Discovering Ministry for Men
Added a new course to the training materials – part one of a 3 week course.
Added a new course to the training materials – part one of a 3 week course.
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road? A: To get to the other side!
Q: What did the cat say to the elephant? A: Meow
Q: What kind of keys do kids like to carry? A: Cookies
Q: What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? A: Frostbite
Q: Why do bees hum? A: Because they’ve forgotten the words!
Q: Why did the cat cross the road? A: It was the chicken’s day off!
When you were a kid most of those would have been the funniest things you’d ever heard. My son has a joke book and he loves it – can’t get enough and the kids will hit one or two that simply crack them up. Watching him is much funnier that the jokes themselves.
How come we don’t find them funny as adults?
Because we’ve matured! We might have started out on jokes like them but tastes change as we grow and develop. That’s what happens with childhood – we grow out of it. How fast do kids go from kindergarten to hitting high school and suddenly needing to sort out university placements? Can you remember the events of your kids’ lives as they have grown – riding a bike, eating some weird food, learning to write or read, performing their first song or dance or concert or whatever – developing strengths, abilities, growing, maturing – do you remember?
Childhood is one of the main analogies the Bible uses to talk about maturating as Christians.
Mark 10:13-16 “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”
The only way we can receive the kingdom of God is to come as children – with childlike faith – putting our trust and our lives in Jesus hands – we have to receive the kingdom without any pretense that somehow we are the ones earning it or making our own way to salvation. But childhood is not where we should stay – though many Christians do!
Hebrews 5:11-14 “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
There should be an expectation, just as we do in every area of life, that young Christians will grow and mature. If you have teenagers at home – what are your hopes and expectations and plans for them – whatever plans they have? How do you feel about them staying at home till they are 25 or 35 or 45 – not making a career, not getting their own lives, not marrying, playing video games or partying for the next 20+ years…? We’re seeing some of these phenomena in our society and it grates on us – we see it as a lack of maturing. We have expectations a progress of maturity from childhood to adulthood. A child who never learns to cross the road by themselves is in grave danger. Your boss is unlikely to be happy if you never grow to maturity in you job. You can’t drive on L plates for the rest of your life – you’re expected to move on and grow. You can’t expect mum and dad are going to pay for your life forever – at some point you have to grow to maturity and take responsibility for yourself.
Why don’t we assume the same thing in faith and Christian life? An expectation of growth to maturity and then growth in maturity.
Many churches suffer from immaturity – from a lack of growth. Paul tells Timothy that there are dangers for the immature Christian.
1 Timothy 4:1-5 “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
The debate on Stem Cell Research continues – it’s a hard, complex topic with many interest groups on both sides. But one of the most common points made in its defence is that the scientists and researchers are all only interested in helping mankind, bettering mankind, easing suffering and curing diseases. I’m sorry to point this out but that’s like saying North Korea and Iran only want nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes. When did we become so gullible? There is a huge amount of money to be made in stem cell research – most of which is being funded by multi-national pharmaceutical companies. There is a huge amount of control and power to be gained, and a massive amount of kudos to be gained – imagine being the scientist who cures Alzheimer’s. There may or may not be merit to stem cell research – but being gullible in the debate leaves us open to foolish decisions.
Being gullible in faith does the same. Maturity leads to the ability to discern between right and wrong, between good and evil, between deceiving spirits and the Holy Spirit. Paul says to Timothy the danger is very real – don’t be a fool when it comes to Christian things – there will be people who want to take advantage of Christians. How do we deal with it?
1 Timothy 4:6-8 “If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
How do we deal with the danger? We be open about it – we confront wrong teaching, we stick to the truth of the Bible, we leave old wives tales to the old wives and we train ourselves to be Godly. These words are written to Timothy as a leader – but he’s told to pass them on to reliable Christians who will also pass them on – this is Christian maturity at work.
Training ourselves to be Godly is not hard – being Godly can be hard – but the training process is simple. I’m trying to loose weight and get fitter again after a couple of years of setbacks in those areas. It’s not something I find easy but I know that physical training is of some value so I get out there and walk. I know that self control with food is one of the keys so I’m watching my diet and eating well. Training takes hard work but the process is simple enough.
Godly training holds great value for this life and the next – and it’s relatively obvious what we have to do. Timothy had some basic instructions to follow.
1 Timothy 4:13-16 “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Do you think it would be fair to say that if Timothy and all who follow in his footsteps are to devote themselves to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching – then we should be devoted to those things as hearers and readers?
The Dummies Guide to Maturity says some pretty simple things.
Why do we gather together…?
Colossians 3:16-17 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 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.”
With the word of God our task is to teach and admonish one another – to minister to each other’s needs and maturity. The Dummies Guide to Maturity says that ministry is not just formal or done from the front – but is informal – it’s about relationships – it happens over morning tea, it happens when you’re singing a tune, it happens when you pray with someone, matter of fact it’s happening right now.
Sorry – couldn’t resist!
When you speak to others after church will your aim be ministry or are you totally focused on coffee? If someone is hurting will you pray for them and listen to them – will you be obviously open to that – will you pay attention and offer assistance rather than wait for them to start? Will you share the truth of God’s word together or the reality of the weather?
Can I ask… Is it hard to ask the right questions or speak the truth?
“Hi George – how have you been?”
“What did you think of the sermon this morning? Do you know – I’m not sure I know how to encourage people with my singing – what do you reckon?”
“Hi there – I don’t think I’ve met you – I’m Alfred. Great passage this morning – that young fella Paul’s a gun preacher – but I’m not really sure I got his last point. What did you think?”
“You know… Paul really laid it on the line for Timothy. He was only 19 – big responsibility. I must admit I find it hard some days to read the Bible…”
The Dummies Guide to Maturity has a bit of a single track – reading the Bible. It hasn’t said much about the Holy Spirit or prayer, or about helping other, acts of kindness and mercy, singing, worship, praising, meditation, fasting… all good stuff. But when it comes to maturing the big element is the Bible.
Jesus says that growth comes from receiving, hearing, retaining and persevering in the word of God.
Luke 8:11-15 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
Which one are you? When the seed comes do you…
It’s interesting I think – there is only one crop that makes sense – there’s only one sort of Christian – the maturing persevering sort. The rest of the soils produce nothing – they are not growing – they whither and die.
A friend sent me this great news article about a new store in New York – “The Husband Store!”
A store that sells husbands has just opened in New York City, catering for women wishing to choose the perfect husband. As you enter the store you are greeted like royalty and escorted to the lift – and handed an instruction sheet, which explains how the store operates.
You may visit the store ONLY ONCE! There are six floors and as the lift ascends each level so do the qualities and attributes of the men increase. There is of course a catch – you can choose a bloke from any floor but once you have passed on a floor you cannot revisit – you can only go back down to exit the store!
So, this woman goes in one day to the Husband Store to find a husband.
Into the lift she goes and to the 1st floor. The doors open and she reads the sign over the doors; 1st Floor – These men have jobs and love the Lord. (This is America after all.)
Sounds great but she wonders to herself what the next floor might contain. So up she goes. The lift opens and the second floor sign reads; 2nd Floor – These men have jobs, love the Lord, and love kids.
Tempted as she is – and really who could want for more, she presses the button for the third floor. The doors open and she reads… 3rd Floor – These men have jobs, love the Lord, love kids, are extremely good looking and guaranteed to remain faithful.
“WOW”. This is just too good to be true – yet she feels compelled – what might she be missing out on… so she pushes the button, the lift ascends one more floor. The doors open again, this time on the fourth floor and she reads… 4th Floor – These men have jobs, love the Lord, love kids, are incredibly good looking, guaranteed to remain faithful and help with the housework.
Fact of the matter is she can hardly wait to close the door – again tempted as she is to rush out and grab one off the rack. She can hardly stand the suspense, pushes the button, and fidgets as the lift so slowly ascends once more. The doors open on the fifth floor and she reads… 5th Floor – These men have jobs, love the Lord, love kids, are unbelievably gorgeous, are guaranteed to remain faithful, help with the housework, and have a strong romantic streak.
