April 1

Sit. Walk. Stand. How the Christian Life Works According to Ephesians

Today the Tuesday Morning Men’s Bible Study began a study of Ephesians with “yours truly” leading the first lesson.  The theme of Ephesians is our riches in Christ and the key verse of the book is Ephesians 1:3:  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  The word riches occurs in the opening three chapters five times:  the riches of his grace, 1:7; the riches of his glorious inheritance, 1:18; the immeasurable riches of his grace, 2:7; the unsearchable riches of Christ, 3:8; the riches of his glory, 3:16.  No wonder Pastor Warren Wiersbe entitled his volume on Ephesians, Be Rich.

 

When we look at the plan of Ephesians, it is telling us how the Christian life is to be lived.  Ancient Ephesus was a center of pagan religious worship with the Temple of Diana located there as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  The occult and magic arts were practiced in the city as a way to ward off the spirit world.  So Ephesus was a mixture of false gods, pagan practices and superstition all done in an attempt to curry favor with the gods and combat evil spirits.  Early Ephesian believers were tempted to mix some of these approaches into their faith in Jesus Christ.  Ephesians sets them straight that the Christian life must be lived a different way.

 

Watchman Nee, the Chinese evangelist, gave a simple outline of Ephesians that sets out in succinct terms Paul’s view of how to live the Christian life.  Chapters 1-3 = Sit.  We are seatedin the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  Christ has given us all the heavenly resources we need for spiritual living here and now.  Our first need is that God…may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him…that you may know…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, 1:17-19.  We need to sit and learn our spiritual blessings in Christ and their sufficiency for Christian living.  Commenting on this, Pastor Erwin Lutzer writes:

 

Let me put it this way:  when we accept Christ as Savior, God immediately gives us special recognition, status, authority, power and a host of spiritual privileges.  If we are ignorant of these, we will dutifully plod thru life quite certain that Christianity isn’t all that it is supposed to be.  We will be powerless to achieve spiritual victory when sin rears its ugly head, and there will be no love, joy and peace thru the hardships of life.  (You’re Richer Than You Think, p. 8-9).

 

Chapters 4-5 = WalkWalk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.  Here we discover that a new status as children of God with commensurate spiritual resources, demands a new way of life, a new walk.  As we discern what is pleasing to the Lord, we can walk, not as unwise but as wise, 5:10, 15.  We can do this by drawing upon the power of the Holy Spirit as we are filled with the Spirit, 5:18.  We have to walk, but we are not walking alone. We are enlightened and empowered by Him who indwells us.

 

Chapter 6 = StandPut on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  Spiritual warfare is won by knowing our resources, applying them, and standing when Satan attacks.  We have all that we need for the battle.  We are a well-equipped army.  Sit, walk and stand.  That’s how the Christian life works.

 

Your friend, learning and living, Pastor Brian (:-}).

March 1

The Wonderful Christian Life in Three Amazing Verses

Recently the Tuesday Men’s Bible Study went through Philippians together.  When we got to chapter three it struck me that vv. 9-11 are a nutshell summary of the three phases of our salvation in consecutive order:  justification, sanctification and glorification.  I thought, How many places can you go where in three simple verses the entire scope of salvation is laid out for us?  It is amazing the things we learn as we look at Scripture afresh.

Verse 9 is Justificationthat I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.

This is the wonderful truth that the gospel proclaims a righteous standing with God that is not earned by law-keeping, but is bestowed on sinners who trust the finished work of Christ on the cross for their salvation.  This is the great truth that Martin Luther learned when he discovered that “the righteousness of God” in Romans 1:17 is not the righteousness that God demands, but the righteousness that God gives to those who trust in Jesus.  That glorious truth relieved all of Luther’s anxieties about how he could be right with God and ushered in the mighty Protestant Reformation that has brought salvation to multitudes.

