Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Transcendence of Christianity

1 Cor. 7:17-24 offers some great and practical instruction in the Christian faith. 1Co 7:17  Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.   7:18  Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 1Co 7:19  For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 1Co 7:20  Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 1Co 7:21  Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 1Co 7:22  For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 1Co 7:23  You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 1Co 7:24  So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Basically Paul is saying that once God saves you and gives you the Holy Spirit along with the Word of God a Christian can serve the Lord under any and all circumstances.  He gives two examples, circumcision and slavery.  His point is that whatever situation you find yourself in when you are converted does not need to change now that you are saved.  The Law has passed away and so there is no need to be circumcised if you aren't nor try to undo it if you are.  Vs. 17 explains that we must accept the providence of God that has put us where we are and realize that this is the place God wants us to serve.

Then he uses slavery as an example.  I suppose many would find these words astonishing that if you are a slave when you are converted don't assume that you must be freed in order to be a faithful servant of the Lord.  Yes, if you can be freed by all means go for it.  But if in the providence of God you cannot change that then the beauty of Christianity is that it works under every circumstance.  We should assume this because we know that nothing happens apart from the sovereign will of God.  So if any enemy invades our land and I am taken as a slave then it is God who has put me there and it would be contrary to my profession to think that he has put me in a situation in which I cannot serve him.

So even if I am a slave to men, I am first of all a slave to Christ and he is the one I serve.  So Paul says even a slave has been freed from sin so that he can serve the Lord and so I must not let men stop me for obeying the Lord.  In vs. 23 he isn't saying don't allow yourself to become a slave but don't let any circumstance, even literal slavery be used as an excuse to become bitter against the Lord and not glorify him to the best of your ability.

But let's apply this in a little more practical situation.  Many a married partner or disgruntled employee would do well to think about this.  Just because you are not in the relationship you would like doesn't have anything to do with being great in the kingdom.  If a slave doesn't need to force his freedom to be an effective Christian then certainly a wife or husband isn't to seek to be freed from a spouse that might not meet every need you think you have.  An under paid or under appreciated employee can still serve Christ while he has that job.

Too many times because we find ourselves under circumstances caused by the sinfulness of others we assume that we must get free of it in order to serve the Lord.  But when doing that causes us to have to disobey the clear teaching of God's Word we have taken more upon ourselves than we have a right to.  So we submit ourselves to marriage with a lost partner or one who might not love us like they should and see it as God's will for us because nothing can disqualify us from serving the Lord.  Well, what can disqualify us is becoming bitter at the situation and at God and feeling sorry for ourselves, discontent and refusing to figure out how to serve the Lord in the present trial. 

Again, that is the beauty of being saved.  Whether we are rich, poor, healthy, sickly, young, old, a slave, free, an unloved housewife or unappreciated employee we have a great privilege of serving the Lord.  Perhaps some of us need to remember this just in case the election doesn't go as we would like and our country keeps sliding down the socialist path and even worse becomes more and more secular, ungodly and anti Christian.  Don't get caught up in the idea that if we aren't free or in charge God's work can't be done because it can.  Christianity flourished under Roman rule and it can flourish under Marxism or any other circumstance.  Our God reigns!   

Friday, October 12, 2012

Being Great in the Kingdom

In Chapter 19 of the Gospel of Matthew we find Peter comparing himself to the rich, young ruler.  Peter feels like he has given up much for Christ and wants to know what is in it for him.  While Jesus tells the disciples that there is ample reward for those who give up this world for him, he then gives the parable of the laborers to warn us of comparing ourselves to others. 

In the case of the laborers who were hired first, they assume that they should get more for working longer in the kingdom of God.  And they and Peter make a couple of mistakes.  Getting the same reward reminds us that there is no real difference between saints.  All are unworthy sinners and none deserve anything but God’s wrath so we are all saved by grace and will all see Jesus.  Perhaps Peter’s greatest mistake is to compare himself to someone else which seems to be what the “first” are doing in the parable.  He looks on the outward and assumes he has done more and giving up more than this man but Jesus says, “Not so fast, God looks on the heart”.  Anyway, what did he really give up, some old boats, some holey nets?  Even though he gives up some time with his wife and earthly stability and eventually his very life, what is all that compared to an eternity in Hell which is what he has been saved from.  In reality he has given up very little while this young ruler was being asked to give up much more.  Comparing ourselves to someone else will never end well.  We just don’t have enough information.  None of us are really asked to give up much compared to Heaven.

I got to thinking about how we so often compare ourselves to others.  It usually goes something like this: “Lord, why is it that so and so has a better job, or is healthier or has fewer problems than I do?”  But I can’t say that I have ever heard anyone, including myself, complain to the Lord that so and so doesn’t have all the blessings we have!  “Lord, why is it that I seem to have an easier time than they do, why is it that I don’t get as sick as often as that person, why is it that my marriage doesn’t seem to suffer like theirs, etc.”  Clearly we are a selfish people that only compare ourselves to others to complain against God’s good providence most of the time. 

Secondly, I think the heart of the matter is that the first group didn’t see the labor as part of the reward.  If the reward to you is after death and you don’t see and live in the privilege of knowing Christ now you are missing out on a big part of the reason the Lord saved you.  He doesn’t save people just to get them to heaven but to be examples of his grace and love even before this world.  A bitter, mean, miserable Christian is a contradiction of our profession.  You are telling everyone that knowing God isn’t life (even though that is what is says in Joh 17:3  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.) you are telling us that the only worthwhile reward for serving the Lord comes later, not now.  And you are saying that the things of this life are so important that knowing the Lord and having his Spirit have no ability to help us now and I just don’t think that is why the Lord saves us.  My experience has been just the opposite and I think this parable reminds us of this.  They should have been rejoicing that they had longer to work for their Lord!

I want to live and die content in Christ before this world and it is only by the grace of God that we will.  Finally, at the end of the day our work has nothing to do with our final reward, all are paid alike and more than they deserve.  The question is will you be joyful as you work?  Will you serve out of a thankful heart?  If so you will be great in the kingdom.  If the opportunity to serve the Lord even in more difficultly than others isn’t enough for you, you will be least in the kingdom.