A Theology of Work – Part 3

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

English: The Great Commission, at the Cathedra...
English: The Great Commission, at the Cathedral Parish of Saint Patrick in El Paso (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This passage has been dubbed The Great Commission.  Jesus has commanded his church to complete the work of making disciples that he began.  If the Cultural Mandate (“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”) gives us the nature of our work as stewards of the King doing His work at His direction, and if the Greatest Commandments (“Love the Lord your God; love your neighbor as yourself.”) give us our motive for working for God, then the Great Commission gives us our goal in our work.

It should be obvious that the Great Commission gives us our goal for all aspects of our lives.  But as we apply it to work it leads to these conclusions:

  • The greatest good my work can accomplish is to help lead someone to Christ

This is not to say that the only work I should do is be an evangelist.  As we have already seen, doing our work as a grocer, a police officer, a seamstress, or any other profession that is morally acceptable brings credit to God and benefit to mankind.  When we do our work as if working for God (which we really are) we show the beauty of God’s love for humanity and draw people to His goodness.  By participating in this honorable cultural mandate we gain respect that aids us when we speak the words of the gospel.  It is one way of showing that we practice what we preach…the love of God.

The good of contributing to our world by helping flourish is a worthy goal in and of itself.  But an even greater goal is to help someone flourish spiritually with their Creator.  So though our work is done as part of our subduing the earth, it is also done with an eye to securing converts to the faith.  This, after all, is clearly God’s greatest desire for all His people.

  • There are some believers whose main work should be helping lead someone to Christ

There is a place for “full time service” to the Lord.  Even though all of us are in full time service to the Lord if we are Christians, some of us have gifts of leadership and equipping that can be more fully devoted to the task of preparing God’s people to accomplish the Great Commission if we are financially supported by other believers (1 Timothy 5:17).  It is strategically wise to install some as pastors and evangelists in order to give them more freedom to equip the church for this task.

Following whatever vocational calling we have in accord with our gifts and talents and desires will give each of us unique insights into life and how to reach others for Christ.  Someone who speaks the language of accounting might be better able to reach a fellow accountant.  Someone who has experienced the unique strain of an emergency medical technician might be better able to reach a fellow EMT.  Someone who herds sheep might be more in tune to God’s spiritual shepherding of people.  Everything we know and do can contribute to our effectiveness as individuals and as the church combined for drawing our world to the Savior.

For further reading:

Is There a Distinctively “Christian” Way to Be a Bus Driver?


Reflections on India 4

I am just returned from a 12 day trip to India where I partnered with John Marley, a teacher from my church, to hold two 3-day Bible conferences.  The first was in Madurai, or more specifically, Light of Hope Gospel Mission just outside of Madurai.  The second was in Kovilpatti, a 3 hour trip south of Madurai.  All this is in the southern tip of India.  Our host was S. J. P. Vijayakumar, or Vijay.  He has been a missionary sponsored by Central Church since the mid 90′s.  His father-in-law, the founder of Light of Hope, has been supported by Central for many more years.  They are faithful servants of the kingdom.

I found myself drawn to several of the participants and their stories and would like to share some of those with the world (or at least whoever reads this blog).

1,000 Songs in an Unknown Tongue

She was given in marriage to a 25 year old blind man when she was 9 years old.  This tells you right away that she came from a poor family and she married into an impoverished marriage.  Undoubtedly her parents thought this was the best way to take care of her.  The new marriage was so poor that she had to go to work breaking rocks.  The woman standing to her left was explaining to us that this is why her feet were in such poor condition.

Somewhere along the line she became a follower of Jesus Christ and found ways to minister to others.  I had asked, during one of our sessions in which I was teaching on the filling of the Holy Spirit, if anyone there had some experiences of being filled with the Spirit that they would like to share.  She did.  She explained that she had gone to another state in India where she did not know the language.  But miraculously she found herself able to speak it and wrote 1,000 songs in this previously unknown language.

She sang for us that day in the Tamil language, the language everyone at this conference spoke since all were from the state of Tamilnadu, where Vijay lives.  She has had a hard life, but God has transformed her life in Christ.

Ephesians 1:3,4 – Conversations with God

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Father, indeed I bless You with Paul, I give You honor and praise for being the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and for giving us such amazing blessings (gifts, benefits) in heaven’s realms in Christ. You have given us every spiritual blessing, such is the largesse of Your generosity.  You have held back nothing that we need.  How could I ever be grateful enough for all You’ve done?  Perhaps I can bless others the way You have blessed me.

