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Stop your foolishness!” I can still hear the words as they left my grandmother’s lips. As a young boy, I really didn’t understand what she was referring to. Now, I realize, it was the noise and commotion I was involved in that was not in compliance with what was supposed to be happening. In that situation, “foolishness” was a matter of opinion. Now I see the irony that our opinions often are the source of a lot of foolishness.
Let me explain myself. My childish foolishness was a matter of how much noise and chaos my grandmother was willing to tolerate. As a young child, I know that I could generate my fair share of chaos. Now, as a full-grown man, I understand the true meaning of foolishness and know that it is no longer a sliding scale.
Foolishness can be determined in several ways where Christians are concerned. We can say that foolishness is worldliness. 1 Corinthians 2:14 describes the “natural man,” the one who thinks according to the flesh rather than the spirit, as being foolish…or, at the very least, being caught up in foolishness. Foolishness springs from a heart that isn’t working toward God, as in Mark 7:20-22’s description of the things that defile us. Yet I believe all of these things have a central source. It is one that is embedded in the root of our problematic being and described perfectly in Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” It is foolishness that leaps out when we lose the fear of the Lord – that reverent respect and honor for the awesome and powerful, wonderfully-merciful God – and a pulling away from His wisdom and instruction.
The danger lies in allowing opinion to rule behavior instead of Biblical truth. This seems to be the “perfect storm” that affects the world around us, as well as many in the church today.
We have politics (and political correctness) permeating the peace of our homes, our work places, our very lives, and, of course, the body of Christ. The church has not been immune to these discussions and disputes. The social climate is rife with the voices of those who certainly don’t consult the wisdom and counsel of God’s Word in directing their paths. There are those in the church who have not been grounded in a firm foundation of Biblical teaching that call for a softening, or removal in some cases, of those things they don’t understand or deem “outdated.”
The question remains, “How do we remain faithful and loving?” How do we operate in a post-modern world and still keep our feet firmly on the solid rock? How do we avoid the foolishness? The greatest tool that we can wield in building a shelter from foolishness is God’s Word! That didn’t surprise you, did it? Good! If you have made it this far, I beg you to read on.
Where the world’s cultural teaching is concerned, we can never compromise God’s Word to appease those who are made uncomfortable by our faith. I have heard suggestions from around the brotherhood saying things such as, “Maybe if we just relaxed a bit and gave in with some of these things, more people would attend.” The truth of that matter is that the church has always been viewed as out of place and out of touch with the world. Here is an awakening for some: we are supposed to be different. Peter referred to God’s people as peculiar, remember (1 Pe. 2:9)? Paul wrote the same to Titus (Ti. 2:14). God has always called for His people to act differently than those around them. So if we want to avoid the foolishness of the world, the answer is follow Jesus and not the world…or the world’s imagination of Jesus.
Foolishness hits us on many different levels and so we need to pull the circle in a bit closer to home. James was talking about embracing worldliness when he said that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (Ja. 4:4). Some might say that we stretch a bit to talk about actual friendships in the world falling into this text, but I think it fits greatly. Again, I return to Proverbs where we get wonderful guidance from God’s wisdom given to His servant Solomon who says, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (12:26). The way of the wicked is foolishness. A defiance of godly ways will always lead off the path of righteousness to a sure and certain death (Pr. 14:12; 16:25).
Our friends can and will alter our focus, either for the good or the bad. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ and you can’t count members of His body as your best friends, you need to reevaluate the course you are trying to walk. Want to avoid a stumbling episode? Make sure that the ones you walk closest to are really walking the path laid out by God.
That being said, the closest family that we need to be most concerned with is the congregation where we attend. The church has been likened to a hospital and I believe that to be an accurate description. It is a place where broken people come to be made whole again. It is a wonderful gathering; yet be mindful that not all broken people realize the extent of their wounds. Not all are there for the same reasons and it can be where the devil’s greatest work can take place. Where beliefs, traditions and opinions meet, there will be foolishness.
This is the place where we should be safe from problems, but that is not always the case. We are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (He. 10:25), so a lack of attendance is neither the answer nor an option. So how do we avoid the foolishness in the church? The answer once again comes directly from Scripture. The number of answers here is too great to fully cover in this article, so we will look at a few and I pray we will continue in a self-study in the days to come.
We read that foolishness was present even in the early days of the church. It seems people haven’t changed much since then. When I was a teenager, I was a professional grumbler. I return to my roots even today, and it seems like I am not alone. We like to complain about a myriad of things. The sermon (the length, content, lack of content), the song leader (too slow, too fast), the prayers (too long, too short, didn’t mention me…), the temperature (too hot, to cold – I even heard too comfortable, believe it or not)…you get the picture.
