“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
― Henry David Thoreau,
“Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good morals.”
“Interpersonal relations” is not usually thought of as a Bible topic, but advice about dealing with other people makes up a large part of the teachings of Jesus and His apostles as well as the wisdom books of the Old Testament. Whether dealing with parents, children, spouses, family, friends, co-workers, strangers or even enemies, the Bible’s advice is spiritually sound and effective for promoting peace and harmony.
The Greatest Commandment
All of the New Testament teachings on interpersonal relations follow from Jesus’ commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was most important, He replied,
The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. (NRSV, Mark 12:26-31)
The English word “love” has many different meanings, but this “Christian love” of the Bible comes from the Greek word agape which means respect, good-will and benevolent concern for the one loved. It is deliberate, purposeful love rather than emotional or impulsive love. The King James Version of the Bible often uses the word “charity” for this kind of love.
“Love your neighbor” was not a new commandment (Leviticus 19:18), but the people of Jesus’ time had developed a rather narrow view of who should be considered a “neighbor.” In HisParable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus corrected that view and teaches us that a “neighbor” is anyone we come in contact with, regardless of race, nationality, religion or other distinctions..
Self-righteousness, Arrogance, Smugness
No one is perfect; we are all sinners in our own ways (Romans 3:21-24, 1 John 1:8). If we treat people we consider to be “sinners” with scorn, or think we are better than they are, we are guilty of the sin of self-righteousness:
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector. The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.” (NLT, Luke 18:9-14)
Judging, Criticizing, Condemning Others
Self-righteousness is one of the hardest sins to avoid because it is so much easier to see other people’s faults than to see our own faults. But, judgment of a person’s character must be left to God (Romans 2:1-4, James 4:11-12). Rather than look for faults in others, we should look for the good in others and try to correct the faults within ourselves. Rather than criticizing other people, we should concentrate on living holy lives, ourselves. Jesus’ comical parable of a person with a log in his eye trying to see to remove a speck from another’s eye reminds us that we probably have bigger faults within ourselves (including self-righteousness) than the faults we like to criticize in others:
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (NRSV, Matthew 7:1-5)
This does not mean, however, that all sin should be ignored:
- Christians should help each other recognize and overcome sinful actions and attitudes, but it must be done in a sincere spirit of love and not with the intention to punish, embarrass or disparage (Matthew 18:15, Luke 17:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, James 5:19-20, 1 Timothy 5:1-2, 2 Timothy 4:2).
- Governments have the right to act for the common good and take action against offenders who threaten law and order (Luke 20:20-25, Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-14).
- Churches have the right to excommunicate members who are disruptive to their mission (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:9-12, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).
But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (NAS, Matthew 23:11-12)
An attitude of humility is the key to dealing with other people in a Biblical way. Humility or humbleness is a quality of being courteously respectful of others. It is the opposite of aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness and exaggerated pride. Humility is the quality that lets us go more than halfway to meet the needs of others. Why do qualities such as courtesy, patience and deference have such a prominent place in the Bible? It is because a demeanor of humility is exactly what is needed to live in peace and harmony with all persons. Acting with humility does not in any way deny our own self worth. Rather, it affirms the inherent worth of all persons.
Related verses: Psalms 147:5-6, Proverbs 11:2-3, 12:16, 19:11, 22:4, 27:1-2, Matthew 5:5-9, 18:2-4, 20:25-28, Luke 14:8-11, 22:25-27, Romans 12:3, Galatians 5:26, Philippians 2:3-8,James 3:13-18, 1 Peter 5:5-6.
The Golden Rule
Do to others as you would have them do to you. (NIV, Luke 6:31)
The Golden Rule, spoken by Jesus, is possibly the best-known quote from the Bible and is the standard Jesus set for dealing with other people. If we wish to be loved, we must give love. If we wish to be respected, we must respect all persons, even those we dislike. If we wish to be forgiven, we must also forgive. If we wish others to speak kindly of us, we must speak kindly of them and avoid gossip. If we want happy marriages, we must be faithful, forgiving and kind to our spouses. If we wish to be fulfilled in our lives, we must share generously with others.
Related verse: Matthew 7:12.
Anger, Retaliation, Holding a Grudge, Revenge
“Under the laws of Moses the rule was, ‘If you murder, you must die.’ But I have added to that rule and tell you that if you are only angry, even in your own home, you are in danger of judgment! If you call your friend an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse him, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (TLB, Matthew 5:21-22)
No one makes us angry. Anger is our own emotional response to some action or event. More often than not, our angry feelings are based on a misinterpretation of what someone said or did or on our own exaggerated sense of pride. Angry words and actions escalate hostilities and block communication rather than solve problems. Whether between parent and child, spouses, siblings, friends, or nations, expressions of anger divide us and drive us toward open hostility.
It is all too easy to react to life’s annoyances and disappointments with anger. It is far more challenging, but much better, to react with understanding and empathy. In this way, we can quickly settle disputes and avoid turning minor incidents into major battles:
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. (NRSV, James 1:19-20)
Holding a grudge can consume us with hatred, blocking out all enjoyment of life. A grudge clouds our judgment and may lead us to an act of revenge that can never be undone. The Old Testament law specified equal revenge for equal wrong: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20), but that rule was too harsh for the new age of the kingdom of God. Jesus said the right thing to do is to take no revenge at all:
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. (NRSV, Matthew 5:38-42)
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. (NLT, Matthew 6:14-15)
We should always be willing to forgive others and not hold any ill will against them. Holding a grudge and seeking revenge have no place in the lives of those who truly love their neighbors. Jesus calls us to remember that we are all God’s children. Just as He loves all His people and is willing to forgive their sins, we should be willing to forgive also.
