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God’s Work or Ours?

January 30th, 2019

He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-18)

We tend to think of ourselves as the primary movers in matters of faith, that we have laid our own plans out and have sought the Lord to bless them and to help us. But the Bible has exactly the opposite perspective, that it is God who is the primary mover and He has made His plans and has sought us out in order to bless us. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).

Everything depends on the choosing of God, of His calling to our hearts, and of His moving in our lives that we might turn from sin and turn to Him in faith. And not just in our lives, but in the lives of those around us. God takes the initiative in all things spiritual. And when we have dedicated our lives to Him it is God who invites us to join Him on His mission – it is NOT us who invite God to join us on our mission. It is no mistake or mere mindless expression that we call being a Christian “following Christ.” We follow Him. We do not lead Him and ask Him to follow us.

And this was also the modus operandi of Jesus. Jesus saw His own work while on earth as entirely dependent on the Father. He said: “To this very day My Father is at His work, and I too am working… the Son can do nothing by Himself, unless He sees the Father doing it” (John 5:17-19). God shows us what He is doing and then invites us to join Him. And He said our work for Him is entirely dependent on Him: “I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 

There are always those Christians around who are more excited about what they are doing for God than what He is doing for them. They are more committed to their plans than to God’s plans. And there is also a negative reaction by others against some of the things that they think are being done by human will and not by God’s Spirit. But this reaction can also be just a show of the old sinful man in us. It is often the suspicion against human will that is done also by human will, and the fear that they will also not get their own way. In fact, I am often amazed at what is considered wrong and “evil” by some. Some in Europe have a built-in prejudice against large churches, consigning them all together as “evil.” And, sadly, they fail to note that the very first church in the Bible was several thousand strong, multi-cultural, and with multiple staff members (see Acts 2:37-47).

But the Christian life and ministry become fun when we start to grasp this principle of seeing God at work, and joining Him on His mission. In fact, Christ said God showed Him what He was doing out of love: “The Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does. And to your amazement, He will show Him even greater works than these” (John 5:20). And Christ called us to also “abide” in His love:

As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love. I have told you these things so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)

Christ calls us to joy, to join Him on His mission, to follow Him and see how He is at work.

Whenever we do not grasp this principle of God taking the initiative in all things spiritual, then we will rely too strongly on marketing, innovation, our own will, and getting our way. We will make ourselves the “heroes” of a story that has only one true Hero – Christ Himself. But if we can grasp this truth of His leadership, and get out of the way and simply follow, then we will find ministry and church to be exciting. God is at work!

Ephesians, Missions

Missions at Christmas

December 14th, 2018

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21-23 ESV)

Christmas is the celebration of Christ coming to this earth to save us from our sins. He came because He was sent. And He sends us out into the world in the same way. Because of this, world missions is inseparably attached to the meaning of Christmas. These words He spoke were not meant only for the original apostles, but rather they are passed down to each generation of believers in Christ, as Christ commissioned the apostles, “Teaching them to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19).

Sent

The Bible explains in great detail that the Son of God was sent to this earth. The word often used in the New Testament for “send” is apostello. It carries the idea of someone sent on a mission for a superior. The noun form became “apostle” in English, and teaches that the apostles did not go out on their own authority, but that they were sent out under the authority of our Lord. And we also are sent by our Lord into the world.

Given

We cannot take this passage in John 20 without also considering John 3:16, where it speaks of God “giving” the Son for the sins of the world. This is the nature of being sent into the world for the Father, that Christ was given over to be mistreated by the world. And Christ sends us in the same way, into the world to be mistreated, misunderstood, and even abused by the world.

Came

But also in John’s gospel, especially chapter 1, it says that Christ “came” into the world, and this emphasizes the choice of the Son in His coming to this earth. He was sent, but did not begrudgingly come. He was given, but not against His own heart and desire. God the Son and God the Father coexist in perfect agreement with one another, as does the Spirit of God. There is no schism in the Godhead, but the Great Three-in-One exist eternally in perfect harmony.

So we also are sent into the world as people on mission from our superior, the Lord Christ. And we are given to the world to fill up the sufferings “still lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). This passage does not mean that there is anything lacking in the payment of Christ for the sins of the world. He and He alone completely satisfied all that was required in the heart of holy God for the payment of the sins of the whole world.  Rather it means that there are still people and circumstances where the followers of Christ are called to be inconvenienced and even persecuted for the benefit of certain people in certain places.

But we also come to the world in the same love and compassion of the Father and of the Christ. For example, the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2, begins the chapter by speaking of his “coming” to the Corinthians as an apostle and evangelist, and he ends the chapter with the declaration, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). And could we find a passage that teaches this principle more clearly than Philippians 2?

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 2:1-5)

The Spirit of God puts people on our hearts today, and as we walk with Him in fellowship we find His love becomes our love. If we forget this point we will have a misshapen idea of the mission of the church. As imperfectly as we do this, let us continually open our hearts for the Spirit to place His love in our hearts.

A common observation made by some preachers is that when Christ said to Peter, “Do you love me? … Feed my sheep” (John 21:17), that Christ did not ask him, “Do you love my sheep?” There is a point to this observation in terms of our overall sending and obligation to preach to and care for those who we find disagreeable, and that it is our love relationship with Christ that will serve as the primary motivation to do so – His love in us and through us to others.

But it is incorrect and an abuse of scripture to suggest that anyone who walks with the Spirit of Christ will remain unloving in his heart. In the John 20 passage above Christ emphasized the role of the Spirit in going into the world. We need Him. As we grow we will also love in our hearts the ones whom Christ loves. Sometimes we love people out of our own sympathies, or because we simply “connect” with them and enjoy being with them. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this, but we must keep before us always, in the dominant place of our minds and hearts, not our own human sentiment for some people, but the eternal love of the eternal God who embraces all.

And the longer we are saved the more we should see all people in this light, as Paul wrote:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:28-29)

 

Christmas, Missions