Some years ago, when I was driving through southern Ohio in car with only an AM radio, I picked up a sermon on that radio from an African American preacher. His style of delivery was unique, but I’ve never forgotten the point that he was making: “God isn’t interested in the best that you can do; he’s interested in the best that you can do through the Holy Spirit.”
This is something that struck me this morning, as I was reading through the last chapters of the gospel of John. In John 21, where Peter asks Jesus, “What about this guy?” (John 2121), Jesus answers, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” (John 21:22; emphasis in you in the original language).
I’ve heard a number of terms over the years that get coined and discarded to describe the kind of Christians we should be. ‘World Christians’ was big for a while. For a while, the word, ‘Extreme’ or the creative spelling, ‘XTreme’ was used for a while. Now, the term ‘Radical’ seems to be used a lot.
The problem that I have with adding the other adjectives and superlatives is that Jesus didn’t do it. His call was to follow him – no words of radical, simple, world, sold out, surrendered and consecrated or extreme. And it may seem like this may become a desire not to be an average pew sitting Christian, however in your own church background and experience you may define, ‘average.’ And so that may also become a desire to be better than some others that you may see as average or below average in your experience – when Jesus’s call is to follow him.
So, if you do set out to follow Jesus, you may actually end up doing some of the things that may be termed at some time as being radical, world, missional, missionary, Spirit filled, or extreme – but it won’t be from attempting to be any of those things. And you will likewise avoid doing some of the foolish things when people try to be radical, world, missional, extreme or whatever, and they end up doing things that Jesus did not call them to do.
Recently I was struck by having heard within two weeks two separate Christian radio programs touch upon the subject of persecution. I honestly could not remember having heard that subject mentioned in preaching and teaching since the 1970s. I think that this shows how inconsistent much modern preaching and teaching, and most likely the lives of many believers in Christ, has become with the Bible since both the Old and New Testaments are full of mentions of the persecution as part of social and legal consequences of adherence to the God of the Bible and to following Christ. It would not be too much to say that there are many, if not most of us in the evangelical church, who have become accustomed to wanting more to be liked and to fit in and get along with those around us, and to assume if that isn’t happening in some small, even petty way, something’s wrong with you. This tendency may also be an unconscious infiltration from secular psychology, which has as its goal socialization: producing people well adjusted to their families and to society. That socialization for a believer in Christ may mean an ultimately self destructive adjustment to a world without God and without hope does not seem to receive much attention.
One thing which is often missing from our preaching and teaching is simply this: Persecution will happen to someone who seeks to follow Christ passionately and consistently even if he or she consistently speaks and acts in Christian love and candor. The apostle Paul’s statement is still true: “All those who seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 4:12).
To some extent I think that the problem is exacerbated by people in the church looking at persecution through the lens of church traditions and stories of persecution and martyrdom under the later Roman empire or through some incidents passed on from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (which is a great read nonetheless). It’s entirely possible that someone in our churches who may in fact be undergoing treatment in his or her school, job, family and neighborhood which falls under a scriptural definition of persecution may not see it as such because he or she is not being dragged off to an arena to a dramatic execution by Roman soldiers.
Even more, I think that the material prosperity and spiritual immaturity of so much of the North American church may be holding many believers back from standing consistently for Christ in their lives and thus risking the relatively mild forms of persecution that come in our culture and may in fact leave them woefully unprepared for more severe persecution when and if it comes to them. Here are some characteristics of children of affluence (I’m not sure where I got these, but I think that they came from the preaching of Garnett Slatton, the senior pastor at Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, Ohio):
- Self important
- Forget God
- Shallow character
- Emphasis on having abundance
- Sense of entitlement and not on working hard to keep and grow abundance.
Would anyone who has such characteristics, even with a profession of faith in Christ and regular church attendance, be ready to stand for Christ if it meant being the recipient of slander and false accusations, suffering rejection, losing financial rewards or security, suffering physically, losing one’s life, or even losing popularity for the sake of following Christ? Quite frankly, I would also say that many, many adults in the modern church exhibit many of the social characteristics of high school students, in that they place inordinate value on looks, popularity, athleticism and affluence, and haven’t grown spiritually enough to understand that the faithfulness to Christ in every circumstance matters more than any of these.
