Is unity possible with someone you don’t like?

body-of-christ

We are now three more sleeps until Christmas – one of the few days where we find ourselves surrounded by family, fulfilling traditions, and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Some of us have wonderful, picturesque and happy families while others of us have dysfunctional ones, and some of us simply live too far away and/or do not have the money to make the trek home for the holidays.

But if you are a Christian, you have a different kind of family as well:  the family and body of Christ, your local church.  If you have been involved in your local church with any dedication and for any amount of time, you have probably noticed that there are as varied personalities there as there are within your natural family.  There are people you cannot wait to see, with whom you love to spend time, and there are those whom you would prefer to simply pass in the hallway.  There are kind, generous and thoughtful people as well as selfish, rude and abrasive people.  We have a little bit of everything.

But as the body of Christ, we have been called to be unified.  We have been called to love.  We have been called to sacrifice for one another.

“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

– Phil 2.2

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

– 1 Peter 3.8

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

– 1 Cor 1.10

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

– Col 3.14

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

Have you ever heard someone say, “I love him, but I do not like him”?  It is true that love is deeper than a mere emotional affection.  Love is the intentional choice to care for someone, to put his needs above our own, to serve another and look out for their best interests.  It is also true that it is possible to make that choice to honor, respect and love another person even if the other person’s personality is abrasive and you do not particularly care to be in his presence.

But is it possible to maintain that tension in our spirits for a long period of time?  Can we truly make the choice to love someone while our hearts cringe at the thought of being around him?  No.  I would argue we cannot.

Emotions and affections are reactionary.  We learn as children that when we make up our minds and choose a course of action, everything else follows.  Jesus said simply,

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.21

Jesus is speaking directly about earthy treasure versus eternal treasures.  If we set our minds and goals on money, toys, fame or anything on Earth, our hearts will follow in desiring and longing for those things.  If we set our minds and goals on eternal things like honoring God and salvation of the lost, our hearts and affections will be pleased with those things.

Not only are emotions reactionary, but Scripture teaches us that our hearts are wicked and deceptive above all else.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

– Jer 17.9

Our flesh is marked by our sinful nature, and the natural desires that flow from it are wicked.  If we depend on our hearts to guide us, we will make evil decisions continually.  The emotion of hatred or not liking someone is a result of a wicked heart and unchecked emotions.

As the body of Christ, we have been called to unity.  Unity of mind, unity of purpose, without any division, exemplifying sympathy and brotherly love.  And we simply cannot pursue someone else’s best interest if we do not like him and choose to avoid him.

Ok, so that’s great and all, but what do I do if I do not like someone?

First of all, we need to examine the situation.  Step back and ask yourself, “Why do I not like this person?”  Did this person wrong you at some point in the past?  Was there reconciliation?  Are you jealous of this person for some reason?  Does his personality just rub you the wrong way?

If there is an unaddressed sin, then for the sake of both of your souls, it needs to be addressed.  We are warned strongly throughout Scripture to not make peace with sin or let it continue (Heb 10.26-27, Rom 8.13).  In fact, Scripture teaches us that when a brother is in sin it is our responsibility to humbly draw him to repentance, and if he will not repent to remove him from the church so as to not lead others into sin and hopefully draw him to repentance through that discipline (Gal 6.1, Matt 18.15-17, 1 Cor 5).  This is an act of love, because continuing in sin has the gravest of consequences.  We confront sin in humility, remembering our own sin and being acutely aware that we could be tempted and fall as well.

Was a sin or offense addressed, but you still are bitter?  This is a lack of forgiveness against which we must intentionally fight.  Jesus says that we will forgive in the same way that we have been forgiven, and if we are unwilling to forgive then we prove ourselves to have not been forgiven by God (Luke 7.47, Matt 6.15).  The root of bitterness is a terrible and sly temptation that will ruin us if we do not keep it in check (Heb 12.15).  Recognize in your heart that even if you feel justified in your bitterness, anger or hatred, it will destroy you.  And if Jesus, who is perfect and God can forgive you, then we are compelled to forgive others any offense.

