Three Traps For The Teacher

Three Traps For The Teacher

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Paul’s days as a free man are behind him, and he is awaiting execution (2 Tim. 4:6-8). Yet, his pen has not been silenced and he spends his last days encouraging a young preacher he has mentored and trained. He repeatedly calls Timothy “my son” (2 Tim. 1:2; 2:1; Phil. 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:2; 1:18). Especially in this, the last of his letters, Paul seems to reveal a sense of urgency in revealing practical wisdom to help his young protege to productively serve Christ Jesus (2:1,3,8,10). He likens the work to soldiering (2:3-4), competing as an athlete (2:5), and farming (2:6). He points to how God renders aid and assistance to His faithful proclaimers (2:7-13). 

Faithful proclamation of the truth is also something that is proven by taking the proper approach to the task. Paul is concerned about unfaithful men being entrusted with the stewardship of teaching others (cf. 2:2,14-26). Timothy is told to remind them and solemnly charge them “not to” do certain things (14) and to “avoid” (16) and “refuse” (23) certain traps that they could potentially fall into as teachers. 

It seems that as we consider the visceral, virulent tack taken by voices of influence within our culture to any number of matters–politics, race, morality, religion, education, etc.–the church, tragically, has at times emulated that tack in our dealings with one another. Whereas Paul described it more as “biting and devouring” when addressing the churches of Galatia (5:13), he is extremely concerned that such a spirit has caught hold with some in Timothy’s circle of influence. Therefore, he warns the young preacher against three traps that those tasked with preaching and teaching the gospel fall into. They are still potent and existent today.

TRAP ONE: WRANGLING ABOUT WORDS (2 Tim. 2: 14)

Paul had warned Timothy about this trap in his first letter to him. He writes in 1 Timothy 6:4 about those advocating a different doctrine, including having “a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words….” (NAS, emph., NP). The inspired Paul does more than diagnose the problem. He addresses root causes like conceit, ignorance, envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction (4-5). He diagnoses the condition of such teachers, calling them “men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth” (5). To these, religion is simply a way to make money (5). 

Now, in this second epistle, Paul warns of additional harm done by such wrangling about words (14). It does not serve a good, edifying purpose and it actually tears down. It’s useless and ruinous. 

How might we fall into that trap in the 21st Century and in the current climate? Social media is a major culprit, where people–often laboring under the guise of defense or promotion of the gospel–mercilessly criticize what others post. What motivates such contrariness? According to Paul, it could things like conceit, ignorance, envy, etc. 

Teachers and preachers might have or develop a reputation for being a gunslinger, ready to fight and argue about anything big or small. Watch or listen to their sermons and classes, and you can be fairly certain that this kind of wrangling will happen. No doubt, the gospel is adequately provocative and offensive to the sensitivities of the heart-hearted or ungodly, but God’s Word doesn’t need “help” from us through crude, sarcastic, mean-spirited attitudes and vocabulary. If we offend, let it be God’s Word presented in love rather than our vicious, sharp-tongued barbs.

TRAP TWO: WORLDLY AND EMPTY CHATTER (2 Tim. 2:16)

Again, this is a theme in Paul’s writing to Timothy. He actually warns against the profane or worldly three times in the first epistle. The law is for the “profane” (1:9; same word). He is told to have nothing to do with “worldly” fables fit only for old women (4:7; same word). Then, Paul closes warning him to avoid “worldly” and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called knowledge (6:20; same word). To define what Paul means, just look at the results. Such teaching leads to further ungodliness, spreads like cancer, and upsets the faith of some (16-18). It included claims and teaching that was outright false, in this case asserting that the resurrection had already occurred.

It can be hard to resist worldly and empty chatter in a world full of it. Our culture can get fascinated with vacuous, fruitless things from the latest trends, ideas, and causes célèbres. We consume all our time and energy on matters that ultimately will not matter. We need to examine what we teach and preach. Does it lead the worldly further down that road? Does it undermine their faith in God and His will? Whether we do that through being a devil’s advocate or encouraging wickedness (19), we do it at our own peril in addition to the peril of those who listen and follow us.

TRAP THREE: FOOLISH AND IGNORANT SPECULATIONS (2 Tim. 2:23)

These may be connected to the youthful lusts Paul has just mentioned (22) or the quarrelsomeness he is about to warn Timothy about (24). “Speculations,” depending on context, can refer to the noble act of searching for information and investigating (Acts 15:2,7; 25:20). But, almost entirely in the New Testament, it refers to matters for dispute or engagement in a controversial discussion (Arndt, et all, 429). It involves a clash of opinions (Kittel 300). 

