Where Do You Want to Walk?

img_4274Ephesians 4:1

Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received… (HCSB)

Almost every time Sharon and I go for a walk, one of us asks, “Where do you want to walk?” It is a valuable question for friendship. It is good to listen the other’s ideas, moods, and desires. To teach the Christian way of life to his readers, Paul often used the metaphor “walk”. As we live in friendship with the Lord, we ought to listen to his preferences about the places where he wants to walk with us. Every follower of Christ knows that we make rather poor choices about where to walk. Because of his greatness, holiness, and wisdom and our deficiencies in these qualities, we need to listen to his good choices about where we should walk.

As we approach the year 2017, it is worthwhile to ponder where we must walk to please the Lord. In the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle presents much of his ethical teaching through this illustration. Let’s glance at the “trail map” to find out where the Lord wants us to walk in him and through him and by him.

  • Walk worthy of your calling (4:1). The first trail leads up to a lofty place, the calling to hope (confident expectation) of our glorious inheritance (1:18). Our Lord wants us to walk near to heaven, confident and our eyes set on the prize. We should aspire for eternal glory. When you read the Gospels attentively, you will discover the importance of this idea in the teachings of our Lord.
  • Walk no longer as the nations walk (4:17). The second trail leads away from where the peoples of the nations of this world like to walk. It seems a poor choice to them, but those in the Messiah know that their trails are destructive and futile (4:17-19). To walk with the Lord Jesus requires that we deliberately turn from the paths of the nations.
  • Walk in love (5:2). The third trail leads to the imitation of God. It is the trail of love, of setting your affections on God and others, so that you give yourself sacrificially for their good. To walk this trail is costly to self-love; for that reason, it is despised. Think and feel the description of love’s actions (1 Corinthians 13:1-7 HCSB): Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The only way to love this way is to pick up your cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34).
  • Walk as children of light (5:8). Light involves knowing the truth and acting the truth. As we genuinely shine for the Lord, we will expose the evil in others. Yet, we will also produce the pleasant-to-the-Lord fruit of goodness, righteousness, and truth. There is also the pleasant by-product of being unashamed.
  • Walk as wise, not as unwise (5:15). Wisdom is skill in godly wisdom. It is knowing how to practice the truth in fellowship with the truth. This necessitates being filled with the Spirit.

The practical question for each of us is “This coming year, do I want to walk where the Lord wants me to walk?” There really is no value, in fact, it is harmful, to continue to make our poor choices where we are not walking with the Lord. Sit down with the “trail map”, alone and with some friends, and think through the places that the Lord wants to go with us. Choose his paths in 2017.

Grace and peace, David

Build Each Other Up

img_31421 Thessalonians 5:11

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (NIV).

I worked four years for a general contracting company. Our focus was primarily residential, building all types of housing from single family homes to apartments. One of my favorite memories of that time is standing on the second floor of a newly framed house and looking out at the blue summer sky through the newly framed white 2×6 walls. Day by day, the construction would continue till it was time to clean up the house for the owners-to-be. Taking the construction trash to the town landfill was not as fun, especially if it was ninety-five degrees on a summer day, but it also was a necessary part of the task of building a home.

Every follower of Christ is to participate in building up other disciples. This is something we all are do, whether we are young in the Lord, have been a believer for a few years, or have walked with Christ for decades. We all have something to contribute; that is, we will have something to contribute as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen (2 Peter 3:18 NIV). This should stimulate us to action. We are able to make significant contributions to the spiritual health and prosperity of others. Here are some observations.

  • The Holy Spirit is not simply giving us good advice in this exhortation. He wants our way of life to include this spiritual activity. One of the tragedies of contemporary Christianity is the lack of the practice of the “one another” passages in the New Testament Scriptures. Too many people assume that godliness is not doing a short list of prohibitions. (You know, the stuff that the elders of your local church might decide to make you the subject of “church discipline”, if you do them.) Certainly, we ought to avoid the practice of what the Lord tells us to avoid. But we must understand that true godliness involves the ongoing practice of what the Lord wants us to do. A major part of true godliness is acting for the benefit of others, as the Spirit directs us in this text.
  • To build others up, you need to know them. This is one of the glaring weaknesses of what I have called the “edifice church” concept (the idea that “church” equals “building”). People assume that sitting in a building on Sunday morning means that they “have gone to church”, and so have pleased the Lord. However, the church is not a building but a gathering of followers of Jesus Christ. When you gather with people that love the Lord, your primary topic of conversation is not about your families, your jobs, your hobbies, and your sports teams. It is about the new life that you share in Christ. Your joint focus is on him. You care about the spiritual struggles and battles of each other. Going to church is not about seeking an hour of personal, spiritual solitude while the worship team sings and the lead pastor delivers a clever talk. Instead, going to church is about being with the Lord and his people and knowing one another. See 2 Peter 3:18 quoted above. It is impossible to build up another person made in God’s image apart from a real sense of who they are and where they need help. You cannot gain this knowledge simply by sitting in a big room for an hour with others. I have learned this through sixty some years of being in big rooms with others.
  • To build others up you need to know what a mature follower of the Lord Jesus is supposed to be. This requires investment of time in the reading and study of the Bible. My advice, besides general reading of the whole Bible, is to read much and to think deeply on a couple selected books of the Bible. Start with Matthew. Besides telling the story of God’s glory in Jesus, it also presents many ideas about following Christ. If you’ve been a Christian for a couple years, Matthew should be one of your “old, dear friends”. Yet I find many in edifice churches resist the plan of reading the Gospel of Matthew again and again. “It’s too hard to do it.” What? It’s too hard to read daily about your Lord and Savior? Perhaps you can conclude 2016 by reading it three times: once each in October, November, and December. You will reap huge benefits for your own soul and for being able to build others up in the Lord. I also recommend that you read deeply, to start, one of the following books: Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Peter, or 1 John. Perhaps I’ll write another article someday about my reasons for this selection. Plan on reading one of these letters every day for a month. Yes, that means you’d be reading them thirty or thirty-one times. You will learn much about how to build others up, as you listen to what the apostles did.
  • In order to build people up, you need to develop your spiritual friendships. This will require you to be either in a house church or a small group that is part of a larger church. I will not direct you in either direction. But if you are in a larger church, you will have to be a catalyst for change. You must devote yourself to seeing your church develop true friendship and brotherhood. Sadly, many larger churches are not interested in this. But you and I must be! It is very exciting to see the Lord change you and others in your group. Everyone knows the others really care and pray for each other and help one another. The group itself and the members of the group get built up together. It is a taste of heaven on earth.

