“In all things, love.” –I Corinthians 16:14
That’s one test of a believer and a mighty important one it is. Our Lord said it is the mark of a disciple. (John 13:34-35)
Look for the love. Otherwise, you know this one with whom you are discussing scriptures and doctrines is no follower of Jesus.
The cultist you’re talking religion to across the table or across the continent feels no need to love you since he/she has decided you are not a follower of Jesus since you disagree with their doctrine. I’ve sat at a table with a Jehovah’s Witness who was brutal and mean-spirited and who may as well have thought of me as a child-molester by the scoffing and belittling he was dishing out. (I was a younger pastor, and had not learned that there comes a time when it’s all right to say, “This meeting is over,” and walk out.)
But while love is the first mark of the believer, there’s another test for determining whether the person across the table is an honest seeker.
If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth…. (I Timothy 6:3ff).
Some people debating religion are this way, Paul. Conceited and ignorant, rabble-rousers and mean-spirited. I’ve sat across the table from them more than once. It’s no fun, as you know.
But some are sincere and faithful brethren trying to get this right.
Help us, Lord.
If you are a Southern Baptist, as I am, you may find yourself having a problem with the theology of some people whom you happen to like and respect as brothers and sisters in Christ. You respect them and would like to be closer friends, but this “thing” they believe and teach stands between you. So…
The brethren brought (Saul) down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus (his home town). Acts 9:30.
So, the great soon-to-be Apostle Pau, but presently still Saul of Tarsus, went home and made tents. Perhaps he moved back into his old room. We can hear his parents saying, “For this we sacrificed for him to attend the rabbinic school in Jerusalem? Why isn’t he working?”
Saul was waiting on the call from the Lord. Hadn’t the Father called him? Hadn’t he prepared himself? Wasn’t he effective in preaching? So, what’s going on here?
Saul had no idea what the Lord was up to. Later, he would write a lesson learned by hard experience: “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
“Is this normal?”
“I have sent (Tychicus) to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts” (Ephesians 6:22).
I’m a guest preacher in every church I visit these days, and have been for the past nine years of retirement ministry. Today this weekend I’m in Poplarville, Mississippi, and Jackson, MS, next week in Leakesville, MS, and next month will be ministering in Starkville, MS, Mobile, AL, at an encampment in West Texas, followed by McCall Creek, MS and finally speaking at a church banquet in a restaurant in McComb, MS.
I’m having the time of my life. And I’ve learned a few things…
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? The unsaved do that…. But love your enemies and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great…. –Luke 6:32-35
I was a freshman in college, with everything that implies: I was green, scared, eager, excited, learning, stupid, silly, and a hundred other things.
Among the civilians working on our campus was Mrs. Grigsby. I can see her to this day: stern, tight-lipped, unfriendly, and unloving. We thought she looked more like a man than a woman. She was all business, never a ‘good morning,’ and generally unpleasant, we all thought.
As a guest preacher, I can clear my mind before rising to preach and start fresh. This is the high point of my week, and in most cases nothing has happened to cloud my focus or burden my spirit. I am going to give this my best.
Pastors of congregations, however, are often in an entirely different situation.
As a pastor enters the sanctuary to begin the worship service and preach the sermon which has weighed heavily on his mind and heart all week, this is not the only thing on his mind. Things happened at his home earlier this morning, in the car driving to church, and during Sunday School. Then, someone stopped by his office with a complaint or a problem, a staff member did something poorly (or wrong) in the early part of the worship service, and several musicians are absent today. A family is not sitting where they normally do, we have several new people–that’s good; sure hope they like us!–and a light bulb is out over the balcony. The pastor knows this service is the high point of the week for many and the sermon should be that for him. But this is Sunday, a full day of work for the leader of the congregation. The budget planning committee meets this afternoon at 3, the deacons at 4, a class at 5, and the preacher will be bringing another sermon at 6. Someone wants to have an after-church fellowship tonight, and he has to leave town early tomorrow to attend a convention in the state capital.
In the service, the pastor sees he picked up the wrong Bible for the sermon today–he prefers that other version of the text–he wonders where his notes are, and he’s uncertain about point three of his sermon.
“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him; neither can he understand them for they are spiritually appraised” (I Corinthians 2:14).
“Are you getting this?”
“Am I getting through to you?”
Ask any teacher. Trying to convey a lesson to the clueless is the toughest part of their job. The students sit there and stare at you as though you are speaking Swahili. They just don’t get it.
Matthew 16 has three groups that do not get what the Lord Jesus is doing and teaching.
The Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1-4). They wanted a sign. The Pharisees were the ultra-conservatives of that day and the Sadducees the ultra-liberals. The only thing they had in common was an animosity to Jesus.
These so-called religions authorities had no time or energy to consider what Jesus was doing and saying and what it meant. By asking for a sign, they were saying: “If you want us, you’ll have to overwhelm us with your miracles so we have no choice but to believe.” But without faith, it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and the just shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; quoted in Romans 1:17, Colossians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38).
No one enters the Kingdom who is unwilling to come by faith in Jesus Christ.
I was grading tests turned in for a seminary course I was teaching. In his essay a student wrote, “The only thing I fear is zombies.” I wrote back, “Zombies? You fear zombies? There is no such thing. They are the figment of someone’s imagination!”
I’ve laughed about that ever since. This guy is going to be a minister of the gospel and he fears zombies.
“No fear allowed.” That should be the sign across every believer’s doorway. Anyone doing even a cursory reading of Scripture has stumbled across text after text informing God’s children–reminding them, teaching them, again and again–that we are not to fear.
God is insulted by His children fearing. It’s as though we believe the enemy and not Him.
Here are some of our favorite texts on “No Fear Allowed” that come to mind…
“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Elisha’s words to his panicky servant who had just seen the enemy encircling the city are good for us today. Don’t be afraid: We outnumber them.
Make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. –Luke 16:9
Whatever else Luke 16:9 means, it implies that by building friendships in good times, those connections will be there in the future when you will be needing them.
I didn’t start out to write this. But it will not leave my mind. So, I’m going to give it a try.
A preacher friend wondered why my schedule is so filled and his has too many blank spots. Mostly, of course, I don’t have a clue. There may be a hundred reasons I’m not aware of. Or, it could simply be the work of the Lord and nothing more complicated than “the will of God”. However, after we swapped notes back and forth, I ended up making a few suggestions to help him get more preaching opportunities: Find your niche; work up a few sermons on the primary things the Lord has taught you over the years; keep working to improve those few sermons, and preach them as often as you can; write a book on a subject that meets a need in the church; stay on your knees; keep growing.
The last thing I would have said to him or anyone else is that I’m smarter or a better preacher or more talented, or some such foolishness. I don’t believe that for a minute.
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. –2 Timothy 2:2
Pastors teach from the pulpit. Bible teachers will teach in classes. But in addition, there will be occasions–often sudden, spontaneous occasions–when a lay leader will have the opportunity to teach a biblical truth.
Leaders should always be prepared.
Here’s one way it often happens….
The church member is upset at the pastor. She calls her deacon to complain about last Sunday’s sermon. “We don’t need more sermons on (whatever the subject was).” He listens until she is empty. Then, he asks her something.
“Do you have a minute to listen to something?”
She is puzzled. “Sure. What is it?”