First Place is Last Place

Mark 9:35

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

I find it interesting that the message of humility continues to cross our attention…. And, again, the verse provided for us is one where Jesus is teaching His disciples on how to view themselves in the context of their roles as disciples … and later as apostles.  Let’s put our verse into its surrounding context.  It is similar to the narratives that we have read from Matthew and Luke a few days ago.

Mark 9:30-36 (NIV)

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because He was teaching His disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it. 33 They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.36 He took a little child whom He placed among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

I find this fascinating … regarding the argument over who was the greatest in the group of disciples.  Why?  Because the matter came up on the heels of their failure to heal a boy possessed by an impure spirit.  Jesus had rebuked them for their lack of faith … even when He had given them power and authority to perform such signs and wonders. (Read Mark 9:14-29) Nevertheless, they were apparently enamored with their “power” to exercise authority over physical affliction, illness, and demonic oppression.  One can sense that these giftings began to fill them with spiritual pride. It would seem they were misguided with self-importance because of the power and authority given to them. So Jesus had to correct their wrong thinking.  Their gifts were given to serve other people … not themselves or to affirm their own spiritual egos.  Their gifts were given to draw people to the divine source of power manifested through those gifts … to confirm the truth of the testimony of God concerning His Son, Jesus, the One whom He sent into the world to save the world.  Spiritual gifts are about Jesus … and not about us.

How easy it can be in our flesh to glory in our spiritual gifts rather than to exalt the One who gave them. Jesus cautioned the disciples to keep their attitudes in check … to remain humble even while operating in the supernatural.  This is evident from the narrative recorded in the Book of Luke when Jesus appointed and sent out disciples to heal the sick and to share the Gospel:

Luke 10:17-20 (NIV)

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

It is not always about what we do or how we serve the Lord Jesus.  It is simply about Him … His Name … His Identity … His Love which surpasses all understanding!  As Jesus stated, we should rejoice in our salvation through Him!  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the tools He uses through us (His servants) to show forth His power and glory … so that the Gospel is seen and heard in truth by unbelievers!  Gifts confirm your authority to speak the truth … not to exhibit some sort of superiority over others.  Spiritual gifts manifest your heart is obedient to the One who called you and gifted you to serve one another in love.  With this thought in mind, there are two passages regarding spiritual gifts that Paul wrote which I would like to share here:

Romans 12:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

1 Corinthians 12

1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

Paul will continue in 1 Corinthians 13 to expound on the way of love … to affirm that love is the most excellent way to approach the exercise of the gifts that we have been entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit. As Jesus taught (commanded) His disciples and us as well … “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Cf. John 13:34) Love is the reason for the gifts He has distributed to us … to empower us to work together as one body for the sake of those who are lost … those who have wandered … those who are broken in spirit and in need of healing.  Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Cf. Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32) As the Body of Christ, that is our mission as well.  We are ambassadors for Christ … and He has given us of His authority and His power to accomplish His mission in our time; in our generation.  So, I pray that we would all humble ourselves and carried out the work that we were created in Christ Jesus to do … good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Humble Yourselves

James 4:10

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Our verse today was short … but it has profound theological application for us.  Let’s put it in context first:

James 4:1-12 (NIV)

1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  You adulterous people (those unfaithful to covenant with God)! Don’t you know that friendship with the world (desiring the things of the world) means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that He jealously longs for the spirit He has caused to dwell in us? But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34) Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a fellow believer or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

When we look at our verse in context, it takes on deeper meaning and challenges us to look at the issues of humility and submission.  James begins with our own desires … the desires of our hearts.  He exposes the intensity of desire by describing the “carnal” behaviors associated with it … when personal desires exert themselves above what God wants and desires for us.  Sometimes our own desires drive us to murder or kill (and that could be with the tongue). Sometimes our own desires drive us to quarrel and fight.  Sometimes we believe that God should grant us what we pray for … but we have asked Him with wrong motives in our hearts ~ because what we want is often self-centered and not God-ordained.  James describes all of these behaviors as “friendship with the world” because they come from the desires of our flesh … and not from the Spirit of God.  And when a believer acts in these ways it creates “enmity with God” and he or she is in opposition to what God has called them to be in Christ Jesus.  Such conduct is not of the indwelling Spirit; rather, that person has grieved the Spirit (Cf. Ephesians 4:30), or worse, has quenched the Spirit (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19) within them.

