Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Christian Life
Volume 5 No. 311 October 30, 2015
II. This Week's Featured Articles

Christian Life: What God Wants to Accomplish in You

By John A. Huffman, Jr.

Scripture: Philippians 1:1-11

I got to know Cary Weisiger through our mutual involvement with the board of Christianity Today, Inc. On one occasion, he shared with me his prayer routine. He mentioned that he had come to a stage of life in which he found it difficult to sleep all the way through the night. He often awakened at three or four in the morning. For some time he tried to fight that, upset that he couldn't sleep straight through, until he discovered that God had actually given him the gift of a quiet time, freed from all other distractions during which he could pray. He described how each day of the week he has a prayer list. One day is for personal concerns. Another day is for world missions. Another day is for colleagues in ministry and the churches he has served. He went on outlining this, and I began to sense the richness of life and generosity of spirit toward others which is his. Much of it has been cultured and nourished by these times of disciplined prayer.

Do you pray for others? Do you have a prayer list which helps you discipline yourself in systematic concern? Prayer is the language of love and friendship. It cuts away selfishness. It purifies your concerns.

Paul prayed for his friends at Philippi. Prayer was that connective element which held him in communication with these Philippian believers, defying the distance of years and miles. Paul, most likely in prison in Rome, not only prayed for his distant friends, he wrote to them, telling what his prayer was. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he was communicating what God wanted to do in them. The people to whom Paul was writing were already converted people. The whole implication is that they were people who had begun a process. Paul's prayer was that God would continue that process in a very special way.

Everything is not settled when you come to faith in Jesus Christ. A careful look at Paul's prayer for his believing friends alerts you to what God wants to accomplish in you.

God has some specific desires for your life. Paul's prayer gives a special definition of some crucial elements in that process called sanctification through which God is leading you.

God wants to increase your capacity for responsible loving.

I know that I ought to be more loving. You know that you ought to love. How many times have you and I read 1 Corinthians 13, only to end up feeling guilty? It's frustrating, isn't it? In its opening verses, Paul blasts away at those who mistake charismatic gifts, theological brilliance, unlimited faith, and acts of humanitarianism as true religion. Instead, he moves beyond these good actions of Christian living to the attitudinal level, setting a standard which seems impossible.

I read 1 Corinthians 13 at most of the weddings at which I officiate. Every time, I feel a little bit guilty when I am done reading it, because I see my own failure to live up to this high standard. Fortunately, Paul doesn't expect us to have perfect love now. His prayer is, "that your love may abound more and more ..." (Phil. 1:9).

You and I have not fully arrived in our capacity to love. This is an ongoing process of God's Holy Spirit which sensitizes you to what God wants to accomplish in your life. Love can grow or love can be squelched.

One couple, after 15 years of marriage, has depleted their supply of love to a negligible point. Their love is less and less. Another couple finds that their love is expanding and getting greater and greater. They have only begun to realize their depth of affection for each other. You can grow out of love with Jesus. Or you can grow more and more in love with Him. This quality is so important for us to have in our relationship with the Lord.

Even as the married couple has their ups and downs, so do we with the Lord. However, in the process, there can be a steady, forward movement as our love for Him and our affection for the things of His Word increases. Alexander Maclaren stated, "Nothing makes a man more sensitive to evil than a hearty love to God." So instead of feeling guilty for our failures, how exciting it is to open our lives to the Lord, expressing our love for Him, confessing our failure, so as to move steadily forward in daily growth. This daily growth has its spinoff dynamics for our relationship with other people.

Unfortunately, much of our love-talk is slushy. This is not responsible loving. There is a difference between sentimentality, which makes a display of emotion, and a deep, authentic caring. Love is not meant to be indiscriminate.

Paul expresses two cautioning, corrective qualities which keep true love on track. He writes, "And this is my prayer; that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight ..." (1:9).

The first quality is knowledge.

A responsible, growing love is one which is going through a constant process of education. It involves an awareness of biblical teaching. This knowledge is confined to divinely revealed moral principles. It involves gearing your life to moving in God's will, making forward progress in the direction of the goal which He sets before you. John Calvin emphasized that when the Scripture talks about having "all knowledge," it is not you that is to know everything. Instead, you are to know what is full and complete. There are various kinds of knowledge.

Be aware that there is knowledge which is useless, and there is knowledge which is fruitful. As you immerse yourself in the Scriptures, you have the exciting potential of allowing the Holy Spirit of God to engraft into your life the principles of God's Word which educate you to a fuller understanding of His love and grace. This will free you to move beyond the theological trivia to a greater personal love of Jesus Christ and others.

Not only can some of us specialize in trivial knowledge. Sometimes our knowledge can be dead wrong.

That's what happened to Air Force Staff Sergeant Charles Johnson. He was on a training mission on a B-52 bomber. He became convinced that the other five men were no longer on the plane because he could not contact them from his position in the gunner's seat. Believing he was headed straight down into a crash, he ejected, only to discover that he was at 29,000 feet. He was found later wandering a rural road in Arkansas while his colleagues had landed safely at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

The wrong knowledge, rightly applied, can bring disaster. Or the right knowledge, wrongly applied, can bring disaster. God wants us to have the right knowledge and to correctly apply it.

One of my friends keeps a cassette player beside his bed. The first thing when he wakes up in the morning, he turns it on and listens to tapes of Bible teaching. Another friend carries cards in her purse on which are printed Scripture verses. She memorizes them in those idle moments that occasionally appear in her otherwise hectic schedule. Another has told me that this year, once again, he is reading through the One Year Bible.

Each of these persons is bombarding his or her thoughts with the positive input of God's Word. In the process, they are influencing their subconscious to the glory of God. They are growing spiritually. They are increasing in constructive spiritual knowledge by putting God's Word into the mainstream of their lives.

The second quality is depth of insight.

This is probably one of the least talked about but most important spiritual qualities which you can have. Nonbelievers call this "common sense." From a spiritual perspective, it's the capacity to apprehend between right and wrong. There is even a more subtle dimension to this. Depth of insight describes a person's capacity to distinguish between degrees of right and degrees of wrong. In many cases, what is right and what is wrong can be quickly ascertained. However, it is much more difficult to know which of four legitimate courses of action is the most correct. What loving response is the most appropriate? Some of the translations use the word "discernment" to translate this phrase.

Solomon was blessed of God as he cried out for "'a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?'" (1 Kings 3:9). That was Solomon's prayer to God.

The Bible says, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).

The ability to discern, to have a depth of insight, is a special gift from God which is available to help us live the lives that God dreams for us to live. It gives you a perspective on how to relate to others. It helps protect you from what is selfish and impure. It gives you the ability to apply right moral principles to specific circumstances.

Each of us has watched brilliant men and women squirm when their actions and decisions have been put under the bright lights of congressional investigatory committees. We have seen presidents, senators, and supreme court nominees who, in spite of their great knowledge of foreign affairs, understanding of political realities, and vast judicial experience, have had serious questions raised about their ethical sensibilities. Could the problem that has discredited some of these otherwise intelligent, successful persons be one of discernment? Could it be that a person with great intensity and intellectual brilliance finds his or her career derailed because they have missed that special God-given, morally-stabilizing, discerning spirit? The price paid is enormous when a president is discredited, or a senator is forced out of office, or a supreme court nominee is embarrassed for past discretions. Not only is a nation dragged through a political and ethical nightmare, but also the positive contributions of that person become eclipsed.

