Why doesn’t God answer more prayers? Why don’t we see dramatic miracles today as often as they happened in the book of Acts? Those are questions that puzzle many a modern Christian. We know God could do more, so why doesn’t He? Why does He choose to use His power in some situations, but not in others?
In other words: If God is love, why doesn’t He do something about all this suffering?
Those are some of the questions tackled in Philip Yancey’s book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (which I highly recommend). One of the things that he points out should be pretty obvious, but it’s something I hadn’t thought of much before. To borrow Yancey’s analogy, God’s not a vending machine. You can’t pop prayers in like quarters and have the answer you requested fall out. There’s more going on.
Prayer is for building relationships as much (or more) as it is for making requests. And while God does answer prayers, he often answers in a different way than we might expect. The “something” that He does in response to prayer has a great deal to do with His people’s relationship to Him.
Partners in the Kingdom.
Let’s start out with a couple quotes from Yancey’s book:
“I will build my church,” Jesus announced, proclaiming the new reign of God’s kingdom on earth. That, too, has taken shape gradually and fitfully over twenty centuries with many embarrassing setbacks to go along with the advances. I think of the profound grief God must feel over some chapters of church history. Yet, as Paul put in an astonishing metaphor, “the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!'” God has made the work of the kingdom dependent on the notoriously unreliable human species (p. 110)
It’s an astonishing thing to think about, really. God calls the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised people, then He entrusts them to act as the body of His son operating in the world (1 Cor. 1:27-28). With that thought in mind, I look at myself (and often others as well) and shake my head wondering, “Oh, Lord, what were you thinking?” And yet, for some reason, He welcomes all believers as partners in the kingdom. Read more →
The church is a family, not a business. Most people won’t argue with that, or at the very least they’ll make a case that it’s both. But that’s not always the impression you get when listening to church leaders talk.
When I go to church and hear a sermon, I expect to hear a teaching on God’s word, not an up-date on that church organization’s media outreach, how many associate pastors have been hired, or how much money their latest donation campaign brought in. Sermons like that just don’t make it seem like the church group is modeling themselves after the New Testament church established by Jesus Christ. Sometimes (in my more cynical moments) I wonder if we’re even trying.
The Church’s Commission
In John 13-17, Jesus delivers the longest uninterrupted discourse we have record of near the end of His life. Usually we look at “the Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19-20 for Christ’s take-away message to His church, but a good case can be made for viewing this section of scripture in that way as well.
Jesus starts out by demonstrating servant leadership in washing His disciples’ feet. That’s how He wants them to lead after He’s gone — by humbling self and serving others (John 13:12-17). Then He connects their walk as His followers with what He’d previously identified as the Great Commandments: love God, and love your neighbor.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
It might not sell as well as “preaching the gospel,” but love is the succinct mission statement of Christ’s church. It’s not something you tack on as an afterthought — “we’ll do this, this, and this with love.” Love is the essential character of God. If we want to be like God, we have to embody His love.
As we move into John chapter 15, the focus stays on individuals. There are multiple branches abiding in the True Vine, but the message is to each one individually (“every branch in Me,” “a man, “you abide in me”). There’s no diffusion of responsibility for bearing fruit; it’s something every person is told to do.
Sometimes in church, we’re told it’s enough to tithe to an organization that’s bearing fruit. This makes me think of the parable of the talents, when the Master tells the servant who buried his talent, “you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest” (Matt. 25:24-27).Supporting an organization that’s doing good things is better than nothing, but it doesn’t exempt us from personal action.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. (John 15:6, 8-9)
The first time in this section of scripture that Jesus mentions selecting and sending people to go and do something, it’s to “bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). That’s shortly followed by telling the disciples they will “bear witness” of Him (15:27). Fruiting and witnessing will involve preaching, but that’s not the foundation.
When we read Jesus’ final prayer, He mentions several more things His followers should and will do. They will “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). They will keep His word (17:6). They will believe in Christ and His mission as the One Sent (17:7-8). They will not be like the world, though they are sent into the world (17:14, 16, 18). They will become one with God in His love (17:21-23, 26).
What we’re doing as Christ’s followers involves so much more than systematizing preaching of the word. Individually, our responsibility is to love God, attach ourselves to Him, and keep his commandments. Our connection to the Vine will result in bearing fruit for His glory. If our church’s mission by-passes that and goes straight to “we need to preach the gospel,” then we’re missing the mark.