Here are some definitions of the different methods and levels of of persecution from scripture itself, and most often from the words of Jesus himself where possible. It is noteworthy that a great deal of what scripture has to say about persecution is in the words of Jesus himself – the sinless Son of God, who was crucified for absolutely no fault of his own.
- Hatred, slander, ostracism and rejection.
This is probably the most common form of persecution that a Christian will experience, and this can happen even in a society which is not explicitly anti-Christian. Here is what Jesus had to say about it:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others scorn you and persecute you and say every wicked thing possible against you because of me. Rejoice and shout for joy, for your reward is great in heaven; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12).
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they ostracize and scorn and treat your name as a swear word because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and jump for joy, for your reward is great in heaven, because their forefathers did the same things to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23).
This may include calling a believer weird because the believer refuses to indulge in the same kind of partying as others do: “ . . . they think it is strange that you do not run headlong along with them into their excess of reckless living as they slander you . . .” (I Peter 4:1). It’s also noteworthy that both Jesus (Mark 5:21) and Paul (Acts 26:24) were called crazy, and Paul even by (gasp) someone in authority – a Roman governor! (This brings to mind that in the Soviet Union many Christians underwent malicious psychiatric ‘treatments’ for their faith in Christ. C.S. Lewis noted that this could easily be an excuse for de facto persecution in a Western nation.) Moreover, the religious leaders of the day also spread the slander that Jesus was under demonic influence (Mark 3:30, John 8:48).
I think that this is the level of persecution that Jesus meant when he laid down the challenge, “. . . let him take up his cross daily . . .” (Luke 9:23) . Someone bearing a cross, on the way to the place of crucifixion, was a convenient target for every jeer, taunt, and form of verbal abuse, as well as whatever other kinds of physical abuse could be slipped in, from the surrounding crowd. Those who spiritualized this passage into its referring to some kind of ‘inward crucifixion’ have, I believe, wrenched it totally from its original context and meaning that it would have had to the first century audience, who would have been well aware of what happened to someone who was bearing a cross. From what Jesus said, and from the experience of him and the apostles, some kind of slander, ostracism and hatred from others who are not following Christ would be such a normal part of Christian experience that it should be very easy to give someone who is experiencing this the benefit of the doubt that he or she is not being deliberately or unnecessarily obnoxious, irritating, weird or self righteous, nor having any kind of mental imbalance.
- Legal oppression through malicious use of laws and false accusations
There were all sorts of false charges and false witnesses brought against Jesus in his official trial before the Sanhedrin before his condemnation on blasphemy, though they had to make it sedition to get it to stick before Pilate. Likewise, Paul’s imprisonment in Acts came through a riot provoked by a mere supposition that he had done something illegal (Acts 21:27-29). In both of these instances the legal system was twisted and false accusations used to bring about governmental oppression, illegal imprisonment and illegal execution.
- Restrictions on public speech and teaching in the name of Jesus
This is most noteworthy in the early chapters of the book of Acts, where the official decree of the Sanhedrin to the apostles was: “We entirely forbid you to speak nothing nor to teach anything in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). The reply of Peter and John to this should be the reply of believers in every age and every country whenever civil or religious authorities attempt to stop Christian witness, preaching and teaching: “Judge yourselves whether it is right before God for us to listen to you rather than God, for we are not able to stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20). Their reaction was to pray for even more boldness (Acts 4:29), and to reply when brought before the Sanhedrin again, “It is necessary to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 4:29).
- Restrictions on places and times of gathering
This isn’t something that I’ve noticed particularly in the New Testament, although it was well known shortly thereafter. What comes to mind particularly. is the time that the apostles were gathered behind closed doors, “ . . . for fear of the Jews . . .” (John 20:19).
- Fines and financial confiscation
The apostle who wrote the epistle to the Hebrews noted that there was a huge financial penalty that the Jewish believers who were the recipients of the letter had suffered joyfully (Hebrews 10;34). Certainly they did not deserve the loss of their possessions, in whatever way it happened, but they accepted it joyfully as part of what it meant to follow Jesus.
Peter (Acts 12:3) and Paul (Acts 16:24, 23:10, 24:27) spent a good deal of time in prison as a part of the consequences of holding to their faith in Christ.
