A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Idle Hands are the Devil's Workshop

This is now the third installment in my little series of notes about good character. I have already written about being responsible, and being as good as one’s word. This time I want to write about work ethic. Honest work is good. We know that work was not meant to be burdensome in the beginning. There was work to do in paradise. In Genesis 2:15, we read, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (ESV). We also know that God made work into a wearisome thing as part of the punishment for man’s sins. The text reads: “And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.... By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground…’” (Gen 3:17-19 ESV). So we should be thankful that for most of us work is not quite as bad as it was for Adam. Some of us even love what we do for a living (God is very merciful) but, regardless of what it is we are called to do, either in service to Christ, or for a living, or both—honorable, responsible people of good character are careful to maintain a healthy work ethic.

A favorite passage of mine is Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” (NASB). Several proverbs relate wisdom about how we ought to work. Proverbs 6:6-11 admonishes, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man” (ESV). Another one reads like this: “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Pro 13:4 ESV). That pretty well says all we need to know, but one more will help us make a powerful point about character. Paul wrote, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thes 3:10-12 ESV). Those of solid character do their part.

An old saying goes something like, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” These days we know the truth of that statement well, and try (as a society) to create ways to keep our youth busy. However, good character means that we put our all into any worthy task we set our hearts to do. If it was worth starting, it is worth finishing. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well. To be lazy is selfish and ugly—a sin rooted in foolish pride. Let every true Christian glorify Christ and show good character by doing the best job at work that he can possibly do. More important, let us join with true disciples like “Mary” (Rom 16:6), “Persis” (16:12), and “Epaphras” (Col 4:13) and work hard for the Lord and the brethren.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When No One Is Looking

Again, this week, I am writing about character. My intention is to remind us that it is easy to be a character, but to be a person of character is a different matter. It takes intent and perseverance to have good character. Last week, I wrote about personal responsibility. Having the guts to accept the consequences of one’s actions, whether good or bad, is one of the foundations of good character. This week I want to write a few words about integrity.

There is an old question that goes something like: “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound?” I want our question to be: “If no one ever finds out what you do, does it really matter if it is right or wrong?” The answer to the second question is: “Yes.” Now, I could write line after line explaining how God, in his Omniscience, knows everything you do, and thus it is impossible to sneak something by him, but that is not the point in this little article. The point is: even in light of Judgment Day, what is in the heart matters. It is insufficient to be outwardly goodly and inwardly evil (Matt 12:34, 15:8, 18-19; Eph 6:6; Col 3:22). If I am good only when others are watching, at best, fear is my motive, not love, and at worst, perhaps I am acting only in pride. However, to do what is right to the best of my ability even on occasions when I am sure that no one will find out, and thus, no one will either punish or reward me—that is what character is all about! So, to be a man of great character, I need to take my integrity seriously—as a matter of personal honor—and never excuse myself from maintaining it even when it seems only a little thing, or when no one is looking.

The last several years have seen several local and national politicians embroiled in bribery scandals. Congress has been debating ethics laws about how to and not to take money (bribes) from special interest lobbyists. There is a reason why Paul wrote 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (ESV). Money is not inherently evil, though the world would be far better if we all would simply work hard and give freely to anyone in need and forget about materialism (which is the way Christians are supposed to live –Acts 2:44-45). However, money (being what it is) is often the object of all the evil lusts and pride of base men. In all matters of financial dealings, whether it is commerce, taxes, offerings, or whatever else, people of Character are thoughtful, and careful to be above reproach. Integrity is not just about money; in fact, its application to finances is secondary. Good character in regard to personal integrity is the same as being as good as your word. We know what the Lord said about that (Matt 5:37). Let us all be upright men and women of character. Let us behave above reproach even when it seems a little thing, or when no one is looking.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Blame Game

There are plenty of “characters” in the world, and always have been, but those who have good, strong character are sometimes few. Character has to do with one’s inner strength and endurance, sense of rightness and wrongness, integrity, and honor. Character is what makes one better than the animals. Good character establishes and stabilizes society. It is what we admire about those who choose the harder road in pursuit of noble principles, or in self-sacrifice for the sake of love. Character is closely tied to maturity—those who have good character are the true “grown-ups.” Good character is Christian; therefore I intend to write articles about qualities of good character over the next few weeks. I want to begin by writing about personal responsibility.

In Genesis 3, we read about the first sin. As we ingest the contents of the chapter, we learn that (from the start) sin was the genesis of several maladies like fear, shame and death. We also notice that, when called into account, the first sinners already knew how to blame others for their faults expertly. Our text for consideration is Genesis 3:8-13, it reads: “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the LORD God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’” (ESV). Adam blamed Eve for doing what he knew was wrong all along (1 Tim 2:14). Eve blamed the serpent for taking advantage of her lack of solid faith. The serpent (Satan) actually was to blame for starting the mess to begin with, but to be fair, no one made Adam and Eve do anything. They chose to sin, and through poor character tried to avoid the consequences by shifting the blame.

