Pornography objectifies women. Women’s groups and Christian organizations have long declared that pornography dehumanizes the women involved. This is partially true. Pornography does not just objectify women. Pornography, and in fact all immorality, objectifies all humanity. Objectification is not limited only to the participants. Objectification is not only one result of immoral behavior, it is a primary cause of immoral behavior. All sexual immorality views others as objects for one’s own personal gratification.
The child of God has no part in immorality because he realizes the intrinsic worth of others. The believer recognizes sexual sin is always devaluing of others. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:6, “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in the matter.” Sexual sin is a a much greater defrauding than any embezzlement. The child of God has no business using others for his own personal gain. Immorality treats others, even in consensual relationships, as means to personal gratification. Every variety of fornication trespasses on another’s life and takes advantage to cheat them of their eternal worth. All immorality steals from others their inherent dignity and worth as women and men created in the image of God.
Possibly the most devastating fact on this entire issue is the truth in 1 Thessalonians 4:8. When you treat an image bearer of God as an object for your sexual gratification, you are defaming and debasing the image of God. You are not just devaluing the person, you are denigrating the God who created the person. When you are sexually immoral, you are disregarding and dishonoring another. When you disregard the eternal worth of another, you do not just dishonor the person. You disregard God the God who created them in His own likeness. You cannot despise man without despising God. If you love God, you will love others.
The sexual wickedness that permeates our world is not just horrific because of its effect on mankind, it is horrific because of what it says about God. The way you view others does not just speak to your view of mankind, it speaks to your view of God. Don’t take this lightly. If you are entangled in immoral thoughts and practices, get hold of this truth. Your immorality reflects a low view of God. Your immorality reflects a practical disregard and dishonoring of God.
Every person bears in themselves the image of God. In some way they reflect the Divine. Think of a photograph of a loved family member. Because you love that person, you treat the photo with respect. You don’t use it to line the bottom of bird cage. You don’t use it to catch drips under the car. You frame it, you place it in a visible spot, you keep it with you and you treat it with care. You do so because that piece of colored paper reflects the one you love most. Do you love God? Look around you. Everyone you see bears the image of God. Treat them accordingly.
During the fall of 1863, the Civil War was still raging. 2 ½ years in, the country was still in the midst of this bloody conflict. During the summer, the tide had turned for the Union forces, but at an appalling cost- including the battles at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg. In the month of September, the Union found itself the loser of several significant conflicts, suffering over 18,000 casualties. At the beginning of October, 1863, the Civil War was far from over and victory for the Union was anything but certain. The country was in the midst of its darkest hours. Yet, on October 3, 1863 President Lincoln issued a proclamation of Thanksgiving.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
For many it may seem nearly unthinkable that a President would call the nation to celebrate a day of thanksgiving in the middle of a brutal civil war. There had been no day set aside for thanks in the last 45 years. President Lincoln chose that time to call this country to give thanks to God for His abundant blessings. Yet, considering Philippians 4:6, “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.”, the day of thanksgiving seems especially appropriate
In several places Paul gives believers the instruction to give thanks. Ephesians 5:20 “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Colossians 3:17, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Chrst, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Let me remind you of some other reasons, given in Scriptures, for us to give thanks.
• His eternally enduring mercy
“O give thanks unto God, for His mercy endureth forever.” (Psalm 136:26)
• His compassion on the afflicted
“I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in Thy presence.” (Psalm 140:130)
• Faith and love of the believers
• Hope of heaven
“We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which ye have to all saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel.” (Colossians 1:3-5)
• God is good
“O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: because His mercy endureth forever.” (Psalm 118:1, 29; 107:1)
• God is holy
“Rejoice in the Lord ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness.” (Psalm 97:12)
• The strength, protection and salvation of our God.
“Therefore will I give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto Thy name.” (Psalm 18:49)
Whatever our circumstances, our God is still gracious. We can give thanks, in all seasons, because of our God. We have real reason to rejoice, not because our circumstances are good and our hopes are being accomplished, but because our God is good. We do well this week to stop and recognize His goodness to us. Let us give thanks.