Before we become too critical of others, we must face up to the fact that our lives, too, move fast. We can get caught up in a swift current as a bunch of logs are pushed downstream. You and I can be just one of those logs, unaware that a mile or two down the river there is a waterfall. All the rest of the logs are going in that direction. What seems loving can be unloving as it goes undisciplined by the spirit of discernment which the Lord wills for you and me to have as we are open to Him. Part of the process of sanctification is that sensitizing by the Holy Spirit -- the Spirit of discernment.

A footnote in the New English Bible gives a variant reading of this phrase which expands our understanding of discernment. It reads: "And this is my prayer, that your love may grow ever richer and richer in knowledge and insight of every kind, and may teach you by experience what things are most worthwhile."

Discernment does not come easily. Wisdom is achieved through years of experience as you are buffeted by the tough experiences of life. The Apostle Paul came to his "depth of insight" learning lessons the hard way as he faithfully sought the mind of the Lord.

What is the by-product of this love tempered by knowledge and depth of insight? There are three by-products, each of which emerges from God's continuing, sanctifying process in your life. Paul states them this way in Philippians 1:9-11:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ -- to the glory and praise of God.

By-product one is the making of correct moral choices.

God wants you to be a believer whose moral reflexes are developed, a Christian who approves what is excellent, what is best. He wants you to be prepared for Christ's second coming, living a life which is sensitized to what is right. As you are growing more and more in love, increasing in knowledge and depth of insight, your moral reflexes will become increasingly alert.

One of the most important tasks of a coach is to train the athletic reflexes of players into a winning pattern. You and I have watched coaches like Don Shula and Joe Gibbs take young, undisciplined teams and shape them into winning machines. It takes time to develop a winning attitude. It takes time to mature.

This by-product of making the correct moral choice is not that of a legalistic lifestyle. We are not trying to produce Eagle Scout Christians who win merit badges as they complete a list of set requirements. That's a sterile, moralistic approach to Christian living. That style gets you into trouble. Don't try to live the Christian life by a set of laws. The Scriptures give moral guidelines. They make clear what is right and what is wrong in many situations.

We dare not neglect the theme of obedience. It is important that you and I be obedient to what God has revealed in His Word.

Gordon MacDonald illustrated this by quoting an entry in Frank Koch's Institute of Naval Proceedings: "Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

"Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, 'Light, bearing on the starboard bow.'

"'Is it steady or moving astern?' the captain called out.

"Lookout replied, 'Steady, captain," which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

"The captain then called to the signalman, 'Signal that ship: we are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.'

"Back came a signal, 'Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.'

"The captain said, 'Send, I'm a captain, change course twenty degrees.'

'"I'm a seaman second class,' came the reply. 'You had better change your course twenty degrees.'

"By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, 'Send, I'm a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.'

"Back came the flashing light, 'I'm a lighthouse.'

"We changed course."

Obedience is important. I am not talking about a legalistic approach. You and I can have our consciences seared to the point we rationalize our way around the legal system, tiptoeing with technical precision in a way which is legally correct but denies the Spirit of Christ at work in our lives.

What I am trying to say is that the Christian life is not primarily a list of "dos and don't." It's a wholeness of existence. If you see it as a list of legal standards you will miss the joy of Christian living. You will find many occasions to hire yourself a spiritual lawyer who will help you rationalize your way around your technical spiritual legal system.

A by-product of the love which is growing more and more, disciplined by knowledge and a depth of insight, is a reflex system in which the Holy Spirit helps you approve what is best. You are able to be obedient to the teachings of God's Word which stand as a strong lighthouse signal, cutting through the darkness of the night, saving you shipwreck upon the rocky shores of that peninsula. God desires to help you make the correct moral choices.

A second by-product of lifestyle is a development of high character.

Paul's prayer is that his believer friends may be "... pure and blameless until the day of Christ ..." The King James Version talks about "sincerity."

This style of Christian living desires to be victorious over sin. Although you will slip and stumble, the forward-moving thrust is that of preparing you to confront Jesus Christ at the day of judgment. Your blameless life on that day will not be the perfect lifestyle you have achieved here. It will be the result of God's atoning work on your behalf in which He has paid the penalty for your sin. Your righteousness is in Him. Your perfection is in Christ.

There has been a building of spiritual character through the years which shows a steady growth pattern. As the years go by, you are better able to handle temptation because you have an increased sensitivity to God and His Word in love. Your sincerity of lifetstyle is one in which you are increasingly moving beyond looking out for your own interests. Your conscience is being sensitized to live for His will. God forgive if we paint this as a lifestyle of perfection. It isn't. It is the process of becoming the one who stands righteous before God on the day of judgment.

A third by-product is that your life will produce good works.

Stated in the words of our text, God wants you to be "... filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ -- to the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:11).

You must always be aware that these good works are the product of your relationship with Jesus Christ. You can't buy His love. They are the outworking of His love in your life. Fruitful living is an offshoot of your trust in Christ.

A good conscience produces good works. Jesus made the reference to a branch being ingrafted to a tree. That branch bears fruit because of the life sustaining quality coming up through the trunk of the tree. Without the tap root, the branch will not bear fruit. Without Jesus Christ, you will not be productive in authentic Christian fruit. This fruit is a by-product of what He is doing in your life.

You and I have to be very careful that we do not allow these fruits of His Spirit to become status symbols. The minute you and I begin to take pride in what we are doing for Christ, we have negated the exciting potential of His action in our lives. This is the terrifying vulnerability we have as believers. Our increased capacity for the correct moral choice, the high character which should mark the life of the believer and the fruitfulness of good works, all can turn to sterile spiritual rigidity, denying what God wants to do in you to the glory of Jesus Christ.

I believe this is why Paul wrote to his believer friends, saying that his prayer was that they would abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight which would produce these three by-products. He knew that all our righteousness is as filthy rags. He knew that all of our religious pretensions are to no avail if they are not the by-product of God's continuing sanctifying process.

How easy it is for those of us who claim to be living lives of faith to find ourselves spiritually calcified. How subtle is the tendency to view ourselves as "complete" and no longer "in process."

Keith Miller describes the Christian life as one in which you and I as "becomers" live as does a trapeze artist. No one would go to a circus just to see the great trapeze artist stand on his platform high above the crowd. No! You want to see him take that leap, that vulnerable leap through the air to another place of temporal security.

Too often you and I live protective lives, avoiding spiritual risks and spiritual growth. Our love is stagnant. Our lives are marked by no increase in knowledge and no increasing depth of insight. Instead of clinging to that elevated, secure bar of your present spiritual success, God wants you to fling yourself forward, vulnerably reaching for that next rung of spiritual existence, finding new dimensions of relationship with Jesus Christ.

Are you willing to expose yourself to this high adventure of discovering in daily process what God wants to accomplish in you? 