Verse 10 is Sanctificationthat I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

Sanctification is the second stage in salvation and is clearly a process of becoming more righteous in our behavior.  It is becoming in practice what we are in standing before God.  Note that verse 10 tells us how we grow in this ongoing process.  First, we grow in our experience of Christ (by getting to know him better).  This is clearly a life-transforming knowledge because it results in the power of his resurrection.  Getting to know Christ directly and personally leads to sinning less and obeying Him more as He changes our lives thru our knowledge of Him.  Second, we share his sufferings (which refine us and deepen us).  One of God’s best tools for cutting away the works of the flesh is suffering because it humbles us and causes us to wait upon God and submit to His purposes.  Charles Spurgeon said suffering is the best book in a pastor’s library.  We learn things from pain we can learn in no other way.  Third, we grow by self-denial as we take up our cross following Jesus, becoming like him in his death.  Being conformed to Christ’s death is walking the costly way of self-denial by denying what hinders our growth and pursuing what helps it.  A mentor once told me that the difference between most students is not ability, but self-discipline.  That is true in sanctification also.

Verse 10 is Glorificationthat by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Paul is anticipating the glorious day when in a moment, the twinkling of an eye, we shall be changed into Christ’s glorious likeness (see vv. 20, 21).  Like justification, this is an event that happens instantaneously and we are just people finally made perfect.  The uncertainty in v. 10 is not of arrival, but of means of arrival.  Will Paul go by the Rapture or by death before Jesus’ returns?  He did not know.  But he did know it was certain, as it is for us too.  PTL!

Your friend, in three amazing verses, Pastor Brian (:-}).

February 1

What a Pastor, Facing a Family Crisis, Learned about Healthy Leadership

Many years ago Pastor David Jeremiah faced a crisis in his family life.  His adopted daughter as a teen became involved with drugs.  When he found out, he discovered the root of it was from some issues related to the adoption that his daughter was struggling with that Pastor Jeremiah and his wife were unaware existed.  Of course, this caused some real soul-searching for a pastor.  Was this a failure as a father that disqualified him from the ministry because his daughter was involved in illegal activity?  Did he no longer measure up to what the Lord expected of a pastor-elder because his daughter had gotten out of his control?

 

When Dr. Jeremiah went to 1 Timothy 3 and the qualifications for pastor-elders in the church, he observed something that had a big impact on his outlook.  Verse 4 says, He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.  Pastor Jeremiah realized the text did not say that his kids could not have any sinful problems, but that he was to make sure that he managed those problems.  In other words, Scripture is not saying a pastor’s family will be perfect (what an unrealistic & unhealthy expectation), but that when serious issues of disobedience arise, the pastor-elder manages them bringing necessary correction to his children.

 

What David Jeremiah saw, which he hadn’t seen before, is that the requirement is that the pastor-elder not neglect the management of his family and just let the problem continue unaddressed.  This is the indictment that God had against Eli the priest in 1 Samuel.  Rather than dealing with his sons who were abusing the priesthood, he let them continue and God said to Eli that you “honor them above me,” 1 Samuel 2:27-36.  Dr. Jeremiah said the issue for him was not that his daughter had a serious problem, but that he needed to manage it, not just let it fester by neglect.

 

For the Jeremiahs it ultimately led to entering their daughter into a Christian-based drug treatment program for teens.  The addiction was more than they could manage alone; they needed to get outside, professional help.  By God’s grace, they saw their daughter respond to the treatment, overcome her drug use, and begin to faithfully follow the Lord.  It was a combination of parental management, the intervention of others, and God’s ability to turn a life around.  PTL!

 

What Pastor Jeremiah did, along with his wife’s help for sure, highlights one aspect of healthy leadership that is essential for the healthy direction of a church.  Remember from our last article that we saw in Titus 1 that pastor-elders must be spiritually healthy in three areas:  1) family life (1:6), 2) personal life (1:7-8), & 3) public ministry (1:9).  Family life in v. 6 says “the husband of one wife, & his children are faithful & not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” 

 

When a father allows his children to become negatively like what v. 6 depicts, without taking the measures necessary for correction (while they are living under his roof as minors), it reveals inattention, passivity or weakness.  The longer it goes on the more ingrained it becomes and difficult to change.  It not only undercuts the pastor-elder’s reputation making his ministry ineffective, but it sets the wrong example to other fathers about their priorities.  Pastor Jeremiah set the example for every spiritual leader.  Healthy doctrine means making our families a priority, and managing kids’ problems with all diligence while living at home, so that correction and health can be regained.  The church is blessed with elders who do this.  Everyone learns.

