Just Between Us….

Matthew 18:15

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

Our passage today is one that most of us would probably rather just leave on the printed page.  No one relishes confrontation … even if it is well-meaning or intended to be constructive.  It is simply uncomfortable to most of us … and we are vulnerable to being misunderstood or accusations of being “holier than thou”.  We know that we too are sinners saved by grace.  So what gives us the right to point out the fault of another … the sin of another … when we struggle with our own issues and strongholds?

Well, let’s review this passage in a larger context to perhaps bring some clarity.  Jesus is teaching here, and He shares a parable about sheep who leave the flock and go astray. Of course, we can relate that the shepherd in this story is Jesus (that great Shepherd of the Sheep – Hebrews 13:20), and it expresses His deep concern for those who stray and need to be returned to the safety of the flock and the Shepherd.  The metaphor of sheep here indicate that He is speaking about His followers … believers.  Recall His words, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (Cf. John 10:27).  So I think this parable should be interpreted within the framework of a believer who has strayed from the faith and the need to seek them out:

Matthew 18:12-17 (NKJV)

12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.  15 “Moreover if your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

I think the context of the preceding parable sheds some light on why Jesus taught us to confront a person who is strays into sin and disrupts fellowship with another believer. Jesus cares deeply for the one who loses sight and wants them to return … to be reconciled … to be restored to fellowship.  His heart is that no one should perish.  So it follows that chasing the one who sins … pursuing the one who goes astray … is an act of kindness and grace.  The purpose is not to act superior to the offender; rather, the purpose is to gain their heart for the glory of the Father!  Further, note that in the parable, the shepherd leaves the flock (gathered believers) to look for the wayward individual. Again, to me, this is a clear picture that Jesus is teaching His followers.  The concept of taking action to seek out and to return those who become lost in sin is the objective.  And so the lesson of the parable is for the Church … which I believe makes Verses 15-17 that follow connected to it.

If a brother or sister has committed an offense (sinned against you), you and I are to seek out the offender. That generally would mean that we are to confront them regarding the offense.  We are to do so privately.  If necessary, another believer or two might join you to address the matter so that truth is established over feelings and emotions. Ultimately, the sinful offense should be taken to the Church if it cannot otherwise be handled in a private manner.  Paul addresses the necessity of this process at length in 1 Corinthians 6. So, I encourage you to read the full chapter to evaluate his instruction regarding the role of the church in discipline.  Further, the context for Chapter 6 follows an exhortation from Paul in Chapter 5 – dealing with the sin of a member in the church at Corinth.  I have reprinted an excerpt for your reference below:

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NIV)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside13 God will judge those outside. Therefore, “put away the wicked person from among you.”

Therefore, it is clear that we as a body of believers must deal with the sin that occurs in and among ourselves.  It is required of us the church just as it was required of the Israelites to correct sin among ourselves for the glory of God and His Name. We need to seek the one among us who strays and restore them in love.  We need to confront the one among us who sins against the commandments of God.  I think the point that Paul is making here is that those who claim to be Christians yet live like unbelievers in the world must be confronted because of the disrespect and reproach they bring upon the name of Jesus Christ.  If believers continue to conduct themselves like unbelievers, they have not separated themselves from the world … and therefore are not truly part of the church (called out ones) they profess to be.  The “hypocrisy” provokes contempt for the Body of Christ among unbelievers … and incites those outside the church to blaspheme the name of Jesus and the holiness of God to which we have been called….

Romans 2:17-24 (NIV)

17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed (profaned) among the Gentiles because of you.” (Cf. Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20-23)

Yet, as we judge sin within the church, we are to approach our “responsibility” with the heart of God.  Yes, we are to be firm and steadfast in the truth and His revealed will.  God is holy and we are to be holy as well! But we are admonished to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ Jesus – God forgave each of us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) Even those outside of the church … those in the world who live in sin and darkness … we are to engage with the same love, grace, and compassion as one seeking a sheep who has strayed. Our Lord Jesus died for us because of our sin. (Cf. Romans 5:8) He died to take away the sin of the whole world. (Cf. John 1:29) Our response to His sacrifice and atonement is to pursue the righteousness and holiness for which He died.  Let those who claim to be Christian … live worthy of that name!  And when we fail, let us gratefully receive the correction of one another in humility and in reverence for our Savior. (Cf. Ephesians 5:21) “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10)

I’m not sure how well I have articulated my thoughts here, but I hope this meditation and reflection will encourage you to read further and to study these concepts presented in the Word for yourselves.  There were numerous cross-references that I did not begin to share here due to the scope of the subject, but perhaps this start will inspire you to pursue self-discipline and holiness in your walk with Christ Jesus … considering the impact it has not only upon the church, but also the influence it has upon the culture around us.  As the Apostle Peter instructed, “Live such good lives among the pagans that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good works and glorify God in the day of visitation. (Cf. 1 Peter 2:12) I believe Jesus desires that we build fellowship within the church and relationships outside the church in order to continue His salvific work in these last days. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Cross of Self-Denial

