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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Watch Your Mouth

On Sunday, we saw that our hearts are the wells from which our words are drawn.  The things that we speak come from that which fills our hearts.  In the case of the Pharisees, they spoke blasphemous words because they had blasphemous hearts.  Many of us tend to minimize the significance of the words we speak, but the Lord taught us in Matt 12:33-37 that our words are the surest indicators of the condition of our hearts.
Think about what your speech says about your heart.  If your speech is characterized by criticism, what does it say about your heart?  You have a critical heart.  If my speech is characterized by complaining or murmuring or grumbling, what does that say about my heart?  I have a heart of ingratitude.  What if your speech is characterized by boasting?  What about the subtler form of boasting – talking about yourself all the time?  What does that say about your heart?  Your heart is filled with pride. 
Asking ourselves questions about our own speech can be a helpful diagnostic tool, but as with any other habitual sin, sinful speech can become so routine that we do not even notice it in ourselves.  For that reason, it is wise to ask someone who is close to you help you see if you have a habit of ungodly speech.  Invite them to be honest with you.  Do I have a tendency toward critical speech?  Do I have a tendency toward complaining or gossip or boasting?
But what do we do about it if we find that our hearts are filled with these things?  Our inclination will be to just deal with how it is manifested in our speech.  If we are given to critical speech, we try to stop saying critical things.  If we are given to complaining and grumbling, we try to stop that and start expressing thanks.  If we are given to boastful speech, we stop talking about ourselves and talk about other things instead. 
But does that really fix the problem?  No, because the problem is the heart.  We can’t make an apple tree into an orange tree by cutting off all the apples and stapling oranges on instead.  Eventually, the apples are going to grow back.  The same is true of our speech.  If we try to merely deal with the outward manifestation, we will not see lasting change.  Our hearts need to be transformed. 
Fundamentally, that happens when we are regenerated.  We are given a new heart, but we are not completely sanctified, that is, we are not completely like Christ in our character and conduct.  Yet in that act of regeneration we are given the tools necessary to be sanctified.  We are given the Holy Spirit.  We are given the desire to change.  We are given the ability to understand and use God’s Word. 
Once we have been regenerated, how do we appropriate those God-given tools to become like Christ?  How do we kill pride?  How do we kill ingratitude?  How do we kill a critical disposition?  First, we need to pray.  We need to pray for the Lord’s help, for a desire to obey and change, and for the ability to obey and change.  We need to do that because we must recognize that in ourselves we cannot do it.  Our sanctification is empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Daily prayers of dependence upon the Spirit are necessary in our fight against sin.
Second, we need to be growing in our worship of Christ.  Any heart problem is a worship problem – there is something that I am desiring so much that I am willing to sin to get it.  A key to overcoming sinful desires is to grow in our desire for the Savior.  The epistles motivate us to walk in obedience by first teaching us the gospel – what God has done in Christ to save us from sin.  It follows that in our fight against sin we should keep this gospel before us daily.  This could include feeding our minds with gospel-rich passages of Scripture, listening to gospel-rich music, or reading gospel-rich books.  (Click here for some specific recommended resources.)
Next time, we’ll continue with other steps in the process of dealing with sinful speech and the heart problems that cause it.  In the mean time: (1) ask a friend to help you evaluate your speech; (2) pray for the Lord’s power to help you deal with any issues you find; and (3) begin meditating on Christ’s work in the gospel that freed you from sin’s penalty.  
 Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Commitment to Serve