- Physical Beatings and Torture
Paul and Silas were treated to beatings as well as imprisonment (Acts 16:23-24), and Paul was stoned and had received other beatings as well (Acts 14:19, II Corinthians 11:24-25).
The lynch mob which killed Stephen was an example of unlawful, illegal execution (Acts 7:58-60). Later Herod Agrippa I executed James and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:1-3). It’s notable that martyrdom like this is sometimes confused with the other forms malicious treatment which scripture calls persecution. It’s also notable that martyrs in scripture were not engaging in acts of civil violence or terrorism, nor being killed while engaged in warfare against any other person, faction, religion or nation, nor taking anyone else’s life, especially the life of any innocent victim, and taking one’s own life at the same time.
Here are some more more points about persecution which scripture teaches.
- Persecution is ultimately a rejection of Jesus, not of the persecuted.
Jesus is now in heaven, and the persecutors of his people on earth cannot get to him. The ultimate issue is really not the faults, weaknesses, or sins of the persecuted. It is rather the persecutors’ rejection of Jesus: “If the world hates you, know that it hated me first, before you . . . They will do these things because they do not know my Father nor me.” (John 15;18, 16:3).
Jesus in fact identifies himself so much with those persecuted for his name and takes their treatment by others so personally that that he could say to Saul of Tarsus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
- Christ calls for utter faithfulness to himself in these situations.
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it. For what good is it to anyone to gain the whole world and to lose his soul? What would a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 9:35-38).
“Whoever acknowledges me before other people, I will acknowledge that person before my Father who is in heaven; whoever denies me before men, I will also deny that person before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
- Persecution is a possible reason for apostasy.
I think that professed believers falling away from faith in Christ is something that is taken far too lightly among many in the church nowadays. That someone has the civil freedom to do so does not negate the terrible spiritual and eternal consequences of apostasy. Jesus himself pointed to persecution and affliction in the Parable of the Sower as a reason why many insufficiently rooted believers fall away: “And these are the ones who were sown upon the rocky ground: after they have heard the Word with joy they receive it, and then they have no root in themselves, and are temporary; when affliction or persecution on account of the Word comes they immediately stumble into apostasy” (Mark 4:16-17).
- There is Satanic instigation and direction behind persecution and martyrdom.
This was what Peter meant when he wrote to the persecuted believers, “Be serious and watchful. Your enemy the devil is walking around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in the faith, since you know that the same sufferings are happening among your brothers and sisters worldwide” (I Peter 5:8-9).
- The love of God is greater than anything that the persecutors may do to a believer.
This is what the apostle Paul set forth in Romans 8:34-39: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Affliction or difficulty or starvation or nakedness or danger or sword? Just as it is written that,
‘ For your sake we die all day long,
we are considered sheep for the slaughter.’
But in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who has loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things which are present nor things which are to come nor powers not height nor depth nor any created thing will be able to separate us from from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This passage was directed a lot more to the believer who is suffering for his or her faith than someone who is simply going through life, doing his or her own thing, and getting irritated and complaining about others who intrude on his or her own selfishness.
- Jesus promises his peace to those undergoing persecution.
The utter peace of many believers who are suffering for their faith and often being led to execution for their faith has been one of the remarkable things throughout the whole history of the church. Yet Jesus clearly promised, “I have spoken these things to you so that in me you might have peace; in the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33).
Here it’s worthy of note that there have been some gospel presentations which have rightly come under some criticism for holding forth the promise of peace as a reward for making a profession of faith in Christ. Some who have responded because of this promise have then rightly had complaints because things then became worse for them – they had to face conflict with others because of their recent profession of faith! While Jesus and the apostles definitely held forth the gospel promises of forgiveness of sins and eternal life as the eternal consequence of faith in Christ, I think that any mention of peace and joy in following Christ in any gospel presentation needs to be kept in its proper place, alongside the cost of discipleship.
- The sufficiency of God’s grace is there for believers when they are undergoing persecution.
This is the actual context of the often quoted promise of Jesus to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” It was not simply a promise to get through a difficult day with irritating people, but through a number of difficult circumstances, including persecution: “Thus I will boast all the more in my weaknesses, so hat the power of Christ will dwell upon he. Therefore I will be satisfied in weaknesses, in insults, in difficulties, in persecutions and privations, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:9-10).