Are you jealous of him?  Perhaps he has a beautiful wife, perfectly behaved children, a wonderful job or that charismatic personality you wish you had.  Or perhaps he speaks too bluntly, makes awkward observations, or has an annoying laugh.  These are heart and sin issues that we need to address without confronting or involving the other person.  Jealousy is a wicked deception of the devil, convincing us that God has not been as good to us as He has to another person.  This is conquered by intentional thankfulness and pursuit of God’s direction in your life.  He may not be giving you money because you would become unfaithful with it.  He may have given you difficult children to grow your faith.  He may have you in your specific job to make a kingdom impact, even if the job is terrible.  God has a perfect and sovereign plan for your life, do not dishonor Him by wishing you had someone else’s, but trust and follow Him.

It is true that we will not be accountability partners, best friends or bosom buddies with everyone.  We simply do not have the time or emotional capability to do so.  Jesus chose twelve disciples, and of those twelve had three closest friends, and He was able to maintain this many relationships in part because He did not go in to an office from 9:00-5:00 every day.

It is also true that in the process of discipleship, people will fail and need to gain victory over specific personality flaws.  Thus, if a man has committed adultery and proven Himself unfaithful, then there is a season of growth, accountability and restoration required before he should be trusted fully again.  If someone has stolen money from the church, he needs to prove his repentance and be restored before serving on the financial team again.  If someone has been caught in a lie, then a system of checks and balances is established for a season while he is restored.

But all of these situations must be confronted and handled in love.  If we have been forgiven, then we must forgive one another.  If someone is seeking to confess and restore himself in the wake of a sin, then it is the body’s responsibility to pray for him and walk with him in that process.  If we never allow him to regain honor or trust, then we are sinning against him.  We, as the body, should be in the business of forgiving and restoring people – just as Jesus forgives and restores us.  We are all going to fall, and we all need grace from God and grace from one another.

As a unified and united body, we will have close friends, we will have acquaintances, and in a large enough body, we will have people whom we have never met.  What is important is that we have a unified heart to love and honor God, that we have a unified mission in reaching our communities and world, and that we are intentionally seeking one another’s well being through brotherly love.  If a need arises in the church, do we jump to meet it?  Do we encourage one another by helping people get connected and involved?

In short, we need to check our hearts.  Our hearts will deceive us and validate our sinful tendencies if we do not keep them aligned with Scripture.  We are commanded to love one another the very same way we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  So those quirks and tendencies that we overlook in ourselves, we are commanded to overlook in other people.  Those allowances we make for ourselves, we are commanded to make for other people.  And if we care for one another in brotherly love, then we humbly and intentionally address sin that we see in one another.

Remember also, that we are united as a body – working towards a goal.  The Church should not be static relationships, but strategic team work towards impacting the kingdom.  We must therefore intentionally value what everyone brings to the table (1 Cor 12), and when we see a bigger picture we can value others more easily.

Thus we must be unified with someone that we do not like, but we should not be content to “not like” a brother or sister in Christ.  That is an emotional reaction to a bigger issue, which we need to address in our hearts.  Pray for him.  If you pray for someone long enough, you will begin to care about him on a selfless and real level.

So let’s get real with ourselves, with God, and with one another.  Are you harboring anything against someone else?  Confront it – either in your own heart, with God, or with the other person.  Do not let division begin in your Church, that is one of Satan’s greatest tactics to neutralize our effect in our communities and world.  Put one another above yourself.  Love boldly.  Remember that we are working together.  And trust God for the outcome.

Sometimes you do not belong.

outsider

Twice in my life I have lived in big cities where almost everyone is transient.  People are in search of community, people are independent, people are unreliable, but you can always find friends and someone to do something with.  Twice in my life I have moved into communities where almost everyone is home-grown, somehow related to everyone else, they are tight nit and no matter how much they think they like you and no matter how long you live amongst them, you will always be an outsider because you are not blood.  And twice in my life I have lived in foreign cities where I was an outsider by every meaning of the word: language, skin color, values, religion, everything.

There are times in your life when you know you just do not belong.  It’s like that last day each year in college, you have just taken your last final exam, you walk through the dormitory and half of the residents have already packed up and headed home for the summer, you no longer have a reason to be there and you get that empty feeling in the pit of your stomach and you know it is time to go home.  But sometimes it lasts for weeks, or months, or years.  You will never be a native, once you have moved.  And in some places that means nothing, but in other places that means everything.  Relationally, anyway.  We chronically live our lives in cliques and cool kid clubs.

