Let’s Work Together

 

In 1970 a blues/rock group called Canned Heat released a song entitled, Let’s Work Together.  It was a modest commercial success, rising only to #26 on the U.S. charts.  However, the song struck a chord with many because of how deeply divided the country was at that time.  Its lyrics called on people of all ages to put their differences aside and to work together because, as the song said, “together we stand, divided we fall”.

While it is unlikely that any of the band members realized it, the idea of working together is one of the most fundamental principles in scripture.  The Lord referred to it when He was accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul.  The Lord responded to this charge in Mt. 12:25, saying, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus he also emphasized the importance of this principle.  In Eph. 4:11-16 he said that the Lord had placed apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers into the church in order to equip the saints for the work of service.  Then, he said that the purpose of this was so that, “the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (v. 16).

Therefore, it is imperative that Christians work together within the body in order to accomplish the Lord’s purpose.  In 1 Cor. 12:12-26 Paul used the illustration of a human body to describe how each member of a local congregation plays an important part in the spiritual health and growth of that congregation.  The bottom line is that we are all essential to the good of the church and we must all do our part to help the church be all that it is intended to be.

To accomplish this, we must each commit to four basic principles.  First, we must be willing to submit to biblical authority.  Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Mt. 7:21).  If we commit to doing whatever God’s word requires of us, we will work together with our fellow Christians to build up the church.

Second, we need to start living by the Golden Rule.  In Mt. 7:12 Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  This means being proactive in the exercise of our faith.  If we do this, the church will be better because of it.

Third, we need to look out for the interests of others instead of only looking out for our own interests.  In Phil. 2:3-7 Paul told the church in Philippi to have the same attitude as Christ in this regard.  He went to the cross because He was looking out for our interests more than His own.  If we focus on the needs of others, and they likewise focus on our needs, the church will be better off.

Finally, we need to be willing to personally do whatever the Lord requires for the good of His kingdom.  Isaiah the prophet answered God’s call by saying, “Here am I.  Send me!” (Isa. 6:8).  This should be our response as well.  God has not called us to be spectators, but to be active participants in the work of His church.  If we respond as Isaiah did, the church will be blessed by our actions.

The work of evangelizing and of edifying the saints is in our hands as the church.  The church is “us”, not “them”.  If we don’t do this work, it won’t get done.  If all of us don’t do our part, it won’t happen.  Therefore, let’s work together to get it done.

Centurions

 

The backbone of any military service is its non-commissioned officers.  These men and women make sure the officers’ orders are followed, and that the mission is successfully completed.  They are different from the rest of the enlisted ranks because they are typically more career-oriented and more devoted to the business of soldiering.  In past conflicts American NCOs have often used their initiative and expertise to lead our troops when officers were unavailable or incapacitated.  This has been and continues to be a significant advantage when our armed forces go into battle.

In ancient times there was a class of soldiers in the Roman legions who perfectly fit this model.  They were the centurions.  A Roman legion generally consisted of 6,000 men who were led by a general whose name would be written in the chronicles of the legion’s victories.  The centurions, however, commanded 100 men and were the glue that held the legions together.

When we open the pages of the New Testament, centurions are mentioned several times.  In each case they are portrayed as honorable men. They were conscientious in the fulfillment of their duties, and are never depicted as being abusive or unscrupulous.  In the one certain instance in which Jesus dealt with a centurion, the man treated the Lord with utmost respect.  This incident is recorded in Mt. 8:5-13 and in Lk. 7:1-10, and the Lord marveled at the faith of this Roman soldier.  When the Lord breathed His last breath on the cross, the centurion who was in charge of the execution exclaimed that Jesus must have been the Son of God (Mk. 15:39).  This certainly suggests that he was far more honest than many of the Jews.

The most important centurion of whom we read in the New Testament was Cornelius.  In Acts 10 we learn that he was a devout man whose prayers had risen as a memorial before God (Acts 10:4).  Although he was accustomed to commanding others, this centurion followed every command the angel of God gave him.  Then, when Peter came and preached the gospel to him and his household, this centurion obeyed the command to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:48).

