Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
God’s people around our nation are praying for our brethren at the West Freeway church of Christ outside Fort Worth, Texas. Most congregations I know have long since devised church security solutions, including security cameras, personnel to watch at entrances, and procedures for handling potential threats. In likely every congregation, there are a number of individuals both with concealed and visible firearms. Though this is a politically divisive issue, the fact that a gunman disrupted the most sacred moment of worship makes this preeminently relevant. You likely feel very strongly about this matter, regardless of where you stand on it.
Whatever your position on the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, did you know that the Bible commands us to be armed? Consider what the Holy Spirit through various writers has to say regarding something that transcends time and earth. Wherever we go, we must not be without these weapons for our spiritual warfare.
–“Be armed with the purpose of suffering” (1 Peter 4:1). This word means to take up arms. It is in the context of suffering righteously for Christ’s sake. In a world filled with people who are aimless, Christians have the ultimate purpose. In fulfilling that purpose, we will be opposed, threatened, and tempted to quit. Only by preparing ourselves for the Christ-life will we survive whoever or whatever attempts to destroy our faith.
–“Be armed with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left” (2 Cor. 6:7). Paul did not want Corinth to receive the grace of God in vain. That is, He wanted the sacrifice of Jesus and the hope of heaven to benefit these Christians. Part of that required them to live lives which didn’t discredit their ministry (3) and commended themselves as servants of God (4). One of several ways they could do that was by being armed with the weapons of righteousness. What are these? Well, Paul will address that in 2 Corinthians 10:1ff as well as in his writing to the church at Ephesus (6:10ff). In simplest terms, righteousness itself is a powerful weapon. We are made right (5:21) to do right (6:7). In a world of darkness, light stands out. In a world going wrong, doing right and being right is powerful!
–“Be armed with divinely powerful weapons for the destruction of fortresses … against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Paul contrasts the flesh and spirit, identifying this as the ultimate battlefield. How do you win against such frightening foes and forces? Arm yourself with the only weapon that is divine and destructive. What it destroys is what stands against God. Don’t think fleshly (or bodily). This goes beyond that.
I fear that the gun rights-gun control debate will rage on in the culture of politics and the politics of culture. But, do not be distracted! There is an eternal war going on which requires every one of us to be equipped. Do not dare be unarmed for that fight!
What the child is always doing, despite evidence to the contrary (“nothing”). What is wrong with one’s spouse who sits nearby, quietly and tightlippedly fuming (“nothing”). What the interrupted person was going to say (“nothing”). The word which defines itself is “nothing.” The Bible teaches, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:4).
Those low in self-esteem think of themselves as nothing. Children and spouses who are constantly told so think of themselves as nothing. Those not as wealthy as their friends or neighbors often conclude themselves to be nothing. Those unrecognized for their accomplishments can feel like they are nothing. But the inspired apostle refers to some who think themselves to be something who are actually “nothing.” The Bible makes mention of that arrogant family, The “Nothings.” They are a haughty, proud, self-involved, earthly-minded crew.
Meet The Nothings.
There Are The “Good For Nothings.” Jeremiah introduces them. He says, “This evil people, which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing” (Jer. 13:10). They were unaware of problems they had. They were evil, spiritually deaf, selfish, and idolatrous. He compares them to a good for nothing, straight from a hole in the ground, dirt-soiled belt!
No one is inherently worthless, but we can choose a lifestyle that is wicked, lukewarm, or indistinct (cf. Mat. 5:13). Christians, by our distinctive nature, are of great value to God (1 Pet. 2:9). Yet, by surrendering our Christian influence, we can become “good for nothing.”
There Are The “Brought To Nothings.” After referring to the danger of making decisions based solely on human reasoning, Jeremiah prays that God will not bring him to nothing (Jer. 10:23-24). God will rename some the Brought to Nothings, those who believe man’s ideas over God’s facts. Paul warns that God will “destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Cor. 1:19; Isa. 29:14). The wisest and most scholarly man who discounts God’s Word will be a regretful member of the Brought To Nothings someday.
There Are The “Need Of Nothings.” These are the overly comfortable, spiritually out of shape members of the Nothings clan. They live their lives saying, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and they do not know that they “are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). They aren’t really bad people, but they aren’t all that good either. They’re just quite satisfied with what they have done for Christ, which isn’t all that great and not too bad. They merely yawn through their spiritually lives, only occasionally stirring from spiritual sleep (cf. Eph. 5:14). They half-heartedly do just enough to deceive themselves into thinking they’re pleasing the Lord.
Unrelated to these Nothings are some good folks, like the Ashamed In Nothings (Phil. 1:20), Terrified By Nothings (Phil. 1:28), Anxious For Nothings (Phil. 4:6), and the Wavering In Nothings (Jas. 1:6, KJV). But the Nothings family mentioned above are black sheep in God’s family. No one should want to “take after” them.
While visiting Ray and Lupida Lewis yesterday, I got to hear the story behind her current situation. This upbeat, sweet-spirited Christian woman was minutes from undergoing the first of at least three extensive back and neck surgeries necessitated by injuries suffered as she was walking and was struck by a driver going 35 miles per hour.