Honesty, Gossip, Slander, Lies, Deception
A good person produces good words from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil words from an evil heart. And I tell you this, that you must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak. The words you say now reflect your fate then; either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned. (NLT, Matthew 12:35-37)
The words we say or write have tremendous power for good or evil. Words can promote love and understanding or inflame prejudice and hatred. It is words that make or break marriages and other relationships. Words can make peace or make war. Our words should always show a spirit of Christian love.
A lie is any false statement made with the intent to deceive someone. We must always be honest in our dealings with other people. The Bible strongly condemns any attempt to deceive with the intent to hurt someone or gain unfair advantage:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (The Ten Commandments, NRSV, Exodus 20:16)
Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit. (NRSV, 1 Peter 3:10)
Gossip or slander is an act of hostility intended to harm someone’s reputation. We must avoid the temptation to misrepresent someone’s character or actions:
An evil man sows strife; gossip separates the best of friends. (TLB, Proverbs 16:28)
Is suffering for Christ always going to be a part of being a follower of Christ?
The Bible talks a lot about suffering for the sake of Christ. In the era in which the New Testament was written, followers of Jesus were often ostracized by their own families and communities. Some of the worst persecution came from the religious leaders (Acts 4:1–3). Jesus told His followers, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). He reminded His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).
Second Timothy 3:12 says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” As in biblical times, many Christians today have found that making a public declaration of faith in Christ can result in imprisonment, beatings, torture, or death (Hebrews 11:32–38; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 3:8; Acts 5:40). Often those of us in free nations shudder at the thought, but we feel relatively safe. We understand that there are thousands who suffer daily for the sake of Christ and are thankful we don’t have to. But is there only one kind of persecution?
Jesus stated clearly what it means to follow Him: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23–25). Our modern understanding of the phrase “take up their cross and follow me” is often inadequate. In Jesus’ day the cross always symbolized death. When a man carried a cross, he had already been condemned to die on it. Jesus said that, in order to follow Him, one must be willing to die. We will not all die martyrs’ deaths. We will not all be imprisoned, beaten, or tortured for our faith. So what kind of death did Jesus mean?
Paul explains in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” To follow Christ means we die to our own way of doing things. We consider our will, our rights, our passions, and our goals to be crucified on the cross with Him. Our right to direct our own lives is dead to us (Philippians 3:7–8). Death involves suffering. The flesh does not want to die. Dying to self is painful and goes against our natural inclination to seek our own pleasure. But we cannot follow both Christ and the flesh (Luke 16:13;Matthew 6:24; Romans 8:8). Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Paul suffered more than most for Jesus’ sake. He said this to the Christians at Phillipi: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:2). The wordgranted here means “shown favor, given freely as a gift.” Paul does not present suffering as a curse, but as a benefit.
Suffering can take many forms. By choosing to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, we are setting ourselves at odds with the world. Galatians 1:10 says, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (NASB). By closely adhering to the teachings of the Bible, we set ourselves up for rejection, mockery, loneliness, or betrayal. Often, the cruelest persecution comes from those who consider themselves spiritual but have defined God according to their own ideas. If we choose to take a stand for righteousness and biblical truth, we ensure that we will be misunderstood, mocked, or worse. We need to keep in mind that no threat of suffering deterred the apostles from preaching Christ. In fact, Paul said that losing everything was worth it “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10, NASB). Acts 5:40–41 describes the reaction of the apostles after they received another beating for preaching about Jesus: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
Suffering in some form is always going to be a part of being a true follower of Christ. Jesus said the path that leads to life is difficult (Matthew 7:14). Our hardship is also a way of identifying with His suffering in a small way.
Jesus said if we deny him before men, He will deny us before His Father in heaven (Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9). There are many subtle ways to deny Christ. If our actions, words, lifestyle, or entertainment choices do not reflect His will, we are denying Christ. If we claim to know Him but live as though we didn’t, we are denying Christ (1 John 3:6–10). Many people choose those forms of denying Christ because they do not want to suffer for Him.
Often our greatest suffering comes from within as we battle for control over a heart that must die to its own will and surrender to Christ’s lordship (Romans 7:15–25). In whatever form suffering comes, we should embrace it as a badge of honor and a privilege that we, like the apostles, have “been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
As we know, there is no shortage of boldness in our world. When you think of our political leaders, they are quite bold, often in an arrogant way, to impose their societal vision, values, and beliefs on others. If you’re a teacher, or state worker, you know how boldly Bureaucrats can regulate every manner of living, speaking, teaching, and thinking. Secularists self-righteously applaud their own tolerance even as they openly, flagrantly, boldly, suppress the slightest expression of Christian faith in the public sphere. Entertainers boldly flaunting their hyper-immorality—shoving their perversity into our faces, indoctrinating our children with their crass lyrics, all the while denouncing everything that’s good, decent, and holy.
But there are other kinds of boldness. What about the boldness of the adulterer or the fornicator? What about the gossip who stirs up dissension? The thief or robber who enters another’s home? The sluggard who feels entitled to the fruits of their parents labor, or worse, their neighbor? What about greedy lendors who brazenly prey, and financially exploit, the weak. Or the greedy debtors who boldly charge up their credit card with no intention of repayment. The son who rebels against his father can be quite bold! Or the man who abandons responsibility to his family while pursuing relations to another woman. What about the woman who boldly aborts her unborn child? Or, the homosexual or lesbian who ensnares another man or woman in their sin?
There is an abundance of boldness in our culture. But it’s boldness about all the wrong things! We’re bold about evil, about sin, and about our rights, freedoms, and entitlements. But where is the boldness for what’s “excellent and praiseworthy?” For “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable.”
People are unapologetically bold about all that is evil; meanwhile Christians are apologetically timid about all that is holy and good.
What’s needed isn’t “fleshly” boldness. When boldness is driven by the flesh, it is enormously destructive. Look at the trail of destruction that exists in your family alone, or our community, or state, or nation. We don’t need more fleshly boldness.
