Archive for August, 2013

Collections For The Saints

It was a desperate time in Jerusalem. Poverty roamed the land, not caring about its next victims. The young church in Jerusalem was not exempted from this suffering. Word of their plight had reached their brothers and sisters in the churches of Rome, Macedonia, Achaia (Romans 15:26), Galatia and Corinth (1 Corinthians 16) whose loving response was to seek the advice of the apostle Paul as to how they could help their fellow believers in Jerusalem. Paul is led by the Holy Spirit to gather funds from the churches and send it to relieve the saints in the Jerusalem congregation. Paul responds to this specific collection to a question that had been posed by the church at Corinth.

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4 ESV)

By beginning the paragraph with “now concerning”, Paul is referring to a question that had been posed to him in writing prior to this letter, just as he had done in chapter 7 verse 1. What we have here is an example of many congregations of saints pooling their resources to help others within the Body of Christ in a time of need. The motivation here is clear — love. This was a true “love gift”, unlike what is talked about by television evangelists. In Romans 15:26, Paul uses the word “koinonia” which has unfortunately been rendered as “contribution” in some translations, because they all saw this as an expression of fellowship with other suffering believers. What Paul had described earlier in chapter 12 was indeed the case.

that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:25, 26 ESV)

This event also serves as a biblical example for some things, but not for others. Here’s what I mean by that!
Example number 1 – from the way Paul speaks of the first day of the week, it is obvious that this was the day on which they were already meeting. Paul does not write that they should start meeting on the first day of every week. He is, in effect, saying that they should collect this money when they have their regular meetings. Paul even mentions that this was what the churches of Galatia were doing, so this is not the day that only the Corinthian church gathered together.
Non-example number 1 – That being said, this is also not an example of something — the ongoing method of supporting the local church. Think about this for a second. Why would Paul have told them to take up a collection on the first day of every week if they were already taking up collections on the first day of the week? If this were some sort of binding example, why didn’t Paul insert the phrase “from now on, on the first day of every week”? One must be careful not to take a biblical example and stretch it beyond its original intended application.
The fact is, there is no prescribed method for how the funds for the local church are to be collected, or how often that is to happen! Does that mean it is wrong to take a collection on Sunday? Certainly not! With a lack of divine instruction on methods or frequency of collections, each congregation of saints is free to do was is wise and expedient for their particular situation. Want to pass the plate? Fine. Want to just have a box in the corner where saints can drop in offerings on their own? Go ahead. The error lies in taking and example of a special collection designed for a specific need with logistical planning and make it binding on every collection in every church for all time when teaching about the ongoing support for the church. Doing so is a mishandling of scripture and “going beyond what is written”. Of course we do not want to swing the pendulum too far and change what is written, like baptism by sprinkling, or communion with cake and ice cream. That being said,what we have in the New Testament on this matter is liberty to decide locally the most appropriate method for supporting the local work. Whether that is a collection plate, a box in the back, or giving online, give with a smile and not under compulsion (i.e. tithing).

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV)

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Blue Skies and Rainbows?

Back when I was in youth group (during the Carter administration), we would sing a song at devotionals and at Sierra Bible Camp called “Blue Skies and Rainbows”. It was and is a happy song about what the world around us is like when we have Jesus in our hearts. The verse and chorus went like this:

“Blue skies and rainbows
And sunbeams from heaven
Are what I can see
When my Lord is living in me

Jesus is well and alive today
He makes his home in my heart
Never more will I be all alone since he
Promised me that we never will part.”

The song was light hearted and fun, and we just assumed that with Jesus in our hearts life would be wonderful. But then life actually happened. There was loss, failed relationships, the death of a loved one, or even of a child. Life didn’t turn out to be full of blue skies and rainbows after all. For awhile, I resented this song because I saw it as one giving a false promise that Jesus was going to guarantee us a carefree life. But that has changed as time went on.

