I have lived in the house of grief many times in my life. Grieved over so many earthly trials and tribulations that have made unwelcomed entry into my life. But never have I been so grieved at the state of spiritual things until the past year.
I have an (likely unhealthy) obsession with the Reformation. Well, in reality I guess it is with the whole of the history of Christianity and how it came to be what it is today, but truly the time of the 1500 and 1600s just fascinate me. When I went to London it was one of the things I was looking forward to most – touring the sites of the Reformation. King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, “Bloody” Mary are people whose personal stories created such wonder in my mind.
I often used to think about the divisiveness of the “truths” each side of the Reformation held in such conviction as to go to the lengths to manipulate and kill those who opposed them. How could such people who both claimed to love the Lord God be filled with such hate and contempt for others?
Crazy how history in certain ways repeats itself. We often look back at times and think, “What were these people thinking?” as if it was so ludicrous that we ourselves would have known or done better. From the Israelites complaining in the desert after escaping Egypt during the time of Moses, to those burning the Protestants at the stake during the Reformation. From the Jewish leaders sacrificing Christ on the cross to the abhorrent acts of 9/11. We look upon these things and think to ourselves somehow this would never BE us… making these choices or acting in such ways. Yet, if the past year has taught us anything, it is that none of us are above reproach. None of us escape the ability to be deceived nor the ability to pridefully hold such convictions that they cause us to hate those who don’t share them.
I know the Apostles tried to convey this message constantly. Talking about being in the Word and communing with God minute by minute, running the race with endurance and helping each other through this life, so that we wouldn’t fall prey to the deceits of the “evil one.” Our goal shouldn’t be to tear one another down with theories and judgments, but to affirm, build up, bear with, encourage, and unite.
Romans 16:17-19: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.”
The arching message throughout the epistles of the apostles I think has begun to be lost once again. We seem to always go the way of making more of what God says and calling it Holy even though it is actually derived from arrogance, idols, and selfishness. We cling so heartily to this world, our place in it, our actions in it, our comfort in it, our standing in it, but say “For the Lord,” yet God says something directly about that,
“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
I was once blinded by my works. I lived in fear of “choosing” the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing that it paralyzed me from a seeing truth (I recently wrote a post about that – Finding the Narrow Gate). I see this so much in the church today. We are taught so much about obedience and fruit that we forget that our obedience and fruit are derived from our relationship with the Lord as a work of the Holy Spirit. If we are in communion with Him, we need not live in fear of choosing the right thing. We have a father who will guide us and use us in all of it. We have a forgiving, loving and powerful Father who can do far more than we ever ask or think (Eph. 3:20). Yet, we sit and worry about the wrong things. We sit and fret about the end times and the judgment of God, to the end that we have made Pharisees of ourselves weaving a to do list of righteousness that is making a dividing line within the church.
Where you stand on masks or mandates or vaccines during this time of Covid is of no concern to me, but the heart behind it is. The message of the Gospel is at stake here. The purpose of the church is at stake. The soul of your neighbor is at stake. The heart and mentality of the people you pass by are at stake. These things are worth far more than any ideology.
I take these ideologies and use them because this is the day we live, but this is nothing new to the church or the people of God. In fact, I can clearly remember when my daughter was little and the divisions were about sleep training, essential oils vs medications, organic vs processed. Fear of doing the wrong thing has been the manipulating tactic for ages making it so that we have been dividing one another since the beginning of time. Look at Eve in the Garden, or at the tribes of Judah. Look at the churches the Apostles built – from day 2 they were having divisions.
1 Cor. 11:17,18
“Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.”
These divisions have consistently been about the “To Do” or “To Don’t” of our faith. Much like Eve, we have taken the things of God and defined it in our own terms. Like the Pharisees we have made faith something to work for rather than a gift of grace. We instill fear, doubt, and hostility towards each other for non salvific acts. We have made a mockery of the gospel by our example of hostility, not just to the outside world, but to each other. We have turned God’s house into a place of either academic legalism or frilly based theology. We have turned away from bearing burdens on one hand and conviction on the other. We care more about our programs “serving” the believer than the soul of our next door neighbor. We say we are building up the body to spread the Gospel, but in reality we are hindering both of these. It is a sad time for the church.
Paul undertook this same message to the church at Corinth (as exemplified in the verse above). Throughout 1 Corinthians Paul is trying to combat the same things that are happening today – the wrestling with the things of the world vs our obedience to holiness vs being a light for Him. (There is a reason it is refer to as a “war”). How do we behave in the world but not of it? How do we maintain love and compassion so that we do not hinder the gospel? Paul understood Jesus’ messages throughout the book of Matthew about love, compassion, truth and living in the Kingdom. As the new Christians of his day struggled to come out of the legalism of the law and into the freedom of Christ, he saw the divisions on the same struggles he saw the Pharisees making (I mean let’s face it, old habits die hard). It is why he was so adamant about helping the church see it is not about what you DO, but who you serve. It is not about your actions, but your passion. Take 1 Corinthians chapter 7. Paul is addressing the church about the specifics of obedience they were inquiring about. You see what happens is when we have faith based on obedience we start to be overly concerned with the particular details of the action needed. In this case, they had questions about marriage and eating idol meat. Paul goes into detail about how to guide yourself…however if you notice he then switches modes to almost say look here – I am glad you are concerned about your demeanor and the way in which you walk but remember that these things are NOT what this is about. Remember that your love for God, His Gospel, and your ministry to others is more important that your individual actions and liberties.
