Monday, September 24, 2012

"A friendly warning ..."

Every Christian should know certain things.  The Bible is quite clear about life and its struggles.  Jesus said it in His Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:13-14:  "Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  Of course, we know that Jesus is the gate (John 10:7,9), and through faith in Him we enter God's kingdom.  "By grace you have been saved, through faith" (Ephesians 2:8).

Deception, however, does not stop at the church door!  There were some in the church at Corinth who identified with the body, but who were living in such a way that their confession was in question.  So Paul wrote the following to them in his second letter, chapter 13, verse 5:  "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you - unless, of course, you fail the test."  What "test" was Paul talking about?  From what he had said to them in his previous letter and in II Corinthians, we could list several things:  arrogance, immorality, divisiveness, tolerance of false teaching, and others.  Jesus said, "By their fruits you will know them," and God gives us some things to look for.  In II Corinthians 13:10, Paul writes, " ... and our prayer is for your perfection."

The Christian life is one of striving, of seeking God and desiring to be like Jesus.  True believers know that they are weak in themselves.  That is actually the subject Paul is addressing in II Corinthians 13 - that it's OK to be weak.  In verse 4 he uses the example of Christ, who "was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by God's power."   Then he adds, "Likewise, we are weak in Him, yet by God's power we will live with Him to serve you."  Paul himself had learned that lesson through his "thorn in the flesh" (Chapter 12).  Three times he had prayed that God would take it away, but God had said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (vs. 9).

Here's one of the most important lessons to be learned in following Jesus Christ:  you can't do it!!  That's right, you can't do it ... by yourself.  You need Christ, you need His Word and you need His Spirit ... AND, you need other believers ... and they need you.  The true Church is called the "body of Christ" for a reason.  That's more than a cute illustration - it's FACT!  The writer of Hebrews lists a number of things we need to do as we confess Christ as Savior and Lord:  "draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith; ... hold unswervingly to the hope we profess; ... spur one another on toward love and good deeds; ... and do NOT give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but ... encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:22-25).

And we DO see "the Day approaching," don't we?  The change in our nation and in the world in the past 15-20 years, even the past 5-10 years, is astounding to those who have eyes to see.  It's not just me growing older that makes me realize that the world we live in today is not the same world I grew up in. Change is so rapid that no one can keep up with it.  There is no moral foundation upon which to stand. There is no moral compass to guide those who don't know Christ.  The percentage of those who claim to be Christians may be steady or even increasing, but the percentage of those who accept the Bible as the Word of God and who seek to live by it is declining rapidly.  More and more people are "failing the test" in the basics of what it means to follow Christ.

And here's the worst thing, when I or others try to issue a "friendly warning," it is met with rebuke, anger or even mocking.  In itself, that is not surprising.  Jesus said it would be so.  Paul warned it would be so.  Peter predicted it would be so.  But it does grieve the soul when you love someone and remind them of what God says about the importance and necessity of "body life," of living life together with other believers, and they don't receive your concern in love, or just ignore it.  I'm not talking about being a "busybody" and snooping into other people's business, but here's the thing:  when Cain asked God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" ... the answer was and is, "YES!"

We can all use a "friendly warning" once in a while.  I've received some from brothers and sisters in Christ that I respect and I trust that I have received them in love and examined my heart and life.  I encourage you to do the same.  When someone with whom you have a relationship in the body of Christ expresses their concern for you, receive it as from Christ.  Examine what they have said in the light of God's Word.  If their counsel is good, receive it in the spirit it was given; if it proves otherwise, thank them for caring enough to express their concern and share your heart with them.  Accountability is a good thing - it is a necessary part of being a member of the body of Christ.

"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching"  (Hebrews 10:25).

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