The Bible talks specifically about our complaints. Paul’s letter to the Philippians directed them (and us) to “do all things without complaining and disputing” (2:14). He then gives the reasoning for that in verses 15-16: “that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.” That sounds like a great way and an excellent reason to avoid the foolishness of complaining. I would also add that our complaints within the church about these things can be discouraging and in some cases a stumbling block to our brethren; when it goes outside the body, it gives those who would oppose God a foothold (2 Sa. 12:14a)
I spoke earlier of opinions. To some it seems this is a book in the Bible, and one that they cling to with great passion. We see time and time again the folly of this way of thinking. Paul addresses this line of thought when he said, ”But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless” (Ti. 3:9). Stay away from these side roads that only lead to trouble and you can avoid a great many arguments and divisions in your walk.
Remember the urgency of our mission and the glory of our goal! You wish to avoid drowning in the foolishness that seems to be rising all around? Here is sound advice from our brother Peter that will, if followed, cure and prevent a great many issues that plague us all:
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pt. 4:8-10).
God talks to us through His written Word. However, prayer is how we talk with God, praise Him, thank Him and make requests of Him. In this article, I will show you that prayer is a part of our public worship and our private lives as well. I will also answer the following questions: How do we pray and by what authority do we pray? How should we pray in public worship? Finally, I will give you four steps to a better prayer life.
How do we pray and by what authority do we pray? Study the words of Jesus in Luke 11:1-4. In this model prayer, notice to Whom the prayer is directed: the Father in heaven. Consider also what Jesus said in John 14:13, 15:16, and 16:23. What do all of these verses have in common and teach? Jesus made it easy to see that our prayers are to be directed to the Father, and we are to pray in His name, or by His authority. Based on His teaching on prayer, we are not supposed to pray to the Holy Spirit or to Jesus. Rather, we are to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name. This is the example we find throughout the Bible (Ep. 5:20; Co. 3:17; Ac. 4:23-30).
How should prayer be done in public worship? In our public worship, two things happen during a prayer. First, a person leads the prayer. Second, everyone else is listening to the prayer and making it their own.
Who should lead in prayer? James teaches us that we need a righteous person leading the prayer (Ja. 5:16). We should never want a person living in sin or a non-Christian leading us in a prayer.
“Well, what about a righteous woman? Is it acceptable for her to lead prayer in a worship service with men present? Paul gives us the inspired answer (1 Co. 14:34; 1 Ti. 2:12-14). In doing so, he is not being a chauvinist pig. He doesn’t have a bone to pick with women, nor does he view them as being lesser than a man. He was an apostle of God, and he is teaching us how God wants things done within His church.
Interestingly, the word “silence” in the above passages doesn’t mean absolute silence; if it did, a woman couldn’t tell her children to be quiet or even sneeze during worship or she would violate this scripture. All Paul is saying is that a woman should not take a position of authority over the man in public worship, which would exclude her from leading prayer when men are present. God has chosen the men to lead in the public worship, which is why He inspired Paul to tell Timothy, “I desire therefore that the men prayer everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or doubting” (1 Ti. 2:8).
Since the men are to lead prayer in church, I want to share two tips about leading prayer:
If you will follow these simple steps, you will know that everyone can hear you and take part in your prayer. For the rest of us, we need to make sure we are listening carefully and not messing around with something else. It’s important that we think about what is being said and make that prayer our own. We can agree with the prayer by saying “Amen,” either to ourselves or verbally. We should always keep this in mind every time someone leads a prayer.
Let me conclude by sharing with you four steps to a better prayer life:
First, your prayers must be sincere. Consider as a great example the sincere prayer of David after he sinned against God (Ps. 69:13-17). As you read this prayer, you can hear David’s sincerity. We need to follow this example by being sincere when we pray.
Unfortunately, there are many today who pray without sincerity. The story is told of a wealthy man who went wading out into the ocean when a big wave swept him out to sea. He began to struggle to save his life, but all his efforts failed. When it looked like he had no chance of survival, he prayed. He said, “Lord, if you will save my life, I will give you half of all my money.” A few moments later, he had managed to make it a little closer to safety. He then said, “Remember Lord, I promised you 255 of all my money if you will save my life.” A few moments later, his safety was still questionable; yet it still looked more hopeful so he prayed and said, “Lord, keep up the good work! Just a little more help and I will be safe. Don’t abandon me now! Remember, I promised you 10% of my money if you will save me from drowning.” A few minutes later, the man finally was able to touch the ground. He prayed to God one last time and said, “Thank you, Lord, for saving my life. Don’t forget my promise to you. If you ever need anything, I will seriously think about giving you some of my money.”
While it’s easy for us to see this man’s lack of sincerity to God, many are just like him today. They make little plea bargains with God. Yet when things work out for them, they disregard what they said they would do. People who do this will not be pleasing to God. Therefore, we must be sincere in our prayer life.
Secondly, we must pray with faith. How many times have you prayed to God and doubted He would answer your prayer? Christians should never doubt (Ja. 1:6-7). We must realize that God answers our prayers. After Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He illustrated how they must be persistent when they pray with faith (Lk. 11:5-10). Not only does this parable show how we must pray in faith, it also shows that we must be persistent. God does answer our prayers, but He will answer in a way that is best for us. He might answer a prayer with a “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe later.” Paul gave us a great example of God saying “No” to prayer (2 Co. 12:7-9). His prayer was answered with a “No” because God’s grace was sufficient for him. It is important that we learn to accept God’s answers and trust in His decisions, as Jesus did (Mt. 26:39). Christ prayed for the cup to pass, but He left it up to God’s will rather than His own. Many today try to take matters into their own hands instead of accepting God’s answer. However, Christians must learn to pray with faith and accept God’s answer.
