As I was reading John 18:15-18 this morning, I began thinking about check points in my life. What do I mean? When we are entering a period of unusual testing, usually there are warnings that pop up. They may come from other people or events that signal something different or out-of-the-ordinary is happening. Our danger is that we ignore the warnings.
What caused Peter to ignore the warnings as Jesus was arrested? We may not be able to answer that question, but it was a serious matter that Peter denied knowing the Man who chose him to be a disciple and taught him for three and a half years! Was all that investment wasted?
Before we get too critical of Peter, we need to question why we miss warnings that God puts in our path. There are weaknesses in all of us at some level. Often in pressure we let ourselves cave in to circumstances rather than remain true to what we know is right no matter what the cost. We must deal with these weak points now before more tests come.
Faithfulness does not just happen. It takes persistent watchfulness. Let us heed the words that Peter spoke later in his life; “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14).
“And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witnessto the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’” (Acts 26:15–18).
This is the third time that Paul’s conversion is recorded and the second time he recounts how it happened (9:1-19 and 22:6-16). In the second and third record, there is a growing intensity and clarity with Paul as to what God wanted him to do and why. In one way, Paul was going to preach to the Jews and Gentiles exactly what happened to him in his Damascus road encounter.
As Paul would be “a servant and witness to the things” he had seen and experienceD, we need to be that same kind of “servant and witness” of what God has done in our lives. Our story will not be the same as Paul’s, but it should have the same “purpose” and “appointment.” We had our eyes opened and hearts turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God. Tell your story with passion and conviction!
Putting those two words together seems out of place with so many of the blogs that we write. Consider the following statements by the Apostle Paul.
“If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (1 Corinthians 14:37–38).
“For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed” (2 Corinthians 10:8).
Where did this assurance come from? It came from his encounter with the Lord on the Damascus road, which we will look at tomorrow. Jesus gave Paul very clear perameters for his ministry. They were ONLY“for building you up and not for destroying you.” What spiritual growth and maturity would take place through our ministries if this policy was adopted by all. He defines this “building up” as “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
What is your standard?
My times of devotion in the morning in John’s Gospel have yielded extraordinary delight to my soul. This morning was no exception.
In John 17:20-26, the majesty and glory of the Father and Son in these verses is so glorious that words fail to express their beauty and relationship. Then to add to this glory that Jesus has given us who believe, “the glory that the [Father] gave [Jesus], He has given to [us]” (22) is grace beyond any human description and understanding. This was with a specific purpose; “that they may be one as We are one.” What a purpose!
Why do we not treasure this unity to the point that we would humble ourselves and seek the Spirit’s help in creating this unity in us, in the Church, which is the Body of Christ. If we do not take the authority of Scripture seriously, but are more interested in our forms and traditions, this prayer of Jesus will mean very little, if anything.
There is a specific glory to unity. I am not referring to human unity, but to the unity that can only be experienced when we are actively in fellowship with Divine Persons. I am beginning to treasure this fellowship more and more. There is something that happens in my heart and mind that is not known without this kind of fellowship. What fruitful work, what expansion of the gospel, and what worship would result from such unity?
What would you say if you lived in a part of the world where the cost of being a Christian included death? I think of our brothers and sisters in places like Nigeria or Myanmar where radical elements invade a village to kill all the Christians in it. Houses and possessions are burned, and children are left parentless and homeless. Followers of Jesus who are left remain faithful to their Savior!
These and thousands of other examples remind me of persons who stood on their faith in hopeless circumstances. “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:35–39).
Would we consider our Lord worthy of such steadfast faith? Jesus has called us to a high standard of commitment and reminds us that “the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:13–14). Will we endure if we are chosen to suffer for the name of Christ?
There are over 300 references to “faith” in the New Testament, but with different meanings. The “faith” I am writing about is not that of “doctrine” but the firm confidence and boldness that was especially seen in the Early Church. The third reference to “faith” is found in Acts 6 when deacons were selected to meet needs within the Church so the apostles could devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4).
“And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch” (6:5).
In our natural minds we might expect Luke to tell us how Stephen and these men served the widows, but that was not the case. The fruit of theisr service is described in verse 7.
