Tuesday, July 29, 2014
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" John 13:34-35
According to these verses the primary definition and characteristic of a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a certain series of doctrines or standards; it is that they love other disciples. Doctrines are important, and standards are great, but according to the Bible, long before the lost world knows what you believe and what camp you are part of or what denominational creed you ascribe to, they should be able to see that you love other people who follow Jesus Christ. This is both good news and bad news. It's good news in that the newest and most spiritually immature believer can be counted as a disciple if they love other believers. This is also bad news because some of us who like to consider ourselves seasoned disciples do such a pathetic job of fulfilling these verses.
In fact, the Bible has a word or two to say about some of us. " And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able . For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" 1 Cor 3:1-3 Once again, according to the Bible the primary characteristic of a carnal Christian isn't what music they listen to or what worldly activities they do or do not engage in. The primary characteristic of a carnal Christian, regardless of how long they've been saved, is that they have a hard time getting along with other Christians. The life of a carnal Christian may not or may not be full of wine-bibbing and head-banging, but by definition it is full of strife and division.
The reason this simple commandment is so difficult for some of us who claim to love the truth is found in Ephesians 4 "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called , With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Forbearing one another takes work and effort. It takes lowliness and meekness and longsuffering. Carnality requires none of these things and is perfectly in line with our Adamainc nature according to Titus 3:3. It's natural to divide ourselves up into camps and tribes and races and creeds and colors. Children in the playground need no instruction on how to divide up into teams and castes and them wage war against each other. We are born with an 'us versus them' inclination. It's also the defining mark of the life we were supposedly called out of. The commandment of God is that, having called us out of a world where people scheme and plan and divide and jockey for position and clamor for pre-eminence, we show that we are no longer part of the world by getting along.
Understanding this, it's no marvel that the Bible goes right to the heart of the matter in Proverbs 4, when it says "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life". Our 'issues' aren't what we say they are. Our life issues aren't really doctrinal or personality clashes or standards; our 'issues' are heart issues. We say we can't get along because of this or because of that, but the plain truth is that we can't get along because of our horribly carnal hearts.
If I may chase a rabbit for a second here, my crowd is probably the worst about this among the entire body of Christ. We love the truth, and we love our doctrine, and we love our standards, but we don't particularly love each other. We would be quick to find fault with the liberal churches in their immodesty or wordly worship or failure to stand on the word of God, but the truth is, in this area, they run circles around us. They may not be able to rightly divide the word like we claim we can, but they are light years ahead of taking the newest convert and making them feel like family. I have wondered , if my crowd has so much truth on it's side and we are so 'right', how we blow this one commandment so consistently? We disobey the Bible while claiming to believe it more than everybody else.
In the Bible , heart trouble manifests itself as mouth trouble. Whatever is in your heart will eventually come out of your mouth, and God takes mouth trouble among his people very seriously. In fact, he takes it much more seriously than we do. In 1 Cor 5, the Bible says "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up , and have not rather mourned , that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present , concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together , and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." This is the proof text for executing what is commonly called 'church discipline' in the American South. If fornication is being committed in a local assembly, and those involved do not repent, the church is instructed to break fellowship with them until that condition is fixed. But the scripture doesn't stop there, because in verse 9, it says "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company , if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat ." Most of the church folk I know would agree that fornication is a serious issue and must be dealt with if a local assembly is to enjoy God's fellowship. Most church folks would not tolerate an unrepentant drunkard in the assembly. But railers? Most people would be very hesitant to break ranks with the railers that they attend services with, especially if the transgressors are in a position of leadership.
In case you were wondering about the definition of 'railing', take a look at Luke 23:39. "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying , If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." In the passage , Jesus has claimed to be the Christ and his enemies insist that he prove this by some notion that they came up with, some independent standard. If he fails to jump through this particular hoop they can then feel justified in saying to themselves and others that he cannot possible be what and who he claims to be. If I were to claim that I am saved and that I love Jesus Christ, and you were to say "If you really loved God you would do the following activity". That activity could include anything from running to shouting to tithing to weeping to door knocking to street preaching; all that matters is that it's your hoop and I must jump through it. When I fail to do that activity to your satisfaction, you can tell yourself and others that I'm probably not saved, and I definitely don't love Jesus. You just engaged in what Phil Schipper calls 'performance based Christianity' and you just committed the church-discipline-worthy offense of 'railing' on me. Isn't the Bible fun?
Let me tell you something you probably already know; we are all a bunch of filthy gossips from time to time, and preachers are probably the worst. We talk about each other , about who we like or don't like, who we agree with or don't agree with, and we do this because our hearts are not right with God to the degree that we want everyone to think they are. That unrighteous heart comes out of our mouths, and we can always find a way to justify our wickedness. According to the scriptures, railing is as wicked an activity as fornication, and is the grounds for church discipline if not repented of.
The scripture doesn't stop there. In the very next chapter, a continuation of the same thought, the Bible says "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame . Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another." Scripture is clear; we are supposed to get along, and if we don't, these conflicts are to be resolved among the brethren. Taking matters of disagreement before the lost world is both unwise and wicked, and should be repented of.
As an example, let's say that you have a disagreement with another church member. The nature of the disagreement is immaterial, but let's say that you had a doctrinal disagreement with them. You are so 'burdened' to point out to everyone else how wrong they are (and by the way, how right you are) that you go onto Facebook and you blast them point by point. You have just railed on them, and made matters worse by doing it before the whole world of the Internet. You have committed a church-discipline worthy offense, you have harmed not only that person ("..a whisperer separateth chief friends..") but the entire body of Christ, and you need to repent.
It is interesting to me, and by 'interesting' I mean 'horribly disgusting', how difficult it is to leave a church without your motives being questioned and your character assassinated. It's horrible how quick we are to blast everyone who doesn't agree with us. It's disgusting how quickly we can turn on people we have fellowshipped with for years and how gleefully eager we are to believe the worst about people we claim to love! It's disgusting how we delight in slander and gossip, taking little thought for how our wicked unbridled tongues are destroying reputations and ministries! I have seen situations where it was obvious that a sin problem had to be dealt with, and perhaps 1 Corinthians 5 invoked. I have seen church members who claim to love truth and claim to love Jesus look forward with anticipation that 'so-and-so is gonna get churched'. How wicked that is! It's as insane as a man looking forward to having his own gangrenous hand removed and it is an attitude that is an affront to a holy God!
In Romans 3 , a remarkable statement is made. "For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner? And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported , and as some affirm that we say ,) Let us do evil, that good may come ? whose damnation is just." Paul had been slandered, specifically in the area of his motives. He was trying to do right, and people just couldn't keep their railing mouths off of him, and his ministry. The verse says their "damnation is just". According to the Bible, if you slander the reputation of somebody who is trying to do right ( and I believe the context includes people who are trying to do right despite past mistakes) then you deserve the damnation of God. Even though "the wages of sin is death", I find no other sin listed in the Bible where God specifically says that a specific sin in worthy of damnation. Neither drunkenness or fornication or covetousness or even murder are given the singular spotlight of attention that you and I and our railing tongues receive. We should all pray for a season of repentance, and if we've slandered people, make it as right as we can.