Category Archives: Volume – 60

Jesus of Nazareth

“Jesus of Nazareth is easily the dominant figure in history…the historian disregarding the theological significance of his life, writes the name of Jesus of Nazareth at the top of the list of the world’s greatest characters.”

~ H. G. Wells

Few can say that they have never heard of Jesus Christ.  In a 2010 TIME magazine article entitled, “Who’s Biggest? The 100 Most Significant Figures in History,” in which the authors attempted to rank “historical figures just as Google ranks web pages, by integrating a diverse set of measurements about their reputation into a single consensus value,” Jesus came out first.  Loved or hated, the name of Jesus Christ is a “household name,” and has been for centuries.  Everybody’s heard of Jesus.

But hearing about someone and knowing who that someone is are very different things.

So many people say so many different things about Jesus Christ.  But what’s the real story?  Who was Jesus of Nazareth, really?  A good teacher?  A moral visionary?  A revolutionary, perhaps?  Or was he something else altogether?  What’s the truth?  Well, the truth is out there, and in this case, we can get it straight from the source.

“I am the Son of God.”

It’s been asserted over the years that Jesus never claimed to be “the Son of God,” that it was others who claimed this for him.  But Jesus tells us differently.  On one occasion, after being informed of what the crowds were saying about him, he asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Jesus’ response to this?  “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:15-16).  A ringing endorsement.  On another occasion, when Jesus was speaking to a Jewish gathering in Jerusalem, he referred to God as “My Father.”   At this, his unbelieving hearers prepared to stone him for what they supposed to be blasphemy (speaking words that denigrate or defame God).  Jesus responded to them by asking, “[D]o you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:36).  He had said it; they just didn’t believe it.  Yet again, the night before his crucifixion, Jesus stood before the Jewish high priest and was asked directly, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”  His answer was unequivocal: “I am” (Mark 14:61-62).

So Jesus stated that he was the Son of God.  But what did he mean by it?  To understand that, we must first understand the beliefs of the first-century Jews, beliefs based on their reading of the Old Testament.  There, they found this prophecy:“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [literally, God with us] (Isaiah 7:14).  They also found this one:

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

These prophecies shaped what the Jews understood “Son of God” to mean.  For centuries, they had believed a “Son” would one day appear, a man who had been miraculously born of a virgin (hence, the son of a woman, but not of a man – God would be his father), and who would actually be God in human form (“God with us” “Mighty God”)!  Any Jew who claimed to be “the Son of God” would have been claiming to be the fulfillment of these prophecies.

This is, indeed, what Jesus was claiming, and the Jews did not miss his meaning.  As they were preparing to stone him in the aforementioned instance for his supposed blasphemy, they said to him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33).  On another occasion, when Jesus had again called God “My Father,” we read:

“Therefore, the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18).

One must be a human to be equal with a human, and one must be God to be equal with God.   Jesus was, in terms clear to his hearers, claiming to be Divine (“God” in the sense that he is part of “the Trinity” – three in one).  Amazing, but true.  And this claim was emphasized by other actions of his.

Jesus said and did several things that make sense only in the context of his being God.  For example, he referred to himself as “I AM,” a designation of eternal, self-sufficient existence that God used of himself when speaking to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14; John 8:58).  Jesus also allowed people to worship him.  Eight times, the gospel accounts record him accepting worship (Matthew 8:2, 9:18, 14:33, 15:25, 28:17; Mark 5:6; Luke 24:52; John 9:38).  This is very significant, since both he and those worshipping him believed that worship is only for God.  The Scriptures taught and he himself had said, “You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only you shall serve” (Matthew 4:10).  Furthermore, Jesus forgave people of their sins – sins they committed against God.  Only the offended can forgive the offender.  Those who overheard him doing this understood the significance of his actions; they said to one another: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).  Finally, Jesus said that he pre-dated the world, a claim that only God (who made the world) can make: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).

Jesus’ words and works cried out who he was: “God…manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16), the prophesied “Son of God.”  And in revealing his identity, Jesus also revealed his authority.  For Jesus, the Son of God, has the Divine right to tell us what God requires of us.  And he did.

“No one comes to the Father, except through Me.”

