Monday, May 28, 2012

God and Kingdom

On Memorial Day I'm once again reminded that it is an odd thing to live in the USA and also be a follower of Christ. I'm thrilled to have the political freedoms that we do, but I also realize that political boundaries mean nothing within the Kingdom of God. I'm grateful to the service men and women who have died defending these freedoms, but at the same time I cannot personally justify the taking up of arms to kill another human being for political reasons.

I choose not to celebrate patriotic holidays such as Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Veteran's Day because this nation is not truly my home (to clarify, I enjoy the day off from work, but I don't wave the flag). My ultimate citizenship is not here. Rather, it's in heaven. I've written previously here and here about not loving my country.

As opposed to the phrase "God and Country," we followers of Jesus should be thinking in terms of "God and No Country." A more positive way of saying that is "God and Kingdom."

Jesus spoke more about the Kingdom of God than just about anything else. It may have been his favorite topic. For example:

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:33

"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:24

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." Mark 1:15

But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God." Mark 10:14

"I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose." Luke 4:43

"To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand." Luke 8:10

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3

Those of us who are in Christ are also in His Kingdom. We have the daily privilege and duty of living out Kingdom life in whatever place we call home.

The Kingdom of God is not constrained in any way by political boundaries. There was a time when this was, to one degree or another, not the case. God dealt specifically and uniquely with the nation of Israel from Abraham until the time of Christ. Upon Jesus' coming, the kingdom began to spread to the Gentiles. We see this in rapid fashion in the book of Acts. Political boundaries, while a reality of the day, no longer mattered.

Christ's commission (Matt. 28:18-20) to us as the people of his kingdom is to make disciples of all nations. This refers to people groupings, not political states. In Acts 1:8, his followers are told to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. In Luke 24 Jesus says, "Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations." Again, our Lord is referring to people groups.

As we live for Christ, most of us will remain in the political states where we were born. This is just the nature of life. In ultimate terms, where we live is not significant. We could reside in the USA, Russia, Indonesia, Egypt, Andorra, North Korea, Chile, or any other country. The circumstances of our lives certainly differ based on where we live. For example, Christians in North Korea face vastly more persecution than anything we deal with here. Despite this, Christ expects us to live for him and him alone wherever we live.

Some of us will no doubt cross political boundaries to share the gospel. This is a beautiful thing. We must remember that we do this and/or support others in doing this in order to take the gospel to those who haven't heard it - regardless of political entity.

Political nation-states do not matter in God's Kingdom. This, quite simply, is why I do not love my country, I feel no duty to it, and I no longer say the Pledge of Allegiance.

My allegiance is to Christ and him alone. It is his kingdom that has eternal significance.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Why We Do and Don't Have a Statement of Faith

I know it sounds confusing, but our church family both does and does not have a statement of faith. While that sounds like it breaks the law of non-contradiction, it really doesn't.

Although we've never written it down, it's safe to conclude that our church family's statement of faith is a simple yet profound one: Jesus is Lord!

What we do not have is a lengthy statement of our beliefs. The reason for this is that we don't all agree on many of what we might call secondary doctrines. For example, I'm sure that we see differently on the doctrine of predestination. Our views of eschatology don't all line up. Our views of women's roles do not all fully correspond. If we had a statement of faith that demanded agreement, it would automatically force a wedge between us. It would create division.

That said, I wouldn't mind a statement of faith that focuses on core truths. If I had to select one, it would likely be The Nicene Creed. Core doctrines, by definition, are things that all Christians should agree upon. Therefore, a statement with only these should not be a problem.

The real difficulty becomes the secondary doctrines. This is what has led to the multitude of denominations we have today. Many of these newer (post-Reformation) statements of faith are solid documents; however, if adherence to one of them acts as a separator between Christians, then "Houston, we have a problem!"

As individuals, it is important for us to know what we believe. However, we may be in a place where we honestly do not know what we believe on certain issues. For example, I'm currently working through what I believe about women speaking during church gatherings. I'm in flux, and that is acceptable.

My encouragement to all believers is to know what you believe, but don't use this as a force to divide. Especially on secondary doctrines, it is fine to believe differently from other Christians. This is no reason for division.

Regarding statements of faith, focus on the essentials.

If you'd like to read through some statements, try this link.

