What would you do for the Gospel’s sake? Consider what Paul said he did as he discusses the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
Though free from all, Paul made himself servant to all, that he might gain (win) more of them. Of course he did that by identifying with others, by finding things in common with them, to share in the practices of others (out of choice, not compulsion) to refrain from offending them. Paul respected the feasts the Jews practiced, complying where he could – so, Timothy had to be circumcised before joining Paul, etc. – because to the Jews I became as a Jew… He likewise showed respect to Gentiles and their practices, to those without Law to God, as without Law (though not in violation of the Law of Christ – i.e. doing what he could without violating the Law of God). To the weak I became as weak, holding back, not “unloading on them.” He did what he could when he could so that he might gain them, that he might by all means save some (:22).
What if all members of the church had that sacrificial attitude toward others? What if every member wanted to meet others where they are, giving where they could? What if the goal of every member was to gain or win or save others?
Things are going well Spiritually. Perhaps you’ve been hangin’ with some good, strong people. You’re doing well, feel like you’ve really got it… Then, some situation comes up and — how quickly things go wrong!
Paul and Barnabas met with Peter in Galatians 2:9-10. Things were going well for Peter. In fact, Paul said he could be considered a “pillar” of the Truth. At the time he was with James, the Lord’s brother (who preached for a long time in Jerusalem) and the Apostle John. I think we might all agree it’s easier to “be what you’re supposed to be” when you’re with others who are, well, being what they’re supposed to be. Anyway, there was Peter extending the “right hand of fellowship” to Paul, encouraging him to continue his work with the Gentiles and remember the poor.
Then… Peter went to Antioch (:11ff). It was the church where Paul worked with a number of those Gentile Christians. Peter had no problem “eating” with them, accepting them, hangin’ with them. They were brethren, just of a different racial background.
But then… Certain brethren joined them from Jerusalem (Jews from where James preached). Peter withdrew himself from the Gentiles with whom he had been associating, fearing the Jews. Before they were all Christians, Jews had no dealings with Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:28); but, Peter had been shown that things had changed. It did not matter – fear led to him being a hypocrite. Now, Paul had to withstand him to the face… How quickly it all goes wrong…
Often we encounter people with interest in Spiritual things, perhaps even specific Bible questions. Certainly it is our responsibility as Christians to be ready with answers (as we are best prepared to do so), to give “reasons” why we believe what we believe and why we have the “hope” (the expectation of acceptance and future glory) that we do. The Bible obviously impresses this responsibility upon us (see 1 Peter 3:15). To be sure we always want to approach such explanations with “meekness and fear” to demonstrate that we have “sanctified the Lord Christ in our hearts.”
To reciprocate, however, requires an individual to listen, to attend our explanation, with an open mind, or open heart. This does not mean he must immediately accept what we are saying, but it does mean that it will be given an honest evaluation. A great example of doing so may be found in Acts 16:14 with Lydia “whose heart the Lord opened in that she attended to the things being spoken by Paul.”
So many things interfere with having an open heart or open mind – preconceived ideas, bias, prejudice, tradition, even dishonesty. We must strive to set aside everything but a willingness to consider the truth of what is being said, weighed only against Scripture. Else, it will be virtually impossible to maintain an open heart, open mind.
What if we could “begin all over again”? What would we do differently? What mistakes would we avoid? What choices would we make? If we “knew then what we know now,” what would we do.
Truthfully, we cannot “begin all over again.” Our lives consist of a number of choices – thoughts, feelings, actions – and we are where we are because of them. Yet, Spiritually, God has blessed us with the choice of allowing old things to pass away, for all things to become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul speaks of one who has become a Christian, taken advantage of the death of Christ (:14). For that Christian, there is a new outlook on life, a new perspective, a new reality of purpose (:15). He is a new creation (re-created in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:10); and, therefore, all that he was before – all the mistakes, sins, bad choices, all the things he would have done differently – has passed away. Thus, Spiritually, he really can “begin all over again.”
That is a wonderful blessing!