Works Powered By God
I try not to directly engage with the speakers I hear in my local church on this blog, unless I can be in agreement with or say my writings were “inspired by” what I heard. To introduce this next point, though, I have to reference a message I heard last week where a church leader talked about their vision “to fulfill God’s purpose for humanity by bringing many children to glory.”
This phrase is lifted out of Hebrew 2:10. Whenever anyone quotes an isolated phrase of Biblical text, it’s a good idea to check it out in-context to get a fuller idea of the meaning.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren (Heb 2:9-11)
Do you see anything in this passage about our role in bringing God’s children to glory? No — that’s the sole province of God our Father and the Captain of our salvation. We are “those who are being sanctified;” Christ’s brethren who He is bringing to glory. That’s where we show up in this passage of scripture.
It is the height of arrogance to assume we can do “the work of God.” God does God’s work. This does involve equipping His people for certain tasks and giving them what they need to bear good fruit. We can do work that He gives us, as explained here:
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:28-29)
Belief is a key foundation of our faith. Here, it’s also defined as “the work of God” that we’re given to do. Considering the context — people asking about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes (John 6:5-15, 25-27) — you can also read that belief is a prerequisite for doing works powered by God. This agrees with a later verse in Christ’s last Passover discourse.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. (John 14:12)
When we’re in relationship with Jesus Christ and our foundation is strong in Him, we will do works like He did and for the same reasons He did. Christ’s every action on this earth — works of healing, inspired preaching, miracles — all pointed people toward the One True God. That is our mission also.
But this is done through individuals, not organizations. If an organization is doing good works, it’s because there are true Christians within it whom God is working through. The true church is the body of believers that Christ is building — the collection of individuals He is working with. Within the church, God works with each person to help them bear fruit. The fruit won’t look the same for everyone. Some will preach, some will support preaching, some will heal, some will serve within the body, some will have great wisdom, some will model exemplary faith (1 Cor. 12).
Preaching will result whether you treat the church as a business or as a family, but what fuels preaching in each situation is very different. In one case, you have an organization focused on spreading God’s word as much as they can. The emphasis is on what we’re doing, who we’re training, how many we’re reaching. In the other, you have a group of people so in love with God that they have to share His message. The focus is on loving God, rooting yourself in Him, and then bearing fruit for His glory, which involves pursuing the same things He values. Which church would you rather be a part of?
Inspired by Haggai’s message to those rebuilding the temple in 520 B.C., we started a conversation about the state of the church in last week’s post. Via Haggai’s prophecy, God challenged His people about their choice to neglect rebuilding His temple. Sadly, today, there is a similar neglect in building up the individuals in God’s church, who are described as His temple. We talked about that last week, though. This week, we’re going to talk about what to do about it.
Having challenged the people with their lack of productivity, God again asks them to consider their ways.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,” says the Lord. “You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” says the Lord of hosts. “Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. (Hag. 1:7-9)
For us in the spiritual temple, we need to be careful to maintain a balance between individual growth and serving the body. Though our lives depend on developing a close, personal relationship with God, He never intended for us to act in isolation. Rather, the more we become like Christ, the more we should want to serve our brethren. Focusing only on building your own house is selfish, and is not pleasing to God.
In the Greek New Testament, every time we’re told to edify one another, it’s related to the idea of building a house. The Greek word for house is oikos (G3624), and it’s the root word for oikodomeo (G3618). This word literally means “to be a house builder,” and is translated “build,” “edify,” and “embolden.” This connection even exists in English – the word “edify” is related to “edifice.”
having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:20-22)
We know Jesus is ultimately the Builder who is creating His church (Matt. 16:18). He builds the house, has more glory than the house, and rules us “as a son over His own house” (Heb. 3:1-6). He does, however, have people within the house working with Him as He builds us up.
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3:9-11)
This principle works on an individual as well as a group level. You are a temple of God, and you are part of the House of God. Everything that you build must be founded on Jesus Christ, or it’s not going to last. In contrast, if we commit to building up God’s temple properly, He will be pleased and glorified. As we talked about last week, it’s not just the responsibility of people in leadership positions, either. We’re all to be teaching and building up one another.
