Biblical Foundations 28: Elevating Others 3
We continue, by God’s grace, to look at the foundation of this local church–what is the LORD doing in us and through us? Why does He have us attending here?
The last two posts we have examined Mark 1:40-42 to look at the cornerstone of elevating others, specifically of serving non-Christians. This post we will step back for a moment to look at he point of our good deeds, the purpose/goal of serving non-Christians.
Many Christians realize the importance of serving non-Christians, the importance of elevating others, and so we “just get busy doing something helpful.” This might be ok in the short-run, but it can be devastating in the long-run. We have been given a specific mission from the Lord Jesus, not a general/vague suggestion. Jesus didn’t say to His disciples: “Get out there and do some good in the world.” He specifically said to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey EVERYTHING He has commanded us” (Matthew 28). This is wildly specific, loved ones, and thank the Lord it is. In Acts 1, He commands us to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. This is fantastically specific, not vaguely general.
- A witness in a court of law, when subpoenaed, doesn’t just talk about things they are interested in, doesn’t just talk about pleasant/uplifting things, or even knowledge they have about law/the judicial system—the witness answers specific questions in specific ways, with as much detail as possible, not about anything but about everything they’ve seen and heard regarding the case at hand.
Like working out/exercising: many look at Christian service as “just go do something healthy—walk, run, bike, swim, jog, lift weights, do anaerobic, do aerobic, whatever—just get your heart pumping doing whatever you want for a set amount of time per day.” That probably is very healthy physically, but spiritually for Christians that is not healthy over the long-run. It is too general.
- For example, if your specific purpose of training is to eventually climb a mountain, you don’t just do any type of exercise, you aren’t going to primarily focus on lifting weights to increase the bulk of your muscle—having huge pecs is not going to help you climb a mountain. You are going to have to do some very specific exercises, like squeezing a tennis ball over and over again to strengthen your hand and forearm muscles which will not get you on the cover of a magazine but which are essential to getting you to the top of a mountain. Such a specific goal requires specific training, requires specific deeds of exercise. The same is true w/Jesus’ mission for us.
One tragedy is that a church-attender never sacrificially serves and extravagantly loves non-Christians. That is a tragedy, & such a person should humbly approach the LORD in prayer with an open Bible and ask Him if they are a Christian at all.
Another tragedy is that a Christian does good deeds toward non-Christians that moves us AWAY from Jesus’ specific mission for us, good deeds that make it harder for us to get to the top of the mountain (Jesus’ goals for us). We have some Christians who are “bulked up” with muscles of good deeds but who cannot and do not climb the specific mountain Jesus has pointed us toward. We have some who are NASCAR Christians whose tires are bald and whose gas tanks are empty by the end of the race, whose odometers have many miles on them and who have revved their engines loudly…but who haven’t actually gone anywhere, who have only driven in circles, who end up just where they started!
So we must ask this question before we start getting busy busy busy elevating others: what is the POINT, the PURPOSE, of our good deeds towards non-Christians? Knowing that will help us to understand what good deeds we are to be doing.
Remember Jonah: God told him to go east to Ninevah to preach repentance, to preach the Judgment of God on that city if they didn’t repent of their sinfulness. God didn’t tell Jonah to do anything else in Ninevah. And God was lovingly angry that Jonah went WEST to Tarshish, not because it is wrong for anyone to go to Tarshish but because it was wrong for JONAH to go there. God had given him a specific destination with a specific mission; doing ANY other deed, no matter how good/noble, anywhere else was enough for Jonah to be swallowed by a huge fish! And I wonder how many of us Christians are living in the bellies of huge fish these days because we are busy busy busy in general serving others but not specifically obedient to Jesus’ specific mission of loving/elevating non-Christians.
