26. The Caring Church

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 26. The Caring Church

1 Cor 14:3 the one who prophesies speaks to people for their  strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

Recap our Goals: In the previous study we laid out our strategy again: we are examining things that will help us grow. We are examining that through the perspective of being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, and we are examining aspects of the ministry of Christ through us in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth through the body of Christ, the Church.

The Challenges of Change: We went on to reflect on the incredible changes that are coming in our world and the challenges that the enemy would make to our faith in the light of those changes, the challenge of relevancy. I suggested that these things did not affect the reality of the existence of God nor the fact of human sinfulness and our need for salvation.

The Nature of the Church/Kingdom: Now, before we move on into practicalities, I think we need to highlight something that comes out of these two things I have just mentioned, and it is the nature of the church and the nature of the kingdom of God that we have been considering earlier.

Human Need: My starting point is to face the reality of life, and that includes for Christians. Put in its most simple form, it is that each of us needs to feel loved; it is a basic human need. Put another way, each of us from time to time (if not most of the time), need strengthening, encouraging or even comforting. We go through times of feeling weak, we go through times of discouragement and we even go through times of worry or anxiety or pain – and so we have needs to be met.

The Caring Saviour: The second thing is that we have a Saviour who cares for us and who wants to help us. If we had been one of the twelve travelling with Jesus and we were looking down and dejected, I don’t believe Jesus would have ignored us or even chided us; I believe he would have strengthened, encouraged or comforted us privately. But now he has a different body, you and me, but his intentions do not change. His intention is still to strengthen the weak, encourage the downcast, comfort the grieving.

Failure Talk? It may be that someone reading this comes from a military background or a background of high achievement expectations (family expectations can often lay some ungodly perfectionist expectations on us) and emotions get suppressed by macho “get a grip on life for goodness sake!” outlooks. In some churches there is an inability to be honest – everything is just fine (always!) – and any talk about weakness etc. has been made to sound like failure.

Reality: Look, Paul would not have written, “Do not be anxious about anything,” (Phil 4:6) if we didn’t get anxious sometimes, and as for, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God,”  (2 Cor 1:3,4) he certainly wouldn’t have described God like this if we didn’t need comforting from time to time “in all our troubles”. When it comes to times of contact with God or His angels, there are numerous “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” times (e.g. Jud 6:23, Mt 1:20, 2:22, 8:26, 10:26,31, etc. etc.) so that when we are real we can see there are many, many situations where the natural response is fear and so God comes to lift us above that – but it is the natural thing!

Beware Hardness: The problem that also arises here is that when we have been brought up or trained or disciplined into this hard-nosed way of confronting life, not only do we suppress our feelings, but we also look down on those who appear weak or who are showing their feelings. Over the years I have been to many funerals, and taken quite a few, and the spectrum of human feelings is more clearly revealed at a funeral than any other place. Some people stand in the funeral service absolutely stony-faced, while others cry or even wail in ways that are symptomatic of Old Testament Judaism. There is no ‘right’ response and if we look down on people who don’t grieve like we do, or down on people who find it difficult to express their emotions, we are not walking the walk of Jesus. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn,” (Rom 12:15) said the apostle Paul.

Carriers of Love: Now why am I saying these things in this Part when we are thinking about reigning with Christ to bring in the kingdom of God? I am saying this, because whatever else we might say about this, if we are not a church of love brought into being by One who is described as love (1 Jn 4:8,16) we are missing the goal. The kingdom is an expression of the love of God and the way we ‘reign’ over circumstances is, at the very least, to be a demonstration of God’s love. When I witness to someone, when I pray over someone, when I preach to people, when I share a word from God with someone, if I do not do it in love, I am missing the point! And that goes for you too!

To Church & World: When I look around me in the church, if my heart is not moved by compassion for those expressing obvious needs, I am missing the point. When I encounter people in the world expressing their needs, if my heart is not moved by compassion to pray for wisdom to know how to act on their behalf, I am missing the point. The kingdom, I say again, is all about bringing and expressing the love of God. That has to be of paramount importance. There is another of these things to be considered in the next study before we move on to the practicalities but these things, I suggest, very much flow over into the practicalities.

6. The Gifted Body (2)

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 6:  The Gifted Body (2)

Rom 12:6-8   We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

As we started to consider these verses in the previous mediation we noted that these ‘gifts’ are expressions of the Spirit of Jesus in us, i.e. it is God’s ability being expressed in us that enables us to be and do. We also noted that we could each do every one of the things here but what happens is that we become ‘good’ at doing one particular thing as the Spirit enables us. We considered prophecy and serving.

We then find, third in Paul’s list of examples, ‘teaching’. Now again we find the writer to the Hebrew declaring,  “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again,” (Heb 5:12) where he clearly implies that part of the growing process or process of maturity in the faith, is becoming capable to teaching new believers. But there are some for whom imparting or sharing spiritual truths to a wider audience and bringing understanding to them, is what comes naturally and blesses them. Obtaining pleasure from the role is perhaps one indication that it is from the Lord – not always, but sometimes – because the Lord wants us to enjoy being the people He is making us to be. When we are blessed we bless others.

Then comes ‘encouraging’. Again this is something we are all exhorted to do by Scripture: “encourage one another and build each other up,” (1 Thess 5:11) and “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim 4:2 – for preachers at least), and encourage one another daily,” (Heb 3:13) and “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25) and “But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3) There it is; in so many different ways we are exhorted to strengthen, support and build up one another, and yet there are those who are particularly good at it, and it is something that just pours out of them all the time.