What’s needed (now, more than ever) is “spiritual boldness”—a boldness that’s born out of vital relationship with the Spirit of the Living God. Spiritual boldness does not derive its confidence from the flesh, or from the world, but from the mind of God. In your outline, let me share some things that are distinct about Christian boldness. . .
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Inspired Word.
What convictions do you hold about the word of God? 1 Peter 1:23 describes how the word is “imperishable”, “living and abiding” and is like a seed. Whereas the flowers and grass fade away, and the flesh/ glory of man withers… The word of God cannot be destroyed, nor will it ever pass away. We don’t have to understand how the word works, we just need to be faithful to plant it.
2 Timothy 3:15-16 says the Bible is able to “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
In 2 Peter 1:20-21 were told, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
In Isaiah 55:11 God says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
A couple of thoughts. First, to the degree that our boldness is tuned to the Word of God, it’s redemptive. To the degree that our boldness is of the flesh, it kills and destroys. Understand that boldness with the Word of God—preaching, teaching—has revived nations. Where has boldness in the flesh done anything good except corrupt, kill, and destroy. Our boldness needs to be trained by the Word of God.
Second, greater boldness is needed by all of us to inject God’s word into conversations. In John 6:63 Jesus told his disciples, “My words are spirit and life.” When timid Christian withhold the word, it’s like a farmer withholding seed. You cannot reap a harvest of righteousness if you never plant anything.
Parents often ask, “why are my kids so disrespectful, crass, self-centered…” Well, you reap what you sow. If you plant the word deeply you won’t ask those questions of your kids, family, or culture. God’s word doesn’t return void, God’s word is spiritual and alive, it accomplishes the purpose for which God sent it.
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Spirit’s Activity
Another basis for boldness is the Spirit’s ongoing activity. In John 16:8 Jesus promised the Spirit would convict the world in regard to “sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment.” This is great news! We don’t have to be fanatics, or extremists about this stuff. If there is sin, the Spirit will show it to a person. We don’t have to scream, and yell, and shout, and hold demonstrations.
If there is something holy, righteous, good, the Spirit will show it for what it is. And the Spirit daily reminds people they are accountable before God for their life. Why else do you think people justify themselves, and plead their case, and boast, “But I’m a good person?” It’s because deep down people know they’re accountable to God.
This is why Paul tells the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, “. . . When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (NIV)
We don’t have to convict people, that’s the Spirit’s work. Our job is to faithfully and boldly plant seeds. We are to hold out the Words of Life. The gospel does not advance in the power of self, by intimidation or bullying, by shaming and giving guilt trips. Let the Spirit do what He does… and you and I can do the planting just as God’s asked us to do. The Spirit wins hearts and minds.
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Spirit’s Power
Like the Apostle Paul, I sometimes find myself in places of “weakness, fear, and trembling.” Every week our pastoral staff encounters situations for which there is no human wisdom or human answers or human remedy… or financial resources. If you’re a spiritual person, you have great advantage. Like the early in Acts 1:8, its mostly a matter of waiting for God to clothe us with power. But if you’re an unspiritual person, what power is available to you, beyond your own strength?
When we help unspiritual people, they keep returning with the same problems. A person comes needing gas money, or food, or some help. We encourage them to trust God, we teach them how to pray, but most do not. They get relief and continue on their godless path until they again hit rock bottom. And then they’re back at our door. Apart from faith in Jesus, there is no power for the godless. There is just the rough, godless, hard, lifeless, joyless, impoverished road you’ve always walked.
But with faith in Jesus Christ, there is real hope, there is real power! Romans 1:16 Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, of it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. . .” Ephesians 3:16 speaks of how God has granted that those in Christ to “be strengthened with power through His Spirit.”
Particularly noteworthy are Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:10-20 (see NIV). This weekend we honor the soldier. Our country has the most powerful military of any nation that’s every inhabited the earth. We also have the finest trained men and women. But there is a limit to what fleshly warfare can achieve—as we’re well aware!
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
The Spirit’s power is unleashed through prayer and proclamation of the Word. Our first priority when someone comes to the church in crisis is to first listen, but then pray with people and share the word with them. That is the greatest help/resource we can provide.
R.A. Torrey observes how the Spirit is like the wind. The wind is invisible, and mysterious. We don’t see from where it comes or where it goes. It turns the windmill (not at Southwind Park, but other windmills). It fills our sails, drives the vessel out to sea, churns up the dust, shakes foundations, and affects everything material and physical. The wind is indispensable—it strengthens, fortifies, anchors, roots, tests. In the same way, the Spirit is invisible, we don’t see him but we feel his power.
Trust God’s word! Pray!
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in our Eternal Hope
I want to end with this final idea. If we’re led by the Spirit, we could very well pay a great price with our life. Every sign points to an ever increasing hostility toward churches, and toward Christians. Around the world, this hostility is in full season. I think of the many soldiers, who have lost their lives, confronting evil around the world. There is a price that is to be paid for boldness—one that involves flesh and blood.
In Ephesians 1:3 Paul reminds us that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
In Ephesians 4:30 Paul urges us then, not to grieve the Holy Spirit “by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 says, “For all the promises of God find their YES in Jesus. That is why it is through him that we utter our AMEN to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
After they had destroyed Jesus’ body, God raised Jesus from the grave by the power of the Spirit. There are those who can destroy the flesh, but cannot destroy soul. God can destroy both. But if you’re in Christ God promises to preserve both body and soul. God promises to give us a new resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15), and he promises that our Spirit will dwell with him for all eternity (2 Corinthians 5).
We don’t have to be afraid. We can have boldness and courage about the things that matter for eternity. This was the hallmark of the early church.
Be bold. We have the Inspired Word of God… the Spirit is actively at work, all around us in the world… The Spirit by virtue of our faith, is powerful to save us… Finally the Spirit seals us, so that death can never lay claim on us, so that we can never be separated from God… but ushered into presence where we’ll dwell with him forever.