Thirdly, we need to pray with humility. God will not hear your prayer if you are haughty or self-righteous because He wants us to be humble like His Son. Peter wrote, “Be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pe. 5:5).
How many times have you heard of someone praying to God with the attitude that they deserve something because they have done so many good deeds? Jesus gave us a great example of an insincere prayer (Lk. 18:9-14). This self-righteous Pharisee came to remind God of how good he was and how glad he was that he wasn’t like the tax collector. How many of us have prayed to God and told Him how good we are or how better we are than someone else? While I hope that none of us have done this, if we have we are just like this self-righteous Pharisee and we will not be justified in our prayers. However, the tax collector came before God and wouldn’t even look up to heaven. He asked God for mercy with a humble heart. This is the example we should follow. If we do, we will be justified in our prayers as well. Don’t forget to pray with humility!
Fourthly, pray for the right things. Sometimes people think they can pray for whatever they want and they should receive it. They completely forget about the will of God and pray for things which God will not allow. For instance, some will pray before they enter a casino and ask God to help them win big. Some have even prayed for vengeance on those they don’t like.
The story is told of some college students who filled up water balloons and dropped them on people from the third floor. One night, they realized they hit a police officer and were scared to death. One of them suggested they pray about it. However, instead of asking God to forgive them for what they did wrong, they prayed that the officer would not catch them. They were praying for the wrong reasons.
Sometimes when we are selfish, we pray for the wrong things as well. James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (Ja. 4:3). If we have the wrong motives and pray for the wrong things, God’s answer to our prayer will always be “No.” Yet when we pray from our hearts for things in accordance with His will, He will acknowledge and answer our prayers to make things work out best for us based on His wisdom. Thus, let us always strive to pray for the right things!
Christians, we need to remember to use prayer in our everyday lives because it is how we talk to God. We must use prayer in our worship and in our private lives. Our prayers should be directed to the Father in the name of Jesus. Men must lead in mixed public prayer and we must take part in that prayer. Let us be sincere, praying in faith and humility for the right things, realizing that God answers our prayers according to His will.
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (He. 4:16)
Christmas is here. The time of year during which we are repeatedly told is “a time of miracles.” Think back over the holiday seasons of your life. How many times have you heard a commercial on the radio or saw a Christmas movie on the television in which the Christmas season or Christmas itself was referred to as “a time of miracles”? Usually, what is meant by statements like that is that Christmas is a very special time. In like manner, many of us have visited new parents who are holding their precious gift from God that was just born and have heard the baby referred to as “a miracle.” Again, what is usually meant is that babies are very special, and they are.
Unfortunately, using the term “miracle” in such a way, while seemingly harmless, is one of several ways in which misconceptions about miracles are founded in the denominational world of Christendom. Many who profess to be Christians believe, as shown above, that a miracle happens to them whenever anything special takes place in their lives. However, the miracles one reads about in the Bible are not defined in such ways.
Start at Genesis and continue on through the pages of Scripture to the New Testament, and you will read about miracles being done from time to time by some of God’s people. You will also read of God himself performing miracles directly. Yet, each and every one of the miracles described in the Bible are acts which violate the known laws of nature and science which God put into place when he created this world and universe. Not one time is a biblical miracle defined or described as nothing more than an event which is special in a sentimental way, as is often the case today.
Consider the miracles we read about in the Old Testament. God giving Joseph the ability to accurate interpret people’s dreams and predict the future (Ge. 40-41). God causing a bush to burn and yet not be consumed in front of Moses, and then giving Moses the ability to turn his staff into a serpent and instantaneously make his hand leprous by simply putting it inside his cloak (Ex. 3-4). God giving Moses the ability to part the Red Sea simply by raising his staff out over the water (Ex. 14). Bitter water made sweet by Moses simply by throwing a log in it (Ex. 15:22-25). God raining bread from heaven and causing water to come from a rock simply by Moses striking it, and Israel defeating Amalek in battle only when Moses would have his hands raised (Ex. 16-17). God causing the walls of Jericho to collapse simply by having Israel march around the city for a week and then shout and blow trumpets (Jos. 6). God answering Joshua’s prayer to have the sun and moon stand still so that Israel could win the battle against the Amorites (Jos. 10). Many more could be cited, but notice that they all have one thing in common. They all violate the laws of science and nature. That’s what makes these events miraculous in nature.