This means that a believer, when he or she is the target of one or more of the methods and situations of persecution, even up to martyrdom, is not dependent on his or her toughness to get through that situation. The grace of God through Jesus Christ is the source of forthrightness and steadfastness in those situations.
- Believers are called to show extraordinary love and prayer for their persecutors.
The consistent commands of Jesus throughout the gospels, which are repeated by the apostle Peter in I Peter, is that believers are not to reply in kind to their persecutors. This means no reactions of taunting, insults and counter accusations but rather love, prayer and blessing: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those are persecuting you” (Matthew 5:44).
This is, I think, where the reactions of ‘turning the other cheek’ in scripture need to be understood correctly. They were not given as a pattern for civil law or for being passive in the face of abusive people but rather need to be understood as Christ’s directions to his followers on how to react to persecution.
- Believers in Christ are to give a respectful and reasonable explanation of their faith in Christ when facing opposition.
This is what Peter told the believers: “If you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear or get worked up by their intimidation, but set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, as you are ready to give an explanation to everyone who asks you to give an explanation for the hope which is in you, but with gentleness and respect, as you hold to a good conscience . . .” (I Peter 3:14-16).
Frank Pastore, the onetime pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, once took the fellow Christians on his team to task after he came to Christ because they could not give him a reasonable explanation for their faith when they tried to witness to him. He then took these verses and went through the Bible to guide them on how to do so. I think that too much in our day that this is seen as too much of academic exercise; this kind of defense isn’t so much being able to argue like a philosopher but being able to explain like a witness on the stand. Yet many Christians when challenged, may fall to the same cultural and relativistic cop outs such as:
- Well, that’s what my church believes.
- That’s my truth, and that’s your truth.
- It doesn’t matter what you believe, as much as that you believe.
- Believers are to trust in Christ for supernatural wisdom through the Spirit when brought before persecuting governments, officials, authorities and accusers.
This is the explicit of promise of Jesus himself:
“When they deliver you up, do not consider beforehand what you will say, but it will be given to you on that day what you will say, for it will not be you who are speaking but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).
“I will give you an utterance of wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute” (Luke 21:15).
- Escape from persecution can be a perfectly godly reaction to it.
Staying in a situation where a believer is receiving persecution is not necessarily God’s will or even God’s command. For instance, Paul escaped from persecution in Damascus through the wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25, II Corinthians 11:32-33), and was sent away from persecutors by the church on more than one occasion (Acts 9:29, 17:14). Jesus himself escaped from malicious crowds on more than one occasion (Luke 4:28-30, John 8:59).
In part of the marching orders that Jesus gave to the apostles, which are rightly understood to have application to missionary activity since then, Jesus commanded, “When they persecute you in this city, flee (or escape) to another; truly I say to you that you will not go through all the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Mathew 10:23). So Jesus did not definitely give a, “Stand and fight it!” command to his followers when they faced persecution. Rather, this command would be more like, “Go on to the next place. It’s not about standing up for yourselves, proving how tough you are or how much you can take, but fulfilling your mission. There will be others further on down the road who have not heard the gospel. When you find yourself rejected in one city, go on to the next one and be a witness for me there.” And that is exactly what the apostles did throughout the book of Acts.
- Persecution will come from the religiously deceived.
“They will drive you out of the synagogues; but a time is coming when everyone who kills you will suppose that he is performing an act of devotion to God” (John 16:2).
- A worldwide persecution will be part of the events that occur before the return of Jesus Christ.
“You will be hated by everyone because of my name” (Luke 21:17). That this will mean civil oppression and mostly likely a worldwide bloodbath of Christians does seem to be something that scripture points to as being what will be coming for Christians. The gospel will definitely be preached to all the world about the time that this occurs (Matthew 24:14), but the reaction of the world will ultimately be rejection and persecution. This is one compelling reason why I think that pastors and church leaders need to be doing more to prepare the people of our churches for persecution and even for martyrdom. If we see the signs of Jesus’s return coming together, we need to be even more prepared to stand firm in the hour of persecution to come. And I don’t think that any Christian can trust either in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or in a belief in a pretribulational rapture to stand firm when that happens.
