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Archive for Spiritual Gifts

Do Business Till I Come (part 4)

In the parable in Luke 19, the nobleman (the Lord Jesus has returned) called each servant to give an accounting of the use of his money. In like manner, believers in this age will one day be judged for the way that we have invested the grace gifts given to us for the building of the church of Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:3-7; 1 Cor. 12:1-31; Eph. 4:11-16). Speaking of this very truth, Isaiah said that when the Lord returns, He will bring His reward with Him (Isaiah 40:10; 62:11). Jeremiah, also weighed in, saying that the Lord gives to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings (Jer. 17:10). Jesus said in the last Bible book, the last chapter that He is coming quickly, and His reward is with Him, to give to everyone according to his work (Rev. 22:12).

I closed yesterday’s post with Paul’s powerful words, “take heed how you build upon it.” Speaking of building on the strong foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-11), these words now ring in our ears. Here is the reason. Six building materials are mentioned: gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw. The categories vary in value from gold, which in this case is most valuable, down to straw, which has almost no value at all. We conclude from this that quality matters with God. In whatever way the Holy Spirit has gifted you, or how long you have been given to use it, use it faithfully and to the very best of your ability.

Another obvious difference is that one category of material is noncombustible. Gold, silver, and precious stones will not burn. The other group of wood, hay, and straw will burn, but not to the same degree. Wood will burn to a lesser degree than hay. And last, straw will burn quickly. Each person’s work will be exposed to the fire of God’s judgment.  Every work will be brought into the light to determine whether the work has the quality of gold, silver, precious stone, or wood, hay, or just straw. There are obvious differences in value and reward from the gold quality all the way down to straw. Each one’s work will become clear. For the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. Note that the word “Day,” begins with a capital letter, noting a special Day (1 Cor. 10:13, Rom. 14:10-13).

The words “each one’s work” mean that no believer will bypass this judgment. I do not know if this will be a private judgment between our Lord and His child or if other servants will be privy to another servant’s judgment. But God’s word says that before his own master each will stand or fall (Romans 14:4). This gives us a clue. Zero in on the words “of what sort it is.” Note again that it is the quality of the work that will be judged, not the quantity. This gives great hope to those sheep who are called to the Shepherd late in life. They may feel that they have missed the boat, but this is simply not the case. They will always be given sufficient time to do quality work for the Lord, to fulfill their work of faith for Him. It will be the use of their time and of their spiritual assets that will matter.

If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward (1 Cor. 3:14). That is, if anyone’s work which is built upon the foundation of Christ comes through the flames of God’s judgment, that believer will be rewarded.  Four crowns are mentioned in the New Testament, indicating the quality of ruling in the kingdom. These will be mentioned in a later post.  

Back again to the parable of the nobleman, we find that the last servant is called before the master with no investment gain at all and with a sour attitude. He had hidden his mina away, for he was afraid. He said to the nobleman, “You collect what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow” (Luke 19:21). The servant denied his master what rightfully belonged to him. As a result, this servant lost everything. His mina was given to the one who had ten minas.

The nobleman said that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him (Luke 19:26). Please note, this unfaithful servant, though he lost his reward, remained a servant. The nobleman said to bring “his enemies,” those not wanting to submit to his reign, and kill them. He did not include the servant.

This has clear parallel at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul finished the section on rewards by saying, “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss” (1 Cor. 3:15a). What does it mean to suffer loss? I think it means exactly what it says. The believer will suffer the loss of reward and loss of the quality of reigning with the King in His kingdom (the cities).  Paul does not say that he may suffer loss; he says that he will suffer loss.

Paul quickly added, “But he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15b). The possibility that a vast reward for a believer’s works may all go up in smoke is very real, but he or she will be saved in the end. This is obviously talking about eternal security and shows once again the immense value of the shed blood of Christ.  These unprofitable “servants” will go into the kingdom and be very happy just to be in the kingdom of their Lord.  But they could have had so much more. Stay safe and stay tuned.