There is however one floor left – she almost pounces on the button, hardly able to contain herself wondering what on earth the 6th floor might hold that could be better than all she has seen so far. The door opens and she steps out, eagerly scanning the sign, a large electronic display which reads… 6th Floor – You are visitor 4,363,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor. This floor exists solely to prove that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store. Watch your step as you exit the building, and have a nice day!
I don’t know if the story has any element of truth – but I do know materialism comes from one place – being impossible to please.
Western society is affluent – in Sydney plenty of people on unemployment benefits have mobile phones and Foxtel. We consume at a rate that beggar’s belief. Australia is clearly in the top ten wealthiest nations on earth yet in surveys more than 60% of us say we cannot afford the things we need to buy. We are in the top 5 countries for disposable income. Houses are getting bigger; families are getting smaller. The term coined in the last decade or so seems so appropriate – affluenza – the disease of greed and affluence. Materialism is a disease – it’s an enemy that plays on our lack of contentment. Instead of giving glory to God for his provision we turn to materialism… “I can make my life comfortable, happy, fulfilled, complete, by filling up with things”. “If I can just get ‘xyz’… then I will be happy, fulfilled and content!
It’s such a threat Jesus says…
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Now – if you have your Bible handy cross out Money and put back in the word that should be there – Mammon – you cannot serve both God and mammon. It means money, possessions, the values of the world… filling up.
Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Mammon is simply treasured possessions… as Jesus says… they are treasured so highly that they become the boss.
Materialism or affluence – is not simply money – it’s really about ownership and the gathering in. Possessions, things, money, riches – in themselves they mean nothing – they are neither good nor bad. But when they become master – when the possessions possess us – then we have a problem. Jesus calls us to recognize that we cannot serve God and mammon – we cannot place ourselves at God’s disposal as his slaves and servants, and be dedicated not just in word or thought but in action to the requirements and activities of the kingdom – and at the same time be dedicated to the gathering of wealth and possessions and to the demands and activities of that lifestyle. We cannot at the same time be storing up wealth on earth and storing up wealth in heaven – the two simply don’t go together.
Luke 12:13-15 “Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
What does Jesus say to the bloke who asks the simple and fair question – my brother is ripping me off out of my inheritance – can you tell him to share what is rightfully mine. Seems fair enough doesn’t it? The Rabbis, of which Jesus was one, regularly settled these sorts of disputes – so there is no surprise that the man comes to Jesus. And let’s be honest – we hate it when life seems unfair – we’re automatically on the side of the questioner. We want Jesus to side with him, to say “of course it’s unfair, you are totally in the right and of course I will talk with him.” We can see ourselves in the same boat and wishing we could have Jesus side with us in our disputes.
Yet Jesus says “Watch Out!”
Watch out for what?
The desire to get his fair share of what is rightfully his is a form of greed – fair or otherwise life is not about possessions. Instead of answering Jesus tells a parable.
Luke 12:16-21 “…“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
God says… “You fool”. He has a bumper year; his barns can’t hold what he harvests so he builds. Perfectly logical! Then he says “I’m going to enjoy the fruits of my hard work.” Why not – he probably has worked very hard, made good decisions – God has obviously blessed his labors and it’s time to enjoy. His neighbors are all jealous of his success – “…wish it was me…” Surely Jesus’ words come as a shock. One of the foundations stones of Australian society is work hard so you can enjoy. Work for the weekend used to be one of our catch phrases. Almost every Australian worker is storing up the abundance of their crops in bigger and bigger barns for future enjoyment and relaxation – it’s called superannuation. Jesus says… “You fool.”
How is he a fool?
Luke 12:19 “And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
He thinks life is about accumulating possessions – the one with the most toys, wins! That’s what kids think – they look in catalogues or watch the ads on TV and declare adamantly that they need to get the latest doll, game, sports equipment, MacDonald’s burger deal, holiday to New Caledonia… Target is having a toy sale – we should go! Big W has a DVD sale – we need some new ones dad!
It’s not just kids that think this way though – we should have learned that life is not about how much stuff you have – yet how often do we judge the worth or value of someone, how often do we assess their lifestyle based on what they earn, what they have, the house they live in, the car they drive, how much they earn, the clothes they wear. Our society agrees with the rich fool – life is about possessions.
Not only does the fool think life is about possessions – he also thinks life is about now. He’s planning what he can spend in the short period of life we call retirement. You work till 65, you might live another 20-30 years. They used to say superannuation was a way of helping your kids. Now the ads say superannuation is about revenge on your kids.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
Saving for the future is sensible – trusting in it is not. We had Christian friends who had it all in retirement – their life savings were substantial to say the least – he worked massive hours and was paid handsomely. He was a hoarder of wealth – in any form he could manage it. He died 18 months after retirement. His widow lives in their massive waterfront unit in a beachside suburb and has lots of money. Their children are not Christians – but they are successful – they learned the lessons they were taught.
Like the rich fool what we need to be prepared for is not the 20-30 years of retirement but the eternity that follows. That doesn’t just mean becoming a Christian – it means living as one. It means giving up the world’s value of possessions and money and not trusting in them. It means seeing our wealth, small or great, as an opportunity to be generous.
Luke 12:15 Jesus said… “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Luke 12:19 Jesus said “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
The Dummies Guide to Materialism says…
Luke 12:22-26 “Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”
Galatians 1:8-9 “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
Luke 12:21 “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
This still doesn’t mean we will be wealthy – but God will provide our basic needs and maybe even some of our desires – he is a generous God who wants us to be content – not in the things we do or don’t have but content with his power, control and sovereignty. To defeat the allure of materialism we have to trust in God’s sovereignty. Life is not about the abundance of our possessions – life is about being rich towards God.
Luke 12:32-34 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
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A 10,000 seat church in America was filled to overflowing one Sunday morning. As the preacher rose to preach two men dressed in long black coats entered the rear of the church. One walked to the middle of the church – the other stayed at the back. On cue they reached under their coats and withdrew automatic weapons. “Everyone willing to take a bullet for Jesus stay in your seats!”
The church emptied – the choir ran for the exits, there were people scrambling over one another – it was bedlam – the junior staff, the assistant ministers – all ran. It wasn’t long before there were just twenty people left sitting. The preacher stood alone at the pulpit.
The two men put their weapons away, sat down and said, gently, to the preacher, “It’s OK boss – the hypocrites are gone now. You may begin.”
What do you reckon? Is that a harsh call? What would you do? As much as the joke above is an attempt at humour, there have been attacks on churches.
“The Saint James Church massacre was a massacre perpetrated on St James Church in Kenilworth, Cape Town on 25 July 1993 by four cadres of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA). 11 members of the congregation were killed and 58 wounded. In 1998 the attackers were granted amnesty for their participation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
“The attack occurred during the Sunday evening service. The attackers approached the church in a vehicle stolen beforehand. They entered the church armed with M26 hand grenades and R4 assault rifles. They threw the grenades and then opened fire on the congregation, killing 11 and wounding 58. One member of the congregation returned fire with a .38 special revolver, wounding one of the attackers. At this point they fled the church. The attackers had also been ordered to throw four petrol bombs into the church following the shooting, but abandoned this intention as all four fled in the vehicle.” (See http://frankretief.wordpress.com/about/the-st-james-church-massacre/ for further details.)
Frank Retief’s church was bombed by terrorists. Search on the internet and it won’t take you long to come up with a list of news stories of churches in Indonesia and other Islamic countries being threatened and bombed, of churches and Christians facing far more than the mere threat of death and destruction.
Isaiah 7:9 “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”
There are plenty of people who think – and claim – that the church is simply a haven for hypocrites – that there is no way they’d join a church or enslave themselves to Jesus because of the hypocrites.
Here’s an excerpt from a letter a friend of mine in England received.
“I choose not to believe in the incredible hotchpotch of superstition which is Christianity… which is all the more understandable if you come from Northern Ireland, a place where religion has been the excuse for appalling barbarity.”