“If ever there was a time in the history of Christendom when God’s people needed to entreat the throne of grace for an increase and an abounding in love, it is surely now. The exercise and manifestation of this cardinal grace is at an exceedingly low ebb. Yea, things are in such a deplorable state today that many of God’s own people hold quite a wrong idea as to the nature and fruits of love. Most of them misconstrue natural affability and temperamental geniality for love. A hearty handshake, a warm welcome, may be had at the world’s clubs and social centers where Christ is not even professed! The love for which the apostle here prayed was a holy, spiritual, and supernatural love. Spiritual love proceeds from a spiritual nature and is attracted by the sight of the divine image in the saints. “Every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (1Jn 5:1).
Many love particular Christians because they find them to be sweet-tempered or generous-hearted, but that is merely natural and not spiritual love. If we would love the saints spiritually we must disregard what they are temperamentally by nature, and contemplate them as the objects and subjects of God’s love, loving them for what we see of Him in them. Only thus shall we be able to rise above individual peculiarities and personal infirmities, and value them with a true spiritual affection. This does not mean that we shall ignore their offenses or condone their sins (Le 19:17). On the other hand, often what we regard as “slights” from them is due to our own pride. We are hurt because we do not receive the notice which we consider is our due.
Neither the reality nor the depth of Christian love is to be measured by honeyed words or endearing expressions. Actions speak louder than words. Spiritual love always aims at the good of its object. It is exercised in edifying conversation, in seeking to strengthen and confirm faith, exalt God’s Word, and promote piety. The more another magnifies Christ the more should he be endeared to us. We do not mean mere glib talk about Christ, but that overflowing of the heart toward Him which compels the mouth to speak of Him. We should love the saints for the truth’s sake, for being unashamed to avow their faith in such a day as this. Those who reflect most of the image of Christ and carry about with them most of His fragrance should be the ones we love most. Love for the brethren is ever proportioned to our love for the Lord Himself, which at once explains why the former is at such a low ebb.
Love to God has waned! “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,… soul and… strength” comes before “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” But the love of material things and the cares of this world have chilled the souls of many toward God. Our affections must be set steadfastly upon the Head of the Church before they will wax warm to its members. When the Lord is given His rightful place in our hearts, His redeemed will also be given theirs. Then love will not be confined to that narrow ecclesiastical circle in which our lot is cast; it will embrace the entire household of faith. Then we shall have “love unto all the saints” (Eph 1:15), and that will be evidenced by “supplication for all saints” (Eph 6:18) — those in the four corners of the earth whom we have never seen.”
The Christian life is not all about you. Other’s have said it very well, “Christianity is personal but it is not private.” You can only receive spiritual life for yourself, and you can only grow for your self. Much of Christianity takes place within you and the significant work is not visible to others save by the fruits produced. You cannot be a Christian for another. You cannot receive Jesus on behalf of another. You cannot study the Word, pray and bear fruit to another’s account. You will stand before God and give account for your self. Christianity is personal, but it is not private. It is not something that only takes place within you. Christian growth does not take place only through your private devotions and prayers. You cannot hide in your house and grow to maturity in Christ. You cannot enter a monastery and grow to maturity in Christ. Your walk with God is affected by your walk alongside other believers. That is one reason why God has ordained for the churh a weekly gathering every Sunday. No Christian grow to maturity in Christ apart from regular fellowship with other believers.
A Christian who does not care about the spiritual well being of other believers is not a mature Christian. The Christian who does not serve others, does not use his spiritual gifts for the edification of the believers and does not lovingly transmit the truths of God’s Word to other Christians is not a mature believer. Christianity is not a solo experience. It always happens in a group setting. We need the entire church to grow, and the growth of others has an impact on our own Christian life. The health and encouragement of the Christian is closely related to the spiritual growth of other believers.