Lupida has had a degenerative eye condition since childhood. It had gotten to the point that she could barely see more than shapes, but, given her educational background, she had been recruited to serve as a teacher in the Colorado School for the Blind. By last year, despite corrective eye surgery, Lupida could only see light and nothing more. That fateful September day last year, she was struck in the crosswalk by the inattentive driver and suffered brain, neck and back injuries. Some of that may be remedied, and other issues will never be resolved. One that appears permanent is that her head injuries caused her to wake up without even the ability to see light. She says, “I see only darkness now. The light has gone away.” She observed that one cannot really imagine the huge difference between being able to see light and being in total darkness.
We did not discuss it together, but I believe Lupida would agree with me that, as tragic as her circumstances are, there is a blindness worse than her own. Lupida lives with a faith and hope which assures her that her situation is, at worst, temporary. The song says, “Faith will be lost in heavenly sight.” She embraces that promise.
Today, you will constantly encounter people who may have the eyesight of an eagle when they submit to a physical test but who suffer a far greater blindness. Scripture often makes reference to wickedness as “walking in darkness” (Ps. 82:5; Prov. 2:13; Ecc. 2:14; Isa. 9:2; John 12:35; Eph. 5:8; 1 Jn. 1:6; 2:11). Tragically, it’s not the result of an accident–though it could be ignorance. Millions reject the light and pursue the darkness. They have every opportunity to see, but they don’t want to see. Ultimately, their voluntary journey through darkness leads to the outer darkness of condemnation (Mat. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Fortunately, their condition is reversible thanks to the Great Physician, but time is growing shorter by the moment. Ask God to lead you to those who are spiritually blind, and may we all endeavor to avoid such a condition ourselves (cf. Mat. 15:14; Rev. 3:17)!
Bob Russell tells the story of Dwight Day, a UPS pilot who had come back to church after many years away. Russell walked into the auditorium one day to catch Day scrubbing grape juice stains off the pews. This pilot was an important man with sufficient money to hire someone to do the job, but there he was scrubbing. He “wasn’t too important to clean the pews” (When God Builds A Church, 178).
Who visits the elderly members in the nursing home? Who participates in the workday? Who takes the poor, ill member to a doctor’s appointment? Who prepares the communion? Who teaches the cradle roll class? Who grades the correspondence courses? Who gives a lift to someone who needs a ride to church? Who does the many “invisible,” thankless tasks that must be done for the church to grow and meet its many responsibilities? The servant!
The serving Christian is not necessarily the one-talent, lower-class, uneducated person ill-equipped to do something more “sophisticated” and “important.” These are the kinds of things anyone can do, but only the servant does them. Lest we consider such tasks too menial and such people meaningless, we reflect on John 13. That chapter records the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe (you can’t one-up that) pouring water into a basin, washing the disciples’ feet and drying them with a towel he had put around Himself (v. 5). They had to have been baffled, this group who had been jockeying for a seat on His left and right hand in the vision of Kingdom greatness they had imagined (cf. Mat. 20:21). What were they thinking as Jesus tells them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (12b-17).
This was a gut-punch to them and to so many of us. We can be more interested in getting the good seat than stooping to wash the dirty foot (or scrub the grape juice-stained pew). But we will miss the heavenly definition of spiritual greatness unless we lower ourselves. Jesus told the Sons of Thunder and their mother to remove the worldly gauging of greatness out of their thinking (Mat. 20:25-28). Perhaps He’d have that conversation with you and me, too. May God grant us the humility to see the opportunities and serve as stain scrubbers and every other, similar task that allows Him to use us for His glory. If that spirit permeates a congregation, it will turn the whole world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6)!
While people today want to emphasize “spirituality” over “religion,” that is not the biblical way. By “spiritual,” people want to talk about a self-defined personal relationship with God, the way they feel, or their pursuit of some mystical or mysterious expression of the soul. The Bible is much less abstract and more concrete in passages like James 1:26-27, and the result should be quite convicting.
James indicates that one’s religion could be worthless (1:26). This one may even think himself to be religious, but instead he is a forgetful hearer. In context, he has forgotten what God’s word has said about bridling the tongue. But, the principle applies much more broadly. One can think himself religious, but in ignoring what the Bible says on a specific matter—ethics, morality, the plan of salvation, worship, etc.—this one deceives his own heart and possesses a worthless religion. Notice that there is a concrete, objective way to measure this.
James indicates that one’s religion can also be pure and undefiled (1:27). In keeping with context, this is a person who is a doer and not only a hearer of the word. This person consciously reads and strives to apply what God has said in Scripture. James gives a couple of examples of this in the verse, from compassionate care for the unfortunate to not allowing the world to taint us by its influence. Regardless of the challenge or obligation, because we strive to follow the Word, we will have a religion that is unsoiled and unsullied. James says so.
I may think I have a certain kind of religious, spiritual life, but the Bible is a mirror that shows me exactly where I am. I can claim or assert that I have a certain relationship with God or spiritual feeling, but does the declaration match the deeds. That determines what kind of religion I have.