'Abide In Me'

by Rev Dr Charles Calder Mackintosh of Tain

Abide in me, and I in you.
- John 15:4

These words were first addressed by Christ to the eleven, who were "in Him" not by profession only but in reality, and to whom He had a little before spoken such words as these:

"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me"
(John 14:1),

"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also"
(John 14:18,19),

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27), and of whom He had just said (Judas having previously left them), "Now are ye clean through the word which I have spoken unto you"
(John 15:3).

1. Union to Christ
2. Abiding in Christ
3. The implications of abiding in Christ

1. Union to Christ

He makes use of the simile of the vine-stock and the branches to illustrate the union that subsists between Him and His people. The vine-stock and the branches make up one tree - Christ and His people are one. Plainly this is no mere external union, neither is it a mere union of sentiment of feeling (for in this sense the holy angels are entirely one with Christ). Nor yet is it what we call a relative union, such as subsists between the Representative and those whom He represents, or between the Surety and those for whom He engages. This is necessarily included in it; but it is more than all this. The leading thought is the sameness of life. As the same life subsists in the vine-stock and in the branches, so it is the same life which in its surpassing glory and all-fullness is in the God-man the Mediator that is also in the weakest believer. It is the same Spirit, poured out upon the Head and received by Him without measure, that in measure is given to His people, first to quicken them and then to dwell in them. And this is peculiar to redemption; as truly peculiar to it as is Incarnation and as is Substitution. It is very true that holiness is the same in the holy angels that it is in Christians; as indeed it is the same in essence in God and in His holy creatures. But the peculiarity of the life of Christ's people lies in this, that the God-man is its spring; and that it is His life-giving power that evokes it out of death, that preserves it, and that causes it to grow from grace to glory.

Hence arises a peculiarly close dependence of Christ's people upon Christ, just in proportion to the intimacy of the union. And hence also their blessed security in having their life bound up in His life: because He lives, they shall live also. For this union is an indissoluble one. Once formed, it lasts for ever: death cannot break it; on the resurrection day it will be perfected. No doubt Christ speaks of certain branches in Him being taken away, cast forth and withered. But these are branches that by bearing no fruit unto perfection show that they are not truly united to the Vine, and do not partake of its life and fatness: the mysterious union on which salvation turns has never been made up between them and the Saviour, through His Spirit quickening them and their coming to Him for life. We must be living souls, living branches in the living Vine, in order that the union may be indissoluble.

2. Abiding in Christ

And it is not enough to be in Christ; we must abide in Christ. As it is not enough for a sinner to know that Jesus is the common Saviour, or to know that all whom the Father hath given Him shall come to Him; as his knowledge of these things will but increase his condemnation unless he comes to Christ for salvation; so neither is it enough for the believer to know that nothing shall separate him from the love of Christ. For, if it be a blessed truth that the love of Christ is unchangeable, it is just as sure that those who are interested in it work out their own salvation (Philippians 2:12) and do not "draw back unto perdition" (Hebrews 10:39). All care and anxiety about the soul does not leave a man, once through grace he is in Christ. The fear of the wrath to come should indeed be removed by faith in the blood of atonement; but there must be the same care to continue in Christ that there was to find Christ. And no comfort can be drawn from the unchangeableness of His love unless we are thus striving to abide in Him. Our first care must be to attain to a state of salvation through union to Christ; our continued care must be to have our salvation advancing and the spiritual life in us increased through daily experience of the power of Christ as the Life.

So then the sum of the Christian's duty may be said to be comprehended in this - abiding in Christ. Jesus, in addressing His people, filled with concern for their comfort, their stability, their growth, and their fruitfulness, says, "Abide in me". Can we, from experimental knowledge and blessed remembrance, understand the feelings of the soul that after long seeking rest and finding none has now found Christ, and so can say, "Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee" (Psalm 116:7)? Oh how deep the sense of personal unworthiness then! How vivid the impression of the Saviour's glory and preciousness! - Christ as a covert, Christ as the life, Christ as the soul's all! Now think of these words as coming from His lips to the sinner who has been just received by Him and who is tasting of His graciousness. Oh who would say that the soul would ever again be found departing from Him?

3. The implications of abiding in Christ

What is implied then in abiding in Christ?

1. A sense of need of Christ

There must be a deep continued sense of need of Christ and an abiding perception of His all-sufficiency and fullness as a Saviour. The poverty of spirit to which the blessing is attached by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3) is characteristic of the Christian not at the outset of his course only, but while he is in this world. It will leave him at death, when sin will leave him. Then he will be perfected in humility, and perfectly blessed in the enjoyment of Christ; but he will be no longer poor in spirit. Till then he will be growing in this grace.

The richer in grace, the poorer will he be in spirit, because he will be increasingly humble, because there will be increasing sensibility to sin and a more and more enlarged apprehension of how much he has to attain. And thus, as he grows in grace, he will more and more need the same Saviour who received him at first when he came in his guilt and his rags and his misery, and who showed him mercy. But along with a sense of need of Christ, there must be a continued and growing perception of the suitableness and fullness of Christ through a spiritual understanding of the record concerning Him. Without this the Christian, with his deep exercise, would be of all men the most miserable.

The blessedness of the poor in spirit lies in this, that theirs is the kingdom of heaven to enrich and ennoble them; and the blessedness of the Christian growing in poverty of spirit lies in this, that Christ is his to be more and more known by him in His unsearchable riches. It is under this sense of need on the one hand, and this persuasion of the Saviour's all-sufficiency on the other, that a sinner is first drawn to Him; it is under a deepening sense of need - the feeling that without Christ he can do nothing, and a growing knowledge of His preciousness, that the believer abides in Him. We cannot be too jealous of the religion that dispenses with poverty of spirit, or that manifests itself in calm confidence and high assurance while having quitted the humbling work of mourning for sin and of growing in a sense of its evil. If we think we have learned enough about sin and our own sinfulness, and if we do not care to grow also in the knowledge of Christ, we may take it as a sign that we are strangers to fellowship with the Saviour.

2. Dependence upon Christ or trust in Christ

Abiding in Christ must imply dependence upon Him or trust in Him - trust, namely, for all that is needed to maintain and perfect the spiritual life, or to secure the soul's peace, growth in grace, and eternal salvation. It implies dependence upon Him for righteousness. The soul must abide in Him as the strong tower out of which it cannot be safe. Or, to use another of the precious Scripture metaphors, it must put on Christ for justification continually on every fresh approach to God, and after every approach, to have the iniquity of holy things taken away. The more the Christian grows in grace, the more simple will be his dependence on Christ for righteousness, the more afraid will he be of mixing anything else - anything even of what the Holy Spirit may have wrought in Him - as a ground of hope before God, with the righteousness of Emmanuel. Then it implies dependence upon Christ for teaching, to open up the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, and to show us the path in which He would have us to go. It implies, moreover, dependence upon Him for sanctifying grace, as having no hope of obtaining holiness except through the grace of His almighty Spirit. Thus abiding in Christ is the exercise of active dependence upon Him; such dependence as evidences itself in the peace, the hope, the strength which flow from Christ to the soul through its exercise. This certainly is one of the main things implied in living a life of faith on the Son of God.