This may be one of the most controversial statements Jesus ever made.  Not because it’s hard to understand, but because it’s hard to swallow.  Our culture teaches that there are many paths to God, that what’s “true” for one person doesn’t have to be “true” for another, that we can just choose the way we like best and access our preferred highway to heaven.  But Jesus’ words teach us something very different: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  To a world that is seeking to be ever more inclusive, Jesus tells us he is actually exclusive.  He promises that anyone who is willing may come to God (“If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved,” John 10:9), but that he alone is the way.  In another passage, he puts it this way:

“I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:5-6). 

So not only is Jesus the Son of God, but he has told us that he is also the sole savior of the human race!

These two realities probably help explain why Jesus’ name is the best known in the world.  God does not come to earth with the only blueprint for salvation and it go unnoticed.

The Divine Son of God and Savior of humanity came into the world 2,000 years ago, lived among his creation for about 30 years (Luke 3:23), died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (John 19; 1:29), raised from the dead (John 20-21), and then returned to heaven to be with the Father (John 16:16; Luke 24:51).  What an amazing reality!  And the best news of all?  He has left us a sure way to follow him there.

Love is Patient and Kind

“Love is patient.  Love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

The first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 focus on the emptiness produced when love is absent. In verses 4-5, we find the most comprehensive biblical description of the fullness of love. Paul shines love through a prism, and we see fifteen of its colors and hues – the spectrum of love. Each ray gives a facet, a property, of “agape” love.

In most English translations of this passage, adjectives are used to round out the description. Interestingly, however, in the Greek original, forms of all of those properties are verbs.  They do not focus so much on what love is, but rather on what love does and then follows that with what love does not do. “agape” love is active, not abstract or passive. It does not simply feel patient, it practices patience. It does not simply have kind feelings, it does kind things. It does not simply recognize the truth, it rejoices in the truth. Love is fully love only when it acts. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

Paul’s prism is not meant to be seen as a technical analysis of love, but it functions to break love down into smaller parts so that we may more easily understand and apply its full and rich meaning. As with all of God’s word, we cannot truly begin to understand love until we begin to apply it in our lives. Paul’s main purpose here is not simply to instruct the Corinthians but to charge them to change their living habits. He wanted them carefully and honestly to measure their lives against these characteristics of love.  To use another metaphor, Paul is painting a portrait of love, and Jesus the Christ, our Savior, is sitting for the portrait. He perfected in his life, all of these virtues of love. This beautiful picture of love is a portrait of Him.

Love is patient.

Love practices being patient or long-suffering, literally “long-tempered” (Greek, makrothumeo). It is a common word in the New Testament and is used almost exclusively of being patient with people, rather than circumstances or events.  Love’s patience is the ability to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of by a person over and over again and yet not be upset or angry. Chrysostom said: “It is a word which is used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in his power to avenge himself but will never do it.” Patience never retaliates.

Like “agape” love, the patience spoken of in the New Testament was a virtue only among Christians. In the Greek world, self-sacrificing love and non-avenging patience were considered weaknesses, unworthy of the noble man or woman (e.g. – Aristotle taught that the great Greek virtue was refusal to tolerate insult or injury and to strike back in retaliation for the slightest offence). Vengeance was a virtue. This is nothing new: the world has always tended to make heroes of those who fight back, who stand up for their welfare and rights above all else.

Robert Ingersoll and Theodore Parker are two examples from our own country.  Well known Atheist Robert Green “Bob” Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was a Civil War veteran, American political leader, and orator during the Golden Age of Freethought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. Ingersoll would often stop in the middle of his lectures against God and say, “I’ll give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I’ve said.” He then of course would use the fact that he was not struck dead as proof that God did not exist.

Theodore Parker (Lexington, Massachusetts, August 24, 1810 – Florence, Italy, May 10, 1860) was an American Transcendentalist and reforming minister of the Unitarian church. A reformer and abolitionist, his own words and quotes that he popularized would later influence Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. Theodore Parker said of Ingersoll’s claim, “And did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the eternal God in five minutes?”