We might think that when we come to ‘contributing’ this is different but Paul says it is “contributing to the needs of others,” i.e. we see someone in need and we reach out and meet that need. But again we see this in general teaching to all of us: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) Jesus used meeting material needs as an indication of spiritual life and relationship: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:35,36)  Yet there will be some of us who have material resources and we feel moved to help others less fortunate than ourselves. Such people are exhorted by Paul, “let him give generously.”  In other words, don’t hold back on your feelings, respond fully and be a big blessing!

Then he speaks of those whose grace gifting is ‘leadership’. I confess this one seems more difficult to apply more generally to all of us. Yet in Paul’s teaching we find “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Tim 3:1). The emphasis, I suggest, is on the role being a noble task, for indeed people can wrongly set their hearts on prestige, yet in the spiritual world they really do not know what they are doing. In the early church it often meant sacrifice and persecution. Leaders in the New Testament were either called ‘elders’, where the emphasis is on wisdom and maturity, or ‘overseers’, where the emphasis  is on the role of watching over and guarding the flock of God, and looking after it.

Leaders also hold a high level of accountability to God for the flock. See Acts 20:28-31 for the burden of responsibility that Paul conveys. But leaders are those who go ahead, in spiritual maturity and in grace and in faith. They need all those to counter the wiles and attacks of the enemy and to be God’s channel to meet the needs of the flock. To the person who finds God putting this desire on their heart and being recognized by the flock of God, his instruction is simple: “let him govern diligently.”  Govern here simply means carry out the caring, protective and administering role that God has given you. To do it diligently means to do it with care and perseverance.

Finally Paul speaks of the grace gifting of “showing mercy.” Commentators often speak of this as ‘Caring for the sick, the poor and the aged,’ but I think that is limited and underplays the gift. Mercy in the New Testament is usually spoken about in relation to the Lord (and there is virtually no injunction for us to show mercy to one another) and is simply undeserved good expressed to us. The emphasis is on the ‘undeserved’ element

Yet James taught: “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (Jas 3:13,17) In other words the humble life is one that flows from understanding wisdom and goes on to express wisdom, and included within that is being ‘full of mercy’.  Mercy here means, not looking down on those in less fortunate circumstances than you, but expressing all of God’s goodness to them. The person who finds grace within to do this in abundance, is not to do it in any heavy way but, says Paul, “let him do it cheerfully.” That way you can’t be heavy handed in being a carer, a giver, a blesser! Remember, it’s all the grace of God in and through you.

17. To Asa

“God turned up” Meditations: 17 :  To Asa

2 Chron 15:1,2 The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded. He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.

Asa’s summary at the start of the record in 2 Chronicles is good: Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands” (2 Chron 14:2-4). We also see that when he went to battle he called on the Lord (2 Chron 14:11) placing his reliance on the Lord, and so the Lord gave him victory. It is as they return from this victory that Azariah gets stirred by the Holy Spirit to come and prophesy over him. The Lord has turned up!

Yes, the Lord had been with him previously and yes the Lord had given him victory, but now the Lord comes close, so to speak, and speaks personally to Asa. This is a new level of experience for Asa. It is a significant prophecy.

It starts out with this somewhat strange sounding word: The LORD is with you when you are with him.” i.e. the Lord will be for you and will bless you as long as your heart is set on the Lord.  It continues: If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” This is both a reassurance and a warning.  Seek God and you will find Him but forsake Him and He won’t stay with you,  i.e. your blessing from God is conditional upon you sticking with Him.  It says you cannot take the Lord’s blessing for granted.  Blessing comes with obedience.

The prophecy then continues to speak of a past time of apostasy that had continued until Israel had sought the Lord (v.3-5). It had been a troubling time for the Lord had brought corrective troubles to turn the people back to Himself (v.6) but now is a time for Asa to take courage: “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” (v.7). It has effect: “When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the LORD that was in front of the portico of the LORD’s temple.” (v.8). What we find here is the Lord speaking to motivate this king to move out further in his reforms.

Isn’t this what prophecy is all about? Paul taught, “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). Yes, sometimes there will be a corrective element in it, even a teaching element sometimes, but primarily it is to strengthen, encourage and comfort. The Lord knows that in this Fallen World so often we feel weak, so often we feel down and defeated, and so often we feel heartbroken, and thus He speaks to support, build and energise us.

See the effect on Asa.  He gathers the people together, which includes some of the Israelites from the north (v.9,10) and they sacrifice (v.11) and enter into a covenant together to seek the Lord (v.12) and this they did (v.15). Furthermore he dealt with idolatry within the royal family (v.16) and although he didn’t go up into Israel and purge that land (v.17) he was committed to God and restored the Temple (v.18).  This is how prophecy should work!  It should have the effect of bringing transformation and kingdom life.  This prophecy had been a strong encouraging word and it had effect – for a time.

Unfortunately time passed – 36 years (2 Chron 16:1) – and Asa forgot the importance of that initial word that had set him on a good path.  When Israel arose to threaten them he did not call on the Lord but on the king of Aram (2 Chron 16:2-).  Thus the Lord turned up again through another of His men and rebuked him for it (v.7-9) Asa took it badly (v.10) and so when he was afflicted with a foot disease he did not call on the Lord for help (v.12) and two years later he died.

The lesson is clear: the Lord loves us and will come with words of encouragement and we are to hold on to those – and keep on holding to them. Within them there is a basic principle – blessing comes from obedience. The other side of that same coin is that we are not to take the Lord for granted and drift from Him for the blessing remains only as long as He does, for it is a Fallen World and we need the Lord in everything we are and everything we do. When we move away from Him we become vulnerable to sin and Satan and the ways of the world. The call is to hold fast to the Lord.