 

Your friend, needing God’s help, Pastor Brian (:-})

January 1

The Blessing of Godly Elders & Church Health

Paul’s Letter to Titus is one of the three New Testament books included in The Pastoral Epistles. In those books Paul is instructing two of his protégés Timothy and Titus how to pastor churches. Titus is the shortest of the three books with only three chapters. In Titus 1:5 Paul gives the purpose for his letter to Titus, “so that you might put what remained into order.” The verb “put into order” was a medical term that was applied to the setting of a crooked limb so that it might heal and be healthy. That is clearly Paul’s concern for the churches that Titus pastored on the island of Crete – that they be healthy communities representing the gospel of Jesus Christ well in a dark world.

What this tells us is that “church health” is the number one priority in pastoral ministry of a local church. God desires His Church to be healthy because a healthy church best represents Him and best ministers His healing in a spiritually sick world. Several years ago a well-known pastor wrote a best-selling book in which one sentence was worth the price of the book, “Don’t concentrate on church growth, but on church health, because healthy things grow naturally.” That is essentially the point that Paul is making to Titus. Concentrate on church health and Titus would have effective churches.

If we ask how a church becomes healthy, Paul did not leave Titus, or us, in doubt. The Book of Titus divides into two parts and both are the keys to a healthy church. Chapter one is Paul’s instructions about qualified Christian leadership. Chapters two and three focus on the importance of “sound doctrine.” What is interesting about that expression is that the word sound means “healthy.” Isn’t that interesting in light of our church health discussion so far? This term is defined by Pastor Jeff Reed, author of The First Principles Series, as meaning “doctrine that is healthy and integrated fully” into a believer’s life.

This is the second way a church becomes healthy – when its members integrate the teachings of Christ into the way they live. A person only can be said to hold to “sound doctrine” when they are living it out in the way they behave and relate to others. This reinforces the vital truth that doctrine is both what we believe and how we behave. A large part of becoming a healthy congregation is emphasizing the integration of sound living into sound believing. That is healthy doctrine. When our churches and families are sound in that way, others see the power of Christ at work affirming the truth we believe.

Now we can begin to see why Paul’s first way for a church to become healthy is through qualified Christian leaders. Again Pastor Reed is helpful when he writes, “Men who lead their own families well are to become part of a team of elders who shepherd the whole community, thus keeping the church solid and stable in the teachings of Christ.” A church with proper leadership will have healthy examples and healthy teaching that will set a plumb line so that people know how to behave and live out God’s design that brings true health. Nothing could be more important in church life.

Now we can see, as we saw in our previous December article, why elders are selected on the basis of spiritual qualifications. Without men of high character and maturity, it is impossible to lead a church into healthy doctrine. The leaders will undermine the very foundation of church health. This is why Paul emphasizes that elders must be spiritually healthy in three areas: 1) family life (1:6), 2) personal life (1:7-8), and 3) public ministry (1:9). We will take those up in another article in this series, but for now, pray for your elders – that they will be men who truly integrate doctrine that is healthy fully into their lives. Any church led by such men is truly blessed.

Your friend, seeking true health with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

December 1

The Blessing of Godly Elders

Following Sunday services after preaching on James 5:13-18 on the anointing of the sick with oil by the elders accompanied with prayer, someone told me it was good for the congregation to hear about the responsibilities of the elders.  I had not thought about that angle to the message, but it was an interesting take on it.  James was an elder himself in the Jerusalem Church and he clearly considered a congregation to be blessed that had a godly group of elders who ministered to them.  Such men could have power in prayer because of the holy lives they were living.  That could have a dramatic effect upon the people in their churches.