With the call for faith in matters of doctrine sufficiently divisive, what a tragedy when people of influence in the Bible leverage that authority by dividing brethren over what, when boiled down, is nothing more than opinion, speculation, and conjecture. Romans 14 makes clear that not everything is a matter of faith. Christian living necessarily involves judgment calls, and we fall into a trap to confuse either for the other. While a world is dying lost without hope, can we afford to devolve into debates over things that do not, of themselves, affect the salvation, the work, the worship, or the nature of the church? 

The beautiful thing about Paul’s sobering words is that for each trap, there is an escape. More than an escape, it is a healthy, fruitful alternative. What is the escape for “wrangling about words”? A diligent, hard-working handling of the word of truth (15). What is the antidote for “worldly and empty chatter”? The firm foundation of God (20) and the proper preparation of self for every good work (19-21). What is the alternative to “foolish and ignorant speculations”? Labor as the Lord’s bond-servant, being “kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness corrections those who are in opposition” (24-25a). 

The world is watching and we who teach, in whatever format on whatever platform, incur an especially strict judgment (Jas. 3:1). What a privilege to get to share Jesus with the lost and our brethren! As we do, let’s be aware of these teaching landmines. They are not necessary to effectively represent God; instead, they serve the opposite. Be on the lookout for how to please our neighbor for his good and edification (Rom. 15:2). 

 Sources Consulted

Arndt, William et al. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature 2000 : 429. Print.

Kittel, Gerhard, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 1985 : 300. Print.

Neal Pollard
Unleavened Religion

Unleavened Religion

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

The misunderstanding of the disciples recorded in Matthew 16.5–12 and Mark 8.13-21 has always amused me. Jesus warned them about the leavening of the Pharisees and Sadducees as they sailed away from Magadan, where He had just encountered some annoying members of those religious sects. According to Matthew and Mark, the disciples assumed Jesus was disappointed that they had forgotten to bring bread. Instead, Jesus reminded them that He had recently fed a total of 5,000 and 4,000 men with only a few loaves and fish. In Matthew’s account, the disciples finally realized Jesus was referring to their teaching when he repeated that they should avoid the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Luke tells us that Jesus had also given a similar warning to the people (Cf. Luke 12.1-2).

Pharisees and Sadducees crop up in every era, and it is vital to identify the error we should avoid. Thus, let us think about the fallacies against which Jesus cautions. We begin with the issues that characterized the Pharisees. The original Pharisees, whose name comes from the Hebrew word for “to separate,” were strict observers of the elders’ traditions. The Pharisees separated themselves by refusing to assimilate into Greek culture. Though laudable, the Pharisees eventually revered their traditions as sacred as the Law of God, which Moses received on Mount Sinai. 

We can find similar practices today in creeds, catechisms, disciplines, and papal decrees. These traditions, however, need to be more trustworthy. Stories can be altered, manipulated, and distorted to the point where the original narrator would not recognize them. The only way to avoid this is to keep the divine inspiration flowing throughout the distribution process. God only put such safeguards in place for His Word. Traditions can also be harmful to God’s Law. The ancient Pharisee, for example, interpreted the Law according to his rules, rendering it null and void. And so, the Pharisees would do things like pay tithes on items in their herb garden while neglecting the weightier matters of the Law (Matthew 23.23; Luke 11.42). Jesus called them experts at setting aside God’s commands to keep their traditions (Mark 7.9).

And what of the Sadducees? The Sadduccees’ origins are up for debate. The Sadducees claimed descendancy from a priest named Zadok, who anointed Solomon as king (cf. 1 Kings 1.39). On the other hand, the Sadducees were most likely the followers of a man named Zadok, who had been a pupil of the Pharisee Antigonus of Sokho. Zadok misinterpreted what Antigonus of Sokho said to mean there was no afterlife. (According to Antigonus of Sokho, one should obey God out of love and reverence rather than expectation of reward.) The spreading of Zadok’s beliefs to others formed the Sadduceean sect. The Sadducees were similar to the Epicureans, except that the former believed God created the world and governed it through his providence. 

The Sadducees were wealthy and boasted of superior intelligence. Herod was a Sadducee who led the Galilean Sadducees. As a result, the group is also referred to in the Gospels as Herodians (Mark 3.6). The leavening agent introduced by this sect is probably called pseudo-intellectualism. Sadduceeism exists not only in the past; we can also find it today under different names such as atheism, deism, agnosticism, positivism, rationalism, and Erastianism. We typically observe these beliefs in opposition to modern Phariseeism.

But what do the Pharisees and Sadducees have in common? To put it briefly: hypocrisy, lack of knowledge of God’s Word, and hostility toward Jesus. Jesus more effectively exposed their hypocrisy than I could, so I will let His condemnations stand in my stead. So, let us first observe how both groups failed to understand how the prophecies of God fit into the divine plan. They were not spiritually enlightened enough to see the signs that God was giving through Christ. As a result, they did not benefit from Jesus’ teachings in the here and now or the hereafter. (This is especially true of Jesus’ warnings in Matthew 24 about the Romans destroying Jerusalem. Cf. Matthew 24.15, 28.) If the Pharisees had been less concerned with tradition and the Sadducees with looking smart, they could have saved themselves by actually listening to Jesus’ words. But today’s society is just as blind to God’s Word and, therefore, blind to vital information.

