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Giving to the Lord's Work

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

 

Of all of the spiritual topics that we might address, one of the most sensitive is giving.  First of all, it’s about money, which always has been very important to people.  Second, though, the Holy Spirit’s words on this subject have been misrepresented and abused for 2000 years.  In 1 Timothy 6, Paul writes about preachers who saw godliness as a means of gain, and sadly, there are untold thousands of religious leaders who still think this way today.  As a result, whenever we raise the subject with a new convert or with brethren in general, there is always the suspicion that the preacher is motivated by selfishness rather than love of the truth.

This is unfortunate, but it most not deter us from teaching that truth.  Those who recently have obeyed the gospel need to understand what their financial responsibilities are, and more mature Christians need to be reminded.  For the next lesson in our half-hour study series, then, let’s consider giving to the Lord’s work.

The first thing that we must teach when it comes to giving is WHY it is important.  Frequently, those who collect the contribution will talk about returning to God a portion of that with which He has blessed us, and that’s true, but it’s incomplete.  Our motivations for generosity should go much deeper than that. 

As evidence, consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8:8-9.  In context, Paul is urging the Corinthians to contribute to the collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem, and he tells them that their example must be Jesus.  We don’t normally think of Jesus as a generous giver, yet Paul points out that that’s exactly what He was.  Before He came to earth, Jesus had everything.  He was rich on a scale that makes the concept of riches meaningless.

However, even though Jesus was rich, He made Himself poor.  He left the glories of heaven behind for life down here in the mud with us.  Indeed, He surrendered His life on the cross, so that the One who once had everything was left with nothing.  Why?  So that through His poverty He could make us rich, so that we could share in the glories of heaven with Him.

If we want to be like Jesus, then, we will seek to give as generously as He gave.  We will view the contribution as on opportunity to imitate His self-sacrificing love.  When you get right down to it, giving is about love.  It’s about love for the poor brethren here and around the world whom this church helps.  It’s about love for the children who are taught in our Bible classes and for the brethren who are built up in the faith.  It’s about love for the sinners who so desperately need to hear the gospel.   When we give generously, that reveals our love.  When we don’t, well, that reveals our love too.

Second, let’s consider WHEN we should give.  Once again, the apostle Paul helps us out here, in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.  There are several things that are worth noting about this text.  The first is that this collection is supposed to take place on the first day of every week.  Interestingly, it is the only thing that we are directly commanded to do every Sunday.  We only have an example of brethren sharing in the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week, and preaching, singing, and prayer can occur at any time. 

We need to be careful in our attitudes toward these things.  I think that sometimes, we can fall into the habit of thinking of the other expressions of worship as these wonderful, exalted activities, whereas the contribution is this distasteful necessity that we do because we have to, but we want to get it out of the way as quickly as possible because we’re embarrassed about it.  Brethren, that’s dead wrong.  Giving is no less a sign of godliness than any of those other things, and it’s just as important to Him!

Second, Paul says that each is to give as he may prosper.  To put things another way, our contribution is supposed to be proportional to our income.  If some Christian is unemployed and doesn’t have any income, then because he isn’t prospering, God doesn’t expect him to give.  It is when we have the means to give but choose not to that our non-giving reveals a heart problem.

Third, notice the purpose of the collection.  Paul says it’s so that no collections will have to be made when he comes.  In other words, because there is a big need in Jerusalem, Paul wants the Corinthians to get this money together bit by bit, over time.  That way, when Paul returns to Corinth, the whole sum will be waiting for him, and the Corinthians won’t have to scurry around checking under couch cushions for loose change.

From this, we see that one of the purposes of the collection is to gather together money for large expenses in the future.  It’s 100 percent legitimate for a church to have a treasury with money sitting in it, against the day when a cyclone wipes out the brethren in Zimbabwe or the septic-system pumps at the church building give out, to name a couple of the expenses the Jackson Heights church has seen this year.  Not only is it authorized to store up money like that, it’s prudent!