Shortly before services Wednesday evening a friend of mine called me from Illinois. Had I heard about Carrol Sutton he asked. I had known Brother Sutton and his family for many years. Brother Sutton preached in North Alabama for some 60 years. At age 85, he was still “going strong.” My friend told me he had been killed in a tragic auto accident and his wife was in critical condition. As an example of his work, years ago my good friend’s parents had been converted by him and they went on to raise 6 faithful children. Brother Sutton gave me a book once, and in the dedication said my work “would go on to influence generations yet unborn.” I value that encouragement highly. I know his work will certainly do so.
Disease and old age commonly take people on a daily basis. We come to expect it. Yet, death may come in a moment when we least expect it. There and then, suddenly, the sum total of our life will forever be our record. We may believe we have “a lot of time,” but, truly, you never know.
This is a busy time of year (with all the extra shopping, visiting, festivities, get-togethers, etc.) Truthfully, it adds to the difficulty of getting around and attending to the business we need to handle. It also presses upon us the added need to remember who we are and how we should conduct ourselves. Our light must shine no matter the circumstances; our example should be strong regardless. It is crazy out there; drive safely, breathe deeply and, as they say down south, Remember who you are!
When Jesus came upon a fig tree, being hungry, He cursed it for it had no fruit (Matthew 21:18-20). Interestingly, the Bible shows that it appeared to be healthy and able to bear fruit, but it was not doing so. Jesus cursed it saying, “Let no fruit grow on you from this point forward forever!”
The disciples were amazed at this, but not as some might suppose for His anger or hasty condemnation. Rather, they marveled, “How soon is the fig tree withered away!” They may have been noting that the destruction of it was rapid right before their eyes. Again, they may have been noting the relative short life of the tree to lose any future opportunity to bear fruit.
To be sure, whether fig tree or Christian, we only have a short amount of time in this life to bear fruit, to use what we have been given by the Lord to be productive. When that time is up – and when we have had sufficient time and health to do so – judgment is likewise pronounced upon us for not doing what we could. One might say that the Lord is hungry for good to be done by us and has given us time, ability and opportunity to bear fruit (cf. Matthew 25:14ff). He will, however, return to exact judgment based on our production.
God’s providence is truly an amazing thing – in fact, it is awesome! All of us may reflect on circumstances and events in our life in which the only explanation of “how all of that came about” must be attributed to God. The odds of it merely happening without Divine orchestration would be astronomical!
Such reflection reminds us that we are not alone. There is Someone who always knows everything about us – our needs, our desires, our weaknesses. Furthermore, He is able to make provision for all such at any time. Moreover, though, it is He alone Who knows perfectly just when, how much, what, etc. is needed and to effect it for us. Furthermore, He cares for us in the loving, understanding way that only a Divine Father could. Always perfectly aware, always perfectly concerned, always perfectly able; this is God in His providential care for us.
As many call it, is recorded in Luke 6:31, and often paraphrased, Do unto others as you would have them do to you. This sound, practical “advice” is commanded by Jesus. Treat others like you want to be treated – respect, love, mercy, fairness, equality, etc. What kind of world would we have if mankind simply followed this rule?
In fact, however, though mankind at large does not, Christians are expected to obey it! No matter how otherwise faithful to the Word of God one may be – there is no greater turnoff to others than the violation of this rule. It screams hypocrisy! It says, Jesus died for you, but I won’t even treat you as I would want to be treated. How important it is to heed Jesus’ “Golden Rule.”
A bribe is a payment given in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust. In short, it’s a payoff. I want someone to think a certain way or do what I want (because of the advantageous consequences to me) – so, I bribe them to do so. Because of said advantages, and because of the compromise of trust they involve, bribes are morally wrong, and illegal (a violation of God’s Law and many times of man’s).
This may lead us to question, Who can bribe us? If we can be bribed, What is the payoff we demand? That is, For what are we willing to sell our trust? What does it cost to influence our judgment or conduct?
Every day we are in a position in which people should be able to trust us. They know we are Christians and they should be able to trust us to be true to Christ, to stand for what is right, to do the right thing, to try to lead or influence them to make the right decision. They should expect that our judgment or conduct cannot be influenced – we cannot be bought; we will not be bribed.
Christians are expected to be the strong one in any relationship, the convicted one who follows the directives of Jesus. What would Jesus do in our situations? Others may attempt to bribe us but they are paying attention to see if we will take the payoff or remain true to our convictions.