3. Continuing in Christ's love

To abide in Christ is to continue in Christ's love. It does not much matter whether we say abiding in the contemplation of Christ's love or abiding in the exercise of love to Christ and love to the brethren. For it is in contemplating Christ's love that love to Christ is drawn forth and exercised. And it is under its blessed influence that His people are constrained to live not unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:15). "Abide", saith Christ, "in me."

If in coming to Me your hard hearts have been broken, if you love Me who first loved you, if under the influence of this love you inquire, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?" (Psalm 116:12), then continue in My love, that you may keep My commandments.

4. Adherence to the Redeemer

To abide in Christ is to adhere to the Redeemer - to His Person (that is to Himself, the living Saviour) and therefore to His word, His cause, His people - under all temptations to depart from Him. No sooner does one set his face Christward, than he meets with trials of a new and peculiar nature. And no sooner has he come to Christ than he may encounter temptations to go away from Him.

It may be false doctrine, another gospel, tempting him as the primitive churches - especially those of Galatia - were tempted to depart from the simplicity that is in Christ and to seek, after having begun in the Spirit, to be made perfect by the flesh (Galatians 3:3). When thus tried, the soul that is kept by Christ will say, "To whom can I go but unto Thee? Thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). There is a blessed heart-assurance of the divinity and infallible certainty of the way of salvation in Jesus that accompanies the first exercise of faith; and because of this, the soul that has tasted that the Lord is gracious will seek not another gospel but a fresh view and taste of the same gospel of the grace of God.

Another of these temptations is to sloth on the one hand and to legalism on the other. One who has been zealous and hot in God's service may wax cold and lifeless, contented to pray without any real pressing after communion with God, and to read and hear the word without any experience in the conscience and affections of its searching and cleansing power. Surely he has then ceased to abide in Christ. Or he may fall for the time under the power of legalism - that is to say, of self-righteousness - one of the most subtle and powerful enemies with which the believer has to contend. Could he but receive in simple faith the promises of free grace in Christ, and trust in the Lord for their fulfilment, how different, many a time, would it be with his soul in light, comfort and growth! But why is it difficult, at any time, to exercise this simple faith? Mainly because of the remaining legalism of the heart.

Worldliness is another powerful temptation - that it to say, conformity to the world or the love of a present world. Some of God's people have fallen under this temptation and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. The seed sown among thorns had sprung up, and there was every promise of abundant fruit, but the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choked the word, and it became unfruitful (Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14). If you would abide in Christ you must feel your need of Christ's almighty grace to keep you whilst engaged in the world's engrossing business, that your heart may still be where Christ is.

Spiritual pride is another of these temptations. When the great apostle was caught up to the third heaven, we might say, "How humble will Paul be in the experience of such grace!" Yet, lest he should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to him a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). And if Paul needed this discipline in order that he might be kept humble and abiding in Christ, what Christian is not in danger of spiritual pride, especially after any unwonted experience of the Lord's goodness? And may it not be that the reason why some Christians have so little settled comfort and joy is that they are so ready to put their enlargements in the room of Christ. "Abide," He saith, "in me."

The only other of the manifold temptations to depart from Christ which we shall now mention - for we must consider it - is despondency or readiness to faint, especially in time of trial. Despondency is no friend to humility, though some of God's dear children are often visited with it and kept low under its influence, saying, "My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgement is passed over from my God" (Isaiah 40:27). But He says, "Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength" (Isaiah 40:28, 29).

5. Abiding in Christ to the end

To abide in Christ must include in it to abide in Him to the end, even when the flesh may seek repose and when something may whisper that there has been enough of confession of old sins and struggling enough with indwelling sin. To the end - till the soul can "go no more out" (Revelation 3:12), till it be made white in His blood and be filled with all the fullness of God, finding its heaven in giving back all that it has received, in adoring thanksgiving to the Lamb that was slain (Revelation 5:12).

The Redeemer tells us what the happy effects are of abiding in Him. They are such as these:

First, the bringing forth of much fruit, even that fruit by which the Father is glorified and which is the evidence of discipleship (John 15:8).

Second, the knowledge of God as the hearer of prayer, because in keeping close to Christ prayer flourishes, and the believer not having a condemning heart, has confidence towards God to open his mouth wide that the Lord may fill it (John 15:7,16; 1 John 3:20-22).

Third, that his joy is made full, so that he finds, even when sorrowful, that he may be "alway rejoicing" (John 16:24; 17:13; 2 Corinthians 6:10).

But let us not forget that Christ speaks of some who do not abide in Him, and that their misery is proportioned to the joy of those who do. How terrible are His words! "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:6). How sad the case of a person who once seemed to be in Christ, a believer in His name, an ardent lover of His person, His people and His cause, a student of His Word, an honourer of His laws - when he leaves his first love, nay, goes back to the world and is again entangled in its pollutions! Are there any such among us? If there be one, may the Lord in infinite mercy, ere it be too late, so deal with him as that out of a deeply wounded heart the cry may come forth, "O that it were with me as in the years that are past!"

Is there one who fears that he has lost, or all but lost, the evidence which he once had of being in Christ, because the faith, repentance, love, self-denial, or what he once thought to be the beginnings of these blessed graces in his soul, cannot now be discerned by him? What is the remedy for such a case? Is it to brood over old experiences or to look more and more within? The Lord may give deliverance in this way. But what you are especially called to, if you now feel that to be without Christ is the sum of all misery, is to come as a sinner, as the chief of sinners, to the Lord Jesus. If you cannot say with confidence that you are in Christ, yet you may say that He invites you to come to Him, with the promise that He will in no wise cast you out. Apprehend the grace of so blessed an invitation, delay not compliance with it, come to Christ; and the rising of the Sun of Righteousness upon your soul will scatter the darkness, in His light you shall see light, and peace and joy will return with a melted heart. But inquire at the same time, if it be so that you have all but lost the evidence you once had of being in Christ, when was it that doubt began to fill your mind? was it after you were less earnest and diligent in secret prayer, after you had given place to spiritual sloth, and after the Word of Christ had ceased to be continually searched by you and to dwell in you? Then understand and profit by the solemn lesson which this teaches you. It is in connection with self-examination, with prayer, with making His own Word precious that the Lord Jesus manifests Himself to His people, keeps them abiding in Himself, and restores them from their wanderings.

Finally, how sad is the case of those to whom it cannot be said, "Abide in me," because they are not in Christ! With whatever unconcern it may be listened to, to be without Christ is a dreadful thing. It is to be under the curse of God and the dominion of sin, to be living to God's dishonour, to be walking in the broad way that leadeth to destruction. Btu if Christ seeks you when you seek Him not; if there is mercy enough in Christ for you, efficacy in His blood to cleanse you, and power in His grace to sanctify you, then think how fearful it would be to live and die a rejecter of this Christ, to appear before the judgement seat without Christ, to be driven from Christ's presence, to have it said by the blessed Saviour Himself, "Depart from me!" (Matthew 25:41). These are not unmeaning words. You will yet know that these are the things which concern your peace. Will you not then seek the Lord while He is to be found, while you are not on the bed of pain, while you possess your reason, while you still have precious Sabbath time, while Jesus still knocks at your door?

