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The Struggle for Unity

October 6th, 2017

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11-14 NIV)

If it were not for the Holy Spirit of God I would despair for the unity of the church. We are so different from one another - backgrounds, personalities, cultures, ages, educations, opinions about Scriptures, opinions about priorities and how things ought to be done in church, and these only scratch the surface.

Add on top of these the personal histories we accumulate in life and in church life, the collection of hurts and betrayals we all carry in our souls. Elsewhere we are taught to “bear with one another” (Colossians 3:13). To bear with means to endure despite disappointments and difficulties, despite the things that people say and do that hurt us, despite those pretend smiles that people put on in our presence and then say terrible things behind our backs, despite old wounds of our past, despite fatigue, and despite how manipulative some people are.

Who can do such things? Who of us can forgive everything and start afresh with all people? Who can pretend as if nothing was said, as if no offense was given, as if there is no cause for disappointment or, at least, for distrust, despite the fact that the paint is often not even dry on our painful memories?

Our only hope is to stand daily in the grace and power of God, to surrender our strength and to ask God to fill us with Himself. “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,” was the prayer of David (Psalm 61:2). Thank God that we can live in His power! Thank God that there is a way of surrender to Him, to let Him wash over us in grace and to fill us with Himself!

And we should thank God for our challenges also, for the difficult people and circumstances, for they teach us of our need for greater strength - that is if they do not drive us completely crazy first.

Strive for full restoration: Do not stop short of this goal and never be satisfied with anything less that complete transformation or complete restoration of our souls into the image of God. The King James says simply, “be perfect,” but the NIV and the ESV both take the lead from two verses earlier where Paul wrote, “we are praying for your perfection” (2 Cor. 13:9). The NIV and ESV both correctly translate the word “full restoration” and “restoration” though there is nothing wrong with the translation of “perfection.”  This teaches the often emphasized goal of our conversion and transformation to be perfect like God is perfect (Leviticus 19:2 and Matt. 5:48 and 1 Peter 1:15).

Encourage one another: Paul did not have authority to tear them down, only to build them up (2 Cor. 13:10), and we also only have divine authority to build each other up (Eph. 4:29). Rebukes may be needed from time to time, but they should always be given in the context of the greatness of God’s grace. The goal is not to shame only, not to tear them down only, but ultimately to restore and perfect them.

Be of one mind: Agreement can only be found as we worship Christ and submit to His rule in our lives, and as we agree to support and follow our church leadership. We must have both in a church - surrender to the Lord and support for leadership. Being of our mind will never be experienced if everybody just voices his own opinion and demands his own way. There maybe discussions and studies and genuine questions asked, but ultimately, if we will be of one mind, we must agree to go the same direction.

Live in peace: There are a thousand things neighbors can argue about with one another. This morning, for example, I noticed that one of my young neighbors failed to properly sort his garbage - we share the same apartment building garbage containers. I decided that the most God-honoring thing I could do this morning was to simply take big bag of clothing he put in the container for general trash (and thereby using up all the space), and simply dropping it off at the proper disposal place on my way to work this morning - it took about five minutes to do that. If it happens repeatedly, then perhaps I should speak with him.

But to live in peace means to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they mean well, to look for common interests and common goals, to exercise patience with one another, and, when necessary, to deal with differences in a clear and gracious way.

All of these things are possible only because of the grace of God and the Spirit of God. But we must keep our eyes on the goal of God for our lives and for one another’s lives. That we could desire in us and through us, as individuals and as a family of believers, that God would be glorified is the attitude that we must guard at all times.

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Examine Yourselves

October 5th, 2017

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 NIV)

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Paul here says that the unexamined faith may be faulty, a wrong foundation for life and for eternity.

He was concerned that some of the people in the greater church fellowship were not true believers in Christ - and this applied even to the leaders. Some had forgotten the centrality of the cross in their teachings (1 Cor. 2:1-5) and they had built upon the foundation of Christ using “wood, hay, and stubble” (1 Cor 3:12). They had neglected the Word of God (1 Cor. 4:6), the proper respect toward the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20-22), and the principle of love (1 Cor. 13). Their worship was chaotic (1 Cor. 14), their moral judgment decadent (1 Cor. 6-7), and their “gospel” neglected central truths (1 Cor. 15:1-10).

An appeal to the lost: What conclusion could he come to other than that some of the people were not saved at all?

He was not concerned that they had once been saved and then lost their faith. Such a thing was unthinkable to Paul who wrote: “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (1 Cor. 13:8). A Christian may lapse into error under the deceptive influence of the devil, but a Christian cannot deliberately choose error because the Spirit of God will prevent him from doing so.

But he knew that some in the larger fellowship of the church - who were not in the true church of God at all - might hear this word and realize that they needed to repent and believe in Jesus. The test was in their own lives, that Christ was to be there, living in them. And if He was not, then they failed the test, and needed to be saved. He had already put forward the indispensable elements the gospel - that Christ died for our sins and rose again (1 Cor 13:3-5) - and faith must stand upon a promise or command of God. But the result of faith in Christ, then and now, is that Christ lives within those who believe. Christ is in us and we are in Him.

There are some in the church that have merely gone through the motions to fit in with their friends or to be accepted by others. They raised their hand, went forward during the invitation, or perhaps were even baptized, but it was always pretend with them, an effort to identify with their friends. The supreme test of faith is whether we have been changed on the inside, and have a relationship with Christ. To us we should stop to ask and search our hearts: Is Christ in us? Has He touched us deep inside? Are we converted? Do we know Him? Is our heart changed? Do we speak to Him? Do we love Him?

If the answers are no to these questions then you can speak to Christ right now in faith that He hears and profess your faith in Him.

Appeal to the saved: These words also cause true believers to search our hearts as well, not to cause doubt in us that God is untrue to His promises or that we cannot know that we are saved. His goal is just the opposite - that we may know we are saved. The King James Version says, “except ye be reprobates,” but the word in the original is adokimos meaning “inferior” or “not of suitable quality.” It was used with metals that were deemed to be adulterated and impure - not that they had once been pure and then they became impure.

It is ironic that these words which were intended to teach us the means to gain assurance have been twisted to teach just the opposite, that we may never know if we are saved. He affirms here that we may know that we are saved, that we do not need to live in doubt. Sin causes an absence of assurance in our hearts, but repentance and confession of sin to God returns us to a condition of confidence in Him. Consider these scriptures:

I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. (1 Tim. 1:12)

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. (1 John 3:14)

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: (1 John 3:19)

And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:24)

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13)

God does not desire us to live in doubt about our salvation, rather He wants us to live in confidence in Him. We stand in Him and our faith rests upon Him.

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