Finally, let’s turn to the question of HOW MUCH.  Look at 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.  Once again, there are several things in the passage that are worth attending to.  The first is that we must give as we have decided in our hearts.  We can’t go through our week spending, spending, spending, and then when Sunday rolls around, God gets whatever is left in our purses and our wallets.  That’s not deciding in our hearts.  That’s letting our materialism decide for us.   Instead, we need to put our giving as the top line item in our budgets and make the rest of the budget work around it.

Second, notice that giving as we have decided in our hearts does not give us a monetary amount, either absolutely or as a percentage.  In fact, if we go through the whole New Testament, we will never see any particular figure attached to giving.  Tithing, giving 10 percent of our income, was an Old-Testament practice that has not been carried over from the Law of Moses. 

How much we give is entirely up to us.  I once had a sister ask me if she should give as a percentage of her gross income or of her net.  I told her only that she should give whatever she could give cheerfully.  The only guidance I will give a new Christian, or indeed any of you, is to look into your hearts, consider what the Lord has done for you, and return to Him what you know is right.

Third, though, notice that God promises that whatever we give, we won’t suffer because of our giving.  This isn’t a promise that He will make us rich.  However, it is a guarantee that if we are generous in our contribution to Him, He will make sure that we always have the means to be generous.  When we are contributing, we don’t have to worry about the consequences.  Instead, we can trust in Him.

Sexual Morality

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

 

By my count, we are nearing the end of our series of half-hour studies we might hold with an unbeliever or a new convert.  After today, I have three sermon topics remaining, one relating to instruction in righteousness, and two that are miscellaneous studies.  Today, though, we are going to turn our attention to something that we must discuss with everyone who has recently obeyed the gospel—the subject of sexuality.

If there is any sin that our society loves, it is sexual sin.  Practices that were hidden in shame during my parents’ time are now accepted and even celebrated by a majority of Americans.  There are millions of people in our country who would be deeply offended if they heard me say what I’m about to say.  Nonetheless, our job isn’t to win popularity contests.  It’s to declare the whole counsel of God, and if somebody doesn’t like that counsel, that’s on them.  Without further ado, then, let’s explore the Bible’s teaching on sexual morality.

This study must begin with GOD’S PATTERN for intimate relationships.  Jesus sets out this pattern in Mark 10:6-9.  I’ve heard it said that when the Treasury Department trains Secret Service agents to detect counterfeit money, they don’t do that by showing them examples of counterfeits.  Instead, they have them study genuine money, and anything that doesn’t have those characteristics is counterfeit.

In the same way, the best way for us to understand Bible teaching on sexuality is to look at the genuine article of God’s plan.  It’s very simple.  God makes us male and female, joins us in marriage, and in that marital relationship, we become one flesh.  That’s it.  Full stop.  Any sexual activity that does not involve one man and one woman, and anything that does not take place in marriage, is not according to God’s will.

This includes even so-called same-sex marriage.  There are many today, some of whom are even quite prominent, who will claim that their homosexual relationship is sanctified because they have been “married”.  I bear these people no ill will, but they are plainly wrong.  It’s easy for us to tell what God’s intent for marriage is by looking at His design.  He has designed us as males and females, and that design reveals His intent for male and female to go together. 

By contrast, when we consider two males or two females, it is clear that God has not designed them to go together.  Any union between them is contrary to His will, and regardless of whether they claim to be married or not, it will not receive His blessing.

This is important because the Scriptures also teach us that God will bring JUDGMENT ON THE IMMORAL.  Here, let’s read together from Hebrews 13:4.  There are two parts to this verse.  The first part reaffirms the goodness and holiness of sex in marriage.  From the beginning, God has intended husband and wife to become one flesh, and their coming together pleases Him.  It’s a blessing that we should receive and enjoy with gratitude as we receive and enjoy all of God’s other blessings.

