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Practical Considerations Of An Active Faith — Dave Redmond

A few years ago, I wrote a bulletin article concerning “Freedom in Christ.”  While preparing, I became aware of a wonderful blessing.  Under the Old Law, the Jews were expected to keep hundreds of rules and regulations.  I realized that as Christians, while we are expected to keep commandments under the New Covenant, we have the freedom to choose the way we wish to serve God.  This makes the Christian’s service joyous.

Today we are discussing the importance of an active faith.  Hebrews chapter 11 is known as the “Faith Chapter,” but calling it the “Active Faith Chapter” is also appropriate.  Here, the writer reminds us of Noah, who lived in a time of great wickedness.  He was commanded to build a huge ark in order to save his family and the world’s animals.  This was no small undertaking.  Not only was it physically challenging, but took many years.  All who watched thought he was foolish.  They had not seen rain, much less a flood.  Also, the writer tells us of Abraham, who left his home when God called him.  He was not even certain where to go!  Can you think of a harsher climate than in the Middle East?  With large families, animals, and all their belongings, it must have been a tremendous effort to move even a few miles.  Noah and Abraham are men who listened to God, really believed Him, and followed His instructions.  We are here today with the hope of salvation because of their active faith.

Most of us are familiar with James 2:26:  “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”  Perhaps less familiar is Ephesians 2:10:  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  Here we find our purpose as Christians.  We were created so that we can perform “good works.”  Amazingly, our loving and omniscient God prepared these opportunities ahead of time.  We have the choice of accepting these opportunities, but we are humbled that He would consider us worthy.  Our decision to demonstrate an active faith serves a greater purpose.  God tells us why we are to perform good works in Matthew 5:16:  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”

Unfortunately, after we obey the gospel of Christ it is easy to become complacent in our Christian walk, becoming caught up in the problems of life.  Our faith can weaken, and we can neglect opportunities to serve God.

While we are usually motivated by God’s love, fear of punishment is also effective.  Jesus used the parable of the talents to warn against complacency and laziness when it comes to making use of our abilities and opportunities.  What happened to the man who hid his Lord’s money?  In Matthew 25:26 Jesus described this man as a “wicked and lazy servant,” and he was cast out into outer darkness (v. 30).

The verses which follow in Matthew chapter 25 are sobering.  Here Jesus is describing the judgment, and one’s destiny was determined in very practical terms.  Those who were blessed to inherit eternal life had cared for their fellow man: the hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, imprisoned, or naked.  Those who did not were rewarded with everlasting punishment.  Jesus said that when we care for others, it is as if we are caring for Him.  When we neglect others, we neglect Jesus too.  He expects us to have an active faith and to demonstrate our faith by our actions (James 2:18).  James then reminds us, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).

Over the years I have seen Christians of all ages and backgrounds serving God in practical ways.  The remainder of this message is a practical application of the preceding Scripture.

For the child, one of the best ways to serve God is by honoring and obeying parents.  Nothing honors a parent more than to hear from a teacher or neighbor, “Your son or daughter is so well behaved.”  While the child does not understand what faith means, the habit of obedience is developed.

For the Christian teen, it is a blessing to be part of a youth group which serves others while having fun.  Youth groups can visit older people, those who may need help with cleaning the house or yard, and the blessings are mutual.  I remember a sweet older Christian who insisted on serving lemonade after our youth cleaned her yard.  Looking back, these were joyous memories.

After high school, we can demonstrate an active faith through our chosen vocation or during higher education.  For those who can attend college, I think it is a blessing to attend a Christian school.  However, many state universities have a Christian support group and this can offer tremendous encouragement at a time when we become independent.  Several of our local congregations support a campus minister who helps our young people remain faithful.

I remember the wonderful congregation and Christian friends we had during military service.  My wife and I were newly married, and a local church took us under her wing.  For me, learning to lead during worship services was a blessing.  My sweet wife was encouraged by the older ladies, and sometimes we would take communion to an elderly Christian.  We now look back to those years as formative in our relationship, and these were simple ways to put our faith in action.

Whether we remain single or marry and start a family, we can find opportunities to serve in our congregations by teaching, preparing communion, helping in the church office, holding a Bible study, inviting others to services, feeding the needy, donating clothing, or simply asking the church leadership what needs to be done.  For those with young children, getting in the habit of bringing our children to Sunday School is one of the difficult but most rewarding aspects of being a parent.

