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Integrity

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The word integrity or soundness comes from a Greek word that means indestructible, incorruptible, or immortal. The same word is used to describe our resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:42) that is made to withstand the glories of heaven and eternity. In a similar way, a ship’s hull is sometimes described by engineers as being sound or maintaining its structural integrity. I can’t help but think of Star Trek’s Scotty reporting to Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise’s integrity in the midst of some intense scene: “She can’t take much more of this Captain!” The idea is that the ship is beginning to break apart, it is losing integrity, much like the stern of the Alexandrian vessel Paul was aboard that was headed for Rome (Acts 26:41).


But the word can also be used figuratively to mean genuineness, soundness or even sincerity and can be applied to a person’s morality. Someone who has integrity adheres to a moral standard and is honest or true to himself. Like a ship’s structural integrity our moral integrity is tried every day. How are we bearing up under pressure?

 

We can lose our integrity when we compromise our beliefs and teachings to accommodate others. Paul urged the young men of Crete to be “sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified” (Titus 2:7). The word “purity” is the same word for “soundness” literally “uncorruptness” or “integrity.” In certain company do we have a tendency to corrupt the purity of our beliefs or do we maintain the gospel’s integrity?

 

When we are surrounded by unbelievers how does our moral integrity hold up? Peer pressure is the billowing wave that threatens the integrity of our faith. Ungodly influence is the powerful pressure of the atmosphere on an aircraft’s fuselage. Is it strong enough to bear up or will it be crushed like a tin can? Do we have enough moral integrity to bear up against the pressure of the world? Even though the word is not used here, Peter’s exhortation serves as an accurate picture of what it means to have integrity; “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:11-12).

 

Integrity is Christian virtue Peter calls “moral excellence” (2 Pet. 1:5) that must be increasing in our lives if we are to make our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10). Can we pray with David, “Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me” (Psa. 7:8; cf. 26:1)? When our life is crumbling around us and those closest to us accuse us do we maintain our integrity like Job (Job 2:3, 9)? Do we have the integrity of Daniel who would not defile himself with the king’s food (Dan. 1:8)? Do we have Daniel’s faithful resolve to continue to pray to God even when it was unlawful in man’s eyes to do so (Dan. 6:10)?

 

The gospel empowers us bear up under the pressure of the world. It can be done. It has been done. Hebrews chapter 11 is a list of those who maintained integrity in the face of danger. They act as a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) cheering us on to do the same. But there is no better example of integrity and moral character as “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus kept doing His Father’s will despite the most trying circumstances. When we walk in His footsteps we can too.

 

Easy Prey

Sunday, June 12, 2016

“Be of sober spirit, be on alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8)

 

Have you ever seen footage of a hunting lioness? Before she pounces what does she look for in the herd? Simply put, she looks for the one that doesn’t belong; injured, elderly, or infant impala are the easiest kills. The kill is made even easier if the weak one can be separated from the herd.

 

There is a reason Peter uses this terminology to warn us about the tactics of our “adversary, the devil.” Like a hungry lion, he is “seeking someone to devour.” As much as Peter’s language informs us of Satan’s tactics, it informs what our response to Satan ought to be.

There are scientists whose entire field of study centers around herd dynamics, how individual members of a herd react to one another and respond to outside stimuli like danger from a predator. Animals that travel in herds don’t do so primarily for social reasons. They congregate around one another because there is strength in numbers. Here lies a lesson for us, Satan’s prey, the herd animals. God has given Christians strength in numbers by adding them to a body called the “church” (Acts 2:41, 47). We are to spend our energy in strengthening that body “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves...” (Eph. 4:13-14)

Not only this but when we are all busy conforming to the image of God’s Son (Rom. 8:29) there will not be one among the herd who stands out to the prowling lion as easy prey. There is strength in uniformity. Herd animals understand by sticking together they exponentially increase their chances of survival. When a weak member straggles behind or is somehow separated from the group he is lion-lunch. This is why every church should have shepherds who “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Pet. 5:2) and “keep watch over [our] souls” (Heb. 13:17). Shepherds, or “elders” (1 Pet. 5:1), make sure the flock is being fed and is safe from harm so that every member is growing into the image of Christ. When one is getting weak, that member must be lifted up and brought back into step with the gospel of Christ. If that member is somehow separated from the group and is devoured by Satan on the overseers’ watch they iare accountable for that lost soul (Heb. 13:17). The work of an elder is the most challenging, important, and demanding of any work within a local church. Therefore, they deserve our respect and submission and assistance (Heb. 13:17).

Lastly, because there are so many herd animals congregated together, there are that many more sets of eyes to spot incoming danger and warn the group. It is not just up to the shepherds to watch for danger! We must all be sober and vigilant for one another in the church. When we “let the word of Christ richly dwell” within us we are to be busy “with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another…” (Col. 3:16). Those who are concerned for the well-being of the herd (church) will be “alert” and will sound the shrill warning when they notice danger threatening (Col. 1:28; 2 Thess. 3:15; Titus 3:10). If the devil begins to drag one of the herd away the rest of us must do everything we can to pull that member back into the fold (Jd. 1:23).