16 But I say, vwalk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify wthe desires of the flesh. 17 For xthe desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, yto keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are zled by the Spirit, ayou are not under the law.
This love is not optional. It is commanded. And it is very radical: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, we are called in our freedom to desire and seek the happiness of others with the same zeal that we seek our own. But if you take this command seriously, it is so contrary to our natural inclinations that it seems utterly impossible. That I should get up in the morning and feel as much concern for your needs as for my own seems utterly beyond my power. If this is the Christian life — caring for others as I care for myself — then it is hard, indeed, and I feel hopeless to ever live it out.
Paul’s answer to this discouragement is found in Galatians 5:16–18. The secret is in learning to “walk by the Spirit” (v. 16). If the Christian life looks too hard, we must remember that we are not called to live it by ourselves. We must live it by the Spirit of God. The command of love is not a new legalistic burden laid on our back; it is what happens freely when we walk by the Spirit. People who try to love without relying on God’s Spirit always wind up trying to fill their own emptiness rather than sharing their fullness. And so love ceases to be love. Love is not easy for us. But the good news is that it is not primarily our work but God’s. We must simply learn to “walk by the Spirit.”
So I want to build today’s message around three questions: What? Why? And, how? What is this “walking by the Spirit”? Why is it crucial to walk by the Spirit? And, how, very practically, can we walk by the Spirit?
What Is Walking by the Spirit?
First, what is this “walking by the Spirit”? There are two other images in the context which shed light on the meaning of “walk by the Spirit.” The first is in verse 18: “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” If Paul had said, “If you follow the Spirit you are not under law,” it would have been true, but in using the passive voice (“If you are led”) he emphasizes the Spirit’s work, not ours. The Spirit is not a leader like the pace car in the “Daytona 500.” He is a leader like a locomotive on a train. We do not follow in our strength. We are led by his power. So “walk by the Spirit” means stay hooked up to the divine source of power and go wherever he leads.
The second image of our walk in the Spirit is in verse 22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.” If our Christian walk is to be a walk of love and joy and peace, then “walk by the Spirit” must mean “bear the fruit of the Spirit.” But again, the Spirit’s work is emphasized, not ours. He bears the fruit. Perhaps Paul got this image from Jesus. You recall John 15:4–5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” So “walk by the Spirit” means “abide in the vine.” Keep yourself securely united to the living Christ. Don’t cut yourself off from the flow of the Spirit.
So in answer to our first question, What is this walking by the Spirit? we answer: It is “being led by the Spirit” and it is “bearing the fruit of the Spirit.” The work of the Spirit is emphasized, yet the command is for us to do something. Our wills are deeply involved. We must want to be coupled to the locomotive. We must want to abide in the vine. And there are some things we can do to keep ourselves attached to the flow of God’s power. But before we ask how to walk by the Spirit let’s ask . . .
Why Is It Crucial to Walk by the Spirit?
Why is it crucial to walk by the Spirit? The text gives two reasons, one in verse 16 and one in verse 18. In verse 16 the incentive for walking by the Spirit is that when you do this, you will not gratify the desire of the flesh. The RSV here is wrong when it makes the second part of verse 16 a command instead of a promise and says, “Do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” All the other major versions are right to make it a promise because this particular Greek construction has that meaning everywhere else in Paul. The verse should be translated, for example with the NASB, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” So the first reason we should walk by the Spirit is that when we do, the desires of our flesh are overcome.
In recent messages I’ve tried to define the flesh as Paul uses it. Most of the time (though not always, see below) it does not simply refer to the physical part of you. (Paul does not regard the body as evil in itself.) The flesh is the ego which feels an emptiness and uses the resources in its own power to try to fill it. Flesh is the “I” who tries to satisfy me with anything but God’s mercy. Notice Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Now compare with this Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” In 2:20, “flesh” is used in its less usual meaning referring to ordinary bodily existence, which is not in itself evil (“I now live in the flesh”).
But the important thing to notice is that in 5:24 the “flesh“ is crucified and in 2:20 “I” am crucified. This is why I define the flesh in its negative usage as an expression of the “I” or the “ego.” And notice in 2:20 that since the old fleshly ego is crucified, a new “I” lives, and the peculiar thing about this new “I” is that it lives by faith. “The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” The flesh is the ego which feels an emptiness but loathes the idea of satisfying it by faith, i.e., by depending on the mercy of God in Christ. Instead, the flesh prefers to use the legalistic or licentious resources in its own power to fill its emptiness. As Romans 8:7 says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law.” The basic mark of the flesh is that it is unsubmissive. It does not want to submit to God’s absolute authority or rely on God’s absolute mercy. Flesh says, like the old TV commercial, “I’d rather do it myself.”
It is not surprising, then, that in verse 17 there is a war between our flesh and God’s Spirit. It is a problem at first glance that there is a lively war between flesh and Spirit in the Christian, according to verse 17, but the flesh is crucified in the Christian, according to verse 24. We’ll talk more about the sense in which our flesh is crucified when we get to verse 24. For now, let’s give Paul the benefit of the doubt and assume that both are somehow true, and focus on this war within: our flesh versus God’s Spirit.
God’s Spirit Conquers Our Flesh
Verse 17 says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you would.” The main thing to learn from this verse is that Christians experience a struggle within. If you said to yourself when I was describing the flesh, “Well, I have a lot of that still left in me,” it does not necessarily mean you aren’t a Christian. A Christian is not a person who experiences no bad desires. A Christian is a person who is at war with those desires by the power of the Spirit.
Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!
But when you take verses 16 and 17 together, the main point is not war, but victory for the Spirit. Verse 16 says that when you walk by the Spirit, you will not let those bad desires come to maturity. When you walk by the Spirit, you nip the desires of the flesh in the bud. New God-centered desires crowd out old man-centered desires. Verse 16 promises victory over the desires of the flesh — not that there won’t be a war, but that the winner of that war will be the Spirit.