During our middle years, it is a blessing to be a part of a congregation with elders and deacons.  By now we know more about our talents, our strengths, our interests.  A deacon and his wife gain valuable experience in helping the church.  This is the time when some with children are older, and it becomes more convenient to open up our home to others.  Often, we can be of tremendous assistance during Vacation Bible School and other youth activities because we are old enough to be more mature, but young enough to have the energy.  By now we are often settled in our home and community and there are many ways we can give back, glorifying God by our actions.

As older adults, we usually have a little more time to put our faith in action.  In the congregation, the younger ladies look up to the more mature ladies as examples of faith and service.  Perhaps there is time to attend a ladies Bible class, visit those in the hospital, or prepare food and flower arrangements for various needs.  Also, this is the time when we often begin to lose friends to death.  We can be an encouragement to the depressed, downhearted, and those who are facing financial hardship or difficulties with children.

For the older man, this is the ideal time for self-reflection, perhaps offering to serve as an elder in the congregation.  This is also the time when an older gentleman may be an encouragement to the congregation’s minister, since the preacher is often overworked and goes through the same hardships as others.  Many older men and women are ideal teachers.  In the community, there are ample opportunities to help our neighbors and those in need.  In our congregation, some with financial means help support an orphan’s home, a widows’ ministry, and a Bible camp where our youth interact and some respond to the gospel.

Some of the greatest examples of active faith I have seen are by our most elderly sisters in Christ.  I remember one who continued to teach Cradle Roll, getting down on the floor even when her knees were arthritic.  Another took the time to teach the young girls how to bake unleavened bread and in the process conveyed the importance of the Lord’s Supper.  Yet another would call members of her Life Group, providing updates on the sick, requesting various needs in food, and simply encouraging the lonely.  Age was not a hindrance to serve.

In summary, there are endless ways to exemplify an active faith, demonstrate Christ in our life, and bring glory to our Heavenly Father.  Good works which God has prepared for us are waiting.  Just as in Matthew 25:23, we yearn to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Dave is a former elder at the Long Creek Church of Christ in Columbia, SC. He is a retired physician who started his career in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.

 

 

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Centurions In The New Testament — Dave Redmond

Our brotherhood is composed of many active and former military service members, frequently living in locations away from their original home.  There is therefore interest, and possible empathy, concerning the Roman centurions who are recorded in New Testament scripture.

The centurion was not the equivalent of just any Roman soldier.  In today’s military, he would be among the middle to upper officer ranks, major to brigadier general, or among the highest enlisted ranks.  The name implies that he would be in charge of 100 men, but this could be 80 to several hundred.  Some achieved this status after first serving in the Legion, or soldierly class, while others were appointed.  It was an honor to be selected, and these are some of the qualifications:  centurions had to be literate, to read orders, to have letters of recommendation, to be at least 30 years old, and to have former military service.  The Roman writer Vegetius describes them as men chosen for their size, strength and dexterity; they were to be vigilant, temperate, active and “readier to execute the orders he receives than to talk,” strict in exercising and keeping up proper discipline among his soldiers.

The word centurion appears 20 times in the New Testament, sparsely among the synoptic gospels and more prolifically in the book of Acts. We will focus upon three very instructive accounts, and then note two other examples.

Our first example occurs during Christ’s ministry (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:2-10).  Knowing Jesus’ reputation as a healer, a centurion approached and pleaded with Him concerning his servant who was paralyzed and “dreadfully tormented.”  In Luke’s account, the centurion’s servant was described as “dear to him” and “sock and ready to die.”  He also recorded that elders of the Jews begged earnestly on the centurion’s behalf, noting that “he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”  Here we receive a glimpse of the character and reputation of this centurion.  While Jesus readily offered to “come and heal him,” the centurion demonstrated humility and faith when, according to Matthew, he replied to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.”  He recognized Jesus’ absolute authority and compared it to his own.  “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me.  And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  Jesus marveled at his answer, and credited this Gentle with “such great faith…not found even in Israel.”  He commanded the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.”  As a man ready to obey orders, the centurion obeyed Jesus.  The timing is noteworthy, as Matthew records that his servant was healed “that same hour”!  This centurion’s life reflected a love for his fellow man, as evidenced by the building of a synagogue and seeking help for his dying servant.  He recognized the power and authority of Christ, and through an obedient faith his servant was healed.