My dear friends, I plead with you that building others up will become a vital part of your journey of faith. You will experience the joy of helping others, and the joy of others strengthening you! Take that first step this weekend into a deeper experience of your new life in Jesus Christ!

Grace and peace, David

Part of Friendship’s Back and Forth

STG_08482 Corinthians 7:2-4

Friendship is a two-way street. Friends reach out to each other. They delight to share life with each other, even when this requires some straight talk between them. The believers in Corinth needed to receive Paul’s words in the spirit in which he gave them. He wrote: I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you (7:3).

Paul had not said what he had to condemn them. Since we are sinners and know what sin deserves, it is too easy for any of us to walk around in a spirit of condemnation. The case is complicated for those who lack a clear understanding of the gospel. It disables them from living in conformity with the gospel. For example, when people with condemnation ringing in their ears hear the Lord’s commands, they hear condemnation instead of instruction in Christ-likeness. And so they act like they are being judged rather than helped. Paul understands such spiritual weakness, so he plainly tells them that he is not speaking this way to condemn them. They should have caught his true attitude when he reminded them of what they are in Christ and the promises they have from God. But we people can be slow to understand, and so Paul wisely reassured them. We must be willing to invest the necessary time it takes to reassure others of our love in Christ for them. Once said is rarely sufficient, especially when admonition and correction is involved. Love is patient.

Paul adds a reminder about his deep brotherly commitment to them. He resends a message about his ongoing affection for them. How we all need to do this! I have learned through sad experience that once or even a couple times is insufficient. Regretfully, life has no undo command. He wants them to know that they are in his heart! Here is where the contemporary church falls far short of the early church. Their operating attitude of heart was deep affection; ours sadly has been casual acquaintance. Vibrant Christianity does not rise out of the surface dust of casual friendship. The apostle committed to being willing to die or to live with them. Paul had the same kind of kindred spirit that Ittai the Gittite showed to David (2 Samuel 15:21). Such an attitude shows forth the power of God’s love. This is how to reassure one another! We ought to remind one another of our commitment to each other. For example, one of my friends and fellow workers in the gospel watched the movie Dave. It is about an ordinary guy who becomes a stand-in for the president and through a bizarre plot finds that the one-night temp job has become permanent. Eventually, Dave feels guilty about doing this, and leaves. But in the meantime, he wins the loyalty of a secret service agent, who says, “Dave, I would’ve taken a bullet for you.” And so, my friend said to me, “Pastor, I’d take a bullet for you.” And I think he did a number of times! Each of us should have that kind of kindred spirit for each other.

The apostle Paul reassured them about his love for them. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds (7:4). He reminded them about how he spoke to them and of them. He knew he had to do this, because of the way he had spoken to them. And they needed to know how he talked to others about them. To them, he always talked with great boldness. This is how Christians should talk with each other, since God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5)., and love rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love wants those it loves to walk in the truth (3 John 4). While love will speak kindly, it will also speak boldly, because hidden love is worthless. When he talked about them to others, he always talked with great boasting. Paul bragged about what the grace of God did in them and through them. “Here are people, brought by the Spirit from the darkness of sin, who will one day rejoice in the glory of God!” What good news it is to see hopeless sinners now recently born again from above! What good news it also is to see Christ’s people persevere in grace year after year as they head for glory. We need to regain the lost art of boasting in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31).

Paul told them of his joy while he was suffering. This showed the depths of his delight in them. Though he suffered, he was comforted, yes filled with comfort. Hmm, do you have this same kind of interest in those with whom you share life in Christ? Not only is that true, but he also overflowed with joy! Where does such overflowing joy come from? Clearly, it comes from the grace of Christ in the gospel. What Christ has accomplished through his death and resurrection is much greater than any trouble in the world. Do you have such joy in the gospel?

Grace and peace, David