Category Archives: Scripture

When the Church is the Church

words words wordsRecently, I experienced a season of being fainthearted.  I was discouraged, and I wasn’t certain that there was hope.  Webster’s defines fainthearted as “lacking courage or resolution”.  In other words, being fainthearted means feeling a strong sense of discouragement, even being tempted with despair.

That was me.  I was experiencing spiritual warfare whereby I was being tempted to quit trusting that God is sovereign, in control, and that Romans 8:28 was holding true not only for me, but for His church.  Romans 8:28 says, “and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV).  I was tempted to doubt that.

Yes (wait, was there a question?).  Yes.  Even pastors are tempted to despair and can become fainthearted.  And I succumbed.  I was fainthearted in the midst of looking at students in the face and preaching to them of the importance of trusting and believing Romans 8:28.  And there were a few close brothers and sisters in Christ who knew.  Instead of chastisement, instead of calling into question whether or not I should be pastoring, instead of condemning, these brothers and sisters (knowingly or not, but I like to think knowingly) encouraged me.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 says this, “and we urge you, brothers, encourage the fainthearted, be patient with them…” (ESV).  My dear brothers and sisters in Christ encouraged me.  They encouraged me by telling me that they were proud of me, that they appreciated me, and so forth.  But most of all, and most importantly, they encouraged me with Jesus.

It’s these conversations within the body of Christ that are meant to be, from God, a grace to those who hear.  The full verse of 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “and we urge you, brothers, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (ESV).  This verse is a verse of grace for the church.

Often, we hear people say that “it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people”.  Which, yes, is true.  But what they mean is this, “therefore, I ought to not say a word to them and just sit back and do nothing”.  In that same vein, in order to be consistent, these same people would have to say that “it is the Holy Spirit’s job to encourage people, so I ought to not say a word to them and just sit back and do nothing”.

Man.  I am so glad these brothers and sisters understand that the means that the Holy Spirit uses to convict and to encourage are the words of truth that we speak to each other.  Along those lines, I want to give three ways that our words of truth are meant to be a grace of God to the church.

1. Admonish the unruly

What other types of words ought we to say to the unruly person living in sin?  Ought we to encourage the liar, “keep on, buddy, you’re doing great!”?  No!  That would absurd.  The appropriate words of truth that believers are to speak to these are words of admonishment.

Yes, words of admonishment ought to be done with graciousness, love, humility, and gentleness.  But, none the less, they need to be said to the unruly.

2. Encourage the fainthearted

These are types of words of truth that were spoken to me recently.  Generally, these types of words are shown at times of grief and celebration, but rarely are we so spiritually connected with one another that we recognize that sometimes people are simply fainthearted.

What other words would we speak to the fainthearted?  Words of admonishment?  Could you imagine?  “You are in despair, but shame on you!”  Again, how absurd!  The appropriate words of truth believers are to speak to these are words of encouragement

3. Help the weak

This category begins with words of truth, and I call these words of action.  Of course, they mean nothing if not put into practice.  So, for instance, if a sister in Christ is weak and is in need of a ramp built on the front of her house to get down off of her porch, the words of action become a physical help to her.  “I will build you a ramp to help you.”

But notice I said words of action.  That means we don’t just tell people we will help them, but we actually help them.  These people do not only need words of encouragement, and they certainly do not need words of admonishment.  These people need help.

Conclusion

The rest of 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says “be patient with them all” (ESV).  When we experience unruly people, or fainthearted people, or weak people, we are exhorted to be patient with them.  We are the church, and we are called to faithfulness to the Lord and faithfulness to one another.  When the church is the church, the Lord honors and blesses the people.  I have been blessed by the church being the church.

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Filed under Church, Encouragement, Scripture, Spiritual Growth, Spiriual Disciplines, True Christianity

The Clarity of Scripture: Is the Bible Meant to be Understood?

