The Apostle Paul makes this astounding statement recorded in 1 Corinthians 12:27:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
The implications are vast. Vast!
Christ ascended. But His body remains here. Christ’s body is not dead and buried. He arose! Hallelujah! His physical body remains alive at the right hand of Abba.
But there is this other body that remains on earth. A symbolic body? Yes. But more than mere symbol. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. We are filled with his Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our guarantee, yes, but he guides us and reminds us of the words of Jesus.
More Than a Community
The body of Christ is at once a community and more than a community.
We are a community in the sense that we know each other. We meet. We commune and participate in services we label Communion in which we come together to remember Jesus’ sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross.
We are more than a community in that we serve one another. How do we serve each other? We esteem others greater than ourselves. We help each other. We pray for each other.
That sounds lovely and good. And it is when we practice those things.
We also bear each other’s burdens. We bear with each other – in love, even. We eagerly maintain unity. These are difficult things; things that fall into the category of impossible with men, with God all things are possible.
It is an awesome and amazing thing to be a member of the body of Christ!
In John 13 we find a remarkable scene: Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. When questioned about the act by Peter, Jesus responds, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”
John 13:2 reminds us that Jesus knew Judas would betray him, and John 13:3 recounts Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet. Including Judas. Beginning in John 13:21, Jesus – after washing everyone’s feet (including the feet of Judas) – shares that one of them will betray him.
We Talk About Servant Leadership…
… Jesus is our example. Jesus served even the one he knew was going to betray him. I find this mind-boggling. And difficult. Perhaps impossible. But with God, all things are possible.
In my own life I struggle to forgive people who betray or have betrayed me. I am fiercely loyal. I expect – perhaps demand – loyalty from friends. Does that mean I force friends to be loyal? Nope, it doesn’t mean that, but it does mean I will not be your friend unless I sense you are someone who values loyalty in friendship.
I just wrote “I struggle to forgive” but that’s also inaccurate. I have forgiven people who have betrayed me. I have not forgotten, though, and I find myself praying, “Lord, help me remember I have forgiven that person of this offense against me.”
This is difficult when the offender doesn’t acknowledge the offense. There are different ways to not acknowledge the offense:
Perhaps the hardest to remember I’ve forgiven are those who deny they have offended – or deny I have suffered any offense at all. Rationalization occurs when someone offended me but “it was for my own good” or some such. Excusing is not quite an apology, it may be along the lines of “I acknowledge you feel offended by what I did or said, but I don’t accept any responsibility.”
In some cases, my offender is absolutely correct in their denial, rationalization, or excusing their actions and I have absolutely no grounds to be offended; it’s simply my own stubborn pride that’s caused me to be offended.
In other cases, I am absolutely correct and my offender is in denial, rationalizing, or excusing their actions and I have solid grounds to be offended.
Jesus included some language about forgiveness when he responded to the disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”
In Matthew 6:12 we find “… and forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” In Luke 11:4, we see this part of the Lord’s prayer rendered: “…and forgive us our sins,for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”
Are we not forgiven unless and until we forgive those who have sinned against us? We are not. See Matthew 6:14-15:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
I don’t know how much plainer Jesus can make it. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Don’t forgive and you will not be forgiven. Amen and ouch.
Part of servant leadership is forgiving those who offend – serving them, even though they will offend. There’s a lot here to think about and to pray about, which is why I wrote it: to remind Future Andy to serve and forgive.
I’m observing an unhealthy pattern of behavior in the church on social media. It unfolds in this manner (see if this sounds familiar):
President Trump says something offensive.
Christians become incensed.
Christians share their incensed-ness on social media.
Incensed Christians then accuse everyone who doesn’t share their incensed-ness of racism, hatred, agreeing with every wrong thing President Trump has ever said or done, not being a good person, and generally not being a (good) Christian.
Church? We’re cool right up until step 4, where we become very uncool. And by “uncool,” I mean we sin.
That’s a great question. Check out Christ’s words found in Matthew 5:22:
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Jesus delivered these statements as part of what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. You can tell Jesus is serious because He says, “…will be liable to the hell of fire” right there at the end.