So in Verse 7, James confronts believers who have allowed themselves to be filled with everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life— because these come not from the Father but from the world. (Cf. 1 John 2:16) He admonishes us to submit ourselves to God and to resist temptation and to flee from what will destroy intimacy with God.  James calls for repentance … a change in direction … a change in our mindset lest the enemy gain a foothold (Cf. Ephesians 4:27) which can then become a stronghold.  James advises that if we desire something for ourselves, then we are to humble ourselves before God and allow Him to exalt us … allow Him to grant it according to His will and purposes….  That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34)

Our Lord Jesus afforded the greatest example of what humility before the Father should look like; and we examined this in a recent study.  I will repeat it here because it is apparent that God wants to address our propensities to exhibit pride and self-exaltation:

Philippians 2:3-11 (NIV)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Oh what this world would be … what the Body of Christ would be … if we would just submit ourselves to God and humble ourselves before Him. As believers, we have been invited to a great feast … to the marriage supper of the Lamb.  We are the wedding guests! But our seats at the table have been determined by the Host according to His own will and counsel.  There is plenty of room at the table for everyone to enjoy the celebration! But when we covet the best seats at the banquet … when our own spiritual or religious pride deceives us into thinking we hold a higher position or place of prominence in the Kingdom, God is not pleased.  He becomes jealous for His Spirit … who He placed within us. As Jesus taught,  “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Cf. Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14)

Here are a few of the stories that Jesus shared to illustrate the necessity of humility in our walk of faith:

Matthew 11:11 (NIV) – See Also Luke 7:28

“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John 13:3-5; 12-17 (NIV)

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

12 When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Mark 10:35-40 (NIV) – See Also Matthew 20:20-23

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Throughout the Scriptures, God asks His people … those who He called to be His own … to humble themselves!  And I believe humility begins with reverence for God; understanding that His Will … His Word … is the final authority over all He created; including us!  God is sovereign. Submission to Him means obedience.  We are to obey the Lord our God in all that He has commanded us.  As Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 8:3, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.”  Likewise, God opposes the proud … those who would exalt themselves.  For the proud do not seek God; in their thoughts there is no room for God. (Cf. Psalm 10:4) As King Solomon observed, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Cf. Proverbs 11:2) And, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Cf. Proverbs 16:18) And Solomon advised, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning; the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the heart of fools.” (Cf. Ecclesiastes 7:8-9)

Lord, I pray that we your people, will humble ourselves under your mighty hand … and allow You to lift us up in due time.  For you will not yield your glory to another … and whoever exalts themselves will be humbled. You, Lord,  are the potter; and we are the clay in your hands. You, O God, determined in advance the works you have prepared for your people to accomplish.  You, O Lord, appointed gifts for your people as you determined.  What you chose for one you did not choose for another … so that we might submit ourselves to one another … so that we might serve one another in love as you taught us.  So I pray, Lord, that we will respond to this wisdom you have given us … that we, your children,  might be meek and lowly in heart … that we might not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. So let us exercise our gifts according to your grace so that YOU and you alone are exalted! In your name, I pray.  Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Think on These Things…

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Ever find yourself stuck in a negative thinking pattern?  I know that I have … and I have sometimes struggled to get out of its ditch.  But what is the source of negative thinking?  Why does it overtake us at times?  I believe one of the reasons is unfulfilled expectations.  We expect something to happen, and when it does not come about, we feel disappointed.  We might feel rejected when a relationship becomes severed.  We might feel hurt when that new position was not granted and given to someone else.  Such situations can cause our emotions … our flesh … to take hold of disappointment and allow it to fester into bitterness, and perhaps, even anger….

Sometimes negative thinking is the function of low expectations and feelings of worthlessness.  A person could believe that life is too hard, unfair, or unkind, and might not expect that any degree of happiness is attainable.  There are very real situations such as extreme poverty, oppression, the effects of violence and abuse, which can easily discourage or obscure reasons for hope. Yet, some of the most emotionally and spiritually healthy people that I have met in life have suffered these types of situations and circumstances.  People I have met in third-world countries, who endure personal hardships beyond my imagination, have inspired me with their faith, joy, and contentment.  What causes their countenance to shine under such conditions?  What changes low expectations or unfulfilled expectations into attitudes of joy and hope?  Is it not how we view and think about the contexts in which we live or the relationships that permeate our lives?

In our verse, Paul gives us some exhortations to elevate our thinking patterns, and it encourages us to not be unduly swayed by the temporal circumstances of life.  Things did not always go the way Paul wanted them to go.  He bore a “thorn in the flesh” which he pleaded to the Lord to heal … but He did not remove it.  Paul did not allow even this unanswered prayer request to sever his relationship with the Lord.  He eventually learned there was a greater reason to keep it in place … to humble him … so that he might better understand the power of Christ to overcome our weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:6-10) Paul suffered many things at the hands of those outside the church … as well as inside the church.  Yet, Paul stayed focused on the hope of the resurrection.  Paul declared, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Cf. Philippians 3:10-11) In spite of the sufferings and disappointments he experienced, Paul would write:

Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What we think about is critical to a positive, emotionally healthy outlook on life.  The thoughts of our hearts are manifested in the exercise and expression of our faith.  And though some of us might have been victims of actual violence, abuse, hatred, cruelty, oppression, or injustice; our thinking does not have to take up permanent residence under the darkness of those experiences. Though there may be deep wounds and visible scars … profound emotional or spiritual brokenness … we know that in Christ Jesus we can find healing! In Jesus, we have access to a sanctuary of peace for our souls. He is the Prince of Peace! He is the peace of God which transcends all understanding.  Oh, indeed, Jesus is a refuge of light and hope!