Where to Build?
Any good building has to start with a good foundation. With God’s spirit in us and the Son of God as our foundation, we have all the tools we need to build well in the eyes of God. He’s given us the opportunity to build something glorious, if we’ll take it.
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. (1 Cor. 3:11-13)
We get out of our walk with God what we put into it. If we give Him the perishable, useless stuff of our lives – the stubble left over after we do what we want – then our house will burn back down to the foundation and we’ll have to start over. But if we give Him our best, we will endure and be rewarded.
If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:14-16)
God’s glory once filled the tabernacle and the physical temples, and He wants to fill His temple today as well. But He won’t dwell in a defiled, falling-apart temple. It is our responsibility as His temples and as His church to put our best effort into making this building something fit for God’s use.
I don’t want to end this post without actually giving some practical steps we can take to help rebuild God’s temple. Principles are good, but what does it really look like to edify other people and to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ?
Don’t shy away from talking about spiritual things. There’s often a tendency when we get together for church to chat, gossip, and just share what’s been going on since we saw each other last. But if we’re there with people who love God to honor God, we should be talking about Him at least a little, right?
Avoid negativity whenever possible. If you’ve had a terrible week and you need to vent, go ahead and give people the opportunity to comfort and encourage you. But if everything coming out of your mouth is critical, complaining, or pessimistic you’re not helping anyone (including yourself). It takes about 5 positive comments to balance out 1 negative remark. What ratio are you offering God’s temple?
Stop thinking small in terms of what the church is. The church isn’t United Church of God, or Living Church of God or whatever your local church calls itself. The church is every individual within the Body of Christ, and that’s where we need to be serving and edifying.
Study the Bible, especially Jesus Christ’s example. Corporate growth starts with individual growth, and individual growth starts with developing a relationship with Jesus Christ. He’s the foundation we have to build on, and the One who builds us up.
What would you add to this list? please share in the comments below!
The book of Haggai largely concerns rebuilding on the site of Solomon’s temple, which was destroyed in the Babylonian invasion chronicled in 2 Kings 25 (around 586 B.C.). A group of Jewish exiles under the leadership of Zerubbabel returned to the land in 536, but by the time Haggai wrote in 520 they’d not yet rebuilt the temple.
Considering that the church today is called God’s temple, I wondered what spiritual parallels there might be between Haggai’s call for obedience in rebuilding the the temple, and us today. This book begins by quoting people who said it wasn’t yet time to build God’s house (Hag. 1:2). God challenged them whether it was right for them to have spent the past 16 years on their own projects instead of His temple (Hag. 1:3-4)
Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” (Hag. 1:5-6)
Let’s suppose for a moment that this isn’t just talking to the people tasked with rebuilding God’s temple 2,500 years ago – that this is speaking to the church today as a spiritual temple. What is it telling us?
you have sown much, and bring in little
In one of Christ’s parables, sowing seeds in a field is compared to spreading God’s world (Mark 4:14-20). Many churches are good at the sowing part – we scatter the gospel out over the internet, radio, television and into people’s homes as magazines. Truly, we “have sown much.”
The first part of this phrase applies to us, so what about the second? We’ve sown, but is it bearing fruit as God intended, “some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred”? I think the state of the church and the world today answers this question for us. Churches are divided, scattered and squabbling. Growth is down, and the world has lost respect for Christianity.
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
If our efforts aren’t bringing forth the fruits they should, perhaps we should follow the instructions in Haggai to consider our ways in regards to God’s temple. The defilement Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians doesn’t come from an attack on God’s temple from the outside. It comes from within individuals — those of us who aren’t keeping our hearts and minds pure as we follow after Christ — and it hurts the temple as a whole.
you eat, but do not have enough
One of the ways the Bible talks about the World of life is as nourishment, comparing it to food. Jesus Himself, the living Word, is called the Bread of Life (John 6:35). If we’re studying our Bibles and going to church then we are eating from the words of God, but are we eating enough?
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. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Heb. 5:12-14)
If we’re not studying more deeply on our own, and if the teachers in the temple aren’t providing strong meat, then God’s church won’t grow. It won’t have enough food.
you drink, but you are not filled with drink
Though it does require some action on our part, the blood of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is the only way to cleanse a defiled, polluted temple. The law requires blood purification of holy things, and the only sacrifice precious enough to cleanse a spiritual temple was that of Jesus Himself (Heb. 9:22-24).