He’s not alone – and I guess if we take a moment we can understand, especially coming out of one of the countries in the world that has been torn apart by religious factionalism, as has Ireland. He’s not alone… every time there is a terrorist act the fundamentalist Islamic movements get the blame (automatically) and then the bleeding hearts run around in the media claiming that its religious fundamentalism of any creed or colour that is the problem and that Christians are just as much a problem. The church is full of hypocrites – we condemn Islam for its fundamentalism and violence yet we Christians have been guilty of the same thing in wars and empire building. America – a “Christian” country promotes violence to deal with violence. The British Empire was built on the back of the slave trade as white “Christians” claimed the blacks were sub-human. We should be honest about our history. The crusades were fought against the Moors – the Muslims – and great atrocities were committed by both sides – including the “Christian” knights and soldiers. We preach one thing and do another.
Though let me also say this is not about what Christians do in wartime. It must be monumentally hard to not be drawn into the brutality of war. It is a fearful thing to go to war, to be face to face with enemies whose greatest desire is your death. There is no way we can imagine the horrors of what men (and women) went through in both World Wars, in the Vietnam war, in Cambodia, Laos and Afghanistan – to name just a few of the many conflicts. If you are ever in doubt the watch ‘Band of Brothers’ or ‘The Pacific’. I’m with Spielberg and Hanks who want us not to forget the true horror of war and what it does to families and individuals.
We preach one thing and do another – from my point of view there is certainly a picture, even today of the church spouting old fashion morals and pious rubbish. No matter the changes to the church people’s view is an old view.
What do you think?
Is the church full of hypocrites?
What is a Hypocrite?
A hypocrite says he’s one thing but is in fact another – an actor playing a role (not having a go at actual actors!). The hypocrite claims to believe (in the context of church) but their beliefs are not borne out in their day to day existence.
If that is the church… then we’re in trouble! Even if we just take Jesus’ words and no one else’s – he responded scathingly to the hypocrites of his day.
Matthew 23:23-28 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “…You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. “…You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
A hypocrite is someone who intentionally lives one way whilst claiming to live another. So we would have to say yes – in some ways we are hypocrites. Though no more so than any other person – the environmentalist who drives a car or worse flies all over the world promoting carbon taxes? The vegetarian who drinks milk and eats fish? The peace activist that beats his wife? The bank manager who steals his client’s money. The politician who demands austerity from the nation and then doubles her own salary? The list could go on.
Think about the Simpsons – Ned Flanders and the Simpson family – every church member in the Simpsons is a hypocrite – not one of them lives by what they say or what they hear – they’re in church because they are American. Except Ned – he’s twisted by his desire to what God says – he’s so fundamentalist that he’s almost a pretzel, turning in on himself. He’s a nerd – he’s a geek – but he is trying to live God’s way. I know it’s only a tv show, a cartoon at that – but it is also a fascinating snapshot of church life – and you can bet that lots of people in our world have their views shaped by what they see in the Simpsons and elsewhere.
There surely are hypocrites in the church – in my opinion less so than 50 years ago when going to church helped your career and social standing – but for most people in the church today they are aiming to serve Christ faithfully – we’re just not very good at it.
Which is the point – we will never be good at it – that’s why Jesus had to die for our sins.
Luke 5:31-32 “Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
To come to Christ at all we have to acknowledge that we will never on our own be good enough – we will always have the appearance of being hypocrites in some ways. Unless we are perfect we will always look hypocritical – but if we are perfect we don’t need Jesus at all.
How do we answer the question? How do we defend the accusation?
Let me say when people ask this sort of question don’t back down – this is a great opportunity because often they think they have been really clever and that there is no way we can answer the question/defend the accusation. But we can – and in doing so we can show them the truth.
Let’s say you’re in a conversation with an old friend – school, work, wherever.
In every conversation where someone has a go at us for Christianity we want to get to the point we can ask them the hard questions – the salvation questions. It’s the example Jesus gave us – he always came back at his questioners and accusers. Never think they have the upper hand! Never let them go without a hard question. Put the onus back on them to defend their position. Because fact is – if either of you are a hypocrite – it’s not going to be the Christian who is striving to live faithfully (and fails regularly). Rather it’s the non-Christian who says that they can deal with sin and death themselves – that they’ll be ok – that’s where the issue lies.
Apparently this is the alcoholic’s prayer – it’s a little bit ’12-step’ and it comes across as pious (like the pharisee and the tax-collector in the temple) – but maybe there is some truth in it for Christians too.
We need, as Christians, to take the accusation seriously – that the church is made up of hypocrites. We need to deal with it individually and corporately – all too often the church has been seen to allow sin to flourish rather than to stand against sin – and yes I mean inside the church.
But we also want to take to heart what God says about us.
Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
But that perfection only comes by Christ’s sacrifice – not by our efforts.
Hebrews 10:14 “…because by one sacrifice he [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
We need to be aware as Christians who are fighting the fight and learning to live like Christ that even as we fail and get back on the horse and seek to serve again, that we are being made into the likeness of Christ. We are both sanctified once for all by Christ’s death – and we are being sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit. Or to put it another way – we are being made, by the work of the Spirit, into the people that God sees us as right now. We are becoming in reality – what we are now.
Hebrews 12:10 “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”
As we grow and mature we take on Christ-likeness – just as God promises – and we will become more aware of our failure to be like Christ. But there is truth in that prayer – if we belong to Christ then God IS sanctifying us – making us like Jesus. We are no longer the person we once were – and despite the attacks of the world it’s worth remembering that in God’s eyes when we belong to Christ, he sees us as perfect. We should take to heart the words of John – even as we seek and strive each day to live without hypocrisy.
1 John 2:1-2 “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Luke 19:1-4 “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.”
Zacchaeus – short, dumpy (?), rich, middle aged, successful, balding (?), hard nosed, tough as nails, in your face, tax collector – no offense but I’m thinking Danny D’vito in the first century. Jericho was a major tax collection centre and Zacchaeus apparently a successful tax collector – a chief collector so maybe he had others working for him, or maybe he was just exceptional at his job. His name means “clean” or “innocent”… possibly in the sense that a baby is?!
He’s not well liked – clearly he’s a sinner, and from people’s opinions a sinner of sinners… he is a traitor to Israel – he has enemies – he has few friends – he is a thief and scum and he’s protected by the Roman system. He preys on his fellow Jews – he collects their hard earned cash to give to the Roman invaders and he takes a solid cut for himself.
“One for the Romans, one for me.”
“One for the Romans… hmmm… it’s been a hard week this week – so many bills…. two for me.”
All that… yet something is obviously not working out for him – mid life crisis, emptiness inside, maybe he’s working out that riches aren’t everything and that he needs something more…? Whatever it is he climbs a tree to see Jesus.
Zacchaeus is middle aged probably – 40’s – some of us know what that’s like, some of us wish that we were closer to the beginning of our 40’s rather than the end of them… but I have to say it’s been some time since I climbed a tree? In our 40’s most of us are not as nimble as we once were. As a kid I could spend all afternoon high up in the Mulberry tree next door – massive thing – covered the whole backyard. But now – it would be embarrassing – clumsy, humiliating, probably painful… in front of a crowd…?! Not a good look.
Luke 19:5-6 “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.”
Jesus knew his name! Meeting a celebrity is one thing – Zacc would have been happy to catch a glimpse – but – Jesus knows his name. He climbs down and welcomes Jesus into his home – gladly?
The people aren’t too glad – they want Jesus to use their values.
Luke 19:7 “…the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’”
Our value systems leave a lot to be desired – we base decisions on jobs, colour of skin, social standing, country of origin, beauty and ugliness, height, popularity, sporting prowess – anything we can find that in reality has no value. The Jews were the same – on the road into Jericho they tell a blind man to shut up when he calls out for Jesus to heal him – compassionate…! Zacchaeus WAS a traitor and a sinner – he stole from his own people – he wouldn’t have been welcome in the Temple, though it probably wasn’t high on his list of priorities – he’d sold his soul to the Romans.
Luke 19:8 “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Zacchaeus doesn’t happen in a vacuum – the story is the last one of 8 related stories – they share a common theme – not of money but of reversal. In chapter 18 we start with the parable of the persistent widow – it’s about prayer – but it has a kick in the tale – a question from Jesus.