Since Adam and Eve first disobeyed Him, God has been continually wronged and rejected by those He made in His own image. He was scorned by His chosen people through whom he gave the revelation of His word: “Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). Yet through thousands of years, the eternal God has been eternally long-suffering. If the holy Creator is so infinitely patient with His rebellious creatures, how much more should His unholy creatures be patient with each other?

Love is kind.

Just as patience will take anything from others, kindness will give anything to others, even to its enemies. Being kind is the counterpart of being patient. To be kind (Greek, chresteumomai) means to be useful, serving and gracious. It is active good will. It not only feels generous, it is generous. It not only desires others’ welfare but works for it.

When Jesus commanded His disciples, including us, to love our enemies, He did not simply mean to feel kindly about them but to be kind to them. “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:40, 41).

The hard environment of an evil world gives almost unlimited opportunity to exercise love’s patience and love’s kindness.

Christ’s Five Love Languages

In what ways does Jesus love?

In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book entitled The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Chapman’s book sold over 10 million copies and frequently ranks on the New York Times bestseller list. It has been used in marriage counseling and is even used in corporate training to better understand colleagues.  In the book, it outlines five ways to express love that Chapman calls the “love languages.” These “love languages” include physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service.  This got me wondering, “Can the five love languages be applied to what Christ did while he was in human form here on Earth?”

Here are just a few of the MANY examples:

  • Jesus showed love through physical touch in Luke 17 by reaching out to lepers, who were deemed untouchable and made them clean.
  • He showed words of affirmation in John 15:9, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”
  • He gave quality time in Mark 6:34, “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things.”
  • And he gave YOU the gift of life.  He gave you the gift of your body and all the intricacies that go with it.  He gives you the gift of resources to provide for that body. He gives you the gift of free will — to think, do, and express your thoughts and feelings.  He gives you the gift of living in a place, time, and means of meeting with others of like-common faith to worship Him.  He gives you the gift of being able to see the stories of old, learn from them, and apply these lessons to your life.  And although you fail Him, He gave YOU the gift of HIS life. He gives the gift of grace so that when you fail, you can have forgiveness of sin.  And He gives you the gift of salvation if you choose to diligently serve Him.
  • And lastly, he showed acts of service when all power had come upon Him and He humbly chose to wash the feet of his disciples.

Matthew 20:28 put it so elegantly:  that He came “NOT TO BE SERVED but TO SERVE and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Jesus loves in every way we can possibly imagine. His love is unconditional and should be a comfort to us.  When you feel that life is insignificant, remember that He left His throne (John 1:1-14) and came to earth and gave his life for you because of His love.  While we can never love Him as much as He loves us, I hope this serves as a reminder just how much He loves you and you can sing with full confidence, “Jesus loves me! This. I. Know.”

One Another

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, on baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).   

One of the overarching themes in this passage is Christian unity. We are all a part of one body.  The same Spirit dwells in each of us.  We were all called to the same hope.  There is one Lord whom we all follow by the same faith through the same baptism.  Unified through these commonalities, we can create strong bonds with one another.

There are challenges to obtaining and maintaining this unity.  Underneath the umbrella of the things which bind us together we all stand as imperfect people.  We all have sin. We are all temped to be self-seeking and proud, to feel bitterness, offense, and envy.  We are also all different.  We differ in our personalities, communication styles, in the way we process information and in many other ways.  These imperfections and differences have the potential to undermine the unity found in these commonalities. This may be why Paul starts off this passage by addressing the kind of attitude and approach we should have towards one another. In verses 1-3, we are encouraged

“to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

The church is a “one another” organization.  We participate in a congregation not only for ourselves, but also so that we may serve one another.  Ephesians 4:7-16 explains this clearly. In those verses, Paul compares the church to a body whose members function and work together to inspire growth in one another.  But in order for this to happen, we must first see to walking worthy of the calling with which we have been called.  According to Paul in Ephesians 4, that requires us to relate to our brethren in a certain way — with gentleness, lowliness, longsuffering, bearing with one another.