Yes, the devil might be prowling around like a lion seeking someone to devour but Christ, the Lion of Judah, has empowered us to “resist him, firm in [our] faith” (1 Pet. 5:9). James says, “...resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:7-8). We’re in this together so let us stay together, warn one another, and build each other up in the faith so that when the lion strikes, God can send him home empty handed and hungry.

 

Godly Work Ethic

Sunday, May 29, 2016

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”  (Col. 3:23-24)

 

As followers of Jesus Christ we are commanded to have a strong work ethic. The New Testament Scriptures touch on this topic in a number of places (Eph. 4:28; Col. 3:22-24; 1 Thess. 4:11). We should receive a fair wage, a physical reward for our labors (1 Cor. 9:7-10). But more than that, the Holy Spirit emphasizes that when we do a good job at work we are honoring God which is far better than any amount of money.

 

You could say we were created to have a strong work ethic. After all, Adam and Eve were expected to “cultivate and to keep” the Garden of Eden before they were ejected for their disobedience (Gen. 2:15). The expectation of man to provide for himself continues in the Mosaic Law and is stated in summary fashion in the Ten Commandments to be elaborated upon later (Ex. 20:9).

 

This makes sense because God and Jesus work hard! “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Gen. 2:2). Why did God “rest” on the seventh day? Was He too tired to go on? Obviously not! God completed His work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh day to establish a pattern by which His covenant people would learn from later (the Sabbath rest).

 

Although God’s physically creative work was finished by the seventh day He continued to work hard throughout the ages. When Jesus was healing people on the Sabbath it stoked the ire of many a Jew. Jesus’ answer to their outrage on one occasion went like this: “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (Jn. 5:17). God never really stopped working! He continued to work throughout history, orchestrating events in order to bring about the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) so that He could send forth His Son. Once His Son came into the world He was hard at work accomplishing the will of the Father.

 

But even Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, was not beneath manual labor. Jesus was known in his hometown of Nazareth as “the carpenter” (Mk. 6:3). I like to think about our Lord making benches and tables and houses out of wood. I would guess any house or piece of furniture Jesus, the Designer and Creator of all things seen and unseen, built would have been rather sturdy. I just can’t imagine Jesus slapping something together and pawning it off to the highest bidder only to fall apart in a month. Jesus did “all things well” (Mk. 7:37).

 

His apostles followed His example of a strong work ethic. Paul worked his hands to the bone to provide for himself, presumably making tents (Acts 18:2-3; 20:34-35; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-8), not to mention the countless hours of labor he and the other apostles exerted to preach the gospel to every creature. This was their primary labor.

 

The first century church lived in a culture that understood and practiced a strong work ethic. The Jewish people had a saying, “He who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal.” It comes as no surprise then that God condemns laziness throughout the ages (Prov. 6:6-9; 10:26; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13-16; 2 Thess. 3:10) and expects people who love and serve Him to be good providers to their families and the less fortunate (Acts 20:35; Eph. 4:28; 1 Tim. 5:8). Are you a light at the workplace? Do others see that you labor for the Lord and not after men? Hopefully, our salt has not lost its saltiness by Friday afternoon!

 

But there are others who go to the opposite extreme and allow their work to eclipse their service to God and duty to others. As disciples of Jesus, we have to strike the Biblical balance. Just as laziness is ungodly it is also ungodly to be consumed by work. Solomon had pursued every avenue man deemed worth pursuing under the sun and came to the conclusion that it was all empty if it is pursued without reference to God.

 

God has to come first in all things (Mt. 6:33). It is God’s will to work hard but it is also God’s will to enjoy the fruit of that work with a spirit of thanksgiving (Ecc. 2:24). We are expected to prioritize our lives by the gospel of Christ. He comes first. Anything before Him becomes our idol. Keeping ourselves from this form of idolatry (1 Jn. 5:21) might mean spending less time at work and more time with your spiritual family all the while having faith that God will take care of your needs.

Unity in Diversity, Not Sameness

Sunday, May 22, 2016

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

(Gal. 3:28)

Expounding upon the manifold blessings of faith in Christ and the purpose of the Mosaic Law, Paul brings to light one blessing in particular that shook the world. In Christ, the spiritual walls of division were finally destroyed. Because the Mosaic Law had been fulfilled by Jesus (Mt. 5:17; Jn. 17:4; 19:30) it had been taken out of the way when Jesus completed the work of redemption on the cross (Col. 2:14). In His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus ushered in the promised New Covenant (Heb. 8:7ff; cf. Jer. 31:31ff) and brought with it all the mercies contained therein.

On top of providing a sacrifice that could properly atone for our sin, the cross of Christ was a watershed of blessing. Because the Mosaic Law had been fulfilled and left behind so was the distinction between Jew and Gentile. This distinction was to be part of the past, “for neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15; cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). There was no longer any dividing wall between them (Eph. 2:11-22) because, through faith in Christ, a covenantal relationship was open to all mankind. It didn’t matter if you were a Jew by nature, in Christ, even the Gentiles could be “the people of God” (1 Pet. 2:9-10).