Personal Relationship versus Personal Responsibility

We are responsible to God as His children to live our lives pleasing to Him. Our challenge is to allow the Spirit of God to glorify (shed light upon) Christ through us. The way to do this is to keep short sin accounts with God. However, we do not always cooperate with the Spirit. We either grieve Him by consciously doing that which displeases Him (Ephesians 4:25–32) or we quench Him by not allowing Him to lead us (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Both will result in God’s discipline.

Always remember that God’s discipline is proof positive that we belong to Him and that He loves us. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we can adjust ourselves to God’s righteous standard by judging ourselves (confession) and enduring God’s discipline (1 John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 11:31). Unbelievers do not have this option. They stand condemned before God because they have not believed in His Son (John 3:18).

Another area of personal accountability other than our personal relationship with Christ concerns our work of faith. Again, the Bible makes it quite clear that we are not declared right before God by our good deeds (Titus 3:5). However, we have learned that God has uniquely gifted every Christian to perform a stewardship responsibility to help build the body of Christ (1 Corinthians12:11;1 Peter 4:10). We are one body in Christ, but we have not been given the same responsibilities (Romans 12:4). If a choir all sang the same parts where would be the harmony? I really like the harmony. But we all have one very important thing in common.

God will one day judge each of us for spiritual productivity, especially the effort we make.  Paul asked a simple question. Why are we quick to judge other believers? As someone said, why do we have umpires’ hearts, or the desire to call balls and strikes on other people. Why are we quick to show contempt for fellow members? After all, we are all going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live say the Lord, every knee shall bow to me. And every tongue shall confess to God” (REF). Each of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:10–12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Judgment seat is the word bema. The bema was a rewarding stand for judges. It was established to reward those competing in the sporting games of the ancient world. Our righteous judge will one day reward believers for the race we have run. This judgment has nothing to do with the sin that condemned us before God. That debt was paid in full on Christ’s cross (John 19:30; Matthew 27:45-46).

Paul connected the basis for this judgment with the grace gifts given to believers. He used three can’t miss symbols to help us understand (1 Corinthians 3:5-15):

We are God’s fellow workers. Paul had the apostles in mind. He is saying that the apostles’ work was not their own. God gave to them this responsibility. The church at Corinth was Christ’s body, not Paul’s or Apollos’s or Peter’s. They were just workers working together for the building of the church.

You are God’s field. The church here is pictured as God’s cultivated field. These people were familiar with agriculture. There must be preparation of the soil, the planting of the seed, the fertilizing, the watering, the weeding, and then the harvesting. That is what ministry is all about! All need the seed of the gospel to be planted in their minds (1 Peter 1:23-25). If germination comes, the plants will need special care. All will need to be taught (watered and fertilized), will need encouragement (the soil loosened around them), and will need mercy (the weeds and vines removed).

You are God’s building. The Corinthian church also understood how a building was put together. Some are just beginning to lay a foundation in the Scripture and are in need of the milk of the word; some have the walls already built, and they are sturdy, and need deeper teaching.  Some are ready for the roof to be put in place and are mature and in need of meat.

First you have those who lay the foundation (the apostles and prophets, Ephesians 2:20), then the framers, the construction crew, the bricklayers, the dry-wallers, and the painters (all the gifted believers) (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Ephesians 4:7-16). Since the servants work on the same team, and since God is the one giving the increase, does the quality of each work make any difference at all? Oh Yes! Take careful note of these words: “each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor, for we are all God’s fellow workers, take heed how you build on it” (1 Corinthians 3:5-15). We may not heed these warnings but there is coming a day when they will matter. Stay safe and stay tuned. 

 

The Ability to Finish Well

When Christians reach spiritual maturity, they will no longer be like children – confused, constantly fussing, and captivated by every false teacher that attracts them with “a new view.”  Instead, they will “speak the truth in love and will grow up in all things into Him who is our head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-15). It is from our head, the Lord Jesus Christ, that the whole body fits together! Even though He is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, His life and ministry to this world continues through every joint of His body (Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). He has given to each of us a work of faith. How do we determine this work? As we serve the Lord and observe and receive ministry from others, our own gifts begin to become clear. We see our spiritual strengths and weaknesses in others.

