WORK HARD FOR A HEALING SPIRIT

The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

NPG D29704,The Farewell Sermons of ...,by Unknown artistSunday August 24, 1662, witnessed a great turning point in English Christianity. Dubbed The Great Ejection, some 2,000 ministers left the national church for reasons of conscience.

That “Farewell Sunday” Puritan giants like Richard Baxter, Thomas Manton, Thomas Watson, and numerous others delivered parting sermons to their congregations.

Thomas Brooks prepared his own, but apparently never got to preach it. Consequently he preserved his in written form. His conclusion consisted of twenty-seven “legacies” he wished to impart to his people.

The tenth revealed his passion for the church to excel in preserving unity:

Labour mightily for a healing spirit. This legacy I would leave with you as a matter of great concernment. To repeat: Labour mightily for a healing spirit. Away with all discriminating names whatever that may hinder the applying of balm to heal your wounds. Labour for a healing spirit. Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs, is no wonder; but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous. God hath made his wrath to smoke against us for the divisions and heart-burnings that have been amongst us. Labour for a oneness in love and affection with every one that is one with Christ. Let their forms be what they will, that which wins most upon Christ’s heart, should win most upon ours, and that is his own grace and holiness. The question should be, What of the Father, what of the Son, what of the Spirit shines in this or that person? and accordingly let your love and your affections run out.

In his first letter to a mostly healthy church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul issued a variety of exhortations.

One in particular championed Brook’s labor-mightily-for-a-healing-spirit legacy.

Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thess. 5:13b).

The verb is an imperative. He commands this. It is not optional to pursue peace in the body of Christ—and get this—constantly no less.

He uses the present tense. It conveys a continuous kind of action. An alternate translation could rightly read, Keep on being at peace among yourselves.

Hebrews 12:14 slants it this way: Strive for peace with everyone. Paul stressed in Rom. 12:18, If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Brooks nailed it. Labor mightily for a healing spirit.

Do-your-best preservers of congregational unity should bring a lot of energy to peacemaking in the church. It will always rank high in their priorities as members of a fellowship.

In 1 Thess. 5:12-13, Paul zeroes in on the relationship between the people and their leaders. He spells out a practice they must master, if they are to excel as a peacemaking people.

Concluding with some final instructions he writes:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

The apostle targets principally the followers—the greater majority of any congregation.

The principle for laboring mightily to safeguard unity in this case is this: Peacemaking people in Christ’s church treat their officers with utmost honor given the nature of their work.

In my next few posts I plan to unpack the what and the why of honoring church officers. In the meantime, ask yourself this question:

How does my attitude toward the leaders of my church preserve or threaten my church’s unity?

THE GOSPEL GRACE OF WELCOMING (4)

How Embracing Others with Differences of Conscience Protects Church Unity

The New Testament prescribes many principles aimed at the need to excel in preserving unity in the church (Eph. 4:1-3). One very important such command involves embracing in love those who differ with us in the so-called “gray areas” of the Christian life.

welcome aboard 2

I first introduced this issue in post #1.

In post #2, I treated the gist of welcoming–Paul’s antidote for unity-destroying judging in the body.

In post #3, I covered the two-fold ground of welcoming: the gospel of God and the judgment of God.

In this final post, I want to conclude with the goal of welcoming–the glory of God.

Remember the climatic verse in Rom. 15:7?

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.

This connects back to the benediction Paul inserts in Rom. 15:5-6.

[5] May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, [6] that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice the therefore in v. 7.

In light of Paul’s prayer for them for God’s gift of endurance to live in harmony that they may with one voice glorify–magnify, make to look great–the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore welcome one another.

As one writer put it, the neighbors are watching. A welcoming, receiving, taking to one another, embracing spirit toward especially those who differ with us on some of these thorny issues speaks volumes in credit to the praise and glory of God before a watching world.

Paul does not nearly concern himself as much with who’s right or wrong. That’s not the point. It’s how we treat one another. His preeminent concern is that we guard the peace, unity and harmony of the community.

At the Promise Keepers Pastor’s Conference in the Georgia Dome some years ago, I actually heard Max Lucado share this piece he wrote:

God has enlisted us in his navy and placed us on his ship. The boat has one purpose-to carry us safely to the other shore. This is no cruise ship; it’s a battleship. We aren’t called to a life of leisure; we are called to a life of service. Each of us has a different task. Some concerned with those who are drowning, are snatching people from the water. Others are occupied with the enemy, so they man the cannons of prayer and worship. Still others devote themselves to the crew, feeding and training the crew members.