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
They never planned church planting or developed a church growth strategy. They never held membership classes or preached a series on doctrine. It was their character and the work of the Spirit in them that drove their lives and ministry. Stephen probably never expected to witness before the synagogue, but God had prepared him for that moment. No formal education, no degrees! Just the faith and the Spirit in him! Has the requirement for these results changed?
“When the Christian Church was first spreading throughout the Roman Empire, she certainly maintained a standard of doctrine, and that standard was not imperiled by the spontaneous activity of a multitude of Christians who were certainly not trained theologians. These unknown missionaries taught the doctrine which they had learned, and that teaching was so far adequate that the Elders of the Church did not hesitate to consecrate new converts as Elders for the new churches without giving them any long or special training in theological colleges (Acts 2:42; 4:13).
The great heresies in the Early Church arose, not from the rapid expansion resulting from the work of these unknown teachers, but in those Churches which were longest established, and where the Christians were not so busily engaged in converting the heathen round them. The Church of that day was apparently quite fearless of any danger that the influx of large numbers of what we should call ‘illiterate’ converts might lower the standard of Church doctrine.
She held the tradition handed down by the Apostles and expected the new converts to grow up into it, to maintain it and to propagate it. And so, in fact they did. The danger to the doctrine was not in these ‘illiterate’ converts on the outskirts; but at home, in places like Ephesus and Alexandria, amongst the more highly educated and philosophically minded Christians. It was because of them that the Church had to maintain the doctrine.” (Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hinder It, page 29).
Sadly, this observation is still true in many places. We need to return to the authority of Scripture and the Holy Spirit! This will protect us from man-made forms that hinder the Spirit.
While Paul was in prison the first time, he wrote four letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. He had been in Philippi with Silas, a few hours in prison, but quickly released by the jailor (Acts 16). Through the jailor’s conversion, a church was planted. The church planted in Ephesus was sparked first by the bold preaching of Apollos and then by Paul who taught in the synagogue for three months. There were powerful conversions which prompted strong resistance. Paul wrote to Philemon to encourage reconciliation with his slave Onesimus.
Paul never went to Colossae. It was the work of Epaphras, a “beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit” (Colossians 1:7–8). Though Epaphras was the chosen messenger of the gospel, it was the work of the Holy Spirit that established this church and their love for Christ.
I am personally very thankful for faithful “messengers” that have gone in my place when I could not travel. For the sake of the gospel spreading to the “ends of the earth,” God always provides the right person and time for the place where the gospel of grace is needed at that moment.
If our desire is the spread of the gospel to the unreached, it will not matter who goes as long as they become a tool in the hand of the Spirit.
Who are we representing? That question is not a demand for a certain standard of work that is required by an organization, denomination, or church leadership. It is a question that should make us reflect on the relationship we have with the Lord. All that Jesus did was intended to represent God His Father. These references below prove this point.
“So, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). That is work of the highest quality!
“And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak”” (Mark 7:37).
Take a moment and think about the work you do. It does not matter what it is, whether care for an infant, washing dishes, or preaching the gospel to thousands, the quality must represent the Lord. There are many more examples in Scripture, but I trust you will take the point seriously. This is never for boasting in pride for “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world” (Hebrews 1:1–2).
There is no doubt that God spoke to persons in the Old Testament beginning with Adam, Cain, Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and many others. Their writings were recorded for us to learn from (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 9:10; 10:11). Romans 15:4 is a primary confirmation of this; “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
What is my point in referring to these verses? Romans 6:14-15 clearly points to the truth that we are not justified by ANY WORKS OF THE LAW! Paul agrees with Hebrews 1:1-2 when he says, “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” or any part of it (Galatians 5:18). Sadly, there are teachers today who still insist that ‘we must do a certain amount of law keeping’ for justification and earning a place in heaven. There is no such requirement in Christ!
Understanding how God “has spoken to us by His Son” means that we accept without any work on our part the gift of grace (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 2:5). Requiring ANYTHING on our part for salvation reduces the efficacy of Christ’s work on the cross, His burial, resurrection, and ascension.
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