However, the same is not true for fornication and adultery.  My father-in-law insists that people often don’t know what these are, so let me explain.  Fornication is sexual activity outside of marriage; adultery is when a married person becomes sexually involved with someone other than their spouse.  There is a stern warning attached to both of these practices, and it is that God will judge the fornicator and the adulterer.

Let me be clear.  Unmarried people, if you want to be with somebody, you need to marry them.  If you are not married to them, and you become intimate with them anyway, you are sinning, you are dishonoring your Creator, and you are placing your soul in peril of eternal damnation.  Married people, if you want to be with somebody, be with your spouse.  If you get with anybody else, you too are sinning, dishonoring your Creator, and placing your soul in peril of eternal damnation.  Sexual sin is like antifreeze.  It might taste good, but if you drink it, it will kill you.

Similarly, all Christians need to be aware of the dangers of LUST.  Jesus warns us about these in Matthew 5:27-28.  Here too, to make sure that nobody is left in the dark, let’s define our terms.  Lust is unlawful sexual desire.  It is when you allow your mind to dwell sexually on somebody you don’t have a right to be with.  This could be somebody you know in real life, or it could be somebody you’ve only seen online.

It is no secret to any of us, I think, that pornography, which exists to excite lust, is one of the scourges of modern American society.  Tens of millions of people in our country use porn on a regular basis.  In fact, as I wrote recently on the church blog, rates of premarital sex in America are actually going down, in part because of the prevalence of pornography.

Once again, let’s make no mistake about this.  Lust is sin.  Porn use is sin.  It will kill our souls just as dead as fornication and adultery will.

In some ways, lust is even more dangerous than fornication and adultery because it’s much easier to keep secret.  If we have a porn habit, the worst thing that can happen to us is not that we get found out.  It is that we don’t get found out.  I shudder to think of all of the apparently faithful Christians who will lose their souls on the day of judgment because they loved pornography more than they loved Jesus.

Don’t let that be you.  If you’re struggling with porn, get help.  Tell your spouse.  Tell one of the elders.  For that matter, if a brother feels comfortable coming to me, I’d be happy to help him.  It’s much better to forfeit your pride than to forfeit your soul.

Finally, let’s consider the subject of DIVORCE.  We see the Lord’s teaching on this in Matthew 19:7-9.  Here, He’s warning us about another one of the counterfeits of God’s plan for marriage.  It’s when somebody divorces their spouse and marries another.  Regardless of what the physical marriage license might say, that’s no marriage in God’s eyes.  Every time those two people come together, they are committing adultery.

There’s one exception to this rule, and one exception only.  If and only if your spouse cheats on you do you have the right to divorce them and remarry.  Only physical adultery can dissolve the marriage bond. 

This is certainly one of the hard sayings of Jesus.  I’ve studied with married people who didn’t have the right to be together on multiple occasions.  It’s hard to tell such people the truth, but here as elsewhere, only the truth can save souls.  It’s even harder for them to put away an unlawful spouse, but I’ve seen courageous Christians do exactly that.  They can rest assured that however they suffer here, they will be more than repaid eternally.

Choosing a Church

Thursday, May 23, 2019

 

It is certainly true that when I consider the Lord Jesus, there are many things about Him that intimidate me.  I read about His holiness, His meekness, and His love, and it’s sobering to realize that I’m supposed to imitate His greatness in all those things. 

However, there are some things about Him that reassure me, and one of them is that He can be very sarcastic.  Consider, for instance, the question of Luke 6:46.  That’s got some bite to it, doesn’t it?  His point is plain.  If we call Him “Lord” but don’t do what He says, we are no disciples of His at all.

This is important in our individual lives, and it’s important in our corporate lives as members of a congregation.  Is our congregation doing what Jesus says, or isn’t it?  Even a new Christian has to know how to distinguish churches that are from churches that aren’t, so for our ninth half-hour study session, let’s explore the topic of choosing a church.

Before I go on, let me note that the scope of this sermon is going to be limited, as the scope of every sermon in this series has been limited.  This is not an explanation of every nuance of the work of the church.  Instead, it’s a guide to make sure that somebody who knows none of that will be headed in generally the right direction.