Though different, we are the same. Each can tell of a personal encounter with the captain, for each has received a personal call. He found us among the shanties of the seaport and invited us to follow him. Our faith was born at the sight of his fondness, and so we went. We each followed him across the gangplank of his grace onto the same boat. There is one captain and one destination. Though the battle is fierce, the boat is safe, for our captain is God. The ship will not sink. For that, there is no concern.

There is concern, however, regarding the disharmony of the crew. When we first boarded we assumed the crew was made up on others like us. But as we’ve wandered these decks, we’ve encountered curious converts with curious appearances. Some wear uniforms we’ve never seen, sporting styles we’ve never witnessed. “Why do you look the way you do?” we ask them.

“Funny,” they reply. “We were about to ask the same of you.” The variety of dress is not nearly as disturbing as the plethora of opinions. There is a group, for example, who clusters every morning for serious study. They promote rigid discipline and somber expressions. “Serving the captain is serious business,” they explain. It’s no coincidence that they tend to congregate around the stern. There is another regiment deeply devoted to prayer. Not only do they believe in prayer, they believe in prayer by kneeling. For that reason you always know where to locate them; they are at the bow of the ship.

And then there are a few who staunchly believe real wine should be used in the Lord’s Supper. You’ll find them on the port side. Still another group has positioned themselves near the engine. They spend hours examining the nuts and bolts of the boat. They’ve been known to go below deck and not come up for days. They are occasionally criticized by those who linger on the top deck, feeling the wind in their hair and the sun on their face. “It’s not what you learn,” those topside argue. “It’s what you feel that matters.”

And, oh, how we tend to cluster.

Some think once you’re on the boat, you can’t get off. Others say you’d be foolish to go overboard, but the choice is yours. Some believe you volunteer for service; others believe you were destined for the service before the ship was even built. Some predict a storm of great tribulation will strike before we dock; others say it won’t hit until we are safely ashore. There are those who speak to the captain in a personal language. There are those who think such languages are extinct. There are those who think the officers should wear robes, there are those who think there should be no officers at all, and there are those who think we are all officers and should all wear robes.

And, oh, how we tend to cluster.

And then there is the issue of the weekly meeting at which the captain is thanked and his words are read. All agree on its importance, but few agree on its nature. Some want it loud, others quiet. Some want ritual, others spontaneity. Some want to celebrate so they can meditate; others meditate so they can celebrate. Some want a meeting for those who’ve gone overboard. Others want to reach those overboard but without going overboard and neglecting those on board.

And, oh, how we tend to cluster.

The consequence is a rocky boat. There is trouble on deck. Fights have broken out. Sailors have refused to speak to each other. There have even been times when one group refused to acknowledge the presence of others on the ship. Most tragically, some adrift at sea have chosen not to board the boat because of the quarreling of the sailors. “What do we do?” we’d like to ask the captain. “How can there be harmony on the ship?” We don’t have to go far to find the answer.

On the last night of his life Jesus prayed a prayer that stands as a citadel for all Christians:

I pray for these followers, but I am also praying for all those who will believe in me because of their teaching. Father, I pray that they can be one. As you are in me and I am in you, I pray that they can also be one in us. Then the world will believe that you sent me. (John 17:20)

How precious are these words. Jesus, knowing the end is near, prays one final time for his followers. Striking, isn’t it, that he prayed not for their success, their safety, or their happiness. He prayed for their unity. He prayed that they would love each other. As he prayed for them, he also prayed for “those who will believe because of their teaching.” That means us! In his last prayer Jesus prayed that you and I be one.

Say no to clustering. Say yes to welcoming.

THE GOSPEL GRACE OF WELCOMING (3)

How Embracing Others with Differences of Conscience Protects Church Unity

It feels good to return to writing about the New Testament prescription for believers to excel in preserving unity in the church (Eph. 4:1-3).

Gospel

In post #1 on addressing how judging one another over “gray areas” in the Christian life damages unity, I introduced the issue.

In post #2, I treated the gist of welcoming–Paul’s antidote for unity-destroying judging in the body. In this post, we turn to the all-important ground of welcoming.

The ground of welcoming has two parts: the gospel of God who has welcomed us in Jesus Christ and the judgment of God before which every believer ultimately stands or falls.