This same theme is found throughout the Bible.  Paul wrote similar admonitions in many of his letters:  Colossians 3, Romans 12, Romans 13, Romans 14, Romans 15, Galatians 5, Titus 3,  and Philippians 2 to name a few.  Christ’s lessons and actions speak to this same subject. From the sermon on the mount to the washing of the apostles’ feet the night before the crucifixion, Christ’s life is saturated with teachings and examples of how we are to treat and view one another.  Even God Himself has laid for us a pattern of works to follow insofar that many of the same characteristics prescribed to us by God, Christ and the apostles are the same characteristics used to describe the nature of God.  Longsuffering. Merciful. Kindness. Goodness. Forgiving. Love.  In fact, one could argue that our relationships with one another is one of the greatest areas where we can aspire to emulate our Heavenly Father.

God has set forth through commandment, His example, the example of His son and the inspirational writings of the New Testament what our attitudes and actions should be towards one another.  The volume of work provides us with evidence of its importance and speaks to the difficulty of the task.  If it was easy, why would Paul feel compelled to write about this so many times?  Why did Christ have to teach on the subject so often?  Why is it that the night before the crucifixion the Messiah took the time to wash the stinky, dirty, calloused feet of His apostles?

Regardless of the difficulty of the task, God wants our hearts and minds to be in a place where we are ready to serve our brethren.  In 2Timothy 2:20, 21, Paul wrote,

“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefor if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel of honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” 

We all have the responsibility to God to be prepared to do His will, and God has given us the responsibility to encourage and strengthen one another.  My heart has to be clean concerning my brethren, or I’m not going to be prepared for that work.  If my brother has a need that I am either blind to or indifferent towards because of the condition of my heart, that’s a problem.

Being longsuffering, forbearing, showing tender mercies, forgiving one another, letting the peace of God rule our hearts. These are all things God expects of us and there are no conditionals.  It does not matter what others do.  It does not matter how others behave. This is our responsibility.  Longsuffering, forgiveness and mercy are often required of us when none is asked for and none is deserved.  But where would each of us be without undeserved longsuffering, forgiveness and mercy from our Lord?  And how pretentious of us would it be to withhold a similar grace from one another?

As we work together in our congregations let us allow the peace of God to rule in our hearts, forgiving one another, giving preference to one another and, above all, loving one another.

The Bride of Christ

The Scriptures often employ various words to paint a picture to assist us in seeing God’s beautiful plan.  The church is described in various terms: the body of Christ, the ground and pillar of the truth, a spiritual house, the flock of God, God’s field, and a bride.  “For your Maker is your husband, The Lord of hosts is His name; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth” (Isaiah 54:5).  The prophet appears to be looking forward to the time of the church.  God chose to use the word “husband,” revealing the closeness and relationship that He desires for Him and His people.  He is the greatest husband of all, the Creator!

In the New Testament, we begin to see this fulfillment of God’s design take form in His Son.  John the Baptizer, when describing his role and place in God’s blueprint, calls himself a friend, or the best man, of the bridegroom Jesus.  Since Christ is the bridegroom, what would His disciples be?

Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven in terms of marriage.  He spoke the parable about a significant king who arranged and prepared a sumptuous wedding feast for His Son.  Those who were invited to the wedding feast made light of it, therefore the king had his servants invite whosoever would come to share in this joyous occasion (see Matthew 22:1-14).  On another occasion, Jesus spoke of the ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five were prepared, and five were not.  But what were they waiting for?  For the bridegroom to come and the wedding to take place (Matthew 25:1-13).

While Jesus was on the earth, He did not physically marry.  However, the Scriptures teach us that everything He did while He was here was to purchase His bride’s freedom from sin and to prepare her for the great and wonderful marriage in heaven!  Paul, speaking about husbands and wives, gives the Savior as the ultimate example for husbands to follow:

“…just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

After this, in verse 32 Paul says he was talking about Christ and His church.  Again, the husband and wife relationship is used to describe the Lord and His people, the church.

Paul speaking to the church in Corinth: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealously.  For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2).  Paul was concerned for the church.  Betrothal would be similar to our engagement, but stronger – breaking it would require divorce.  It was as if the marriage had already taken place:  the bridegroom and bride had made their life-long commitment to one another, but the consummation with intimacy had not taken place yet.  Paul says this is how the Lord looks upon those who have entered into the New Covenant relationship through the gospel of Christ.  The Lord looks upon Christians as spoken for, as His, and He will complete the marriage when He returns.