After Jesus returned to Heaven and the early church was planted, there was much persecution and Christians were scattered.  They were forced out of their homes and they had to flee for their lives, settling in foreign communities.  They were outsiders.  They were not blood.  But they were born of the Holy Spirit and had the bond with God of being His child.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

– Eph 2.19-22

Since the Church at large was being persecuted and scattered, the unifying factor for believers was their faith, and no longer blood.  They were one in Christ and found their community and comfort in caring for one another and corporately relying on God.  They were being nit together, formed into a temple for the Holy Spirit.  Often we misunderstand the purpose of the Church and individual faith, considering ourselves to be lone ranger believers who are each a temple of the Holy Spirit.  But we learn here that we, corporately, make the Church and in unity with one another become the temple; the dwelling place for Him.

When we function as the body, we have a place and we belong.  But it is not our ultimate home.

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

– Heb 13.14

We were saved unto an eternal salvation and will one day be taken “home” to be with the father, forever.  Only there, in our new and glorified bodies will we truly belong.  Only there will we be blood, will we be native, will we be truly at home.  And since we are longing for that eternity, we cannot make peace with our Earthly dwelling.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

– 1 Peter 2.11

We must continually wage war against our sinful flesh.  We must continually fight the fight of being comfortable and lazy and make ourselves aware of the hurting and needy around us.  There are some people in your church who are not blood, who do not belong, and who are hurting and broken.  Skip lunch on Sunday with your cousins and buddies and go love on that hurting and lonely couple.  Tell your crib mate that you will talk to them later and go welcome that visitor and get to know someone new.  But beware the temptation of shallow and transient relationships, too.  We are to function as the body, to hold one another accountable, to be involved in each other’s lives, carrying one another’s burdens and forming the temple for the Holy Spirit.  Let’s break out of our comfort zones, let’s remember that our true home is eternity with Christ, and let’s build the temple of the Holy Spirit by unifying, welcoming, embracing the believers that God puts into our paths.  Let’s break the mold.

When should we fight?

boxing gloves

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—

– Ecc 3.1

This regularly quoted verse offers us comfort and peace as we wade through different life stages and circumstances.  Solomon opens his list of dichotomies with “a time to give birth and a time to die” (V 2), and lists events as extreme as killing, loving and hating, embracing and shunning.

But is there ever a place to fight?  To contend?  One of the cornerstones or pillars on which the contemporary church likes to stand is unity.  We are criticized for having denominations, we are counted weak for having different interpretations of the Scriptures, and we cling to verses like,

“…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

– Eph 4.3

Yes.  Jesus Himself desired to see the disciples and believers unified with Himself in love, knowledge and Spirit.  Part of being saved is receiving the Holy Spirit to indwell and direct us and we become one with Christ as Christ is one with God the Father.  That is one of the most difficult mysteries for me to understand!

We are quick, however, to sacrifice depth and the intricacies of the faith in order to appease people.  We trick ourselves into thinking that if we avoid topics that cause division we will have unity.  I have met leaders in many churches who set out with the agenda, “We avoid everything that causes people to divide”, and “We only preach Jesus”.  While this sounds great at the onset, the result is shallow teaching, and that only which brings about warm fuzzy feelings.  Church is now entertainment and self-help.

Do you realize that the first time the church split was over the dilemma of how to deal with those who had converted to the Roman ancient religion in order to avoid death?  Another major split in the early church was over the nature of Jesus.  Some people thought He was just a man and others thought He was only God, while the last group believe Him to be mysteriously both.  Other divisions arose about the nature of Scripture, with some teaching as early as two generations after Jesus that they whole of Scripture is allegorical:  a story or myth with good morals.

It was because of these splits and heresies that counsels were held, and doctrine was defined systematically.  The term trinity was developed to explain the nature of God, and now most protestants learn about the trinity as soon as they learn about Jesus.  We take it for granted.  But nowadays we shy away from the defense of doctrine for fear that it will turn people away.  We are more concerned that people come in our doors than that the people inside of our doors understand Truth and live a life honoring to God.