Each one will require its own post for adequate explanation.

The first part is so important that Paul says it twice, each time invoking a different member of the Trinity.

Why should neither the strong nor weak despise or pass judgment of the other? Rom. 14:3— for God has welcomed him. Rom. 15:7—the conclusion of the matter—therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you (emphasis added).

The grace for doing community well, especially the more demanding prescriptions—but in reality all of them—always comes from the grace of God in the gospel and His great love for us properly appropriated and treasured.

The call here in terms of the ground for obedience does not differ at all from the call to forgive and the ground for that impossible grace, if left to ourselves, in Eph. 4:32—Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (emphasis added).

In one respect this way of arguing by Paul is from the lesser to the greater. And here’s why. Consider Rom. 5:6-10.

[6] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (emphasis added).

All Jesus asks of us in gospel-shaped community is to welcome saved-by-grace believers with differing opinions on the grey areas of the Christian life. That’s the lesser.

How tough can that be (here comes the greater) for we whom the Father and the Son welcomed, received, embraced, justified, adopted, and loved though not just weak, but ungodly, sinners, and enemies no less?

Matthew Henry said it so well:

Can there be a more cogent argument? Has Christ been so kind to us, and shall we be so unkind to those that are his? Was he so forward to entertain us, and shall we be backward to entertain our brethren? Christ has received us into the nearest and dearest relations to himself: has received us into his fold, into his family, into the adoption of sons, into a covenant of friendship, yea, into a marriage-covenant with himself; he has received us (though we were strangers and enemies, and had played the prodigal) into fellowship and communion with himself.

Are you finding it difficult to get along with people in the church whose opinions about secondary issues differ from yours?

Nothing will help you more than sustained focus on the gospel–amazing grace that saved a wretch like me and you.

 

THE GOSPEL GRACE OF WELCOMING (2)

How Embracing Others with Differences of Conscience Protects Church Unity

In my last post, I introduced this subject of dealing redemptively with so-called gray areas in the church.

Business handshake and business people

In this post I want to continue the discussion by unpacking the gist of the gospel grace of welcoming that helps preserve unity in this challenging area of church life.

The gist of welcoming is an ongoing determination to embrace others in spite of differences over morally neutral matters. Paul speaks in Romans of two different categories of believers.

In 14:1 he refers to those weak in faith. In Rom. 15:1 he talks of we who are strong. Notice he counts himself among the strong by using the 1st person plural we.  What does he mean?

He gets very concrete in 14:2 – One person believes he may eat anything (the strong), while the weak person eats only vegetables. Over the issue of food, these believers fought, probably not from a nutritional perspective but from a religious one.

The vegetarians probably worried that eating meat might make them guilty of idolatry, if that meat came from offerings to idols (see 1 Cor. 8 for similar concerns in that fellowship).

The meat eaters lost no sleep over that so-called problem at all.

In verses 5ff Paul introduces another area of controversy plaguing the church – One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike.

In both matters of eating and day keeping, he categorizes the opposing positions in terms of strong and weak. By strong, including himself, he means the spiritually mature, fully able to enjoy their Christian liberty, completely emancipated from un-Christian inhibitions and taboos.

By weak, he means the spiritually immature, not yet fully liberated by the gospel and its call to freedom (Gal. 5:13), but rather constrained in their conscience not to do certain things for fear of displeasing God.

Jim Boice used this example of strong vs. weak:

Charles Spurgeon was the greatest preacher of his age, but he was frequently criticized for being funny. When one woman objected to the humor he inserted into his sermons Spurgeon told her, “Madam, you would think a great deal better of me if you knew the funny things I kept out.” A young man asked what he should do about a box of cigars he had been given. Spurgeon solved his problem. “Give them to me,” he said, “and I will smoke them to the glory of God.” On another occasion Spurgeon was criticized for traveling to meetings in a first class railway carriage. His antagonist said, “Mr. Spurgeon, what are you doing up here? I am riding back there in the third class carriage taking care of the Lord’s money.” Spurgeon replied, “And I am up here in the first class carriage taking care of the Lord’s servant.”

Both sides, strong and weak, judged one another. Consider Rom. 14:3. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats.

The Greek word for despise is a strong word. It means to consider as nothing, to treat with contempt. The strong who ate judged the weak who didn’t as legalists; the weak who abstained judged the strong who didn’t as libertines.

That built walls between them in the community. That created chasms in their fellowship. And to that Paul strongly objected giving this command: welcome one another.