“Shouldn’t I correct my brother/sister?”
If they need correcting, and if you are mature-enough in the faith to deliver correcting, absolutely. But you should realize there are even thoughtssuggestionsrules commands about correcting your brother / sister, as well. I share some in this post titled Don’t Read This Post.
Let’s also keep James 3:1 in mind:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
That’s one reason I admonish all Christians (and remind myself) to Tread With Care.
When we level such an accusation at anyone, it’s akin to throwing a tantrum – stomping feet and waving fists included. We’ve abandoned discourse of any kind at this point, much less civil discourse. We want our way and we want it now (whine whine whine stomp stomp stomp wave wave wave)!
Does that sound child-ish (aka immature) to you? It should because it is.
And it’s a sin.
“What About What My Brother / Sister Believes, Then?”
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” – the Holy Spirit inspiring Paul in Romans 14:4
Bonus: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.” ibid, Romans 14:22
If you believe it’s your job to correct your wayward brothers and sisters, you may be correct. One symptom of being correct will be your fruit in correcting your brother / sister. Hint: Castigating your brothers and sisters publicly – on social media, for instance – is a deal-breaker.
I learned some things in 2017; some things about God, myself, and others. Some of what I learned was awesome and awe-inspiring. Some of what I learned broke my heart and broke me in ways I didn’t know I could be broken.
I often respond to posts on social media with, “Praying.” I never post that I am praying without, in fact, praying. I also don’t post on social media every time I pray about something. Does prayer make me holier than thou? Nope. Am I informing God of something He doesn’t know when I pray? Not according to God’s Word (He knows what I ask before I ask it).
Then why all the prayer?
That was my lesson for 2017: Depend on God.
I depend on God. For everything. That was my lesson for 2017: Depend on God.
Here are some prayers for 2018:
Hear our prayers.
Thank You for Your many blessings.
Let there be peace on earth.
Reveal Yourself to those who do not yet know You.
Draw those who knew you, call their hearts to return to You.
Grant our leaders wisdom.
Heal Your church.
Lead us to unity.
Fill us with Your Spirit.
Let all that we say and do bring You glory.
Strengthen and encourage and embolden our teachers and shepherds.
Convict us of our sin, help our unbelief, grant us the courage to repent of our sins, renew a right spirit within us, and let us be salt and light to our cultures.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul penned what we now refer to as Romans 14 to a church thriving in a culture that hated difference and tolerated everything except intolerance. Roman culture wasn’t against Christianity, it was instead very much for itself – so much so as to not accept nor condone deviation from things considered the “norm.”
The Holy Spirit begins this passage admonishing those strong in the faith. How do we know? Because the Holy Spirit tells some to “accept the one whose faith is weak.” the English Standard Version renders this phrase,
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him…” – Romans 14:1a
The Holy Spirit is speaking about those whose faith is weak, He must be addressing those whose faith is not weak.
Note the Holy Spirit does not describe those with weak faith as “new to the Way” or some such, there’s no indication that weak equals new when it comes to faith. Tenure isn’t a thing in Christianity. I’ve had conversations with people who claimed to be “in the Way” for some number of decades… I’ve secretly wished some of them would get “out of the way,” but that’s another post…
The Holy Spirit continues, “without quarreling over disputable matters” (NIV) and “but not to quarrel over opinions.” (ESV). The next part of Romans 14 gives two examples of opinions and disputable matters: eating meat and celebrating holidays.
I first encountered Romans 14 while attending a non-denominational charismatic church. There was an emphasis on “stuff.” Some of the stuff was spiritual gifts, some was strong faith indicated by discipline in spiritual matters. When I read this passage, my first reaction was, “What?” Verse 2 undid me:
One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. – Romans 14:2
That was completely backwards. The strong would exercise such discipline and forego eating meat – especially for the reason they abstained (some meat was from animals sacrificed to false gods). My reaction, “Come on, those are the strong people!”
The chapter closes with:
But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:23
Faith. Faith is the key. Before ending the chapter, the Holy Spirit shares:
The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. – Romans 14:6
So, wait: It’s possible to do two different – opposite, actually – things in practice and both activities and beliefs are acceptable?