If our gift is Bible teaching, we will observe this gift in others and the Holy Spirit will impress on us the desire to teach.

If our gift is mercy, we will see this gift in others and desire to do the same.

If our gift is helps, we will have the overwhelming desire to help with all the tasks of the church – without being asked. In the process we will teach others what it means to help the body of Christ and we will encourage others with the same gift to become involved.

If our gift is faith, we have the desire to trust God to do what He says He will do. In the process we train others the value of living by faith, and alert others who have this gift. 

If our gift is administration, we become God’s efficiency experts – not in a demanding way but with gentleness and grace. 

If our gift is evangelism, we have the overwhelming desire to share the gospel with the lost and by example teach others to share the message. 

If our work of faith is encouragement, we find joy by encouraging others, and by doing so, we teach others how to encourage. This works equally well with young people. God is the Great Genius, is He not!

As we give and receive these grace works, the church will grow both spiritually and numerically in direct proportion to the quality of the work of each (Ephesians 4:16). This should shout to us God’s prescription for the spiritual growth of the church. Missing is the exclusive role of a pastor to equip the flock alone. Missing are human schemes, gimmicks, or motivational methods of every sort to get the crowd and keep it. Missing is “the show.” Missing are the performers and the audience coming to watch them perform. Every member of the body of Christ will grow based upon the spiritual contribution of every other member in the body. We have all been uniquely gifted to do our part.

The result will be unity of the faith and a strong knowledge of the Son of God. Folks will begin to like each other, and then to love each other. Children of God will grow in knowledge of His Person, His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His return to establish His kingdom. The character of Jesus Christ will pulsate through the body (Ephesians 4:13). We will all come to understand what it means to learn and live by faith within the community of believers (2 Corinthians 5:7). We will all become spiritually mature, strong in Biblical doctrine, and productive.

The body of Christ is alive and well on the earth, but it must be nurtured. Jesus Christ continues His ministry to His body through His body. His body grows—spiritually and numerically—as a direct result of the ministry that every believer performs. When every part does its share, the body matures and grows in love. That is the purpose of every believer’s faith work. This has been God’s prescription for growth in the church since Pentecost. Jesus Christ continues to build His body the same way. There is no other method of church growth taught in the Bible. Peter went one final step showing us the value of knowing and using our giftedness.

Peter’s letter was written at a time when the body of Christ was under great persecution. The church had received word that the Roman authorities had discovered their location. The soldiers were probably on their way. The little flock felt that there was a real possibility that they were going to die. Very similar to anticipating a worldwide pandemic! Peter’s words to them were extremely important, maybe his last.  Notice carefully what he said. He told them first to pray. I get that!  Then to express their love and respect for one another. I get that too!  But finally, he said, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Peter is saying that God had given to each a spiritual work of faith. Finish well (1 Peter 4:7–11). Wow!  Stay safe and stay tuned.

Formula for Church Growth

Some of the most famous words spoken by Jesus Christ are “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Some of the most important words penned by Paul are “Now you are the body of Christ and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27). So what?  As an individual part of Christ’s body, we are on this earth to help build His church. We are not talking about a physical building made of wood and steel, lined with soft carpet laced with padded pews, with stained glass windows, and of course, the steeple on top. We are talking of a building made of people. We are here on this earth to be used by God to build His people building. God did not leave us here for the task without the proper equipment. Oh no! As Jesus ascended back into heaven, He gave gifted people to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). It was not Paul’s desire here to mention all the gifted. He was teaching why the gifted. He gave each His specific purpose – and there can be no mistake.

Here is his major point. “We are here to equip the saints for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). This is clear! Let’s elaborate on this for a moment. The word equip means “to train or to prepare.” How are we equipped to equip? The Bible is eerily silent on information concerning seminaries or Bible colleges. Well then, who teaches the teachers?  The Bible is not silent on this one. God gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. Does it really say“all truth?” Yep! (John 16:13-14). He obviously does not mean all truth as in the arts and sciences, but all truth concerning the Bible.