Luke 9:23-24

Then Jesus said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

When I read this verse, all kinds of thoughts came to mind….  Do I deny myself?  Do I pick up a daily cross of selflessness or shame or suffering for the sake of Christ?  This is what it means to follow Jesus.  This is what giving your life for Him translates to in reality.  Jesus asserts whoever WANTS to be my disciple … my follower … MUST deny themselves.  So here is the challenge question for every believer: Do we truly, sincerely, honestly WANT to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ?

We I think any believer would answer, “Yes! I want to be His disciple.”  But I wonder how much we ever really examine ourselves in light of this “requirement”.  I say requirement because Jesus said “must”.  What must we deny in or of ourselves to be a sincere disciple?  What does the cross of self-denial actually look like on a daily basis? Denial in this context means to “refuse to give or grant (something desired) to (someone).  So self-denial means we refuse to grant indulgence in our own sinful desires as we pursue (follow) the righteous desires of Christ Jesus for our lives and for His glory. Thus, I believe the primary expectation is that we “die to sin” which is the very purpose for which Jesus bore the cross.  Paul wrote about the necessity of holiness in our lives:

Ephesians 4:17-24 (NIV)

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.  20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (NIV)

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Disciples will die to themselves (their former natures).  As Paul reasoned, “And Jesus died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15) And again, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) If the CROSS represents death, then we must die daily to our former sinful nature and live worthy of the Lord in every facet of our lives. And the implication is that this transformation of our lives is not optional. It is the natural outcome of the rebirth we experience when we come to Jesus in faith and receive His life as our own…. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

This Is My Story….

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….

This verse is connected with the themes we have been reading about the past week on sharing the Gospel.  Interestingly, I believe this passage is the most succinct instruction we can find in the Bible regarding evangelism in its “simplest” form.  We do not have to pass out “religious tracts” in the mall or door-to-door in order to be evangelists; although there might be occasion to do that sort of activity.  We do not have to stand on street corners with banners and megaphones heralding Scriptures; although if the Spirit directs you to do so … you should obey.  But if you think about it, when most of us were “touched” by the Gospel message, the context was probably somewhat different.  Your exposure to the message about Jesus Christ probably came through someone with whom you had a relationship.  It could have been a parent, a sibling, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or simply an acquaintance.  Maybe someone did hand you a gospel tract, or a religious billboard caught your eye and planted a spiritual seed. But most likely it was seeing “something different” in the life of another believer or hearing the personal, spiritual experience of someone you trusted that inspired or encouraged you to have a “real” relationship with God….

As I read this verse, I connected with its instruction of “how” to be an effective witness of the Gospel.  First of all, Peter indicates that we must have a “strong” relationship with Jesus ourselves.  In our hearts we are to “revere Christ as Lord”.  This means we have humbled ourselves and surrendered our lives to His authority.  This means He is worthy of our praise and worship.  This means we have experienced His life-changing grace in our hearts and desire our lives to reflect the holiness for which He saved us.  As the writer of Hebrews admonishes us: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) If we revere Christ as Lord in our hearts, we will pursue a life that reflects that faith and hope and love.  As Peter wrote in his second pastoral epistle:

2 Peter 1:3-11 (NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If we are living a life that is reflective of a genuine relationship with our Lord Jesus, then others will see it. And sometimes … your life in Christ will produce curiosity in someone who is seeking to have “more” of that “something” you appear to have in your life. It will be attractive to them because you reflect the light of God found only in Jesus. And so Peter instructs us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Note the extreme language: ALWAYS. To be prepared means we have “practiced” in order to be ready. We have “fine-tuned” our thoughts about our own personal encounter with Jesus. We have “reflected” on our own experience of His faithfulness in our lives. And then sharing the Gospel … well it simply becomes sharing our own story!

But do this with gentleness and respect,” Peter writes. This all sounds very similar to what Paul advised, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Cf. Colossians 4:5-7) And this is why I think we need to reflect on how to best communicate and share the good news of Christ Jesus. The manner and the circumstances in which we shared the Truth with someone can determine your effectiveness and mine in reaching that person for God. If we appear pious or superior in our tone, we do not reflect the One who said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Cf. Mark 9:35) So the question to ask is are you and I “prepared” to answer anyone about our faith and our hope in Christ? But a more crucial question to ask might be: “Is our love for others evident in our walk … enough so that it would be a conversation starter for a stranger or an unbeliever?”

