Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Unrealized Promise?

A message was preached in church the other night, coming from the text which tells us about the men who, when King Saul died, risked their lives to bring the body back for a proper burial. The application part of the message was about trying to get men in the church to next week's all-night prayer meeting. Maybe I missed something but this seemed to be the whole purpose.

The "application" part was rather harsh, in my opinion. Of course, I could sit there feeling good because I went to the last all-night prayer meeting. However even I did not feel like I escaped the tongue-lashing from the pulpit. Being the contrary, devils-advocate I am, my knee-jerk reaction is to not go, just because there was pressure put on us about it.

Of course, I believe in praying, and I also happen to believe in the subject of the prayer meeting, which is an upcoming conference. So I am pulled between not going just because I don't want to be one of the many who showed up because they felt guilty, and going because I want the upcoming conference to help those in attendance. Perhaps I will have a prayer meeting in my bedroom. :P

The next day it occured to me, how much "pressure" is used in churches. Now, I don't mean to overstate the case, but it is true, that many Christians perform because of pressure, and many leaders use pressure to get Christians to perform work of some sort. Pressure can come in many different forms.

It might be said, that this "pressure" we are talking about is nothing more than good old-fashioned exhortation. The word "exhort" as used in the Scripture literally means to "call near," or "invite". To exhort means to give an invitation or a call to do some thing. Exhortation is not, by definition, negative. In Luke 3, we find John the Baptist exhorting the people to believe through the preaching of the gospel. John in vs.16 & 17 is simply declaring the truth of his ministry and of Christ. The declaration of Christ is an exhortation to believe.

Paul in Acts 2 exhorts the people, again, to come to Christ. Here the Scripture has Paul inviting the people to repent and be baptized so as to save themselves from this "crooked generation". In Acts 20:2, Paul gives "much exhortation". One has to ask if the Macedonians were especially needing to be pressured. Of course this is not what is going on; rather Paul was inviting them to continue steadfast in the Lord. In I Ths 2:11, Paul "exhorted," "encouraged," and "charged" the church as Thessalonica to walk in the Lord. Obviously (if we accept the importance of the very words of Scripture) these three things are different and Paul is not merely repeating himself. Exhortation is different than charging, which would be the act that is closest to pressure. (Although the greek word for charging means "bearing witness." This may simply refer to saying, for example, "look at what I did, you should do it too," which is still not really pressure, per se.)

The other example of pressure given in motivating Christians is in reference to Heb 10:24 in the KJV:
"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:"
The word "provoke" means to incite, to "call forth," and so is kin to "exhort". Webster in his 1828 dictionary assigns this verse the following meaning by using it as an example:
"To move; to incite; to stir up; to induce by motives"

We are to "consider" one another- this means to observe and understand fully, like close friends may understand each other. This is the basis of this provoking. Because of this, the provoking should only take place if you are close enough to that person to really understand where they need help and encouragement- in other words, their needs to be a personal friendship and trust. The idea of "provoking" "one another" sets out a wide peer-to-peer ministry taking place throughout the entire church body between every member.

The greek word for "provoke" literally means "to sharpen alongside." Proverbs talks about this:
Pro 27:17 KJVA Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
The notes for the NET Bible for this verse say this:
"The use of the word face would here emphasize that it is the personality or character that is being sharpened. Constructive criticism sharpens character. Use of the wits in interaction that makes two people sharp as a razor (W. McKane, Proverbs [OTL], 615); another is that of two students sharpening each other in the study of the Torah (b. Ta’anit 7a)."

Again the idea here is that there is a close personal relationship that this "sharpening" or "provoking" is taking place within. And the provoking is obviously not offensive, but it is incisive, yet delivered in meekness and in Christian love.
This passage then is talking about interaction or constructive criticism between individual believers, not pressure (from the pulpit).

In a church of sufficient size there comes a point where not everyone can be close to the "pastor." Everyone is "friends" with the pastor, in a manner of speaking; but the relationship is not always such as would allow the pastor to, at any time, attempt this provoking ministry with any accuracy. If the pastor tries, especially before the whole church, there will be misfire simply because he just doesn't know where everyone is at. Such as I experienced this last church service.

I put a title of "The Unrealized Promise" because this idea of getting things done through pressuring believers calls into question the work of the Spirit. Why do so many churches resort to pressure, even if only at times? Of course, it depends on what group of churches you were looking at, but the impression is easy to get, that there is no Spirit at work, and this calls into question the very existance of the Spirit, who is supposed to cause us to will and to work of God's pleasure.

A believer falling into a life of sin calls into question the existance of the Spirit, who is supposed to keep us from falling.
Christians fighting over the truth of the gospel calls into question the existance of the Spirit, who is supposed to be able to lead us into all truth.

These are occasions for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. The promise of the Spirit seems, quite simply, unrealized at times.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Will of God

"The will of God may be said to be done by us, when our wills are resigned to his; when we patiently submit to every adverse dispensation of providence; when our hearts and actions are, in some measure, conformed to his law; when what is done, is done in faith, with a view to his glory, and without dependence upon it; of which such only are capable who have a spiritual understanding of the will of God, believe in Christ, receive grace and strength from him, and are assisted by his Spirit."

-Gill on Mat 6:10

Act 18:21 ESV But on taking leave of them he said, "I will return to you if God wills," and he set sail from Ephesus.

Rom 12:2 ESV Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Rom 15:32 ESV so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

1Co 4:19 ESV But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.

1Co 16:7 ESV For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.

Heb 6:3 ESV And this we will do if God permits.

"God's permission is much to be observed in the ministry of the word, in giving gifts to men, in placing them out here and there, where they shall exercise them, in directing them to subjects, and in making their ministry useful and successful: and it may be observed in general, that nothing can be done, or come to pass, good or bad, but what God permits or wills to be done; no good things, no actions, civil, natural, moral, or spiritual; no evil things, the evil of punishment, afflictions, the persecutions of wicked men, the temptations of Satan, heresies, and even immoralities."

-Gill on Heb 6:3

Act 16:7 ESV And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

2Co 9:8-10 ESV And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (9) As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." (10) He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

Col 3:17 ESV And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1Co 10:31 ESV So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Mic 6:8 ESV He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Phi 2:12-13 ESV Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, (13) for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Gal 2:20 ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Luk 19:13 KJV And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.