There are many passages that instruct the church to take the gospel into the world, share the gospel, then bring believers to a local assembly to be trained.  Don’t get me wrong! Bible colleges and seminaries have been used of God in very significant ways – my own life included – but only because the church has long since stopped doing a major work of the church. The local church is the school of the Holy Spirit, just as the desert in Arabia was for Paul.  The local church is designed to train Christians. Notice, we are to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

Work is the Greek word ergon. It implies energy being used. Ministry is the word diakinos. It means “to serve.” Paul was not speaking specifically of elders, pastors, or deacons but of the special contribution of every member of the body. Every Christian has a work of faith to do, and they are to be trained in the local church to do it.

Note that the ultimate goal of God’s gifted people is to edify the body. Edify is a combination word made up of oiko, “to build,” and dome, the “top or roof.” Together, the word means “build from the ground floor all the way to the top.” We are to grow believers from spiritual infancy – up to spiritual maturity.

Spiritual maturity is to be measured against the stature of the fullness of Christ. The characteristics of our lives are to reflect the characteristics of His life – love, compassion, servanthood – serving the body.  How will we know when this is being achieved? When church members no longer act like children – fussing, fighting, throwing temper tantrums over little things – just like the world. When we are no longer tossed here and there by every wind of teaching that blows our way. When we are no longer taken prisoner by deceitful teachers and fabricated teaching led by Satan to corrupt our Lord’s ministry (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). Appealing? Yes! Moving compassionate words? Yes! But deadly. We are to be trained until we are solid in what we know to be true – true to the gospel, true to the Bible, true to the doctrines of grace. And we stand firm in them. When we learn to speak the truth in love (not in a condescending way) and grow up in all things into Christ (become mature in Christ).

Here is God’s no-spin formula for church growth: “Speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ. From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” Please note the words “grow up” and “every joint supplies.”  There are to be no perpetual bystanders or spectators. And now this is it: “According to the effective working by which every part (please note – every part) does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:14–16). In summary, every believer knowing their part and faithfully doing their part will always result in growth. It is my opinion that we have totally abandoned this formula and the church of Jesus Christ is reaping the result. We now are left with the entertainers and the entertained. Stay safe and stay tuned.

Ministry of the Holy Spirit: Equipping (part 3)

More Pondering from the Ponderosa. We are discussing the equipping ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is hard to leave this subject without thinking of the Holy Spirit’s use of miracles and especially His use of the gift of tongues (languages).

Many have been given the false impression that the Bible is a book filled with one miracle after another. This is simply not true. Miracles in the Bible are the exception not the rule. They occurred in small clusters as the living God broke into history and unfolded His plan for man. Miracles were used to gain favorable attention to something important that God was doing. He wanted His work to stick in the minds of those observing because it was to be a game-changer. There are three major outbreaks of miracles recorded in Scripture. They are found surrounding the lives of Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

God used miracles to deliver Moses and the people of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 7–12). The rod became a snake; the river became blood; and there were the plagues of frogs, lice, flies, disease, hail, locusts, darkness, and finally the death angel. Through these miracles, God convinced an unbelieving Egyptian pharaoh that Moses was His messenger and that the Israelites must be released.

During the life of the prophets Elijah and Elisha miracles were used regularly. I will mention one. Baal worship threatened Israel’s relationship with the true God. Baal’s false prophets were convincing the Jews that they were the true prophets of God.  On Mount Carmel this changed. The living God and the false god Baal were pitted against one another in an epic battle. Elijah was used to graphically illustrate to the Jews that their God is God. Elijah built an altar and asked the prophets of Baal to cry out to their god to light the fire of the altar. Baal was thought to be the god of fire, and if there was anything that a god of fire could do it was to start a fire.