Luke 18:8 “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Will he find faith? Remembering that he came to the ‘people of God’ so faith would be something of a given… surely? The story that follows is the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple… then followed by Jesus demanding the disciples allow the little children to come to him… then the rich young ruler. We meet the blind beggar, then Zacchaeus and then the parable of the talents – the king who leaves his stewards in charge of investing his money. Altogether these parables and meetings come before Jesus entering into Jerusalem as the triumphant king.
So the question…
Luke 18:8 “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
What about the Pharisee praying in the Temple – a serious religious man – Paul says of his own standing before God that he is 100% perfect as far as the law is concerned – I guess this Pharisee thinks along the same lines… he looks down on the self confessed sinful tax collector next to him.
Luke 19:11 “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.”
Totally assured of his own faith, blind to his position before God – “God will be impressed with me…”! Jesus says …no faith here – but the tax collector… he humbled himself before God and went home right with God – mercy was asked for and given.
The disciples try to stop the little children coming to Jesus – he not only demands they desist, but welcomes them openly into his arms – that’s a great picture of heaven? Jesus declares…
Luke 19:17 “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Question: will the Son of Man find faith?
Yes! But not in the proud and religious! In the sinners! In the socially irrelevant – the children! The tax collector understood his desperate plight and need for mercy. Children understand dependence.
The rich young ruler comes to Jesus.
Luke 19:18 “…Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He is good, moral, upright – perfect in human terms. Only has to sell all he owns and follow Jesus. But sadly he cannot give up what he has devoted his whole life to obtaining. Wealth gives power, status, comfort, security – it’s hard to walk away.
Luke 19:23 “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
It’s impossible… well no – but extremely hard for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven!
Luke 19:26 “Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Luke 19:27 “Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”
The RYR walks away – unchanged – it is hard for those who rely on money to give up the thing that supplies their worth, their value, their identity. The disciples ask the logical question – if the good man can’t get in to heaven unless he sells everything – what happens to people like the disciples who aren’t perfect but have given up everything? Need to reverse the values!
Luke 19:29-30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
As Jesus approaches Jericho the blind man calls out to him…
Luke 19:38 “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Lord… I want to see!”
Luke 19:42 “Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”
You realize the irony in this story don’t you? The only one in the great crowd of people whose eyes were open – who could see clearly… was the blind man! He’s been calling out to Jesus, Son of David, Lord – he’s the only one to actually see the truth. He brings no status or wealth, no position – he is outside the bounds of society – an irrelevance, cursed by God with blindness. He is not the upright RYR who also calls Jesus Lord. He’s not the self righteous Pharisee. He has no wealth – in fact the opposite – he is completely destitute – but he receives God’s mercy when the ‘good’ people don’t.
The heart of these stories is the great reversal of verses 31-34.
Luke 19:31-33 “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”
The great reversal – the Lord, King, Saviour, Master, Teacher, Son of God, Son of Man, Creator, sustainer – the one who could, should expect to be honoured as king, to enter triumphantly and be worshipped – instead… mocked, insulted, spat upon, flogged and killed.
Why does Jesus die in our place?
Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
Zacchaeus, the other tax collector, the blind man, the children – the “lost”. Zacchaeus somehow knows he’s in trouble – he climbs a tree to see Jesus… and given the opportunity he gladly welcomes Jesus into his home. What does that mean?
In the context of these stories and people – what does it mean to gladly welcome Jesus in?
Luke 19:8 “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
His gladness is not some private emotion – his gladness leads him to act. He generously gives away ½ his wealth in response to salvation – it’s an act of recognition. He obviously knows his wealth is stopping him – he sees the chance to make a new start, to be forgiven. Maybe that’s why he climbed the tree – he was empty – along comes the Son of Man – opportunity! Like the blind man… takes his one chance as Jesus walks by. He responds to salvation by giving away ½ – he repays all those he has cheated 4 times the amount. He must have had great records! At one level he is simply being a good Jew and responding to the law – Exodus 22:2 demanded a four-fold payment for a stolen sheep. But we can see that it is much more than that – he is bringing his lord and master – that is… money – he is bringing his old lord and master to the feet of his king – bringing it under the Lordship of Jesus.
Luke 19:9-10 “Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
The Dummies Guide to Money is a practical guide – and a simple one – and that’s realistic.
Luke 18:24-25 “Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Zacchaeus spent his adult life with money as master – he sold his soul and everything else to gain cash. His motto was Greed is good! We aren’t like Zacchaeus! Well… we are if we follow the world’s rules when it comes to money.
Zacchaeus used his money wisely – he gave up half – an unquestioning spur of the moment choice – based on the fact that money was winning and the only way to stop it… is to give it up. He pays back all those he has wronged. Was he still wealthy? Who knows? But what he did was to bring even his money under the Lordship of Jesus. He decides – and we know this is a hard thing for a rich man – the faithful, devout, good hearted Rich Young Ruler couldn’t do it… but Zacc decides to trust Jesus with his bank account. The Dummies Guide to Money says… trust Jesus with your cash – even when it hurts.
How hard is it for a rich man to get into heaven? About the same as a camel going through the eye of a needle! Zacchaeus is a camel!
What is impossible for man – is not impossible for God – he can change even those for whom money is god.
Luke 19:9 “Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.”
The way you treat money is a sure sign of where you stand with Jesus – and your eternity hangs on it. Be generous with it for the kingdom of God and be wary of it in every other circumstance.
Revelation is the only book in the Bible that starts by proclaiming the God’s blessing on those who read and take to heart what is said. By reading, rightly understanding and then acting on this book in our lives we will receive God’s blessings! Rather than being afraid of Revelation, as so many Christians and ministers seem to be, we should be taking it as the most exciting letter about the gospel: through Revelation we receive all God’s blessing through Jesus. Revelation is a gospel book. It’s an exciting book – and if God expects that we will apply it then God must expect that we’ll be able to understand it. So 2 Timothy 3:16-17 applies to the book of Revelation as it does to any other passage…
2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Revelation is a letter of great drama – exciting, dramatic events portrayed… dramatically! It’s the Saturday afternoon melodrama. It’s a big picture book, not a puzzle book – we don’t have to understand every detail. But more than just a book – it’s an epic tale. Think of Revelation as one of the great Hollywood blockbusters – with a massive budget and incredible special effects and the very best cast and crew and the greatest director of all time. Revelation gathers together all the threads of the story, gathers the threads of salvation history and brings it to cataclysmic ending, as we reach the final great battle between good and evil – a battle won on the cross, a battle that never occurs in Revelation because Jesus has already defeated death and sin. Revelation is a huge movie that invites us to cheer on the good guys and love the hero, and boo and hiss as the evil one and his minions as they take the stage. We join in with the chorus of the heavenly choir, we shudder at the descriptions of evil and tyranny, the end of the world, and we share in the hope of heaven and the lamb ruling for eternity. Revelation is a letter that should hit us emotionally as well as mentally and spiritually. We should be able to hear the terror in their voices and smell the fear…
Revelation 6:15-17 “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (NIV)
Who can stand? Revelation is not some mystical journey through wacky images but a clear vision of Christ’s rule and his love and mercy towards us, of who can stand in the face of God’s anger, and the security and salvation we can receive at the hands of the king of all creation.
Sermons as mp3’s can be downloaded from http://jacsermons.mypodcast.com/index.html or you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes with this link… http://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/jamberoo-anglican-church-sermons/id383796568. We have started video introductions using youtube at http://www.youtube.com/user/dvc1964.
Series introduction – Revelation
Being totally honest – Revelation is a strange book. For many Christians Revelation is number one on the top-ten list of books not to read. For others Revelation is the only book to read – and people come up with all sorts of weird theology they claim as the message of Revelation. We see it regularly in the news – someone claiming the end of the world is here and Armageddon has begun – from the book of Revelation. As a teenager there were all sorts of strange little comic book tracts about the end of the world, taken from Revelation. There are books about the Rapture, movies that look almost demonic, claims about the battle of Armageddon, the devil, the lake of fire, the angel army, the 1000 year reign of Christ – and so many more it hurts my head! Revelation gets a bad name either way and for so many Christians that has meant we decide to keep it at the end, out of harm’s way – out of mind out of sight! But I want to show you that Revelation is a wonderful exciting book for normal people. It is understandable for normal people – as opposed to understandable for apocalyptic theologians – that it makes sense in a world where so often very few things make sense. I want to show you that it’s the most exciting and encouraging book in the Bible, that it speaks at length about the things we are passionate about.