The first thing that we ought to do in evaluating a congregation is to ASK ABOUT BAPTISM.  We see the centrality of baptism in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20.  Any church that truly is submitting to the Lordship of Jesus is going to do these two things.  They are going to baptize, and they are going to teach those they baptize to observe all the commandments of Jesus.

Several weeks ago, we learned what the one baptism we are authorized to administer is.  It is the immersion in water of a believer for forgiveness of sins.  If a church administers that baptism, they are acting as authorized by Jesus.  If they do not, they are not.

Furthermore, if a church does not administer the baptism of the Bible, its members do not enjoy the benefits of Bible baptism.  They are not disciples.  They are not Christians.  They are not forgiven of their sins.  They likely believe that they are, but they are deluded and mistaken.  Assembling with a group of people like that has no more spiritual benefit than assembling with the Elks Lodge on Sunday morning.

The only way to find out the truth here is to ask.  Go up to the preacher or the pastor or the whoever and ask three questions:  “How do you baptize?”, “Whom do you baptize?”, and “Why do you baptize?” 

Be very careful of weasel-word answers to the last question.  Some will tell you things like, “We baptize because Jesus commanded us to.”  Usually, people who say such things do not believe in baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and the only way to smoke them out is to ask them directly, “Do you believe that baptism is necessary for forgiveness of sins?” 

If you get any other answer than a “Yes,” you know that the people in that church are not actually disciples, and you shouldn’t worship there.  There’s no need to consider anything else in this lesson.  Those people have flunked the most important Scriptural test.

Second, we ought to EVALUATE THEIR WORSHIP.  Once again, the words of Jesus set the standard.  He tells us what the worship of His people is like in John 4:23-24.  True worshipers must worship God in spirit and truth. 

Notice that Jesus does not say that they will worship God in spirit and sincerity.  Our society likes to confuse sincerity and truth, but they can be two different things.  Sincerity is subjective.  We all sincerely believe things, but we can be sincerely mistaken about them. 

Truth, on the other hand, is objective.  Something is either true or it isn’t.  Even if nobody believes the truth, the truth is still true. 

When it comes to the will of God, we know where to find truth.  Jesus says in John 17 that the word is truth.  Only worship that is authorized by the word is true worship.

Consider, for instance, a congregation that is welcoming and friendly, but they’ve got a rock band or a piano up on stage.  According to ordinary English usage, bands play.  Pianos are played.  The movie titles are And the Band Played On and The Piano Player, not And the Band Sang On and The Piano Singer

Bands play musical instruments.  A piano is a musical instrument that is played.  In both cases, the playing of a musical instrument is being offered as worship to God, and anybody who disputes that has got an agenda.

Let’s test that against the Scriptures.  If the true worship that Jesus contemplates involves musical instruments, we will be able to use the Scriptures to prove that Christians are supposed to worship using musical instruments.   No such evidence exists, so the congregation with that band or piano isn’t worshiping in truth. 

At this point, our next decision isn’t optional.  Jesus doesn’t say that those who worship God can worship in spirit and in truth if they want to.  He says that they must worship in spirit and truth.  If we want to be true worshipers, we can’t be a part of a church that doesn’t worship in truth.

Finally, if we are evaluating a church, we must LISTEN TO THEIR TEACHING.  Once again, this is a sermon point about the word of Christ and the truth of Christ.  Look at what He says about the importance of teaching in John 8:30-31.  Abiding in the word is what makes us true disciples.  When we abide in the word, we come to know the truth, and the truth will set us free.

The very mission of the church is to be the pillar and support of the truth.  If a church does not teach the truth above all else, it has failed in its mission.

There are several ways this can happen.  First, obviously, is if a church teaches false doctrine.  If we visit a congregation, and we hear things that we know aren’t in line with the Scriptures, obviously that’s not a church to which we should join ourselves.