This is why Paul was so deeply troubled for the health of the Thessalonians and why he was so greatly encouraged by the testimony of their faith and love. This is why he says to them in 1 Thessalonians 3:8, “Now we live if ye stand fast in the Lord.” Paul had not outgrown the need of the church. Though the New Testament churches were filled with troubles, he did not abandon them. He did not walk away because they were struggling with sin. He remain connected with the churches for their spiritual growth and because his own spiritual health was tied up with the church. The Christian’s spiritual growth is significantly impacted by his participation in the church and by the health of other believers. The Christian life is a mutual dependence one upon another. Not one of us is in this alone. Doesn’t that encourage you? You are not stranded and isolated to work out your Christian life with no human help or support? Not one of us can grow alone. Doesn’t this convict you? You need your fellow church members! They are God’s gifts to you and you need them for your spiritual increase. Don’t neglect them.
Exactly 20 years ago I was in the middle of my first semester at Northland Baptist Bible College. This week I was back on campus to meet and hear from the men at Project 14 Global Mission. Much has changed at Northland in the 20 years since I first arrived in northern Wisconsin. As I drove onto campus, the most obvious change was a noticeable absence. Instead of a campus filled with students and staff the dorms were empty and the buildings were dark. Several dozen pastors, alumni and friends of Northland met in the dining hall to get a glimpse of what is in store for Northland. The time was one of looking back. Alumni and former staff members shared fond memories of their time at Northland. Everyone was reminded of the burden that prompted Paul Patz to found Northland Camp. Dr. Ollila spoke briefly of his own ministry heart that was poured into the students and faculty throughout his years as President and Chancellor.
The time was also one of looking ahead. The new Northland board discussed their plans for the months ahead. Much is still uncertain. They have not laid out a specific multi-year plan of action. All future plans are contingent on continued financial support and finding proper leadership to take Northland Mission one step further. Northland camp will be open this summer. Depending on the success of camp, further plans will implemented. While many would love to see a Bible college at Northland, and the board is giving due consideration to the possibility, no promises are being made.
The time was one of cautiousness. The financial burden of a large facility like Northland cannot long be carried by any group. Future progress depends in large part on having the financial wherewithal to expand to the ministry. Future progress depends on having the right leadership in place to guide Northland. For many alumni and pastors Project 14 is a bit of an unknown. This meeting was my first real exposure to them. I am encouraged that their mission, to train national pastors to fulfill the great commission, dovetails with what attracted me to Northland in the first place- training men and women to do the work of the ministry. The board seemed to carry themselves with genuine humility. They were not seeking to build a name for themselves on the reputation of Northland. They seemed to view their role as holding the mission in trust until suitable leadership could come in and take Northland even farther. The attitude of humble service is greatly encouraging.
The presence of Dr. Ollila lending his support coupled with the assurance that he would be a vital counselor to the work encourages me and many other Northland alumni who recognize the singular influence Dr. O had on shaping the heart of Northland Baptist Bible College. The inclusion on the steering committee of men who love Northland, understand the ministry it once had and have already shown wisdom in leadership is a great encouragement to me. Much of what I saw and heard is encouraging, but there is still much we don’t know. What will be the scope and shape of future ministry? How will the 2016 camp season fare? If a Bible institute is started, who will lead it? What will be the ministry philosophy as Northland goes forward? These are serious questions that can only be answered as things unfold in the months to come. While we wait, I pray for God to lead this board, to raise up the right leadership for future ministry endeavors and for there to once again be a small college tucked away in the woods of northern Wisconsin training servant leaders for great commission living.