 

Over the years I have come to appreciate more and more God’s wisdom in giving godly elders to His Church.  Growing up I heard nothing about the Eldership and didn’t know such an office even existed.  In the Baptist churches I was familiar with we had deacons, deaconesses, ministry boards, Executive Committees, vice-chairmen, but no elders.  It wasn’t until seminary that I began learning about elders and the detailed teaching about them and their duties in passages like James 5.  I was even appointed to the Eldership in a small church I attended and served in that role before becoming a senior pastor.  I am glad now I have both perspectives and have served in both roles.

 

One of the things that I began to see as a pastor was the weaknesses of the governmental structures in the Baptist churches with which I was familiar.  I saw the wrong people leading according to Scripture and some positions that had lots of authority in the church but no accountability.  That is always unwise when people have authority but little or no accountability.  I saw pastors who viewed the deacons with disdain and felt they could run the church better without them.  I saw Deacon Boards who were considered the spiritual leaders of the church, but had little leadership authority because it was structured elsewhere.  I began to wonder where Executive Committees run by vice-chairmen originated from since they weren’t found in Scripture.  Who came up with them and why were they an improvement on the simple plan we see in the Bible for church leadership?  And why were elders absent from Baptist churches when they are clearly found in the Bible?

 

One of the most interesting discoveries I made along the way was that there was a long history of the Eldership in Baptist churches.  When Charles Spurgeon became a pastor in the 1800s, he instituted elders at New Park Street Baptist Church to complement the office of deacon.  He did this because he saw both offices taught in the New Testament.  The elders gave leadership to the spiritual affairs of the church while the deacons oversaw the practical matters.  Spurgeon said this arrangement “worked very well.”  Why are godly elders such a help to a local church?  Let me start now and continue next month.

 

Elders are selected on the basis of spiritual qualifications.  Both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 spell out the spiritual qualifications of Elders.  If those qualifications are followed that means that high character men will lead the church.  High character men are mature men and maturity is always the first requirement of spiritual leadership.  Recently one of our sister churches in Wisconsin imploded due to serious character problems among the pastors.  We had been there for a conference a year or two before and heard things that raised concerns about how they led.  When this sad implosion emerged sometime later we were not totally surprised because of the arrogance and lack of wisdom we had perceived at the conference.  When mature elders are in a church there is a balance of humility, wisdom and strength that can keep even pastors in check.  When all believe in and respect God’s plan for leadership in the church, it can keep sad stories like this from doing so much damage.

 

Your friend, grateful for godly elders, Pastor Brian (:-}).

November 1

The Importance of a Process for Spiritual Formation

One of the most important questions that a church needs to answer is how do we help people with “spiritual formation.”  If that phrase is new to you, it comes from the passionate longing of the Apostle Paul for his spiritual children in Galatians 4:19.  My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!  Spiritual formation is the process every believer goes through to be inwardly formed and changed into the likeness of Christ.  Paul uses an intensive form of the same word in Romans 8:29 when he says that believers are “to be conformed to the image of his Son.”  Conformed means “to be fashioned like unto.”  Spiritual formation is the process we go through to become more and more like Jesus Christ in our character.  It is also called spiritual growth, the process of sanctification or being discipled as a Christ-follower.  Several things about this are very important.

 

First of all, spiritual formation is God’s goal for every believer.  Romans 8:29 makes it clear that God wants every believer to be conformed to the likeness of Christ.  In Colossians 1:28 Paul says his goal was no less than presenting “everyone mature in Christ.”  Every church must call and encourage people to this goal as God’s priority for every believer.  At Bethel, our mission statement says that all are to be “becoming Christ-followers who grow” as of first importance.