The scene of Revelation chapter 19 is at the throne of God in heaven (19:4).  As Jesus said in Matthew 22, the marriage of the Lamb, the Son of God, has come.

 “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”  And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God” (Revelation 19:7-9).

The Lamb is Jesus Christ (John 1:29; Revelation 5:6-9).  His bride is the glorious church, whom He washed, cleansed, and sanctified for Himself. Notice what the Lamb’s bride is dressed in?  This dress begins with our wedding garment of Christ Himself—putting Him on in obedient faith (Matthew 22:11; Acts 2:38)“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).  Christians are making our own wedding dresses.  The righteous acts of the Saints compose the bride’s wedding dress.  What will our wedding garments look like?  What do they look like?  The Church (you and I) must prepare for this great and wonderful event.  The Lord will not accept a bride who is not purified and fit.

Back in Matthew 22 the Great King invited all peoples to come to His wedding feast for His Son.  The king, walking among His guests, found a man who was not wearing a wedding garment.  It was custom for the host to present his guests with robes of honor.  The fact that this man did not have a wedding garment was proof that he had no right to be there (verse 11).  The man was speechless, no excuses, he knew he was supposed to have a wedding garment.  Praise God, the Great King, who has graciously offered us a wedding garment of righteousness through the blood of Christ, so that we can take part in the wedding of the lamb (Isaiah 61:10).  “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Have you submitted to the will of God and put on Christ, by faith, in baptism?  May we be found like the five faithful virgins, who kept their lights burning bright while they waited for the bridegroom to come; be ready, that we may enter in with Him to that great wedding!

Where is Your Confidence?

Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

One thing  that I consistently find is that, when it comes down to it, we don’t truly believe what we tell ourselves we believe. It seems that a day does not pass when I do not hear myself or others express concern over the state of the government or the stock market’s latest bearish move. I consistently hear about the rapid decline of our society and the systematic erosion of morality in the church. What I believe I am hearing is an expression of fear. Do we trust the Lord when he asks us to “consider the lilies of the field” (Luke 12:16-35)? Do we believe Him when He says, “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10)? Do we not have faith that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:26-32)? Sometimes, for me, the answer is no.

A few days ago, I visited the Walmart nearest the stadiums in Independence, MO. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this bumpkin was not going to be fitting in. I must admit I became a little edgy. Fifteen minutes into my visit, I heard the sound of breaking glass; I looked up to see a man running down the aisle, knocking merchandise off the shelves, with a cop hot on his heels. If I had a little dog, and I was a young girl from Kansas… well, the line writes itself.  I began to sweat some. How could I ever be okay with someone I loved shopping here? Fear started welling up inside me as I considered the dangers that my loved ones face when I’m not around. To my shame, it took every bit of thirty minutes for me to realize that I was going to have to put my trust in God on this matter. To further my shame, it took at least another five minutes for me to realize that it was God who protected my loved ones even in my presence.

Where does trust come from? I can’t say that I know, but it seems that love has something to do with it. As love is demonstrated, trust is validated. The Father loves us beyond our comprehension. The longer I’m alive and the more I experience, the more I am persuaded, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Steadfast in Fellowship

What were the first Christians like? What were they doing?

“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41:42).

It’s easy to look at this passage and only notice only the reference to doctrine. The church was steadfastly following the doctrine of the apostles. They were carefully and diligently following the apostle’s doctrine. That’s what they were doing and that’s what we should be doing. But doctrine was only one of the defining characteristics of the first Christians. They were also diligent to follow the apostles example of fellowship, breaking bread (a form of fellowship), and praying together (another form of fellowship).

It’s certainly possible for a church to focus so much one that we neglect the other. We may diligently follow the apostle’s doctrine, but if we aren’t equally zealous in following their example of fellowship, are we really Christ’s Church? The Church is defined by doctrine and fellowship. Not just doctrine. Not just fellowship.

Fellowship in the 1st Century                                                                             

Fellowship is a lot more than being friendly on Sundays. Sometimes we pat ourselves on the back if we make it to church three times in a week, but I think the first Christians would be surprised at how little time we spend with each other.

 “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.  So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:44-47).