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.  For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

– Jude 3-4

Jude, the brother of Jesus, wrote a very short letter exhorting believers to contend for the faith.  We do not want to be a contentious people, but we need to uphold God’s values and Truth above all else.  We cannot compromise Truth for the sake of numbers or acceptance.  And what is scary, as Jude shows, is that the greatest threat is not from the outside, but from within.  Ungoldly people have already crept in to the church and are believing and teaching false doctrine.

If you were the devil, would not your greatest scheme be to send someone in -undercover – who looks good, sounds good, and leads people astray little by little?  Just put the frog in the warm water and slowly boil him to death?

These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.

– Jude 12-13

The early church required a three year probationary period for new believers before they were given the privilege of joining the church.  Three years of watching, learning, listening and maturing were required before they could be a member.  This was practiced to maintain the purity of the church in both doctrine and lifestyle.  Three years is perhaps a bit extreme, but Jude sternly warns us that people can creep in, people who are hidden reefs that will sink our ships, people who are clouds without water – they promise refreshment but remain arid, they appear to be healthy trees but produce no fruit.  And such a one is “doubly dead”.  He is spiritually dead, pretending to be of Jesus, and leading others astray.

We must know the Truth and the Scripture well enough to be on guard for these teachers.  We must stand guard lest we be led astray and made ineffective for the kingdom.  We must hold one another accountable so that we do not fall victim to, or worse yet, become one of these false prophets.  Contend.  It is rare that we are commanded to stand up and fight, but we must fight with persistence and wisdom for the integrity of our teaching and instruction.

For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.

– 1 Cor 11.19

Do you know what your church believes on the major doctrines?  Do you know what the Bible teaches on them?  Are you alert to the minor teachings that can neutralize our effectiveness and lead to great demise?  Do you fight for the integrity of your faith, the faith of your family, the faith of your small group, and the faith of your church?  This is worth fighting for.  Let’s suit up.

To What Extent Do We Unite?

Much of the Evangelical world is in shock now one day after the announcement from World Vision – the largest NGO around the world working in community development and disaster response – that they will no longer consider same-sex marriage as a determining factor in the hiring process of employees.  They have attempted to take a neutral stance on the divisive topic by deferring the authority to local churches where employees attend, to the end of unity amongst believers to serve the poor.

This is a tragedy.  

If we cannot submit to the authority of Scripture which clearly defines sin, we can offer no eternal hope.  And that is, indeed, the greatest need of all of humanity.  We only pave with gold the road to Hell if we feed the hungry but do not offer him salvation.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.  Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

– 1 Cor 6.9-11

World Vision holds to the Apostle’s Creed, and all who are hired within the continental United States must affirm this statement of faith.  They must be active in a local church, and any other sin of those listed above is grounds for termination.  However, since it is now a topic of debate whether one sin listed here is truly a sin, no stand will be taken.

I believe that the greater tragedy around the world is that even though World Vision is a Christian organization, and under the leadership of those who declare that we have a “hole in our gospel” when we preach Jesus and do not meet physical needs, the stand is also taken that “We do not talk about Jesus in situations where it could put someone in danger”.  If you sponsor a child in a Muslim country or in one where Jesus is not a free topic of conversation, you are not allowed to write about Jesus in your letters to him.  We will feed him, we will educate him, we will help build his community so that he can have a job, a house and stuff, but we will not tell him of the only, eternal hope.  He can die and go to Hell.

World Vision does partner with many organizations that do do the illegal work of evangelism in these settings, but they will not take that stand.

If we understand our end to be physical relief, community development and disaster response, then we can unite.  There are people from every worldview and every religion who are seeking to better the world by fighting hunger, poverty and injustice.  I can work with a Muslim, a Hindu, and a homosexual couple who is legally married in the United States to feed the starving.  But every faith-based organization must determine where their lines of cooperation are drawn when it comes to uniting for the purpose of the Gospel.  And when we claim the identity of Christ, we must determine His Word to be our authority and governing power.