 

Another idea involved is that spiritual formation is a process.  There is no such thing as instant maturity.  It takes time.  Hebrews 6:1 says, Therefore leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.  Clearly maturity (spiritual formation into the likeness of Christ) is something that takes time.  But it was also clear that it was an attainable goal.  Earlier in Hebrews 5:14, the apostle called some believers “the mature.”  They had grown to the place that they were like Christ and were modeling His life.  It had taken time but they had followed a process that had led them there.  The less mature were expected to move on in that process as well.  Stagnation was unacceptable to the apostle.  Stagnation in a church should never be acceptable to us either.

 

Another essential element in spiritual formation is that it takes training.  The mature are “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice,” Hebrews 5:14.  We get our word “gymnasium” from the Greek word used here for trained.  It means “to exercise vigorously…either the body or the mind.”  The word “practice” means “a power acquired by custom, practice, use.”  Spiritual formation is obviously not a passive process.  It involves engaging the mind in spiritual exercise so that new powers can be developed by use and practice.

 

One of the sad things a person may hear from Christians is that “no one ever discipled me.”  “I was left to figure out the Christian life on my own.”  “I struggled along making little progress because no one ever came alongside of me to help me grow.”  How many believers have that sad tale?  That is often the result of a church giving little thought to spiritual formation and a process that people can be trained in so they can grow.  Here at Bethel we are in the early stages of implementing a simple training process called The 1st Principles that can help believers engage in hands-on spiritual formation guided by mature believers who have grown themselves.  You will be hearing more, but for now ask yourself, “What spiritual formation process have I been thru, need to go thru, or need to take others thru to mature me or them in Christ?”

 

Your friend, in training with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

October 1

The 1st Essential in an Election Year

Driving around in my car I like to listen to talk radio for a couple of reasons.  One, most radio hosts are very knowledgeable and effective at what they do and keep their audiences informed about the major issues of the day, whether one agrees with the hosts or not.  Two, the call-in conversations give an idea of what the average person in America is thinking at least from the conservative side and how they are wrestling with the issues that are confronting our country.

 

One thing I notice is that many in the “conservative movement” have slipped into the same mindset that I used to see among “liberal progressives.”  That mindset is that personal character does not count as long as someone agrees with basic conservative policies.  One of the most popular so-called conservative radio hosts has been married four times.  I have often thought to myself, “What person do I know who has been married four times who I would take advice from?”  None that I know of.  A person with that marital history would be considered morally and ethically challenged and unfit to advise others how to conduct their lives.  Yet this host has millions of listeners who apparently do not see the contradiction or dismiss it as irrelevant if they do.  The host articulates the policies they believe in despite his lack of personal character.

 

All of this brings me to a very arresting statement in James 3:17, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”  James is known as the “Apostle of Practical Christianity.”  Here he lays down the principle that heavenly wisdom which leads to effective living in any community is first pure.  “First” is not used here numerically as the first in a list, but rather it means “the main quality; the overarching attribute, the key to all the rest.”  All the other qualities of wise living that James lists, flow from this very first one, “purity.”  Pastor John MacArthur says “this refers to spiritual integrity and moral sincerity.”  So this is foundational, and without it none of the rest can be developed or sustained.  Look at them.  Can you imagine a culture existing very long that is not peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere?  That is what we are flirting with when we separate pure character from any attempt to live wisely.

 

A girl in Sunday School had read the Beatitudes in Matthew and was asked which of the things mentioned there she would most like to have.  She said, “A pure heart.”  When asked why she preferred that, she said, “If my heart were pure, I believe I would have all the other virtues mentioned in this chapter.”  “And she was right,” wrote Spiros Zodhiates.  “That is what James is driving at.”  (Faith, love & hope:  An exposition of the epistle of James)

 

I do not know how you have resolved the issue of who you will vote for this November; nor is it my place to tell you how to vote.  My own personal belief is that our major candidates reflect who we have become as a nation.  They are a symptom of a people who no longer believe that “the wisdom from above is first pure.”  That doesn’t mean that this election is without consequence and that one candidate may be the lesser of two evils.  But it does mean that the healing of our nation goes much deeper to who we are as a people.  At a pastors meeting Billy Graham was asked how people could pray for him.  He replied, “Pray that I will be holy; have a pure heart; and live a clean life.”  That is the only hope for America to bring lasting renewal.