The centurions of the New Testament are an example that we would do well to follow as believers.  We should be diligent in our service to the Lord, just as they were to the Roman legion.  We should be dependable and reliable in our service, just as they were.  We should be willing to do whatever our commander, Jesus, requires of us, just as they were to their superior officers.  And, we should be respectful and humble before the Lord, just as the centurion was in Mt. 8 and Lk. 7.

A common malady in many organizations is that too many within the organization want to be the boss, and too few are willing to be the workers.  We sometimes refer to this condition as, “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians”.  The centurions of whom we read in the New Testament were chiefs in one important sense, but they were also Indians in another, equally important, sense.  These men knew how to balance their responsibilities both as leaders and as servants.  So, also, must we.

No matter what our role is in the church, we are all slaves of the one and only Son of God.  Even those who are vested with the responsibility of leadership in the church, must also themselves serve the King of kings.  The church only grows when each member does his or her part in accordance with God’s word (Eph. 4:11-16).  Therefore, let’s make it our goal to become centurions for the Lord, and to give Him the kind of honorable service that He alone deserves.

Choices

 

One of the more powerful memes to appear on social media says, “You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choice.”  The author of this statement is unknown, but its truth is unimpeachable.  Unfortunately, too many people seem to be unconvinced of it.  The criminal makes the choice to break the law, but often seems genuinely offended that he must pay a penalty for that choice.  The abortion industry thrives because so many choose to ignore this truth.  Even professed believers sometimes get caught up in the mistaken idea that somehow we can avoid the consequences of our choices.

It is obvious that irreligious people have no vested interest in the principle of choices and consequences, but professed believers certainly do.  The scriptures testify to this truth, literally from cover to cover.  Adam and Eve made the choice to eat the forbidden fruit, and they suffered the consequences for having done so.  God punished them and cast them out of the Garden of Eden.  King David made the choice to commit adultery with Bathsheba, and he, too, suffered the consequences of his choice.  The child born from that illicit union died, and the sword never departed from his household thereafter.

In the New Testament, Judas Iscariot made the choice to betray Jesus to the Jews.  At any point up to the very act of betrayal he could have made a different choice, but he didn’t.  When he felt remorse for what he had done, he made another choice.  He chose to take his own life.  Instead of receiving forgiveness and redemption, he sealed his fate, and is now held in universal disdain by all believers.

This is where believers sometimes get caught up in the mistaken idea of avoiding the consequences of our choices.  We understand, appreciate, and desperately depend on the grace and mercy of God who offers us the forgiveness of our sins.  The blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed on the cross of Calvary, washes away our sins when we are immersed for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).  After this initial cleansing, we are promised that it continues to cleanse us when we sin, if we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:5-10).

In Jer. 31:34 the prophet quoted God the Father saying that in the time of the new covenant He would forgive the iniquities of His people and He would not remember their sins anymore.  This is a fundamental truth which all believers hold dear.  When God forgives our sins, we are forever spared the eternal consequences of the choices that led to those sins.  However, the fact that God does not remember the sins He has forgiven does not remove the temporal consequences of those sins.

A murderer can be forgive of the choice to take someone’s life, but he will still likely be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison for that act.  An adulterer can be forgiven, but he will likely spend the rest of his life dealing with the temporal consequences of having violated his wedding vows.  A liar or thief can be forgiven, but he will still have to deal with the physical consequences of these choices.  The point is this: forgiveness does not remove these physical consequences, and we are misguided to believe that it should.

Saying that we are free to choose, but are not free from the consequences of our choices does not negate God’s grace and mercy.  It simply acknowledges the fact that our actions have physical as well as spiritual consequences.  Let us keep this truth in mind every day.  Perhaps doing so will help us make the right choices instead of the ones that will lead us into sin.

Humility

 

If we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that much of the drumbeat of animosity and vitriol in our public discourse is due to the raging egos of the people involved.  From the office of the President, to the halls of Congress, to the playing fields of sports, to the talking heads of media, our nation is awash with arrogant and condescending people.  Politicians decry election results if they lose, because their egos will not allow them to accept defeat.  Athletes and actors, who make millions of dollars for playing kids’ games or playing make-believe, think their feelings and opinions are better than anyone else’s.  Even professed believers get caught up in this madness.