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 1 Introduction 2011
Revelation is a strange book with a bad name – but it’s far more understandable than people make out. It is maybe the most exciting book in the Bible because it speaks at length about things we’re passionate about – not Armageddon and the 1000 year reign of Christ so much as the victory of Jesus won on the cross – that’s the basic theme of the Revelation, the gospel of Jesus. As we deal with the weirdness – the beasts, and numbers, colours, dragons, robes and creatures, trumpets and angels, scarlet women, great cities, battles and armies – those lurid images of the end times – we have to focus on what revelation focuses on – Jesus the King. It is written in a particular style – apocalyptic literature – picture language – it’s designed with a sense of the big picture rather than instructing us to interpret every little thing. As Christ Jesus he stands in glory as the king of all creation we are meant to be impressed.
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 1
As we consider the Church of Ephesus and the wider ancient church and we turn our eyes to ourselves – what would Christ Jesus say to us? If we think Jesus would simply say – you’re doing great – no worries… then we are probably fooling ourselves. To the ancient church Jesus reminds them of his might and power, and how pathetic the worldly powers are. He demands they repent – of a lack of love, of mediocrity, of false teaching and godless behaviour and he repeatedly calls on them to resist temptation, to resist the world and to stand against false gods. He encourages them to conquer, to follow in his footsteps and he promises that those who overcome in this life will receive the crown of life, will eat from the tree of life, will be delivered from hell and will share in his rule over the nations.
What would he say to our church? What encouragement would he give? What demands for repentance would he make? Are we committed – to godliness, to love, to faith, to the scriptures? Are we committed to pressing on and to the gospel witness? Are we committed to the kingdom above all else – or to ourselves?
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 2
As we consider the churches in Asia Minor and the wider ancient church and we turn our eyes to ourselves – what would Christ Jesus say to us? If we think Jesus would simply say – you’re doing great – no worries… then we are probably fooling ourselves. To the ancient church Jesus reminds them of his might and power, and how pathetic the worldly powers are. He demands they repent – of a lack of love, of mediocrity, of false teaching and godless behaviour and he epeatedly calls on them to resist temptation, to resist the world and to stand against false gods. He encourages them to conquer, to follow in his footsteps and he promises that those who overcome in this life will receive the crown of life, will eat from the tree of life, will be delivered from hell and will share in his rule over the nations.
What would he say to our church? What encouragement would he give? What demands for repentance would he make? Are we committed – to godliness, to love, to faith, to the scriptures? Are we committed to pressing on and to the gospel witness? Are we committed to the kingdom above all else – or to ourselves?
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 3
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 4
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 5
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 6
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 7
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 8-9
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 10-11
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 12-13
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 13-14
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 14-15
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 16
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 16a
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 17-18
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’ Revelation 19
To save mp3 to computer right click link and ‘save target as…’Revelation 21-22
How do we as Christians practically act as God’s stewards in this world? A steward is someone who looks after the owner’s property and protects the owner’s interests. Money, time, energy and everything else is exercised according to the owner’s instructions. They manage the property and honestly report to the owner every detail. One of the foundational passages for this in the NT is the parable of the talents.
Matthew 25:14-18 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”
In four blogs I want to look at Maturity, Ministry, Materialism and Money… to do so with some practical ideas – what do our choices and commitments say about our faith? Would someone know we are a Christian by the way we speak, the way we act, the way we spend our time, the movies we watch, the company we keep, the books we read, the way we spend money, the way we act at work, the way we treat the poor, the way we speak to or about our spouse or kids?
If you’ve ever been tempted to read one of the “Dummies Guide’s to…” – well that’s my aim – a “Dummies Guide to Stewardship”. You don’t have to be dumb or act dumb – a dummies guide is simply a non expert’s guide – an everyday guide. Stewardship for us is not a matter of putting into practice our expertise but rather putting into practice our beliefs and our trust.
I want to challenge you for four commitments.
Ministry’s such fun!
100 years ago that story might well have been a good description of church – things have changed dramatically (though you can still find churches that would not think this joke was a joke!). Ministers were scary – fire and brimstone preachers bellowing about sin and damnation from pulpits high in the air – dressed in black with big black Bibles. They still exist!
In the Anglican church and in plenty of others what the priest said was law – except it had greater authority because it came from God. The priest had standing in the church and the community; he was an integral part of society. Churches did limited ministries – teaching happened at church by the preacher. It happened in the home when every member of the family was catechised – which is what catechists used to do – come to your home and teach you the catechism – it’s in the back of the prayer book. The Priest preached and read services, did the prayers and the readings (3 or 4, even 5 at times) – there were few lay preachers or readers. Sunday Schools, if they existed, were tightly controlled by the minister, there were few youth groups, mostly no Bible Study groups (we have the Wesleys to thank for those in the modern church) – the ones that existed were an opportunity for the priest to come to preach to the gathered group in your home. I know this probably seems foreign to most – yet I know from personal experience that some groups still operate this way, and some ministers and even lay people operate this way.
Makes me wonder how they dealt with a passage like…
1 Peter 4:7-9 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ…”
Mostly today the church is very different. The 16thC Reformation changed how we view church and ministry by going back to NT principles – especially that ministry was never meant to be the exclusive domain of the professional ministers and priests. Peter speaks of the new people of God, the church, as a priesthood of all believers.
1 Peter 2:9-10 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Once we did not belong – we were not the people of God – but together now Christians are the people of God, the priests of the kingdom, called to declare the praises of Jesus who called us out of darkness – we are chosen and we are priests – a holy nation that crosses all boundaries, all colours, all national and racial differences to form one nation of priests under God.
The Dummies Guide to Ministry says… Ministry is not the domain of professionals – it is the responsibility and lifestyle of all who believe.
Peter writes about change – the real change that’s required of those who belong to Jesus. This shouldn’t come as a surprise – at least the theory – yet Peter goes to great lengths to describe the changes. His letters describe Christians at length – the new people of God – a chosen people, a royal priesthood, holy, a nation belonging to God, receivers of God’s mercy – God’s elect, strangers in the world, no longer strangers to God – spread throughout the world, yet gathered around the word, gathered before the throne of God – the chosen ones, made clean by God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, chosen for obedience, made one with Christ by his blood, granted peace and God’s grace in abundance. Why go on and on?
Why so many descriptions of the change?
Is it so detailed because even after 2000 years we still struggle to leave our old lives behind and be wholeheartedly committed to the new?
1 Peter 4:3 “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.”
All this we must leave behind gratefully, enthusiastically, with a sense of the reality that faces all people – that we must face God and deal with the lifestyle we have led.
1 Peter 4:4-5 “They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”
In the face of imminent judgement – how are we to live?
1 Peter 4:7-9 “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
This passage is the Dummies Guide to Ministry. As we read the rest of Peter we can see that as God’s gathered people we are to be holy, to be self controlled, to purify ourselves through reading and obeying the Scriptures. We are to love one another, to crave what is good, to encourage rather than tear down, to get rid of all the relational tools that don’t belong in the church – malice, rage, anger, slander – there are standards of behaviour and love that we must live according to, no matter how imperfectly.
It is spectacularly easy to fail in these areas, to fall back into the behaviours of our old life, to revive the relational tools we were committed to as non-Christians. If that’s where you find yourself – failing in relationships as Peter is speaking of here – it’s not impossible to change, though it will often feel like it is. If you wrong someone – apologise – go to them and seek forgiveness – be open about it, talk about it – ask them to forgive you. It’s tempting to just ask God and to think that’s enough – it’s not. When we sin we sin against God and people – we need to seek the forgiveness of both. If its 20 years ago then deal with it today – seek forgiveness today. Forgiveness can only happen when you seek it. And if you fail today – seek forgiveness from the person you have wronged and repent and start again. And if you fail tomorrow do it again. How many times do we need to forgive – or be forgiven…? Jesus says 7 times 70? 7 is the number of God, times the number of God, times 10. We might say infinity + 1.