The second lesson here is subtler.  In order to completely fulfill its mission, the preaching and teaching of a church must be more concerned with the truth than with anything else. 

Sadly, in too many congregations, even ones that get the first two points here right, the teaching of the church does not emphasize the truth.  The preacher’s goal is no longer enlightenment.  It has become entertainment.

I don’t have anything against jokes, but if a sermon becomes a comedy routine, that’s a problem.  I don’t have anything against emotional stories, but if a preacher does nothing but move from one tear-jerker to the next, that’s a problem.  I don’t have anything against wisdom from other sources than the Bible, but if a sermon is built around pop psychology instead of the word of truth, that’s a problem.

Brethren, we don’t need a church that will entertain us.  We need a church that will feed us, and only the word can do that.

Listen to Your Mother

Thursday, May 16, 2019

 

Today is a day on which we pay special attention to and honor mothers.  That’s certainly an appropriate thing to do.  Every one of us owes much to the woman who brought us up and cared for us, and mothers do appreciate it when we treat them well on Mother’s Day.

However, when you get right down to it, what every mother here wants from her children is not a nice corsage and Sunday dinner at Outback.  They don’t really want things from us.  They want things for us.  The best gift that any of us can give our mothers is a happy, successful, productive life.

In fact, that’s why mothers tell us the things they do.  It’s not that they enjoy nagging us or making our lives miserable.  It’s that they’ve been around longer than we have, they’ve seen how various kinds of choices play out, and they want us to make good choices and not bad ones.

Mothers have felt this way for as long as there have been mothers, so it’s not surprising that some of this timeless maternal wisdom has entered the Bible.  This morning, then, let’s turn to the book of Proverbs to see what sorts of things we will do if we listen to our mothers.

The first thing that we will do is to BE WISE.  Why?  Because it makes Mom happy.  Consider here Proverbs 10:1.  All of us need to recognize that we have a tremendous effect on our mother’s happiness.  All we have to do to make her miserable is to be foolish, because she knows very well how our foolishness is going to turn out.  She would much rather see us being wise instead.

It’s probably true that all of us will make better decisions if we make those decisions with our mother’s happiness in mind.  When we make decisions in this way, we will pay less attention to the immediate effects of our decision and more attention to what the effects of that decision will be down the road.  We’ll pay more attention to the consequences of our actions.

Let me tell you about some of the wise decisions that my mother wanted me to make.  First of all, she wanted me to assemble with the saints every time the doors were open.  My mother wasn’t anybody’s fool.  She’d seen enough to know that over time, Christians who faithfully attended services got stronger and stronger, but Christians who came once a week, if that, got weaker and weaker and perhaps even ended up falling away.  Is there any commandment that says we have to be here three times a week?  No, but it is wise!

My mother also wanted me to be careful with my money.  When I was a young man, my financial carelessness drove her to distraction!  Here too, it’s a consequence thing.  She knew that if I would be patient and diligent and save, bit by bit, I could build a better, more secure future for myself.  I’d even have money left over to give to the Lord’s work and help people in need.  However, if I was a spendthrift, I wouldn’t have that security in future, nor would I have the financial freedom to be generous.  Generally, wisdom makes a big difference in our lives—whether we practice it or not!

In addition to generic wisdom, there are also specific ways in which the mothers of Proverbs advise their children to be wise.  First, they want them to BEWARE SEXUAL IMMORALITY.  Here, let’s read from Proverbs 23:25-28.  Specifically, we see that Mom here is concerned about two kinds of women:  the prostitute and the adulteress.  In our society, sadly, sexual temptation is as much a problem for women as for men, but these two kinds of temptations remain.

Let’s start with the prostitute.  Obviously, none of our mothers want us to have anything to do with people like that!  However, I think we can expand the principle here to cover anyone who wants to make money off of lust.

