“I go late because I don’t like the music.”
“I don’t like how our preacher seems to preach the same message every week.”
“I want to make my kids happy. They want a church with a better youth group.”
I’m pretty sure that, after decades of actively serving God, I’ve heard it all. There’s one big problem with all of these statements – the word I. Want to know a secret – that isn’t a secret? Church isn’t about us, what we want, or what we like.
I mean, seriously. Do you think every Israelite man wanted to make the trip to Jerusalem to worship as they were commanded to do? Man is the same throughout the ages, so I’m pretty comfortable saying, “No.” Some of those men didn’t want to make the trek to Jerusalem just as surely as many men today don’t want to make the trip to church on Sunday morning. So why did they go?
Because they knew it wasn’t about them, that it was about God and the worship He deserves as God. No matter how many miles they had to walk hauling livestock for sacrifice, no matter how much they hated crowds and noise, no matter how long they would have to wait in line, no matter if they knew going in that they wouldn’t enjoy themselves at all…IT WASN’T ABOUT THEM.
In 1 Cor. 12:18, we are told that God plants us in the church as He wills. We want to pick and choose our churches like we select our food at a buffet. God wants us to attend the churches He has selected for us. And yes, we may at times disagree with His choices.
We may think the church is too far away, we may not like the music at all, we may resent parents letting their kids be noisy in service, we may feel we could have found a better sermon on TV… None of that matters. What matters is that God has told us, “Here. This is your spiritual home. LIVE in it.” If He hasn’t told you that, didn’t lead you to the church you’re in, go talk to Him about it. Now.
If He did lead you to your current church, He put you there for at least one reason. Just like a good gardener studies soil content, sunlight, and other factors before setting a prized plant in the ground, God carefully selected where He planted you. If you dislike things about where you are, don’t whine about it to the other plants or, worse yet, try to dig up your own roots and move. Talk to Him about it.
You may well – probably will – be surprised by what He has to say. He may be pointing out needs in the church that He wants you to help meet. He may be working on expanding your horizons of what you like. He may point out that you don’t eat only two meals a week and shouldn’t rely strictly on your pastor for your spiritual nourishment. He might simply explain that it’s time you get over your self because church isn’t about you at all.
It’s about Him. It’s about bringing our week-wearied bodies to the sanctuary as a sacrifice of worship. It’s about lifting our hearts to Him in worship and praise whether the song is a hundred years old or ten minutes old. It’s about intentionally ignoring distractions and focusing on what He is trying to say to you – not only through the sermon, but through every part of the experience.
When we shift our focus off ourselves and whether or not someone in pre-worship fellowship took the chocolate-covered donut we wanted, and turn it to the One who is the whole reason we are on this planet in the first place, our walks with God will change radically.
I did an in-depth study many years ago and reached a very important conclusion.
WHAT I do is important. Getting into God’s Word, learning what He wants me to do, and making sure I do the right thing… Important. But even more important than WHAT I do is WHY I do it.
In other words, motivation is everything. God doesn’t just want our actions to be right, our appearance and performance to be acceptable; He wants our hearts to be right. I can go to church, hug my neighbors, raise my hands in worship, give liberally in the offering… but if my heart isn’t in it, if I’m only going through the motions so I’ll look good to others or satisfy some legalistic need inside of me, I’M WRONG.
And if I’m wrong, the only thing I need to be doing is getting right. It’s time for me to go to Him and ask for His forgiveness and help, to pray with the psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” [Psalm 51:10 (KJV)]
I’ve shared before about the great value I find in reading through the Bible, and I’m currently reading it through again. This time God had me pull out The One Year Bible for Women in the New Living Translation.
I’ve never even considered reading this format before. I felt it would make for too choppy a read, that it would interrupt the flow of the text to such an extent that I would get little out of it. I was mistaken.
This Bible offers itself up in daily readings that include passages from the Old Testament, the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. I’ve discovered that this works quite well as no one section is so long that it gets boring, and having Psalms and Proverbs broken up into such small bites really gives them the attention they deserve.