The word is proslambano – literally, take to oneself. It means accept or receive. I like the word embrace. Perhaps one of the best concrete biblical examples we have of the spirit behind the word comes from Acts 28:2 – The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.

To welcome is to draw someone into your fellowship and companionship, to treat them gently and kindly, irrespective of their views on morally neutral issues – and not, by the way, for the purpose of disputing about those things according to v. 1 – welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.

Forget that! Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (Rom. 14:5). Mine is not to change my brother’s mind; mine is to embrace my brother, strong or weak, eating or not, drinking or not, smoking or not, movie and theater going or not, and a host of other doubtful things, principles of conscience, for which the Scripture colors no black and white.

So the gist of welcoming as a grace of gospel-shaped community is an ongoing determination to embrace others in spite of differences over morally neutral matters.

 

THE GOSPEL GRACE OF WELCOMING

How Embracing Others with Differences of Conscience Protects Church Unity

I have always felt that this little ditty hits a little too close to home for comfort:

To live above with the saints we love, oh, how that will be glory; but to live below with the saints we know, now that’s a different story.

Welcome mat with black and white sneakers

Quote that to any follower of Jesus with any length of time invested in His church, and that person will likely smile, wince, or both from a history of painful experience.

The New Testament prescribes numerous–what I call graces of gospel community–which we must apply in church fellowship, if we expect to eagerly preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

One such intricacy of love–lesser known than many of the others but oh so important–is welcoming one another. Paul’s epistle to the Romans addresses this issue toward the end of the book.

Let’s start with Romans 15:7 – Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Please understand that this marks the climax of a prolonged argument of Paul’s reaching all the way back to Romans 14:1-4 where we encounter the same key word, once in the imperative mood (a command)–As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him and then in the indicative mood (a reality) (v. 4)–for God has welcomed him.

Whatever Paul means by welcome, it matters greatly simply by the weight of emphasis given its repetition. First, let’s get our bearings with this book of the Bible before we dive into the particulars of these passages.

Paul wrote Romans to the church in that city to prepare them for his coming visit. It contains easily his most thoroughgoing treatment/explanation of the gospel, spanning chapters one to eleven.

Beginning in chapter 12 he transitions from the indicative, what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, to the imperative, how we should then live in light of that glorious gospel.

He covers a wide variety of spheres of relationships and issues as to how the gospel informs our choices therein, finally landing in this last section on a special problem area for believers–passing judgment on one another and thus compromising the unity and harmony of the body of Christ.

He prescribes this antidote for such a poison to genuine community: welcome one another.

Here is the main thing I want to emphasize in this text: the gospel shapes community by constraining us to manifest the grace of welcoming one another.

In future posts I want to show you three things about this grace: the gist of welcoming, the ground of welcoming, and the goal of welcoming.

My aim is to encourage us to take Paul’s counsel to heart as we continue to evaluate our own experience of community in our churches and to look to Him to shape us more and more in light of the gospel.

In the meantime ask yourself this question: Am I more inclined to accept others in their preferences of conscience or to judge them?

 

PEACEMAKING & “ALTAR BUILDING”

Marks of a God-Centered Lifestyle Essential for Peacemaking Excellence

I posted recently on one of my favorite Bible peacemaking passagesGen. 13. I failed to mention a critical component in the text–Abram’s pattern of altar building.

Praying in the dark

There is  a similarity between how the chapter begins and ends. In this is an insight—perhaps a secret—which explains why Abram could respond the way he did in the conflict with his nephew.

Genesis 12:10-20 recounts how Abram barely escaped a near disastrous entanglement with Pharaoh in Egypt. That background sets the stage for Abram coming out of Egypt back into Negeb.

It’s not an accident that these accounts come back-to-back. In chapter 12, Abram derails miserably with the Pharaoh debacle; here he gets back on track again with his own extended household.

The crucial difference between the two situations and their respective outcomes is revealed in v. 2-4.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.

It appears Abram learned a lesson from his failures in Egypt. He’s back seeking the Lord again at all times. He has resumed the all-important practice of altar building.

What does that look like? It means making God the center of your existence through a variety of means. You make a priority of worshiping Him. You regularly listen for His voice in His word. You keep up ongoing conversation with Him in prayer. You wait on Him to fulfill His promises to you.

These things make all the difference in the world! This is a huge turning point in how chapter twelve ends and how thirteen unfolds. But there’s more.