I think that there needs to be a greater recognition among the leaders and adherents of our churches that living in Christian love and godliness will not necessarily make us liked by others. Rather, it may as often stoke a deep hatred from others. This means that there is a great need for counting the personal and social costs of following Christ. And, if there is anyone who has never had to face rolling eyes, insults, missed promotions, thwarted plans, ostracism, slander or even a noogie for being a Christian, I would suggest to that person that he or she needs to have some deep concern over whether he or she has ever followed Christ very closely. That’s the implication that I think comes from the following verses. They are from the version of the Sermon on the Mount (often called the Sermon on the Plain) which is found in Luke. I’ve never heard any kind of in depth preaching and teaching on these verses; the one sermon series that I’ve heard that went through the gospel of Luke glossed over them in two sentences.
“Woe to you who are rich,
because you have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are now sated with food,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will cry and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for their forefathers did the same thing to the false prophets”
It’s been said that more people died for their faith in Christ in the 20th century than in all the preceding centuries. One book that I would recommend is James and Marti Hefley’s By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. While I would recommend it not only for the average Christian, I would especially recommend it for any pastor whose preaching and teaching ministry is intended to be directed toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission of Jesus Christ: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And certainly I am with you always, to the very end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20). I would encourage you to read it, mark it up, be taught by it, and use its material as illustrations in your own preaching and teaching.
Theodore Roosevelt: “No greater wrong can be done than to put a good man at the mercy of a bad, while telling him not to defend himself or his fellows; in no way can the success of evil be made surer or quicker.”
There’s a great deal of purchasing of guns for self defense going on right now, according to a number of stories on the national news. Over a year ago I went through the scriptures to see what the Bible had to say about self defense. Most of what I’ve heard in the past has tended to be an overemphasis on ‘turning the other cheek,’ and in many cases this leaves professed brothers and sisters in Christ unrebuked and uncorrected, who are engaging in deliberate provocation, falsehood, and verbal and physical intimidation and abuse. Moreover, it does not leave much guideline for a believer who is seeking to avoid becoming the victim of a civil crime. Certainly the Bible gives a lot of teaching on trusting God as one’s defender, but a closer examination shows that one of the ways of his defense is through civil authorities and reasonable precautions and self defense for which the believer himself is responsible.
Here is some of what I’ve found.
The believer is not to make decisions based on fear and intimidation from others.
- There is no need for the righteous to flee like the wicked (Proverbs 28:1).
- The man of God is not to be intimidated by the aggressive looks of the wicked (Ezekiel 2:6, 3:9).
- The believer does not have a spirit of fear, to be cowed by the intimidation of others, but of power, love and a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7).
The believer can make a legitimate defense and protest of innocence before a civil court and civil authorities when faced with false accusations and unjust punishment.
- Jeremiah protested his innocence often before the kings of Judah (Jeremiah 26:12-16).
- Jesus protested his innocence before the Sanhedrin when unjustly struck (John 18:22-23).
- Peter and John asserted their innocence before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8-13, 5:23-29).
- Paul asserted his innocence before Felix, Festus, the Sanhedrin and Herod Agrippa II (Acts 22:23, 24:10-21, 26:1-23).
The believer is called to rebuke and correct wicked words and actions before the church and the world, and not to have any part in them (Matthew 18:15-17, Ephesians 4:15, 5:11, I Thessalonians 5:14, Hebrews 3:13). The limit would be that one’s own defense should not become falsehood and therefore sin in denial of facts.
The believer is not to allow personal hurt and injury to become a grudge, personal payback or a vendetta, but to allow for the justice of God and legitimate earthly authorities (Leviticus 19:17-18, Proverbs 24:29, 26:27, Romans 12:17-21, I Thessalonians 5:15, I Peter 3:9). This is actually the context of Jesus’s command to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to ‘love your enemies’ (Matthew 5:38-48). And this did not extend to putting oneself negligently in danger from one’s enemies. The actions encompassed in his commands are more mild insult, humiliation and exploitation rather than danger of being maimed or killed from the reckless, abusive and murderous. For example, Jesus legitimately avoided physical harm and false arrest until his time had come (John 8:59). Moreover, prudence means avoidance of danger in Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12.