According to the Holy Spirit, the answer is, “yes.”
Is it then possible for we Christians, in our culture today, to believe opposite things? Might we practice support for progressive politics in Jesus’ Name? Might we practice support for conservative politics in Jesus’ Name?
According to the Holy Spirit, the answer is, “yes.”
How Then Ought We To Live?
The Holy Spirit commands us thus:
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. – Romans 14:14
What? Nothing is unclean in itself? The Holy Spirit here speaks to conscience. We know this because the strong in the faith are instructed in the very next verse:
For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. – Romans 14:15
Please Don’t Miss This:
We Christians may hold mutually exclusive and completely opposing opinions when it comes to matters of culture – including politics – even if those beliefs intersect how we practice faith. This does not mean we (or they) are not Christians. It means our and their conscience leads us and them to differing opinions on disputable matters.
We are to walk in love.
And Please Hear This:
Our command – from the Holy Spirit – is found in Romans 14:20:
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.
Fast-forwarding to today: “Do not, for the sake of culture or politics, destroy the work of God.” This is why I wrote “Cut it out” to the church in this post on Religion and Politics.
Please note this applies equally to both cultural conservatives and cultural progressives. If, in your opinion, the “other side” is “going to Hell,” I beseech you to examine your beliefs in light of the Holy Spirit’s commands recorded in Romans 14.
When I was younger I was told to never discuss religion and politics in polite company. I understand and agree with that sentiment. I fear some of my brothers and sisters have departed the realm of polite company.
This post is addressed to the church. If you’re not a Christian I am not addressing you. In this post I would like to help my brothers and sisters in Christ understand the impact of their words, spoken and written. If you agree with the tweet pictured above I would like for you to imagine reading the following or hearing it in a sermon:
“Have you repented of voting for Hillary Clinton? She’s a sinner! She advocates expanding abortion on demand which destroys human flourishing by killing the unborn and emotionally devastating the mother of the unborn. Clinton was under an active investigation days before the election – she is morally corrupt. So I ask again: Have you repented for your vote for such a person as this?”
“Why Would You Write Such a Thing, Andy?”
At the time of this writing, I’ve been hearing this message for almost 11 months. The target of the discussion hasn’t been Hillary Clinton; it’s been President Trump.
What’s Right With This Sentiment?
President Donald J. Trump is a sinner. As am I. As are you. Romans 3:23 tells us plainly:
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,…
Hillary Clinton is a sinner. Former President Obama is a sinner.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Sin leads to death. We all sin, we do so when we are led by our desires instead of surrendering to Christ by denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Him (Luke 9:23). When we sin we have an Advocate with the Father – none other than Jesus Christ, our Lord.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
What’s Wrong With This Sentiment?
We, the bride of Christ, the church, are commanded to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.
What does “denying ourselves” look like when it comes to living during the presidential administration of a president with whom we disagree on almost every issue? Does denying ourselves mean we have to agree with a president we do not prefer? Does denying ourselves mean we have to support policies we find abhorrent? Does denying ourselves mean we need to be “polite company” and be silent about dissent?
I believe not.
Should we judge one president (or former presidential candidate) as “righteous” and another as “unrighteous?” Do we have that authority? Do we have that right? I ask as a Christian and an American citizen – what say you, church?
Should We Condemn Those We Don’t Like?
How then ought we to live when an administration with which we disagree is in office? Should we agree with the world? Should we judge our brothers and sisters who voted for President Trump, tell them they should repent, and ask, “What about them?”
For eight years (2009-2016) you preached tolerance and respect for the office of President of the United States. What has changed? Has God changed? Has God’s Word changed? Or have you changed? Is God’s Word different because you are offended?
We have invented a new class of sins: Trump-sins. When the Supreme Court discovered a right to homosexual marriage in the Constitution of the United States we preached that homosexuality was a sin but not a special sin. “We’re all sinners,” we said. “We all need Christ,” we called. “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” we preached. But racism? That’s a special and intolerable sin. It’s a Trump-sin. When’s the last time you heard a sermon on “Love the racist, hate the racism”? I’m going to guess never.