Christians are the priesthood of the kingdom – we have a new lifestyle – not one given to satisfying our cravings but given to ministry. Don’t think of ministry as a great list of gifts and abilities – Pater has no lists – this is the Dummies Guide – the experts guide for the rest of us – it gives us the simplicity of love and hospitality. Every Christian is a minister – we are each responsible to build, encourage, teach and train – to use our gifts, which every one of us has been given, to further the work of the gospel. We are to think clearly and carefully about life, relationships, the world, church, the cross, salvation, money, family – think clearly about this things from God’s point of view. We are to be self controlled – not pursuing things that will kill us but instead that which will save and keep us. It’s the work of a lifetime – to give up pagan commitments and commit to the work and life of Christ. Ministry starts with love.
Actually – ministry starts with recognition – every one of us is a minister. There are no pew sitters in Christ’s kingdom.
1 Peter 4:7 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”
We have to start by believing God – he declares he has gifted us for his work.
Do you believe God?
Do you believe God when he says that you have been gifted by Him for the work of ministry? I guess I’d want to ask if you think God hasn’t gifted you – why is that? Why would God single you out to lack the gifts to serve in ministry – when he clearly promises that every Christian is gifted for the good of the church?
Maybe it’s hard for you to see where you can serve – maybe you need help working out where to get involved – maybe you need an environment that supports you or a ministry team who will encourage you – but the Bible is clear that each of us, as Christ’ chosen people, have been given the gifts required to serve Christ’s church faithfully.
1 Peter 4:9 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
The thing is – getting involved in ministry is not a complex issue. It’s not a matter of discovering a specific gift – though that can help. Rather it’s a matter of realising the wonder of what we have received – the grace of God, the riches of Christ, the glory of heaven, and the forgiveness of sins… once we realise how unbelievable it is that we are in a right relationship with God through Christ – ministry is the means by which we will share that news. Ministry starts with love that is clear about the nature of this world and the judgement to come and out of love for God and others shares the gospel.
When two people get married – how ready are they for what’s to come?
Let’s be honest – they are not!? They’re not ready for the changes, the commitment, the differences, the day-to-day wonder of learning to live in intimate relationship. But… we commit to love and to service – to love one another to the exclusion of anything that will destroy, wreck, hurt, damage etc.
It’s the same in ministry – we don’t have to know precisely what our gift is or how to use it – what we need is a commitment to love. With self control – not living just for pleasure… and with clear mindedness – not clouded with the world – and a commitment to pray – we must love each other deeply and offer hospitality without grumbling.
This is not just the Dummies Guide to Ministry – this is the whole of ministry. Everything else fits into these two ideas. Firstly Peter speaks of Agape – love of a family member – Christians – we are to demonstrate a real and abiding love for each other firstly by sharing the gospel together and building each other up in the truth of God’s word. That love is powerful because it can bring about the obliteration of sins. Peter says “love covers over a multitude of sins” – in the context of church and relationships and ministry. He doesn’t mean we sweep the sins under the carpet – we don’t deal with them as some churches do with a false ceremony of absolution, which has no effect whatsoever. No – the love of the Christian community can deal with sin – on the basis of love we can make sin disappear – we can remove the stain of sin from our relationship and relate to each other not based on sin but on holiness. The pain from personal hurt may well remain, but relationships can be rebuilt. Peter says we are through with sin – that was our lifestyle but no longer. Our practice should meet up with the theory, and though it never will in this world, that is what we are to strive for. We minister together when we deal with sin, forgive sin and no longer treat each other as sinners but as forgiven and beautiful.
Can I just make a bit of an aside and be really, really clear. Sweeping sins under the carpet is not what we are talking about. I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that a victim of abuse (for example) should be told that “love covers over a multitude of sins” as though that somehow fixes the sin of others who did the abusing – it doesn’t in any sense. But go from a different position – the active, compassionate, practical, persistent and long term love of a Christian congregation towards a victim of abuse can mend brokenness and ‘cover over’ the sins and bring healing.
- A girl who has been abused by her mother might (eventually) find a whole group of mums at church that care for her and provides the sort of relationship a daughter has with a mum. It’s not the same – but it can bring healing and strength, a person or people to confide in, get advice from and to learn from. The mum still needs to be brought to account if that’s possible. But you know what churches so often do – they support the mum because they can’t believe their friend would ever do such a thing, and they condemn the girl and try to force her back into the abusive relationship.
- Or consider the case of a paedophile priest – for too long the church has fumbled around ineptly dealing with these issues – all too often by sweeping the sin under the carpet, blaming the victims, and paying people off whilst moving priests to new location where their past is not obvious. The church has taken the idea of ‘love covering over a multitude of sins’ entirely the wrong way! This is wrong! The victims of abuse deserve support and love that in time may cover the effects of the sin by rebuilding trust, faith and hope. And for some victims this will not be complete until we reach heaven – in fact maybe for most victims. All too often the victims are the ones rejected by the church – frankly this is reprehensible – if we do that we deserve the condemnation we so often receive in the media. But a church can also demonstrate the love of Christ by not covering over the sin, by not excusing the behaviour of the abuser, by not condemning the abuse victim, by not allowing the evil to continue, by not assuming that the priest could never have done such things because he’s always been such a lovely man, by not excusing sin as an aberration. The priest who abuses deserves to feel the full effects of the law and the condemnation of the church. Whilst the aim of the law is punishment, the aim of the church is to bring that priest back from sin to forgiveness and relationship – but that should not EVER be an easy path and they must NEVER be trusted without responsible and obvious supervision at all times – that is part of loving both the victim and the perpetrator – and even of loving those who could have been victims had the priest been allowed to continue. They must repent publicly and openly (within the bounds of the law) – there must be no prevarication – they must be thrown out of the church and we must not fellowship with them until they are fully aware of their sinfulness, and make a full, honest and public confession and pay for their crimes – we must treat them like the criminals they are. If and only when they have completed an appropriate lengthy time of repentance and excommunication should they be allowed back into fellowship – under the strictest conditions and warnings. We may forgive the truly repentant, we may choose to fellowship again with them and treat them as a fellow Christian, but it is right that their sin should follow them – for the sake of others.
Anyway – back to the Dummies Guide – the second part of ministry is this…
1 Peter 4:9 “…Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
The word hospitality is not really the word we think of – it comes from a Greek word that means to demonstrate love to the stranger. It’s hard to see that in English. On the one hand we are to love our brothers and sisters deeply – with such love that we face up to sin – we don’t sweep it under the carpet but we deal with it – and once dealt with we forgive and get rid of it and no longer relate on the basis of the sin (duly noting what I have said above about abuse) – and – we are to love the stranger in our midst. We are to welcome strangers into our gatherings and into our lives. We are to give them of ourselves, our homes, our wealth, our resources, our time, our energy – we have a responsibility as priests of the Kingdom to…
1 Peter 2:9 “…declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
True love for non-Christians is not to condone their lifestyle by getting involved in the pursuit of pleasure (which so many Christians do – and I’m guessing all middle class western Christians probably fall into that trap at least at some point)… but to call them out of darkness into God’s wonderful light – to help them confront their sin and deal with it obediently under Christ.
If we’re going to be practical about this then how do we do it? How do we minister? The Dummies Guide to Ministry is about good basic practical things.
1 Peter 4:9 “…that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
From our ministry people should be left praising God.
Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
In a previous post I wrote about the need to use the gifts God has given us and given to the church – that we need to awaken the sleeping giant that is the church by valueing all people the way God made them, by understanding that God has given each Christian gifts for ministry – not just skills but gifts that are for the benefit of the church, for building the kingdom and proclaiming the gospel. Just as the human body is made up of many parts that do different jobs but are equally necessary and valuable so too the church is made up of many parts and we each have a ministry that we have been prepared by God to exercise – and God has prepared a place in church for us that we might exercise those gifts for the benefit of the church.
