The Christian Ministry

1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them (NIV).

We all have heard of too many scandals involving men who are ministers of the good news about Jesus Christ. A week ago Sunday, Sharon and I heard about another serious one. Thankfully, we were spared the details. Power and authority turn the heads of many pastors and elders, even if they don’t fall into sexual sin, like the man we recently heard of. We seem to have an abundance of men that want to manage or control slick, efficient organizations. I pity the people under such leadership. The apostle by the Spirit presents God’s alternative through the example of Timothy, who was a young man at the time of the writing of the first letter to the Thessalonians. Young men can be good men, useful to the Lord in caring for his dearly loved people.

First, Paul recommended Timothy to the Thessalonian believers. He gladly called Timothy his brother. Later in 2 Timothy, Paul talked about Timothy’s faith and salvation. Here, true to his theme in this letter about spiritual relationships, he simply called him brother. Every leader must have this outlook about the congregation in which he serves the Lord. It is a family gathering. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord. We share an equal standing in the family. In other words, leaders are not “super brothers”, with a better position. In God’s family, there is mutual acceptance and appreciation. Leaders must model this attitude, because each one is a co-worker in God’s service. A leader serves God and his people, not himself. He is content to be known as a co-worker because service is what matters, not prominence (cf. Matthew 20:25-28; 23:8-12).

Second, Paul described the work of a minister. He labors in spreading the gospel of Christ. Leaders in the church have their focus on telling the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus to all people everywhere. They have large hearts, concerned about the eternal welfare of those whom the Lord brings into their lives. They look for possible opportunities to offer the free gift of salvation. For example, a friend of mine told me how he and his son started math tutoring to gain contacts with people in their community. They do good to others by helping them with math, which is excellent in itself. And they meet new people to whom they might be able to tell the good news. One of our biggest obstacles in telling the gospel is meeting people. I’m sure you know this already.

At the same time, ministers seek to strengthen and encourage you in your faith. This implies some measure of spiritual experience and maturity. They know what it is to be strong in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10). They have received comfort and encouragement from the Father, and understand how to lead other believers to the Father’s care (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

Third, Christ’s ministers keep the spiritual stability of their local assembly in their hearts. They do not want anyone to be unsettled by these trials. In our time, the faith, hope, and love of God’s people are weak. It seems like even the slightest opposition or difficulty can turn people from the way. A wise leader understands the character of the times, the weakness of his people, and the way to strengthen and encourage others in their trials. He knows that he will have to invest time and work in their lives to keep them from becoming unsettled. He realizes that with some he will need to repair their foundation, while with others, he will need to help them clear out the clutter. He can evaluate and serve them in their needs. May the Lord give you leaders like this!

Grace and peace, David

Fellowship Differently

Philemon 1:7

For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother (HCSB).

When we meet together as the Lord’s people, we assemble to worship and to fellowship. This last word is not well understood. It tells us of what we share together in Christ, and what we should share with each other. In short, fellowship is much more than the proverbial ‘coffee and donuts’ and chatting with each other about our children, jobs, houses, and sports teams. Much of this is no different from talking with others at work or with other adults at children’s sports.

Fellowship concerns sharing our lives in Christ with each other. It involves building up, encouraging, comforting, and helping one another, and very much more. True fellowship rests new life in Christ, love flowing out from Christ by the Spirit, and upon shared ideas, values, and attitudes.

To experience fellowship as followers of Christ requires good models, since most of us do not grasp abstract concepts. How to fellowship is more caught than taught. If someone has taught you how to share your life with others by example or as a mentor, thank God for that person right now. But what if you and your local church obviously fall short of true fellowship? How can you fellowship differently?

One way is to study and then seek to imitate the examples written in the Scriptures. In our text, Paul commends Philemon for being such a person. Let’s observe Philemon in these words of the apostle.

  • Philemon gave Paul great joy and encouragement from his love. Philemon’s love, which came from the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), reached out to other followers of Christ. He set his heart on Paul and others to act for their benefit. His love desired that others rejoice. He wanted them to be encouraged! You see, every gathering of God’s family ought to have the aim to produce joy and encouragement. We should enter the meeting determined to spread joy and encouragement, and we should leave, having received large baskets of the same. Notice that word “great” or “much”. Obviously, this happens when love overflows. For example, it does not come from a polite handshake but a warm embrace. We cannot act like we’ve been “emotionally neutered”, if we’re to spread much joy and encouragement. Yes, I know love is more than emotions, but it is also not less.
  • Philemon refreshed the hearts of the saints. The word translated “heart” is a strong term, used for the deep interior of a person along with their emotions. Again, it was more than a polite, “I’ll be praying for you; keep me posted,” kind of action. It is trying to improve the outlook of a person from the depths of their being. It asks itself, “How I can act to refresh this person?” Many times, we cannot change the circumstances of others. But we can seek to lift them up, to speak hope into them, so that they will endure in faith to the glory of God. To refresh someone’s heart requires us to invest time with them.
  • Philemon acted as a brother. His commitment and relationship to his brothers and sisters in Christ fueled his good works for them. We are a spiritual brotherhood, and we dare not forsake others because we feel we have too many needs of our own. Everyone in Christ has new life and the Holy Spirit and gifts from the Spirit. How can we hold ourselves away from our brothers and sisters because “I’m too tired” or “I’m too busy” or “I have so many problems”, etc.?

Let us observe Philemon, and then let us go out to imitate him. Every group we are part of, whether small or large, need refreshed hearts. Will you give yourself to refresh others?

Grace and peace, David

Christian Friendship

img_4284Third John

The elder, to my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well (3 John 1:1-2 NIV).