In fact, I think what Paul means in verse 24, when he says the flesh has been crucified, is that the decisive battle has been fought and won by the Spirit. The Spirit has captured the capital and broken the back of the resistance movement. The flesh is as good as dead. Its doom is sure. But there are outlying pockets of resistance. The guerrillas of the flesh will not lay down their arms, and must be fought back daily. The only way to do it is by the Spirit, and that’s what it means to walk by the Spirit — so live that he gives victory over the dwindling resistance movement of the flesh. So the first reason why we must walk by the Spirit is that, when we do, the flesh is conquered.
God’s Spirit Creates Law-Fulfilling Fruit
The second reason to walk by the Spirit or be led by the Spirit is found in verse 18: “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” This does not mean you don’t have to fulfill God’s law. You do. That’s what verses 13 and 14 said, “Through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And Romans 8:3–4 say, “God condemned sin in the flesh in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Therefore, not being under law does not mean we don’t have to fulfill the law. It means that, when we are led by the locomotive of the Spirit, we cruise on the railroad track of the law as a joyful way of life and are not left to climb it like a ladder in our own strength from underneath. When we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the punishment or the oppression of the law because what the law requires the Spirit produces; namely, love. Notice verse 22: the first and all-encompassing fruit of the Spirit is love, which verse 14 says fulfills the whole law.
And to confirm that this is just how Paul is thinking, he ends the list of the fruit of the Spirit in verse 23 with the words, “against such there is no law.” In other words, how can you be under the oppression or punishment of the law when the very things the law requires are popping out like fruit on the branches of your life? So the second reason to walk by the Spirit is really the same as the first. Verse 16 says, do it because you get victory over the flesh when you walk by the Spirit. You nip temptation in the bud. Verse 18 says, do it because then you are free from the oppression and punishment of the law, because the fruit the Spirit produces fulfills the law. The Spirit is the fullness that overflows in love. Therefore it conquers the emptiness that drives the flesh, and it spills out in acts of love which fulfill the law.
How Do You Walk by the Spirit?
But the $60,000 question is, How do you walk by the Spirit? All of us have heard preachers say, “Let the Spirit lead you,” or, “Allow the Spirit to control you,” and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do you allow the Spirit to control you? I want to try to show you that the answer is, You allow the Spirit to control you by keeping your heart happy in God. Or to put it another way,You walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.
Here’s the fivefold evidence from Galatians. First, Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Genuine faith always produces love, because faith pushes out guilt, fear, and greed and gives us an appetite to enjoy God’s power. But Galatians 5:22 says love is a fruit of the Spirit. So if love is what faith necessarily produces and love is a fruit of the Spirit, then the way to walk by the Spirit is to have faith — a happy resting in the promises of God is the pipeline of the Spirit.
Second, notice Galatians 5:5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.” How do you wait for Jesus “through the Spirit”? “By faith!” When you keep your heart happy in God and resting in his promises, you are waiting through the Spirit and walking by the Spirit.
Third, look at Galatians 3:23, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law.” The coming of faith liberates a person from being under law. But what does 5:18 say? “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” How, then, shall we seek to be led by the Spirit? By faith. By meditating on the trustworthiness and preciousness of God’s promises until our hearts are free of all fretting and guilt and greed. This is how the Holy Spirit fills and leads.
Fourth, see Galatians 3:5, the clearest of all: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing of faith?” The Spirit does his mighty work in us and through us only by the hearing of faith. We are sanctified by faith alone. The way to walk by the Spirit and so not fulfill the desires of the flesh is to hear the delectable promises of God and trust them, delight in them, rest in them.
Finally, consider Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Who is the Christ who lives in Paul? He is the Spirit. As 4:6 says: The Spirit of God’s Son has been sent into our hearts. And how, according to 2:20, does the life of the Son produce itself in Paul? How does Paul walk by the Spirit of the Son? “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”
Day by day Paul trusts the Son. Day by day he casts his cares on God, frees his life from guilt and fear and greed, and is borne along by the Spirit. How, then, do we walk by the Spirit? The answer is plain. We stop trying to fill the emptiness of our lives with a hundred pieces of the world, and put our souls at rest in God. The Spirit will work the miracle of renewal in your life when you start meditating on his unspeakable promises day and night and resting in them. (See also Romans 15:13, 2 Peter 1:4, and Isaiah 64:4.)
The Secret of Walking by the Spirit
Yesterday at 5:30 a.m. I was in Pasadena, California, standing in the kitchen of my beloved teacher Daniel Fuller talking to his wife Ruth. One of the things I will never forget about that kitchen is that over the sink are taped four tremendous promises of God typed on little pieces of paper. Ruth puts them there to meditate on while she works. That’s how you walk by the Spirit.
I keep a little scrap paper by my prayer bench, and whenever I read a promise that can lure me away from my guilt and fear and greed, I write it down. Then in dry spells I have a pile of promises to soak my soul in. The fight of faith is fought with the promises of God. And the fight of faith is the same as the fight to walk by the Spirit. He works when we are resting in his promises. George Müller wrote (Autobiography, pp. 152–4):
I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . . . Now what is the food for the inner-man? Not prayer but, the Word of God.
George Müller learned the secret of walking by the Spirit: Meditate on the precious truths of the Word of God until your heart is happy in God, resting in his promises.
Hudson Taylor had learned it too. He received word one day of rioting near one of the inland mission stations. In a few moments George Nichol, one of his evangelists, overheard Taylor whistling his favorite hymn, “Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting in the Joy of What Thou Art.” Hudson Taylor “had learned that for him, only one life was possible — just that blessed life of resting and rejoicing in the Lord under all circumstances, while he dealt with the difficulties inward and outward, great and small” (Spiritual Secret, p. 209).
I say to you, brothers and sisters, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. You will have victory over temptation and know the guidance of the Lord if you keep your heart happy in God by resting in his promises.