Our second centurion is recorded near the time of Jesus’ death.  It is with profound sadness that we recall the suffering of our Savior.  Before the crucifixion, Roman soldiers (not recorded as centurions) humiliated Jesus, stripping His clothes, putting on a scarlet robe, placing a crown of thorns and a reed in His right hand, mocking Him, spitting upon Him, and leading Him to be crucified (Matt. 27:27-31).  While we do not condone any of their actions, we understand that Jesus was delivered to be crucified by the governor, Pilate (Mark 15:15).  Their actions fulfilled prophecy, according to God’s will.  Afterwards, it was a centurion, and apparently his men, who were trusted to guard Jesus (Matt. 27:54).  After witnessing the earthquake and the things which had happened, they “feared greatly,” saying, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” (cf. Mark 15:39).  Mark also records that Pilate inquired of the centurion whether Jesus had been dead for some time, facilitating transfer of the body to Joseph of Arimathea for burial (Mark 15:44-45).  Luke emphasizes that the centurion “glorified God” in his pronouncement, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!” (Luke 23:47).  In each of these accounts, it was the centurion who was chosen to guard Jesus, and because of his “vigilance and temperance,” these honest observations lend credibility to the truth of the crucifixion and the surrounding events.  Vegetius described centurions as men “readier to receive orders than to talk.”  Fittingly, the short but powerful pronouncement of this centurion has echoed through time.

Our next example, Cornelius, is one of two centurions whose name is recorded in Scripture.  Acts 10 reveals the character and actions of this obedient Gentile.  In the first verse, we find that Cornelius was devout, God-fearing, and an example to his household.  He was generous to all around him and always prayerful to God.  Although not yet a Christian, his prayers and charity were recognized by God.  After seeing clearly in a vision from an angel of God, he humbly asked, “What is it, Lord?”  Then the angel indicated that there was something that Cornelius must do, and that this would be explained by Peter.  Instead of questioning the angel, or going about his daily business, Cornelius immediately obeyed and sent men to bring Peter (vs. 1, 3-4, 5-8, 33).

In anticipation of Peter’s arrival, Cornelius invited his friends and close relatives to come and hear.  Cornelius received Peter with humility and a mistaken desire to worship God’s servant, falling down at his feet.  Recognizing the Lord’s holy presence, the centurion and his household listened intently to the words commanded by God through Peter (vs. 24-25, 33).

Also through a vision, Peter had been prepared to preach to Cornelius and his audience.  “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.  But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”  Peter preached the preparation for Christ by John the Baptizer and proclaimed Christ: His divinity, ministry, death and resurrection, and the remission of sins through faith (vs. 34-43).

In verse 44, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those Gentiles who heard the Word.  Peter and the Jews with him were astonished as they heard Cornelius and his company magnify God.  They readily understood that salvation was now available to the Gentiles.  They must have recalled and reflected upon the events of Peter’s first gospel message on the day of Pentecost, as the apostles were also filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).  Just as on Pentecost, Cornelius and his party were commanded to receive water baptism in the name of the Lord (Acts 10:47-48).

The account of Cornelius, a devout centurion, was central to the understanding that the gospel is for all people of all nations.  It was a fulfillment of the promise made to Abram centuries earlier, “In your seed all nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 26:4), and “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:14).

There are other citations which also lend credence to the character of centurions.  In Acts 22:25, Paul inquired of a nearby centurion, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?”  Paul knew his Roman citizenship conveyed protections, and that the centurion would be able to intervene as he did.  He told his commander, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman citizen.”  In Acts 23 and 24, centurions delivered Paul safely to the governor, Felix, and then guarded him under house arrest.  Later in Acts 27, Paul started his final voyage to Rome.  Julius, another centurion, was responsible for Paul and the other prisoners.  Along their journey, they stopped in Sidon, where Julius permitted Paul to visit his friends who might provide for his needs (vs. 1, 3).  Later in this account when the storm arose, Julius prevented the crew from escaping in the lifeboat.  After the shipwreck, Julius again intervened to prevent the soldiers from killing Paul and the other prisoners (vs. 11, 31-32, 42-43).  As Paul’s ministry was drawing to a close, we see that centurions played  vital roles in his protection.  These men acted decisively, with discretion and great courage.

In conclusion, we see that God worked through each of these centurions: one, as an example of great faith during Jesus’ ministry; another, to boldly proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God; still others for the protection of Paul.  Most importantly to us as Gentiles, Cornelius was called upon to help fulfill the promise that through Abram all nations would be blessed.

These centurions, though not perfect men, were chosen by God to accomplish His perfect will.

Dave is a former elder at the Long Creek Church of Christ in Columbia, SC.  He is a retired physician who started his career in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.