- We hear in football when a player “misses an assignment.” Perhaps player A was supposed to block a linebacker, but player A instead goes and blocks a blitzing cornerback (which was already picked up by another teammate). Player A did something good—blocked the cornerback—but player A still missed their specific assignment, didn’t do their specific task (block the linebacker), and so the linebacker sacked the quarterback, caused a fumble, and injured the quarterback, knocking him out for the rest of the game or season. And all because of a missed assignment! “But I did something good!” Yes, but you didn’t do the specific task that had been assigned to you, and so the whole team suffers. Wow. This is serious stuff for Christians as well as for football players…
And so, loved ones, we must look at what the Bible says is our specific mission, our specific purpose, our Ninevah; doing ANYTHING ELSE is Tarshish, loved ones:
What a dangerous sermon this is because in a way it takes aim at a “sacred cow” of American Christianity—serving others. But take aim we must: American Christians must humbly wrestle w/this sobering fact: the main activity of the Church in Acts was proclaiming the Gospel in words not doing good deeds.
We will be investing a few posts digging deeply into the Bible to examine this statement. In one post I cannot answer all the questions that this statement raises; I simply ask you to let that statement simmer in your minds and hearts over the next few weeks. If you miss a Sunday or two throughout the rest of the summer, please do listen to the sermons that you miss, for this foundation work is so important to the building of the first and second floors that will happen in the fall and winter. Marathon runners who skip their base training and just jump into longer runs often get hurt and have to drop out of the race because they have skipped/missed the foundation training; the same happens spiritually! 🙂
2 Corinthians 5:9-21 NIV:
9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
[Jesus said, “To those who have been given more more will be expected.” Wow. Not just living in the moment or YOLO—stop! We have as our goal to please the LORD today by thinking ahead to what will happen tomorrow—we will stand before Him to give an account of how we used our time on earth, He will audit us! We get ready every year for April 15th…why not also this audit from Christ Himself!
This is one of the humble responses to the comment, “Why does it matter if we do the precise mission Jesus has for us? God is grace, God is love!” He is grace & love—yes! But even for Christians there is a Judgment—not concerning heaven or hell but concerning rewards, concerning the quality of our heaven. If you are given certain benefits at work—time off, bonuses, company car, extended lunch, etc.—you make sure to use all of those benefits! You don’t let a single one get wasted! How much more should we focus on receiving ALL of the LORD’s eternal benefits!? He commands us to store up treasures in heaven!]
The Ministry of Reconciliation
11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.
[Since that causes us to tremble a bit and turn off our tv’s and open our Bibles, since even the thought of a judgment from God regarding our heavenly rewards is enough for us to get focused because we don’t want to mess with the LORD, this spurs us to tell others about Jesus so they don’t face His Judgment regarding hell which is obviously much more severe! Is God teaching you to reverently fear Him, to be in awe of Him, to not mess with Him? (For more on this, please click HERE) The BEGINNING of wisdom is fearing God…
This Greek word that we translate “persuade” carries with it the beautifully layered meanings of “assuring others, helping others to have confidence/trust in and to depend on the Lord Jesus, to free from fear or doubt.” To have confidence in Christ and to put all their eggs in HIS basket, to give Him everything! This is our main role towards non-Christians! Not just for pastors or evangelists or speakers—ALL Christians…]
Back to 2 Corinthians 5:
What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
[Receiving Jesus as Savior changes not only our eternity but also our Monday mornings and Friday evenings! Many consider such Christians, who actively look for opportunities to tell others about Jesus with their words, as out of their minds, as ridiculous, and even as dangerous, stirring up trouble. This is EXACTLY how people viewed the early Christians (Acts 17:5-7; Acts 24:5-6)!