What do you think about statements of faith? Do you have one? How does this affect your unity with those in your church family? What about other believers?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Missions in II Thessalonians

"Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith." II Thessalonians 3:1-2

Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians is one that we don't generally pay much attention to. When it comes to world missions, is there any connection at all? If so, what is the key thing Paul has to say? (To read the first post in this series, click here).

Paul writes something significant for missions in 3:1-2. The apostle addresses the importance of prayer as it relates to world missions. Paul, who was a gifted man, realized that anything good he could accomplish would come through the grace of God. His giftings were from God, and anyone's changed heart was from God. Success for Paul came only through Christ.

Paul makes some specific requests of the Thessalonian believers. First, he asks for prayer that the gospel message would move effectively to those who need to hear it. He's hoping for no roadblocks. His desire is that the word be honored through acceptance of it. Second, Paul hopes for delivery from the wicked men who are opposing him. We know, based on other passages (for example this), that Paul is not scared of suffering for the gospel. In this verse, he appears to desire deliverance so that his efforts won't be slowed down through imprisonment, etc.

It is somewhat ironic that when we attempt to share our faith, we sometimes take our eyes off Christ. We learn from Paul that it is only through Christ that anything good can be accomplished. This is a solid reminder that prayer should be the first missions activity of the church. We see this in Acts 13 as the church in Antioch first sent out Paul and Barnabas.

Let's all be praying missionaries. All success for Christ comes from and through Christ.

To read any or all of the posts in this series, click here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

ATTENTION ALL BLOGGERS: If You Want a Lot of Comments, Just Write about This!

If you are a blogger, well done.

If you are not a blogger, please start. It's not difficult. Just write about what you know and interests you.

Most bloggers, including myself, enjoy the discussion/comments aspect of blogging just as much as writing the posts. I've found a way to help with this. If you desire a boatload of comments, there is a topic that you can write about. This is almost guaranteed to bring in a tidal wave of discussion.

What is the topic? (Drum roll in background.) The topic is whether or not women should speak during church gatherings.

As far as I can recall, I've written about this twice. Both instances have yielded many more comments than normal.

The posts are entitled:

House Church - What About Women?

One Good Reason for Women to Speak

The fascinating aspect of all this for me is that I receive comments disagreeing with me from both sides. I take what could be described as a "middle-of-the-road" position on this issue. My hope is that this is a biblical position. While I do believe that women are permitted to speak during gatherings, I do not believe that they ought to take on any sort of teaching role.

Some commenters believe I'm incorrect in thinking that women should speak at all. Others believe I'm wrong to place any restrictions on women speaking in any way. It all makes for thought-provoking discussion.

To sum up: if you desire comments, simply ask if women should be allowed to speak when the church gets together. Give your position and then wait for the comments to flow in. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Should Elders Teach in a Different Manner than Other Men in the Church?

In a previous post, I asked whether or not elders should teach.

Now I'll ask a related question: Should elders teach in a different manner than other men in the church?

In looking at the church in general today, we see that in most instances the elders/overseers/pastors do in fact teach in ways that are different from everyone else. The sermon is the primary example of this. But is this how it should be?

Should elders teach in a different manner than the other men? In a word: No.

When we look in scripture, we see relatively few instances of elders teaching. When we read about teaching in the bible, we get the sense that all of the church was doing it. Col. 3:16, for example, exhorts everyone to teach.

In light of passages such as I Tim. 2 and I Cor. 14, it is fair to say that women should not teach men. Despite this, women should certainly be teaching other women. Teaching like this ought to occur every day of the week. It could be in the form of bible studies, but more frequently it ought to be in the everyday happenings of life.

What about during larger gatherings of the church? Elders will likely do some of the teaching. However, non-elder males will also teach. While elders will defend and shepherd the flock, non-elders will do the same. There is no scriptural warrant for elders teaching in a different manner than others.

That said, it does make sense that elders will be heavily involved in the teaching. The reason for this is that elders have been recognized as godly men. Also, elders have a decent amount of life experience (thus the term "elder"). When a passage of scripture is being discussed, it seems logical that elders would have much life experience to share with the group as it relates to the situation.

As far as teaching with authority is concerned, this role belongs to the Holy Spirit. Elders do not have an authoritative role; rather, their role is one of being godly examples to the people. Their teaching does not tell people what to do, but rather encourages them to do what God has said. They guide through their own obedience and service.

