heights or the depths. Your altitude is in your attitude.
"And so we shall all come together to that oneness of our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ's full stature. Then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teachings of deceitful men, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent. Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we shall grow up in every way to Christ" (Ephesians 4:13-16).
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