As the day ended my wife and I walked down to Reflection Lake (one of our favorite dating spots on campus) and talked about what had been and what might be. I reflected that like the temple of Jerusalem, the glory of the second may never be that of the first. Northland may never be a prestigious international university. Northland may not have a campus overflowing with students. If a Bible institute does spring up out of what remains, it may spend many years in relative obscurity. Northland may never be more than a small Bible college. If Northland moves forward with the ministry philosophy it once had, then serving with little notice will be no great hardship. I for one think what made Northland so special and so effective was it’s smallness and comparative obscurity. Northland Baptist Bible College was a school with a heart to train men and women for the work of the ministry. It desired to raise up servants who would lead a church of 10 as faithfully and compassionately as they would would a ministry of 1,000. In my estimation, Northland would make a serious mistake if it tried to become a celebrated Christian institution. If Northland will focus on training a small group ministry minded students to go into the world and preach the gospel, I believe the vision of Paul Patz and Ken McCoy will be realized. If Northland will make it her ambition to please God by quietly investing in servant leaders, I believe she will continue to have a powerful impact on the world for the kingdom of God.
I am cautiously optimistic about the new leadership and direction of Northland. Much that we would like to know can only be learned as the ministry takes each step forward. No one knows if there will ever again be a Bible institute or college in Dunbar, Wisconsin but the early signs are encouraging to me.
Christians are appointed to affliction. God’s intention is for the believer to go through times of suffering. Affliction is not an accidental thing. Affliction is not something that God reluctantly lets slip by. Affliction is not only the malice of Satan. Affliction is the good purpose of God for His children. Affliction is the normal, Divine appointment of the Christian’s life. Take comfort, affliction is not a sign of Divine disfavor. Take comfort, affliction is not a second best option for your life. Affliction is the plan of God for your good.
Because trouble is of Divine appointment, affliction is certain. Do not be surprised by troubles they are to be expected. This should not produce a pessimism always looks for things to go wrong and focuses on every little problem. One of the reasons Christians get discouraged by trouble is they imagine that they should not have to suffer times of deep difficulty. Many have mistakenly believed that faith in God means a life free from major sorrows. Far too many churches have taught that if you have enough faith, or if you are in the will of God, or if you are obedient enough or serve in enough ministries then you will have a life of great blessing and comparative ease. This is a lie. The first letter to the Thessalonians proves the lie. The Thessalonians were remarkable Christians whose testimony spread throughout the region, who loved one another and who ministered graciously to one another. Because of their strong Christian walk, not despite their faithfulness to God but because of it, they suffered intense persecution. Jesus told the disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” How much more plain can that be? Affliction is no strange thing. Affliction is not some thing that Satan hurls at Christians while God’s back is turned. The believer is appointed to affliction by God’s will for God’s good purposes, including: the growth of the believer, the confirmation of the faith and the spread of the gospel. If you expect God to give you a life of relative ease and comfort, when troubles come you will be deeply discouraged and possibly resentful that God did not give you you what you expected. God has never promised ease, so do not be surprised and angered by troubles. Be steadfast in the midst of them, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
The task of the Christian in times of affliction and temptation is to hold fast. Don’t give way. Don’t fall back. Don’t turn aside. Don’t flee from the conflict. Hold fast. Stay steadfast against the attacks of Satan. Let nothing move you from your faith!
50 years ago the School of World Mission launched. Very few in the church have heard of the School of World Mission, but very few have escaped the powerful influence of this institution. The School of World Mission is an institute designed to teach missionries and pastors how to grow church and spread the gospel. The defining feature of the program is its emphasis on creating bridges with the culture and was built on the work of one missionary to remove all cultural barriers to the gospel. Their goals are loosely Biblical, if you squint a little and don’t ask for too many definitions. The desire to make the gospel as accessible as possible is praiseworthy, but the School of World Mission has duped many churches into trading truth for cultural relevance. The School of World Mission is responsible for the modern day church growth movement characterized by it’s seeker sensitive and market driven approaches to ministry.
Creating cultural bridges sounds like a good idea. No one wants to impose unnecessary obstacles to the preaching of the gospel. Anyone who has lived in a different culture knows each culture will produce it’s own set of challenges to presenting the gospel. For example, in the upper peninsula the large percentage of Catholics requires a different way of presenting the gospel than that used in the very Baptist south. Carefulness to explain well particular Biblical concepts that a culture may have difficulty understanding is not the aim of the church growth movement. The aim of the church growth movements is to maximize the appeal of the gospel and the church. This school of thought seeks to craft a church environment which will have the greatest attraction to the largest number of people within a target audience in a community.