In the civil law of Israel, there were provisions so that the community and the individual Israelite to avoid becoming the victim of or participation in another person’s violations of the Ten Commandments. Many of the actions of King David can be understood in light of the commands of the civil law of Israel (for example, his refusal to kill Saul: Leviticus 19:17-18, the delayed execution of Joab: Exodus 21:14, I Kings 2:5-6, 28-34). This gives an example for believes of the righteous requirement of the Law which is fulfilled in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-4). The general principle is that there is a civil and personal responsibility not to participate in the sins of others and to avoid becoming the victim of the sins of others. For instance, it is easily arguable that respect for oneself and others as being made in the image of means protection of oneself and others from murder.
- Israelites were to avoid any kind of false testimony and biased judgment in the legal system (Exodus 23:1-9).
- A night burglar could be killed in self defense (Exodus 22:2).
- The community was called to enforce capital punishment against those instigating idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:1-18).
There’s much more that can be found in the scriptures. Certainly the commands in the Sermon on the Mount need to be understood alongside what is taught and exemplified throughout the scriptures, and more discussion among brothers and sisters in Christ would be appropriate.
Building up one another is the demonstration of the love of Christ among believers.
John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus had just given the twelve disciples a demonstration of servanthood love. He had just performed a humbling task of washing the feet of the disciples, even Judas, who was betraying him at that moment. The continuing expression of servanthood love among the disciples would be the mark of their submission to him as Lord and Savior. It would be the basis of their credibility as his disciples. The world apart from Christ would then learn the reality of their salvation by whether they would truly love one anothers.
Something to consider: suppose I were there beside the side of Jesus, and at some point after he had started to wash the feet of the disciples, he had stopped and told me to take over. What would be my reaction? How am I actually reacting to the servanthood opportunities which are already being placed in front of me by Jesus?
Galatians 5:13-14, 6:2: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge your flesh; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ . . . Carry each others’ burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Since Christlike love for our fellow believers is the will of God, the very credibility of one’s salvation from Jesus Christ is at stake in whether one is building up fellow believers in servanthood love. What then can be done to make our love for each other more visible? Even more — doesn’t this require more than attendance at church services, and an occasional greeting to someone else?
Building up one another is necessary because of our spiritual unity with each other as fellow believers.
I Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
Because of the spiritual unity of believers, the suffering or success of other believers affects our own suffering or success. At the very least we miss the possible contributions of the sufferers, and we miss the possible fruitful ministry to their lives when their needs are ignored.
Building up one another provides the atmosphere for growth in the body of Christ among believers.
The atmosphere where growth in the body of Christ takes place is that of ‘speaking the truth in love,’ where each member’s ministry based upon his or her spiritual gift plays a part. The ‘work’ of each part is the divinely willed and empowered gift through the Holy Spirit for the building up of each member. Each member has a place; each member is necessary for the growth of the whole. Apart from this ministry, truthful and loving edification through the spiritual gifts of each member, churches tend to be cliquish, closed and unaccepting, and believers stifled, stunted in their growth, and superficial in their post conversion experience of the working of God in their lives.
Do you know what your spiritual gift is? Have you studied Romans 12:3-9, I Corinthians 12 and 14, and I Peter 4:10-11, and asked God to show you where your place is?
Building up one another happens with prayer for other believers.
Ephesians 6:18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
The ministry of fellow believers to each others in prayer, both in their private times and public gatherings, is the foundation for making the ministry of building each other up spiritually and eternally effective. Before even approaching someone else with correction and encouragement, pray for the person and for wisdom for yourself. Also find someone else who is trustworthy with whom you can share your own heart and pray for each other’s needs: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can be healed” (James 5:16). Be sure to pray in faith, expecting God to answer, and to keep matters confidential. A prayer ministry must not degenerate into a gossip hotline!
Consider then: what people come to mind when I think of those for whom I can pray? What people are there with whom I can pray confidentially for my needs, and even confess my sins?
Building up one another with believers who listen to and understand fellow believers.
Listening to fellow believers must come before any speaking to them. This is to avoid needless and destructive criticism, insensitive and inept advice due to false impressions and mistaken information, and subtle insinuations against anyone else’s reputation through gossip: “He who answers before listening — that is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). Be careful to get to know the person for whom you are concerned through firsthand knowledge; don’t assume that a secondhand account of a situation shows genuine understanding of someone else’s situation. Love will abound in “knowledge and depth of insight” (Philippians 1:9) not only from learning the Word and being with the Lord, but from taking the time to get to know fellow believers and their situations.