He who obeys God’s laws finds him a father. He who disobeys them, finds him a judge.
This week the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of same sex marriage in all 50 states. My friends, we are witnessing the end of federalism in our nation. In a single vote, 5 folks basically just told the states to “stick it.”
Consider this: what happens when a gay couple goes into a church wanting to plan a ceremony and the pastor says no? We now have a conflict between the First Amendment and individual behavior.
Dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia summed up his disgust with this ruling in a footnote on page 7 (note 22). He says, “If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: ‘The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,’ I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”
With this ruling, the Supreme Court is essentially saying individuals have civil rights based on their sexual behavior, and setting up a monumental battle with the free exercise of religion. This could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back – that camel being the up till now silent, passive Americans who have been cowed into “tolerating” societal changes that go counter to their fundamental beliefs.
As reported by the Christian Post in April, “The United States Supreme Court may soon liberate the biblically conservative church from old “prejudices” that should have long ago been “jettisoned,” forcing it into “rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity,” in the words of a recent writer in The New York Times.”
“Homosexuality must be removed from the “sin list” and, according to an MSNBC commentator, traditional marriage proponents must be forced “to do things they don’t want to do.” Sadly, this crusade will be like the Marxist “liberation” movements that promised to “free” people, but really were about control and suppression. The culmination may come as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on same-sex marriage cases beginning April 28. By July 1 the Court possibly will issue an official ruling regarding the constitutional right to homosexual marriage. The Court’s decision may impact the form of biblically based churches dramatically. Churches that hold to a strict and conservative interpretation of the Bible’s teaching about gender and marriage may find themselves “Romanized”. The elites of first century Rome would not allow the church an institutional presence in society. “The Christian churches were associations which were not legally authorized, and the Roman authorities, always suspicious of organizations which might prove seditious, regarded them with jaundiced eye,” writes Kenneth Scott LaTourette.”
I found the statement “rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity” as rather odd. And the comments from the MSNBC commentator of “traditional marriage proponents being ‘forced’ to do the things they don’t want to do” as somewhat threatening.
These statements by progressive socialists are indicative of a lack of regard and respect for the First Amendment right of religious liberty. Here is where I see an incredible philosophical battle looming. Now that SCOTUS has ruled there is a constitutional right to marriage – which I fail to see how that could be construed — and the radical gay left decides to push the envelope against churches, it will be a strategic miscalculation for the liberal left.
This is why the solution of civil unions should have been the solution. If the country is “forced” to accept something that goes counter to a traditional value, there will undoubtedly be push back. And that push back will result in a galvanizing issue which I do not believe the liberal progressive left fully comprehends.
t’s simple — in the 2012 presidential election there were some five to seven million evangelical Christian voters who sat it out. They were not inspired and therefore did not participate. However, I believe with this decision, the left has overextended itself — as it has already based on courts overturning electorate decisions – and you will see a social conservative issue that will have greater prominence. Some on the center-right will say, drop it, that’s a bad policy recommendation. This issue will not lend itself to dismissal and cognitive dissonance — there must be a solution. The social conservative issue of marriage will not be thrown upon the ash heap. It shouldn’t be the prominent issue, but it does have cross interest appeal.
The Christian Post postulated, “What happens if local churches that do not embrace same-sex marriage find their legal status shaky or non-existent, as well as parachurch groups, conservative Christian colleges, church-based humanitarian agencies, and all other religious institutions – Christian and otherwise – supporting the traditional view of marriage. Without state-recognized corporate status everything from mortgages and building permits to employment and hiring practices is threatened – all of them essential for institutional function.”
“Journalist Ben Shapiro notes that there is already a movement on the state level “to revoke non-profit status for religious organizations that do not abide by same-sex marriage.” The Supreme Court’s decision could make churches refusing to comply “private institutions engaging in commerce,” and therefore subject to laws already in place. Refusal to perform a same-sex wedding would put a church out of business. Current trends seem to flow against conservative religious institutions. All the elites that set and propagate cultural consensus are aligned in support of same-sex marriage – the Entertainment Establishment, Information Establishment, Academic Establishment, and Political Establishment.”
However, are the entertainment, information (media), academic, and political establishments truly representative of American culture? Or do they just have a more prominent position, making us believe they have a majority opinion?
There has been little talk about how, during the Obama wave of 2008, same-sex marriage ballot proposals in two states did not win as liberal progressives and the gay left had hoped – in Florida and California. The quiet point that no one wanted to comprehend was that countless droves of black voters swarmed to the polls. And as they voted for the “first black president” they did NOT vote to bring about gay marriage in their states. Why? Because of traditional biblical beliefs. Now, in 2008, Obama stated he didn’t support gay marriage — when he decided to flip flop — the hushed-up secret was the anger and disdain this caused with many black pastors and ministers. We all know the Democrats wholeheartedly depend on an obedient black electoral patronage — what if 25 percent of blacks say no? Click to view pt;2 Part 2
Question: “What is the key to victory when struggling with sin?”
Answer:The key to victory in our struggles with sin lies not in ourselves, but in God and His faithfulness to us: “The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:18; see alsoPsalm 46:1).
There’s no getting around it: we all struggle with sin (Romans 3:23). Even the great apostle Paul lamented over his ongoing struggle with sin in his life: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:18-20). Paul’s struggle with sin was real; so much so that he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24).
Yet in the next breath, he answers his own question, as well as ours: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a). In this passage, Paul not only provides us with the very key to victory when struggling with sin, but explains the never-ending conundrum between our sinful nature and spiritual nature: “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:25b).
