For better or for worse/Part 1
A few days back a younger believer and I had an opportunity to sit face to face and discuss some rather major decisions he would soon have to make. He was being wise by consulting many counselors in this regard to which I considered myself privileged to be one. At stake was more than the risk of going into debt, it was something far more important- the will of God as it concerned the plans He had for this young man. He knew these decisions could impact his life for the better, or maybe for the worse. He was wise in asking for assistance from others who had similar experiences prior to His own.
I faced a similar dillemma a few weeks ago when I purchased my first I-Phone. I bought one specifically due to a navigational APP I could only use on a smart phone. Sure, this may seem kind of trivial but in reality this decision could have either been for the better or worse as well. Actually, all decisions are for the better or worse, at least in the interim. I'll retun to these thoughts a little later.
Within the Scriptures we have an instance where some new Christians were actually having fellowship that actually made them worse off. In other words, they would have been better off not attempting to fellowship at all.
"But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse" [1 Corinthians 11:17]
Of all the indictments Paul the apostle could have uttered concerning the fellowship of the saints, this had to really hurt. He had just given them some specific instructions on the manner they were to gather together and had recently commended them with this thought below:
"Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you" [1 Corinthians 11:2]
If the extreme contrast of the commendation and condemnation sound familiar, it may be that they echo a similar refrain from John the apostle:
"To the angel of the ekklesia in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and that you put to test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary.
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place-unless you repent" [Revelation 2:1-5]
What can we learn from such contrasts
- Obedience is always present tense. Regardless of how we may have obeyed in the past, what matters is whether we are being obedient now.
- Disobedience is often promoted through people who claim to be Christian leaders that are false and must be called out.
- Disobedience is a sure recipe for us loving other things more than Jesus.
- Restoration in faithfulness to an obedient life recognizes from where one has gone wrong and a retun to those deeds/practices.
- True love for Jesus is proven through the things above.
Backing up to 1 Corinthians 10:33 we discover the character of a real Christ centered leader:
….just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved. The principle of renouncing oneself to the benefit of others was spoken by Jesus Himself here in John 12:24:
"Truly, truly, I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." It is only due to this principle being a reality in Paul's life that he had the courage to say to these Corinthians;
"Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" [1 Corinthians 11:1]
Although these Corinthians to whom Paul spoke had been faithful to his prior instructions, they obviously had parted course at a later date with some of his instructions- what he called "my ways" or "the traditions." The passage in between the commendation and the condemnation details the topic of headship and how that is lived out during fellowship. Without delving into the issus of head coverings here, I want to focus in upon what Paul states in verse 1 Corinthians 11:16 where Paul says;
"But if one is inclined to be contentious (argumentative), we have no other practice (custom), nor have the ekklesias of God"
The problem Paul is addressing is this: There are consistent customs that each local ekklesia practices. Whether anyone likes these practices is not up for discussion, nor whether they can or cannot be altered. They ought to be practiced in all ekklesias. This said, the issue of headship is two fold: it must first be recognized, then practiced.
THE REASONS MATTERS GOT WORSE IN FELLOWSHIP
"For in the first place, when you come together as an ekklesia, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For their must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despite the ekklesia of God and shame those who have nothing.? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. [1 Corinthians 11:18-22] Note the specific issues Paul notes are prevalent within this assembly:
- There are divisive people among them
- These people form cliques or groups within a group (much like religions or denominations within the body of Christ) -called factions
- This divisiveness proves who the faithful people really are
- The unfaithful people are exhibiting selfishness by eating prematurely, eating in excess so others went without, getting drunk and towering over saints as if they were more important.
All of the above are serious problems within any local fellowship. The answer to all of them resides in every Christian dying to their own selfish interests and seeking the profit of the many instead. Obviously each individual Christian is in varying stages of this process which is why some people need to be approved within each fellowship to safeguard the saints from doctrinal and practical errors.
Decisions, decisions and more decisions
Our primary problem in all of our decisions is having left our first love. Remember how Jesus said we do that. By returning to the deeds we did at first- at the beginning.
There is no escape making decisions in this life. We all must make them, though there are some things to keep in mind before we choose for better or for worse. After my friend Noah above initially described his first decisional dillemma, I asked him to think about his decision in light of being a part of a New Testament local assembly. An assembly gathering and practicing as Paul the apostle prescribed them to gather and practice. He kind of wondered for a moment where I might be going and then I interjected something like this in relation to his considering going further into debt at school:
Here's the scenario I made up for him.
Noah, you are fellowshipping regularly with a local body of believers. You are actively involved helping many of the younger children in your fellowship. You are committed to these people and personally responsible to them and they to you. Each of your gifts are mutually exercised and mutually shared. You are learning to lay down your lives one for another. These people know you, they know your level of commitment to God, to them and to His calling upon your life. Do you think they care about your needs? Do you think they might shore up a lack if indeed their is one?