Not only this but in Christ the lines of spiritual partition between the slave and freeman were likewise broken down along with those between genders, male and female. Paul gives the reason for this in saying “for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Spiritually speaking, there is no benefit or handicap associated with one’s social standing, one’s physical heritage, or one’s gender. This was good news in 1st century communities where an attitude of segregation based on these very things was prevalent. These outward differences had no bearing on the believer’s inheritance; in eternity, God would bestow the same grace toward a man as He did a woman (1 Pet. 4:7), a slave as He did a freeman (Eph. 6:9), and a Jew as He did a Gentile (Col. 3:11).

In Christ and as members of His body, the church (Eph. 1:22-23), the spiritual blessings were poured out on mankind without respect to these outward attributes. However Galatians 3:28 does not teach sameness. Paul is clearly not advocating eliminating all societal distinctions between these groups. There arose a question in the 1st century that went something like this, “Because I am in Christ, these physical distinctions no longer matter and I am free to live as I please.” But Jesus freed us from sin not our societal obligations.

Elsewhere, Paul commands married people to stay married even if their spouse isn’t a believer (1 Cor. 7:10-14). Upon believing it was better for a single person not to seek a partner due to pressure brought on by persecution (1 Cor. 7:8-9). He also advocated that a Gentile should remain a Gentile (1 Cor. 7:17-20) and slaves should remain serving their masters (1 Cor. 7:21-24).

So Galatians 3:28 is not advocating the elimination of these distinctions. Rather Paul is teaching that in the Christian community, the church, these old divisions which sometimes carried with them wrongful attitudes of superiority and inferiority were to be abolished because they were abolished in truth at Calvary. In Christ, diverse individuals are unified by their faith in Jesus. They are “one in Christ” spiritually. Paul is not teaching sameness but rather unity in diversity.

Falling Short

Sunday, May 15, 2016

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)

Paul spent the better part of the first 2 chapters of Romans and most of the third proving that the Law says “no flesh will be justified in [God’s] sight” (3:19). All of humanity is in desperate need of salvation from the wrath of God that we have accrued through our sin. Paul summarizes his thought by stating that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We often focus on the first part of that statement while sometimes neglecting the second.

Most of us readily admit that we have “sinned” or transgressed God’s law in some way. Nevertheless, I met a young man in his twenties that told me he had never sinned or done anything wrong. Even after I gently pushed him to prove his position in light of what Scripture says about sin the young man maintained his conviction. I wondered to myself if this fellow had the mental capacity to be accountable before God. But he is probably the exception. Most of us know we have wronged someone at some time.

But the second part of Paul’s statement is not so readily accepted. We all have sinned “and fall short of the glory of God.” In the prophet Isaiah God speaks to His people in the language of redemption, “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel…” (Isa. 43:1) The LORD calls attention to the fact that He designed and made His people. There is purpose behind His forming Israel just as a potter shapes his clay into a vessel of his design. The LORD goes onto say in verse 7, “Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” We have the same thoughts echoed from verse 1 except the LORD elaborates on His design for His people here in verse 7. The vessel was designed or created for the LORD’s “glory.

That is humanity’s purpose. That is what you and I were designed for. Glorifying our Creator is what we were born to do. Here we come to the point of the second half of Romans 3:23. Falling short of God’s glory is not a simple matter of transgressing God’s law. We already know “all have sinned” and “sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn. 3:4). We’ve transgressed, we’ve walked over the line and gone too far. Again this is the easier pill to swallow. Worse than the sin itself is its consequence. In our rebellion against God we also “fall short of His glory.”

The Greek term for “fall short” means 1) behind 1a) to come late or too tardily 1a1) to be left behind in the race and so fail to reach the goal, to fall short of the end 1a2) metaph. fail to become a partaker, fall back from 1b) to be inferior in power, influence and rank 1b1) of the person: to be inferior to 1c) to fail, be wanting 1d) to be in want of, lack 2) to suffer want, to be devoid of, to lack (be inferior) in excellence, worth. (Bible.net)

The same Greek word was used classically to describe the archer who pulled back his bow attempting to hit the target but the arrow fell short. It lacked sufficient power to reach its goal. So it is with us. Our only purpose was to glorify God and we have come woefully short of our goal. We lack sufficient power to be justified/right in God’s eyes.

This is the great news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Justification comes as a free gift of God’s grace to those who possess faith. When we are made righteous by the blood of Christ washing away our sin we can finally bring God the glory He deserves. In Christ we are empowered to no longer fall short of our purpose but to meet that purpose in its fullness. In Ephesians 1, Paul wrote about the manifold blessings of being redeemed in Christ. He wrote that the ultimate purpose of our being redeemed from sin was, “to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” (Eph. 1:12) Amen! And thank the Lord.

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