So… keeping on that same track…
What’s love got to do with it?!?!? Well… I’m going to say that love has everything to do with it!
One of the fun parts of wedding interviews is asking the prospective couple to explain why they want to get married… without using the word “love”.
You should try it… explain your love for someone without using the word.
I love you!
Think about it! What do we mean? What does every wedding couple say? We know what we mean but we don’t know how to say it? Which is strange because everyone wants it, pretty much no one can live without it – but we can’t explain it. Love is… all around us… hard to find, easy to loose – you can’t buy love… tell that to jewellers before Valentine’s Day.
The Bible tells us God defines love – God is love.
Remember the song in the 70’s – “love hurts”? Frankly, that’s rubbish. When you can’t have your own way and you feel love for someone who doesn’t return your feelings then yes that hurts you personally. But real love gives strength and courage, not damage. Real love defends, protects, cares and heals. Love provides, serves, guards, is selfless. Real love provides a foundation to build on – and love is the foundation of spiritual gifts.
1 Corinthians 12-14 is often held up as THE most significant passages in the Bible about Spiritual gifts. All the gifts courses include this list of gifts, and you spend your time reading these passages and trying to work out what your specific gifts may be. The problem is – 1 Corinthians 12-14 is not about spiritual gifts. Listen!
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:3 “And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 14:1 “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts…”
1 Corinthians 14:12 “…since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”
The emphasis is not spiritual gifts. If we use our grammar skills – the subject of these verses is not ‘spiritual gifts’ but rather… love. The unity that comes from being loved by one God, love that should be the daily expression of God’s people, building up each other because of God’s love – if you’re going to excel in anything make sure it’s in gifts that build others up. That is the focus – not the gifts but the building each other up in love. This is vital in our understanding of spiritual gifts.
Imagine a child – beautiful, cute strong – infectious smile. Our aim for a child – is growth, is maturity. We want them to develop into a young person with skills, gifts, education, experiences and particularly faith in Jesus. But if they never know love, they can be the most gifted and educated person on the planet and they’ll be twisted and deformed.
Is it important to discover their gifts, teach them to speak in tongues or even preach the gospel – or is it important to give them love, to express God’s love to them, to teach by example what it means to love one another? Without discounting gifts for even a moment – I want the first to be true first…!
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
As much as spiritual gifts are important, to focus on them is to miss the point. That may well be the situation Paul was writing to – the Corinthian Christians were people who’d come out of a spiritualist, pagan background, who were used to apparent spiritual activity in their pagan worship practices – and now seeing the Holy Spirit as a source of spiritual power and going ballistic in their efforts to gain spiritual powers, to be seen as “spiritual beings”.
We can be the most righteous, most selfless, poorest martyr able to explain the words of God with clarity and knowledge, able to speak in wild tongues – but without love it’s empty and meaningless. Same with preaching! I reckon one of the questions many preachers need to answer is not whether they can preach, or whether they know the scriptures. I don’t want to downplay those – they are vital – but maybe even more important is… “do they love their congregation(s)?” Because without love their preaching is meaningless.
Let’s see how it works in Jesus life. Jesus came to this earth because of love.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus was uniquely qualified and gifted. He alone could defeat sin. He alone could defeat death. He alone could pay for the sins of the whole human race and come out the other end unscathed. If anyone is powerful it’s Jesus. But Jesus didn’t first set out to discover his gifts and then seek out those he could use his gift with. He didn’t do a gift inventory or a training program – seven steps to becoming the saviour of the universe.
He came to the world God loves, to express God’s love – to be God’s love to us.
We can’t begin to imagine what it would be like if God did not love his world – certainly he wouldn’t have sent Jesus just because he could fix the problems. Imagine if John 3:16 said “For Jesus God’s Son was so gifted that God decided to sacrifice him for the planet he despised…” There is no way God would have sent Jesus – except that he loves us.
If I make spiritual gifts the central issue then I become the focus. It comes down to my gifts, how God has made me, what ministry is there for me to do, what place do I have?
When love for God and for others is the issue then we start to reflect God’s priorities instead. What can I do to serve you? What can I do to serve God? How can I be God’s love towards others? How can I express Christ’s love to my brothers and sisters? Who is the focus – if love is the issue then loving God and loving my neighbour is the focus – obedient service. If the gift is the issue then the danger I am in is that I become the focus.
Love is an incredible thing – if you know that someone loves you… you become one of the most powerful people on the planet. Love empowers and strengthens. Think about weddings – what passage do people want read at weddings? So often it’s this!
1 Corinthians 12:4-8a “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Is it true? Look at the marriages where that was the passage used at the wedding – is it true of that marriage? What about 5 or 10 or 20 years down the track? How many divorces happened in marriages where this passage was held up as the standard that the marriage was going to attain to?
The reason love is so hard to describe is that its complex – but it’s also simple. Love is about others! Not self-seeking but looking for the good of others. It’s hard for me to get really angry at my wife – not because I’m good at keeping my cool but because we love each other and we know that getting angry will just make it harder – which is not to say we don’t get angry at each other. If you love someone then you will choose to go slowly on the road to anger – there are so many other ways to help the person you love. Real love forgets the wrongs of the past – because otherwise it will fail spectacularly.
Real love protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres – actually real love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres – if you love your husband or wife then you will do anything it takes to protect them, to help them trust you, to give them real hope, and strength and courage – and the same for your kids, and your friends, and your brothers and sisters.
The Corinthians had found that Spiritual Gifts could be a battlefield where the strong walked all over the weak. It was a competition; who had the most gifts, the higher gifts, who looked “spiritual”. There was no place for love – no place for others and their needs. And they were honouring certain gifts very highly and not others – giving importance to things that were spectacular for their own sake rather than to things that proclaimed Jesus’ name and God’s love. If you didn’t have certain gifts – the spectacular gifts of tongues and healing – then you weren’t much chop as a Christian – bit second rate. As soon as I say it that way we can see just how foolish and wrong it was and how right Paul is to call them back to what matters.
What matters is what lasts. Jesus himself tells us to invest our time and energy, who we are as people into the things that will last – into eternal things rather than the things of this planet.
Matthew 6:20 “…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Paul is saying the same thing – not to invest in gifts but in what lasts.
1 Corinthians 12:8-12 “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.”
We live in an imperfect world – hard to believe I know. And God has given us a taste of life in the kingdom, life at peace with God. We have the word of God spoken and written – the prophecies, we have knowledge of God – imperfect and faint but real – we know in part, we can tell others in part, we can share with each other the glimpses we have from God. But the day is approaching when all the imperfect things will pass away. At the moment we are children…
1 Corinthians 13:11-12 “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
The day is coming when our childhood will be over – the old world will pass in favour of God’s kingdom – and many things that we value highly now will go too. What we see poorly now – the face of God, what we hear poorly now – the voice of God – what we know now in a limited way – the person and character of God – we will see and hear and understand perfectly in heaven. We won’t need prophecies, or preaching, or healing or miracles, we won’t need tongues or gifts of knowledge – we will be perfect in a perfect place. But three things will remain in heaven.
1 Corinthians 13:13 “…faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
What should we spend our energies on – that which will last! As we seek to be God’s people and to be obedient, and as we seek to build his kingdom and our church let’s make sure that we focus on that which matters. If you don’t know what your gifts are that’s ok – in the end what matters is that we love and serve others based on that love. Whatever your gift or gifts we must focus on sharing God’s love and serving others – the foundation of the gifts of God’s Spirit is love.
1 Peter 1:22-25 “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
How do you feel about yourself – do you like who you are? Are you gifted? Are you an introvert or an extravert, an optimist or a pessimist – a little of both? Are you clever, cute, bright, smart, talented, special, beautiful, handsome – all of the above – or maybe the opposite? In our world if you’re one of the beautiful people then it’s all yours – if not?
So many children are growing up thinking that they have no value unless they can be certain things or do certain things or get to a certain level of life. Every day in shopping centres you can see at least one of the reasons… parents who abuse their kids emotionally and mentally, using every name they can think of, and a few we’d rather not. In western culture we worry so much about smacking or caning or other forms of physical punishment – but in my experience many more children suffer to a far greater degree from emotional and mental abuse (without for a moment excusing or condoning any form of physical abuse). So many people can’t get a handle on their life because parents never told them how much they were loved, how special they were, how wonderfully they were made.