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The Bible is more accessible in our day and to our culture than at any other time and to any other people of all time.  Most families in Western Civilization have at least one copy of the Bible in their households.  I am amongst the ranks that has several.  I have all types of Bibles:  I have different translations of the Bible, I have different study Bible’s (a study Bible is a Bible which has helpful notes at the bottom of the page which help to explain what that part of the Bible means.  Mind you, the study notes are not inspired Scripture), I have reference Bible’s, “preacher’s” Bibles (Skinny Bibles which make it easy for the preacher to use while preaching), and so on.  I could fill a small bookshelf with just the Bibles I own.

I have conversations with people that end with some type of reason as to why they don’t read the Bible often on their own.  The number one reason I hear is I just don’t understand it.  The number two reason I hear is I just don’t like to read.  Most often, these are people who struggle with finding joy and satisfaction in God. They likely are struggling in their faith and they want to be able to become spiritually mature, but lack the hope that they ever could be spiritually mature.  Many times, they have been a Christian for several years, even decades.

The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture simply means that the Bible is able to be understand in a simple form by all believer’s.  In fact, part of this doctrine even holds the belief that even unbelievers can understand it (on an external level).  For a long-form explanation of this doctrine, go to this site.

One reason I believe that Christians, especially Western Christians, have trouble with the Bible is that they are willing to put very little effort into it.  They approach the Bible as something that must be “fed” to them rather than something that they are to “feast” on themselves.  The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not mean that the Bible is not deep and complicated.  The Bible isn’t easy.  But it is clear.  God has ordained several means by which Christians ought to get to know the Bible in terms of knowledge.  As we learn more about the Bible, the Holy Spirit then enlightens our minds and our souls to having an understanding of what the Bible really is and what it really means.  Some of those means God has ordained are preaching (corporate worship), teaching (small group worship), self-study, meditation, memorization, and repetition of reading.  I like the term pouring over the Scriptures in relation to all of these other means combined.

I think the reason, or the cause of the symptom of not liking to read and not understanding the Bible is that Christians aren’t willing to work hard at understanding it.  Yes, the Bible is clear and able to be understood by all Christians, but again, it is not easy.  Maturity and depth of knowledge in the Bible come over time and with hard, careful, diligent work.  How did David come to the point to trust that his way would be kept pure by hiding God’s Word in his heart?  By pouring over the Scriptures over time and with great devotion and effort.  The Bible is life giving.  But it is only life giving if we are willing to give up ourselves to get into it.  If I consistently find myself having better things to do, I am not giving up anything in order to have the life that the Word gives to the life of the believer.

Often, the motivation for Christians to come to church is to be “fed” and to be “filled”.  What is sad is that they don’t have to come to church looking for food and satisfaction.  Christians can come to church already satisfied with God, ready to worship Him with anticipation of meeting with God and having God meet with His people.  Church isn’t as much about getting some more of God’s Word as much as it is an expression of believer’s knowing God’s Word.  I get frustrated often with Christians who are more passionate about reading things and submitting to things written by “experts” instead of reading and submitting to God’s Word – the means by which God has given us to know Him by!  We wonder why we aren’t truly satisfied by our modern notion of worship.  The reason is because we are not prepared to truly worship!  Worship occurs when we know God, and when know who God is, we want to know Him more, and when we know Him more, we are driven into deeper worship.  There is a Spirit and Truth tension here, much of what Jesus says will happen when He confronts the woman at the well in John 4.  The Holy Spirit causes my soul to worship God when I know God, and the more I know God, the more I want to worship Him.  Sadly, many Christians miss out on the blessing of personal worship driving the corporate worship because their personal worship simply is non-existent.

So, take some time and work and devote yourself to reading God’s Word.  A good study Bible can help make it easier, but don’t have a study Bible simply to make it easier.  As the study Bible helps you read the Word, and the more you are accustom to reading the Word and understanding it without the study notes, release yourself from reading the study notes and read the only the Word.  Do you have a desire to be fed and filled with more of God?  Then work at reading the Bible.  Your level of devotion to God’s Word reveals just how hungry and desperate you are for Him.

Resources:

  • ESV Study Bible, Crossway Press
  • Read the Bible for Life, George Guthrie
  • Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem (A good systematic theology will help you read the Bible in terms of themes and systems, though the Bible is not primarily a systematic theology.)

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Filed under Doctrine, Reading, Scripture, Spiritual Growth