I still believe it’s vitally important to read through the Bible chronologically at least once, preferably two or three times, but I had to come confess that I find this to be an exceptionally good reading plan as well.
In reading Exodus 15:16-32, we see one phrase repeated many times.
…just as the Lord had commanded him.
Moses is setting up the Tabernacle and we see in these words that he has learned a great truth. We aren’t called simply to do what God tells us to; we are called to do it “just as the Lord has commanded.” It is for us to live our lives not by our own standards, but by His.
Because Moses paid such close attention to God’s commands…
Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.
There is a line in a song we sing in church: “We bow down. We lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus.”
We sing this song in the present tense, and I recently realized the importance of doing this very thing. We may not wear literal crowns today, but most of us have areas in which we feel we rule, parts of our lives in which we take pride (often rightfully so), places where our “hat” is a crown.
When we lay everything else at Jesus’ feet–our burdens, our brokenness, our sickness, our pain–we should lay these crowns at His feet as well. In doing this, in submitting one’s whole life to Him, you see those strong places strengthened even more; also, when you recognize that no matter how much you “rule” in an area it is He who reigns supreme, you steer clear of the sin of pride.
It is far better to lay one’s crown down that to have it removed as a result of sin.
5 For this very reason, adding your diligence [to the divine promises],
employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy), and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence),
6 And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control, and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance), and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety),
7 And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection, and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love.
8 For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
9 For whoever lacks these qualities is blind, [spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him, and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins.
For this very reason
Verse 4 of this chapter discusses that God has given us precious and exceedingly great promises so that we can “escape from the moral decay of the world” and “become sharers of the divine nature.” It is for this reason that we do all that the following verses call for us to do.
adding your diligence [to the divine promises], employ every effort
Yes, we have the divine promises and they were given to us for a reason, but they are like tools—to accomplish what they were made to do, they require our efforts. And God isn’t just calling for a little effort here, but for us to employ “every effort.” The King James Version says, “giving all diligence.”
Half-hearted participants need not apply!
in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy)
So we employ every effort in exercising our faith. Ministers often compare faith to a muscle and it seems God surely uses it in this way here. Faith is something that we must exercise continually if it is to become stronger. Most think of exercising their faith for things—cars, jobs, etc.—but God says clearly that there is one thing so important that we are to put forth every effort to exercise our faith to develop it…and that is virtue—excellence, resolution, Christian energy. One might ask why it takes faith to develop such virtue, but most probably wouldn’t question once they’d really thought about it. It does take a definite effort in exercising my faith for me to develop this virtue, this excellence, this resolution, this Christian energy, this (according to the New Living Translation) moral excellence. In my head, it see it as a simple decision, but in practice, when faced with certain choices, it takes an active effort of faith to take the step in the right direction instead of the wrong one.
and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence),
So virtue is like a muscle too, in that to develop properly it must be exercised, and as we exercise it we develop knowledge.
Since this selection is specifically leading us into avoiding the moral decay of the world and becoming sharers of the divine nature, we can be pretty sure the knowledge referred to here has nothing to do with worldly knowledge, but rather with spiritual knowledge. In fact, the New Living Translation says, “A life of moral excellence leads to knowing God better.”
So as we exercise virtue, living lives of moral excellence, we come to know God better. Now there is a motivator!
And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control,
So one of the natural results of growing in the knowledge of God or, perhaps more accurately, one of the first things we see we must develop as we come to know God better, is self-control.
Self-control is a big issue among Christians today. We all seem to be continually working on self-control in one area or another, be it eating too much, cursing, losing our temper, judging others…whatever. Many who have little self-control despise their own weakness, but do not know how to combat it. Here God gives the answer.
Exercise your faith to develop moral excellence (virtue), exercise this moral excellence and get to know God better, and develop/exercise this knowledge of God.