Racism is a particularly heinous sin. I wrote about racism in a post titled Tread With Care, Church. The sin of racism is an ugly, hate-filled sin that has no place in the Body of Christ.
The sin of judging our brothers and sisters who voted for President Trump is an ugly, hate-filled sin that has no place in the Body of Christ.
Should we oppose racism? Yes, vehemently.
Should we oppose abortion on demand? Yes, vehemently.
Should we preach the truth of the Gospel to every creature? Yes!
Should we let our preferences – personal and political – dictate the Gospel we preach? Absolutely not.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Unity is not uniformity. In fact, the Holy Spirit goes to great lengths here to describe just how different each member is from other members. And yet we are told “God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” (emphasis added)
Brothers and sisters, we are not going to feel the same way about political candidates and issues. It’s just not going to happen. And our disagreement is by design: “If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (emphasis added)
How did this happen? Who lumped together all these people who disagree? “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (emphasis added)
What, Then, Does Unity Mean?
Clearly, unity doesn’t mean uniformity in beliefs, passions, gifts, and preferences: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (emphasis added) Let’s face it, the Holy Spirit beats this horse a lot. Why? We need to hear it.
Reconciliation needs to begin with us, church. We need to reconcile with our brothers and sisters.
We need to reconcile with our brothers and sisters who voted for the other candidate.
We need to reconcile with our brothers and sisters who are members of a different race.
We need to reconcile ourselves first so that we remove the plank from our own eye. Everyone, on all sides, needs to repent – to uncover the light and be salty again. Then we can see clearly to remove splinters from the eyes of the world who are watching us. How important is loving one another? This is how we show the world we are His disciples:
Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out we all worship something. I believe he was right about that: Everyone worships something, some thing, someone, or Someone.
If you do not worship God (or seek to), this post is not addressed to you. This post is addressed to Christians and those who claim to be Christians.
Church, Whom Do We Worship?
You may read that question and respond, “Andy, that’s a dumb question.” You may equate church membership with worship. It may be. There are at least four possibilities to consider:
You could be an authentic member of a congregation that worships God.
You could be an inauthentic member of a congregation that worships God.
You could be an authentic member of a congregation that does not worship God.
You could be an inauthentic member of a congregation that does not worship God.
One thing is certain: Walking into a church building doesn’t make you a Christian any more than walking into McDonald’s makes you a cheeseburger.
If you seek to worship God, find a congregation that worships God. It’s possible to worship God in isolation. If you are a Christian worshiping in isolation, your heart will yearn to enjoy corporate worship and fellowship. Here, now – not just in eternity.
Church, Whom Should We Worship?
Have you ever wished God would just say something? or do something? He’s the God of all the universe, after all. Why not prove it for everyone and all time? This was the complaint of some who watched Jesus die on the cross:
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” – Mark 15:29-30
God has spoken. He revealed His will to dozens of people over centuries of time in an amazingly consistent manner. His words are found in the Bible. Do you long to hear from God? Read His Word. “Does reading the Bible really work, Andy?” Yes. In fact, God’s Word states:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6
We may diligently seek God in His Word. We should worship the God of the Bible.
Who Do You Worship?
If we don’t worship the God of the Bible, we worship some vision or version of God that we imagine. We may imagine an elderly grandfather who is kind and sits on the porch watching the universe unfold as it will. We may imagine a cruel, unfair, and dysfunctional father figure we experienced in our youth. These are extremes. They are also constructs of our own minds. They are examples of a God we make in our image or in the image of some father figure.
God’s Word speaks to this:
“You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3
This is the first commandment God gave to Moses. When we imagine God and worship the creation of our imagination, we are committing the sin of idolatry. In The Church and Idolatry, Jared Wilson states, “All sin is idolatry…” I concur.
To be clear, it’s one thing to be mistaken. I’ve been mistaken and it’s likely I am mistaken now. How do I know the difference between being incorrect and being an idolater? Again, God’s Word:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
What happens when my belief is confronted with God’s Word? How I respond determines whether I am mistaken or practicing idolatry. If I humbly beg forgiveness and change my belief to align with God’s Word, I was mistaken. If I exalt my belief against the knowledge of God revealed in His Word, I am an idolater.
