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 (:-}).

May 1

Revisiting Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer for True Christian Unity

Many years ago a young couple came to me after service one Sunday and asked what I thought about Ecumenism.  The Ecumenical Movement, from the Greek for “inhabited world,” refers to the effort to bring unity to the worldwide professing churches of Christendom.  It is based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17 “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  Ecumenism teaches that the divisions in the professing Church negate Jesus’ prayer and harm His effectiveness in the world.  If we could come back together as one world Church we could accomplish great good for Christ.

 

The last Sunday of April (2016) we examined Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17.  I found it striking that the Ecumenical Movement has wrenched Jesus’ call for unity in v. 23 out of its context ignoring the kind of unity Jesus prayed for us to have.  Just as “peace at any price” is a false peace, so “unity at any price” is a false unity.  As with “false peace,” “false unity” promises much but actually does more harm than good to the cause of Christ because it dishonors all that He promotes.  True unity is wonderful and brings about great good in the local church and among local churches.  What is the true unity that Christ prayed for us to have?

 

It is unity in the truth.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth, v. 17.  Several times in Jesus’ prayer He mentions that He has given us His Word, v. 8.  The Word of God contains the truth that we are to proclaim to the world for its salvation.  It is unity in the proclamation of this truth that is true unity.  Since Satan is the father of all lies and falsehood it is clear that he loves to minimize the truth to lead people into error and away from God.  Note that the “evil one” was a cause of concern in Jesus’ prayer, v. 15.  Healthy unity will always prioritize the Word.

 

It is unity in holiness.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified, v. 19.  The word sanctify means “to be made holy.”  Earlier Jesus calls God “Holy Father,” v. 11 (an expression by the way that should be used of no human being because it belongs to God alone.).  Since God is holy His purpose in salvation is for us to be holy.  Since Satan promotes unholiness he loves unity that downplays separation from sin and ignores purity.  Wherever that occurs, lives are destroyed and the testimony of Christ is diminished.  True unity then calls people to a high and holy standard for their good and the good of their witness.

 

It is unity in the Godhead of Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  Jesus clearly places Himself on equal par with the Father when He speaks of “the glory I had with you before the world began,” v. 5.  Elsewhere Jesus puts the Holy Spirit on the same equal footing, John 16:13.  True unity then is a Trinitarian unity for only when all three members of the triune God are given their due is God truly glorified.  One note of caution.  The Holy Spirit, Jesus declared, will bring glory to Me, John 16:14.  True unity is always Christ-centered making His Person and work central.

 

It is unity in love.  Jesus prays that the love you have for me may be in them, v. 26.  Note that only after Jesus has mentioned unity in truth, holiness and the Godhead, does He mention unity in love.  How do we love as Jesus loved?  In truth, holiness and submission to the Three in One.  That’s true unity and the closest thing to heaven on earth.  May God grant that to us.

 

Your friend, in unity, Pastor Brian (:-})

April 1

Encouragement in Prayer from Jesus’ Prayer Life

One of the great encouragements for our prayer life is learning from the prayer life of Jesus.  In John 17:1-5 Jesus prayed for Himself in a way that connects with Philippians 2:5-11.  That important passage is known as the Kenosis Passage because the word “emptied” in v. 7 comes from the Greek word “kenosis.”  The entire passage expands on what Jesus meant when He prayed in John 17:4-5 that He had accomplished the work that God gave Him to do, v. 4, and that He prayed for the Father to glorify me…with the glory that I had with you before the world existed, v. 5.

 

The first part of the Kenosis Passage tells us what “the work” was that Jesus said He “accomplished.”  It involved 3 Steps Down according to Philippians 2:6-8:  1) He gave up His right to glory in heaven, vv. 6-7a (Note:  He emptied Himself of His glory, not His deity), 2) He took the form of a man, a creature, vv. 7-8a, 3) He, a sinless man, voluntarily died the death of a cursed man, v. 8.  This three-step process is how Jesus emptied and humiliated Himself and accomplished the work God gave Him.