Exchange that scenario for this one. You attend church week after week. You come and go as you please and participate in a few programs and activities. Most of the people there don't know you and even if they do arn't necessarily committed to you or you to them. They have no idea what plans you have for the future, whether or not you are trustworthy or even living in willful sin. What are the odds they help pay for your schooling?
You see where I'm going no doubt. It is truly tragic that I even have to offer such a comparison. This says nothing of the near worthlessness of a degree in some form of "Christian" ministry which is altogether unnecessary and an almost complete waste of money. Is it any wonder Jesus says to us;
"Therefore remember from WHERE you have fallen and repent and do the deeds you did at first……."
The proof of my love to God and others
One of the APPS that came installed on my I-Phone was a compass. It's one of the only one's I merely had to look at to find out where I was at any given time. It's truly hard to get lost when you have a working compass in your possession. You basically have to ignore the pointed arrow and just assume that if you wander around long enough that eventually you'll make it home. I'm not joking in the least when I say that the majority of professing Christians are practicing this very thing. They assume they will arrive in heaven despite choosing any road or methodolgy they want to get there. They ignore God's written compass where their first love has told them precisely how to sit at His feet, walk with their brothers and sisters and stand against their adversaries. It won't be pretty in the end if this continues, it isn't pretty now.
Unless you have forgotten, as a professing Christian you are not your own.
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" [1 Corinthians 6:19,20]
What makes a decision better and what makes a decision worse
If I am not my own, I need to know what God is doing upon this earth and align myself accordingly. I need to stop building my own desired lifestyle upon this sin filled earth and consider my ways in light of what Jesus is building in the Spirit. I need to consider more than my personal comfort level and be willing to forego that for the sake of others in need. Isn't that the example Jesus left for me?
My decisions should always take into consideration those with whom I have local fellowship. To do otherwise is to act as an individual outside of the primary manner in which God provides for and prepares His children for service. These decisions prove who is and is not still self-oriented and still alive unto themselves.
The statement above is where the real war wages. It is not meant to be some lawful mandate that local elders enforce upon the other saints. It is simply the manner in which the saints are protected from making poor decisions and proves their allegiance is first to the local gathering of saints and its outreach and expression.
The importance of having specific goals- His
Within the context of any building project, I need to consider the cost of finishing what I've started. Like others, I have have a host of uncompleted projects, many of which I only thought were of God. Unlike my friend Noah who sought out counsel from others, I just jumped right on in expecting God to bless what I thought was His vision for my life. In some cases He cut off my intent, in others He let me suffer the consequences of failing to keep Him first.
The question of God's will
I once read a book on the subject of God's will that was almost three hundred pages long. Do you know what I remember about that book, yep, how long it was. I kept thinking, it has to be easier than this God- and it is.
There is no such thing as figuring out God's will for your life. You simply obey Him day by day, moment by moment and as one former godly artist sang, "He'll take care of the rest." That said, obeying Him isn't doing whatever we please for Him at any given moment of time. It is proving our love and allegiance to Him through a local expression of the saints. Nothing should trump this desire, nor should we allow any leader, any parent, any friend or so-called Christian to deter us from it.
Most professing Christians problem with God's will is they don't really want to obey Him. Obeying Him would mean denying their self interests and placing the interests of others as more important than their own. It would mean being vunerable with others regarding our true selves, how we spend the money we make and how we spend our free time. It would mean reconsidering the whole concept of "church" and church related activities and abandoning everything that didn't square with the Scriptures. Simply said, if you truly want God's will, you will walk, live and die like Jesus did. Still want some of that?
Trust in God is proven through experience
Those who trust God wait upon Him. Those who don't trust God take matters into their own hands. It really is that simple. We live in a world where mankind can never be satisfied. Even his religion must change to keep it fresh and interesting. The message of the cross is nothing more than a symbol these days, and a false one at that.
The goal is God Himself
Not too long ago I overheard two men discussing all the wonderful things their church had and was accomplishing for Jesus. It was the last church I had attended years prior, one which welcomed all manner of secular and worldly programs among the saints. The whole conversation made my sick, I could barely refrain from walking over and telling them how pathetic they really were and how little those around them really cared about their so-called outreaches. Such is a perfect illustration of finding joy and satisfaction in what we call "ministry" at the expense of Jesus Himself.
God is not the least interested in what we think we are doing for Him. He is very concerned with the manner in which we are doing it, and the resources we are using to accomplish His work. How many times have we heard things like "My pastor is different" or "our church is accomplishing so much good." Really? You sure about that? When did God start sanctioning professional ministers? One's who rule over people and earthly edifices? Where is the concept of "church" in the New Testament? Since when is your standard of good equivalent to God's standard of righteousness?
IT IS GOD ALONE WHO IS PERFECT- BOTH IN CHARACTER AND TRUTH
He does not leave anything to chance or the imaginations of men- He has prepared everything beforehand for us-
we simply need to walk in it.
"As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him" [Psalms 18:30]
-to be continued