Source:© Reformation Press 2004 and 2008

How to Stop Creating God in Your Own Image

by Katie Howard

"You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."

I was reading tonight and came across this quote from Anne Lamott. In context, this was meant jokingly coming from her priest friend, but I found so much truth in this statement.

I think in some form, we all have an image of God where he supports us in our dislike or hatred of certain people. People we know personally or people that we have no relationship with, we just choose to dislike them. Maybe because of media hype. Maybe because of the gossip of a friend. Maybe because we just don't like their face.

I know I've personally justified my disdain for particular people via this method. Maybe not intentionally, but have I arrived somehow at a place of hatred anyway? 100%. A thousand times yes.

When someone is supporting issues that I feel are black and white, no questions asked, without a doubt evil, I get angry, generate horrible opinions about said person, and back them up with a belief that because they're condoning something awful, I am justified in my hatred of them.

But the more I study and the more I exposit scripture in my own study and through time spent listening to the words of pastors and leaders I respect and trust, I can't hang my hat on this truth anymore.

Does God hate evil? Yes.

Does God desire that all things be made new and good and whole? Yes. (Insert Jesus and the cross here.)

But we are called to love our brothers and sisters. To pray over and yearn for their salvation. To have our hearts break over their sin and lostness (and our sin and lostness).

We can't truly love Jesus and truly pursue him and his cross and his glory while we are spewing words of hatred from the same mouth which we are shouting praise. It just can't be done.

Should we condemn evil? Yes.

Should we speak loudly and pursue justice when evil is being done? Yes.

But not to the point of forever isolating and condemning the one committing the evil. Because in reality, our hearts are just as capable of an equal or even greater evil. The only thing that sets us apart is the grace and mercy of the cross. Without that redeeming truth, we are all the same.

This is such a hard thing to write on because I know my knowledge and understanding is limited. All of us have limited and finite knowledge and understanding. But writing and reading and praying and thinking about all of these things is how I process. If it all stays jumbled up in my brain, I feel like I'm going to explode.

Fear not. I'm not going all universalist, God loves and saves every single person regardless of repentance, on you. Part of the reason that I know my God has immeasurable love is because he is perfect and just in all things. He is holy and therefore requires holiness. This is something we can never obtain on our own. It takes the blood from the cross washing over us and through substitution making us holy and blameless in the sight of the Lord. Only because of Jesus can God stand to have me near to him. Because he is perfect. Because I am so, so not perfect.

And you know what makes me worthy of that gift? Nothing.

You know what makes the abortionists at the Planned Parenthood down the road worthy of that gift? Nothing.

You know what makes that lifelong muslim worthy of that gift? Nothing.

You know what makes that man or woman struggling with gender confusion worthy of that gift? Nothing.

Take any and every hot topic in our nation right now and place that person in the question and ask what makes them worthy of the gift of the cross. The answer will always be nothing. The exact same answer we see when you insert your name in the very same sentence.

"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:6-8

So now, as you stand before the lost of this world claiming you've been covered in the blood of Jesus, don't stand atop your pedestal of self-righteous justification. Instead, stand in the shadow of the cross that made you holy and blameless before God and offer it up to each and every person that you hate, condemn, feel is unworthy, disagree with, is different from you, etc. Because you know who else can come freely to the foot of the cross just as you and I have done? Anyone and everyone.

He who has ears let him hear.

Who are we to stand in the way and say that someone is unworthy of the very grace and mercy we've received based solely on the fact that they're behaving in the only way they know how, as a sinner? No one is "too far gone" or too deep into sin or too depraved.

We can't expect the lost to act like the saved.

And we can't expect the lost to seek truth in the church that places guards at their doors picking out those they feel are worthy enough to enter.

Who are we, Church? Who are we?

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27

So instead of making God in our own image, one who hates those who act differently, believe differently, live differently, lets take off our garments of self-righteousness and put on the garments of humility, love, grace, and mercy. Let's stand at the doors of our churches shouting, all you who are weary and burdened, come in and find rest. All you cast aside, lepers, outcasts, forgotten, you are welcome here.

Because that is what my Jesus did and if you know the same man I know, your Jesus did it too.

He went to the homeless and the leper and the prostitute and the murderer. He called them out and called them up to a place of redemption on faith alone. So let's do the same. Let's call them over and say, you who are searching, this is the community you're longing for. Search no more for satisfaction in those empty places, but find wholeness and healing here. In the same place that God called me out of the darkness and into marvelous light, he is calling you too. The door is open to any and all with an ear to hear and a heart to open and a life to give. Its free and available to all. So Church, stop behaving like a dictator rationing out the grace of Jesus to those you see fit. Because if we're searching for "fit" souls, yours wouldn't qualify and neither would mine.

Praise God that we don't have to qualify. We just have to be willing to come. So let us be that place. In our cities, in our states, in our countries, in all the world.

You can find rest and restoration here among the messed up Church. Because the messiness is what makes her beautiful and real and able to welcome even the messiest of sinners.

So I'll leave you with this scripture from Romans that tells us of the marks of a true Christian.

"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
- Romans 12:9-21

This article was first published as a blog post at and is used with permission.

About The Author:

Katie H. Howard is a pastor's wife and stay-at-home mom. She loves Jesus, music, and the written word. She enjoys writing about community, spiritual growth, womanhood, and parenting. Her hope is to release women from the chains of perfectionism and into the freedom of serving God transparently in everyday life.

Source: Daily Update

Faith and Works - Elder Brother of Prodigal Son

by Pete Briscoe

I prayed for faith, and thought that some day faith would come down and strike me like lightning. But faith did not seem to come. One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, "Now faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith. I now opened my Bible, and began to study, and faith has been growing ever since. – Dwight L Moody

I firmly believe the Bible is the unchanging Word of God. But if that's the case, why is it so darn different every time I open it up? Yes, unchanging words – but the Bible is also living and active with a message that impacts me differently as my faith morphs throughout life.

The story of the prodigal son hit me in one way during college: a warning for deviant behavior. So I gritted my teeth and decided to live right for God. When I started to wear down in my 20s and early 30s, that story spoke to me again, but in an entirely different way. This time I identified with the faithful older son (who was understandably ticked off when his renegade little brother returned and his dad threw a big bash):

"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.'"
- Luke 15:28-29

Yup, the older brother is the legalist in the story. He's the one who's worked hard for God and thinks he deserves things as a result. Since I had been "working hard" for God for a long time, I began to feel I deserved some entitlements - and the bitterness of a dutiful, works-based legalism started to creep into me.

When I read the prodigal son story now, I think about other people who are straying and I pray for them, but when I get to the older brother, the sword of the Spirit pierces my heart and says through me, "O Lord Jesus, don't let me go down that bitter road."

Holy Spirit, open my ears so that I can hear the Word of God spoken to me today. I want new faith that comes from hearing Your word in new ways. Like the big brother, You have withheld nothing from me. Set me free in the truth so that I can enter the celebration and fully receive all that You are offering me. Amen.