Baal’s prophets cried to him to strike the match until they were exhausted. Nothing! Nada! They even cut themselves with knives to show their sincerity, but no fire came. Elijah had the servants pour water on the altar three different times to make it more of a powerful illustration. He then asked God to once again perform a miracle. Light the fire! Fire immediately came down and consumed the wood, the water, and even licked up the dirt. God used this miracle to reassure the Jews that He is the living God and Elijah was His prophet. It turned the people back to the living God (2 Kings 18:18–38).

Miracles surround another pivotal time in God’s plan for the world. God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ and presented Himself to Israel as their King. The Christ made His identity extremely clear by performing many incredible miracles. He demonstrated power over nature (Matthew 8:26-27), disease (Matthew 9:22), demons (Matthew 8:29), and death itself (John 11:43).   

One supernatural gift that Satan – master deceiver – has completely distorted to keep blind sheep from coming to the Shepherd is the miracle of tongues. When Satan confuses, he always confuses in the areas that are critical, never in the trivial things. Understanding the miracle of tongues is absolutely critical if we are to ever understand that the church is one body in Christ – no longer Jews nor Gentiles, not slaves nor free, not male or female, but one body in Christ. 

The Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues has been distorted and confused by the old master of illusion himself, Satan. The reason? This gift was crucial in understanding the bond of unity held by the church of Jesus Christ. After Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, His Holy Spirit was to be given, and He was to unite both Jews and Gentiles into one body. Catch the word unite. This was remarkable because for centuries God had worked exclusively through the Jews. There had been a few individual Gentiles included, but not many. Gentiles as a group had been on the outside looking in. In fact, there was a wall that excluded them from worship in God’s Jewish temple. It shut them out! Talk about segregation!

That was about to change abruptly. The promise that Gentiles would someday be extended God’s grace was mentioned all through the Scripture (Isaiah 11:10, 42:1, 6). Jesus plainly said, “Other sheep have I (Gentiles) which are not a part of this fold (Jews).” He said that He was going to add these and at that point there would be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16).  The Jews hated the Gentiles and discriminated against them at every level.  It would take strong persuasion – a miracle of seismic proportion – to convince both the Jews and the Gentiles that God was breaking down the wall and bringing them together into one body. A part of this miracle was that God, for the first time in history, was going to live in the bodies of believers—both Jews and Gentiles—and that both were going to be immersed into His body, making from two, one new man – the church. This is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said: “At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20). That day I believe to be Pentecost. The miracle predicted is absolutely astounding. “You in Me and I in you.” Wow!  Paul calls this miracle a mystery (Ephesians 3:9).

This event needed a sign that was so convincing that it would shake the Jews and Gentiles to the core of their very beings. A miracle that would absolutely shout that God was fulfilling His promise to the Gentiles. That miracle is known as the sign of tongues (languages).  The miracle was that heretofore unknown Gentile languages (languages that actually hurt the ears of the Jews)  were being supernaturally spoken and understood by Jews – Jews! Wow!

This miracle was being witnessed by Gentiles. The miracle clearly marked the very moment in history when two groups of people came together as one (Acts 2, 8, 10, 19).  The miracle continued to be used to convince both groups that this had happened until the Jews were dispersed by the Romans in 70 AD.  The miracle died away because its purpose had been accomplished (1 Corinthians 13:8). Both groups, Jews and Gentiles, got it!

The irony of ironies is the very miracle (tongues) that was intended by God to reveal that He was uniting Jew and Gentile into one body in Christ is now the very thing that is causing division. The reason? The “tongues” being spoken today is not the true sign gift. As mentioned, the original miracle had accomplished its purpose.  The tongues spoken now are not real languages, they are a gibberish used by Satan to deceive. These static utterances do not unite, they divide. The tongues used today are not even close to God’s original miracle and His original plan. Only Satan – the wisest creature that God created – could pull this off, and that he has done.  

Does God continue to work miracles today? Yes. He is God! He reserves that right to break into history at any time and do that which is beyond human ability to control. I personally think that this deadly virus reminds us of this very point. But to answer the question of miracles, yes, He can and does work miracles, but He works miracles at His discretion, not ours. Stay safe and stay tuned.

 


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