Verse 18 says this:  So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord. This chapter begins with altar building and it ends with altar building. Both references spell bookend emphasis for what comes in between.

It is this kind of God-centered orientation in chapter 13 which enables Abram with great grace to head off a relational train wreck with Lot.

Puritan Matthew Henry offered these practical insights about the disciplines of altar building:

Abram attended on God in his instituted ordinances. He built an altar unto the Lord who appeared to him, and called on the name of the Lord. Now consider this, (1.) As done upon a special occasion. When God appeared to him, then and there he built an altar, with an eye to the God who appeared to him. . . . Thus he acknowledged, with thankfulness, God’s kindness to him in making him that gracious visit and promise; and thus he testified his confidence in and dependence upon the word which God had spoken. . . . (2.) As his constant practice, whithersoever he removed. As soon as Abram had got to Canaan, though he was but a stranger and sojourner there, yet he set up, and kept up, the worship of God in his family; and wherever he had a tent God had an altar, and that an altar sanctified by prayer. . . .  Note, those that would approve themselves the children of faithful Abram, and would inherit the blessing of Abram, must make conscience of keeping up the solemn worship of God, particularly in their families, according to the example of Abram. The way of family worship is a good old way, is no novel invention, but the ancient usage of all the saints. Abram was very rich and had a numerous family, was now unsettled and in the midst of enemies, and yet, wherever he pitched his tent, he built an altar. Wherever we go, let us not fail to take our religion along with us.

How much altar building characterizes your life these days?

Your relational magnanimity quotient in peacemaking depends upon it.

 

HEADING OFF RELATIONAL DISASTERS

Six Marks of a Spirit of Magnanimity for Preventing Conflict

One of my favorite Old Testament accounts with peacemaking implications is Gen. 13:1-18. It tells of Abram’s largess in responding to Lot, his nephew, when a potential meltdown brewed on the south 40.

conflict conceptual meter

Here are a number of principles we can learn from the way Abram intercepted a family rupture before it ever happened.

First, taking initiative to diffuse tension. The conflict starts among the herdsmen. It doesn’t start with Lot and Abram, but their servants. It had to do with the tensions created by the amount of property stewarded by each man’s workers.

Word eventually got to the owner/masters about the conflict. Someone reported back to base about the escalating tensions in the field. But v. 8 is clear. Then Abram said to Lot. Abram took the first step. So often a relational disaster occurs because in pride, fear or selfishness or all of the above, no one will take the initiative—get the ball rolling.

Second, making efforts to avoid arguments. Look at Abram’s heart in v. 8. Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.” We’re family! We’re flesh and blood, man. You’re my nephew; I’m your uncle. I don’t want strife between us.

Do you see the value driving Abram in terms of his initiative? He will pay any reasonable cost—perhaps even an unreasonable one. But he will certainly pay a cost to avoid unnecessary conflict because he has the value—I will avoid a breach if I can do anything at all to prevent it.

Third, declining rights to press advantages. Again, notice the basis upon which Abram appeals to Lot—we are kinsmen. I don’t know that any of us would have blamed him if he responded very differently.  I’m your uncle, you little ungrateful so and so. What you think you’re doing? You’ve got a lot of nerve after all I have done for you.

But that clearly isn’t the card Abram played. He speaks to him equal to equal with his brotherly affection spilling over onto Lot.

Fourth, making choices to release control. Here’s where Abram’s magnanimity and spiritual resolve really shine. What else can we say of v. 9? Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, I will go to the left.

Our culture and time would probably pull Abram aside and question his sanity. We would advise him to think more than twice about such an offer. You choose, son!

Fifth, having courage to accept outcomes.  It took courage, did it not, for Abram to venture this? And there is no hint of Lot countering with a similar spirit of deferment. What does Lot do in response to Abram’s magnanimous offer in v. 10? Lot lifted up his eyes. He gazed upon well-watered Jordan Valley—water is everything!

He went East—always a direction away from the Lord and His blessing in Genesis—they separated. Abram went to the land of Canaan. God’s plan all along and Lot settled near where? Sodom. A set up for disaster just a short distance down the road. All because his eyes were lifted up on the things of this world and not the Lord.

Sixth, trusting God to keep promises. They parted. Lot in his direction, Abram in his. The relationship was intact. There was no breach, in large part due to Abram’s magnanimous spirit.