In general, the church growth methodology begins with identifying the target audience for a church, often based upon the common characteristics of the core group within the church. If the pastor is a grunge-rock loving white man with a wife and young family, then the target audience is determined to be young white men in the grunge community. To reach the target audience, everything about the church is then tailored to be attractive to them. The structural aesthetics, music, dress and advertising are skillfully designed to attract the target audience. The messages are carefully crafted to speak to the immediate, surface needs of the the group. Since young white men are interested in finding wives and starting a family, then the messages will have a heavy emphasis on manhood. Because they are from the grunge subculture, the messages will be a bit edgy, maybe with a little bit of profanity or off color humor thrown in. The church growth movement carefully researches a target audience, then tailors the church and its message to be most appealing to the target.
Why is this a problem? If thousands of people are coming into church, hearing the gospel and making decisions for Christ, isn’t that what every Christian wants? Shouldn’t every Christian be following the example of the church growth movement? Despite what appear on to be good motives, the School of World Mission teaches a deeply flawed ministry methodology. The church growth movement is unapologetically pragmatic. They measure successfulness by attendance, decisions and influence. Such pragmatism in attracting crowds always results in the function and message of the church being shaped by the unsaved world. The content of the sermon is not determined by the Word but by what leaders believe will be the message people will come out to hear. The market driven church is always pressing to be on the cutting edge of relevance. The effort to be relevant results in a constantly moving ministry model which descends with the culture deeper into wickedness. Robert Schuller’s first drive-in church has given way to today’s shock-jock church sunk into sexual provocativeness in the ongoing attempt to appear relevant. The worst danger of this whole movement is how it handles the Bible. The Biblical message is inevitably changed to appeal to the sensibilities of the current market. Most church growth practitioners would argue they are not actually denying the Biblical message. However, in seeking to attract a broad audience, the movement emphasizes those parts of the Bible which are socially acceptable and overlooks those parts which are offensive to the culture. This produces an imbalance which so obscures certain points of the Biblical message they might as well not exist. This has played out in Andy Stanley’s instructing pastors to avoiding saying “the Bible says”, in Perry Noble’s re-issuing of the ten commandments as ten promises, and in thousands of pastors offering the gospel as the means for one to achieve his highest self.
True doctrine is always compromised because the church growth movement does not believe Biblical truth to be unchanging, eternal and cross cultural. One of the influential leaders in the movement, Charles Kraft, said that theology is a product of it’s culture and can never be the complete statement of Biblical truth. According to the church growth movement, theology is not a process of understanding the Word of God, but of pluralistic, culturally contextual discovery. In Kraft’s own words, “It is not simply the passive acceptance of a doctrinal product ‘once and for all delivered.'” In other words, the doctrines of the Bible have to be understood based upon the culture where the Bible is being read. The Bible is only effective as it’s message is reshaped by the culture. The belief that the Bible is the full and sole determiner of truth, and its expression is rejected by the church growth movement. Any theology that rejects the Biblical truth “once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) is a false theology. Any ministry method founded on false theology is unable to produce a healthy church. It may produce large structures and draw massive crowds, but it is pathologically unable to create a healthy church.
The church growth movement is a failure because it denies the sufficiency of the Bible and the power of the gospel. God has given to His church the message for her to communicate. God has given to the church the means by which that message is to be communicated. The message and the means are the same, the Word of God. The Biblical message does not need to be tailored to the culture or the current generation. The message this world needs to hear is the gospel in its entirety without any parts tailored to be more acceptable to ears of the unsaved. The undistorted gospel is powerful to save those who hear. The Word is sufficient to capture, convict and convert the heart of any. This is obvious in the cross-cultural ministry of the apostles. Paul preached the same gospel to Jew and Gentile alike. His gospel to the gentiles in Thessalonika was little different from Peter’s gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem. The presentation of the gospel may have emphasized a necessary point to give greater clarity to the hearers, but the content was never changed. The church growth movement does not just change the presentation, it changes the message. Church growth practitioners are false teachers crafting their message to scratch itching ears. Christians are not crafters of a message. They are heralds. It is not the messengers place to contextualize the message to highlight the parts that will resonate with a particular sub-culture. We are to speak the message given to us in the fashion it has been given, making clear those points that may be misunderstood but presenting in it’s entirety the gospel.