 

Your friend, seeking heavenly wisdom with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

September 1

The Question of the Need for Church Membership, part 2

When I pastored in West Michigan we had Christians from Reformed or Christian Reformed backgrounds attending our church.  Inevitably this created a problem for them because they had been sprinkled as infants but we required baptism by immersion for church membership.  One solution would have been to attend the church without becoming members.  The ones who decided our church was the one for them, instead chose to be immersed and became members.  Membership was so important to them that it was inconceivable that they would attend a church where they were not members.  They wrestled through the biblical issues of being immersed rather than not being members.  Let’s wrestle through in this article three Scriptural benefits of church membership every Christian needs to consider.

 

Community.  Romans 12:5 says that “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”  Because we are united to Christ and He lives within us, we also are united to each other in a spiritual relationship.  In 1 Corinthians 12:25 Paul says “that the members may have the same care for one another.”  Peter says in 1 Peter 1:22 we are to treat each other with the loving care that exists in a family as brothers and sisters.  The apostles are describing the community that exists between believers in a local church.  The word “community” is from “common” meaning “sharing common duties.” The word common also means “belonging to all.” (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/common That’s what Christian community is, belonging to all in shared relationship, privileges and duties.  Surely membership says in a very strong way “I am in relationship,” “I belong,” “I share the common duties of this local church.” 

 

Commitment.  In 1 Corinthians 12:21-22 Paul says that “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”  Here Paul is clearly laying down that the church is interdependent and all believers are indispensable to one another.  The metaphors of the church that we love so much are clearly corporate images:  the people of God, 1 Pet. 2:10; the household of God, 1 Tim. 3:15; living stones, 1 Pet. 2:5; the body of Christ, Eph. 4:12.  The church as “the household of God” clearly applies to the local church because Paul lays down instructions for Timothy about “how one ought to behave in the household of God.”  It is clear that we not only need each other in the local church but we are to be committed to one another.  Membership is part of that process that says that I am committed to my local church.  I need it and it needs me.  I am not partially in, but all in bearing the duties of belonging.

 

Accountability.  Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”  One of the important parts of membership is being accountable to one another and church leadership.  It means we are willing to place ourselves under the authority of God-ordained leadership and stand corrected when it is necessary.  Even the pastor himself is under the authority of the Elders who are in turn under the authority of the corporate members of the church who are under the authority of Jesus Christ.  Apart from commitment to this authority structure in church membership, any attempt at corrective church discipline breaks down.  A local church only has authority legally to discipline its members, not its non-members.  If we believe we need accountability, then we need membership.

 

Your friend, in membership with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

August 1

The Question of the Need for Church Membership

When I lived in Texas during the 1980s I attended for a while a church that did not have official church membership.  The thinking was that formal church membership is not found in the New Testament, therefore it is a manmade practice.  Over the years I have encountered others who make the same point as to why they don’t join a church or have an official church roll of members.  Years ago Dr. Edward T. Hiscox wrote a well-known guide for church polity and order.  He wrote, “It is sometimes said that a church is a voluntary society…But it is not merely optional whether or not a believer identifies himself with the household of faith.  He is under moral obligation to do that.”  (The Hiscox Guide for Baptist Churches)  I believe there are good reasons found in the Bible to support the importance of church membership as Hiscox believed.

 

Before we mention several Scriptural benefits of membership, let’s just consider how Paul uses the word “member” in connection with the Church as the body of Christ.  The literal meaning of “member” is a part of a physical body.  Paul uses this word metaphorically very effectively in Romans 12, 15; 1 Corinthians 12 & Ephesians 2, 3, 4 & 5 to compare the parts of the human body to the members in the body of Christ.  New Testament word specialist W. E. Vine points out that Ephesians 4:25 means “the members of the whole Church as the mystical body of Christ.”  Clearly the universal Church cannot have a worldwide membership roll.  But Vine writes of 1 Corinthians 12:27 (“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”), that this means “the members of a local church as a body.”  (Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words)