Think about it.  Why does A Game of Thrones have all those naked people in it?  Why does so much comedy rely on innuendo and filthy humor?  Why is there so much porn on the Internet?  It’s all there because somebody is trying to get us to lust so they can make money off us.  Those people want us to believe that they care about us having a good time, but in reality, they are as heartless and calculating as the most jaded hooker on the street.  The less we have to do with them and their works, the happier we will be, the happier our mothers will be, and the happier God will be.

Let’s also watch out for the adulteress, who stands for anyone who entices us into sin for the sake of their pleasure.  Notice that I say “their pleasure”, not ours.  By definition, anybody who tries to get us to sin with them cares more about themselves than they do about us.  If they truly loved us, the very last thing they would do would be to endanger our souls!  Here too, the dire consequences are many.  When Mom tells us to stay away, she knows what she’s talking about.

Finally, the mothers of Proverbs want us to AVOID ALCOHOL.  Consider the words of King Lemuel’s mother in Proverbs 31:1-5.  Admittedly, this is advice dispensed by the mother of a king to a king.  It’s true that none of us are royal, but all of us want to reign with Christ.  It seems to me that we’d still better listen.

That’s all the more true because this advice is not popular.  Just as there are brethren who insist that you don’t have to come to Wednesday night services because there’s no passage that says you do, so too there are brethren who insist that they can drink alcohol because there’s no passage that says you can’t.  In fact, it’s common to find Christians who insist on both of these things simultaneously.

However, I think both arguments miss the point.  If we refuse to consider what wisdom has to say about both church attendance and drinking, we are quite literally being foolish.  In both cases, we need to pay attention to the consequences before we decide what we’re going to do.

Lemuel’s mother spells out the consequences in no uncertain terms.  She warns her son that drinking will lead him to forget God’s decrees and to pervert justice.  In other words, alcohol keeps us from remembering what God wants us to do, and it leads us not to do it.

Today, science has confirmed that Lemuel’s mother was right on.  Even for those who are not drunk, the consumption of alcohol decreases mental function.  It also lowers our inhibitions.  Both of those things make it more likely that we will sin, and on that list, Sin Number One is drunkenness.

In short, brethren, we need to exercise wise judgment when it comes to drinking, and it’s impossible to make the argument that drinking in our society is wise.  Let’s do as Lemuel’s mother advises.  For that matter, let’s do what our own mothers would want us to.  Let’s have nothing to do with drinking.

Why Care About the Pattern?

Thursday, May 09, 2019

 

As we continue through our series of half-hour studies we might hold with an unbeliever, we’ve now passed the point of conversion and moved onto instruction in righteousness.  The goal is to teach that new Christian what they need to know in order to be faithful to God.

In this, the most obvious verse to start with is 2 Timothy 1:13.  Here, Paul tells Timothy that he is supposed to hold to a pattern, a particular way of doing things that Christians are to imitate.  The pattern is laid out in sound words, in the teaching of Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the apostles. 

In recent years, this idea has come under attack.  Many now claim that following the New Testament pattern for our work and our worship is no longer important.  As long as we love Jesus, they say, everything else will work itself out. 

Is that really so?  As disciples of Jesus, should we concern ourselves with the cross and not with the tiny details of Scripture?  Or, conversely, is there some reason why we should concern ourselves with the details too?  In short, why should a new Christian—indeed, why should we—care about the pattern?

I’ve got three reasons for you this evening.  The first is that caring about the pattern is CONSISTENT.  Let’s look here at a text that is familiar to many of us, Colossians 3:17.  We’re not to do some things or even most things in the name of the Lord Jesus.  We are supposed to do everything.

There are many points that we could draw from this, but the point that I want to make is that if we do some things in the name of Jesus and not others, we are not being consistent.  Why is what the Bible says so important in this one area over here but not in this other area over here?

I think that nearly everybody here this evening would agree that following the New-Testament pattern is important when it comes to conversion.  We go to various passages and see that we’re supposed to believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.  That’s how you know you’ve been saved, not because you hear a still small voice in your head, but because you have done what the Bible tells you to do.