Earlier, Paul said, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14). Paul is comparing our sinful nature, our flesh, to a slave. Just as a slave obeys his master, so our flesh obeys sin. However, as believers in Christ, we have become spiritual beings under the law of Christ; our inner selves are under the influence and ownership of God’s grace and the life of Christ (Romans 5:21). As long as we are living in this world, our sinful nature and fleshly desire will remain with us. But we also have a new nature in Christ. This leads to a struggle between what we want to do and what we actually do, as sin continues to assault our earthly nature. This struggle is a normal part of living the Christian life.
It’s interesting to note that Paul, the greatest of the apostles, declared that, of all sinners, “I am the worst!” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul affirms the struggles we all have as we battle with sin and temptation in our lives. The struggles are real, and they’re debilitating. We grow weary from the never-ending temptations and in falling short of God’s glory. Paul, in essence, is telling us that we need not pretend that we’re untouched by our struggles. He’s been there. He understands. Though our efforts to do right seem desperate, we do have hope “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25;Hebrews 4:15). And He, in fact, is the key to our victory over sin.
A true Christian will war with Satan and his daily efforts to undermine us. The devil is the ruler of this world, and we are living “behind enemy lines” (Ephesians 2:2;Ephesians 6:12;John 12:31). With our focus on Christ, however, we will be able to cultivate a mindset that proclaims we’d rather die than do anything to hurt God. When we give ourselves to Christ totally (Matthew 16:24), Satan will flee from us. When we draw near to God, He, in turn, will draw near to us (James 4:7-8).
Our key to victory in our struggle with sin lies in the very promise of God Himself: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
As true believers in Christ, even when we “face trials far beyond our ability to endure” (2 Corinthians 1:8), we can echo the reassuring words of Paul, who declares, “God has delivered us and will continue to deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:10). Finally, the psalmist gives us these words of encouragement: “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will act” (Psalm 37:3-5).
Still have questions-Click to view-Rewards to Being Faithful….
Disqualified. The mere mention of the word stirs up strong emotions. No matter the situation, the word smacks of shame, humiliation, and the worst kind of failure. The Scriptures call us to be like Christ, but they also offer warnings regarding disqualification. Some of us wrongly claim immunity from such attitudes; others of us believe we are beyond help. Paul reminds us that God’s faithfulness provides a way through the temptations that lead to disqualification.
My ministry on word press is spreading more everyday, but my local facebook, twitter, google+ and tumbler ratings are not as impressive. Why does it seem like the more people know you the less receptive they are about receiving the gospel from your vessel? The flags in this picture reflect how well outsiders have responded since the inception of “Fresh Oil in 2013. God has blessed me with invitations to travel to preach and teach what He and only He has infused me with and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful to all who have or are participating in drinking from this well know as “Fresh Oil…
My own call to the ministry was greatly influenced by the prophets of the Old Testament. At a significant crisis point in my life when I was struggling to decide a direction for my life, the Lord spoke to me through Isaiah 61 and said “This is who you are.” You remember the passage: “The Spirit of the LORD God is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the afflicted.”
After one has answered the call to salvation and received Christ, God calls him to other callings which are moral in mature and affect a believers attitude and conduct. He has called believers to “fellowship with Christ” [1Cor. 1:9], to “holiness” [1Thes. 4:7], to “liberty” [Gal. 5:13], to “peace” [1Cor. 7:15], and to“virtue” [2Pet. 1:3]. Believers are to “walk worthy” of the calling they have received [Eph. 4:1].
But there is still another calling that is even more personal than the moral callings. It is God’s call to the individual believer for a specific ministry. The Lord has been calling individuals for specific ministries for millennia. He called Abram out of Ur; Moses out of Egypt; and Aaron from among the Levites [Heb. 5:4]. God had certain duties He wanted them to perform. The Lord also called many others in the Bible for certain ministries. From Isaiah [Isa. 6:9] to the twelve disciples to Paul [1Tim. 1:11], the Lord has been calling men into His ministry.
A call from God into a ministry is a high and heavenly calling [Phil. 3:14] which, unfortunately, is taken lightly by some ministers today [if they are truly called]. Paul was called to be an “apostle,” “preacher,”and “teacher” of the Gentiles [Rom. 1:1; 1Tim. 1:1; etc.], and he never lost sight of his calling. He actively engaged in his ministry until the day his head was taken. Of course, the Lord doesn’t call men to be apostles today because no minister today has the “signs of an apostle” [2Cor. 12:12]. I know there are some frauds out there who claim to be apostles [Yes, even among Fundamental Baptists] but they are deceived. Just ask one of them for some signs and they usually shut up. But the Lord still calls men to other callings or vocations such as pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. He calls and provides these men to the Church for the “perfecting of the saints” [Eph. 4:11-12].
If I were to ask, “How does a person go into the ministry?” many Christians would answer, “The person needs to go to Bible college or seminary. After he has served in a ministry position for a while, he needs to be ordained.”
All right, I admit that it was a trick question. The question itself and that answer reflect a deeply entrenched, but erroneous, mentality among God’s people, which divides people into two categories: those who are “in the ministry” (“clergy”) and those who are not (“laity”). To the extent that we buy into that mindset, the body of Christ will be crippled. Just a few will be committed to doing the work of the ministry, while the majority sit back and let them do it. But the biblical picture is that those who are gifted as pastor-teachers and evangelists are to equip the saints (all believers) for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12).
So the correct answer to the question, “How does a person go into the ministry?” is, “He or she trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.” At the moment a person trusts Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit baptizes him (or her) into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). As members of His body, each one has a spiritual gift which he is to exercise for the building up of the body. It is proper and usually necessary for those who are gifted as pastor-teachers and evangelists to pursue formal training. It is also proper, according to Scripture (1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 9:14) to support those who devote themselves to these ministries. But it still is true that every believer has a spiritual gift that he or she is to use in ministry.
I’m talking primarily about a mindset where each of you sees yourself as entrusted by God with a vital ministry for which you will give an account. In the parable of the talents, it was the one-talent man who buried rather than invested his talent. Often in the body of Christ, it is the “one-talent” person who thinks, “I’m not gifted in an important way, so I can’t do much for the Lord.” That’s a wrong mentality that I want to challenge. The lesson I want to draw from our text is that…
All of God’s people should be ministry oriented.