Source: Experiencing LIFE Today

The Power to Change

by Kay Arthur

How would your life change if you committed to meeting with God everyday?

The writer of Hebrews tells us the Word of God "is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

God's Word is power. God watches over His Word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12). His Word is His plan, and His plan is something He makes happen. And so He promises, "So will My Word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). God's Word never fails! The writer of Hebrews says the Word is "active" (energes: energy, power, Hebrews 4:12).

According to 2 Timothy 3:16, God's words are "God breathed" - not inspired, meaning some kind of vague power or ghost breathed into man's preexisting words, but literally breathed or spirited out of the mouth of God. So these words did not originate in the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).

God's Word is precious, valuable, a treasure. Psalm 138:2 says, "Thou hast magnified thy Word above [KJV; modern translations read the Hebrew al and Septuagint Greek epi as "according to," but both roots mean "upon" or "above"] all thy name." That means God ranks His revelation of Himself above His name. (It's interesting that Jehovah's Witnesses reverse this order with their low view of the Word as "a god" [John 1:1] and their high view of the name "Jehovah.")

A clear, uncompromised, persuasive proclamation of the Word is the essential ingredient in effective evangelism. Think of how this was demonstrated time and time again in Billy Graham crusades. So it has been demonstrated, too, in Jesus' life and in the early Church. God regenerates by His Word of truth!

The Word sanctifies (purifies, cleanses) - "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16,17). No wonder the apostles gave themselves to undistracted prayer and the Word of God (Acts 6:4).

Take time this month to read Psalm 119 and mark every occurrence of word and its synonyms. You'll see the truth, power, life, and treasure aspects of God's Word shine forth. It's a lamp for our feet, a restraint on our sin, a sustainer, a comforter, a reviver; it's wisdom in our mouth for answering those who reproach us. Just think, Beloved, what would happen if we breathed the Word, lived it, and proclaimed it when we were jostled, stabbed, or shot at by the world. It would make a lasting difference, a difference that can stem our nation's Word crisis!

There are several things you can do to become part of this lasting difference that can alter the destructive course of our nation:

First, commit yourself to reading and passionately learning the whole counsel of God, book-by-book, and live in accordance with it, no matter the cost. I say "book-by-book" because that is the way God spoke, not in random verses without contexts. If we do this together, we will lay a foundation that can't be shaken, a foundation that will give us a biblical understanding of God and His ways. We will understand true, biblical prayer, experience deep spiritual revival, introduce the world and reintroduce our nation to the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Technology can actually help you in this endeavor. I don't play video games or watch a lot of television. But I do take every opportunity to listen to the Word of God. I listen when I put on makeup in the morning. I listen when I cook. I listen during extended car trips. I constantly practice feeding myself on the Word. If you haven't been doing this, I urge you to start. Take every opportunity to plug in to the Word to learn about God's character - His thoughts and intentions, His will - to discover His ways. Apply this knowledge of God, this wisdom, to every part of your life - your church, your marriage and family, your job and career.

Second, make pursuing God your number one, daily priority. Set aside some time from each day to study and pray in a place with minimum distractions. Take it slowly and savor the Word as you study it; let it seep into your mind and change you. It's best to proceed slowly and meditate. You'll miss a great deal if you read quickly.

Beloved, I exhort you to make knowing God and His Word the top priority of your life so that you will have the wisdom and courage to be His spokesperson wherever He places you. This is the hour for the Church; we must not miss it. As children of the day (1 Thessalonians 5), we must not sleep, but be about our Father's business - the redemption of mankind. Remember that wherever you are, you are God's salt for that place, His light to dispel darkness and bring hope.

Rekindle the fire of God's Word in your life, and don't be dismayed by the opposition. And remember: those who oppose us the most usually have the most desperate needs.

Beloved, the God of the universe wants you to know Him. Won't you join us in the pursuit of Him through prayer and His Word? You - and our world - will never be the same.

If you are looking for resources to help you study God's Word, visit our e-Store.

Kay Arthur
Host, Precepts for Life
Co-CEO, Precept Ministries International

One Body, Many Parts

By John A. Huffman, Jr.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

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.
(1 Corinthians 12:12)

A parable is told about a group of animals deciding to improve their general welfare by starting a school. The curriculum included swimming, running, climbing and flying.

The duck, an excellent swimmer, was deficient in other areas. So he majored in climbing, running and flying, much to the detriment of his swimming. The rabbit, the superior runner, was forced to spend so much of his time in other classrooms that he soon lost much of his famed speed. The squirrel, who had been rated "A" as a climber, dropped to a "C," because his instructor spent hours trying to teach him to swim and fly. And the eagle was disciplined for soaring to the treetops, when he had been told to learn how to climb, even though flying was most natural for him.

This parable circulated for years in educational circles as a reminder that people are different. Everyone is not the same. That's the genius and glory as well as the frustration of being a human being. Some of us go through life banging our heads on the wall trying to break through into success in areas in which we simply are not gifted. Others of us exploit our gifts to the neglect of those who need us.

The apostle Paul, writing to the specific pathologies of the Corinthian church, shares insights just as relevant for us today.

His topic is that of spiritual gifts. He observes a community fragmented by those who had elevated their particular gift in a way that denigrated the importance of the gifts held by others. They viewed themselves as more important.

Paul was a master communicator. He had learned the basic pedagogical lesson so well. If you're going to teach people, there needs to be both a teacher and a learner. The teacher must have a desire to teach and to have some knowledge that he or she desires to convey. The learner must have a passion to expand knowledge or expertise. The teacher who is a successful teacher is the one who conveys that knowledge in a language that is understandable to the learner.

I've sat in classes taught by professors who were overly impressed with their own brilliance. They used language that went above the heads of the students. I was intimidated by their intellectualism. It was only a couple of decades out of my formal academic training in my mid-40s that I was able to look back and realize that my best teachers were not the ones who used the most complex and erudite language. They were not the ones who were intent on impressing us students with their own brilliance. They were teachers who took their material and expressed it in a way that could be understood by the students.

There were some exceptions to this intellectual elitism. Back in 1990, Donn Moomaw, then the pastor of the Bel Air Presbyterian Church, and I spent a couple of weeks together in Scotland. One Sunday morning, we went to North Park Church in St. Andrews. We arrived early and were preparing ourselves for worship when we felt a tap on our shoulders. We turned around and were quite surprised to see that the person trying to get our attention was one of the greatest New Testament scholars in the world, Dr. Bruce Metzger, one of our professors of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. He had just completed chairing the translation of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which we now use as our pew Bibles and for our teaching and preaching here at St. Andrew's.

I was overwhelmed by the way in which Dr. Metzger introduced Donn and me to his companion of the morning, Principal Black of St. Mary's College of the University of St. Andrews, also one of the foremost scholars in the world. He said, "Principal Black, I would like to introduce to you my two dear friends, Drs. Huffman and Moomaw. The three of us studied together at Princeton." Donn and I were knocked off our feet with the humility of that introduction and have many times amused ourselves in recollection of that moment. Donn Moomaw has his unique gifts and, hopefully, so do I, but neither of us has been recognized to be two of the great research biblical scholars of our era. Persons endeavoring to be faithful exegetes of Scripture and teachers of the Word of God, yes. But Dr. Metzger's comments expressed more about him than about us and the fact that he saw us a colleagues, equals, in a joint enterprise, not as lesser beings to be looked down upon.