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (John 6:53-56)
1 Corinthians 11 helps clarify this by quoting Jesus at the Passover, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:25). To drink of Jesus Christ, we have to enter into covenant with the One who gave His life for His temple. It can’t just be lip-service either or sipping at the cup but not letting Him in. We have to be “filled with drink.”
you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm
We often say the “poor, blind and naked” church of Laodicea represents the end-time church (Rev. 3:17-18). It follows, then, that if we are living in the end times we should expect to see Laodicean attitudes in our lives and churches. Jesus wouldn’t have sent this letter if it wasn’t a very real issue that we need to recognize and take steps to correct.
We don’t like to think about this, though, so we say the Philadelphian and Laodicean eras overlap and that we’re Philadelphians living in a Laodicean world. But the letters weren’t written to the world – they were written to us. A self-assured comment that, “Well, at least I’m not a Laodicean,” sounds an awful lot like, “I am rich and have need of nothing.” We say we’re clothed, but many in the church are not warmed.
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (James 2:5-1)
This example works on a spiritual as well as a physical level. If someone is hungering after the word of God and yearning for the warmth of companionship with brethren, we’re not helping them by simply handing them a pamphlet or ignoring them while we hang out with our friends. We have to be the type of temple that can truly fill those needs for nourishment and warmth.
I dare say the Laodiceans weren’t literally walking around in the nude, but they were missing a key component of spiritual clothing. In Rev. 19:8, it says the bride’s white garment “is the righteous acts of the saints.” Perhaps these righteous actions are what is missing in the lives of those in churches where “no one is warm.”
he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes
The person described in this part of Haggai is working, but to no effect. Everything he struggles to earn is immediately lost because it’s not stored properly.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-20)
Even if we’re working on things that could be good and useful, it’s not beneficial unless we’re doing it for God. We should be His workmen, serving the High Priest in His temple. Paul tells us to present ourselves to God as able and willing workers (2 Tim. 2:15). It’s impossible to work for God without earning wages which will endure into the next world, but it’s equally impossible to lay up treasure for ourselves if we are not working for the things of God.
Ever since reading Haggai, I can’t get the subject of rebuilding temples off my mind. I think it’s clear to most of us today that the church isn’t everything that it could, or should, be as the body of Jesus Christ. We lay blame in all sorts of places — church leadership, other organizations, the state of the world today — but those excuses only go so far. If we believe that nothing can stand against us while God is on our side, then these obstacles lose their power. If we believe that the church is defined as the individuals who make of the body of Jesus Christ, then the state of the church is the responsibility of each individual.
I plan to spend quite a bit of my study time over the next few weeks on this topic, and I expect it will fill at least two more blog posts. I invite you to join me in diving into God’s word, studying what He has to say about His temple, and praying for the state of His church.
What’s one change you think is key to strengthening God’s church? Comment below!
I wrote last week about questions the church can ask herself regarding our role as the body of Christ. Like the Casting Crowns song “If We Are The Body,” it was meant as a challenge for the church as a whole to reach out with compassion, heal others, teach Jesus Christ’s words, walk in His steps, and love everyone. The reason for this is mentioned in the line which provides me with a title: “Jesus payed much too high a price / For us to pick and choose who should come / And we are the body of Christ.”
Christ said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). That, in a nutshell, is the price paid. He willingly gave up first His eternal existence with the Father and then His human life to be a sacrifice for sins (John 1:1-2, 14). A more complete picture of what this entailed can be found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Here’s a few verses:
He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (Is. 53:3-5)
I have a hard time thinking of what to write after this. It’s so deeply moving to think of how much He suffered for my sake, and for your sake, and for the entire world (John 1:29; 4:42; 6:33; 12:47).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)
I find it interesting that John 3:16-17 doesn’t say that Christ died to save the church — it says He died for the entire world. The goal is to save as many people as possible (2 Pet. 3:9).
Paid For Whom?