In recent posts we began to look at several commitments related to the call to “walk in a manner worthy.”  We are called to a commitment to love one another (Eph4:1-6).  We are called to a commitment to be equipped (Eph 4:7-8, 11-12).  Now, we’ll turn to look at the last of these commitments – the commitment to serve, which is found in Eph 4:11-16:
 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
God gave those with teaching gifts to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  Some of us are prone to view the teaching of the church as primarily useful for gaining knowledge.  Certainly, it is important to have sound theology.  Sound theology prevents us from being led astray.  It prepares us to speak the truth in love.  It equips us to serve.  It’s a tool that helps us grow so that we can help others grow.
But what if my sound theology is just knowledge for knowledge’s sake?  Paul writes in 1 Cor 13:2, If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.   This means that if I have knowledge alone, I am of no benefit to the body.
In 1 Cor 8:1, we read that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  What does that mean?  Knowledge that is alone, that is, knowledge that is devoid of committed love, is only good for developing one thing: pride.  And what does pride do?  It takes all of our preferences and differences and makes them the most important thing.  It is the catalyst for division.  Knowledge that is alone is dangerous to the body. 
But knowledge that is informed by love builds up.  Love is what puts our knowledge and equipping to use for the body.  Love understands that God gave equippers as gifts to the church for the purpose of service not for the purpose of knowledge.  And that is why it is essential for us as we are gaining knowledge and being equipped to make sure we are putting it to use in the loving service of the body.  When all our time is focused on gaining knowledge and we don’t have time or don’t make time for service, for relationships, we become a danger to the body, not a benefit to the body. 
There’s an important phrase in Eph 4:16 – “when each part is working properly.”  The body builds itself up in love when each part is working properly.  When everyone is equipped and serving, the body does what God has designed it to do.  But what happens when each part isn’t working properly?  Simple.  The body doesn’t build itself up in love.  It’s all the body can do to just hobble along.  The parts that aren’t working properly place an extra burden and strain on those that are and it leads to a seriously unhealthy situation. If the church is going to be the church, walking in a manner worthy of the call, each member of the body must be working properly, must be serving the rest of the body. 
God has place heavy responsibilities on the members of the body of Christ.  Those responsibilities are played out on the level of the local church.  And while it is not easy to walk in a manner worthy of the call, the Spirit in all of us gives us the power to meet the commitments to which we have been called.  The Spirit enables us to work diligently for unity, to forgive, to be patient, to consider others more important than ourselves, to sacrifice our own preferences, to respect other people’s convictions, to dedicate ourselves to being equipped for service, and to pursue the work of ministry in and among the body.  When we do that in the power of the Holy Spirit, God is glorified in the church.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Commitment to Be Equipped

Last time we began to look at the first of three commitments related to the call to “walk in a manner worthy.”  We are called to a commitment to love one another (Eph4:1-6).  The second commitment is a commitment to be equipped and we find this call in Eph 4:7-8, 11-12:
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." …11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
Here Paul teaches that Christ has given all believers spiritual gifts with which to serve the body.  Some of these gifts are mentioned in v11 – apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd/teachers.  (There does not seem to be any one exhaustive list of gifts in the NT, but other partial lists can be found in Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 12:7-10, 1Cor 12:28, and 1 Pet 4:10-11.)  Each of the gifts in v11 could be considered teaching gifts.  While the content of the teaching is not explicitly given here, we can find it in other passages.  For example, Paul gave Timothy very clear instructions regarding what to teach the church:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim 3:16-4:2)
The Word of God is the content of instruction for the church.  It is Scripture that equips us “for every good work.”  So God has tasked those with teaching gifts to use the Word to equip the church for the work of ministry.
So, Eph 4:7-12 teaches that everyone has been gifted for service in the church AND that everyone needs biblical teaching in order to effectively use those gifts.  In other words, a primary reason for the teaching of the Word is to equip us to serve others.  It is others-focused, rather than self-focused. 
Many of us love to be taught.  We love the Word and we love to hear it preached.  But do we recognize the ultimate purpose for biblical teaching?  It is not merely so that we will gain knowledge – knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a dangerous thing (1 Cor 8:1).  Teaching is also not only that we would grow spiritually individually.  Rather, it is intended to prepare us to serve one another for the growth of the corporate body.
Do you regard biblical teaching this way?  I can speak for myself that most of the time I do not think that way.  Typically, when I sit under biblical teaching, my mindset is to glean something for the benefit of my own sanctification.  Certainly, it is a good thing to want to grow spiritually, but this passage would encourage me to take that thinking one step further – “What can I glean from this teaching that will help me to grow spiritually so that I can more effectively serve the body of Christ?
Through the work of Christ, God created the church to be a self-edifying body, where each individual part serves to contribute to the growth and wellbeing of the whole.  This is the reality that Paul refers to as “the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1).  To walk in a manner worthy of this call requires me to be committed to being equipped to serve the body of Christ.  May the Lord grant us to consider this every time we sit under biblical teaching.  What is God trying to teach us that we might be a blessing to one another?
Posted by Greg Birdwell