But what drives Christians to this mission, what wind is at our back lovingly but firmly pushing us against the currents of this world which want us to be quiet about Christ, to keep Him to ourselves? Verse 14: “the love of Christ compels us” to this mission even though others will laugh at or loathe us. We are driven not behind by the whip of duty but in front by Jesus’ heart of love—true love for non-Christians tells them about Jesus with words. This word that we translate “compel” carries a sense of literally “plugging one’s ears,” continuing doing something no matter what is being shouted at us. This word carries a sense of being utterly saturated, like a body with a disease that isn’t localized but has spread throughout the entire person—when you have the flu your body is “compelled” to be sick (we can’t NOT be sick!); when we are so filled with Christ we are similarly compelled to tell others about Him with gentleness, respect and boldness (we can’t NOT tell others about our King!), we are literally infected with the love & Truth of Jesus! We need to be so filled with Him that we are driven, at all costs, to tell others about Him.
But look again at verse 14: how does the love of Christ compel us? By making us CONVINCED of the Truth. Are you CONVINCED that WHAT the Bible proclaims, Who Jesus is, what He has done through the Cross & empty tomb, is true? This word “convinced” carries with it a sense of a judge making a decision in a court case—by the grace of God, have you slammed down the gavel in receiving Jesus as your Savior & King? Are you convinced? Are you all-in? Even though you may doubt, have you stated like Peter, “Where else will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Christ, the Holy One of God” (John 6)!?
- A quick but hopefully encouraging word about doubt: if you doubt Jesus, if you doubt the Bible, it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t a Christian! If you doubt you are in good company—even Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer, doubted! The same one who leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice (when she was pregnant with the Lord Jesus), the same one who boldly and correctly declared about Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” that same John the Baptizer doubted the identity of Jesus when John was locked up, facing execution, and probably weary and exhausted from a lifetime of desert/wilderness ministry. When things weren’t exactly working out as John thought they would, he doubted, because he, like us, was only human (Luke 7:20-23). Jesus said of John, “Of those born of women no one is greater than John.” And yet John doubted.
- How did Jesus respond to John’s doubt? Not through a supernatural miracle (oh may the LORD help us not to build our faith on searching for such miracles). No, Jesus responded to His cousin’s doubt by lovingly and gently and clearly pointing John to Scripture, to the Bible, to the fact that the entire Old Testament pointed to Jesus and predicted His arrival. THAT is the remedy for our doubt—prayer (for John asked Jesus a question when he doubted!), deep Scripture reading and continuing to put our faith in Jesus into practice everyone, one step at a time, whether we doubt or not.
- When I rock climbed recently at MSU with my oldest two daughters recently, as they were confidently scaling the wall like professionals, I was a doubting climber, UN-convinced that I would make it out alive, timidly inching my way up! But when it was time to come back to the bottom, you don’t climb down—you must commit fully and lean ALL your weight onto the harness so that the machine can safely lower you to the ground. If you only lean part of your weight into the machine, if you still are gripping the wall, it will not lower you to safety; you are still on your own on the wall. This takes TRUST! To let go and let yourself fall, releasing your own grip on the wall, trusting the machine above you to bring you to safety, can be terrifying! And yet even as I did do this, I doubted! I literally said out loud “TRUST TRUST TRUST” as I leaned back; I doubted, I was unconvinced, but I did lean back. Simiarly, it is possible to doubt Christ and still lean into Him, to still learn to lean all our weight on Him even in our fear so that the Messiah above us—not the machine—can bring us to eternal safety. While the highest goal is joyfully trusting & following Jesus without doubt, by the grace of God it is still possible to fearfully trust Him in our doubt, crying “Trust Trust Trust!” as we lean into Him timidly…
Many church-attenders say, “Well that is true for ME, but others have their own truth, and I don’t want to tell them about Jesus and thus accuse them of being wrong. I’m just supposed to love them with my actions.” Oh loved ones that sounds diplomatic but it is not Biblical, it is not like Jesus. Such a person will not suffer much to tell others about Jesus because they are not convinced that Jesus’ Truth is True, always and forever, here & everywhere, for me and you and everyone, regardless of culture or opinion. Look at what Jesus said to the Saduccees, who didn’t believe in any kind of life after death—Jesus refuted them from Scripture and then added: “You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:27) Jesus was convinced, so He clearly said, “Your opinion is false, is not true; HERE is the Truth!”]