I think the greatest precipitator of negative thoughts within our hearts are the emotions and memories that can form during human interactions which fail to meet our expectations for love, acceptance, respect, trust, devotion, and so forth.  Beyond physical interactions with others are the words we use to express our thoughts, ideas, and emotions.  There are words which can speak love and affirmation into the heart of another. But to often, we tend to dwell on the wounds of words spoken.  Harsh words spoken in haste … demeaning words spoken in hate … words spoken that inflict emotional harm. Such words reveal the inner thoughts of our true character and human pride.  And so I think we need to examine some Scriptures that address our attitudes and mindsets which impact our relationships:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Joseph, when he was sold into slavery in Egypt, persevered in faith.  Though he was severely mistreated by his own family, Joseph later said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Cf. Genesis 50:19-21) Jesus knew first-hand the sorrow of humiliation; the dejection of being misunderstood; the painfulness of rejection; and ultimately the trauma of psychological and physical abuse.  But on the cross of impending death, we find Jesus interceding, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Cf. Luke 23:34) And despite of the suffering and hardship that Paul endured to spread the Gospel, he did not let disappointment in the words or actions of others keep him from the zealous pursuit of intimacy with Christ. Paul allowed the transforming power and example of Christ to change the attitudes of his heart … and it is evident that his new way of thinking changed how he related to others.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in loveMake every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:22-27 (NIV)

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. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

There will always be disappointments in our lives.  There will always be the failure of others to meet our expectations.  There will always be situations and circumstances which God will allow to test our faith.  So when discouragement comes … when frustration arises … when bitterness or anger attempt to take root, Paul advises us to think on better things … to take the higher road … to follow the examples of Christ who suffered all these things and more:

Colossians 3:1-17 (NIV)

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

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!

A Gentle Answer

Colossians 4:5-6

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.

I think this passage is familiar to most of us … and its message is one of humility in our attitude and conduct.  Too often, I have seen Christians view themselves or project themselves to others as “superior” because they have come to a knowledge of the truth and believe that Jesus is the Son of God … sent to be our Savior, to redeem us, and to reconcile us to God the Father.  Sometimes they allow themselves to become filled with pride over their salvation … forgetting they did nothing to earn or deserve the unmerited kindness and mercy shown by God.  Salvation, at its core, is the most humbling experience a human being can undergo because we are utterly dependent on what God has done for us and there is nothing that we can add to it….  Salvation does not make us superior; rather, it makes us indebted to the One who gave us freedom from the penalty and power of sin.

That said … when we encounter other people, and especially those who are non-believers, Paul instructs us to be wise in how we act and speak toward them.  We are to approach others with the same attitude and grace as Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Why is this important?  Why does Paul instruct us to be careful in how we approach seekers and non-believers?  Because we ourselves received Jesus Christ through faith … and this was not of our ourselves … it was the gift of God. (Cf. Ephesians 2:8).  It was the kindness of God that led us to repentance in the first place. (Cf. Romans 2:4) So we are to be kind to one another … compassionate … forgiving … just as in Christ Jesus God forgave us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) As Paul related to Timothy, the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, and not resentful. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:24) So let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer everyone.  This will equip us to make the most of every opportunity we are given to lead others to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Ability of Humility

Philippians 2:5-8

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

I love this passage of Scripture because it gives us a defined expectation for how we are to approach relationships with one another.  Paul clearly indicates that our own personal mindset that should determine the character and quality of our human relationships.  Embedded in his thought process is that we should have the inclination or mental attitude as Christ Jesus.  It is a fixed state of mind … unwavering.  Steadfast.  Resolved. Committed.

So what was the mindset of our Lord?  How did He view His relationships with people … with us?  Paul indicates that Jesus displayed an inconceivable attitude of humility.  “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage.”  He took on the very nature of a human servant! And He was so obedient to His Master – Father God – that He was willing to die for the purchase of our redemption … even death on a cross.  Wow!  The bar was set extremely high for us! 

Is Paul using hyperbole?  I’m not inclined to believe he is doing so.  I think he is just trying to describe the “mindset” or “attitude” of humility we are to emulate.  Our tendency as humans is compare ourselves with others and then find some point with which to elevate ourselves – mostly in our own eyes but sometimes in the form of diminishing others.  It reminds me of a parable Jesus told:

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

It is clear that our Lord Jesus desires us to be humble in our attitudes … in our spirits … and in our conduct.  As Paul more fully shared, humility is to govern our relationships within the Church – the Body of Christ:

Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with yourfaith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

The most tangible manifestation of that character is to be willing to love one another to the fullest depth possible – regardless of the personal cost.  And put in context, the giving of ourselves through serving the needs of others within the Body of Christ … as each of us has been uniquely equipped to do … is the application of this passage.  We are not to boast of our gifts … or find pride in them … rather we are to exercise them for the needs of others.  Servanthood.  That was the mind of Christ when He walked this earth.  That is the heart of Christ as He lives in us.  We have been redeemed to participate in the divine nature to operate in our spiritual giftedness for the benefit of others.  Humble servants is what Jesus called us to be for His Kingdom and glory!  

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!