Nehemiah 11 & 12 is another one of those portions of Scripture that you look at and think, “Why did God put this in His inspired Word?” From 11:3-12:26 there is a lengthy register of the names of the Jewish citizens. These two chapters include:
1. The families who repopulated Jerusalem (11:3-24)
A. Lay families in Jerusalem (11:3-9)
B. Priests in Jerusalem (11:10-14)
C. Levites, gatekeepers, and temple servants in Jerusalem (11:15-24)
2. The families who lived in the cities of Judah and Benjamin (11:25-36)
3. The priests and Levites of Zerubbabel’s return (12:1-9)
4. The high priests (12:10-11)
5. The priests and Levites after Zerubbabel and Jeshua (12:12-26).
6. The dedication of the wall (12:26-43)
7. The organization of temple support (12:44-47)
Derek Kidner (Ezra & Nehemiah, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries [IVP], p. 117) aptly says,
It is not bureaucratic pedantry that has preserved these names. The point is, once more, that these people and their chronicler are conscious of their roots and of their structure as God’s company. This is no rabble of refugees, settling down anywhere: they have the dignity of order and of known relationships; above all, of their calling to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).
These people had willing hearts to do whatever God wanted them to do, and each functioned in their own unique capacity. As we examine the section that lists the names of the Jewish citizens, four factors emerge that help us define what ministry involves. The section dealing with the dedication of the wall reveals four requirements for the person involved in ministry (= every believer).
What does ministry involve?
1. MINISTRY INVOLVES A WILLINGNESS TO LIVE WHERE GOD WANTS YOU TO LIVE.
Nehemiah got the wall built, but there were not many people living in the city (7:4). When the people returned from the exile, the walls were torn down and there was a lot of rubble from the previous destruction. It would have required a lot of work to clear the rubble and restore the city. As the former capital, the restored city would have been a major target for enemies to attack. At first there wasn’t much economic opportunity there. It was far easier to settle out in the country and farm your own plot of ground. So most of the people had been content to live in the surrounding villages scattered across the land.
But Nehemiah knew that if the city was to be strong and prosperous and if the worship in the temple was to thrive, the city had to be well populated with citizens who could defend it in case of attack. As 11:1 notes, the leaders lived in Jerusalem, but most of the people did not. So they cast lots to pick one out of ten who would move to Jerusalem. It seems that some who were not chosen volunteered to move, either in place of or in addition to those who drew the lot (11:2). The ones who stayed in the villages blessed those who were willing to move to Jerusalem.
Those who moved had to pull up roots where they were already established, give up their acreage in the country, and move into what quickly became a somewhat crowded city. Based on the number of men who moved to the city (3,044), there were about 10,000, conservatively estimated, who moved into the city, with a total population of 100,000 Jews in the land (Howard Vos, cited by James Boice, Nehemiah: Learning to Lead [Revell], p. 175). Although it was inconvenient and less desirable in some ways to move from the country to the city, these people were willing to live where God wanted them to live in order to serve His purpose.
One of the first considerations that any servant of God should think about is, “Where does God want me to live?” That should be determined in large measure by the potential for your ministry in that locale. Is there a solid Bible-teaching church where you can grow and serve? If not, is God calling you to help start such a church? That should be a primary factor in any move that you make.
I meet many Christians who say things like, “I moved to Flagstaff because it was a small town and not too crowded. But it’s becoming too big. I’m thinking of moving to (and they name some beautiful remote setting).” They haven’t given a minute’s thought to what sort of church may be there. Their main aim is to get away from people and the city.
Has it ever occurred to you that God pictures heaven as a city? It’s not pictured as a ranch or personal retreat, where you can live in seclusion and ignore others. It’s a city, the New Jerusalem! The reason Christians think about escaping from the city is that they don’t have a ministry mindset. If you’re thinking ministry, you’re thinking people. And while people live in the country and in suburbs, it is tragic that American evangelicals have, in large part, abandoned the cities. Rather than complaining about all the people in Flagstaff, we should view them as an opportunity for ministry!
2. MINISTRY INVOLVES SERVING IN THE SPHERE IN WHICH GOD CALLS YOU TO SERVE.
Chapter 11 lists the heads of families in Jerusalem (11:3-9); the priests (11:10-14); the Levites (11:15-18); the gatekeepers and temple servants (11:19-21); various officials appointed by the king of Persia (11:22-24); and, the people who lived outside the city (11:25-36). Each served in his respective sphere for the effective operation of the city and the nation. Those who lived outside of the city had to farm the land to provide food for those in the city. Each had a different role, but each role was vital to the entire cause.
In the body of Christ, God has gifted us in different ways, but every part is vital for the overall functioning and health of the body (1 Cor. 12:12-30). We should learn to coordinate and complement each other without friction or rivalry. Problems often develop in the body because the eye looks at everyone from the perspective of the eye only, and the hand views everything from the perspective of the hand. But the eye should value the hand and the hand should value the eye.
I once heard Carl George make the astute observation that the things in the church that people usually complain about reveal the person’s area of spiritual gift. For example, if a person says, “This isn’t a caring church,” she is probably gifted in mercy. The one who says, “This church doesn’t emphasize outreach enough” is probably an evangelist. The guy who says, “This church is a disorganized mess” is probably a gifted administrator.
The solution is not for the gifted person to sit around criticizing others for not doing what probably is not their area of gift, but rather to get involved in the areas that he thinks need fixing! The merciful person should help us all become more merciful by showing mercy. The evangelist should show us how to reach the lost. The administrator should help us get organized. God has made us all differently, and we only work as a body when we work in our sphere and affirm others in their sphere. Click to view- Servant or Selfish?