And notice what happens in v. 14. Who comes to Abram? God does. It’s at the point where he has released/surrendered in his magnanimity that God comes to him and says, “Lift up your eyes!” God comes to him and shows him the portion of the land which will be for him. Nothing was lost by his generosity.

Is there a relational storm brewing on your horizon? How might magnanimity on your part head off disaster before it strikes?

GUARDING ONENESS

How to Deal with the Killer of Unity in Any Relationship

My mentor and friend surprised me the other day. I asked if he could recommend a go-to resource on marriage. I figured he would point to any number of more recent publications by major evangelical authors. Not so.

humility word in metal type

He suggested Larry Crabb’s 1991 publication Men & Women: Enjoying the Difference (Zondervan). It just so happens I have a copy in my library. I read it years ago. Never hurts to take another look, so I pulled it off the shelf and began reading again.

It took only twenty-eight pages before these words hammered me:

We will not move very far in our efforts to develop good marriages until we understand that repairing a damaged sense of identity and healing the wound in our hearts is not the first order of business. It is rather dealing with the subtle, pervasive, stubborn commitment to ourselves. Self-centeredness is the killer. In every bad relationship, it is the deadliest culprit . Poor communication, temper problems, unhealthy responses to dysfunctional family backgrounds, co-dependent relationships, and personal incompatibility—everything (unless medically caused) flows out of the cesspool of self-centeredness.

If Crabb overstates the case at all, then I am not sure how much. It seems he lines up perfectly with Paul’s instructions in Phil. 2:1-4.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

He gives two directives for guarding oneness. The first addresses attitude–humility of mind which counts others more significant than oneself (see also Rom. 12:16; the second focuses on action–look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The Greek word for “look” is the word skopeo from where we get our English word “scope”–as in a rifle scope. We are to keep our eyes wide open for the concerns of others. He assumes we will do that for ourselves. Guardians of oneness in marriage, family, church or any relational sphere scan the horizon of needs on a broader scale for the benefit of others.

Philippians 2 finishes with four examples of his day from which to draw inspiration: Jesus (5-11), himself (12-18, Timothy (19-24), and Epaphroditus (25-30). Of course none of those matters more to our motivation to guard oneness than that of the Lord Jesus in His humiliation and exaltation.

Why? Because He not only gives us an example to follow; He supplies the power to live similarly through the transforming gospel.

As you move into 2017, where might you have to drain the cesspool of self-centeredness for the joy of growing in others-centeredness?

OUR BEST & NOTHING LESS

Pursuing Excellence as Peacemakers for 2017 in the Church

God’s word tells us many things we must do for Jesus in light of who we are in Jesus. A select list of responsibilities, however, are subject to a be-the-best-we-can-be, give-our-all, go-all-out kind of excellence in obeying them.

Excellent Customer Service

One of those responsibilities in particular for every church-going follower of Jesus gets a lot of Bible press. I’m talking about peacemaking. The Scriptures make this very clear in numerous places. Perhaps Ephesians 4:1-6 says it most thoroughly among them.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Camp out with me for a moment on that word “eager” in v. 3. Paul argues that a life gripped by the gospel of Jesus will, among other things, demonstrate itself in an eagerness for keeping the peace in the body of Christ.

The word for “eager” in the original text is the same word translated “do your best” in 2 Timothy 2:15. It shows up again in 2 Peter 1:5, translated a bit differently but conveying a similar idea, included in a list of highly desirable virtues in a believer’s life:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love (emphasis added).

Be eager. Do your best. Make every effort. These are multiple ways of saying virtually the same thing. They all capture the verb’s urgency regardless of the subject under consideration.

The Greek word comes from a root that means to run or make haste, to hurry about something. It communicates the idea of urgency, energy, a vigorous pursuit of something. Theologian Markus Barth nailed it with his assessment of this word so important to each of these contexts:

It is hardly possible to render exactly the urgency contained in the underlying Greek verb. Not only haste and passion, but a full effort of the whole man is meant, involving his will, sentiment, reason, physical strength, and total attitude. The imperative mood of the participle found in the Greek text excludes passivity, quietism, a wait-and-see attitude, or a diligence tempered by all deliberate speed. Yours is the initiative! Do it now! Mean it! You are to do it! I mean it!—Such are the overtones in verse 3.

Paul commands that this is the way we should regard the call to peacemaking for unity’s sake in the body of Christ.

Will you give your best and nothing less as a peacemaker at your church in 2017?