The church failures of the church growth movement can be seen in their own churches. They have grown, but not in the healthy maturation of a living church. Christianity has been swelled with the inflammation of a dangerous infection. The long neglect of this infection has seeped into the entire body and the true church has been greatly weakened by its gangrenous spread. Generations of cultural Christians have grown up believing an eviscerated gospel. The absence of the powerful truths of the Word have produced churches filled with nominal Christians. The pseudo-Christian sub-culture has some outward trappings of Christianity but lacks the inward reality that only comes through the preaching of the gospel. One early pioneer of the church growth movement boasted of using their methods to bring the gospel to a Nigerian village which subsequently resulted in 95% of the population professing Christianity. For that to be true, someone misunderstood the gospel. I suspect that someone was the preacher. The church growth movement denies that the way to life is narrow. It seeks to tear down the gates and widen the road. In the process it paves over the power of the Holy Spirit and the sufficiency of the Word. Instead of leading men down a highway of holiness, it puts them on a massive interstate to hell. A broad gospel produces nothing but superficial changes and innoculates people against the true gospel. The church growth movement has not gone away. The application of its principles have come a long way since we were introduced to the concept of a purpose driven church, but it’s underlying ideologies of cultural appeal, relevance and Biblical subjectivism continue to influence churches all across America.
The Biblical model of church growth is found in the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2, ” And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
One of the unstoried battles of church history has been for the proper understanding of the local church. Since the days of the reformation, believers have been working for a church that is a genuine reflection of the New Testament churches. The Bible uses several graphic images to describe the relationship of the members of a local church to one another. Peter and Paul describe the church as a temple and its members as living stones within the edifice. The analogy that is probably most familiar to Christians is of the church as a body and the individuals as the parts of the body. The church is also a family. It’s members are brothers and sisters together, adoptees into the household of God. The image of the family permeates the epsitles and soaks through into many of the commands given for interpersonal relationships among church members. Familial love within the church is taught, encouraged, commanded and modeled. Paul is an exquisite example of brotherly love.
Paul was passionate about the local bodies of believers. He loved them deeply. He spent himself for their spiritual benefit. He rejoiced in their spiritual successes and sorrowed in their troubles. 1 Thessalonians 2 is just one example of Paul’s compassion for the church and is filled with family allusions. Paul was tender as a nursing mother, diligent as a compassionate father, sorrowing as an orphaned child and earnest as an affectionate sibling. These analogies reflect the reality that those in the body of Christ are joined together into an eternal family relationship. This must be the Christian’s view of his fellow members in the local church body. The church must never imagine itself to be just a gathering of people in the same building. The church’s union is based on far more than a common doctrinal statement. Christians are joined together as one body in Christ. The unity of the church is founded on the believers union with Jesus. The church is a family with a greater permanence than any earthly family. Just as a family churches have challenges, struggles and disagreements, but we are the family of God.
This is more than mere symbolism to help believers think positive thoughts about the church. This is eternal reality that undergirds the relationship of one member with another. Love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Do more than think kindly about one another. Learn to imitate Paul and obey the Word of God with each other. As Romans 12 says, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice.” When others are blessed, rejoice with them. Develop genuine delight in one another’s happiness. “Weep with them that weep.” Do not only share one another’s joys, share one another’s sorrows. When others are facing troubles and sorrows, weep with them. Grieve with them in their loss, feeling it as if it were your own.