The topic being discussed at any particular time will likely have an impact on who speaks. There are times for elders to teach and there are times for them to learn (as with all of us).

One great benefit to elders teaching just like the other men is that it helps the body see them as part of the body. When elders teach in a different manner from others, it causes them to stand out and stand apart. This makes it tough for them to be a real part of the body.

One great benefit elders can give is in encouraging the younger men to teach. They may be able to instruct them in this. Younger folks have many excellent things to say, but may feel uncomfortable or unprepared to speak. Elders can help with this.

Paul makes it abundantly clear in I Cor. 12-14 that the church is one body that benefits from mutual interaction and upbuilding. When everyone is involved, the body is healthier than if there is an imbalance in any facet of church life. This includes teaching.

In the end, the scriptural model must be our guide. The bible never sets elders apart as men who teach differently from the rest of the flock. They should be able to teach. This teaching looks like the teaching of the rest of the body.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Should Elders Teach?

Should elders teach?

This is a question that is rarely asked in the church today. The assumed answer is almost always "Yes, of course." Whether the term used is elder, overseer, or pastor, most folks in the church believe they should teach.

It is fascinating to look in scripture for examples of elders teaching. What stands out is just how little of it there is. In light of the amount of teaching by elders that goes on in the church today, it seems like it would also be splashed all over the pages of the NT. However, it's just not very frequent at all.

That said, there are passages that I believe indicate that elders should teach. For example, I Timothy 3:2 informs us that overseers should be "able to teach." Although this does not say that they have to teach, it implies strongly that they will be doing so.

In I Peter 5, Peter exhorts the elders to "shepherd the flock of God that is among you." Shepherding can include a fairly wide variety of activities. It seems that teaching would be one of these. Part of shepherding is guidance, and this often takes the form of some type of teaching.

In Acts 20, Paul warns the elders from Ephesus to protect the church against false teachers from both inside and outside the church. One method of doing this is to teach the truth to the people. Paul tells them that some of the false teachers will "speak twisted things." Paul reminds them that he "admonished them with tears." The implication is that the elders must continue to admonish the church by speaking against those who speak twisted things.

Equally important, elders are part of the flock themselves. Paul has commissioned all believers to teach one another. In Colossians 3:16, he writes, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." As part of the church, elders have this privilege and responsibility.

Whenever we discuss teaching, we must keep in mind that scripture does not limit it to speaking from a podium/pulpit to a relatively silent group of people. Rather, in the bible we see teaching take place in various forms throughout life. It certainly occurred as the church gathered in larger groups, but it also happened when just a few people got together performing normal tasks throughout the day.

Back to the question at hand: Should elders teach? I believe the scriptural answer is a clear "Yes."

In my next post I'm going to tackle a related question that is a little more controversial: Should elders teach in a manner that is different from the way other men in the church teach? Yikes. That should make for an interesting discussion.

Missions in I Thessalonians

What does Paul have to say to us about world missions in his first letter to the Thessalonians? Specifically, what is the most important thing the apostle has to say? What is the key verse or passage?

(To read the first post in this series, please click here.)

I believe the most critical missions-centered verse for us in this letter is 1:8. Paul writes, "For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything."

This verse is extremely important because it answers a very crucial question for us. That question is, "Does the Great Commission apply to us?"

Some well-meaning Christians believe that the Great Commission (See Matt. 28:18-20, Luke 24:44-49, Acts 1:8) only applied to the original disciples. Paul's statement in I Thessalonians 1:8 tells us otherwise.

I wrote about this topic in some detail a few months ago. In order to avoid redundancy, I'll simply link to my post entitled The Great Commission: To Whom Does It Apply? I encourage you to read it, and then comment back here.

To read any of my posts in this series, please click here.

Monday, May 14, 2012

On Galatians 3:28

In light of a few posts I wrote last week (this and this), I'd like to briefly discuss Galatians 3:28.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

Galatians 3:28 is a verse that is frequently yanked out of context for a variety of purposes. Like most other verses, when the context is ignored, this verse can be forced to mean a wide variety of different things. In order to understand what Paul is truly saying, we must remember the broader context in which 3:28 falls.