No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws them (John 6:44), and once that happens “he who believes in the Son has everlasting life” (John 3:36). If someone shows up at church with that one requirement — belief in Jesus Christ — then we have no right to turn them away. Their belief is a sign that God is working with them. Look how strongly Christ rebuked His disciples when they thought certain people were not worth His time:
Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:13-15)
In Matthew, Jesus further said, “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:5-6) Since we are all God’s children, whatever age we are, I think it safe to extend what Christ says concerning His little ones to every new believer. James 2 talks about not showing partiality, or respecting people based on how much money they have. This principle can be extended to other factors as well. Take the example of “strangers” who joined Israel in the Old Testament.
“Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants — everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant — even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, “Yet I will gather to him others besides those who are gathered to him.” (Is. 56:6-8)
In our modern churches of God, a similar situation might be new people coming into the church without a Worldwide background and no clue who Mr. Armstrong was. Or maybe people in other groups that we not-so-secretly wonder if they are really part of the body. It is not our place to make judgements about who is and who is not part of Christ’s body and living in His sheepfold (John 10:16). If someone believes in Him, we should welcome them with open arms. If they keep His Sabbaths and enter into covenant with Him, like the strangers in Israel, we must not dismiss them.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)
This statement should disabuse us of any notion that people of a certain social class or church background or ethnic group are in some way better or worse than others. The Pharisees had that idea — “We have Abraham as our father” — and John the Baptist told them they were a “brood of vipers” and “that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” on the ground near the river. Their background did not matter, only that they repent and “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:7-9).
What Should We Do?
The Father and Jesus want to save every single person who will let them. Are we helping them in that goal as members of the body of Christ? Or are people “tripping over me” when they try to reach God (Rom. 14:13)? We are so quick to take and cause offense, to indigently puff up and bluster at people over even trivial things like music selection, whether or not to worship with hands raised, and are jeans appropriate for church services. But look at Paul’s attitude:
Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor. 10:32-33)
How much less strife would there be within the church and in our interactions with those who do not yet believe if this were our attitude!
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” (Rom. 15:2-3)
When we set aside our selfishness and look after other people before ourselves, we are following in Christ’s footsteps. When we are becoming like the “head over all things to the church,” we truly begin acting like the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). We are supposed to imitate God and “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2). In the night He was betrayed, Jesus said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Lest we think this statement is ambiguous, John spells it out clearly in his first epistle: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Still, we might try to find some wiggle-room in this command. It only says to love the brethren — I don’t have to love all those other people, right? Wrong.
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matt. 5:44-48)
Well there it is — not a smidgin of wiggle-room left. We have to love everyone the way God loves them and the way He loves us. Jesus paid the highest price ever paid so that the world could be saved. He is not going to look kindly on our actions if we try to pick and choose who is worth our love and who we should “let in” to His body. That’s not our call.
Today’s post is inspired by a Casting Crowns song called “If We Are The Body.” I’ll add a video of it at the end of this post, so you can listen to it if you’re not familiar with the song. It is basically a challenge to the Christian church — if we really are Christ’s body (and we know from verses like Colossians 1:18 that we are), why isn’t the church as a whole acting more like Jesus Christ?
♪ ♫ But if we are the body, Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Do we have the same kind of compassion that Christ showed? He wept over Jerusalem because His people rejected His attempts “to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:41-42). He was constantly reaching out to help, encourage, and teach people.
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. (Matt. 9:36)
Each of us can bear witness to the compassion and mercy of God in our lives. Take just a moment to think about all the forgiveness He has shown you, all the times He picked you up out of hopelessness — and then look at the next chapter in Matthew.
When Jesus sent out His twelve disciples, He instructed them to do the same thing He was doing: “preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:7-8). It’s this last sentence that I want to focus on. Are we giving compassion, forgiveness, and help to others as freely as Christ gives those things to us? Or are we holding ourselves back from reaching out to certain people?
♪ ♫ Why aren’t His hands healing?
We often seem to gloss over the phrase “gifts of healing” when reading about spiritual gifts in the church. We say that since we don’t see people today performing the same kinds of miracles that were happening in Acts 3:1-10 and 5:12-16, that these gifts are not present in today’s church. Paul did not, however, indicated that there will be a time when certain gifts simply are not around.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, (1 Cor 12:7-9)
The word translated “healing” here is iama (G2386). It is much like our English word, and means a “cure, the result of the process of healing.”It is used in the gospels of Christ healing with a touch or by a “word of power.” Of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Zodhiates points out that iama is always plural, and that the Lord gave “gifts or abilities to provide the means of various healings in His divine providence whether they be with or without medicine.”
