Thursday, June 21, 2018

Growth Is the Work of God

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.”

(1 Corinthians 3:5-9 ESV)

Ministry can be frustrating. And this is true of ministry whether it’s that of the individual, the local congregation, or mission work in a distant land. It can be frustrating because we aren’t seeing the results we’d like.

We’ve served for years and made every effort to reach out to the lost. Yet, despite our efforts, we see few, if any, coming to faith in the Lord. Despite our efforts, growth is either minimal or nonexistent.

Let’s face it, we all want to see growth. We want to see people receiving the grace of God. We want to feel like we’ve achieved something.

Seeing no results, we feel like failures. We feel like the church is dying. We feel that our efforts to reach out are futile.

Although Paul was addressing a conflict in the church, the above passage speaks to our frustration. We, too, deal with factions in the church. We, too, believe that one leader is better or more effective than another. But we’re reminded, in this passage, that growth is God’s work and not our own.

When speaking of himself and Apollos, Paul says that they are nothing. They did their jobs: One of them planted and one of them watered. But it was God who gave the growth.

The same, then, is true of us. In ourselves, we are nothing. We must do our job. We must carry out our calling. But we must bear in mind that it’s not we who cause the growth. It’s the Lord who does so.

This doesn’t give us permission to slack off. It doesn’t mean that we can excuse a lack of preparation for a sermon or a Bible study. It doesn’t excuse our lack of effort to improve and to grow in our preaching, teaching, and evangelism. And it doesn’t excuse our lack of effort to conduct ourselves as well as possible.

However, we must remember that we cannot change the hearts of men. Nor can we instill faith into the hearts of men. This is the work of God.

We must simply carry on in the calling God has entrusted to us. We must serve as faithfully as possible. And whether we are seeing results or not, we must remember that it’s God who gives the growth.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Equal Standing Before God

“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

(2 Peter 1:1-2 ESV)

The above passage is the introduction to the book of 2 Peter. And our tendency is to pay little attention to passages such as these. They come across as a mere greeting as the letter begins.

However, something in the introduction of this book sticks out like a sore thumb. Peter addresses this letter to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with his own. And this tells us that there was no distinction between his faith and theirs.

This is important because we tend to see a distinction between our faith and that of others. Our tendency is to look upon certain people as possessing greater worth than ourselves. We have a tendency to look upon some as more spiritual and others as less spiritual.

We tend to believe that the apostles possessed a faith that was superior to our own. We tend to think that pastors and missionaries have a faith that’s superior to our own. We tend to think that those lay-leaders in the church, who are involved in everything, have a faith superior to our own.

We also let this mindset play out in terms of practice. We believe that the prayers of those with a higher status of faith are more likely to be heard and answered than those with a lower status. We believe that those with a higher status of faith are more deserving of blessing than those with a lower status. We feel that others are far more qualified to minister to others because they have a greater status of faith than we do.

However, Peter tells them, they had a faith of equal standing to his own. Even though he was Jewish and many of them were not, their faith held equal standing to his own. Even though he was an apostle and they were not, their faith held equal standing to his own.

This phrase is worded a little differently in various translations, but it brings home the same point. The NASB says it this way: To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours…” And the Holman Christian Standard Bible says: “To those who have received a faith equal to ours…”

This phrase means that their faith has the same value. It means that it grants the same privileges. There is no distinction.

There is no difference because the source of their faith was the same. It had been received by the righteousness of Jesus. In other words, the righteousness of Jesus provided for them the same faith and the same standing before God.

It was in no way dependent upon their goodness or virtue. And we tend to think that it is, regardless of the fact that this belief contradicts the gospel itself. Our faith, our salvation, and our blessing are gifts of God given freely to us in spite of our sin.

This, then, is an encouragement to us. We are not of a lesser standing than others in the church. Our faith is not less valuable than that of others. Our faith doesn’t provide lesser privileges when compared to that of others. We share a faith of equal standing. And this is true because the source of our faith is the same.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Resisting the Enemy

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

(1 Peter 5:8-11 ESV)

When it comes to the enemy, we tend to go to one of two extremes. There are those of us who fear him to an extreme. We don’t understand the power of God, and his power over Satan.  And, for this reason, we don’t trust in the power of God to overcome him.

However, there are also those of us who don’t seem to think he’s any real threat whatsoever. We recognize the power that God has over Satan and, because of this, we disregard him completely. We seem to downplay the danger he poses.