Paul is writing to Christians in modern-day Turkey. His audience is likely those in the churches Paul founded on his first missionary journey. Paul is aghast that these relatively new believers have, to one degree or another, turned from the gospel of grace to a message of works. Paul writes these strong words at the outset of the epistle in 1:6-9, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

Most of the letter carries the theme of salvation by God’s grace through faith. It is designed to contradict the false teachings of Judaizers who were proclaiming a works-based gospel of law following. The context of the vast majority of this letter is one of salvation. Specifically, 1:1-5:12 focuses on salvation. It is not until 5:13 that Paul transitions to a focus on sanctification, saying, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

We see, then, that 3:28 falls in the middle of a fairly long treatise by Paul on the topic of faith-based salvation. In chapter three, Paul writes about Abraham as the man of faith. Abraham was justified by faith, not law. After Christ came, both Jews and Gentiles of faith are counted as sons of Abraham. Paul concludes chapter three by writing this in verses 25-29, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Everyone in Christ, regardless of race, societal status, or gender, is an heir to the promise of salvation. In this great salvation, we are all the same in Christ. We all have the same value and receive the same gift.

The entire focus of 3:28 is salvation in Christ.

Please notice that 3:28 says absolutely nothing about the role that any Christ-follower is to play in the family, in broader society, and/or in the church. This is because the context of 3:28 is salvation as opposed to sanctification. There are plenty of other verses in the NT that speak to the roles God expects us to play.

Galatians 3:28 is frequently used by some to say that men and women have the exact same roles to play in the family and in the church. The problem with this is that it requires the text to be torn out of its context in order to make it say this. Simply put, it’s not what Paul meant.

The bible differentiates between worth/value and role. Some verses deal with one while others deal with the other. Galatians 3:28 is a wonderful verse that we should all cherish, but we must also be faithful to scripture’s intent. While Paul intended for 3:28 to be read for understanding of salvation, he had no plans for this to impact the way we think about the roles we play.

Let’s all remember that each verse belongs in a broader context. It is from this context that meaning comes. In order to know what God means in the bible, we must stay in context.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

In Praise of Mothers

My wonderful wife Alice has written a blog post in praise of mothers on this Mother's Day. It's entitled Stream of Consciousness...On Mother's Day. She says many of the same things I'm feeling. Mothers truly are a gift from God.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

One Good Reason for Women to Remain Silent

In my previous post I offered one good reason for women to speak during church gatherings. In this post I’m offering one good reason for the ladies to keep silent.

The reason: If a woman speaks incorrectly or inappropriately, there is no good method for correcting her.

Let me explain by backing up a bit.

During a gathering of the body, a brother may offer an incorrect teaching, inappropriate rebuke, faulty application, etc. When he does this the other brothers there have the responsibility to lovingly correct him. This should be done in whatever manner is best for the health of the body. It may be publically or privately. Whatever the case, the brothers have the responsibility to take action.

Let’s now turn to the ladies. What happens if a Christian sister offers an incorrect teaching, an inappropriate rebuke, or a faulty application? She must be corrected, but who is going to do it? The other ladies present may very well feel that it is beyond their role to correct their sister in a mixed-gender assembly. The men may not feel comfortable correcting someone else’s wife (if she's married). Ideally, the husband would correct his wife, but what if he does not have the nerve to do it or simply thinks she is correct?

At that point it falls to one of the other brothers to correct his sister. The problem is that this immediately brings up complications. When the brother begins the correction, the husband may very well sense an attack on his wife and rush to her defense. Since one role of the husband is to defend his wife, he may react sharply against his brother even if the brother is attempting to speak lovingly and gently. It is a sort of no-win situation.

If women do not speak in the gathering, then this is never a problem. The men can confront the other men when needed, but the wife-defender issue never comes up. Maybe this is one of the reasons Paul wrote I Corinthians 14:33-35, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

The application of the above passage is the tricky part. Does this apply to any gathering, an entire body gathering, a time of bible study, or only specifically to the judging of prophets? The debate, as we know, rages on.

To sum up, one good reason for women’s silence in gatherings is that it cuts out the possibility of an ugly scene with brother defending his wife against another brother.

What say you? Again, ladies please join in.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Jon and I Have the Same Pastor!