Consider how a man, though he seems to have little control of his tongue, actively tries to limit his cursing when in the presence of a dear friend who is offended by his bad habit. The more time he spends with this friend, exercising his knowledge of the friend, the less he curses. So do we also, as we actively seek to grow in the knowledge of God, spending time with Him (an absolute necessity if we are to know Him), find it easier to control ourselves. As the New Living Translation puts it, “Knowing God leads to self-control.”
So, since one thing leads to another, where does self-control lead?
and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance),
According to the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the literal meaning of the original word is “cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy.”
It is tremendous to realize that exercising self-control actually leads to developing cheerful or hopeful endurance, to developing constancy. I love that it is not endurance alone, which can be a miserable thing, but is endurance that is cheerful or hopeful – both of which, by the way, are characteristics of God. So as we come to know God better, He rubs off on us, yes?
And constancy! Someone who is constant is the same at all times, unwavering. This reminds me of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Constancy is definitely an attribute of God.
and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety),
Ah…now we are getting truly close to being genuine partakers in the nature of God. Surely knowing that we can reach this place is sufficient motivation to encourage one to exercise faith to develop virtue. It is easy to see that as we grow in this process, this absolutely necessary process, the moral decay of the world becomes less and less appealing. It is easy to escape a trap when you are headed swiftly away from it.
And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection,
Brotherly love is love for other Christians and it saddens me to see it so far down on this list. It does not surprise me, however, for the God kind of love cannot really operate where there is no virtue, knowledge of God, self-control, or constancy.
Indeed, the low level of brotherly love found in some churches is a sure sign that at least part of the body of Christ is not working their way through this process of growth. All too many don’t know God as well as they likely think they do. Far too many exhibit the symptoms listed later, in verse 9.
and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love.
And here it is…perhaps the hardest of all. If we are to be sharers of the divine nature of God, who is love, we must love. If we love, truly love, those who surround us—ALL those whom God loves—we must be willing to lay down our selves and share HIM with them.
On the surface, this is obvious. In practice, how often do I do it? I must confess that I don’t do it nearly as often as I should.
Jesus, motivated by love, laid down His life for all of us, from the best to the worst. Who are we to claim the right to do less? If we are afraid to witness we don’t love enough, because perfect love casts out fear. That is a humbling thought.
For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
I also like the New Living Translation here. “The more you grow like this, the more you will become productive and useful in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I want to be productive and useful. I don’t want God to refer to me as being idle or unfruitful! He paid an unimaginable price for my salvation; even if there were no promise attached, I would owe it to Him to use what He has given me.
For whoever lacks these qualities is blind,
I have known Christians like this, people who could not recognize a spiritual truth if you put it in front of their noses. Obviously, according to this passage, the only cure for this spiritual blindness is to start making every effort to exercise their faith to develop divine virtue.
[spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him,
Spiritually speaking, this is exceedingly dangerous. God can show us many things ahead of time if we have the eyes to see them. The shortsighted person does not have this benefit.
and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins.
And he who is oblivious to the fact that he was cleansed from his old sin is far too likely to return to it. Down that path lies the moral decay of the world and a complete inability to be a sharer in the divine nature. This should never be the condition of one who has been called out as a child of God, but for too many, for those who refuse to make the efforts God calls for us to make, it is inevitable. He says so.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Christ’s body, like our bodies, consists of many parts, and God created each part to serve a purpose; I Corinthians discusses this at length. A friend once told me that she had discovered what part she was – Christ’s nose hair. She said it laughingly, but a brief anatomy study reveals that, in a way, she was right. Nose hair acts as a filter, preventing that which is unacceptable from entering the body. This woman has tremendous discernment and walks in spiritual authority at a level beyond that to which most Christians would aspire. When demons have been known to tremble in your presence, you do help to protect the body from unwanted entry.
Each of us is called by God to serve a unique purpose, to fill a position in His body – in the local church. I Corinthians 12:18-20 says, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” There are many parts – many of us, the individuals who make up the body of Christ – and each part is both uniquely necessary and necessarily unique. Just as God did not create the human body with nothing but eyes, tongues and hands, He did not create the body of Christ with only pastors, choir members and ushers. No, the body of Christ (and each local church body) is made up of many parts, many people. Us.