This first blessing is startling!  You chose me to be in Christ, to be so connected to Him that His life becomes my life.  His death to sin was my death to sin.  His rising to life was my new life begun.  His ascending to heaven is now the standing I have with You, Father.  I am as close to You as He is.  I am as certain of Your love as He is.  I am as safe in Your purposes as He is.

And You made this choice of me before the world was made.  You saw what my need was going to be before I even existed and wanted to love me in this way before I was born.  So You selected me for this blessing.  It is hard not to ask why, but You give no explanation but that You loved me.

Your goal for me was to be holy and blameless before You.   I think of my desire for my children to be paragons of virtue.  I long for them to be good men and women who raise good children and who make a difference for You in the world.  I do not yet feel I have measured up to that before You. I certainly don’t feel blameless.  I know that You are still working on me.  And I mostly appreciate that.  At times I feel my heart rebelling against Your promptings.  But usually I want to be more pleasing to You, and it is because I know that Your every wish is for my benefit, my blessing.

Thank You!

Setting Aside the Counterfeits (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 17-21)

One of Paul’s responsibilities, and a responsibility of all spiritual leaders, is to identify counterfeits to the true gospel.  Given the rebellious nature of human beings and the very active influence of Satan, there should be a high expectation of distortions to the message of life.  Paul leverages his own example of orthodox living and orthodox doctrine, then he begins to describe those in particular, the Judaizers, who are threatening all of Paul’s church plants.

Not everyone is agreed that these are “the enemies of the cross” to whom Paul is referring.  To some it looks like Paul is describing a group who seeks to push the limits of godly morality.  “Their god is their stomach” sounds to them like those who eat greedily. “Their glory is in their shame” sounds like taking pride in their willingness to push the boundaries ethically.

But in the context Paul has only identified one group of false teachers.  These appear to be people who teach the Jewish law as the standard of holiness and focus on the requirements of circumcision for males and kosher food laws for all.  With that in mind, “their god is their stomach” means their focus on keeping kosher has become their idol; “their glory is in their shame” means they rest confidence in circumcision as their badge of honor.  In all this “their mind is set on earthly things.”  What God designed as a picture of ultimate spiritual truths to be revealed when the new dispensation arrives, these false teachers are still clinging to and giving saving power to instead of looking at faith as the basis for salvation.

By way of contrast, Christianity, God’s new revelation in Christ contained in “new wine skins” (Matthew 9:17), is focused on heaven.  Though the Philippians might take pride in their Roman citizenship, the real reason to boast is their heavenly citizenship.  As citizens of heaven we need no longer be enslaved to earthly elements.  We are people of the last age, the age of the resurrection.  When Jesus comes He is going to resurrect us, make our bodies like His, with all the attributes of a body made suitable for the kingdom.

Focusing on the coming resurrection when Jesus returns to rule on earth helps us stay moored to the true gospel.  We are not trying to muster our own law obedience in order to earn God’s love.  We are operating in God’s already abundantly outpoured love.  We are depending on what Jesus can work in us (the willing and the doing of His good will, 2:13), something He is able to do as the resurrected one.  We are free from the earthly elements that so many have clung to as a means of earning God’s love.  We are in training to recognize the false so we may more readily embrace the true.

Fellowship With Jesus (Theology for Living from Philippians)

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 10,11)

When Jesus spoke those burning words to two disciples walking to Emmaus, “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26), He laid out forever the path all His followers will have to walk if they want to have fellowship with him.  Do we want to know the power of His resurrection?  Then we must first know the pain of his sufferings and become like him in His death.  First comes suffering and then comes glory.

I have yet to experience the fullness of what Peter and John experienced when they were beaten at the command of the Sanhedrin and the “apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).  I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, but I am hesitant to get excited and rejoice over suffering disgrace for His Name.

And yet, this is Paul’s desire.  He is wanting to know Christ in this way.  He is currently in jail as he writes because of his willingness to suffer with and for Christ.  He is ready to die, if need be, in order to bring glory to his Savior.  Though he doesn’t say it directly here, we know that his motive is gratitude for the rescue Jesus has done in his life, saving him from trying to face God with a righteousness of his own instead of that which comes from God by faith in Christ.  Another motive he states plainly here is so that he might attain to the resurrection from the dead.

This raises questions for those of us who believe the Scriptures teach that one can never earn nor lose one’s salvation.  Does Paul believe he has to suffer with Christ in order to attain to the resurrection?  Does he doubt that if he does not pursue this course he will be refused resurrection?  Yes and no.

Paul believed all who were true believers would be willing to suffer persecution with Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12).  He didn’t presume that no believer would struggle with the fear of such a decision.  That is why in the beginning of this letter he was counting on help from the Philippians’ prayer and the supply of the Holy Spirit (1:19).   He didn’t believe that after all this time serving Jesus he would quit now, but he knew and taught that true believers are enabled both to will and to do God’s good pleasure and would persevere in their faith (2:13).

