Archive for April, 2016

Christian Companionship

April 27th, 2016

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42, NKJV)

Baptism was a two-fold sign for the new believer: a sign of his faith in Christ and a sign of his association with other Christians.

There have been times in the history of the church when “who baptized you” was more important than “in whose name” you were baptized. That was because baptism inevitably brought up the issue of Christian companionship.

The English word “companion” comes from the Latin – a combination of com, meaning “with,” and panis, meaning “bread” – literally “those with whom we break bread,” and there is no better evidence of the significance of this than in the early church. When we use the word “company” we are conjuring up in modern language the ancient practice of eating together, of sharing food and the stuff of life.

The inadequacy of a private faith: One of the great meanings and applications of this passage is the inadequacy of a “too private” faith. In some way everyone’s faith should have a private and personal element – we have our own relationship with Christ, we saw our own private prayers, and the heart has burdens that it cannot easily share with anyone but God. And there are times when we must pull away in solitude for study and prayer – just as Jesus, Paul, David, Elijah, Daniel, John, and others did.

Yet the Lord calls us to community and we cannot hide out from others for ever. Even from the start of our Christian experience we need others. We must hear the gospel from someone else, and no matter how little others may have been involved we must each admit that other Christians were an indispensable element in our salvation. We must grow and mature through the teaching, instruction, encouragement, leadership, help, and examples of other Christians.

And God calls us to serve others, to return to the community the kindness and instruction that we have received, even to preach the gospel to the lost. So we cannot become a believer without the help of others, nor mature as a believer, nor function as a believer without associating with others.

The promise of the Christian community: God in his love has given us Christians to one another. This is especially seen in the gift to the church of those called to special roles, especially, today, the role of pastor-teacher. “And He Himself gave some to be … pastors and teachers, for the equipping of saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13). But this principle applies to every Christian for each is given a spiritual gift “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).

We would not know what love was without it being exercised toward us by other Christians. Even though we are imperfect servants, imperfect examples, and imperfect teachers, yet we are still God’s tools to do this essential work. And our imperfections also call upon us all to live with the constant need to forgive one another, just as we have received God’s forgiveness.

Someone anonymously wrote the little verse:

To live above
With saints we love,
That would be glory!
But to dwell below
with saints we know,
That is a different story!

And it makes us smile, even though it also challenges us to love one another. I am convinced that God allows certain people to come into our lives so that we might simply grow in compassion and love and understanding. He places people in our path and in our lives that are very different from us, that challenge us to even begin to understand where they are coming from, what has shaped their perspectives, and what has formed their opinions.

It is an easy thing to judge others and say they are inferior, to shut them out and decide they are unspiritual. I am not saying that there is not a time when such actions are necessary, just as Paul said that he handed over Hymeneus and Alexander to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). But these are the exception and not the rule. The commands are to love, to forgive, to pray for one another, to be patient with one another, to tenderly seek to understand, and not just to be understood.

There is no other way given: Christ has given us no other way to grow in the faith other than by dealing with others. Though we may experience both the best and the worst of what is in the church, though we rub shoulders with giants in the faith and those who seem to have barely “escaped through the flames” (1 Cor 3:15), yet in each situation we are better off for having done so. Either our knowledge will be deepened, or our sympathy and compassion will be strengthened through the challenge of loving those difficult to love.

“Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33), so I am not saying we should take no precautions, that just any Christian will make us more godly. Many, unfortunately, will not. But neither should we abandon them, nor cease to pray for them, nor exercise compassion and sympathy – even if it can only be empathy.

To seek to “go it alone” in the Christian life reveals pride. God did not leave us alone. He is with us and He desires to make us unified and as one as we follow him (John 17:20-23). It is Christ in us through which love is perfected and his glory revealed.

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Character and Understanding

April 26th, 2016

With the kind You show Yourself kind; With the blameless You show Yourself blameless … The LORD my God illumines my darkness. (Psalm 18:25-28)

When I was a teenager – and I still remember this moment like it was yesterday – I was beginning to learn what it meant to be a serious follower of Christ. Having come from a period of teenage rebellion against God and church, I was getting into his word and seeking to follow him daily. But I was also beginning to be just a bit judgmental toward those friends of mine who were not as serious as I was.

It was the New Testament rephrasing of the Psalm 18 passage above that God used to get my attention: “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled” (Titus 1:15). I realized that my judgmental attitude toward others was simply coming from a defiled heart and a guilty conscience.

To those who walk with God, whose hearts are humble, who let him light their path, they see everything in the shade of grace. Grace covers everything in their life and in the lives of others. It is not that they cannot tell the difference between good and bad, or between good people and bad people. They understand both the righteousness of God and the unrighteousness of the world. But it is the righteousness, love, and grace of God that reinterprets everything else around them.

And the critical person, the judgmental person, the one who only has negative things to say about the world, who can always think of an unkind remark to make about any person – that person will have allowed the impurity of their own soul to color everything else, and everyone else.

I spoke with someone the other day comparing the the symptoms of our migraine headaches. He had a strange reaction that reconfigured how he saw light, where everything was suddenly much, much brighter – not an unusual migraine aura. Unfortunately it was merely a warning to him that a migraine was about to strike.

But it was in his brain that the difference was experienced. The light itself had not changed and become brighter, rather his brain re-interpreted the light. Though his experience brought pain, I thought that something similar should happen in the heart of every Christian that should bring joy and peace. The grace of God and the peace of God enables us to see everyone from a different point of view, in a different light.

Paul wrote, “From now on we recognize no one according to the flesh … if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come!” (2 Cor. 5:16-17) We have a choice: we may either let the grace and peace of God purify our hearts and then through this new blood bought purity see everybody else, which will result in hope, peace, love, and joy, or we can hold on to impurity and we will see everyone’s faults and live in absolute misery.

Do you want to know God as the merciful, kind, loving heavenly Father he is? Do you want to see others in light of their potential in Christ? Do you want to live in the reality of the grace and love of God daily? Then it is simple. Walk daily confessing your sins and thank God for his grace. Embrace the reality of his love through faith, and let this lens of the Word and of the Spirit be what reinterprets God and the whole world around you.

You will be happier, and so will everyone you touch.

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