If an Idolater, Then What?
Idolatry is a sin. God’s Word informs us of Christ and His Remedy:
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:6-10
Some questions to ask ourselves from this portion of God’s Word:
Do I claim to have fellowship with Christ while walking in darkness?
Do I walk in the light?
Do I have fellowship with other followers?
Do I believe and say I have no sin?
Do I confess my sins?
If you find you are committing the sin of idolatry, confess and ask God to forgive you. I did.
Many idolaters name their idol “God” and “Jesus.” That does not mean they refer to the God and Jesus of God’s Word. Calling your idol “Jesus” is not the same thing as worshiping Jesus, our Resurrected Savior and Lord.
Don’t confuse Christianity with the religion that goes by the same name.
Jesus is alive! After crucifixion, he appeared to the disciples, minus Thomas. Then there’s the interaction with Thomas. After this seven disciples are together: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John (Zebedee’s sons), and two other unnamed disciples.
Peter says, “I’m going fishing.”
What?! Jesus died! And now He’s alive! And you’re going fishing? Peter was not in a good place. Physically, he was fine. But mentally? spiritually? He wasn’t in a happy place at all. Jesus knew Peter had denied Him. Thrice. Jesus foretold Peter’s denial. After the third denial – after the rooster crowed as prophesied by Jesus Himself – Jesus looked at Peter. Peter knew what that look meant.
Now? Jesus had yet to bring it up.
Why not? The anticipation gnawed at Peter. It was Peter, after all, who was promised the keys to the kingdom after recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus had told Peter that Peter learned this from God Himself. Peter had been blessed by Christ for this revelation.
Then Peter had blown it big time. Jesus had told him beforehand he would,and Jesus had looked directly at Peter after Peter denied Him the third time.
Gnawing… Ya think? Perhaps that’s too gentle a description.
“I’m going fishing.”
Note: I mean no disrespect or irreverence here. I am empathizing with Peter.
Peter wants some alone time. He feels terrible about denying Christ. He wants to go do something familiar, some mindless task to pass the time. I mean, obviously Jesus isn’t concerned, right? If He was, He would’ve said something. Anything. A rebuke would be better than this; this silence. Especially to a man like Peter who’s motto in life seemed to be, “Don’t just stand there, say something.” Jesus hasn’t said anything yet.
To make things better, Peter’s friends respond, “We will go with you!”
They head over to the Sea of Tiberius and fish all night and catch nothing.
The sky lightens. No fish. Chatterbox friends all atwitter about Jesus’ resurrection. Polite smiles. Nods. Yes, yes, it’s amazing, He’s alive.
Captain Obvious appears on the beach and asks the perfect question, “Hey fellers, caught anything?”
Captain Obvious morphs into Captain Advice: “Why not try fishing on the right side of the boat? I bet you’ll catch some fish over there.”
Pause here a minute. What was Peter doing when Jesus asked Peter to become a disciple?
Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:16-18
Same Simon Peter here, a professional fisherman. (“It is a tradition very current among the ancients, that St. Mark wrote this gospel under the direction of St. Peter, …” Matthew Henry’s Commentary. The Gospel of Mark is very likely Peter’s account.)
Back to Captain Obvious Advice. “Have you fellers considered fishing on the other side of the boat?”
No, that thought never occurred to us.
For whatever reason, they haul in the nets from the left side of the boat. Now, this wasn’t a cruise ship; there’s really not that much distance between the left and right sides of this boat. Why did they do it? Maybe they were bored. Maybe they thought, “What could it hurt?” Maybe they wanted to prove to the helpful gentleman on the shore that they are professionals and demonstrate the fact by hauling up another net filled with only water. Maybe then he’d move on and “help” someone else with their day.
They cast the nets into the waters on the right side of the boat and something tremendous happens. The net is filled with so many fish these seven people cannot haul it in.
Things change rapidly. John tells Peter, “That’s Jesus!”