Permitting homosexual marriage is not a debatable and secondary doctrine like mode of baptism.  We do not have the authority to change the Word of God.  God Himself defines it as a sin.  We all have sins of disposition and engaging in them without repentance is damnable.  And while we accept the Bible’s authority of murder, stealing and lying as sins, we must understand God’s heart and will that engaging in a homosexual lifestyle, having sex outside of marriage, adultery, drunkenness and even coveting are also sins – though they do not break the laws of the land.

Let us then unite under Scripture.  Let us understand our own, personal sin.  Let us allow God to determine right and wrong, and let us seek to live lifestyles that honor Him – by feeding the poor, establishing physical hope in the third world, and by proclaiming His name boldly.

many wise men have already written on the topic. I have only encourage you to read John Piper, Russell Moore, Franklin Graham, and Albert Mohler.  And pray.  God has revealed his heart to us in His Word, the Bible.  Let’s seek to know Him and honor Him, not change Him.

On Integration and Church Planting

The Church unanimously believes and understands that the purpose of Christians is to fulfill the great commission:  to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  There are a variety of interpretations of what exactly that means, but Jesus clearly stated that

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

– Matt 24.14

“The gospel must first be preached to all the nations.”

– Mark 13.11

We know from the Psalms, Old Testament prophecies and also from Revelation that there will be people from every tribe, tongue and nation present in eternity with Jesus (Rev 7.9).

Recently I have been reflecting on the dichotomous position that we, as American believers, hold when we think about how our churches should look and how we approach missions abroad.  Most missionaries endeavor to reach a specific “People Group” or tribe.  You will often hear people talk about their love for the people of a specific country like Nepal, Argentina or Kenya.  And within those countries there are typically multiple languages, tribes and cultures.  Wikipedia tells us that there are 122 languages spoken in Nepal, 40 in Argentina and 69 in Kenya.  Many missionaries set out with a vision for a country and then pick a specific tribe or two when they arrive at their host country.

When missionaries enter  host culture, they spend time learning the language, traditions and norms from that culture, and preach Jesus in a culturally contextual way.  Missionaries do not try to make the host culture American, they help new believers understand their own culture how Jesus would redeem it.  If a culture has a tradition that is morally neutral, it is redeemable for Christ, but if it has traditions that are of a false religion or sinful, these attributes must be surrendered to follow Christ.

We plant contextual churches, specific to language, culture, habits and geography.  We even help nationals write music that sounds like their traditional music using the Psalms as lyrics or help them put their testimonies to music.

In many settings around the world, the church model is a house church.  A small group with a maximum of fifteen to twenty people who love Jesus, study the word and often times meet illegally because it is against the law to follow Jesus in their countries, or meet in non-governmentally sanctioned groups.

But here in America we try to force everyone to come together, regardless of language, culture or habits.  We are extremely concerned that our churches represent every ethnicity and culture in our cities or communities.  We want our Sunday morning gathering to look like eternity.

Which way is right?  Should we help everyone try to honor Jesus in their cultural traditions and lifestyles?  Or should we try to unite everyone under one roof and build a community of diversity?

I do not have the answer. 

In fact, I am not sure that there is an answer.  But I do wonder why we have polar opposite vantage points when it comes to church in the west and church in the rest of the world.

The United States is a unique bird in the sense that we mostly speak the same language.  So one might argue, “We all speak the same language, we are all Americans and we all have the same culture (apart from recent immigrants and refugees)”.  But anyone who has moved more than a few hours from their hometown will quickly affirm that there are distinct and different cultures regionally and even throughout the variety of demographics within cities and smaller communities.  Having always lived North of the Mason Dixon Line, when I started grad school in Kentucky, I was told that people thought I was rude and arrogant because I did not practice the art of small talk.  Apparently in the South it is expected that you speak with everyone.  You greet everyone that you pass on the street, you make small talk with cashiers, you joke with strangers in line at the store.  And I, since I would go to the grocery, pick up what I needed and check myself out at the self-check out lane, was rude.

Not only that, but there were occasions when I would speak with someone and not understand the words coming out of his or her mouth.  Yes, we were both speaking English, but this Philadelphia-born girl had not yet mastered the art of hearing and understanding the Kentucky draw.

This of course is news to no one.  We have all enjoyed listening to and trying to imitate accents from all around the world.

So how does Jesus redeem these differences within the church?