We see the same thing with the miracles we read of in the New Testament. God causing a virgin to be pregnant with Jesus, itself a fulfillment of a prophecy made hundreds of years earlier (Mt. 1:18-21; cf. Is. 7:14). Jesus instantaneously healing every disease and affliction among the people, including paralysis, epilepsy, those oppressed by demons, lepers, discharges of blood, blindness, the mute, those with withered hands, and even raising the dead (Mt. 4:23-24; 8:1-4, 28-34; 9:1-8, 18-34; 12:9-14). Jesus giving his twelve apostles the ability to do the same (Mt. 10:1-4). Jesus calming a terrible storm simply by speaking and walking on water after feeding thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish (Mt. 8:23-27; 14:13-33). God raising Christ from the dead on the third day after his death on the cross (Mt. 28:1-10; Ro. 1:4). The Holy Spirit descending on the apostles on the day of Pentecost and giving them the ability to speak in other languages (Ac. 2:1-21), as well as healing the lame (Ac. 3:1-10), causing the instantaneous death of those who had lied to them and God (Ac. 5:1-11), healing the sick by simply having their shadows fall on them (Ac. 5:12-16), and healing paralytics and raising the dead (Ac. 9:32-43). Again, many more examples could be cited, but notice once more than all of these events violate the laws of science and nature.
As people who will have to give an account for every careless word we speak (Mt. 12:36-37), we are commanded to speak the truth in love (Ep. 4:15) as oracles of God (1 Pe. 4:11), and God’s Word is truth (Jn. 17:17). Therefore, when we speak of miracles we need to speak of them the same way that God speaks of them in his Word…not as special, sentimental events which come about naturally like the birth of a child, but rather as signs and wonders done by God through men which violate the laws of nature.
Furthermore, if we are to speak the truth about miracles done by God through men, we must also proclaim that they no longer takes place today. There are several denominations whose adherents claim to perform miracles, but careful examination of what they do combined with comparisons made of biblical miracles shows their claims to be counterfeit. The different types of miracles are listed by Paul in his letter to Corinth, in which he calls them “spiritual gifts” (1 Co. 12:1-11). Two of those gifts were miraculous wisdom and miraculous knowledge (v. 8). Knowledge (what one knows) and wisdom (the ability to use correctly that which one knows) are obtained naturally through education and experience; thus, miraculous knowledge and miraculous wisdom would come instantaneously, without having taken the time to grow in them via education and experience. Paul also mentions faith as a spiritual gift (v. 9). This is not the faith which comes naturally through the hearing of God’s Word (Ro. 10:17), but rather is the type of faith needed to do something miraculous like move a mountain (1 Co. 13:2; Mt. 17:20). Today, the only way anyone obtains wisdom and knowledge is through natural means, and many people who have strong faith in their ability to perform miracles have attempted to move mountains, only to no avail.
Paul then lists gifts of healing and the working of miracles as spiritual gifts (vs. 9-10). Those who claim to miraculously heal the sick and perform other types of miracles today do so quite differently from how Jesus and the apostles miraculously healed people and worked miracles back in biblical times. Today, those who claim to do miraculous things to other people usually ask them to “wait a while” before they “begin to feel the effects” of the miracle. Usually the only “miracle” done instantaneously is causing someone to “lose consciousness” by touching them on the forehead. (This writer once visited a charismatic church and saw someone fall to the ground in the aisle, apparently having miraculously lost consciousness; it was interesting to observe the “unconscious” person shifting on the hard floor trying to find a more comfortable position!)
Paul also listed prophecy and distinguishing between spirits as spiritual gifts (v. 10). Prophecy is not only the miraculous foretelling of the future, but also literally means “to speak on behalf of someone else.” Today, prophecy takes place naturally whenever we preach and teach nothing more than God’s Word (2 Ti. 4:2; 1 Pe. 4:11); by doing so we are “speaking on behalf of” God. Those who attempt to miraculously prophecy by predicting the future have always been proven to be false prophets when their prophecies fail to come to pass (De. 18:20-22). The distinguishing between spirits refers to the miraculous power to automatically know what is in a person’s heart, a power Jesus had (Jn 2:24-25) and which was exercised by Peter in the incident with Ananias and Sapphira (Ac. 5:1-11). Obviously, such a power doesn’t exist today. How many times have we been sure about what a person has been thinking or planning, only to be proven wrong?
Paul then listed tongues and the interpretation of tongues as spiritual gifts (v. 10). These are perhaps the most misunderstood and erroneously defined miraculous spiritual gifts in the list. Those who claim to miraculously speak in tongues today say they are doing so when they speak nothing more than gibberish. They are not speaking Spanish, German, Mandarin, etc., but rather nonsense babblings and gobbledegook. However, the miraculous speaking and interpreting of tongues in biblical times was nothing more than the ability to suddenly speak in an actual, societal language or interpret it, without having first studied and learned it naturally (Ac. 2:6-8; 1 Co. 14:10-13). Having tasked the early Christians with the awesome task of preaching the gospel to all nations, the miraculous ability to speak these nations’ languages would be very expeditious to the fulfillment of that task.
In the middle of his discourse on these miraculous spiritual gifts, Paul acknowledged that not all in the church had these gifts and then mentioned how having these powers was meaningless without love (1 Co. 12:27-13:7). He then specifically stated that these miraculous spiritual gifts (citing prophecy, tongues, and knowledge) would “cease” and “pass away” when “that which is perfect has come” (1 Co. 13:8-10).