I suspect that the gifts of healing can include a wide range of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual healing. Some people have a gift for counseling others through emotional distress. Others with a gift for physical healing might practice a form of medicine. Those with a gift of faith can pray, trusting this promise:”the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15).
There is no reason to assume the lack of showy miracles means there are no gifts of healing in the church. Not every person in the body of Christ will have a gift of healing (1 Cor. 12:28-30), but if those who have been given this gift are using it, then the overall body will have healing hands.
♪ ♫ Why aren’t His words teaching?
The verse I most often see/hear people turn to in the context of the church’s responsibility to teach is at the end of Matthew. Jesus told His followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations … teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Often, I think churches approach this verse one of two opposite and extreme directions. One is to adopt disciplining the nations as the chief and greatest occupation of the church. The other is to ignore it completely and say it’s not our place to “shove our religion down someone’s throat.”
As in many things, the balanced view is both rarer and a better goal. We cannot afford to ignore a clear instruction from Jesus Christ to teach, but if we adopt this as the one great commission of the church, we risk overlooking Christ’s instruction to “feed My sheep” — to care for and teach people who are already in the church. In Paul’s continuing discussion about spiritual gifts, he says,
Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. (1 Cor. 14:12)
The reason to want spiritual gifts is so that we might build-up, teach, and help each other within the church. Then, when conditions inside the church are as they should be, God will bring in new believers.
But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. (1 Cor. 14:24-25)
How many of our church congregations would inspire this kind of reaction in someone who just walked through the door? TV shows, radio spots, websites, magazines, and booklets might help someone find a church group, but it’s the people who will inspire them to stay. If a new believer doesn’t see evidence that God is truly among us and hear His words being taught, they will keep looking for a church that actually acts like part of the body of Christ.
♪ ♫ And if we are the body, Why aren’t His feet going?
When studying for this section, I was surprised to find how prominently feet figure in the Bible. The Lord “will not allow your foot to be moved” (Ps. 121.3), He delivers “my feet from falling” (Ps. 116:8), and His “word is a lamp unto my feet” (Ps. 119:105). The Israelites “feet did not swell” during all their years of wandering in the wilderness (Neh. 9:21). People sat at and anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:38; 8:35; 10:39; John 12:3). Jesus washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:5-6). John the Baptist’s father prophesied that he would “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).
Where our feet are going indicates the direction of our lives. Are our feet headed toward evil, such as “feet swift to shed blood” (Rom. 3:15)? Or are our feet beautiful like “the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,” and shod with that same gospel as part of our spiritual armor (Rom. 10:15; Eph. 6:15)?
In Jeremiah, it says that “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). The only one who can direct our steps rightly is God, and He directs us to walk in the steps of Jesus.
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:21)
The context here is that to endure “grief, suffering wrongfully,” is commendable before God because it gives us the opportunity to mimic Christ’s actions (1 Pet. 2:18-20). As His body, we must be willing to walk in His footsteps, wherever that might lead.
He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:6)
♪ ♫ Why is His love not showing them there is a way? There is a way
Love — agape (G26) — is the key to relationships. It is called “a more excellent way” compared to gifts of leadership, prophecy, healing, and working miracles. Even “the best gifts” are of no value if separated from love (1 Cor. 12:28-13:3).
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
Jesus said that love among the breathren is how the entire world will recognize us as His disciples. This builds right upon the idea of someone being able to walk into a gathering of the church and see “that God is truly among you” (1 Cor. 14:25). As the discussion continues, Jesus also connects love to the idea following in His footsteps.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)
Like in 1 Peter 2, following Christ includes the very real possibility of suffering. Here, with the focus on love, it also includes the idea of voluntary sacrifice for the good of another person. That is the kind of attitude that the entire church is to have.
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. (1 Cor. 12:26-27)
I am so blessed to regularly fellowship with a congregation like this. As we individually and collectively grow more and more like Jesus and learn to use our spiritual gifts “for the edifying of the body of Christ,” we will be better able to serve Him by serving other people (Eph. 4:12).