The key is making disciples.  Gathering together on Sunday morning does not make a church.  A church is a group of people who are seeking to know God, pushing one another on to love, know and obey Him, and reaching the lost.  Attendance on a Sunday morning does not guarantee that one is a believer or disciple.  This is why most churches that are bigger than a house church have small groups where people are supposed to actually act out the disciple-making process.  Yes, we learn when we sit under solid teaching.  But we need the small groups to help us apply and hold accountable the teachings that we learn academically under the preacher.  And in these small groups, we must be able to relate to one another culturally.  We may be close-cultured (having cultures that are very similar to one another: like Philadelphia and back-woods Kentucky) or far-cultured (having extremely different cultures, like England and Saudi Arabia), but either way we must redeem our personal habits and norms for Christ, and others to do the same.

“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.”  And “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

 – Matt 22.37, 39

Loving your neighbor as yourself means understanding their culture, valuing them, and helping them to serve and honor God well.  It means helping to meet their needs, encouraging them and building community with them.

We cannot build this deep community with everyone, however.  We each have a limited amount of time, energy and ability.  Therefore, we should each ask the Lord with whom we should connect on all levels.  We must have those close relationships that hold us accountable and push us on to know and love God more.  Ask Him if it is the neighbor next door, if it is a person of close or far culture, of the same color and background or vastly different.  And dig in.  Then, in our broader circles, we must be intentional with our outreach.  We must help people understand their own cultures and how they can honor God in their lifestyles:  removing the sin and glorifying God in the ways He has created them.  Let’s not try to force everyone to look, sound and smell the same for the vain sake of diversity.  Let us unite as we are able, and let us rejoice in the establishing churches of different cultures celebrating, loving and honoring God in their own ways.

 

diversity-2

There must be factions among you.

“But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.  For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.  For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.”

– 1 Cor 11.17-19

We talk so much these days about unity that the up-and-coming generation (and probably most of generations Gen X and younger) are beginning to value tolerance and acceptance over Truth.  We would not dare to be so arrogant as to claim that what I believe the Scripture to say is Truth, this is just “my interpretation” and you are entitled to your own opinion.  We are going to start and build churches that avoid those things which cause denominations to split, because “all that matters is Jesus”.  The Bible, after all, means different things to different people, right?

There are some tertiary and even secondary doctrines over which we should not fight.  Do you believe that Jesus will return before, after or halfway through the tribulation?  I have my belief, but if you disagree with me, that is all right because there is no salvific significance to the discussion.  I am no more or less a Christian or in love with Jesus because I believe one thing and you another.  We both believe in the resurrection of the dead, in which our hope is founded, and we both are trusting Jesus for salvation and for redemption at the end of the age.

Paul, in this passage, opens the discussion with a debate which should be non-divisive, and closes with one that should be.  The church was arguing over the mandate of women covering their heads for prayer.  Paul argues that her long hair is a woman’s covering and glory, however he says “judge for yourselves” (1 Cor 11.13).  It’s not a big deal.  God gave her a natural covering, but if one desires to wear a scarf, too, then her submission is honorable.

He then makes the statement that there must factions or divisions amongst Christians, so that those who are approved – those who are right – will be evident.  That which should be divisive, he explains, is that the church was irreverently and sinfully taking the Lord’s Supper, in that each one was eating and drinking – some getting drunk while some went hungry without food.  He states that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11.27).  He instructs that every one must examine himself and his heart before taking the Lords supper, because if you take it in sin, you drink and eat judgment upon yourself (1 Cor 11.29).  He says, “you do not judge the body rightly”.  You must judge yourself, and you must judge the factions within the church and discern, according to Scriptures, which is right.

Moving to a new city is fun and exciting, but it is also difficult at times – in particular to find a church and build solid community.  I went to seminary of one denomination, but the new city where I have moved has very few congregations within that denomination.  In looking at churches in the area, I have noticed that many non-demoninational churches, for the sake of being inclusive, do not have a statement of beliefs available for church seekers.  They, in fact, do not even have one written.  I also learned a lot about other denominations from my background whilst on the hunt!