Scripture is clear that Satan is real. Scripture is clear that he’s a powerful being. And Scripture is clear that he poses a very serious threat.

It’s for this reason that Peter warns us, as he does, in the above passage. He tells us that we must be watchful and that we must be sober-minded. And we must do so because Satan is bent on destroying us.

He tells us that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion. He does so seeking someone to devour. His goal is our destruction. His intention is our ruin.

Peter, in this passage, seems to be referring to persecution in particular. And the enemy does use persecution in an effort to destroy our faith and hope. Yet, he can pursue his goal in other ways as well.

He may use temptation. He may target us where we most struggle, enticing us to sin. He may use our emotions. He may play off of our feelings of fatigue or despair to distract us from our hope. He may use the pressure of the world. He may use our sense of isolation and distinctiveness to cause us to bow under its weight.

For this reason, we’re called to resist him. We’re not to give in under the weight of his attack. We’re to continue our struggle against him every moment of every day. And we’re to do so no matter how things may outwardly seem.

We're to do so firm in our faith. And we’re to do so knowing that, even though things may be difficult, God will establish us. We’re to do so knowing that, although our circumstances are hard,  he will strengthen us and restore us.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Bringing Our Concerns to the Lord

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

(1 Peter 5:6 ESV)

Most of us take for granted our ability to approach God in prayer. We continually bring to him our requests without thinking twice about it. But, that being said, few of us approach him rightly. Our tendency is to approach him in ways that downplay our dependence on him, that exalt us, or that lower him before us.

Quite often, we approach God in a spirit of arrogance. We treat him like a Genie, who is bound to grant our every wish. We treat him like a Santa Claus in the sky, expecting that he’ll give to us each and every thing for which we ask.

We also come to him believing that we deserve the blessings for which we ask. In fact, we come to him believing it would be wrong of him to deny our request. And, for this reason, any unmet request is understood as a failure on the part of God.

We often approach God as an equal, attempting to bargain with him. We ask him to give to us something we need and cannot provide for ourselves. And, in return, we offer to provide for him something he cannot acquire on his own.

We come to God, insisting that he demonstrate his love for us by granting our requests. However, in times when we don’t perceive a need, or once our needs have been met, we completely disregard him. We demonstrate no love for him whatsoever.

However, as we see in the above passage, we are to approach God humbly. But not only is this the case. We’re encouraged to bring to him our requests for no other reason than the fact that he cares for us.

Jesus, in Matthew 7, compares God to a loving Father who longs to give good gifts to his children. He longs to provide for them the things that they need. He doesn’t need to be convinced. He doesn’t require anything in return. And he’s willing to do so despite the fact that we’re undeserving.

In this knowledge, in this faith, we should approach God in prayer. We should cast all of our anxieties upon him trusting in the fact that he cares for us. We should cast our cares upon him knowing that, out of his Fatherly affection, he’ll graciously meet our needs.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Approaching God Rightly

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…”

(1 Peter 5:6 ESV)

Most of us would say that we approach God in a humble manner. He is God, after all. He is the all-knowing, all-powerful God of the universe. He’s the creator and sustainer of all things. He is our source of life both in this world and in the world to come.

We would also say that we approach God in a humble manner because of who we are. We are the creation. We’re limited in power and knowledge. We’re capable of doing only what God has empowered us to accomplish.

We are also a sinful people. Our heart and mind are corrupt. And, as a result of our sin, we’re subject to suffering and death.

However, even though we may sincerely believe this to be true, reality is far different. We rarely approach God in a humble manner. More often than not, we approach him arrogantly. In fact, we often approach him in a condescending manner.

We approach him believing that we know better than him. We look at the way he handles the affairs of our world and we disapprove. We think to ourselves how we would do things differently. We think to ourselves how we would do things better.

We offer our prayers to him, instructing him how he can best answer them. We often give him step by step instructions so that he can better meet our needs and fulfill our desires. And we become frustrated with him when he works in a different manner.

We look to his Word, and we find issues that we disagree with. We don’t like the way he’s ordered the home and society, because it seems sexist. We don’t like his instructions for marriage and divorce because it seems too restrictive. We don’t like what he says regarding issues like homosexuality and gay marriage because it seems old-fashioned and oppressive. And, because of this, we rewrite it. We reinterpret it so that it better fits our desired understanding.

How arrogant! How prideful! How dare we!

We must repent of the many ways we approach God in an arrogant manner. We must confess our sin, seeking his mercy. And we must humble ourselves before him.