Third John is one of the lesser known books of the Bible. While a book like Jeremiah seems daunting because of its length, Third John can seem unimportant, because it is so short. This week we have focused Second John and Third John in our group reading, because we need to become fully aware of the message the Spirit tells us in these letters. We usually think of the Bible as a large book, but given its essential message, it is compact. Every book in the Book of books has a valuable message for people to listen to, to believe, and to live accordingly.

Third John is addressed to Gaius, and other than this letter, we know nothing more about him. (Gaius was a popular name in the Roman world.) From the subject matter of the letter, it seems that he was the leader on a house church probably near the end of the first century. He was also a dear friend of the Apostle John, who calls himself “the elder”. (John was probably the only surviving apostle at the time of the letter.)

John called Gaius his “dear friend”, which is the same word as “loved one”. He refered to Gaius three times in this manner, and he used the word “love” in reference to Gaius once and two other times in the letter. In addition, we see that the word for “friend” (a similar word also meaning love) occurs twice at the end of the letter. Clearly, one theme of the book is love.

  • A friend is someone we love. We set our affections on them to give ourselves sacrificially for their good. The well-being of our friends concerns us. So then, what do we do for our friends? This letter points us to actions that we ought to be doing for them.
  • We pray for our friends (1:2). John was concerned about the physical needs of Gaius, including his health and the general provision for his life. We tend to focus on physical needs when we share prayer requests, don’t we? We ought to pray for spiritual needs; for example, how is a friend interacting with God and others as he or she faces a severe illness. Some overreact and don’t think we should pray for physical needs, but John’s example shows us that we ought to.
  • We express the joy we have in our friends (1:3). John heard from other Christians about Gaius’ faithfulness, and it filled him with great joy. It does give us joy when we learn of the spiritual progress of others. The point here is that we can share the joy with the one who produced the joy. People need to be appreciated, and we need to tell them.
  • We commend our friends for the good they are doing in partnership for the good news (1:5). This is closely related to the preceding. John encouraged Gaius for his spiritual sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 13:16) of helping other brothers and sisters in Christ. We should often think about how we can encourage others in doing good.
  • We share our friends’ problems (1:9-10). John listened to Gaius and thought about what he could do to help him. Yes, the one helping others needed help in another area. John let Gaius know what he would do to help Gaius in his local gathering where someone else caused problems.
  • We admonish our friends (1:11). We give them warning-instruction to help them avoid spiritual problems. We need to talk boldly to each other when we sense our friends might be in spiritual danger.
  • We long to be with our friends (1:13-14). John planned to do more than write. He wanted to visit Gaius and have time with his friend. We need to share life with our friends.

How is your relationship with your friends?

Grace and peace, David

An Example of Discipline

img_39352 Chronicles 19:1-11

“This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.” Yes, I heard those words too many times from my dad when I was a boy. I would think, “Yeah, right. I’m the one who is getting spanked!” I also thought that teachers received some special pleasure from putting red marks on my papers. But now through long experience I know this: One of the tough parts of being a parent or teacher is the need to correct one’s children or students. Yet we must do it out of love. This is the reason that God disciplines his dearly loved children. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:5-6 NIV). Let’s think together about the substance of the correction that the Lord gave to Jehoshaphat.

But first, here is a brief analysis of his sin. Notice the parallel structure in the prophet’s charge. Jehoshaphat had helped the wicked, meaning his multi-level alliance with Ahab. Perhaps the term “wicked” would expose the evil of his action to Jehoshaphat. But in typical Hebrew communication pattern, Jehu restates the matter to bring out what Jehoshaphat had done. He had loved those who hated the Lord. Consider the words of Jesus (Matthew 6:24). The Lord expects the full devotion of our love; his holy jealousy is aroused when we give it to others. Now was Jehoshaphat completely “gone” at this point? Far from it, as the next statement by Jehu the prophet makes clear (19:3). Jehoshaphat had yielded to clashing desires that wreaked havoc on his life. Yes, he loved the Lord, but his heart was on a wild chase to fulfill other desires, and he had to face up to how this was ripping him apart.

The prophet announced corrective action by the Lord. Jehu did not give details, but as we see from the next chapter, a vast army would come against him. Jehoshaphat had been fighting the wrong battle, and so now he would have to fight a battle he didn’t want. The fact that the Lord mercifully bails you out of some consequences does not mean that he will get you out of all consequences. God disciplines the children he loves (Hebrews 12:4-11).

The prophet acknowledged what Jehoshaphat had been doing well (19:3). The Lord knew that Jehoshaphat would need encouragement, especially as he went through discipline. It is amazing to me that evangelical Christians have not been very good at showing mercy, though they claim to love mercy. If someone sins or fails, we have been too quick to write them off, instead of working with them through their struggles. However, the Lord commended him though he had seriously sinned. He encouraged his faltering child about two good things he had done.

  • He had rid the land of Judah of Asherah poles. In doing this Jehoshaphat was keeping the first and second commands of the law covenant (Deuteronomy 5:7-10). He had done right actions.
  • He had set his heart on seeking the Lord. In doing this, he was living in conformity with the first great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). He had shown right attitudes.

Point: The Lord used the good in Jehoshaphat in order to restore him and to build better things into his life. The course of our lives should be on a trajectory toward the better. To help do this, plug Psalm 27:8 into your way of life. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek (NIV).

The Lord is the God who delights in mercy (Micah 7:18). You may experience God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. He died and rose from the dead in order to be very merciful to sinners like you and me. Right where you are at this moment, you may forsake the wrong desire that has been wreaking havoc in your life and return to the Lord. Do not delay.

Grace and peace, David