The first Church had all things in common. Obviously, this included spiritual things, but the first Church shared their physical things too. They shared their money, their possessions, their food, and even their homes. Most importantly, they shared their TIME. There was no place they wanted to be more than with each other. They were together daily. They ate together daily. What was their attitude like? Gladness and simplicity of heart.

How do we become a church that looks like this? Does God even expect us to be a church like this? Maybe not completely, but surely there is room for improvement. Our time is precious to us. We’re so busy that it’s hard to make time for our church family. Our things are precious to us. We save money so we can spend it on things. When is the last time you saved money to invest it in the Church or someone in the Church?

Instructions on Fellowship

Our relationships in the Church are like the relationships we have in a family. For example, do you ask your children if they’d agree to having a new sibling? No? Neither does God. God doesn’t ask you if you want a brother in Christ. He doesn’t ask you if you want a sister in Christ. You’ve got them, whether you want them or not, and he’s not asking us to have fellowship. We have fellowship with one another just by virtue of being Christians: 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” We’re a family, and God expects us to act like one.

The first step in Christian fellowship is simple. It’s not always easy, but it is simple. Love each other and don’t hate each other.

 “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11).

How important is it that we love each other? 1 John 3:14-15, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” As far as God is concerned, despising a brother (or sister) is like murder.

When we really (truly) love each other, fellowship comes naturally. We will want to share our possessions, our money, our food, our homes, and our time. The first Church did this, and they kept on doing it:  Acts 4:32, “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.”

The Cost of Fellowship

Fellowship isn’t free. It requires some sacrifice. If I’m going to share my possessions and my money, that’s less for me. If I’m going to share my home, that requires sacrificing some privacy. If I’m going to share my time, that means sacrificing some time I might have otherwise used for myself.

Fellowship does require sacrifice, but there is so much to be gained. If you’re a part of Christ’s Church, you will never go hungry. You’ll never need a place to stay. You’ll never be without a friend. Someone will always have time for you. The friendships and fellowship we enjoy in the Church is designed to be a well-spring of encouragement, comfort, and security. This is part of the essential identity of the Lord’s Church.

Honor What is Holy

In the Old Testament, Jehovah gave Israel a number of instructions including the Tabernacle (and the various things inside of it), a Law to live by (including its various applications), as well as other things.  Israel was to value these teachings and instructions, primarily because they came from their God.  They were holy and were to be treated as such.  In the New Testament, the Lord has also given to His people instructions that are holy such as His church (and everything His church is to abide by such as its assemblies and its teachings.)  Another example is the principle of marriage as given by our Creator.  For this reason, it is called “holy matrimony.”

With this as an introduction, consider the following:  in my experience, I have found among the churches of Christ a number of congregations who practice what I call “mutual edification.”  This is the principle in which it is the brothers’ responsibility to teach to the various congregations of the Lord’s people.  Of these congregations, many are practicing this as a result of strong convictions.  They are following the NT teachings in which this was practiced among the churches.  These brethren recognize there are not any examples in the NT in which a congregation hired what today might be commonly called a “minister” to do the work of the average brothers in regard to teaching the congregations.  The work of a man who is hired to do the work of the brothers is a modern invention among the churches.

There are also many congregations that are following this principle for various other reasons.  Perhaps they cannot afford to hire a minister and they are doing the best they can.  There are also cases in which a congregation may practice this principle in order to use funds for other works.  I am finding more and more of these congregations scattered throughout, not only in the United States, but also throughout the world.

Of this latter group of congregations, it has been my experience to hear from them two very distinct responses.  The first is very positive.  I have heard brethren say how much they have learned to appreciate the great advantages of following this principle.  They often point out that they are surprised and even pleased with the personal growth and maturity that being willing to teach the body has brought the individual brothers.  Many will point out that they have been benefitted by this practice, and they are pleasantly surprised at the advantages of taking this responsibility themselves.

There is another response that is not so pleasant to hear, and they are a minority of congregations in my experience, but they do exist.  I have heard brethren actually sound very apologetic that they do not have a professional speaker or minister.  They often talk of how they “hope” to one day do “better” by having a professional to teach the congregation.  They lament that they are in such a “bad position” that the average brothers are “forced” by circumstance to do the teaching.  I do not think that this is a good attitude.