Peter then gives to us a wonderful promise. He gives us a promise that echoes the teaching of Jesus. He tells us to humble ourselves so that, at the proper time, God may exalt us.

Jesus says, in Matthew 23:12, that whoever exalts himself will be humbled and that whoever humbles himself will be exalted. In other words, God will bring low those who raise themselves up. But the one who lowers himself, the one who views himself modestly, will be raised up by God.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Showing God’s Grace to Others

“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
(Colossians 3:12-13 ESV)

As believers, as people of the church, we sometimes find ourselves living a contradiction. And there’s one such contradiction that often affects our relationships.  It affects our relationship with our spouse, children, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow church members.

We understand the teaching of Scripture. We understand the message of the gospel. We believe and confess that we are a sinful people. We believe and confess that we are in no way deserving of salvation. We believe and confess there’s no way we can earn salvation. And we believe and confess that, in spite of our condition, God has graciously provided for us the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of everlasting life.

However, when it comes to our relationships here in this world, it seems that we forget these truths. Even though we believe that all people are sinful, we seem to think that they should never sin against us. Even though we believe that there’s no way we could ever become deserving of God’s love and forgiveness, we seem to think that others must become deserving of our own.  And even though we believe that God’s love is given to us as a free gift, we demand to be paid back for our own.

I’m certainly not trying to excuse the harm others have done to us. I’m also not denying the fact that, when others harm us, they’re to confess their sin and repent of it. However, we are clearly holding people to standards they could never attain. We are holding them to standards to which we could never measure up.

This is harmful to any relationship. It’s setting our relationships up for failure. Just as God is gracious with us, so must we be gracious with one another.

This is exactly what Paul is telling us in the above passage. As believers, we’re to be compassionate with one another. We’re to be kind to one another. We’re to approach one another in a spirit of humility and meekness. We are to be patient, and bear with one another. And, if we have a complaint against one another, we’re to forgive.

He tells us that we’re to forgive one another just as Christ has forgiven us. As Jesus forgives us freely, we must freely forgive one another. As he forgives, demanding nothing in return, we must forgive others demanding nothing in return. As he forgives us again and again, so must we forgive one another again and again. As he forgives our continual failure without giving up on us, we forgive the continual failure of others without giving up on them. As he bestows his grace upon us, so must we extend grace to one another.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Regarding our Fellow Believers Rightly

“…Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

(1 Peter 5:5 ESV)

Most of us like to think of ourselves as humble. We would never admit that we believe ourselves to be greater or more important than others. We would never admit that our tendency is to put ourselves first.

In fact, we would say that we despise the proud. We would say that the attitude of the prideful is a complete turn-off for us. We would say that we want nothing to do with these people.

However, this humility that we profess tends to be a false humility. In reality, we do believe ourselves to be greater and more important than others. In reality, we believe ourselves to be smarter than most.  And, in reality, we do put ourselves first.

We constantly question those who are in authority over us. We question their decisions and the actions they take. In fact, we look down on them and tend to think that we could do better.

We tend to think that people should listen to us. We tend to think that they should heed our instruction. It should be clear to them, we think, that they have a thing or two to learn from us.

We tend to believe that we’re entitled to the help that others have to offer. We tend to think that they should gladly be there for us. We tend to think this way even though we’re too busy to help others.

We tend to think that our needs should be addressed, first and foremost. Although there are countless others who need help, and although there are many with greater needs than our own, we think that our needs should be the priority. We think that everyone else should cater to us.

There are many more examples we could cite, but you get the point. Although we claim a spirit of humility, we are a proud people. Although we claim to detest pride, we display it unceasingly.

This is why we need Peter’s admonition, seen above. He calls upon us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another. He calls on us to possess a modest opinion of ourselves when it comes to others.

He goes on to say that God opposes the proud. He tells us that God is against the proud. And this stands as a warning for us.

We cannot live in a spirit of arrogance and rightly expect God’s blessing. We cannot live in a spirit of conceit and expect to be in his favor. This attitude makes us deserving of his disapproval. It makes us deserving of his resistance.

However, Peter says, God gives grace to the humble. God gives his grace to those who recognize how little they deserve. He gives his blessing to the one who understands his lowliness in relation to God and others.

May we, then, recognize the pride in our heart and confess it to the Lord. May we recognize our arrogance and repent. May we ask God to transform our heart so that we gladly lay aside our desires and interests for the sake of others.