There are things in which we unify.  The Gospel is foundational and non-negotiable.  There are things on which we might disagree but can still stand united.  If a woman feels convicted to cover her head when she prays, or all of the time, she should cover her head in clear conscience and stand next to her sister whose hair is her covering from the Lord.  However, if there is a faction within your church who is dishonoring the Lord’s Supper by eating in excess and not feeding his poor brother who is hungry, this is a division-worthy issue.  If there is a faction who does not examine and repent of sin before coming into a worship service, this is worth breaking fellowship if and when the outlines of Church discipline have been followed, offering such a one a chance to repent.

The Scriptures were written for our instruction.  They are infallible and inerrant and with careful study of the context and intention they can be discerned – and at times the discernment is that God’s thoughts are above our thoughts and not for our understanding.  But God is not a God of confusion (1 Cor 14.33).  There are applicational issues that are not worth fighting or dividing over.  And there are minor interpretational issues – especially ones such as the prophecies for the end times – that are also not worth dividing over.  But sin is intolerable.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians that if a person says he is a believer, but is unrepentant in sinful lifestyles or choices, we are to not even eat with him (1 Cor 5.11).  And the foundational doctrines of salvation are not to be compromised.

But everybody sins.  Right?  Who am I to judge someone else?  Yes, we all fall into seasons of sin.  We all make a wrong decision here and there.  We all still are at war with our flesh (Gal 5.17).  But that is the point of the church.  To call one another to account.  To push one another on to maturity.  To know one another well enough to ask the tough questions, to open to answer the tough questions and grow in holiness.  All in love.  All to the glory of God.  We do not chastise or kick out a brother or sister for sinning.  We remove a brother or sister from our midst for being unwilling to repent for his sinning.  If he chooses to embrace sin over the will and mandates of God.  If he, when confronted for his sin, says “I don’t care what God says about this”.  Seventy times seven is the amount of times we offer forgiveness and acceptance to a brother who sins, when he repents (Matt 18.22).  And it is in our humility and repentance that we ask one another and push one another on to love and know God.

Do you know what you believe?  Do you know what your church believes?  Do you test everything that you hear against the Scripture (Acts 17.11)?  Are you growing in maturity (Heb 6.1)?  Are you growing in holiness (1 Peter 1.16)?  Do you unite when we need to unite and divide when we need to divide?  Trust God.  Obey.  So that the one who is approved might be known.

Sometimes The Truth Weeds Out Tares

Sometimes the truth weeds out tares.

And sometimes it doesn’t.

Post-Christian Western American culture in general has some Christian based roots that permeate our mindset.  Good Samaritan laws, the golden rule, democracy, equality of all men, and holding the door open for strangers are all Biblically based ideas that we hold and value and teach to our children as common decency and good manners.

But we do not often teach these values in light of service to God and therefore one who serves another man in need is hailed as a hero and elevated to an esteemed status.  And thus the servant is not truly a servant.

One will never truly have a servant’s heart until he is treated like a servant and perseveres in humility and service.  One will not earn God’s favor in service unless he serves even the “least of these” with the expectation of only God’s approval (Matt 25.40).

Our culture has taken and warped these elementary teachings.  We are creating our own doctrines.  We are wanting to have our ears tickled and we are accumulating for ourselves teachers who build us up in “accordance with our own desires” (2 Tim 4.4).  We want to serve if we get praised for it.  We do not want to serve like a servant.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

2 Tim 4.3-4

The challenge and the call upon the Church is to make disciples:  to teach ourselves and others to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matt 28.20).  But our Churches are full of people who do not truly believe; people who want to have their ears tickled.  People who want to go to Heaven, but who do not want to die to themselves.

So what do we do?

“Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.  But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.  The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then does it have tares?”  And he said to them, “An enemy has done this!” The slaves said to him, “Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?”  But he said, “No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them.  Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn’.”‘”

– Matt 13.24-30

We teach sound doctrine (Titus 2.1).  And sometimes the Truth weeds out the tares.  But sometimes it does not.  And Jesus gives a very peculiar teaching on the subject.  The parable of the wheat and tares tells us that it is dangerous to weed out tares that are deeply rooted amongst the wheat because in pulling out a tare, the wheat might get uprooted too.  It is better, for the sake of the wheat, to leave the tare in place that is entangling it.

What does this look like?