Okay, I’m going to stir some conviction…. What is a definitive application for us to consider here? Well, for unbelievers to respond to the Gospel … they need to see a “real” Gospel. They need to see a genuine outcome of the power of God to believe it exists and that it is authentic. We live in a generation and a culture that increasingly dismisses or rejects the existence of God, and more specifically, the message of Jesus. I believe some of this intellectual skepticism can stem from inadequate “evidence” of the work and power of God in the lives of those who profess faith in Him. We cannot see the wind, yet we can observe its movement and impact. Likewise, we cannot see the Spirit of God, yet a person should be able to discern His manifestation in the life of a believer. I believe when the presence of God is seen because His impact is observable, faith is formed. So if our lives do not authentically reflect the transforming power of Christ, then how is there evidence for an unbeliever to move from skepticism to the reality they are searching to find? I pray that each of us will be introspective and consider if the “wind” of our lives is sufficient to “stir the leaves” in the hearts of unbelievers. If it is, I would venture to say that someone is going to ask about the faith they “see” you have in Christ Jesus. So be prepared to tell them your story. It is a great one to share!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Spirit-Filled Grace

2 Timothy 1:9 (NIV)

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time …

In his appeal and instruction to Timothy in this letter, Paul affords some great theological concepts for us to ponder. Let’s look at our verse in a wider context:

2 Timothy 1:6-14 (NIV)

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Paul speaks about the Holy Spirit a few times in this passage.  In Verse 6, Paul tells Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God….”  The implication is that Timothy has some degree of influence over the Holy Spirit within him.  Here Paul is basically telling Timothy to “get fired up for God.” Why?  Well in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, Paul is giving instructions to believers and admonishes them: “Do not quench the Spirit.” When you quench a fire, you are stopping its source of fuel or air.  You are attempting to extinguish it.  With the use of this metaphor, Paul indicates that we (believers) can “inhibit” the power and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  There appears to be an exertion of the human will that can counteract the will of the Spirit to give us power, love, and self-disciple as Verse 7 mentions.  To me, the application is that if we are timid … if we are ashamed of the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ … if we are unwilling to suffer for His sake … it is not because of His unwillingness to empower us. Verse 8 tells us that God gives us the “power to suffer for the Gospel”.  So if we are timid, it is our own unwillingness to “unleash” the Holy Spirit to drive our spirits and guide our souls.  So Paul tell us – fan into flame the gift of God who indwells us and do not quench Him!

Part of the suffering we will encounter as believers appears to be related to living a holy life!  That’s right!  We will suffer from being good and doing good for others…. But that is the reason we were saved by the grace of God.  We have been called to holiness … and that is the hardest thing for a human to do.  In fact, we cannot do it apart from the power of God through His Spirit within us.  As Jesus asserted, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Cf. Luke 18:27) And this power sometimes comes to us in the form of grace … a grace that was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.  And we know that His grace is sufficient because His power is made perfect (complete) in weakness. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9) So we just need to realize that suffering goes with the experience of being human … but as a believer there is great reward for going through it … eternal life!  All the more reason to fan into flame the gift of God!

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. This is pretty straightforward advice. The theological intellect that Paul had to share was incredible.  I think that is why God called him to be a herald and an apostle and a teacher; and we would do well to heed his instruction and guidance in matters of faith – wouldn’t you agree? Paul tells Timothy to “guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”  So what is Paul talking about here?  Well, I believe the concept here is the “depositing” of the Holy Spirit within us.  Let’s look to some other Scriptures to captures this point:

2 Corinthians 1:21-23 (NIV)

21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us,22 set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

2 Corinthians 5:4-5 (NIV)

For while we are in this earthly body, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly body, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the One who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Ephesians 1:13-15 (NIV)

13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory.

Notice how Paul uses this concept to explain the function of the Holy Spirit in our salvation – to be a deposit (like a down payment) on a promise or covenant to be kept in the future.  A deposit is similar to a pledge or an oath to do something further, but you want to go ahead and “seal the deal” now.  You put a deposit on a house because you intend to purchase and you want the seller to know you are serious about your commitment to follow through on the deal.  Well, in this context, God has given us His Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.  It’s an awesome analogy that Paul uses here to help us understand what God is doing.  When you come to faith in Jesus Christ, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit.  He is sent to indwell you … put in your heart … as a guarantee of what is to come … eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  That is what you and I have been called to embrace and believe with our entire being! So why would we ever want to quench the Spirit of God who was given to us for life here and now … especially since we know that suffering will be part of what we must endure?

Well, I hope that I have stirred your thoughts on this subject.  I know Paul has challenged my thinking through this letter; and I pray that I will not quench the Holy Spirit in my life at all … nor grieve Him through willful conduct in conflict with the call of holiness.  (Cf. Isaiah 63:9-11; Ephesians 4:29-31For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. Amen!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Evening!