Paul modeled both these principles in 1 Thessalonians. In chapter 1 he rejoiced in the Thessalonians, showing genuine joy in their spiritual success. In chapter 2 he grieved with the Thessalonians, feeling deep anguish in their troubles. Though separated from them in body, Paul’s heart was with them. He was deeply affected by what affected them. He did this because he practiced Romans 12:10, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.” Because Paul loved God supremely and entirely he loved others selflessly. Paul’s unselfish love valued the believers more than he valued himself. Genuine love will count others as more important and more valuable than self. Because of this valuation, genuine love will be tender, diligent, kind, pure and generous. Those who are members of your church with you are your family. Value them as beloved brothers and sisters. Honor them as greater than yourself and cultivate a heart that rejoices and weeps in their blessings and sorrows.
“A valorous hand to hand struggle with inherent corruptions is distressingly rare in the widespread religious profession of the day. You read and pray, and worship in the assembly, and complain that, notwithstanding, your souls do not prosper; you have not comfort; you are not sensible of growth in grace. But all this is mere hypocrisy, if you be not “turning”- tearing yourself asunder from besetting sins, as from a right arm or a right eye. The evilspeaking, watch it, catch it on your lips, crush it as it swells and germinates in the seed-bed of your thoughts within. The equivocations, the half-untruths, down with them. Out with the very truth, although it should break off the nearly completed bargain although it should freeze the friendship that seems necessary to your success. Anger, malice, envy, seize these vipers that twist and hiss in your bosom; strangle them outright there. Your religion is nothing better than a cheat, if you are not busy with the work of ceasing to do evil. “Herein do I exercise myself,” said Paul, “that I may have a conscience void of offence.” How can the feeblest learners of the truth attain, by an idle wish, that actual progressive purification which its greatest human teacher only strove after by incessant exercise.”
– William Arnot
Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth
Every time the Word of God is preached, the truth of God is declared. When believers go out into the world with the gospel, they are declaring to men the truth of God. Christian doctrine is not merely an expression of one groups opinions about religious things. Christians do not just tell others what we believe. The proclamation of the gospel is the announcment of God’s eternal and unchanging truth. We are declaring something more certain than 2+2=4 and more permanent than the speed of light. Gospel truths are not just matters of preference. The Christian does not go into the world attempting to convince someone that one view of religion, God and eternity is better than theirs. The Christians goes into the world announcing certainties that have eternal repurcussions. The gospel is no mere myth. It is no morality tale to make one a better person. It is no emotional prop to make one feel better. The gospel is the power of God that brings forgiveness, gives full salvation and will bring all believers safely into the presence of the Father. This Gospel is Truth!
The Word of God is exactly and entirely what it claims to be, the Word of God. It is not a message of human origin. It is not merely a good book. It is the very words of God, passed to men by the Holy Spirit through the prophets and apostles. It is not one option among the many philosophies of living. The Word of God must never be heaped into the mass of writings. The Bible is never one of a thousand, nor even the chief of thousands. The Bible is the only one of its kind. It alone is revelation directly from the mouth of God. The Bible must not be b blasphemed by professing it to be the best of human words. The Bible must be exalted by receiving it as what it genuinely is, the Words of God.
Mr. Spurgeon said, “In these days there are some who receive the Gospel, but they receive it as the word of men. This is their spirit—“Yes, I know thatsuch is the view that is held by Mr. Black. But there is another view held by Dr. White and another view is upheld by Professor Gray. All these different ‘views’ are supposed to be very much upon a par.” Beloved Friends, this is not our way! There is the Truth of God and there is a lie! And I want you always to feel that there is a solemn difference between the true and the false—and that no lie is of the Truth of God. “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.” If one says, “Yes,” and the other says, “No,” it cannot be that they are both true! Salvation is of Grace—or of works—it cannot be of both! Salvation is the work of God or else of man—it cannot be a joint-stock-company affair! There is the Truth of God and there is error—and these are opposite to each other. Do not indulge yourselves in the folly with which so many are duped—that the Truth of God may be error, and error may be the Truth of God—that black is white, and white is black, and that there is a whitey-brown that goes in between, which is, perhaps, the best of the whole lot!”