Just as with everything the Lord has given to His people, the God-approved principle of mutual edification is something holy and right.  It is something that should be valued and appreciated by brethren.  And it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.  Yes, because the brothers are not necessarily trained speakers, they may not be as eloquent as others.  Because many of the brothers have other responsibilities such as family and work that they must give attention to, they may be forced to get up a bit earlier or go to bed a bit later in order to spend time preparing to teach the brethren.  To be sure, teaching the body is not to be taken lightly.

It is worth noting the apostle Paul was not in any way apologetic when he wrote to the brethren at Rome in 15:14, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”   Paul did not write for the brethren to do this until they could hire a man to take their responsibilities from them.  When Paul wrote to the brethren at Corinth, he said in 1 Corinthians 14:3, “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.”  He was not addressing this to the Corinthian minister, for there is certainly no hint of such a man.  He was writing to the saints as noted in 1:2. Paul was addressing the great good the brethren can do by speaking the word of the Lord to the church.

Paul was addressing these same saints in 1 Corinthians 14:26, “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”  The brothers had important words for the congregation when it came together.  These were words of value to the church, and they certainly should neither be ashamed nor apologetic of such!  These words were given by the Lord and therefore were holy and right!  Certainly, they were nothing to be apologetic of!

It is also worth noting when considering the value of these words there is the prophecy in Mal 3:16-18.  This prophecy was specifically speaking of the words that jewels (Christians) in the coming church would speak to one another.  These same words would help the jewels learn right and wrong and how to serve the Lord.  Are these words to be ashamed of?  Are these words to be apologized for?  Absolutely NOT!  These are words we should be thankful for and appreciate, for they ultimately come from the Lord!

To be sure, there are other passages in the Scriptures we could consider, but this article is somewhat restricted by time and space.  The point is, we should never be apologetic nor ashamed of the average brothers who are willing to take time out of their lives to prepare lessons for the Lord’s people.  Conversely, those brothers who are fortunate enough to take these responsibilities must also know they are speaking of the holy word of God to the holy body of Christ.  They are to prepare lessons by putting sufficient time and effort to present words that are edifying and worthy of the Christians they are speaking to as well.

Thanks to the Lord for giving us this privilege.  Thanks to Him for giving us things that are holy and right that we can share with one another as we work at walking in His ways.

Hate vs. Good

In a book that I like to refer to, namely the Bible, we find, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).  Easy to read but so difficult to put into practice.  Just HOW do we – those of us who profess a commitment to Christ, who have been transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) –  just HOW do we love?  How do we love those in the church, and how do we love those in the world?

It seems evident to me that, when Paul wrote these words, he had Facebook in mind.  Had he logged into his account in our present time, he would have seen, as I do, no end to public vitriol.  Many divisions have formed, each side claiming to be good while the other side is evil.   Most of this vitriol, I feel, is born of fear, as in the days when mobs were stirred up against Paul and Barnabus in Iconium (Acts 14:2), and in Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:19) to name a few.  We think of Stephen as well.

Do you think this is what Paul was talking about:  to love some people and hate other people?  Can you love those in the Church and hate those in the world?  By no means!  You cannot love those in the Church UNLESS you can also love those in the world.  The two loves complement each other.

How are we to love the Church and how are we to love the world? Paul says, “Let love be genuine.”  The word for “love” here is “agape,” which to this point had been used in Romans only for divine love (5:5, 8:35, 39), but here the word indicates the kind of love that Christians (that’s you and me) are to show TO OTHERS.  It’s a love that continues forward, even if rebuffed.   We are called to live out the highest love and do so with the greatest sincerity.

We often deceive ourselves into thinking that we love others, but we not only neglect them, but we also, deep down, don’t even LIKE them.  I might say, “I love everyone, even homeless people.”  No I don’t.  I judge them. Too many are able-bodied and ought to get a job.  So I have a long way to go.