But it is not enough to acknowledge that we are each a part of the body. No, we must also discover which part of the body we are. Note, I do not say we must decide which part we are. No indeed, for I Cor 12:18 states clearly that, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (emphasis mine) God has a unique plan for each one of us and it is our responsibility to seek Him and find out what that plan is. If we presume to decide for ourselves what function we will fill in the body of Christ, we make a gross mistake. Just as an elbow does not have the option of deciding it would rather be a hand, we do not have the option of changing our God-given assignments.
Over the years, I have repeatedly witnessed the results of this very thing, people attempting to choose their own assignments rather than seeking God’s direction. The music ministry is typical; many people join the choir not because God has called them to that position, but because it is where they want to be. Fortunately, most of these misplaced members eventually realize they have put themselves into the wrong position and, hopefully, move on to the place of God’s calling. How much easier would church life have been on them if they had gone straight to God for their assignments instead of telling Him where they had chosen to place themselves? Indeed, how much better would it have been on the choir and music ministry if they had not put themselves where they were not called to be…and how much easier on the ministry that had anxiously awaited their arrival? An elbow that tried to be a hand would create a multitude of problems; one who is called to be an usher, yet tries to be a nursery worker, can do the same.
Yes, it is imperative that each of us, as members of the body of Christ in general and our local church bodies in particular, find out where God has called us to fit in and GET THERE. My place, for 28 years, was in the music ministry. I served wherever the head of my ministry asked me to serve, from choir loft to church office, and I will dare say that I filled my spot well. I have, in the past, likened myself to a ball bearing, the part that makes everything run smoothly while remaining, itself, unseen. Looking at my reference verse, I suppose I would say that I fell into the, “held together by every supporting ligament” category because ligaments are absolutely necessary for the proper running of the body, supporting everything from their unseen position. Interestingly enough, it occurs to me that they are also nurtured and sheltered there, protected by all the visible things that cover them.
Had I ever wanted to be one of those visible parts? Of course! I have an ego and fight pride like everyone else. Like many who love to sing and end up joining a church choir, I had my moments of wanting to be a front line member (one of those few who are on the main stage), but the main platform was not my called position. Understanding this, I chose to put down the flesh whenever it would raise this topic. Interestingly enough, long after I conquered my flesh in this area, God arranged for me to fill in as a front line member for one service. Had I cherished any lingering thoughts of the main platform they would have been squashed flat that night. Everyone said I did well enough, but like an elbow trying to be a hand I felt grossly out of place. Dear God, never again…please.
Today I am on staff at the church, so my position has changed dramatically. No longer in the music ministry, I run our coffee shop and Info Table instead, but I am still a supporting ligament, still just doing my best to keep things moving smoothly and with excellence. I love being where God has called me to be!
…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:14 begins, “Then we will no longer be infants…” and verse 15 says, “…we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” This whole passage, Eph 4:14-16, talks about us maturing, growing up and refusing to remain babies. Any pastor will tell you sadly that there are too many spiritual babies in the body of Christ, too many spiritual babies in his church. Verse 16 reveals one of the great evidences, an obvious indicator of whether one is a mature or immature (baby) Christian.
…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
The emphasis, of course, is mine.
According to this Scripture, the growth, the maturity, the building up in love comes as each part does its work. Not only must each part of the body of Christ and, obviously, the local church body, work (which is a rare enough thing in most churches), but each must do its work – not that of another part (someone else’s work). Each of us is a part of the whole body and every one of us has God-given work assignments. Only when we walk in submission to Him and do the works that He assigns do we really grow and build ourselves up in love. Furthermore, only when we each do our own work does the body grow and build itself up in love. When we fail, the body fails; if I, as a supporting ligament, choose not to do my assigned work, all that I support is hindered, handicapped and slowed in its growth.