Our Fellowship, Our Joy

This post is by Rich Powell, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Winston Salem, NC. You can find out more about him here or hear his expositions of Scripture at gbcnc.org. Reprinted with the gracious permission of the author.

 

Because of his encounter with the incarnate Son of God, John was compelled to broadcast this wonderful One to us and all who would hear.

That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

The apostle makes the point that joy and fellowship are inextricably linked. God is the source of joy. The God/man is the means of appropriating that joy through our relationship to Him and then with His people.

As believers, each of us has been baptized into the body of Christ.  The body is vital connection and interdependence with coordinated work upon command from the head (Christ). While there is a common mission for the church there is also a common divine objective for each member of the body- the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ- our joy!

COACHING-1Being conformed to Christ’s image is not something that is done alone. The mind of Christ and the law of Christ require investment with regard to others. Each of us plays an integral role in the spiritual growth (the joy of becoming like Christ) of the other. Our lasting joy in the Lord is proportionate to our maturity in the Lord and love of/fellowship with His people.

This is why the apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers that they were fellow workers for your joy. Fellowship is what the apostle John did- the blessing he received from God he shared with those around him. What has been entrusted to you (God’s blessings) is for the express purpose of contributing to the joy of others.

Our Very Miseries Will be Blessed- Calvin on Suffering

John_Calvin01When he wasn’t blasting the ‘effrontery’ of his opponents (dubbed miscreants and asses), John Calvin could write with gracious clarity and depth. The excerpt below shows the characteristic skill of his pen. I have long sensed a need to take more time to read passages like these with care. “Books,” says Thoreau, “must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”

Since I don’t have to work too hard to find material like this today, I have to fight the reality that the abundance of good reading can turn me in to a page skimmer rather than a reader.

We frequently read about great theologians- which is helpful, no doubt- but we need to devote time to hearing from them directly:

Faith does not promise us length of days, riches, and honors, (the Lord not having been pleased that any of these should be appointed us;) but is contented with the assurance, that however poor we may be in regard to present comforts, God will never fail us. The chief security lies in the expectation of future life, which is placed beyond doubt by the word of God. Whatever be the miseries and calamities which await the children of God in this world, they cannot make his favor cease to be complete happiness…

In short, if we have every earthly comfort to a wish, but are uncertain whether we have the love or hatred of God, our felicity will be cursed, and therefore miserable. But if God lift on us the light of his fatherly countenance, our very miseries will be blessed, inasmuch as they will become helps to our salvation.

Thus Paul, after bringing together all kinds of adversity, boasts that they cannot separate us from the love of God: and in his prayers he uniformly begins with the grace of God as the source of all prosperity.

In like manner, to all the terrors which assail us, David opposes merely the favor of God,- “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” (Ps. 23:4). And we feel that our minds always waver until, contented with the grace of God, we in it seek peace, and feel thoroughly persuaded of what is said in the psalm, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance,” (Ps. 33:12).

~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

 

Evangelism- No Time to Talk

“Are you a member of a good church?”

In the Bible Belt, this is a common beginning to a conversation with unexpected strangers knocking at your door. Granted, that doesn’t happen so often. A few months ago, two kind ladies from a local Baptist church came by while doing some door-to-door ‘visiting’. I answered ‘yes’ to their first question, and then I described our church’s location. I offered that I served as a deacon, hoping to indicate that I wasn’t the backslidden Southern Baptist they apparently thought I was- gauging from their strained smiles.

Given the tenor of the conversation thus far, the next question was unexpected:

“Sir, if you died today do you know if you would go to be with Jesus in heaven?”

Let’s get right to it, shall we? I hesitated: “Yes… would you like to come inside to talk about that?”

They both said that they were just “passing through” the neighborhood and that they couldn’t stay long. They couldn’t stay. They had the time to ask me about my eternal destiny, but not to hear what I had to say about it?

The lady gave one more attempt at nailing a hard answer from me. She asked if I was sure that there was a “point in time” when I “asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.” I reiterated that I would love to talk with them about that, but since they were in a hurry… The speaker’s companion realized how impertinent they must have seemed because she volunteered that they would love to hear my story.

I invited them inside to meet my wife and children, but I didn’t keep them long. I hoped that they would see that their questions were deeply personal and that they would therefore require personal answers. Again, they were very kind, but I was concerned with the outworking of their sincerely held beliefs. It was as though they thought life’s big questions don’t require contemplation or elaboration. Just answer the question. Bada boom, bada bing- read our tract, pray our prayer, provide the password (a ‘testimony’) so we can move on to the neighbors.

After they left, I wanted to help my kids think through the interview they had seen. I was obviously displeased with what I saw as a flippant representation of evangelism. Besides failing to even ask my name, there was the pervasive sense of mistrust- it didn’t seem possible to them that I was a Christian until I agreed to their- frankly, unbiblical terminology.

roman_road_02However, if I wasn’t careful, I could leave the impression that it is inappropriate to talk to strangers about God. Even now, after months of hesitation, this post feels more bitter than it ought to be. I do believe that talking to everyone about God is one of our highest callings, and I wish more evangelicals were as willing as these women to do so. I wanted my children to appreciate the zeal of these women, while acknowledging with grace that their zeal lacked biblical moorings. I wanted them to learn to go to people where they are, asking hard questions, while also being willing to listen to hard questions in return.

We should aim again and again to do this consistently with the spirit and doctrine of the Apostles. No trick questions, no heuristically chopping the Romans Road into a Few Random Bits of Paving Stones from the Romans Road.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. ~ Paul, 2 Cor.4:2

 

Thoughts on Faith

This post is by Rich Powell, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Winston Salem, NC. You can find out more about him here or hear his expositions of Scripture at gbcnc.org. Reprinted with the gracious permission of the author. 

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. Rom. 2:28-29

Circumcision, for the Jews (the “people of God”), was a ceremonial symbol of identification and distinction. But each one, personally and individually, had to place his faith in God. That is why the “real” Jew, according to the apostle, was not one who just carried the outward symbol but possessed a real inward distinction of surrendered trust in the Creator/Redeemer.

Now that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law for all, we who are in Christ are the people of God by faith, meaning: in my heart and mind- at the level of thought and desire- I am set apart and devoted to Jesus Christ. That symbol of identification and distinction is “circumcision of the heart.”

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The apostle is driving home the difference between real fruit that grows naturally from within the tree, as opposed to aesthetic fruit that is superficially pinned to a dead branch. Externals, symbols, and group identifications do not put us in right standing with God and certainly do not fulfill His purposes.

Reconciliation to God through faith is not by identifying with a group or keeping a ritual, but by a personal surrender to Jesus Christ and singular trust in His sacrifice to redeem me to Himself.

God sees your heart. What is He finding?