Paul tells us to go beyond pretense and sham and love sincerely.  This isn’t just an optional menu item. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).  “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).  And let’s not forget John 13:35,By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We ARE to honestly examine our hearts, asking ourselves, “Do I sincerely and without reservation, or bias, or prejudice love others?”  It the answer is uncertain, then it is time to ask God in prayer to pour His love into our hearts through the workings of the Holy Spirit, as outlined by Romans 5:5, “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Paul now continues with, “Hate what is evil.”  What I notice on Facebook today is that many people focus solely on hatred.  So many posts are expressions of that hatred, which is born of fear.

When you focus only on the hate, you leave a lot of empty space where the love needs to be.  Do you remember the story in Matthew 12:43-45 about the impure spirit seeking rest?  To me, this story demonstrates the progression that occurs when we focus only on our fear and hate.  Our lives become fearful and depressed.  Evil spirits have taken up residence with ourselves, and we lose the ability to find joy in life or even remain vital, functioning human beings.   We barricade our houses against the perceived enemy, we amass the items needed for our survival because it’s only a matter of time before society falls apart.

We forget to trust God and Paul’s admonishment, “Cling to what is good.”  In such a seemingly threatening world, remember to count your many blessings.  There IS always good.  Cling to it.

In Mercy and Truth

Solomon writes in Proverbs 16:6, “In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.” This proverb neatly encapsulates the core of the gospel. Everyone desiring the salvation of our Lord must obtain atonement for sin and depart from evil. Solomon here describes the mechanisms by which we may both obtain atonement for sin and depart from evil.

Solomon tells us that we obtain atonement for our sins through mercy. This is undeniable and is grounded in the axiom that we cannot save ourselves (Ephesians 2:1-9) and are, on our own merits, undeserving of salvation. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Because we cannot stand on our own merits before the Lord, we have need of his mercy. Paul instructs us in the book of Titus that the mercy of the Lord was applied apart from anything we have done. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5) He echoes these sentiments in Romans 5:6 where he describes us as being “without strength” before the Lord. We are without strength in that we cannot save ourselves, and we need the mercy of the Lord. This part of the proverb comports quite well with the rest of the scriptures. We need mercy.  What about truth? How does truth enable us to obtain atonement for sin?

Jesus describes himself in John 14:6 as “the truth.” Jesus is also described as the Word in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This idea that the truth in the form of the Word of God allows us to obtain salvation also conforms to the rest of scripture. Jesus tells us, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Paul exhorts the Galatians in 3:1 to obey the truth. Doing so, he implies that the truth is the Gospel or the Word of God. So the Lord has revealed his truth in the form of his Son, and the divine revelation of his will through the word. This does not mean that by broadcasting the truth the Lord has provided for our salvation. The revealed truth of the Lord does not immediately impart salvation upon those whom it strikes. So, how is it that in truth we are saved? In truth we must respond to the truth of the Lord.

Responding to the truth in truth is key to obtaining atonement for our sins. John writes in 1 John 1:8-9 statements that strongly support this:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

Here, John gives us the example of confession as a mechanism for responding in truth. In the book of third John, he talks about the brethren walking in the truth, “For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (verses 3-4).  When we hear the truth and conform our lives to the truth we are walking in truth.

So when Solomon says we obtain salvation in truth, it encompasses the truth broadcasted by the Lord, and our response to that truth by conforming ourselves to him. Solomon does not leave the proverb at mercy and truth. He continues by telling us, “And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil” (Proverbs 16:6).

Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:19 that Christians must depart from iniquity, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Solomon is instructing us in this proverb that fear is one of the keys to departing from evil. If heeded, the fear of the Lord can be a powerful tool for change in our lives.

This message resounds throughout scripture. When giving instruction to the children of Israel about the conduct of their future kings, the Lord commanded that they copy and read the law. The purpose of this was so that the king would learn to fear the Lord and thus do his will.

“And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19).

This passage instructs us that a natural outcome of reading the word of the Lord is a fear of the Lord, and that fearing the Lord will help us keep his commandments. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 8:13 that “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.”  If we fear God, we will do what he says. If we do what he says we will flee evil. In fact, Solomon tells us that we will hate evil.  “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  Fear, truth and mercy are powerful tools for the Christian. By them we have opportunity to learn about the Lord, his sacrifice for us, and are motivated flee from evil and walk in truth.