Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Work of the Lord

Jas 1:2  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, Jas 1:3  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

1Co 15:58  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Let me try and combine these two verses hopefully in a way that brings out proper application for both of them.  1 Cor. 15:58 says to always abound in the work of the Lord and James 1:2 says that one aspect of the work of the Lord is to count it all joy when we are tested through trials of various kinds.  Then if we go back to 1 Cor. 15:58 we see that to be faithful will mean that our labor is not in vain which I would take to mean that it will glorify God and bring reward.

So the reason I want to combine these two verses is to consider what the work of the Lord is.  Too often it might be seen as full time Christian service or when we are actively involved in some sort of Christian ministry as a lay person and all that is the work of the Lord for sure but it involves much more than these things.  If we boiled it down further we might say that the work of the Lord involves being faithful at all times in everything that comes our way in life.  Whether we are helping someone out with a problem or on vacation or driving home from work; a Christian is always to be doing work of the Lord. 

I think this helps us see how James 1:2-3 fits into 1 Cor. 15:58.  Since the Lord brings all types of afflictions and trials into our life to build us up in the faith then these must be seen as part of the work of the Lord.  And it seems that often our main pursuit when we encounter trials is to get out of it as soon as possible!  I think of martyrs who patiently endure persecution knowing that escape is impossible or missionaries who are deliberately living under extremely difficult circumstances and are in it for the long haul because this is an expression of their love for the Lord.  But then I think of how many of us when some difficulty comes immediately are consumed with trying to escape. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Suffering by definition is painful and if we can be free of it then we should; if we can do so in a godly fashion.  If we can avoid sickness then by all means do so.  The same would be true if we can improve our financial lot in life without compromise and sin.  But there is something else to consider in all this as well.  The trials that we suffer are given to us as a means to serve; they are not given to us so that we can consume our lives with trying to remove them!  What is to consume us is how to serve the Lord even in affliction; secondly we can look for removal. 

One way we can see how this can be confused is when we examine our prayer requests.  Are they mostly requests for the removal of trials or for faithfulness in them?  For instance, you hear this a lot when someone asks for prayer for an unsaved relative who is sick or in some sort of trouble.  They want lots of prayer for physical health but it is much rarer to hear requests for their spiritual problems.  But is it not wrong to ask that God would heal an unsaved person with no thought of what that extended life will accomplish for Christ?  It is not unusual for a lost person to ask me to pray for them for some physical problem because I am a preacher.  But I try to be clear that while I don’t like to see them suffer and will pray for them, my first concern is that they get right with God and if their affliction is used to that end then my first concern is not their ease but their soul. 

I can image a scenario where Hitler was a boy who attended church and came down with a serious health issue.  His parents asked the church to pray that he would recover.  But perhaps that is all they asked for because that was really all they cared about.  It never crossed their minds that he would recover so that he might be saved and become a servant of the Lord; just that he could live a long life.  Well, that prayer would have been answered but the lack of spiritual depth of their prayers actually turned out far different than they might have imagined.

And this holds true when we pray for the saints.  Is God pleased if we get sick and all our prayers are for healing but the thought of why we want to be healed never goes beyond the fact that we don’t like pain?  Should we ever ask for help if our motivation isn’t firstly so that we can be better servants of the Lord?  Is asking for help but for other motivations just asking “amiss”? 

How often do we hear of trying to determine what the Lord’s calling is for your life?  And by that they mean job or career, etc.  But the calling that we had better learn to focus on is not how you make money but how well you serve in every situation.  The calling of a saint is to serve well while sick or poor or depressed and not to get out from under the trial as fast as we can.  This is why Paul could say he has learned to be content in any situation.  Php 4:11  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Php 4:12  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Php 4:13  I can do all things through him who strengthens me

Let us always be abounding in the work of the Lord because the reward for our labor is not getting healthy or wealthy or a fulfilling career or perfect family.  It is to stand in the presence of God forever already secured for us in Christ.  Let’s face it, some of us are just going to suffer severely until the day they die and if all we ever want is for the suffering to end and all we ever do is pray for it to end, we will not be content and we will forget to serve in the meantime.


  1. Nathan,

    I read your January 10 post, and then proceeding to listen to your last 3 sermons with great interest. All my life, I've been taught, and have taught from a dispensational view. But, lately have gotten some really good exposure from people--including you--who are not dispensational. I really appreciate hearing your thoughts on 1 Cor. 15 and 1 Thess. 4. You make plenty of good points. Maybe I'll change and go with ammillenialism. Right now I'm still studying its viewpoints and working to understand it. I do like the downright simplicity of one basic return of Christ, and not a two-step process.

    Somehow, I'm simulataneously working thru the main two views on hell as well as amillenialism. How's that for tackling everything all at once?

    I'm noting as I go thru these things that a conditionalist view of hell works a little better with an amillenialist interpretation of Revelation.

    I've also noted that conditionalists tend to be more amillenialist.

    And I've also noted that conditionalists all put forth really compelling arguments for the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to be just that-- a parable from which we'd be majorly wrong to draw inferences about hell and heaven. Me and you kinda batted that around a few months ago. I am now more convinced than ever that this story is a parable, not an historical event of any kind.

    Again, I really loved and appreciate your posts, your sermons, and your friendship from afar.

    Kenny B

  2. Thanks, Kenny. Could you inform me as to the two views of Hell. I want to make sure I am following you.

    I was raised in Dispensationalism and getting away from that did as much as anything to help me understand the Bible and get away from the whole "Two peoples of God, two plans, etc.". But it is a life long study for sure.

    1. There are two main views of hell that are currently being debated somewhat in the modern church, mostly brought about by Edward Fudge's 1982 tome: "Hell, The Fire That Consumes." But don't get that book, get Fudge's really, really concise 2012 book called "Hell, A Final Word". Or watch a one-hour 2011 lecture by Fudge posted on the Lanier Theological Library website. I was at that lecture and it was my first exposure to a non-traditional view of hell.

      View #1 -- Traditional -- People in hell suffer forever

      View #2 -- Annihilation -- People in hell are annihilated. Only the saved live forever, and only the saved receive immortal souls at the resurrection. Also called "Conditionalism".

      View #3 -- Universalism -- All people who go to hell eventually come to their senses and accept Christ's salvation and end up in heaven. Also called "Restorationist". Needless to say, you gotta be way out there to take the scriptures to this conclusion.

      You & me and most of Christendom for the last 1700 years have been traditionalist all our lives. I listened and read what Fudge and other proponents of Annihilation have to say and then listened and read mulitiple responses to Fudge, and right now I still come down on the side of traditionalists. But it isn't just the slam dunk case we used to think it is. Fudge has some insights that have to be considered and/or addressed.

      There was also a movie called "Hell And Mr. Fudge" (a confusing, crummy movie) which also reflects Fudges' "Eureka moment" as being when he realized human souls are not immortal till the resurrection, and then only for the saved. My subsequent research of scriptures along this line does NOT confirm Fudge's view on one of his self-described bed-rock underpinnings. I feel like we are born/made with immortal souls, and that it is our BODIES that are made immortal at the resurrection. It seems to me that when our souls become immortal is NOT clearly shown in scripture one way or another so it is a speculation, and I simply don't agree with Fudge's speculation that he claims is biblical mostly due to I Timothy 6:15-16.

      Way more than you needed to know. But I've been knee-deep in Hell books, especially the kind that have two opposing authors that go after each other's arguments.

      Again, it has been an interesting side-observation that annihilationists TEND to be amillenialists which helps them a lot in explaining away the major verses in Revelation that describe hell as forever.

      Kenny B

  3. Well, that is three views which is why I asked which views you were talking about, lol. Actually I have a second cousin who went to Westminster that has written at least one book on this idea that only the saved are immortal and the lost won't suffer eternally. He has tried to get me to get involved with him in discussion but after reading his book and saying my peace I have no interest in taking the time to do so.

    As far as I see his arguments are easily refuted. They consist mainly with two: The word forever doesn't mean forever in the Greek which I think is easily refuted. Also he claims the idea of an immortal soul came from Greek philosophy influence which is just another lame argument.

    Poor Amillennialism gets associated with so many things that are peripheral. To me it is kind of like my cousin bringing up Greek philosophy; the question is what the Bible teaches not other views that your opponent might have or similar things found in erroneous views of other people, etc.

    While this blog isn't a good place to discuss something involved like this subject; let me give one of the main reasons why Hell must be eternal and why modern man has such a problem with an eternal Hell while earlier cultures didn't. It stems from the biblical view of sin. We sin against an eternal God who is holy and whose wrath will be poured out against sin.

    One of the effects of decades of only speaking of how loving God is, is that we begin to assume he must love in the sentimental way we like to think of love. Surely he wouldn't make someone suffer for eternity! But the problem with all this is that Jesus had to die in our place because we can never pay for our sins or suffer to the point that justice is done; we have sinned against an eternal God. What all this becomes is just another system of purgatory. At some point God says that you have satisfied his justice and now your suffering is over. Hell is eternal for a reason and debating over God's love, Greek words and philosophy ignores the holiness of God and the exceeding sinfulness of all men.

    In a nutshell, this is how I see all this. I am also always leery when after 2000 years of church history someone comes along and tries to point out where everyone has missed what they have seen. This is always the mark of a cult and I see nothing compelling here. I know that is kind of abrupt but I have to start studying for my sermons on Sunday and shovel all the snow in my drive way!

    Thanks for the feedback though, great fun!


    1. I agree with you on all counts.

      I would add to your comment about the modern tendency to focus on God's love, an additional modern tendency to look on punishment (in the prison system sense and even in child rearing) not as punishment for your wrongs, but punishment as a means to an end of rehabilitation and restoration back into society.

      And I agree with you regarding only Scripture, not philosophy/reason determining doctrine. I recently ran into Welsey's Quadrilateral which I really like. Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. But Scripture is primary. "The core of Christian faith is revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal expeinece and confirmed by reason." Again, scripture is primary. What tends to wrongly leak into the hell debate, is personal feelings, and philosophy.

      As an aside, I don't think I've ever personally used the word "refute" in all the dicey things that I teach. To me, it is just seems just too cut and dried when good Christians I know are gonna disagree with me. I kinda like the kinder and gentler "disagree with".

      I've been thinking about you and ya'lls current snowstorm. I kinda pictured you shoveling snow and being shut in and hunkered next to a fire and making hot drinks and wearing mittens and double socks. I think you are the only person I "know" in that area of the country.

      Kenny B

  4. Good thoughts Kenny, thanks. Sometimes, though, we have to refute but mostly we just debate. Depends on who we are talking to I suppose. No fireplace unfortunately but plenty of hot drinks! It is 12 and windy at 2 in the afternoon.

  5. Albany weather Saturday is supposed to be 14 for high and 6 for low. Man-oh-man. I just can't comprehend that. It's virtually spring here in Houston.

    I've just listened to your Isaiah 63-64 and 65 sermons. Man, you do tackle the hard stuff! I learned a lot and better understand now where amillenialists are coming from.

    I have taught several prophecy series from a pre-millenial standpoint to primarily folks who are premillenial. The last time I taught a prophecy series, I finally summoned up the gumption to tackle the millenium.

    Of course, all us premillenialists feel pretty good and comfortable with our Gog & Magog war, the rapture, the tribulation, and the return of Christ.

    But our comfort and confidence really plummets when we devle into the Isaiah 65 stuff.

    I just wanted you to know that the average premillenialists that I know feel very uncomfortable applying Isaiah 65 in a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth. You might say we kinda feel like the weakest link in premillenialism is what is supposed to go on in a literal millenium.

    Personally, I kinda hate all the hullabaloo around figuring out exactly who is gonna be in the millenial age and how long they live and how all the world is gonna work and the topography and the way animals are gonna behave and who is gonna die and who isn't gonna die and yada yada yada. I don't even listen when folks start describing how all this is gonna take place.

    I look forward to hearing your Esther.

    Kenny B

  6. And I thought it was us Amils that struggled with Isa. 65. LOL.

  7. How about an unexpected boost for the amil position?

    I was reading the Didache last night. Chapter 16 is the end-times stuff. Sounds a lot like 2 Thess to me. You get false prophets, then a world deceiver, then a judgement by fire and the return of Christ with a flag unfurling, a trumpet, and the resurrection of the dead and the whole world sees the return of Christ, and it and the Didache is over. No literal 1000 year earthly reign in sight.

    Just an outside-the-box boost for amil.

    If you haven't read the Didache, I'd say give it a go. It is short and good. Nothing silly in it at all and probably from the mid-late 1st century.

    The commentary/translation recommended to me, which is nothing short of phenominal, even though I strongly disagree with some things in it, is by Aaron Milavec. Most interesting thing I have EVER seen in an acknowledgements section is where he goes on and on apologizing to the trees (and the animals & the rivers) to make the inexpensive paper for his book. But, the guy studied the Didache for 15 years and probably is the pre-eminent scholar on the Didache.

    Kenny B

    Kenny B