Paul uses pictures of speech to put to rest once and for all that intellectual and theological elitism that elevates oneself and puts down others. One of his most effective illustrations of the church is his analogy taken from the human body. Instead of discussing the nature of Christian community in a highly sophisticated way, which would either confuse or bore the majority of us, he presents to us a homey picture. It is that of the human body. He likens the Christian church to the human physical body. He has already listed certain spiritual gifts that make up that body. Each of us is gifted in particular ways. We are to discover what our individual spiritual gifts are. Those gifts have been given us to cultivate and to use in the service of the rest of the body of Jesus Christ.

If I'm a duck for whom swimming comes naturally, although I may want to learn to climb, run and fly, I am a fool if I neglect swimming. That's my area of giftedness. If I am a rabbit who comes by running naturally, I may take climbing, flying and swimming lessons, but I dare not do it to the neglect of running. As a squirrel who knows how to climb, swimming, flying and running are not areas of my primary expertise. I am not gifted in them. If I'm an eagle, how pathetic would it be to have my wings clipped by my desire to climb, run or swim, when I am able to soar high into the sky.

Even as the animal kingdom demonstrates the unique God-given giftedness to each of the animals, even so the church of Jesus Christ is made up of persons with unique gifts.

Today's picture is that of the body. The church of Jesus Christ can be seen as the animal kingdom with many uniquely gifted living creatures, all of whom contribute to nature's ecological balance. The church of Jesus Christ is like a physical body made up of individual parts, each of which has a function in ministering to the help of the entire organism.

Let's look at four basic principles that emerge from Paul's metaphor of the body.

Principle One: Diversity and unity function together in creative tension.

Another way of saying this is that, while we are not the same, each of us is important to the health of the whole.

Paul writes succinctly, "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 the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we are all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many" (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).

This says that you and I who have received Jesus Christ as Savior have the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It makes no difference what our human backgrounds are — whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, male or female — when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we are baptized into one body. Therein is the unity. This theme of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is confusing to some. They think that it is something you pray for later on in your Christian existence. Incorrect! We are baptized by the Holy Spirit when we, in authentic repentance, accept Jesus Christ as Savior. What we pray for as we move on in the process of sanctification is for the fullness of the Holy Spirit. This becomes a bit clearer to us when we understand the meaning of baptism. Baptism literally means "to change one's identity." When you come to faith in Jesus Christ, you have an identity change. You come with all the uniqueness that is yours in your human personality, and you become transplanted from that individualistic existence into the very body of Jesus Christ. You become one with Christ and with your brothers and sisters in Christ. This is unity. The body is one. That's why wherever you travel in the world, you will meet brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ of different backgrounds, languages, political ideology. But when it comes to personal conversation and public worship, you have this sense of oneness, you're in the same family, and you're part of the same body.

At the same time, there is enormous diversity. You come into the body of Jesus Christ with that uniqueness, that giftedness which is yours, and you become an essential part of the body. The principle is diversity and unity functioning together in dynamic creative tension.

You take away some organ of the body and you end up with a body that is incomplete. You are crucial to the body of Jesus Christ. Its unity depends on you being who you were created to be, functioning in harmony within the body. Not only that, its health as a body depends on you functioning in that diversity which is yours, not trying to be what you are not. As in the metaphor of the animal kingdom, if you're a duck, swim and quack. If you are a rabbit, run and nibble. If you are a squirrel, climb and jump. If you are an eagle, soar and perch. As to the body, if you are a hand, reach out and touch. If you are a heart, pump. If you are an eye, see. If you are a shoulder, carry. If you are a leg, stride. If you are a stomach, digest. If you are a brain, think. Maximize your diversity but do it with the sense of unity in which you function together with other parts of the body and that which ministers toward wholeness.

Principle Two: Competitive comparisons breed trouble.

Another way of saying this is that we desperately need each other. Face the fact that you are essential as you are, even as your brother and sister in Christ is as essential as he/she is. How sad when you want to be like that person and that person wants to be like you.

God makes no carbon copies. He specializes in originals. You are an original!

Paul had a fascinating sense of humor. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:15-19:

If the foot would 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 would 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 the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 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?

Let your imagination roam. Try to existentially identify with this metaphor. Have you ever coveted what someone else had only to feel that you would have a greater sense of belonging if you had what they had? You like the athletic ability of another person? Or you wish you had someone else's beauty? Or you wish you had the intellectual brilliance of another? Or you covet the social skills of someone else?

Paul urges you to picture the feelings of each individual part of the body.

Imagine, for example, how a foot must feel. It's not a particularly attractive appendage. For most of us, it looks better encased in a handsome shoe that covers corns and bunions. I can picture a foot wishing it were a hand. Think of all the things a hand can do. Wouldn't it be better to be hand? Let me ask you which would be better balanced? A body with two feet and two hands? Or a body with four hands and no feet, a body that is cut off at the ankles?

What if an ear would say, "Because I'm not an eye, I do not belong to the body." I have to admit I've seen some eyes that are much more beautiful than most ears at which I've looked. Picture those dark, piercing eyes that are so attractive. Look deep into those soft ethereal blue eyes of which the crooners sing. Compare them to an ear. If you are an ear evaluated through that grid, you're going to get an inferiority complex. Take a good look right now at the ear of the person sitting in front of you. Strange looking, isn't it? If the person has ears that are too large, they try to cover them a bit with a carefully arranged hairstyle. One of the sexes, in fact now both in some situations, hang items from those ears endeavoring to beautify the appearance. Can you imagine a body without ears? It would be pathetic, wouldn't it, if a body could not hear but happened to have four eyes?

Now, as beautiful as is the eye, what would you think if the whole body were an eye, one huge big eye? There would be no hearing. Or if the whole body were an ear, a six-foot ear? There would be no sense of smell. Everybody needs a nose. Just imagine if this world was populated by single organs, each one walking around independent of the other, each one jealous of the other's proclivities. This would be one mess of a world, wouldn't it? To a greater extent, that is what has happened to the church of Jesus Christ. We are like individual organs of the body, either priding ourselves in our own individual expertise and giftedness, or wishing we weren't what we are and instead wishing we were someone else with their individual gifts and abilities. We get stuck in that competitive comparison that breeds trouble.

Principle Three: Interdependence is the mode for ultimate health.

Another way of stating this is that what affects one member of the body of Christ is felt by all. We are not in this alone. We are in this together. We are not healthy if we function individualistically.

Let me underline again the word "interdependence."

Paul continues writing in 1 Corinthians 12:20-26:

As it is, there are many members, 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 members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

In a way, we are repeating what we have already said. Repetition helps us integrate deep into our being those concepts that are important.

Two primary concepts are being stressed here.