 

The second part of the Kenosis Passage tells us that because of this God gave Jesus back the “glory” He prayed to receive that He “had with” the Father “before the world existed.”  That consisted in 3 Steps Up in Philippians 2:9-11:  1-2) Resurrected and Ascended, v. 9 (highly exalted), 3) Receiving universal sovereignty, vv. 9-11a (bestowed on him the name that is above every name).

 

What is fascinating is that these 3 Steps Down followed by 3 Steps Up concluded “to the glory of God the Father,” v. 11b.  That is exactly what Jesus prayed for in John 17:1 that the “Father” would “glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”  The Kenosis Passage makes it clear that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was answered.  Now all of this is very instructive for our prayer life.

 

Jesus gave us the same privilege of answered prayer that He had.  Jesus said earlier in John 16:26-27 “that you will ask in my name…for the Father himself loves you.”  Because we are in Christ and Christ is in us, the Father has the very same love for His children that He has for His Son.  So the intimacy in prayer with the Father that Jesus enjoyed is given to us as well.

 

Our prayers should be patterned after the way Jesus prayed.  Several things become clear about how Jesus prayed.  First, Jesus one request in John 17:1-5, repeated twice, was that He would glorify God.  Therefore, the overarching request of all of our prayers should be that God is glorified by the way He answers.  If we are in tune with the heart of Jesus, the Father’s glory should be our main priority.

 

Second, Jesus glorified God by accomplishing the work He was given to do.  That tells us that answered prayer primarily has to do with enabling us to fulfill God’s mission for our lives to serve Him.  Praying for a job, for example, is not so that we can live independently of God and have our needs met.  We pray for a job so we can have the resources we need to live for the Lord and serve Him effectively.  Without that, prayer is little more than an exercise in using God instead of serving Him.

 

Third, Jesus prayed for strength to endure the trial that came with His cross, not that He would escape it.  Ultimately, in the garden, He prayed for the Lord’s will to be done which meant enduring the trial.  We may pray for a trial to be removed, but only when we are surrendered to God’s will first.  Prayer is not an escape mechanism, but a means for being strengthened for whatever God has willed.

 

Your friend, learning to pray, Pastor Brian (:-}).

March 1

Participating in the Ongoing Story of the Book of Acts Today

One of the great joys of studying the Bible with others is seeing connections in Scripture you had not realized previously.  The Tuesday Morning Men’s Bible Study at Perkins Restaurant just began the Acts of the Apostles.  The author Luke mentions that the Gospels teach us about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 1:1.  The Book of Acts then is the continuation of Jesus’ ministry from heaven thru the work of the Holy Spirit on earth.  The Holy Spirit is introduced immediately by Luke in verse 2 in fulfillment of Jesus’ repeated promise in the Gospels.  Many have said that the book might more aptly be renamed the Acts of the Holy Spirit because it is His ministry that guides and enables the early church.

 

In response to Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus said in the Gospels, I will build my church, Matthew 16:18.  When we reach verse 8 of Acts 1 it becomes clear that the Book of Acts is the story of Jesus fulfilling that promise.  Acts 1:8 reads:  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and all Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  This verse not only gives us the theme of Acts but also the outline of the whole book.

 

Theme of Acts:  The empowerment of believers by the Holy Spirit to establish and expand the Church just as Jesus promised.  Outline of Acts:  The witness of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit in 1) Jerusalem (chapters 1-7), 2) in Judea and all Samaria (chapters 8-12), and 3) to the end of the earth (chapters 13-28).  What lessons can we learn for our ministry today from this brief introduction to Acts?

 

The building of the Church is the most significant work God is doing in the world today.  The disciples wanted to know about future events in Acts 1:6.  Jesus immediately said the times (length of history) and seasons (events yet to come) are known only by the Father, verse 7.  God will bring future events to pass according to His plan as revealed in Scripture.  In the meantime, the establishment and expansion of His church is His number one priority in this age.  Someone has well said that Plan A is the Church and there is no Plan B.