 

Other Bible students have pointed out that 1 Corinthians 12 is emphasizing the local church body in Corinth.  “As a local congregation they were Christ’s body in miniature, a representation of Jesus Christ to all of Corinth.”  (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary:  1 Corinthians)  Clearly the local church at Corinth knew who their members were because baptism was the initiatory rite that welcomed believers into the local church of the worldwide body of Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:13.  “Baptism is and always was the church’s initiation-rite.”  (Jeff Reed, Becoming a Disciple)  So there was a formal commitment procedure into the membership of a local church:  baptism.  It identified believers as members.  They had made a public commitment to that church.  (Note:  The identification with the community of believers signified by baptism is often obscured today by emphasizing only the vertical relationship with the Lord that baptism symbolizes.  American individualism is likely one of the root causes for this.  But baptism also symbolizes our membership in a new family, the church.)

 

Since in our more mobile society where people are not baptized into the church in which they are currently attending, it makes sense to have a formal membership procedure to demonstrate the same commitment that baptism symbolizes.  In fact, three Scriptural benefits of membership include:  1) community (“the members may have the same care for one another,” (1 Corinthians 12:25), 2) commitment (“the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’” (1 Corinthians 12:21), 3) accountability (“Obey your leaders and submit to them,” Hebrews 13:17).  We will explore these benefits more fully later.  But, for now, membership encourages all three.  And that is important.

 

Your friend, in membership with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

July 1

Calvin, Spurgeon, Bonhoeffer & Lessons in Suffering

The day before Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by his Nazi captors in WWII, he had led a worship service among the prisoners.  Almost the moment he finished his final prayer the guards entered, led him out, and the next day he was hanged.  Less than one week later the Allies arrived and liberated the prisoners.  Bonhoeffer missed release from death by just a few days.

 

The natural question is why did God let that happen?  Surely he could’ve enabled the Allied forces to arrive a few days sooner.  The only reasonable answer from our limited viewpoint is that the impact of Bonhoeffer’s legacy was more important than his longevity.  Had he survived would his impact today as a martyr who stood against the Nazi regime be as great as if he had lived and continued his normal pastoral duties?  Probably not.  It was the quality of his life rather than the length of it that was most important to God.  Clearly Bonhoeffer was okay with that as he had surrendered his life to the sovereign will of God.

 

In the opening verses of James 1:1-4, the half-brother of Jesus gets right to the issue of trials and the will of God.  Many lessons emerge, three of which are illustrated by great saints of the past similar to Bonhoeffer.  One, trials are in God’s plan – accept them.  John Calvin suffered greatly throughout his life.  He was often so sick he lectured while lying in bed.  He wrote,

 

No one has rightly denied himself unless he has wholly resigned himself to the Lord and is willing to leave every detail to His good pleasure.  If we put ourselves in such a frame of mind, then, whatever may happen to us, we shall never feel miserable or accuse God falsely because of our lot.  (Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, p. 44)

 

Two, trials have God’s purpose – spiritual maturity.  Charles Spurgeon agonized with painful Gout starting at age 35, suffered with Bright’s kidney disease, and was so prone to depression he hoped all in his flock would be spared the depths to which he went in despair.  He wrote,

 

I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny.  But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable….Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house.  It is the best book in a minister’s library.  (God’s People Melted & Tried, sermon)

 

Three, trials lead to God’s outcome – Is that okay with me?  It was apparently okay with Bonhoeffer as he went calmly to his death confident in the will of God.  It was also okay with Spurgeon who said about the criticism he bore that “the pain it has cost me none can measure.”

But he also wrote,

 

As long as I trace my pain to accident, my bereavement to mistake, my loss to another’s wrong, my discomfort to an enemy, and so on, I am of the earth, earthy, and shall break my teeth with gravel stones; but when I rise to my God and see his hand at work, I grow calm, I have not a word of repining.  (1873 sermon)

 

Your friend, in the Master’s schoolhouse, Pastor Brian (:-}).