1 Cor. 9:19-23
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”
From where does Paul understand this message but from Christ our Lord and His ministry. One example found here in Matthew 17:24-27, “When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax? ”He said, “Yes. ”And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.”
So we do NOT offend. What is the purpose here? The purpose is that we may have liberties or we may have exemptions or we may have convictions, but we are to be careful that in using these we do not offend people and therefore stump the movement of the Gospel or the compassion for one another – for God said that the greatest commandment was not to draw a line in the sand, but to Love God and Love Others. I fear we have lost our way in this as Christians.
Yes, obedience, convictions, standing firm for the Lord absolutely matter, but are we making those idols in the face of such a rising tide of anxiety, fear and need for control? The questions that should supersede all others are: is this hindering or helping the gospel? Am I loving my neighbor to His Glory? Are we adding or overdramatizing convictions for our own feeling of righteousness? Are we seeking the comfort of like-mindedness while forsaking the hurt and lost? Are we ostracizing our brother or sister in Christ for our own comforts?
The Pharisees held tight to their convictions about the Messiah. Ones properly propagated over time that directly ignored Isaiah 53. Convictions of a Messiah that didn’t fit the narrative of Christ in their day because He didn’t do what they wanted or expected of Him to do. So they threw Him away to preserve their laws, control, and ultimately what they perceived as holiness. Are we doing the same?
I want us to take a step back and really think about what we are putting first? Is it the Gospel or is it our comforts? Is it reaching people for Christ or is it judgement towards those who don’t agree with us? Is it bearing up with believers or is earthly disunity with those we share a spiritual family? Is it our country or is it our Kingdom?
What is being sacrificed for the name of perceived holiness or comfort?
As a mom of an immunocompromised kiddo who has really struggled with his health the last few years, I have seen first hand the devastation of how treating someone can affect them mentally and spiritually. How we “love our neighbor” or “bear the burdens” of our fellow brother or sister in Christ IS the difference in this world. That IS the LIGHT of the world.
I love the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18. As the people are dancing around and waiting for their god to act. Yet then, Elijah calls out to God and He delivers the fire, THE LIGHT. You see it is not the act of the people that provided anything, but the act of God that delivered the supernatural knowledge of His greatness. We as believers need to show the LIGHT, the fire. What is that in our time? Being on this side of the resurrection gives us the greatest of supernatural gifts in the Holy Spirit. What are HIS fruits: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22,23). These fruits of the Spirit are the Light of the world. What exemplifies God greater than someone who turns the other cheek in the time of adversity? Or who gives up their life for another, who gives up their freedoms for sake of spreading the Gospel. Who lays down their desires and comforts for the bearing up of another believer. Who refrains from sharing their opinions for the sake of unity in the body? These are the acts of the church. These are the acts of God. These are the things that people will look at and say “The Lord is God. The Lord is God” (1 Kings 18:39).
So may we put away divisiveness against earthly things and start to put on the purpose of the mission of God. We will always have differing of opinions or theories or convictions (as evident throughout history), but do they need to be in anger, condemnation, or judgment? Or can we all lean on our commonality in our Love of God, His Word, His Spirit, His Son, and the furthering of His Gospel to unite us! Letting our love for God and His will direct us, without judgment from one another about non-salvific items? May all we do, all we say, and all we desire be, further the Kingdom, His Gospel, His love, His mercy, His grace, His Light!
The Gospel of the Kingdom by George Eldon Ladd, pages 134 & 135, “This Good News of the Kingdom of God must be preached, if you please, by the Church in all the world for a witness to all nations…This means that for the ultimate meaning of modern civilization and the destiny of human history, you and I are more important than the United Nations. What the Church does with the Gospel has greater significance ultimately than the decisions of the Kremlin. From the perspective of eternity, the mission of the Church is more important than the march of armies or the actions of the world’s capitals, because it is in the accomplishment of this mission that the divine purpose for human history is accomplished. No less than this is our mission…Let us for ever lay aside this attitude of self-pity and lamentation over our insignificance. Let us recognize what we are as God sees us and let us be about our divinely appointed programme.”
(For an in-depth study of God’s desire for us here on earth…again I will point to Matthew and the epistles of Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians. Ask the Spirit to help you truly see with an open heart Christ’s ministry and example! To His Glory and His purpose!)