We all make mistakes (Romans 3:10, 23). Some mistakes are more severe than others. Some mistakes are more public than others, but whether major or minor, public or private, if we are willing to accept the accolades due our successes, we ought to be fair-minded enough to accept the responsibility for our failures without making excuses, and especially without looking to say it was someone else’s fault. When one of us makes a mistake and blames somebody else, it creates a string of new problems and concentric circles of blame that weaken the unity of the entire race (not to mention the church). We all need to strive to be people of great character, and not just “characters.” A good place to start is to accept the results of your own decisions, whether good or bad. Be a stand-up kind of person. Be a man (or woman)! Be responsible. Don’t play the blame game.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Your Part in Growing the Church

Every healthy church should be growing over time. Church growth occurs one soul at a time as people obey the gospel and begin to assemble regularly with the local congregation. Sometimes we also consider what some call “church-swelling” to be growth. Swelling occurs when those who are already Christians move into an area and place membership with a congregation, or when members move from one congregation to another in the area. We want the local church to grow for a variety of reasons, but we want it to always be good growth that is a boon to the whole kingdom of God, and do not desire the growth of one good congregation to the detriment of another. We want healthy growth, and that is the result of God’s blessing the works of a healthy church. Every member of the local church has an integral part to play in bringing about growth, but before we learn about that, let us notice a few reasons why we should desire growth (sometimes selfish or uninformed church members do not seem to want it).

First, church growth is desirable, because God wants it. The Great Commission commands Christians to convert every kind of person in all the world to belief in and obedience to Christ (Matt 28:18-20). Thus, the very basic commandment about Christian works is the command to evangelize (preach the gospel).

Second, we want church growth, because of what it adds to our edification and fellowship. What we often call the second responsibility of the church (after evangelism) is edification or strengthening each other through teaching and serving one another. Obviously the more of us there are the more we will have to fill various needed roles of service, and to build relationships with.

Finally, we want church growth, because of the manpower and material power it gives us to do ever more and greater works in Jesus’ name. We want to do the Lord’s work, and we can do it with many or few, but the more of us there are, the more we can do.

Church growth is not an accident. Healthy churches grow over time with no exceptions. Growth begins with courageous, visionary leaders that direct and inspire the congregation into a sincere imitation of Christ. Growth depends on sound and dynamic preachers and teachers of the word to contribute the substance of our faith and articulate the message we all must carry into the community. Growth depends on every member believing in their church family and being excited about it, and that they show it from day to day. No one man or core group can lastingly succeed in growing a healthy church. It is the responsibility of every member. Start inviting everyone you know to services, and tell them what a great church this is! When you do, we’ll grow.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A More Excellent Way

Paul was writing to a congregation of Christians that was largely focused on the wrong things when he penned the inspired words: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:28-31 ESV). Of course, during the 60s A.D., when 1 Corinthians was written, the church was still in the miraculous age of its infancy, during which God gave to men the power to perform great supernatural signs and wonders to confirm the word as it was first being preached and written. Those days are gone, the word has been delivered “once for all to the saints” (Jude 3) and confirmed (Heb 2:1-4). God no longer imparts miraculous powers to men, but he does still give us gifts to use in his service, so the principle of the passage applies until Christ returns (while faith, hope and love abide -1 Cor 13).

God has appointed leaders in the church by giving them the abilities to lead, teach, help, etc. Sometimes we are tempted to respect certain brethren and their abilities more than others, which is not God’s intention in imparting gifts. Through Paul, God wanted the Corinthian saints to know a more excellent way than honoring some, belittling others and always trying to estimate who was the greatest (most gifted) among them. That is why 1 Corinthians 12:31 leads the reader into the “love chapter” (Ch. 13). If someone has a "greater gift" than someone else, it is not so that he may honor himself, but that he might serve his brothers. For even Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for all (Matt 20:28).

It is my intention to use my blog as a space to inform my readers about the more excellent way—the way of mature Christianity in all its knowledge-surpassing love (Eph 3:19). However, to come to maturity requires one to grow in wisdom and knowledge first, as a sound foundation (1 Pet 1:5). I will be posting two kinds of writings on this blog. First, I will post each week’s bulletin article that I write for the church of Christ in which I preach, for your reading and re-reading. Second, I will post articles and short essays in answer to religious questions submitted to me. Most of the questions will be those submitted to me by members of the congregation in which I preach, but anyone reading this blog can submit questions to me via email and I will answer them (to the best of my ability) on a first come, first serve basis (no more than one major question per week, subject to time constraints). It is my intention, Lord willing, to grow through the deeper study of God’s word into which this blog will lead me, and I hope and pray that this blog will be a worthy use of internet space, and worth the time it will take for you to read it—that it will be a source of information leading to growth in Christ for many, many people.