Peter ignores his buddies struggling with the net. He longs to be close to Jesus. He doesn’t want to be irreverent, so he gets dressed first and then swims one hundred yards to shore. Why? Why leave his buddies in the boat? Why swim with heavier clothes on? Why not just bring the boat to shore and then connect with Jesus?
“Feed My Sheep.”
Jesus had breakfast ready. Jesus and Peter have a conversation over breakfast. I’m not glossing over this conversation lightly, I believe the three questions were not random in content or number. Peter denied Jesus thrice in response to three earlier questions, after all. But I do want to move beyond this conversation.
Why? The spiritual surgery is complete, but Peter is not all better. He’s …
Why would I write such a thing? Because Peter’s very next move is to look towards John and ask Jesus, “What about him, huh?” Your and my response is likely similar: shakes head, “Tsk tsk tsk. Peter, Peter, Peter.” Or as my 14-year old son would say,
Jesus has a remarkable and shocking response: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” A question and a command. The question is, “What difference does that make to you?” “Why do you care?” “What does it matter?” “It’s none of your business!”
“If the Lord gives me one thing, I think everybody should get it, or if you get something I don’t get, I say, ‘What’s the matter with me? Why didn’t I get it?’ The Lord has jobs for each of us to do, and what others do is ultimately none of our business. Each of us must do what God has given him or her to do, and fulfill the mandate of Christ.”
Amen, R. C. Amen.
Has this happened to you? Has someone nodded in your direction and asked, “What about that person?” “Why does she get to enjoy that relationship?” “Who put him in charge?” “Why are they so happy?”
It’s happened to me. It’s unpleasant. It’s envy. It’s a sin. “I’m trying to help my brother / sister walk closer with Christ.” Are you? Are you really? What made you notice the deficit in your brother’s or sister’s walk with Christ? What was your first clue? Was it, as Dr. Sproul wrote, “… [they] get something I don’t get…”?
We rationalize – misusing God’s Word, even – but it’s still a sin.
To Peter, holder of the keys to the kingdom, blessed by Christ, hearing from God Himself; Jesus says, “Don’t worry about John.” Forget about splinters, here are some planks that require your attention. Paul echoes this sentiment in his letter to the church at Rome.
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. – Romans 14:4
To a church of “fruit-inspecting” “discerners,” Jesus speaks these words, What is that to thee? Follow thou me.
Jesus told Peter, “Stop that.”
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “Stop that.”
I’m concerned that too many churches in the US are merely weekly meetings of a local Jesus Club. “What’s the difference?” you ask? That is the purpose of this post.
What is Church?
At a Jesus club meeting, “church” is synonymous with the building where the club meets.
For the church, “church” is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). It is the gathering together of members of Christ’s Body in obedience to encourage one another to continue in love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24-25).
The church is not a building, although some refer to the building in which the church meets as “the church.” The church is made up of its members (1 Peter 2:4-12). We are a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). When the church gathers, Jesus is praised. (Revelation 4:11).
A Jesus club meeting usually includes an inspirational message in which a messenger quotes from the Bible. The quote supports the inspirational theme of the message. The quote may or may not be shared in context, but it is usually shared in isolation (additional Bible passages are not cited).
When the church gathers the Gospel is preached; the Good News Jesus is proclaimed (Matthew 28:18-20). Since God’s Word contains the Good News, Bible passages are the message (2 Timothy 3:16-17) – expounded by applied etymology, exegesis, and hermeneutics. The gathered are taught from the Bible (2 Timothy 3:10-17) via expository preaching.
What is the Outcome?
Attendees usually leave a Jesus club meeting feeling good about themselves. They’ve heard a positive inspirational message with some scripture sprinkled in. They may have been entertained by a group of professional musicians and singers. It was an altogether good experience.
Some friends and brothers suffer from an allergy. They’re allergic to works. They’re Calvinists. Not Puritanical Calvinists because, well, those people “were so square, man.” (Apologies, I think I just confused hippie and hipster…)
I read your posts online, hipster brothers and sisters. I watch your videos and read your memes about short-term missions being “glorified vacations.” They’re cute. They’re lies, but they’re cute.