One thing I saw, after carefully reading the lyrics, was that there was no such false promise in this song. There would be trials and pain in this life, but what the words say is that even in the hardest and most trying of times, we will be able to see the blue skies and rainbows that are there above us. You see, you can’t look at blue skies and rainbows when you are looking down or at yourself. Want this song says is that, by virtue of the fact that Jesus lives in our heart, we will have the strength to look up and see the blessings that are still around us and persevere in hope. Yes, we would be able to “count it all joy when [we] go through various trials” (James 1) and endure to the end.

But what is the basis of that promise? How is the reality of that strength ensured for us? The chorus is the key. “Jesus is well and alive today”. Our guarantor of hope is that this same Jesus who died for our sins did not stay dead, but is alive and well today. This same Jesus ever lives and makes intercession for us at the throne of God!

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26, 27 NKJV)

And not only that, “He makes his home in my heart.” This is not a temporary residence, where he makes an occasional visit. As the lyric promises, “never more will I be all alone since He promised me that we never will part.” What a glorious promise, and yet it is just a reminder of what the Word has already spoken.

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5 KJV)

So now I can sing this song, in spite of all I have been through, or will ever go through. I can look up to the One who loves me and will never forsake me. I can look to the one who makes His home in my heart, and see the witness of nature around me that He is indeed “well and alive today.”

(In case you don’t know the song or haven’t heard it in a long time: Blue Skies and Rainbows )

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Preaching, Teaching & Discipling

One of the things we discover in the art of education is the difference between types of learning and methods of instruction. In many subject areas, there is a set progression of instruction, and often one that involves changes in delivery and interaction as the student progresses. The same is true of the truth found in the New Testament. There is, I believe, a discernible pattern of instruction that will be helpful to grasp so that we are doing the things that are most beneficial to ourselves and those who hear us.

The first type of instruction is preaching. This is different than teaching, which is why the Holy Spirit inspired the writers to use a different Greek word for each. The word translated “preach” is kerusso, which means “to herald (as a public crier), especially divine truth (the gospel):–preacher(-er), proclaim, publish.”
This involves the initial public proclamation of the Gospel message. Like a herald, we preach Christ (1 Corinthians 1:23) to a lost world. This preaching is evangelistic, and calls people’s attention to Jesus Christ and what has been done to bring them to God.

but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (I Corinthians 1:23, 24 NKJV)

This is the work of an evangelist, like the young Timothy, and is a never ending obligation of believers as we go about in the world.

As the message goes forth, there will be the need to teach those who respond to our preaching. Paul links the two nicely when giving instruction to Timothy.

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (II Timothy 4:1, 2 NKJV)

There is no hint here of getting people saved and leaving them to fend for themselves. Rather, there is the sense that after preaching, people need to be taught “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). The word for teaching is different than for preaching (didacho). This teaching incorporates instruction and example as a means of learning spiritual truth. But in order to be effective, teaching must be done to those who have responded to the preaching and been saved. An unsaved person cannot understand spiritual things, so we are wasting our time teaching without first preaching.

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (I Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)

The most in depth level of instruction is discipling. The Greek word is matethouo. This is the ultimate goal for everyone we encounter. In the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t stop at preaching or at teaching, but at “making disciples”. This includes hearing the truth, seeing it lived out, and then internalizing it by personal practice. Discipleship can only be fully learned by doing. That is one reason that those who teach must be careful, not only of what they say, but what they do.
Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (I Timothy 4:15, 16 NKJV)

This is the way to make mature Christians, who will be able to go and make disciples themselves.

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (II Timothy 2:2 NKJV)

Only by following this pattern of instruction will we practice biblical spiritual growth. We must not be like those who preach, but do not teach or disciple. That is a recipe for weak Christians who are dependent on someone keeping them alive by feeding them nothing but milk. They are unable to teach others and will never have the fruit of being or making disciples.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. (Hebrews 5:12 NKJV)

May this never be said of us! But instead, may we follow the pattern of preaching, teaching and discipling that results in many saved and bearing much spiritual fruit, as we exercise the gifts which Christ has given for our benefit.

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16 NKJV)

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