Many modern proponents of miracles believe that “the perfect” of verse 10 is a reference to Jesus, which is understandable. However, the Greek word (teleos) which is translated “perfect” literally means “complete” or “mature.” This same word is used in the New Testament to refer to God’s Word (Ro. 12:2; Ja. 1:25). When Paul was writing 1 Corinthians, the New Testament was obviously not yet “complete” or “mature.” That would change with the completion of Revelation not many years after Paul wrote to Corinth. Therefore, Paul was stating in 1 Corinthians 13:10 that when God’s Word was complete, the miraculous spiritual gifts would cease. This makes sense when one remembers that miracles were performed by Christ and his apostles and prophets through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to confirm the Word of God which was being proclaimed by them (Mk. 16:17-20; He. 2:1-4; 1 Co. 12:1-11; cf. Mt. 12:28). Once that Word became complete and mature, confirming it through the miraculous would no longer be needed.
Again, we are commanded to “speak the truth” (Ep. 4:15), and God’s Word is truth (Jn. 17:17). If we are to speak the truth about miracles, we must not only define them the same way the Bible defines them, but we must also acknowledge that they have already served their purpose in the plan of God and no longer take place today.
Students of the Bible will note its use of many lists. These lists include the days of creation (Ge. 1), the ones in Ephesians chapter 4, the fruit of the Spirit (Ga. 5), and the works of the flesh—which is the topic of this article. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia addresses several of their struggles. These Galatian Christians questioned Paul’s validity and authority; they also questioned the role of the New Covenant. They seemed to be in the process of returning back to the Law of Moses and risked forfeiture of the freedom they had gained in Christ.
Paul’s solution to these and many other spiritual ailments was for these Christians to stand fast in the faith and continue being led by the Spirit’s teachings. A key component to this prescription is to avoid the works of the flesh which are listed in Galatians 5:19-21. This list breaks down into three basic groups: Treatment of Self, Treatment of God, and Treatment of Others.
Treatment of Self. Though unpopular to accept, it is a fact that fornication and adultery are harmful to one’s own body. What the world portrays as harmless and fun the infinite wisdom of God’s Word describes much more differently. Paul states that fornication is a sin against one’s own body (1 Co. 6:18). Relatedly, a CNN Money story from May 2015 reported that the popularity of “hookup” apps correlate with a rise in sexually transmitted diseases. The harm is not just being done among the young as some may falsely conclude. The New York Times has recently reported that some STDs have doubled among Americans over the age of 65, showing that the problem is multi-generational.
The harmful effects of promiscuity are seen in the homosexual community where multiple partners and casual sex are very common. The disease rate and associated risks are so high that the data shows many in the homosexual community will die much sooner than heterosexual, monogamous individuals. Solomon was well aware of sins of the flesh and recalls the wounds and dishonor usually associated with unchastity (Pr. 6:32-33). Hosea’s portrayal of wayward Israel is notable because of the sins listed along with adultery: lying, killing, and stealing (Ho. 4:2). It doesn’t take a genius to see that fornication and adultery are ingredients to an unwholesome mixture that will rob someone of health, happiness, and heaven.
With his words uncleanness and lasciviousness Paul is alerting us to the dangers of a climate of impurity and wantonness. These lay the foundation that sexual immorality is usually built on. What’s euphemistically branded as “children growing up too fast” and “sex sells” hide society’s darker side. An acceptance of immodest dress and the sexualization of everything accelerates a departure from God. Those laboring to take the perfect selfie are likely to get the attention of various immoral gawkers only interested in their own desires. Beauty is idolized and fetishized, and there are numerous studies linking pornography to gross objectification and desensitization teeming in our society.
Christians must be vigilant in this area. Some moms and dads may also have to wake up to this new reality. Paul is describing sins that ruin a society, but they also harm the individual participants. There is no innocent fun to be had here. The results of loose morals are always bad. Take a look at Sodom and Gomorrah to see just how bad things can become if discipline isn’t exercised.
Treatment of God. Shortly after their exodus, Israel chose idolatry because of their fear, stress, and weakness. Exodus 32 reveals that Moses was with God receiving the 10 Commandments. The people, however, feared that he would not return; they cried for Aaron to make a god (a request that should seem very contradictory). Aaron seemed too ready to capitulate and return to this idolatrous comfort zone. Egypt was filled with idols. Israel likely learned this form there; however, the true God of heaven had conquered those idols and delivered Israel from that land. He stood prepared to be their God—the only God they would ever need. However, they were not willing to break their connection to idols.
In their early establishment as a nation, Israel desired to be like everyone else around them. They felt different, odd, and unaccepted. The same God that delivered them from Egypt and delivered them into the promised land still wanted to be their Leader and Provider. Israel’s faith, however, had not grown. They were not willing to fully accept God; they wanted something tangible. They got their king like the nations around them (1 Sa. 8:5, 20), but they cast God from them. John records that many turned away from God’s Son simply because they did not like Jesus. The masses loved the food that Jesus gave, but they did not have equal love for His message, and many deserted Him (Jn. 6:66). These people simply wanted a better deal, and they seemed fine to shop around for a “better” god.