We are very suspicious, and rightfully so, of additions to that pattern.  For instance, let’s say we run into somebody who insists that we can be saved from our sins by praying the sinner’s prayer.  What do we tell somebody like that?  I’ll tell you what I’d do.  If this were somebody with any Scriptural sophistication at all, I’d hand them a Bible and ask them to prove it

Of course, nobody is going to be able to do that.  At that point, though, they’re likely to start saying that the Bible never says you can’t, either.  That’s true.  I cannot point to a verse that says, “Thou shalt not pray the sinner’s prayer in order to be saved.”  The Scriptures are silent concerning the sinner’s prayer, but I don’t think any of us would say that such silence makes the sinner’s prayer acceptable.

You know what, brethren?  If silence doesn’t authorize adding to God’s plan for salvation, it doesn’t authorize adding to God’s plan for worship or for the work of the church either.  If we honor God’s silence in teaching others the truth, to be logically consistent, we must honor it everywhere.

Second, caring about the pattern matters because IT CALLS US TO THE WORD.  Consider, for instance, the example of the Bereans in Acts 17:10-11.  Paul came to town proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ.  The Bereans didn’t dismiss his teaching out of hand because they’d never heard it before, nor did they uncritically accept it.  Instead, they turned to the word.  They examined the Scriptures to determine whether what Paul said was true.

We can just as easily apply the same method to weighing any teaching that we hear.  Preacher gets up, says something we’ve heard all our lives.  The fact that we’ve heard it all our lives is irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is whether his sermon stands up to the word. 

What if he says something we’ve never heard before?  Doesn’t matter.  Compare it to the Scriptures, and that will reveal whether we ought to listen.

This word-centric method of discovering truth has two main virtues.  First, it means that we can apply an impartial standard to our lives.  Now, obviously, not every Scriptural question we have can be answered with certainty.  If you think you know for certain what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, I think you’re wrong!  However, the things that we need to do have been revealed for certain, and if we will agree on following the standard, we can use it to serve God together.

Second, turning to the word is important because it changes us in ways we don’t expect.  The longer I spend with the Bible, the less I think that it’s just a book and the more I think that it’s more like a computer program.  It’s more than a source of information.  As we take it into ourselves, it changes us, and the more we turn to it for answers, the greater that change will be.

Finally, we should care about following the pattern because IT HONORS JESUS, NOT OURSELVES.  Let’s begin our investigation here with Ephesians 5:22-24.  In context, Paul is making the point that women are to submit to their husbands as the heads of their families.  It’s important to note, though, that the example he uses for this submission in everything is the submission of the church to Christ.  Clearly, Paul believed that the church too was supposed to submit in everything to Christ.

That’s a big deal, brethren, not only for the church but for its members.  Everything is everything.  This begins with our personal lives.  Every decision we make, every hour of the day, is supposed to honor Jesus as Lord.  There’s a lot of noise on the news these days about how people have the right to control their own bodies.  Christians don’t.  The most intimate decisions we make, those belong to Jesus too.

So too in our churches.  We’ve got a sign out front that says “Church of Christ”.  Brethren, we can’t just say that we belong to Christ.  We have to prove it.  If everything this church does does not show our submission to Jesus as Lord, that sign out front is nothing more than an empty boast.

OK, but how do we know?  How do we know whether in our personal lives and in our church we are submitting to Christ?  Simple.  We know we are honoring Him as Lord when we do what He says.  There’s no other way.

If I’ve got this great idea for how I should live my personal life, and I can’t point to anything in Scripture that says it’s a great idea, that’s a problem.  If I put it into practice, I’m not honoring Jesus.  I’m honoring me.

Same goes for our conduct in the church.  There are all kinds of things that we might do in our assemblies.  There are all kinds of things that we might do with the Lord’s money.  However, unless we are taking our marching orders from Jesus in those things, we are not honoring Him.  Honoring Jesus means following the pattern.  Anything else is about exalting ourselves.

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