Do you know – regardless of how we see ourselves, or how our parents or other important people see us – God sees us as his workmanship – wonderfully made.
Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
And as David goes on to say in the Psalm not just wonderfully made but created from the very start, known to God from before the very beginning of time and creation, and woven together in the womb with God watching over his creation. As we read in Ephesians…
Ephesians 2:10a “For we are God’s workmanship…”
Maybe that’s easy to see – if you’ve watched the program called “The Body” it’s hard to imagine how you can’t see. For many of us God creating and working his magic in this world is the only possible answer – the human body is just too amazing, as is the world and the universe. But there’s more to it than just our bodies, or the wonder of life.
Ephesians 2:10 “…created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Whatever the opinion of this world, whatever we have been lead to believe about ourselves, good or bad, God says that having become his children in Jesus, having trusted in Christ for salvation and moved from being God’s enemies to being God’s friends, he has remade us in Christ so that we can now start to fulfil his original design. We were created from scratch to do good works that God prepared for us before we were even a twinkle in our parent’s eyes. This is about how we fulfil the mission God has given us – how the church fulfils its mission in this world. I like to use Ephesians 4 as a guide for the life of the church – not the only one but I really like this.
Ephesians 4:12-13 “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
That’s God’s plan! And God has given us the means to carry it out – not one or two people able to fulfill his plans – but churches full. It is not the few who are wonderfully made and who are God’s workmanship – it is all – everyone – all creation. Every person is made to perfectly match God’s plans – in fact created in the image of God – made with purpose. So we read in 1 Corinthians…
1 Corinthians 12:1 “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be ignorant.”
Who is Paul writing to?
The whole church – the same as in Ephesians when he says we are God’s workmanship, the same in Romans when he says we have different gifts but one body. What does he says to the whole church about Spiritual Gifts?
1 Corinthians 12:2-3 “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except in the Holy Spirit.”
What can we say about these Spiritual Gifts – without going further than the Scriptures do?
Paul sets the stage by declaring that the purpose of Spiritual Gifts is to glorify God – especially designed to help us declare Jesus is Lord over all other gods – the mute idols that Paul talks about. The Corinthians came from a pagan, idol worshipping background, where spiritual utterances and demonic activity were par for the course – the cultic priests claimed all sorts of spiritual powers. The way to know that the spiritual gifts of the church are real – is by what they declare! No one speaking by the Holy Spirit can curse Jesus – no one speaking without God’s Spirit can declare Jesus as Lord. When the chips are down and life is threatened – you will only declare Jesus as Lord by the power of God.
The real evidence of God’s presence is not the gifts and the power that we so often seem to associate with the Spirit. The real evidence is Jesus proclaimed as Lord. Whatever takes away from the glory of God, whatever tears down or destroys the unity of the church, or damages the name of Jesus, even if it appears to be legitimately from God’s Holy Spirit – if it does not glory God and proclaim Jesus’ name then it has no place in the church. This is how we will know the work of the Spirit amongst us. As we start to learn about the gifts themselves we see…
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but the same God empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
How will we know that the gifts we exercise are from God?
By their fruit!
1 Corinthians 12:7 “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Just as we know a good fruit tree when we see one – the product tells us everything we need to know.
It’s not that everyone has to have the same gifts, or start at the bottom and work your way up to the top of the gifts pile. In fact there is an array of gifts given to the church – everything we need to fulfill God’s plans of maturity and growth for us – that is His promise to us.
2 Peter 1:3 “God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
So many people believe that faith is a private thing and that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. Nothing could be further from the truth – not least that you don’t stick a light in a cupboard – how useless is that? Why become a Christian with gifts from God for the good of his people – the church – and then not use them? Faith is not private – it’s designed to be shared with all, as scary as that may be at times. Together Christians make up the body of Christ – arms, legs, back, head, shoulders, feet, heart, lungs, eyes, nostrils, hair follicles –
1 Corinthians 12:12 “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”
Together the body of Christ serves to strengthen and build up the whole body so that together the body matures. If there is one thing a body is designed to do it’s to work together for the common good. If your spleen goes on holidays for 6 weeks where does that leave you?
1 Corinthians 12:8-11 “To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit – gifts of healing by that one Spirit – miraculous powers – prophecy – distinguishing between spirits – speaking in different kinds of tongues – the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
In distributing the gifts of the Spirit God doesn’t listen to the world. Thank God!!!! (And yes – I really do mean that). The criterion is not wealth or cleverness, how beautiful or wonderful we are, how much people like us or how famous we are. God has given every Christian gifts of the Spirit according to his plan and designs – just as he determines, as he decides.
The danger the church faced for many centuries was that they taught that it was the professionals who were gifted by God to serve in the church – the priests, the monks and nuns and so on. They alone did God’s work and the job of the congregation was to be obedient, to fill the pews and provide the cash (I now the time to take up the offertory??!) J And back then if you did get involved in ministry it was helping the priest or doing the flowers or the food or raising money through fetes, or distributing food to the widows or the needy – all good stuff but from the churches point of view back then – not the main game. Sadly we still see the same thing in some churches – it’s hard to imagine how they justify it when the Bible is so blatantly clear that God gives gifts to all Christians for service and ministry. Every part is as important as any other; every ministry and servant is important and valuable.
So “How do we wake a sleeping giant” – not the fee-fie-foe-fum variety – rather the largest company in the world, with combined income and numbers Bill Gates would sell his soul for?
Every survey I’ve ever seen on ministry by people in the pews – not the paid staff of a church – suggests that most churches have less than 20% of people involved in the ministry of the church – it’s called the 20/80 rule and as far as I can tell it’s a pretty good indicator not only of ministry but of money, energy, time, support. And that is a sleeping giant!
Why do people in the church not get involved?
Too tired, worn out, busy in work and family?
Too scared, or afraid of mistakes, too young, too old?
Too immature, done too much already, not enough work to do in the church, don’t know what to do, can’t find a spot to serve, never had the opportunity, never took the opportunity, was cut down when I took the opportunity – badly burnt by past experiences?
All these may be true in your life – but let me say they don’t stack up too well as excuses.
If someone gives you a gift for your birthday or Christmas – what do you do with it? If you don’t open it what value does it have – and what does that say to the giver? You can admire the paper, read the card, and rattle the box to work out what it is – but while it’s wrapped it’s basically meaningless. The only way to deal with a present is to open it and use it.
It’s the same with God and his church – he has given gifts to every single person who belongs to him – if you tick the box “Christian” – “follower of Jesus” then you also tick the box “gifted by God for his church”. So what are you doing with it?
If you answer “nothing” what’s going on? Do you not believe God? He says he has given gifts to every person who is a Christian. So is he right or not? Have you tried and failed? Cause if you have I bet you have also said to a child to get back on a bike after falling off, or back on the horse, or suggested (or just thought) someone should face their fears?! Have you been cut down or unappreciated? Has your minister or another leader had a go at you for getting it wrong or not being very good or for failing? If so – give them a boot in the backside from me and tell them to support you as you try rather than having a go at you when you fail. And if you want to do something and are scared then ask for prayer and support – from minister, family, friends… get some training, do a course, get some practice in with someone you can trust, start small, volunteer to assist someone else who is doing it, give it a go. And if you have no idea what your particular gifts may be then ask for help and make sure your minister or leader gives it to you.
Around the world the evangelical church is growing – slowly, but faster than most churches. But imagine what would be happening if every single Christian used their gifts from God for the benefit of the church. Imagine your own church with the 80/20 rule reversed – if every person was using what God has given us to serve his people.
Churches should bloom not by the ministers’ energy or strength – such as they are – but by the enthusiastic use of the gifts God has given us – churches should be so committed to God’s plan that nothing could stop us using what God has given us.
The church should be able to tattoo this to our foreheads – that we are a church that is preparing…
Eph 4:12-13 “God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”