 

We are wasting our lives if we are not involved in the establishment and expansion of the Church.  If every Christian is a member of Christ’s body, and if this is God’s main work in the world today, then our lives find their great purpose in participating in the work of the Church.  We all have our calling in the world to represent Christ in our various walks of life as He has appointed.  But even there our purpose is to so represent Christ that people will be drawn to Him and want to be part of His Church.  And then within His Church we have a part to contribute so the work of God on earth is done.

 

This gives meaning, purpose, excitement and perseverance to our daily lives and church ministries.  A friend of mine who works as a pharmacist in Lower Michigan used to say to me that the only two things that will last into eternity are the souls of people and the Word of God.  Everything else will perish.  Bringing the souls of people into connection with the Word of God is the most lasting work anyone can do.  That is what we get the chance to do as we represent Christ well in everyday life and then participate in the life of the Church.  That means every day is filled with meaning and purpose because we are involved in that great work.  It helps us persevere because we know that no matter what happens otherwise our labor is not in vain in the Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:58.

 

Your friend, part of the great story of Acts with you, Pastor Brian (:-})

February 1

Jesus’ Teaching on the Issue of Fruit and No Fruit

One of Jesus’ most difficult sayings to interpret is John 15:2a, 6 where He says “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he [my Father] takes away…If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”  There are three views of this important passage and the relationship of fruit to salvation for believers.

 

The view of those in the Arminian wing of the church is that this refers to genuine Christians who bear no Christian fruit and lose their salvation.  They were in the vine and vitally connected to Jesus but stopped following Him and had their salvation taken away.  The problem with this is that it clearly conflicts with other passages in John where Jesus says true Christians can never perish.  John 6:39 says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  On the principle that God’s Word is consistent and non-contradictory we must reject this view of the non-fruit-bearing branches.

 

Another view, popular with some Evangelicals, but more recent in the history of the church, is that the non-fruit-bearing branches are true Christians who have their works burned up and receive little or no rewards.  These are Christians who live like the world but have no fruit to offer to God at the judgment seat of Christ.  These fulfill 1 Corinthians 3:15 which says, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”  The problem with this is that it is the branch itself that Jesus says is burned, not the unfruitful works of the branch.  Also, when Jesus spoke about fruit elsewhere he made it clear that the tree is known by its fruit and that bad fruit is characteristic of an evil heart, Luke 6:43-45.  Clearly Jesus taught that Christian fruit is the mark of a relationship with Him, Matthew 7:16-23.  View two is inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere.

 

The final view, and one widely held in Christian history, is that the no-fruit-branches represent false believers who appear to be believers but only have an outward attachment to Jesus and have never really been born again.  Since Judas had just recently departed the upper room before Jesus spoke the words about no fruit in John 2, many Bible students believe he illustrates the kind of person Jesus was talking about.  He looked so much like the other eleven that they thought he was one of them.  But he bore no lasting fruit and Jesus said it was better that he had never been born, Mark 14:21.  He was never vitally connected with Jesus and showed no fruit of a changed life.  He was not the good soil that Jesus said represents true believers who all bear fruit but just not in the same amounts, Luke 8:15.  If this is the correct view, what do we learn from Jesus?

 

One thing we learn is that a relationship with Jesus is clearly life-transforming.  Not all mature to the extent they should and every believer has remaining vestiges of sin, but new life will manifest itself in new fruit.  Another thing we learn is that it is possible to attach oneself to the Christian church and even think one belongs to Jesus, and yet be self-deceived because of the absence of new life.  Such people hear in the end the Master’s words “I never knew you,” Matthew 7:21-23.  Finally, we learn that presumption is not the same as eternal security.  All true believers can and should be secure in their salvation knowing that they will never perish and their sins are eternally forgiven, John 10:28-29.  But such believers are not presumptuous believing that they can live sinfully and carelessly and still claim to be saved.  True believers heed Paul’s words, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”  Happy is the believer who passes the faith and the fruit test.

 

Your friend, wanting to bear fruit, Pastor Brian (:-}).