One of us is wrong…

“For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” – 1 Corinthians 11:18-19

I know of Christian organizations that avoid taking a stand on some of the issues that divide the church. Since they serve the whole Church, they don’t want to take sides; they choose to avoid divisive issues altogether in order to focus on the things that unite.

At this point you’re probably wondering, “what issues?” so let’s use same-sex marriage as the example. To those that say that Jesus said nothing about same-sex marriage, I would say that the Gospels, along with the rest of the Scriptures, say enough about marriage in general for us to draw a clear conclusion; but let’s move on to the subject at hand.

What if the way we look at division is the problem? I’m not suggesting that in our dialogue (if there is any at all) that we resort to screaming and name-calling or that we not speak the truth in love.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul wrote, “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”  The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “For doubtless there have to be factions or parties among you in order that they who are genuine and of approved fitness may become evident and plainly recognized among you.”

In other words, it is through divisions that we learn who is right, according to the Scriptures.

If there is truth to be spoken (and there is), then it is the duty of all of us in the Body of Christ to seek it out. It means doing the hard work of studying and prayerfully ransacking the Scriptures, (to borrow a phrase from John Piper), to learn what God has said in his Word on a particular matter.

We can’t avoid the difficult issues for the sake of unity, but we must be unified in our desire to get the mind of Christ on the difficult issues.

And then we should speak; plainly, clearly and truthfully in love to each other,

“until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph. 4.13-16).

That’s part of seeking unity in Christ; not seeking to bring others into line with our thinking, but seeking to bring our thinking into line with Christ’s.

How quick we can be to despise the things of God!

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” – Numbers 11.4-6

After a year at Sinai, after seeing the first miraculous appearance of the bread from heaven, after drinking water from the rock, after seeing God’s glory descend on the mountain, and after receiving the commandments, the Israelites were influenced by the ‘rabble’ among them. They were the non-Israelites that had followed the children of Israel out of Egypt; they were tagging along for the ride to the Promised Land, but were not children of the covenant. They began to crave the life that they had left behind in Egypt, where they could satisfy their fleshly appetites.

This craving spread to the Israelites who wept and moaned, “But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.

Who do we allow to influence us? Is it those who have been called to follow Christ, or is it those who are tagging along to enjoy His blessings, without partaking of His covenant? If it is the latter, then beware, lest we begin to view the things of God as mundane, or even something to be despised.

Submission vs. Permission: Since when does God need our permission?

I need to get something off my chest.

I have heard prayers from the pulpit that say, “Holy Spirit, we give you permission to work in our lives” and I have also heard some testify to God working in their lives, “even without permission.”

Whenever I hear that, my mind says “WHAT?!” [Insert sound of tires screeching here]

If the Sovereign Lord (Acts 4.24) does all that he pleases in heaven on earth (Psalm 115.3; 135.6, Daniel 4.35), then how is it that He needs our permission do to anything?

If none can stay his hand and or say to Him “What have you done?” (Dan. 4.35; Rom 9.19-20), then where does the notion come from that we can grant God permission to work in our lives?

Perhaps we confuse permission with submission.

Permission is something that is granted. Permission is the exercise of one’s authority to allow something to take place. Is our authority greater than God’s?  I don’t think so. God is the one who grants; throughout the Scriptures he grants favor, life, blessings, mercy, wisdom and ultimately, repentance and salvation. (Go ahead, do a word search on the word “grant” and its variations in the Scriptures).

Submission is yielding to an authority greater than our own. We submit to God (James 4.7); the church submits to Christ (Eph. 5.24); Jesus submitted to the Father (Luke 22.42). God does not submit to us.

I’ll leave you with Daniel 4.35 from the Contemporary English Version:

“God controls the stars in the sky

and everyone on this earth.

When God does something,

we cannot change it

or even ask why.”

Going forward, let’s make sure that we submit to God, for He surely does not need our permission to work in us.

What then, shall we do?

“Bear fruits in keeping with your repentance.” – Luke 3.8

In this verse we find both challenge and reassurance.