While these above cases can be read and understood on some level, the mind is still boggled. It’s very difficult to imagine why one would want any god other than the real God. It’s at this point, though, that we have to be diligent in noting that anything someone places ahead of God is an idol. A long time ago, God’s people put wooden images, golden calves, and kings in place of Him. Now the idols of money, acceptance, and technology are preferred.
Paul also condemns sorcery as another insufficient substitute for God. Whether it’s an infatuation with mother nature, astronomy, virtual reality, or something else, man’s quest for something beyond himself seems insatiable and incurable. The term translated sorcery (or witchcraft) is pharmakeia and has a connection to medicine and pharmaceutics. This is an interesting coincidence given that top executives from Google and other giant tech companies are seeking to increase longevity with the end goal being to escape death altogether. Some researchers in this field posit that the first person who will live to be 1,000 years old may have already been born.
Whether man is able to virtually change his environment into something we can’t yet imagine, terraform some part of space, or prolong his life by gigantic sums, no one will ever be able to replace the need for God. Everyone will appear before His throne (2 Co. 5:10), so accept no substitute.
Treatment of Others. Allow the remaining 11 items on this list (from hatred through reveling) to be speak to man’s treatment of others. Make of it what you will that the bulk of these works of the flesh touch the topic of our treatment of others. Jesus taught that the way we treat the least of His brethren is indicative of our treatment of Himself (Mt. 25:40-45). The apostle John further points out the gross disconnect between one who mistreats his fellow man while claiming a love for God (1 Jn. 4:20).
Hatred, variance, and strife describe the quarrelsome mentality that reeks havoc upon the Lord’s body. Contending for the faith is completely within the bounds of our Christian calling. However, to contend for our own way over the wishes of others makes us no better than the Pharisees who killed Jesus. It’s worth noting that the Pharisees began their plot to kill Jesus after He broke their tradition about the Sabbath. Compare the following in Matthew 12:10-14, Mark 3:1-6, and Luke 6:6-11 for the full account of this. Emulations comes from a word meaning “heat” and is understood to be a zeal for doing something bad. Together with wrath these two words describe the twisted psychology of ones who delight in the wrong they do. Proverbs 6:18 talks about feet that are swift in running to mischief. Those kind of feet belong to people who practice these works of the flesh.
Seditions and heresies label the factious nature of those aligned against God. They seek to divide and conquer the Lord not realizing the vanity of their efforts. Once the whole world united against God (Genesis 11) and the outcome was no different than if only one or two would have stood against Him. God is greater than any one of us or all of us, so creating or breaking up alliances doesn’t do anything to impact our standing with Him.
Envy and murder share a relationship as do drunkenness and revellings. Cain’s envy of Abel had a murderous end (Ge. 4:3-8) just as the decision to drink alcohol in any amount can be the precursor to drinking parties. God is very comprehensive in His condemnation of these evils. It would be hard to imagine a worse duo than abortion and social drinking. Since the passage of Roe v Wade in 1972, nearly 58 million abortions have occurred. God will demand justice for these crimes. The US Department of Justice estimates that alcohol plays a role in the majority of all crimes (and an even bigger majority of violent crimes) each year.
While we would like to imagine a world void of all of these works of the flesh, just imagine a world without alcohol and murder. Wouldn’t that be a much happier world to wake up to! The truth is we cannot eliminate these works of the flesh (or any related activity described in Paul’s “such like” clause) from the world. We cannot eliminate these works of the flesh from a single person other than ourselves. It will take courage, but we need to be courageous. It will take work, but we need to work. The world is not going to get any better on its own. If the works of the flesh are going to end, we are going to have to put them to an end in our lives. God is on our side in this battle. He can give us the victory. Find a faithful member of the Lord’s church and get started.
Webster defines encouragement in part as, “The act of giving courage, or confidence of success; incitement to action or to practice; incentive.” Encouragement is something that everyone needs, especially within the body of Christ. The focus of this article will be to look at some ways in which this can be accomplished along with examples. This is a needed topic and one which will hopefully be beneficial to each reader.
Encourage by being there for one another. Israel, the descendents of Jacob, fought against the Amalekites, the descendants of Esau (Ex. 17:8; cf. Ge. 36:8-16). During the battle, Moses was encouraged by Aaron and Hur to uphold his arms because he couldn’t do it alone (v. 12). It’s the same way today. One can’t do everything alone. That’s why we need to make a conscious effort to be there for one another in times of need. The words of Solomon come to mind. “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away” (Pr. 27:10, ESV). When Christians realize the blessing of encouraging and being encouraged by one another, this is something that will become much easier to practice.
Please be there to fulfill the needs of brethren. I have been on the receiving end of encouragement during times of great need. The brethren stepped up and encouraged me and from their comfort I can hopefully pass on similar encouragement to others who need it.