My blogging friend Jon and I have the same pastor.  This is the case even though we don't live anywhere near each other.  Read more about it here.

One Good Reason for Women to Speak

One lively and important discussion that flows around in Christian circles is whether or not women should speak during church gatherings. Passages such as I Cor. 12, I Cor. 14:33-35, and I Tim. 2:11-15 among others are critical to this conversation.

It is not my intent here to delve into an exegetical analysis of these key passages.

Rather, in this post I’m simply going to offer one good reason for women to speak during gatherings (in the following post I’ll offer one good reason for women to keep silent). I’m not claiming that this is the only good reason for women to speak, but it is a good one.

The reason: women offer a different perspective than men do.

If we are honest we will all admit that men and women are very different. This is how God made us. These differences were apparent before the fall, thus ensuring that these differences are a good thing. God has designed men and women to complement one another, not to be carbon copies of each other. Frankly, life would be a lot duller if we were all the same.

A great reason for women to speak during church assembles is that they often provide differing perspectives than men do on all sorts of things. This might mean a somewhat different interpretation of a scripture passage. More often than that, it is the application of the passage that is different. Women are usually more nurturing than men, and therefore have important things to say about passages containing the "one anothers."

When I hear a brother in Christ speak I frequently know where he is going with what he’s saying. When a sister speaks, I often have no clue. This does not mean that the ladies are incorrect in what they are saying. Rather, it just means that they see things differently.

This reminds me of I Corinthians 12:14-20. Paul writes, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”

The above passage pertains to all of body life, not just gatherings. However, it still seems to have application to gatherings. The sense is that all parts of the body are needed. If women are silent, then only about half the body can speak. I know that if all the women in our small fellowship kept silent it would subtract from the depth of the conversation.

To sum up, women add a different perspective to the gathering than men do. This is because God made us different. These differences add much to the discussion.

What do you think? Ladies, please feel welcomed to add to the discussion.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

We Really Can Trust the Holy Spirit

As those in Christ, we truly can trust the Holy Spirit to lead us anytime we gather.

No matter how, where, when, why we get together with other believers, the Holy Spirit will faithfully guide our discussions and actions in ways that honor Christ. This, of course, does not mean that anytime we get together will be perfect. Our sin sometimes gets in the way of that. However, when we are willing to put personal preferences and agendas to the side, the Spirit is free to lead as He sees fit. This is always best (obviously).

This is an encouraging thing because the fact is that we cannot plan ahead anytime we gather. And even if we did, how could we know that our planning would bring about what God wants? This is not to say that all planning is bad, but if it gets in the way of the Spirit, then it is a problem.

I've found that the Spirit tends to use our planning/preparation in the gatherings, but this may be in ways that we could not predict. For example, I plan to study over a passage of scripture tonight. I may mention it tomorrow or I may not. I really don't know. The Spirit will make it clear to me tomorrow whether or not I should speak about it.

It is fascinating the way the Spirit frequently brings things together as Christians gather. It happens time after time in our small fellowship. One person will read a passage that relates exactly to what someone else is going through in life. We might sing a song that has a connection to what someone else is dealing with. The list goes on and on.

As a pastor, for several years I was basically in charge of planning worship services. Frankly, I was never very good at it. I'm not that creative. If you asked the poor folks who attended the church where I was pastor, they would probably tell you that we fell into a rut. It was pretty much the same week after week. My bad.

I'm now thrilled to get out of the way and see what the Spirit will do. There is no fear in this; only anticipation and excitement. This does not suggest disorder, but freedom. The Spirit is free to do whatever He will.

I can't wait.

I'm catholic. Aren't You?

I'm catholic. I hope you are as well.

By catholic, I'm simply referring to Jesus Christ's church. Nothing more and nothing less.

This is the church universal. The church undivided. The church united. The church Christ describes in John 17.

All of us Christ-followers are catholic. I embrace this term because it helps me think of the church as one (as opposed to splintered).

So, although I'm not part of any denomination, I'm catholic. This is the church as it ought to be.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Awe in the Conversation

“How does a simple church gathering bring about a sense of awe of God?”

I’ve had the above question posed to me in different ways a number of times. Some folks ask it as a sort of objection, while others inquire out of straightforward curiosity. Either way, it is a valid question.