The challenge comes from James as well, that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2.14-26).

The reassurance comes from knowing that the works that accompany our faith have already been prepared for us to walk in (Eph. 2.10).  Jesus himself said that he has chosen and appointed us to bear fruit that lasts (John 15.16).

And what of the faith by which we have been saved? It too, is a gift of God (Eph. 2.8), that we may not boast.

What then should be the actions of the believer?

“Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” – Psalm 37.3-6

It is the Lord who will fulfill our desires; it is the Lord who will act; it is the Lord who will bring forth our righteousness, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5.15).

He has done all and will do all to his glory!

Passive or Active?

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!” – Psalm 139.1

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” – Psalm 139.23

David begins his writing of Psalm 139 by acknowledging the sovereignty, omniscience and omnipresence of God. David goes on to extol God as creator, in a very intimate way, acknowledging that God knows him better than he knows himself. And that’s where the trust and submission of David starts to show:

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!” (V.17)

David has learned that God’s thoughts are higher than his (Isaiah 55.8), and knows not to lean on his own understanding. (Proverbs 3.5)

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” – (v.23-24)

It’s one thing to passively acknowledge God, but it’s quite another to actively invite him to search us and dig into our lives; to try us, scrutinize us, removing the dirt and leading us according to his ways – ways that we naturally rebel against.  That’s the challenge, isn’t it?

Is our Christian walk a passive one, like a stubborn child being pulled along by its parents? Or are active in our pursuit of Him, trusting that wherever He leads and whatever circumstances he brings will lead us “in the way everlasting?

 

Scripture trumps experience

“And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” – 2 Peter 1:19-21

This prophetic word, or the Scripture, is ‘more sure’ than our experiences – even those in Christ.  In his letter to the church, Peter testifies (vs. 16-18) to his eyewitness account of his time with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9.28-36). But he doesn’t just leave us to take his word for it; he points us back to the ‘prophetic word,’ or the Scripture, as ‘something more sure’ than his own experience.

Just as the apostles heard Peter, Paul and Barnabas testify to the things God had done among the Gentiles (Acts 15.6-14), that experience was also measured against the Scripture, when James replied, “and with this, the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written” (Acts 15.15).

This is why we must heed Peter’s exhortation to ‘pay attention’ to the Scripture; for the Scripture is what we must measure our experiences against. The Scripture is as ‘a lamp shining in a dark place (v. 19, cf. Ps. 119.105), to illuminate our walk until Christ returns. We have the assurance that the Scripture was not produced by the will of man, but by the Holy Spirit, “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3.16).

We must pay attention to the Scripture; for Peter warns us that false teachers and scoffers will come among us with destructive heresies, even denying Christ himself. They will share their experiences, “going on in detail about visions” (Col. 2.18), but their words will be false. They will come to us as the devil came to Jesus (Matt. 4.1-11), pushing us to prove ourselves by questionable deeds, but we must fight back with the Word of God (Eph. 6.17).

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 Tim. 3.16-17)

Let us read, study and pay attention to the Scripture; for without it, we will remain “children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine and human cunning.” (Eph. 4.14)

This walk takes work

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12.14

 

“…seek peace and pursue it.” – 1 Peter 3.11

Strive. Pursue. These words are usually associated with personal or material gain. We’re told to strive for success and excellence; we must pursue our goals and dreams in this life.

But the Scripture exhorts us to strive for peace with everyone. This walk of faith takes work.

Striving is what we do when there are obstacles, resistance and even danger that would keep us from our stated goals.  We press on; we don’t give up; we move forward when everything within us screams, “quit!

This is how we are to pursue peace and the building up of one another in the Church. Disagreements and misunderstandings must be worked through. Forgiveness must be sought and given. Peace doesn’t happen on its own; it must be desired, sought and pursued like a prized goal.

What will come from this striving?

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13.35

The world around us will know that we are Christians not just by where we go to church; they will know we are Christians by how we live.

Imagine that.