What reasons can you think of why you personally make not take the time to listen and understand other people? What can you do to correct these tendencies?
Building up one another happens when believers lovingly correct each other.
Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him even as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”
To avoid the destructive practice of gossip, scripture gives these guidelines:
- Correction should be personal — not through uninvolved third parties — avoiding triangulation.
- Correction should be confidential — only with those actually involved.
- Correction aims at restoration: the repudiation of any genuine sin, and renewed and deepened fellowship among believers.
- Correction needs to be done with gentleness, sensitivity and a willingness to listen (James 1:19-21), and not self righteous judgmentalism.
- Correction needs to be based on scripture (II Timothy 3:16-4:2) and not personal pique.
See also Proverbs 10:12 and 26:17. How do these scriptures suggest that we should deal with these matters if uninvolved parties seek to pry or others seek to enlist us as allies in their personal conflicts?
See also Romans 14:7-12, and Ephesians 4:1-3 and 4:23. What do these scriptures say that would guide us on how to deal with differences of opinion? Remember: among believers differences of opinion are not to degenerate to become a battle of wills.
Building up one another happens when believers comfort each other.
Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
I Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
What ways has God comforted you over the years?
What situations are there which call for us to comfort fellow believers?
What ways are there that we can show comfort in those situations, and pass on the comfort that we ourselves have received from God?
Building up one another happens when believers share scriptural counsel and encouragement.
Romans 15:4: “For everythnig that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”
II Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The Word of God is the proper source of counsel, encouragement and correction among believers. The goal of Scriptural counsel is to direct others away from sin and to follow the will of God in Jesus Christ. It must be used sensitively to the need of each person.
What can be done in your life and in the life of your church to provide better opportunities for personal counsel and encouragement?
Building up one another happens when believers share materially with those in need.
Romans 12:13: “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
Hebrews 13:16: “And do not forget to do good and share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
I John 3:17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”
This is many times the greatest test of the reality of our love and commitment to each other as believers. This was one of the greatest signs of the spiritual vitality in the earch church (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37). Its absence will falsify the profession of love for each other.
What opportunities are there for this kind of giving in your life and in partnership with your church? What guidelines should be followed in giving?
Prepare yourself for the ministry of edification; be settled with the issue of the Lordship of Christ in your own life, receive his Word into your heart, continue in prayer, purify your motives, and live to love as Jesus loved.
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers
God has given his Word as the infallible guide to our daily living. It not only tells us how to come to Christ for salvation, but it also tells us how to live the transformed life after we have received eternal life.“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
Because the Word is inspired, and intended to guide us to a full and useful life with Christ, we need to be open to its directions. It is intended to teach us, to instruct us in the truth of God, and we need to be willing to change our ideas and opinions from what we thought before to what God has actually said in his Word, that is, to be teachable by the Word. The Word also rebukes and corrects us: it defines what sin is for us, what displeases God, and why and how to stop. We need then to change our thoughts, words and actions when the Word corrects and rebukes us, that is, to be correctable by the Word. Then the Word trains us in righteousness: it guides us to be fully disciplined and prepared to do what God’s will is for us as disciples of Christ. We need then to be trainable by the Word of God.
God wants you to understand his Word. Pray first of all for him to guide you as you begin to read his word. Ask that the Holy Spirit would give you understanding of what God is saying to you through his Word (see the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 1:15-20). Understanding the Word of God also means being careful not to misinterpret the Word of God. We misinterpret when we add to or subtract from the meaning which God intended to convey.
1. First be sure that you have an understandable translation. There are several good modern language translations. Also an English dictionary is helpful to understand some of the terms such as justification, sanctification, and atonement.
2. Get a good Bible dictionary. The Bible is an ancient book, and it needs to be interpreted in light of its historical background. Look up people and places that you see for an idea of what this is.
3. Interpreting the Bible properly also means interpreting each phrase and book in terms of its grammatical context. This means each word and phrase in the sentence in which it stands, each sentence as it stands in the paragraph, and each paragraph as it stands in the book in which it is written. Ignoring what comes before a verse and after it, that is, its context, is the most consistently violated rule of scriptural interpretation, and has been used by many to try to make the Bible say something that it really does not say.