Encourage by speech. Hezekiah is a good example of one who could encourage. When he restored the system of worship as given to Moses, the following words are recorded: “And Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good skill in the service of the LORD. So they ate the food of the festival for seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to the LORD, the God of their fathers” (2 Ch. 30:22).
In another instance during his reign Judah was invaded by Assyria (2 Ch. 32:1). During this time of crisis, Hezekiah spoke to the commanders of the army: “And he set combat commanders over the people and gathered them together to him in the square at the gate of the city and spoke encouragingly to them, saying, ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles. And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah king of Judah’” (2 Ch. 32:6-8).
Brethren can do a great work by simply speaking encouraging words. Christians are instructed to speak in a truthful and gracious manner (Ep. 4:25, 29; Co. 4:6). Words are indeed a powerful thing and great caution must be practiced before speaking (Ja. 1:19). The example of Hezekiah should be followed in that our words should encourage those who need it and inspire confidence in those who listen.
Encourage by helping new converts. I would be amiss if I didn’t mention Barnabas, who is introduced in Acts 4:36. Notice how he was known as “the son of encouragement” because of his ability to encourage the brethren. Also consider the way he assisted Paul after his conversion. The brethren were experiencing a great deal of trepidation because of his previous conduct (Ac 9:26). Notice what Luke says next: “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Ac. 9:27, emphasis mine). It must be realized that one who is new to the faith is need of encouragement often times due to their background. Some may face opposition from their families, others may face other struggles. They need to know they have people who love them and will do all they can to encourage them in their new walk.
Let us examine another episode in the life of Barnabas. Luke writes, “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord” (Ac. 11:23-24, emphasis mine). The church needs people of the character of Barnabas who will practice encouragement on a regular basis. Physically speaking, children – especially infants – are assisted in their growth and development. It’s no wonder Paul talks of this in a spiritual sense (1 Co. 3:1). He uses this same analogy in describing their approach to new converts in Thessalonica (1 Th. 2:7). The writer of Hebrews speaks of his readers’ child-like state in spiritual growth (He. 5:12-13). Peter also uses similar language to describe this growth process (1 Pe. 2:2). There are none who would neglect to make sure infants are physically growing. It shouldn’t be any different with a new brother or sister in their spiritual growth. This is accomplished by continual teaching and encouragement as they grow.
Encourage by being present. Encouragement can be as simple as being physically present and assisting the brethren with a task. The descendants of Reuben and Gad wanted to stay on the east side of the Jordan River rather than accompany Israel to fight for the rest of the Promised Land, but Moses told them, “Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the LORD has given them?” (Num. 32:7). We later read that they did what they were supposed to do and went into battle, thus encouraging rather than discouraging (v. 18).
People can be encouraged by our presence. It was for this reason that Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus and Colossae (Ep. 6:21-22; Co. 4:7-9). Remember the words of David: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” (Ps. 122:1). By being present when the church gathers Christians encourage and are encouraged by each other.
These are a few practical ways and examples of how individual Christians can encourage each other. We all need encouragement, whether we wish to acknowledge it or not. Encouraging someone doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. It can be as simple as sending a note to someone who’s struggling with something in their life, whether it be the death of a loved one, finances, job security, or whatever other problem of life which comes their way. Encourage those who are laboring in a worthy manner to continue on in that good work.
It would be good to remember that there may be a time when you may be the one in need of encouragement. Therefore, help those who need it so you can first practice it in your own life. Remember the words of Paul when he spoke to the elders of Ephesus: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Ac. 20:35, emphasis mine).
Leadership in the church is about service. It is not about a position one holds or the perceived attaining of rank. As Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not that way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Mt. 20:25-27). Leadership follows the pattern of Jesus, who came not to use His position to be served by others, but rather to serve.
Within the body of Christ, God has given us the gift of leadership. I use the word gift on purpose because that is how Paul describes it in Ephesians 4:7-11. Not everyone has the gift to be leaders of God’s people. Paul states he has given “some” to be leaders (4:11). Certain individuals have the gifts necessary to lead God’s people. Included in that list of leadership gifts are those who are to be pastor-teachers, or as we more commonly call them elders. This article will focus on this group of servants.
The controlling metaphor to describe elders, and leaders in general, in Scripture is that of a shepherd. Ezekiel 34 provides the richest background to what it means to shepherd the people of God. The chapter lays out the expectations of leadership with the first four verses describing the reasons for God’s anger. They used their status as shepherds for their own gain and treated the flock cruelly. They were supposed to feed, protect, seek, and strengthened the sheep under their care. However, these evil shepherds were so busy caring for their own needs that they completely neglected the needs of the sheep. As leaders they were given the call to aid and strengthen God’s people in their walk. They should have frequently and openly exalted the law of Lord before the people, but they had failed to do so.
They had mistaken the role God had given them. They were to care for the Lord’s possession, not treat the people as if they were their lords. The repetition of the phrase “My flock” (v. 6) demonstrates how the leadership had failed—not with their own possession, but with the possession of the Lord.