I read your 140-character-or-less sermonettes about how grace-trumps-works (with an apology for using a verb that reminds you of your hatred and/or shame for the current President of the United States [I’m writing this on Independence Day, after all]) and how works will not garner favor with God nor gain anyone entrance into Heaven. And I agree with you. Sort of. Mostly I fear sermonettes are only useful for attracting Christianettes, but I digress…
Let’s examine a passage of Scripture – a quote from Jesus Himself – that’s way longer than 140 characters and would definitely not be legible if printed in a social media meme:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This is the English Standard Version rendering of Matthew 25:31-46. I consider this passage one of the scariest in Scripture for a number of reasons, but I will focus on but one reason today. And that reason is:
When I imagine this scary passage playing out at some future date, I imagine some people overjoyed and other people astonished and terrified. I try to imagine the lives these people lived on earth. I wonder if those who spent time feeding the hungry or giving water to the thirsty or welcoming the stranger or clothing the naked or visiting the sick or imprisoned (aside: do you think this is an exhaustive checklist? Is this THE literal list or is our Lord merely suggesting ways to serve the least of these among us?) were accused of trying to work their way into Heaven? I wonder if they were accused of misunderstanding God’s Grace? I wonder if they were, basically, judged.
I also wonder, are those who didn’t spend any time feeding the hungry or giving water to the thirsty or welcoming the stranger or clothing the naked or visiting the sick or imprisoned wearing t-shirts with Ephesians 2:8-9 printed on them in Instagram Gospel font with “not a result of works” in big emphasized characters?
All throughout the New Testament Christians are urged to do good works.
All throughout the New Testament Christians are commanded to not rely on good works for salvation, but rather to rely of God’s Grace.
Are people who do good works trying to work their way into Heaven, then? I’m sure some are. Are people who do few or no works relying on God’s Grace? I’m sure some are. Are people who do good works responding to the gospel? I’m sure some are. Are people who do few or no works seeking an excuse to do nothing? I’m sure some are.
How are we to sort out the good from the bad? We aren’t – unless we want to be judged. This is why Jesus – again breaking the 140-character limit – tells us in Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Most aren’t equipped to judge for at least two reasons. First, we cannot see around our own faults clear-enough to judge the faults of others due to our own eye-logs. Second – unlike Jesus – we cannot see inside the hearts of others (another aside: Jesus cares way more about what’s in your heart than what’s on your shirt or where you vacation [glorified or not]) but must rely on an examination of the fruit of one’s life.
Jesus spent some time in Matthew 13 explaining that metaphorical weeds and metaphorical food-bearing crops are to metaphorically grow together until judgment, and that that judgment will be accomplished by those better qualified to judge. Go read the chapter. It’s a beaut (even though it’s too long to be printed legibly in a social media meme…).
On the Other Hand…
Let’s say you’re nailing it. You’re publicly calling out losers who are clearly and obviously doing-it-wrong. What fruit are you seeing from this work (yep, social media posting is a work)? Are you watering? Are you discerning? Is that your excusereason justification?
Returning to Jesus’ list in Matthew 25, where do you believe your activities fall – in the “doing good” or “not doing good” to the least of these category?
What if your brother or sister is truly sinning?
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
This is Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians, chapter 6, verses 1 through 5. It’s an important teaching about the Body of Christ, the church. It contains another list – a list for us when we observe a brother or a sister sinning. So, another list of questions to ask ourselves:
Is restoration my priority?
Am I being gentle?
Am I watching myself?
Am I being tempted?
Am I bearing my brother’s/sister’s burden?
Do I think I am something?
Do I think I am nothing?
Am I deceiving myself?
Have I tested my own work(s)?
Am I boasting in myself?
Am I boasting in my neighbor?
Am I bearing my own load?
Believe it or not, I asked myself these questions as I proofread this intentionally-provocative blog post. I also asked myself “Who is this helping?” If you read this far, the hope in my heart is that you will hesitate before posting things that refer to works of all kinds as evil; that you will consider your potentially (probably) imperfect view into the hearts of those who may read what you post; that you will not be one who speaks evil of good.