Before answering the question, I’d like to point out that it normally presupposes that some sort of ceremony is needed/is best for creating a sense of awe among the people. If this is assumed, then it is understandable that it would lead to questions and even objections about simple gatherings.

I’d like to suggest that the need for a ceremony is simply a cultural norm. It is what we are generally used to; therefore, we believe it is necessary for creating an atmosphere of seriousness. This is fine for a wedding or funeral, but it is not necessary for church gatherings.

It all comes down to what causes us to stand in awe of God. Must we take part in a crafted ceremony to feel in awe of God? This seems contrived to me. It should be God Himself who brings about this awe. This can certainly occur during a ceremony, but it does not have to.

As followers of Christ, we ought to stand in awe of who God is, what He has done, and what He is doing. In simple church gatherings, we generally hear all these things. Someone offers a teaching from scripture about attributes of God. Someone else might talk about what God did as seen in the bible. My favorite part is usually when someone shares about what God is doing in their lives or someone else’s that they know. When I hear these things, I stand (not literally) in awe of God.

I love hearing from multiple people about how they have seen God act during the previous week. Usually it is in the little things. Occasionally, it is the bigger stuff. Either way, my faith is strengthened through it. My hope is that others are encouraged as I speak. Sometimes we all just sit in silence after someone has spoken of what God has done and is doing.

This sort of gathering finds awe in the conversation. Someone might speak about a passage of scripture from an angle that I have never even considered before. When a light bulb comes on in my brain, the response is usually awe of God and thanks to Him. Someone else might speak about being stuck in a situation where there seems to be no way out (whether it be big, small, or somewhere in between), only to then find God delivering them from it.

As we gather, I’m usually sitting on the floor or on a couch. Literally, then, I’m sitting. Emotionally and spiritually, however, I’m standing. I’m standing in awe of God because of what I’ve heard in the conversation.

This might happen during the week during a phone call, but usually the scene is our larger gathering in somebody’s home. We talk, we listen, and we grow. All the while, we’re in awe of our great God.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Missions in Colossians

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” Colossians 1:24

What is Paul talking about in the above verse? And why is this the most important verse in Colossians related to world missions? (To read the first post in this series, please click here).

Paul writes this epistle to a church he has never met. The apostle is troubled because some false teachers have crept into the church, spreading teachings about Christ that attempt to lesson who he is. Paul pens Colossians in order to combat the false teachings by explaining the magnificence and preeminence of Jesus Christ (see for example 1:15-1:18).

Soon after reading 1:15-1:18 we come to 1:24. At first reading this verse may seem strange or even heretical. Is Paul claiming that Christ’s sufferings were somehow lacking in their saving power? Does the apostle believe that his own sufferings in some way add to what Jesus accomplished? The answers are a resounding No and No.

What, then, is Paul saying? Paul is emphasizing that through his own afflictions the Colossian believers can better understand what Jesus did for them. The Colossian church did not even exist at the time of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. They now know about what Jesus did on the cross, but they cannot sense it at an experiential level.

They do appear to know, however, of Paul’s sufferings. For example, at the time he wrote this letter, Paul was likely under house arrest in Rome. Through Paul’s willingness to suffer for the cause of Christ, the Colossian Christians both gain a better sense of Jesus’ sufferings and see that Jesus is worth suffering for.

Why is this important to world missions? It is important because those spreading the gospel are often called upon by God to suffer for the gospel. We see this in Paul’s life repeatedly. In Acts 9:15-16 we read of Paul, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’” Later in Acts Paul even gets stoned for the cause of Christ.

Throughout history we have seen Christian missionaries suffer for the sake of the gospel. As we see in Colossians 1:24, this suffering on the part of the gospel herald helps the hearers better understand our Lord’s sufferings. It also gives the message that Jesus is worth dying for.

One of my modern heroes is Adoniram Judson. He and his wife Ann were some of the first American missionaries to the Far East. Judson suffered many years of terrible anguish in Burma to see the people there come to Christ. It is clear that this was God’s plan for him. (To read an excellent biography of Judson, click here).

The scriptures tell and show us over and over that those who are faithful in sharing the good news will probably end up suffering for the good news in one way or another. It’s all part of God’s providential way of making the gospel come to life for those in need of it.

We must understand that there is a cost to world missions. It is a worthwhile cost.

(To read any or all of this series, please click here).