Do you want fellowship with Jesus?  Of course you do.  Do you want to suffer?  Of course you don’t.  But if it comes to a choice of sharing in the life of Jesus or avoiding suffering, I believe we both will choose Jesus.

Beware False Unity (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.  Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— (Paul’s letter to the Philippians 3:1-3)

There once was a football player who picked up a fumble and saw no one between himself and the goal line.  As he ran everyone was yelling at him and when he crossed the finish line he expected high fives, but instead got boos.  He had run the wrong way and scored for the other team.

There will be many contenders for our allegiance when it comes to the gospel.  The world cannot handle the free gospel of grace and will constantly offer a counterfeit.  Even though the world will seem to be cheering us on in this direction it is still the wrong direction.  While Paul has been arguing for, modeling, showing the benefits of and commanding unity, he will make it abundantly clear that this unity must be behind the true gospel.

There were those who continually plagued Paul’s churches, coming in after Paul had done the groundwork of evangelism and seeking to tack their own brand of gospel on Paul’s converts.  The Judaizers, as we have come to call them, offered a brand of Christianity that was heavy on Jewish law, big on works, small on suffering, and often led to boasting about personal holiness.

Paul minces no words concerning these false teachers.  They are dogs, not our cute lovable pets we are eager to cuddle with, but wild and unclean animals who roamed about looking for prey.  Because they promoted circumcision for male converts but only thus made the converts confused about the truth, for Paul they were mutilators of the flesh.

Such teaching did not lead to rejoicing in the Lord, but rejoicing in one’s own accomplishments.  Paul was being a good shepherd by warning his flock about these evildoers.  His flock needed to see that they were the true circumcision, the circumcision of the heart (see Deuteronomy 30:6).  It was they who truly served God in the power of the Holy Spirit, the one, the only one, who can give us power over sin.  Only they had a right to boast, not in their own holiness, but in the holiness and sacrifice of Christ whom God raised from the dead.

There is no room for confidence in our flesh, in our own ability to live the gospel.  Any gospel that affirms our capabilities and makes our eternal relationship with God dependent on how well we live, is a false gospel.  Our unity is crucial, but it is most crucial that it is a unity in the truth.  Working out our salvation by standing together as one man for the faith of the gospel is required, but we must be standing for the faith of the gospel, not a counterfeit.

Can you recognize the counterfeits?  As much as you should be ready to stand with fellow believers in the true gospel no matter how much you differ about peripheral issues, so you should be ready to break with all who would destroy the church with false teaching about the gospel.  Teachers there will be who build with wood, hay and stubble (1 Corinthians 3) but who are nevertheless building on the foundation of Christ.  But those who lack that foundation are seeking to destroy the church and will be destroyed by God.

Lessons From the Old Testament: Being Honest With God

We have a record of the private thoughts of saints made public in the Psalms.  And some of the things they utter to God seem blasphemous to us.  For example:

Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1,2)

All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals; you covered us over with deep darkness. If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart? Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? (Psalm 44:17-24)

Job is perhaps the most blunt when he says to God, among other things,

Even if I summoned him and he responded, I do not believe he would give me a hearing. He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason. It is all the same; that is why I say,  ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ (Job 9:16-17,22)

Why does God allow this kind of talk?  Is He encouraging us to say irreverent things about Him?  I would say rather that He is encouraging us not to think that we can conceal any of our thoughts from Him and that if we have a problem with Him we ought to speak it to Him.  If I have a problem with you but never let  you know it and simply allow the hurt and anger to build up inside, I will never be able to have a healthy relationship with you.  Instead, it will always be attended by bitterness and distrust.  And if I tell my concerns with you to others, I am guilty of slander.  The only way to get our relationship right is to go to you with my issues against you.  I may find out I was right or wrong.  But respect for our relationship means I will talk honestly with you.

The same is true of our relationship with God.  He does not want us to think wrong things about Him, but if we do, we need to take it to the only One who can correct our wrong viewpoint.  He already knows what we are thinking (Psalm 139).  To keep it locked inside for fear that we are going to offend God is futile.  If He is going to be offended He is offended by the thoughts He is already reading.  So take it to Him.  He is strong enough to handle anything we could think or say.  Bringing it verbally to Him is saying we care enough about our relationship with Him that we are willing to work it through to reconciliation.  This is what Job did and God commended him for this (Job 42:7). 

So free yourself up with the knowledge that God wants to hear whatever is in your heart.  Become totally honest with Him and it is like opening up your heart for God to bring His healing.