Certain principles emerge from this chapter. First, the shepherd is responsible to God for how he guides the sheep, since the flock is God’s. Second, the shepherd is to be in the lives of the sheep providing for them what is needed to keep them safe and healthy within God’s flock. Finally, the shepherd is not to use his position for personal gain, but rather to serve others.
In the New Testament we are presented with certain texts that help us see the characteristics of shepherds today. 1 Timothy 3 is the most used one. Much of the list of characteristics in this chapter simply portrays a godly life and thus is showing that elders must be an example to the flock as to what a godly life is to entail. This is in contrast to the life which the false teachers were portraying to the church at Ephesus. In fact much of what Paul condemns the false teachers for doing in Timothy and Titus finds its antithesis in the characteristics Paul states an elder should have. The elders are to be the exemplars and the teachers of God’s people, leading them away from unhealthy teaching and to the teaching that confirms with the words of Christ. Interestingly, the entire list of qualifications of elders is one that is not extraordinary. Elders are simply asked to exemplify characteristics which all Christians should aspire (minus the need for marriage). Thus, as J.W. McGarvey points out, from 1 Timothy 3 the main function we find from elders is that these individuals are to be exemplars of the Christian life
The second text is similar to the one found in 1 Timothy, but places a greater emphasis on the teaching role of the elder. This text is Titus 1. Specifically verse 9 states: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” The shepherd has a responsibility to feed the flock of God. They do this in both a positive and negative light. Positively, they are to be able to give instruction in sound doctrine. Negatively, they are to be able to rebuke those who teach falsely.
The third text is in Acts 20. In verses 17-38 Paul speaks with the elders at Ephesus at the port city of Miletus. Paul discusses his work amongst them and then he turn his attention to what the elders should do in his absence (v. 28-31). The main point of this section is seen in Paul’s chiastic argument. In the chiasm the central point of this section is Paul’s departure. The point is the elders had to take the place of Paul in aiding the church in their defense against false teachers. Thus the role of the elder is portrayed in this passage as one who defends the flock against those who would harm it.
The final text is 1 Peter 5:1-3. In these verses Peter urges the elders to do the work of shepherding and taking care of the flock of God. This text gives us a positive understanding as elders being proactive shepherds. They are men who are overseeing the spiritual wellbeing of the flock. Like a shepherd would check over his sheep to make sure they were whole, the elder examines his congregation to ensure they are healthy. This text adds to our discussion the limits Peter puts upon the elders, reminding them that they are not to “lord it over the flock” nor participate in the work for “gain,” something Peter borrows from the teachings of Jesus and Ezekiel. The point here is that pastoral leadership must be freely and willingly undertaken with no trace of self-serving or “lording it over” the flock. This passage establishes that the function of the elder is not that of a domineering leader, but rather one of service rendered as an “under shepherd” of Jesus the chief shepherd.
I hope you see that the overarching motif for elders is they are to function as shepherds to God’s people. Using the principles from the texts earlier, I want to share some practical ways elders accomplish that role.
First, shepherds need to guide and lead. This requires vision. A clear vision of where your flock needs to go. Vision requires a goal and the goal of the flock is to become like the Chief Shepherd, Jesus. Elders need to know where the church is at the moment and develop a plan to mature the people of God. Vision requires telling the truth about where you are and then giving clearly defined directives of how we will grow into the image of Christ.
Second, this means the shepherds must interact with the sheep. There is no such thing as shepherding from a distance. Shepherds have a close relationship with their sheep. As Jesus illustrated, the sheep know the voice of the shepherd. Elders are in the life of the congregation. They must be able to see when the sheep are hurt, weak, and in need of care. They must know what food the people need to grow. The work of the shepherd must be done within a relationship. This means shepherds need to create spaces where they can develop bonds with the people. This could be informal gatherings or it can mean regular meetings with the members in order to know their needs. This is why Paul was concerned with the elders’ ability to lead his own home. If the shepherd does not have the sort of relationship in his own family that leads to godliness, how will he do it within the family of God?
Third, shepherds are not the only “gifts” of leadership God has given the church. In Ephesians 4 we also have Paul calling evangelists gifts to the church and in 1 Timothy Paul places elders alongside deacons as those who serve the church. Shepherds need to work well with these other leaders as well. Deacons have the responsibility to serve in various areas. Most churches have found it helpful for the elders to assign these areas. Once assigned elders should allow the deacons to function and do the job given them. Preachers and elders have complementary and overlapping roles. For the elder their emphasis is within the congregation itself, while the emphasis of the evangelist should be upon those who have not heard the truth (although both have a vital function to perform in regards to evangelism and edification). The evangelist’s primary function is in the study and proclamation of the word of God. The elder has this same need to know the word of God, but also must have enough wisdom to handle the interpersonal problems which occur within the congregation. Elders need to allow preachers to time and opportunity to do the work God has given them.
The job of an elder is a difficult one. God has gifted the church with these men because they are needed in helping the entire body grow up and become like Jesus. The primary role of an elder is to shepherd of the flock. A role where he cares, guides, protects, and feeds the sheep.