When we open the pages of scripture, we quickly discover that this is not the way God intends for us to act.  From the Old Testament to the New Testament, God’s word clearly teaches that we should be humble.  We should be humble before God, and we should be humble with each other.  However, we struggle with the concept of humility because we equate it with weakness.  We assume that the humble man will get run over in life, and none of us wants to be a doormat.

The scriptures, however, show us that humility has nothing to do with weakness.  In fact, the humble man is actually the stronger man.  The chief example of this is Moses.  No one would accuse Moses of being a weakling.  No one would suggest that Moses let people walk all over him.  Moses stands as a man of great strength, yet the scriptures say of him, “Now Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Nu. 12:3).

The secret to being humble is trusting God.  Moses understood and believed that God would take care of him as he did God’s will.  Because Moses trusted God, he didn’t have to promote himself and beat down his opponents in order to show his strength.  Because Moses trusted God, he simply did what he was commanded to do.  He didn’t have to worry about personal glory.  God exalted him for his faithfulness and no other exaltation was necessary.

In the New Testament Paul spoke of humility in Eph. 4:1-3.  He said, “Therefore, I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  This is the heart of being what God wants His people to be.  In order to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, we must do so with humility and gentleness and patience.  This is how we preserve the bond of peace that is created by the Spirit of God when we obey the gospel.

The ongoing drama being played out in the public eye demonstrates the pettiness of human ego.  There is no semblance of humility among the participants, no matter what place they occupy on the political spectrum.  It is shameful and disgusting.  It demeans all the participants, and hurts all of us.

This kind of drama among God’s people is even more distasteful and destructive.  When professed believers let their egos run rampant, they are going contrary to everything God’s word teaches us.  We would all do well to heed the admonition of James, who said, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Submit therefore to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:6-7).

He Who Is Without Sin

 

In Jn. 8:1-11 John tells us of an incident, recorded nowhere else in the New Testament, in which the Jews brought a woman to Jesus for judgment.  They told the Lord that she had been caught in the act of adultery.  They said that the Law of Moses required them to stone her, but they wanted to know what the Lord thought.  Their goal was to use His response against Him.  If He agreed that she should be stoned, they would turn Him over to the Romans, who did not allow occupied nations to exercise capital punishment.  If He said to let her go, they would denounce Him to the people for violating the Law of Moses.

The Lord’s response was amazing.  First, He ignored them by stooping down and writing with His finger on the ground.  When they persisted in asking Him, He stood up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7).  The effect was complete and immediate.  One by one, from the oldest to the youngest, the men quietly walked away.  When they were gone, the Lord stood up and spoke to the woman.  In v. 11 He said, “I do not condemn you, either.  Go.  From now on sin no more.”

The primary lesson from this incident is the gracious forgiveness that the Lord offers mankind.  This woman was no doubt a grievous sinner, but the Lord forgave her and set her back on the straight and narrow path.  Surely if the Lord could forgive such a woman, He can forgive each of us.  There is no more beautiful truth in all of scripture.

Unfortunately, some have taken the Lord’s statement to the Jews and twisted it to mean something far different than He intended.  Many today now use these words to rebuff any criticism of their actions or lifestyle.  If we suggest that someone’s conduct is ungodly, they may reply that unless we are sinless ourselves we have no right to correct them.  This is not what the Lord meant at all.  His remark to the Jews was based upon His knowledge of their hearts.  They were not concerned about this woman’s soul.  They were only looking for a way to attack the Lord.  This is why He spoke to them as He did.

When we are sincerely concerned for another person’s soul, however, we must try to turn them away from their sins, no matter what our own sins might be.  In Gal. 6:1 Paul said, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to himself, so that you too will not be tempted.”  When one Christian corrects another, it is not to be done as though the one correcting the other has no sins, but rather, in recognition of his own sins, and in the hope of helping a brother or sister remain in the fold of God.

This is the goal, as stated by James in Jas. 5:19-20.  He said, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”  If we may take this action only if we are sinless, then no one would ever be turned back from sin.  Therefore, we must correct one another, but we must do so in a spirit of gentleness, as Paul commanded.

The only one who is without sin is our Lord Jesus.  None of us will ever attain this by our own power.  However, correcting one another in accordance with God’s word is one of the highest forms of love we may show.  If we truly care for one another, we will correct each other when we need it, and we will receive such correction with grace and humility.  This, after all, is how we can help each other get to our heavenly reward.