4. Interpreting the Bible properly means learning from the teaching of the Bible as a whole. Each genuine teaching of the Bible is repeated elsewhere, and one part will clarify what may seem hard to understand in another part. The Bible really does not contradict itself, and understanding what may be less clear in the light of what is more clear may make such apparent contradictions understandable.
5. Once you understand what the Bible was saying to the people of its times, we need to think about what it means for us now, on how to apply the Bible. This thinking and praying about how to apply it to our lives is called meditation on the scriptures. This is where blessing starts to enter our lives: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth” (that is, reading out loud the portion of the Bible which Joshua already had, which was the normal way people read in that time): meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Memorizing certain helpful verses will mean that you can have the Bible on the tip of your tongue when you need it. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). This means that it will be there for you when you might need it: to resist temptation (like Jesus did in Luke 4:1-13), to witness to Christ, to encourage someone else, and to remind yourself of God’s great promises for you. Learning and following the Word of God means that you have made the right start on the life of following Jesus Chist, and that is the kind of life that will never be shaken (Luke 6:46-49).
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The most underemphasized blessing of salvation is the personal, daily fellowship with Jesus Christ, by living in harmony with his word! With every mention of commitment from the pulpit, in the Sunday School classroom and in books on the deeper life, much more could be said about the greatest reason and motivation for following the high moral demands of the Bible. It is the wonderful companionship of the Lord Jesus himself, as he becomes the conscious though unseen companion of the loving and obedient believer. With all that is involved in the cost of discipleship, he makes it all worthwhile.
The Bible makes it plain that this personal relationship of the individual believer with the risen Lord is the privilege of all believers everywhere. It is intended to be experienced at all times and in all conditions. This personal awareness of his reality, presence and companionship came from the Lord Jesus himself in his last teaching session with the eleven disciples before his betrayal, trial and crucifixion. He said, “Whoever has my command and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”(John 14:21). This promise cannot be restricted to the eleven disciples along. The experience of this promise has been the testimony of those believers throughout the ages who have expressed their love to their Lord in obedience. They have consistently attested to a wonderful companionship and intimacy with the Lord as they follow his will out of love to him. The Lord still fulfills this promise, and shows his reality and gives his love to those who love him and live in harmony with his expressed will.
Because of who he is and what he has done, the Lord Jesus can stand by this promise. His atoning death opened the way for sinful human beings, real ordinary men and women, to live in intimacy with the sinless Son of God. Because the Son of God has already paid the price in his death on the cross, no guilt or penalty of sin need bar anyone from approaching him now. Moreover, the reality of his resurrection makes it certain that the fellowship is with a real, living Person, and not an imaginary reminiscence of a departed person. Even more, the reality of his Deity makes it possible for every believer everywhere to have fellowship with the Son of God even after the ascension of his glorified body into heaven. His glorified human nature is now at the right hand of God the Father, but in his divine nature as the Son of God we are able to be in fellowship with him anywhere and everywhere. And the infinite love for each of us, demonstrated once for all in the awful reality of the cross, shows us that this is a fellowship that he already has paid the ultimate price to give us.
Through this daily companionship with the Lord Jesus all the benefits of salvation for this life flow to us. Such blessings as the awareness of the love of God, the experience of the joy of salvation, the satisfaction of pleasing God, the peace that passes understanding, and the guidance, fullness and power of the Holy Spirit all become the regular experience of the believer as he lives in fellowship with Christ and shows his love for him by walking in obedience. The experience of a full salvation is thus dependent on the fully obedient disciple remaining in constant companionship with the Savior.
This personal companionship of the risen Lord with his people is the privilege of loving obedience. The Lord Jesus himself stated that loving him means obeying him. It is not the question of earning one’s salvation by any good deeds, but rather staying in daily fellowship with the Savior by following his will as Lord. This then reduces the question of obedience to the question of love. It may well be said that most backsliding probably begins here, with the loss of awareness of what makes it all worthwhile: the love relationship of the risen Lord and his disciple. In addition, this love for the Lord will mean a desire to learn his will, and thus forms the ultimate motivation to learn what the Bible says. The underlying question that is thus put to us in all these matters where the question might be to us whether we will obey him or not actually is whether we love him or not.
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers