The Bridge that Leads Us from Anxiety to Peace.

An Anxious People

We are an anxious people. As I reflect on my small ministry at Sonrise it is consumed with conversations dealing with the anxieties people have over various circumstances in their lives. I think if Jesus were in many of our churches we would hear him say the words he told Martha on a regular basis, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. . .(Luke 10:41)”

In fact I am an anxious person by nature–I do not handle stressful situations very well. For example, it was Easter Sunday and I had decided to arrive early, before anyone had arrived so I could edit a few things on the church computer for the service later that day. My plan was to slip in, get what I needed done, and be back home before any of my kids had woken up. However, in just a few minutes I had managed to make everything that was supposed to be displayed on the screen at the front of the auditorium disappear. What button had I hit!? And how do I get everything back where it was!?

For the next hour and a half, in my pajamas, I stressed, wined, complained, kicked, and screamed as I frustratingly tried to fix the problem. But I only seemed to make things worse. My wife called me wondering where I was because now all of the kids were jumping on her bed wanting breakfast—what a morning! And the sad reality was, all of this was concerning me on the greatest day of the year—resurrection day! When I arrived a few hours later, with my family (and a not so happy wife!) I noticed everything was back on the screen just like normal. “How did you fix the screen!” I asked the sound guy. His reply—“the projector chord to the back of the computer was not plugged in.”

If the results of a simple google search is any evidence of how our culture handles anxiety than I’m not alone. Anxiety is most definitely an issue we all can relate to in one way or another. I’m sure if I were to write a book titled “the guaranteed cure for anxiety” It would sell millions!

Well, no need to hunt down any such book because there is a text of scripture I believe has that very answer. It’s found in two simple verses:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).”

In this text I see a bridge that leads us from the troubles of anxiety to the protection of peace.

The Troubles of Anxiety

On the one side of this bridge is Paul’s negative command in verse 6–“Do not be anxious.”

I think it goes without saying that anxiety is inevitable because anxiety is the result of both unavoidable and avoidable circumstances. It should be said from the start that anxiety resulting from our various circumstances is going to creep up. The issue I think in Paul’s command to “not be anxious” has to do with our continual consuming and fretting over our circumstances; that we allow anxiety to overtake us, and we have no intention to resolve it. It’s interesting to notice that this command to “not be anxious” is in the present tense. This suggests a continual state of anxiety–“Don’t continue in a state of anxiety…”

Now Paul had every reason to be anxious:

  • He was in prison (And yet “Joy” is mentioned around 12 times in this small letter!)
  • He is being afflicted by his own Christian brothers as they preach out of selfish ambition ( Philippians 1:15-20)
  • He has some who are becoming enemies of the cross which has brought him to tears (Philippians 3:18)

And the Philippian Christians whom Paul was writing to had every reason to be anxious as well:

  • There was external persecution being placed on the church (For example Philippians 1:27-29)
  • There were Internal struggles happening within the church (For example Philippians 4:2. Could you imagine this being read out loud in church!)

And yet, while all this is in the background Paul commands the church: “do not be anxious!.”And as it is for the Philippians it is for us who follow Christ as well! So what is the cure to anxiety, what is it that will take our fears and worries away? Verse 7 points us to the other side of the bridge.

The Protection of Peace

Paul says that on the other side of the bridge we discover the “Peace of God.” I take this to mean the very peace that resides in the nature of God himself. It’s similar to how Jesus himself described it in the Gospel of John.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27).”

This Peace Paul says, “surpasses all understanding.” I take this to mean  it is a peace that is incomprehensible; that when we face these anxieties because of our struggled circumstances we can’t explain the peace we have. We experientially know it’s there. It’s a “you know it when you see it” type of peace.
And then Paul says this peace that surpasses all understanding will “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” What does Paul mean by peace guarding us? What does peace guard us from? I think he means the peace we receive will guard our hearts against anxiety. It will keep us from going back over to the other side of the bridge again. This is why I say it is the “peace of protection.

So, if anxiety is on one side of the bridge and peace is on the other what is the bridge between the two? How do I get from anxiety to this incomprehensible peace that guards me from anxiety? That answer is tucked away in verse 6

And here’s what we discover:

PRAYER IS THE BRIDGE THAT LEADS US FROM THE TROUBLES OF ANXIETY TO THE PROTECTION OF PEACE.

Paul says “do not be anxious but pray! –not don’t worry be happy, but don’t worry be prayerful! When anxiety arrives in our lives we need the peace of God, and to get to the peace of God we must go to our knees and take our anxieties to our gracious father!

And notice how he defines prayer, he uses four terms that point to four different aspects of prayer

  • Prayer— a general term that simply means to speak to God.
  • Supplication—emphasis on a sense of need.
  • Requests—to beg or plead with a sense of urgency.
  • Thanksgivingthis is important! when we pray with thanksgiving we are in essence saying “God I believe that you are a good father who desires to take care of your children!” Anxiety says “God I don’t think you are a good father and I don’t believe you will take care of your children.”

Prayer then is the bridge that leads us from the troubles of anxiety to the protection of peace. You want peace from anxiety? Pray.

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
  All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
  Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
  O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
  Everything to God in prayer!

Can’t We Live Together Before We’re Married?

*This is part three of a series I  am doing on the Bible and sexuality. You can find part one here and part two here.*

The young couple sat across from me at the local Starbucks. They had attended my church for a few months and had now decided to meet with me to discuss becoming members. We were an hour into our conversation and things were going splendid. They were theologically sound, well spoken, and had a desire to serve the church with their talents. Then the conversation turned incredibly awkward. He lived locally and she was soon to move to the area but was still commuting to visit on the weekends. “So, where are you staying when you are here,” I asked the young lady. “well,” she shrugged, “I stay with him.” There was, what seemed to be, an hour long pause as I tried to figure out what to say next. Finding no easy way around it I simply, and as gently as I could, conveyed that one of the marks of a Christian is that we wait until marriage before moving in and having sexual relations with another person. To my dismay both were highly offended by my conviction. I tried to reason with the couple but it was becoming obvious that they were wanting the conversation to end. So, I asked to pray with them, and I never saw them again.

The Cultural increase of Cohabitation

That story reveals a common trend within our society today. What years prior was looked at as dishonorable, has now become the norm. One research group found that our culture is viewing cohabitation and premarital sex as completely normative behavior, they write:

“Cohabitation is the new norm. Shifting gender roles and expectations, the delay of marriage, and a secularizing culture are leading more American adults to believe that moving in together before tying the knot is a good idea. . . The majority of American adults believe cohabitation is generally a good idea. Two thirds of adults (65%) either strongly or somewhat agree that it’s a good idea to live with one’s significant other before getting married, compared to one-third (35%) who either strongly or somewhat disagree.”

Cohabitation in the life of the Church

But I fear this is not just a secular opinion; these views are finding their way into the church. I only can speak of this trend within the church anecdotally but I’m convinced that more and more of my peers are viewing cohabitation as a normative and decent decision. Those in my generation (Millennials) are the highest percentage of the population that view living together before marriage as a good idea. Moreover, the main “reason cohabiting couples are shacking up is in order to test the waters before taking the plunge.”

But while the culture shifts their views, on issues regarding sexuality, like moving shadows God’s Word remains the same. The Bible is completely clear about cohabitation—Sexual union is for one man and one woman in the bond of marriage for life. All other sexual activity is a transgression against God. Therefore, the call for the single Christian is one of abstinence, until they enter into the covenant of marriage. Many Bible passages could be cited to offer the backing for this thesis, but I’ll offer just three:

Genesis 2:24

In the opening pages of Genesis we read these familiar words: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24)” The biblical worldview offers no picture of “testing the waters” before committing in a covenant of marriage. Marriage is the only context wherein sexual union should take place.

1 Corinthians 7:9

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 show that if someone is single it may be beneficial for them to remain as they are, because they can be more productive in working for the Kingdom. However, if one does not have the gift of singleness they are to marry, because “it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:9).” For Paul, cohabitation was not an option. Either the believer practices abstinence or they pursue marriage—there is no third option.

Hebrews 13:4

Finally, the writer of Hebrews offers a helpful reminder about the importance of marriage and the danger of defiling it. The writer admonishes, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous (Hebrews 13:4).”

Notice first that marriage is to be held in honor among all. This seems to imply that we should not even give the appearance that we are living with the opposite sex. I hear couples say often that there is nothing wrong if they are living together as long as they are not having sex. I think this is a fallacy. If two Christian people are dating they should be very cautious about even the wrong perception. If two people are living together it gives the allusion that they are married, and most people are assuming that they are having sex. The Hebrew writer seems to suggest that even the appearance of marriage should only be for those who are married.

Secondly, notice that when two people defile the marriage bed (i.e. have premarital sex) they will face divine judgement. Premarital sex is no small thing to God. Those who are in the midst of it should repent and either get married or move out.

A Call to Sexual Purity

Sexual purity is sadly becoming disregarded by most in our culture. In pursuit of testing the waters before committing to a life-long partner, many are choosing to live together and have sex before marriage. This activity is to be expected in the world; they neither have the Spirit of God nor desire the things of God. But for Christians to live this way is unacceptable. We are to be Holy as God is holy and that includes sexual purity until marriage.

How should we view homosexuality?

In the last post found here  I sought to outline four areas in which the Bible brings clarity on human sexuality. Here I want to discuss one particular sexual issue that has grown increasingly divisive in not only the world but in the church, namely homosexuality. As elders and church leaders one of our main priorities is the protection of our church from false teaching (see Acts 20:28-31). Therefore, one of the obligations church leaders have  before God involves clarifying clearly and directly what the Bible teaches on this important and sensitive topic.The following are 5 points regarding homosexuality that I believe are essential for Christians to unify on.

1. The Bible is clear—homosexuality is a sin against God.

I think it is important to clarify from the outset that homosexuality, like any sin, is wrong, a transgression, and should be rejected as a Christ-follower. We reject any modern connotation that homosexuality is something different than what is spoken of in scripture, and that any sexual activity outside the realm of biblical marriage, which consists of one man and one woman for life, is to be denied. Below are the most prominent passages in the NT that speak to this issue and make it clear that God opposes all forms of sexual immorality, including homosexuality.

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Romans 1: 24-32).”

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Corinthians 6:9-11).”

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:8-10).”

2. Christians are called to love all people, including homosexuals.

It is abundantly clear that many in the church have failed to express genuine Christ-like love to the LGBTQ community. Too many lives have been destroyed by a Christians unloving and judgmental spirit. We have used the Bible as a club instead of a gift. And as a result many who could have found freedom in Christ have been totally turned off by it. This is simply wrong! Many times we have elevated the truth of the Bible above or without regard for our love for people. We must remember that Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and Paul said that we were to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We must maintain both truth and love when it comes to how we treat those in the world. 

3. Christians are to speak the truth to all people, including homosexuals.

So, does this mean we are to accept those who live openly homosexual lifestyles without exception ? Absolutely not. On the contrary, we are to show them the love of Christ by calling them to repent of their lifestyle and surrender their lives to Jesus. When Jesus said that true discipleship involved “denying oneself, taking up your cross, and following him (Luke 9:23),” that involved turning away from all sins of the flesh and being “born again (John 3:5);” to “walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).” Loving the world by accepting people where they are without calling them to repent is the opposite of love. True love is telling people the truth, and for those living a homosexual lifestyle it means calling them out of that way of living. The great news we have for those living in sin is that they can be forgiven! As Paul plainly put it in 1 Corinthians 6:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, emphasis mine)

Therefore, we can love someone while  not condoning their behavior. Loving someone is not synonymous with agreeing with everything they do. So, we love all people. Like the good Samaritan we are to help those in need no matter their cultural background or sexual orientation. But Like Jesus and the adulterous woman, we meet the need, but reply “go and sin no more.” We are to  love the broken, the sinner, the outcast but our love moves us to tell them the truth. If we condone their sinful behavior, forsake to tell them the good news of the Gospel, and call on them to trust Jesus with all their brokenness, it would bring into  question our sincere love for them. As Paul said: speak the truth in love, you can’t have one without the other.

4. We must remember that God is both loving and Just

God is love, and God is grace. But, we must never forget that God is also holy, perfect, and righteous. He is a wrathful God. Because God is holy and just it creates a predicament in us as unholy human beings having a relationship with Him. In all reality, God’s justice and holiness demand that we as an unholy people receive death. So, what hope is there for us? This is the good news of the Gospel. Because God is both holy and loving he desired for his creation to be in relationship with him, but it was impossible because of our unrighteousness. Therefore, he sent Jesus, his one and only son, to die in our place. Jesus’ death on the cross is where God’s judgment of sin and love for his creation collide. Jesus as a perfect sacrifice took on our sins so that we could stand justified in the sight of God. It’s not our works that save us, its His!

Nevertheless, we still have a choice to make. We can either except Christ’ sacrifice by faith, or we can deny him by rejecting Christ and remaining in our sin. This is where the rubber meets the road. For someone to stand justified in God’s sight, one must put their faith in Christ, repent of their sins and be transformed. This is the only difference between the open homosexual and the Christian—a change of mind, to repent and trust in Jesus. Christ demands a change of heart. 

5. Those who call themselves Christians have a higher standard than those who are of the world. 

One major area of confusion for many is the difference between the saved and the unsaved. When one becomes a Christian they have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers each Christian to live holy and sanctified lives. This does not mean that when one becomes a Christian they are automatically “perfect,” without sin. But it does mean that one is in a continual denying of oneself, repenting of sin, and a pursuing of Christ-likeness. One aspect that stems from this is that each Christian has a responsibility to help their fellow Christians grow in Christ (e.g. Gal. 6:1-2, Heb. 10:25).

Sometimes this means that when a fellow Christian is living or teaching falsely, it is the responsibility of the church to call them to stop and repent of their actions; this is called church discipline. Underlying this idea is a fundamental difference between those “in Christ,” and those “outside of Christ.” Believers are called to live holy lives. Unbelievers are unable to live holy lives simply because they have not been regenerated and saved by the Gospel. Believers need to live out the Gospel; unbelievers need to believe the Gospel. The best illustration of this is in 1 Corinthians 5 in which the church was openly condoning sexual immorality. The apostle Paul was appalled at such behavior and admonished the Church to remove the offender from membership. He then offers an important differentiation between those in the world and those in Christ:

 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[b] whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”(1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

As you can see Paul realizes that inevitably those who are in the world are going to live unholy lives. Thus, we as Christians have an obligation to take them the Gospel. To associate with those of the world does not mean condoning their behavior, but rather,  calling them out of it. However, for those who call themselves Christians, yet live in open and unrepentant sin, they are to be removed until they repent and acknowledge their sin. The reason is because such people are in danger of influencing other Christians to follow their false teaching/behavior. As Christians then, we have a responsibility to hold each other accountable for what we teach and how we live. 

Closing comments

We as Christians are called to love all people as God has loved us. However, sometimes love involves  speaking the truth even though it may sting. Someone who is living a homosexual life or teaches that it is ok to live a homosexual life is in error. Therefore, we as Christians have an obligation to speak the truth in love. For the unbeliever it means calling them to receive Christ by denying their sin and seeking salvation through the blood of Jesus. For the believer it means that we confront them in their error and call them to repent of their sin. If one calls himself a Christian and yet still lives in continual and habitual sin, they are called to leave the fellowship of the church, with the hopes that they will come to their senses and return to Christ. In the end we desire all people to come to know the joy that is in Christ. Amen. 

Pursuing Biblical Sexuality in a Sex-Crazed World

 

Our culture has become enamored with sex; it’s everywhere. From the shows that are deemed popular to the posts on our social media pages–sex is on the minds of a lot of people. But seemingly in an unhealthy way. C.S. Lewis in his popular work “Mere Christianity” suggests:

Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it; the Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’ Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong (Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity, 95.).

If Lewis is correct and our human instincts have led us astray to the purpose and parameters of sexuality then what is the proper understanding of it? I want to discuss four areas the Bible addresses in regards to sexuality: (1) the creation of sex, (2) the purpose of sex, (3) the context of sex, and (4) the corruption of sex. 

The creation of sex

The first thing to realize is that sex, like all good things, was created by God. In his epistle James writes: “all good and perfect gifts come from the father.” Everything we see that is good—the beautiful sights of creation, the gentle touch of a newborn baby, all of the wonderful attributes we share (love joy, peace, kindness etc…), everything good is from God!  This is truly the most fundamental point concerning sex—God created it (and I’m glad he did!). At the very beginning he designed man and woman to participate in the activity of sexuality. In the Genesis account we see this clearly:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”—Gen. 1:27-28

Then the man said,“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.—Gen. 2:23-24

Sex is from God. 

Now because God is the creator and designer of sex, we must conclude that sex, as he intended it, is a very wonderful and marvelous gift. Sex is to be enjoyed by his creation—not to be suppressed or looked down upon.  But why? Why did God create sex? This leads us to our second observation:

The purpose of sex

Why did God create sex? Let me offer four reasons:

1. To create life.

One of the first duties given by God to his creation was to have sex in order to “fill the earth (Gen. 1:27-28).” What is significantly beautiful about this act, is that we as God’s creation, get to participate with God in creating life! This is what I love so much about our father—He has always longed for us to have a relationship with him, and by giving us the gift of sex, we are able to join in with him in the act of creating sacred life. 

2. For pleasure.

God has given us an entire book (the song of Solomon) in order to communicate this point. Throughout the book of song of Solomon we are given insight on one of the main purposes of sex—to have pleasure with our spouse. Here’s a quick sampler:

  • Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine. (1:2)
  • Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. (4:5)
  • Listen! My beloved! Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.(2:8)

      3. Intimacy

Sex brings forth an intimate oneness and unity. It’s interesting that the Biblical writers, in expressing the act of sexuality, used the word “to know.” So, for example the Bible says that Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived…” The idea “to know” someone in the Bible carries more than just mental assent. Rather, it carried the idea of intimate relationship with another. 

Sex, therefore, is much more than a physical act—it is a spiritual and intimate act that brings two people together—so much so that the Bible pictures sexuality as the union between two people. When two individuals come together in the act of sex, they enter into a dynamic and supernatural oneness. 

4. An illustration of Christ and the church

This pertains to marriage as a whole, but definitely involves the act of sex between the husband and the wife. One of the most profound teachings concerning sex and marriage is the idea that the covenant union between husband and wife is synonymous with the covenant union between Christ and the church. Paul points this out in Ephesians 5:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians. 5:31-32).

Therefore, one profound purpose of sexual union and marriage in general is to display and illustrate, in a powerful way, the picture of our relationship with Christ.

The Context of sex.

Does the Bible teach that sex is to be done in a certain context, or is sex open for anyone and at any time? The simple answer is that sex is to be enjoyed solely between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. 

The biblical teaching on this is severely clear from my perspective. For starters, the sexual relationship between a man and a woman is grounded in the Genesis narrative. From the beginning God has defined godly sexuality as being between one man and one woman; and as goes Genesis 1-3, so goes the rest of the Bible. As one sifts through the Biblical story it becomes evidently clear that sex was never to be exercised beyond the boundaries of covenantal marriage. In fact, a good portion of the Bible involves God’s rebuke and correction over the misuse and abuse of sexuality. For example, one of the earliest accounts of God’s judgment was on two cities (Sodom and Gomorrah) who had severely corrupted the purpose of sexuality. 

As one moves into the NT the teaching of sex within the context of marriage becomes even clearer. Jesus taught emphatically about the issue of sexuality stating that for one even to lust within the heart is a form of adultery (Matthew  5:27-30). By saying this Jesus raised the importance of sexuality.  

The apostle Paul dealt a good bit with the issue of sexuality. In 1 Corinthians for example, the church had gone in two extreme directions. On the one hand there were those who were abusing the gift of sexuality to its extreme. They were openly and proudly, having promiscuous sex in every way imaginary (5:1-6:20). On the other hand, there seemed to be those who rejected sex all together, even within the context of marriage. Sex was seen as a bad thing. Paul’s instruction for both these areas is sexual purity—that is, sex within the exclusive context between a husband and a wife. This is seen in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:1-5)

Many other passages could be mentioned here but suffice it to say that both the OT and the NT communicate that sexuality is to be enjoyed exclusively in the context of the covenant union of marriage. Hebrews 13: 4 summarizes well this teaching:

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous (Hebrews 13:4)

The Corruption of sex

We come now to our final observation, the corruption of sex. In the beginning sex, like all good things, was undefiled and just as God had intended it. However, the Biblical story describes an event we call “the fall.” Because of humanity’s free choice to rebel against God, creation as a whole became tainted and marred. As a result of sin, the world now experiences brokenness. This is also true of sexuality. Sexuality, as we have seen was designed by God for the enjoyment and intimacy of a man and a woman. However, because of the birth of sin we are now prone to abuse God’s good gift and use them for our own pleasures and desires. Whenever we as God’s creation act contrary to the nature and will of God it is called sin. God, in his sovereign plan has revealed to us how we are to live. Unfortunately, enticed by our own desires, humanity rebels against that will and chooses to live out their own ambitions. 

In short, any sexual activity outside of the marriage union of one man and one woman is outside of God’s desired will for us and therefore is sin. The Bible actually has a word that sort of envelopes all of these sexual activities into one, it is called “porneia.” Porneia (usually translated “sexual immorality”, or “fornication”) includes any sexual activity outside of marriage: sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, pornography etc…. To say it concisely, all sex outside of marriage is simply wrong from a biblical viewpoint. 

Grace and the Spirit.

Before I conclude let me briefly offer a reminder about the Grace of God and the power of his Spirit. I am very aware of the numerous and complicated situations revolving this topic. Furthermore, I understand that while these various biblical principles have been presented, these issues are not abstract; they involve real genuine human beings. I know personally individuals that fight daily the battles of sexual temptations and desires. So, as we discuss these topics, I think it is wise to know that if someone is dealing with sexual struggles, they need to know they are not alone. God is a God full of grace and he longs to fill you with his Spirit. And while it seems almost unbearable to overcome certain desires and temptations, God’s grace can and will give you the power to overcome any difficulty. This is exactly the point of Paul’s words in Romans 6:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).

Striving to be a Healthy Church (Part 4)

In the last post in this series I want us to consider specifically “how” we should think about developing a healthy church. In the first two posts (here and here) have tried to argue that the main goal for every church is to “present every member of a local church mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).” In the last post (here) I shifted our thinking to Matthew 28:19-20. In this text, I suggest, is “how” the local church accomplishes the goal of presenting everyone mature in Christ. As I noted the main verb in Matthew 28:19-20, “Make disciples,” points to the central goal—maturity in Christ. But how do we go about making disciples/presenting everyone mature? Jesus offers three simple steps. 

Go!

The first thing one must do to make disciples is simply to go. Discipleship will never happen if we don’t actually go anywhere! In order to make disciples the first step involves actually going to where the people are—where the harvest is, where the lost dwell, where those who are not Christians are located! Besides, if you do so you’re in pretty good company. It was Jesus, wasn’t it, that acquired the reputation for hanging out with the outsiders, those on the fringes. Luke records for us what the religious leaders thought of him:

And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:2).”

Going then, has everything to do with intentionality. It involves a desire to reach those who have never made a decision to follow Christ. It involves inviting others to follow Jesus with you. Simply put, making disciples begins with leaving our comfort zones and calling others to follow Jesus with us.

Now admittedly, this aspect of disciple-making seems embarrassingly obvious—I mean going is clearly involved in getting others to follow Christ, there’s really nothing profound about that. But we also must admit that the simplicity of this command to go in no way removes the difficulty of it. It is in the going that I believe we struggle with the most. That said, here are some practical starting points when seeking to obey Christ’ command to go:

  • Begin with your family. Do you have kids? Perhaps you have an unbelieving spouse. Maybe a close cousin has never heard the gospel. Begin sharing the gospel with them. It may be difficult to begin sharing with a complete stranger, but your family can be a great starting point to practice teaching the good news. 
  • Move to your local church context. Are there unbelievers who are attending your church? Perhaps you can invite them to a small group with other Christians. Or, invite someone for a cup of coffee, or out to lunch. 
  • Those in your community. Once you have become acquainted with sharing the gospel with those in your immediate context begin praying for opportunities to share the gospel with those in your community. Your neighbor, or co-worker. I emphasize prayer because Paul exemplifies that for us in Colossians 4:2-6. Begin praying and you’ll be amazed at how many opportunities open themselves to you. 
  • Have a heart for global missions. Finally, begin fostering a heart for global missions. Jesus says “make disciples of all nations. Begin financially supporting those who serve overseas through your local church missions. Then, begin praying to God about how you can further make an impact in areas where people have never heard the good news. 

It is the simple leap of asking folks to follow Jesus that is the toughest. We’re good at discussing the idea of going, but when it comes to actually doing it, an unusual fear begins to set in and we nervously decline the opportunity to ask the individual seeker to “follow.” Our call—our mission however, moves us beyond that fear. Because we desire above all else to follow Jesus we must desire to follow his command to go. Jesus said “if you love me you will keep my commandments.” Therefore, our love for Christ overcomes our fear of going, and so we go! The first step to fulfilling Christ’ command to make disciples is to go! 

Baptize

The next step to making disciples is baptizing people. Why so? Let me offer two primary reasons:

  • Public Display: First, we must realize that in the early church baptism was the act in which identified an individual and his allegiance to the Christian faith. If one was to be baptized it was a clear message to all who saw it that they were completely embracing Jesus and his teachings while renouncing everything else. To be baptized was to identify oneself to Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 alludes to this when he says: Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal(or “pledge,” as in NIV) to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • Private Reality: But there’s more to baptism than just an outward display of one’s allegiance to Christ—there’s a supernatural reality that happens in the individual’s life as well. Notice what Jesus says in our text: “Baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.” The phrase “in the name (or better “into the name”)” carries a significant idea. To baptize one “into the name” means to be baptized into the all that the “name represents.” In other words when one is baptized into the name of the father son and Holy Spirit they are in essence being intimately united with the essence of that person. To be baptized into the name of the trinity therefore means that one is united in a relationship with the trinity. In order to expound this wonderful reality it may be helpful to take a quick glance at Romans 6:1-4 where Paul helps us.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Here Paul says that baptism unites us in the death and resurrection of Christ. As a result, baptism allows us to receive the benefits that come with Christ death and resurrection, namely, “to walk in the newness of life.” Baptism therefore, brings us into an intimate union with God, having removed the stain of sin that previously separated us from Him! 

So, baptism is crucial in making disciples because baptism identifies those who have publicly confessed Christ as their savior and Lord and inwardly brings each individual sinner into union with Christ! In essence, baptism is the initial time when one comes from outside of the body of Christ to inside the body of Christ. It is the front door of discipleship. Discipleship without baptism is not discipleship. 

This is precisely why church, we need to prayerfully seek folks to be baptized into Christ. Baptisms indicate that we are in fact making disciples. If there are no baptisms then there is no discipleship-making! 

Teaching

These first two steps—going and baptizing— have everything to do with what we call evangelism. This is the practice of going out to folks who have never followed Jesus and asking them to do so by initially being baptized into Christ. But there’s more. Jesus goes on to say that making disciples has to do with teaching. This is the ongoing practice of the church. We never stop teaching. 

But what do we teach? Well Jesus says teach them “to observe everything I have commanded you.” That’s pretty simple. Basically, we are to teach people to be like Jesus—both by the what we say and by how we live. This is the heart of discipleship. And I believe it is appropriate to say that this idea of teaching them to observe everything Jesus commanded extends to teaching each other the whole of the Bible. The OT points to Jesus, the NT reveals Jesus. In it’s entirety the Bible is Jesus! It tells us how to live and act and think like Jesus. 

And may I add, that this does not mean that making disciples requires a Masters in Theology. All that is required is sharing the truth of God’s word as you grow in it with others who have yet discovered that truth for themselves!  It’s being intentional. Grabbing a new Christian and simply meeting with them on a regular basis and pouring into their lives all that you are learning in your own growth in Christ! 

The Ongoing Cycle

So, making disciples is Christ great mission for the church. Here’s the bottom line: the main mission of disciples of Christ is to make more disciples of Christ! And making disciples is simply going, baptizing, and teaching. And that’s really the flow and life-cycle of the church. SonRise this is really all we need to concentrate our efforts on. There needs to be a constant cycle of going out, baptizing, and ongoingly teaching others about Christ.  And in order to keep the cycle going we must all constantly be motivated to go back out and reach new individuals for Christ. If we stop going, then we are simply discipling the same faces every day. That unfortunately turns Christ great commission into the great omission. 

The Hopeful Promise

 As I come to a close may I add a final word of hope for anyone feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by the idea of making disciples. For you who really desire to make disciples but feel inadequate or unqualified. Take a quick glance at the final verse in our text: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Those final words from Jesus prove why in fact we can actually accomplish this. Jesus, the one with all authority in heaven and on earth will be with us every step of the way! And He is. After Jesus descended into Heaven he left us with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit guides, directs, and empowers us to fulfill Christ’ command to make disciples of all nations! Two passages that I’ll leave you with:

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (12 Timothy 1:7).

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21). 

Striving to be a Healthy Church (Part 3)

In the two previous posts found here and here, I have sought to layout what the local church is called to do—what makes a healthy church? In those essays I have argued that the number one goal for every church leader is to present every member mature in Christ. That is, the goal, the purpose, the concentration of the shepherds God has placed over his flock is to seek to lead each member in that church to Christ-likeness. 

Now, I would like to shift from answering the “what” question (what makes a healthy church?) to the “how question (how do we go about pursuing this goal of maturity for every believer?). In answering this question I would like to turn our attention to Matthew 28:19-20. Here I suggest is the formula for developing a church with members seeking maturity. Allow me to cite the passage under consideration:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

If the Goal of every local church can be summarized by Paul’s words in Colossians 1:28—“present everyone mature in Christ,” then the best way to go about accomplishing that goal, I humbly suggest, is Jesus’ words in the Great commission. In this article I want to focus solely on the main verb of the passage, “make disciples,” and then in the next post deal with the three qualifiers that describe how we go about doing that. 

The main verb in Matthew 28:19-20 is the phrase “make disciples.” Everything else in these two verses simply explain how one goes about accomplishing this task. Now, it seems that the term “make disciples” can be viewed synonymously with what we have already discussed thus far—that is, presenting everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). To strive for maturity is to be a disciple; to be a disciples is one who strives to be mature. Making disciples is the goal of the church! And let us remind ourselves what the goal is NOT:

  • Build big beautiful buildings
  • Create really cool worship services
  • Feed the poor
  • Get financially stable
  • Develop awesome programs
  • Have a lot of church potlucks

As admirable, well-intentional, and effective these things may be they are not what Christ gives as the mission of the church. These may be results, or means to that mission, but they are not the mission! 

So what is it? What does Christ call us to do? We are to simply make disciples, period. Our number one and primary mission of the church is to develop disciples of Christ. 

And may I add that this is not the great suggestion, but a great commandment! “Making disciples here is in the imperative mood—that is, it is a command. It has an exclamation behind it—Make disciples! Based on Christ’ authority over everything he commands us to make disciples! This is not optional for the Christian, but binding. You can’t be a Christian and not make disciples. 

So, what’s a disciple…? I’m glad you asked! 

Making disciples, generally speaking, involves following the teachings and behavior of another person. As mentioned here in our text, it has to do with getting others to follow the life and teachings of Christ himself—Discipleship is becoming like Jesus! 

I like how popular writer Francis Chan describes it in his book “Multiply:” 

It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person. Jesus said, ‘a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40).” That’s the whole point of being a disciple of Jesus: we imitate him, carry on his ministry, and become like him in the process.

“Yet somehow many have come to believe that a person can be a “Christian” without being like Christ. A “follower” who doesn’t follow. How does that make any sense? Many people in the church have decided to take on the name of Christ and nothing else. This would be like Jesus walking up to those first disciples and saying, “Hey, would you guys mind identifying yourselves with Me in some way? Don’t worry, I don’t actually care if you do anything I do or change your lifestyle at all. I’m just looking for people who are willing to say they believe in Me and call themselves Christians (Chan, Francis. Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, 16-17.) 

A simple example is in Matthew 4:18-22:

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus’ first disciples simply dropped everything and followed after him! They let go of their desires and replaced them with Christ’ desires! 

Romans 8:29 tells us that this idea of becoming like Jesus is actually at the heart of God’s will for each of our lives. To look like Jesus—to believe and live what he taught. 

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

So, making disciples is simply calling others to live and believe exactly like Jesus. Each of us are called to be little imitations of Jesus. We live, behave, talk, act, think….like Jesus! That’s making disciples! In our next post we will flesh out “How” we go about accomplishing this goal. 

Striving to Be a Healthy Church (Part 2)

In my last post I presented the main concern I believe every church leader should have for the local church. I suggested that it should not be primarily focused on breaking attendance records, as exciting as that can be. Nor is it about implementing the right method of programming, as helpful as this can be. These areas are important but they are not the main focus. The most important concern for every church leader can be summed up by this question: what makes a healthy church? As I sifted through the New Testament one passage in particular impressed upon me in a great way. In it I see summarized beautifully a definite point in the right direction. Allow me to quote the passage in its entirety:

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,(Colossians 1:24-2:1).”

As I reflected on this passage I saw three areas every Church leader should concentrate on in seeking to develop a healthy church. 

Hard Work

Notice first of all Paul’s emphasis on struggling hard for the sake of the church. Three times he mentions his toil and struggle to see the church mature. 

  • Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col. 1:24)
  • For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (Col 1:29)
  • For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face (Col 2:1)

In order to pursue health in the church it begins with godly leaders digging deep and working hard for those within the local church community. For Paul it included prayer (see 1:9ff) and teaching the word of God (see 1:28). Interestingly, this is the same pattern that was established in the early church (see Acts 6:4). This is not everything that church leaders are called to do as they work diligently for the health of the church but at least these two areas must be pursued. For a church to become healthy and mature there must be godly leaders striving daily to accomplish this goal. 

Serving the Word of God

Secondly, a healthy church is going to be one that places a priority on the word of God preached. Notice what Paul says in verses 25 and 28:

of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. . Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.(Col 1:25,28)

Paul says he became a minister. The word is where we get our English word “deacon.” It simply means “to serve.” A Healthy church is one whose leaders are servant leaders. The apostle Peter wrote concerning elders: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3).” 

But what are the leaders of a church to serve? According to Paul it is the word of God. Paul said I became a minister to “make the word of God fully known.” He said I “proclaim Christ warning everyone and teaching everyone…” This is the number one task of the Pastor/Elder. They are to be men who preach the word. As Paul told Timothy “preach the word in season and out of season… (2 Tim. 4:2).” 

Present Everyone Mature

Finally, the third concentration is to present everyone mature. This is the goal of every church. Church leaders do not struggle for the sake of the church to preach and teach as an end in itself. Rather, the hard work and dedication of every church leader should be for the purpose of moving each member to be more like Christ—this is the essence of spiritual maturity! If a church has many people filling its seats and yet there is not a drive to present each member mature there is a lack of health. If a church has amazing programs and yet there is no intentionality to present each member mature in Christ there is a lack of health. The goal of every church, I submit, is to intentionally present each member mature in Christ. 

This goal implies then that every member, no matter their maturity level, is to be intentionally cared for. Paul told the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20 to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (Acts 20:28).” This is a huge responsibility. One that will take a lot of struggle,  and diligent service of the word of God. But in the end our goal in doing so is to present everyone mature in Christ.