Back to 2 Corinthians 5:
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
[we serve others in the specific hope, with the specific goal, that what has happened to us—new life in Christ, forgiveness of sins, adoption as children, rebirth, being reconciled to God (no longer His enemies)—will happen to them. THAT is the goal, THAT is the mountain-top; THAT is our Ninevah! God has done something to us that we could never do on our own—reconciled us (taken us from hatred against God to friendship with Him)! This word “reconcile” arries with it the sense of God setting aside His wrath against us—and then He gives us this ministry toward others—to tell them what God has done for us and what God will do for all who cry out to Jesus in repentance & faith, not just improving them but reconciling them!]
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
[Not a ministry of just “being nice/polite/pleasant/getting along with others/just holding doors open for people/just temporarily meeting someone’s earthly needs.” No, our ministry is a ministry of reconciliation, serving non-Christians with the goal that they will be saved, reborn through faith in Jesus Christ specifically, specifically sharing that Jesus literally became sin for sinners, dying on the cross in the place of and paying the penalty for all sinners who will cry out to Him in faith & repentance.
Look at these words/phrases: “God makes His appeal to non-Christians THROUGH US!” We are His ambassadors, His representatives—He sends us to Ninevah but we go to Tarshish! We don’t like it when our elected politicians rarely go to Washington D.C. to vote on bills; we don’t want them just travelling all over the country, playing golf, just trying to get re-elected—they have a specific job to do in Washington! So do we have a specific job to do in this Ninevah world—we have been ELECTED by the grace of God!–and we are to persuade, beg, implore people, on behalf of the Lord Jesus, to be reconciled to God, to receive Jesus’ death as the death that they deserved, to go from being under the wrath of God to being under the wings of God.
This word “implore” carries a sense of need, of absolute necessity—non-Christians NEED to be reconciled to God! We aren’t telling them about Jesus as if, “Hey, this store has a great deal on produce, you should check it out if you want to save a few dollars.” No we are telling people about Jesus as a NEED, as if, “There is a class 5 tornado coming and you NEED to get into the cellar, into the basement, into a secure place or else.” We are therefore like Noah, warning of the storm to come of God’s holy & righteous Final Judgment; yet we don’t build an ark of wood but point to Jesus Who hung on a cross of wood.]
Do you have a burden in your soul, heart and mind for others to know & receive & surrender to Jesus as Savior & Lord? If by God’s grace we grieve over physical poverty (and we should!)(which will only last 100 years or less), we must also cry out to the Holy Spirit for grace to grieve over spiritual poverty (which without receiving Jesus will last for eternity)! Paul desperately longed for his fellow Jews to receive Christ as Savior; Paul even went so far as to say that if he could he would trade his personal salvation so that other Jews could receive it!
Romans 9:1-5: I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised![a] Amen.
That was one of the reasons Paul followed Jesus into such suffering to share Jesus with others—Jesus had grown in Paul a deep grief over the spiritual poverty of others…this is Jesus-love, a love that focuses not just on earth but also eternity. Please realize this: we do NOT have this kind of love in us naturally—NONE OF US do! Like green grass in Arizona that doesn’t happen naturally but only after the hard work of irrigating and directing water to the desolate desert, we need the Lord Jesus to do the hard work of growing this sacrificial/agape love in our desert hearts…it won’t happen naturally or through anyone other than Christ Himself exerting His awesome power in us.
Ephesians 3:20-21: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
More on this over the next few weeks…but don’t turn off the stove until next Sunday! Simmer in the Word of God every day until next Sunday, read through the book of Acts (and let it read you BACK!), look for the ways that the early Christians lived, look at their lifestyle, look at their actions and goals, look at the pattern they followed that they learned directly from the Lord Jesus…