This is specifically speaking of a person.  If there is a false doctrine alive and well in your church, it is your duty and Spiritual obligation to teach true and sound doctrine.  But if there is a person amongst you who believes himself to be a brother and is not involved in habitual sin for which he should be removed from the Church, leave it alone.  Continue to teach sound doctrine, continue to exhort him to obedience and salvation, but do not divide the church over a nonessential because in doing so, you will hurt the body.  You will loose some wheat.  And perhaps by the washing of the word he will come to faith!  Just last month a man in his 80’s who had attended for years came to faith at my church!

We are all on a path to maturation.  We must push one another on to Spiritual growth.  Let us not grow complacent in our walks, but let us press on to deeper and greater things (Heb 6.1).  Let us encourage one another to know and love God more, being fully transformed by the Spirit living within us.  And let us guard the purity of the teaching of our Church by teaching boldly and loving selflessly.  If the Truth does not push people seeking false teaching away, I would guess that the Spirit is working in their hearts.  Let’s pray for them.  And in the process, preserve the wheat.

And let us take note of the fact that the sowing of false teachers and nonbelievers in the Church is the work of the enemy.  This is one of his very skillful tactics against which we should be warned and prepared!

The Motorcycle Wave

  motorcycle wave

My dad rides motorcycles.  As a little girl, as soon as my feet could touch the pegs, I was allowed to ride as passenger, holding on to his belt-loops.  Then I learned to ride by myself while I lived overseas.  When I came back to the states and we went out on our first ride together, I kept noticing my dad pointing at the ground.  Somehow in the developmental years I had missed the fact that motorcyclists in the US acknowledge one another, almost always.  You cannot put your hand up in the air to wave, as the wind would push your hand back and you could dislocate your shoulder, so they point at the ground, or throw the peace sign down low with the left hand.

I am now quite versed at the wave.  And I love it.  It does not matter who you are, where you are from, or what kind of bike you are riding, you have a common bond.

Well, most scooter riders do not do the wave…but that is a whole other topic.

Community.  Unity.  Acceptance.

I am not going to make the statement that anyone on a motorcycle will automatically befriend someone else on a motorcycle.  There are gangs, there are personalities at play; there are a multitude of dividing factors.  But it struck me as I rode to work this morning and waved at a guy that bikers are aware of and on the lookout for other bikes, and there is camaraderie by the simple association of owning and riding a motorcycle.  Am I on the lookout for other believers?  Do I love and acknowledge them simply for being a part of the family of Christ?  Do I acknowledge and welcome them because of their redeemed status before God?  “If you love me you will love the Church” (Derek Webb).

I like to day dream about “the mark of God” (Deut 6.8, Rev 7.2) and what it could look like if we all had an identifying factor by which we would know one another.  Like I have said before, I do not make any claims to have eschatological issues completely understood, but it does seem clear to me that there will be some sort of mark by which people will buy and sell in the end times (Rev 13.16-17), but those who follow God will not receive this mark and will be sealed with His mark instead.  It will be quite clear in those days who is for God and who is not.  Physically.

But today.  I do not have a tattoo or chip on my forehead or hand that publicly identifies me as a Christian.  So how can we know one another, immediately?  And how can others recognize us?

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– John 13.35

Do I love others, serve others, put other’s interests before myself and give the glory and honor to God in such a way that people recognize I am a follower of Jesus?

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”

 – Rom 12.10-13

I like the way the ESV version translates Rom 12.10:  “Outdo one another in showing honor“.  We should be so interested in serving God by serving each other that we are in friendly competition to see who can love the other most!

But the end is never love in-and-of itself.  The end is glorifying God.  If we love for the sake of love, our righteousness is as filthy rags (Is 64.6, Rom 3.10).  Our love and affection should bear the mark of God such that people turn to Him when they see it.  Do you forgive as you have been forgiven?  Or do you hold grudges?  Do you pay attention to other people’s needs?  Or is all of your money spent on toys and entertainment?  Do you embrace those who are hurting?  Or are they inconvenient to you?  Do you speak of God’s salvation and grace with everyone who will listen?  Or do you hoard it all for yourself?  Do you work as unto God?  Or is your occupation a means by which you earn money, get ahead and provide for yourself?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

 – 1 John 4.7-8