First, there is nothing or no one who is too poor or insignificant to be an important part of the body of Jesus Christ. Remember that!

As I look around the sanctuary on a given Sunday morning, I see many eyes, ears, hands, arms, legs, feet, torsos, all appropriately clothed. What I have never seen on a Sunday morning is a heart. On those few occasions that I have seen hearts in pictures or in laboratory settings, I have been fascinated by the intricacy of its workings but not particularly impressed by its beauty. Remove the heart from each of us, and we would have hundreds of corpses needing to be removed from this sanctuary. The body needs a heart, as unsightly as that organ may be.

The big toe doesn't seem to be that great of significance to a body, does it? A young man was destined to be one of the great fullbacks in college football. During his high school years, because of the combination of size, speed and agility, he had broken all sorts of records and was highly recruited by the major universities. Then on a summer job in a lumber camp, a job he had taken as much for the physical training aspects as for the income, he lost a part of his big toe in a freak accident. It ended his career as an athlete. What he discovered was that the loss of his big toe cost him his fast starts and his agility. The fact is that the church of Jesus Christ has a lot of "big toes" that are taken for granted. Nothing is too poor or insignificant to be important to the body of Jesus Christ.

Second, nothing is so big or so important that it is able to become independent.

A head cannot say to the feet, "I have no need of you." The body is in trouble without a head. At the same time, a head independent of a body is grotesque, isn't it?

The classic demonstration of this is what terrorists in the Middle East have classically done. The best way of making a point when a leader is captured is to behead that leader and impale that severed head in a public place as a clear demonstration that the leader is dead, severed of all power, and the proof is clear for all to see.

Some parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the most indispensable. Paul says that God has so composed the body that greater honor goes to the inferior parts in a kind of balancing arrangement so that there is no discord. All members of the body are to have the same care for each other.

This interdependence is driven home when we endeavor to total up the actual value of the ingredients of the human body. From one standpoint, the human body is worthless. Stop and think about it. A scientist lecturing at the Chicago Medical Association some time ago noted the chemical constituents of the average 150-pound body. It contains enough lime to whitewash a fair-sized chicken coop. It contains enough salt to fill a small shaker. It contains enough iron to make one tenpenny nail. He concluded that the actual total value of the ingredients of the human body at that time was about 98 cents. The average body is virtually worthless.

It's when the interdependence of all of the constituent parts function in symmetry with the life-giving breath from the Father that we have a healthy body. Independence is a curse. There is no such thing as exclusivity when it comes to the health of the body. You know that. A toothache in one way represents an infection of a very small member of the body. But that pain throbs through the whole system. A simple little hangnail. What could be more insignificant? What can be more aggravating? You work away at it. You bite it. You try to fix it. It only becomes more of a nuisance.

If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together. Health is holistic, both in the physical body and the body of Jesus Christ. Interdependence is the key!

Let me ask you some very frank questions about yourself.

Are you a follower of Jesus? Do you call yourself a Christian? If so, are you a person who is trying to live an independent existence?

Many people tell me they don't really need to attend church. I would very much agree, if it was just a matter of attending church. It's so much more than that. It's a matter of being part of the total body of Jesus Christ. You can't go it alone in the Christian life. That's why we stress so emphatically that our Christian existence is one that is "fleshed out" seven days a week. It is not just an hour and fifteen minutes of worship on Sunday morning or Saturday evening. It is life lived together to the very fullest in relationship with other individual parts of the body of Christ, each functioning in interdependence.

That's why we stress that you be involved in four areas of this church's life.

One, we urge you to be active in worship. It is that sacred time of coming together with other believers to sing hymns of praise, to pray, to present your tithes and offerings to the Lord, to hear the announcements of what's going on in the life of the body, to receive the teaching and exhortation from the Word of God as given in the message, to look around and see your brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ in their varied shapes and sizes, ages and backgrounds.

Two, we urge you to become involved in Christian education. You need to learn, growing intellectually, becoming increasingly aware of the things of God.

Three, we urge you to become involved in a covenant group, because you need fellowship. You need a safe place where you are known and you know. We try to have groups of ten to twelve persons. We have between a thousand and two thousand people here involved in these groups. There is no way we can produce great intimacy in this sanctuary on Sunday morning. There is that supernatural connect that comes through corporate worship. But there is more to the faith than that. Do you have several other fellow believers with whom you can share your deepest problems? Are they free to share theirs with you? Are you bearing the burdens of another in an interdependence, or are you charging off on your own, living a "Lone Ranger" existence?

Four, we urge you to live a life of service for others. Have you plugged your life into the lives of others, giving of yourself to those who would not fit naturally into your normal frame of reference? Do you live in daily awareness that there are people who are hungry, people who are homeless, people who are in prison, people who are without Christ? I know you can't solve the problems of them all. I can't either. But both you and I can have a ministry of service to someone in the name of Jesus Christ. Wherein we have done it to that someone, we become part of Christ's solution to the human dilemma, instead of being just one more person adding to that dilemma.

Principle Four: There is no such thing as exclusivity in the body of Jesus Christ.

Another way of putting this is that there are many, many spiritual gifts. There are several lists in the New Testament. These lists are not exhaustive. We read two of them last week — Romans 12:4-8 and, from this same chapter, 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. Now Paul concludes this passage with an additional list. In 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, he writes:

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 deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, 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 in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Paul is urging you and me to see our diversity blended together into unity. He is warning us against a competitive comparison that breeds trouble. He yearns for us to experience an interdependence that is the model for ultimate health. He wants us to discover the uniqueness of gifts that are ours, yearning for those that minister best to the health of the body, not those that simply show off how important we are. There is no room for an exclusivistic, narcissism. Instead, we are to put the priority on emphasizing healthy community.

God is the only one who knows fully the variety of gifts and the ultimate design He has in mind for St. Andrew's. God is the only one who knows right now how some of these principles are being fleshed out in our local congregation. I remember a woman coming to see me and sharing with me that she had been attending St. Andrew's for four years. Her husband, once fairly successful in his business career, had developed some physical and emotional problems that had caused him to shut himself off from both her and their grown children. For years, she lived in the house with this man endeavoring to meet his needs. However, he was unable to respond relationally, as he did earlier in their marriage. She worked hard at her job to hold the family together economically.

She told me the one point in her week when she felt most at home and found the inspiration and strength to carry on for another week was her time here at St. Andrew's. What came as an attraction to our worship service, now increasingly expressed itself as a felt need for greater involvement. I mentioned to her the name of another who was facing a similar situation. I suggested that she become involved in the choir and in some adult education. She did sign up for a covenant group. In her pain, weakness and aloneness, she found a healthy place as part of the body of Christ here at St. Andrew's.

And let me tell you something. Not only did she need us and me, I needed her. I needed her to tell me that all the hard work and administration, preparation, preaching, Sunday in and Sunday out, doesn't produce just a yawn. It has accomplished something helpful for someone else.

You and I need each other. When you hurt, you need me in my health. When I hurt, I need you in your health. When she hurt, she needed both of us in our health and hurt to identify with her, even as she encouraged us.

We are one body, many parts. You think about that, won't you?


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