Second, there was another thing upon which Pharisees and Sadducees could agree. They both opposed Jesus and could put aside their differences to crucify Him. The proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” has been around for a long time; scholars traced the earliest known use of the phrase back to a 4th century BC Indian Sanskrit. And unfortunately, even those who advocate opposing errors frequently join forces to fight God’s truth today. The Pharisees act piously while ignoring God’s goodness, and the Sadducees claim scholarship while opposing God’s truth.

When we consider the errors Jesus found in the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, we can appreciate the importance of His warning. The Bible emphasizes the pervasiveness of leaven. Any substance you add it to will be altered. For example, accepting sinful behavior in Corinth introduced a type of leaven (1 Corinthians 5.6). A Christian had married his father’s wife! Even the heathen, according to Paul, would not do such a thing. As a result, Christians must discipline the sinner to correct this error. And, according to Galatians 5.9, a little false teaching, like yeast, can leaven the church. In this context, Paul refers to the Judaisers’ negative influence on the Galatian saints. Paul expressed his surprise that a false gospel could easily persuade them in Galatians 1.6-7. In Galatians 3.1, Paul even says it is as if the Judaisers bewitched them.

The leaven of Phariseeism and Sadduceeism can cause us to be hypocritical, remove the boundaries of belief, and lead us to false doctrines. Their teachings can demoralize us and make us feel hopeless if we don’t have faith. We must also be aware that false teaching can discourage our temperament and behavior, even leading to blasphemy. If you recall the context upon which I based this article, Jesus separated Himself from the Pharisees and Sadducees by crossing the sea, which may be a good symbol of the great chasm between the righteous and the wicked. We must also distance ourselves from the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees today. Let us be more like good King Josiah of whom God said walked righteously without departing to the right or left (2 Kings 22.2).

Brent Pollard
Let The World Be The World And The Church Be Different

Let The World Be The World And The Church Be Different

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

Many of us were startled by an automatic alert sent to our phones last Saturday morning, alerting us of potential violence and danger in our usually serene city. The reason was a planned protest and counterprotest, a racially-charged event centering on a horrible incident that happened almost seventy years ago in another state. Predictably, it stirred up some division and exposed extreme and racially-prejudiced views from some.

The world prefers to keep people divided on the basis of race, gender, political affiliation, and the like, and uses such tools as identity politics (Brittanica defines this as “political or social activity by or on behalf of a racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender, or other group, usually undertaken with the goal of rectifying injustices suffered by group members because of differences or conflicts between their particular identity or misconceptions of their particular identity and the dominant identity or identities of a larger society”) and tribal alliances. Subject to human biases, emotions, and subjectivism, easy to misjudge and assume others’ motives and intentions, it becomes a massive roadblock to oneness and unity.

But we would expect no less from the world. Who is the prince and ruler of this world? He is a murderer (John 8:44), a devourer (1 Pet. 5:8), a sinner (1 Jn. 3:8), and a deceiver (2 Co. 11:3,14). Chaos, disorder, and division serve his purposes quite effectively.

In the midst of such mayhem, the Lord has the church in this world to be a beacon and light (Mat. 5:13-16). What an opportunity we have in the midst of the world’s divisiveness to show a people united on the foundation of truth, regardless of our race, background, education level, economic strata, or any other way the world wants to divide us. We won’t compromise the eternal truth of God’s Word, but we will stand together on that even however difficult or unpopular. We will live by 1 Corinthians 1:10, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” We will honor His objective and follow His blueprint to achieve it.

When an onlooking world gets a glimpse of us in action, red, yellow, black, and white, working in love, harmony, and acceptance of one another, they will find an alternative to the world’s hate. When they see the poor esteemed and accepted as much as the well-to-do (Js. 2:1-8), they will see a bright alternative to a cold, status-conscious world. If the church will be the church, we can help the world–one searching person at a time. But the world will always be the world. We should not expect them to show us the way to be one. Their ruler wants chaos. Ours wants peace.

They’re Not Gifts

They’re Not Gifts

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

In Romans 12:6-8, Paul lists some marvelous gifts that help us be living sacrifices that overcome this world (1-2) who don’t think too highly of self (3). These gifts include such beautiful attributes and actions as proclaiming the gospel (6), service (7), teaching (7), exhortation (8), giving (8), leading (8), and mercifulness (8). Who could fail to see the value of these gifts, on full display and at work in the body of Christ?

That being said, let’s be reminded that the following are not gifts:

  • Hypercriticism
  • Complaining
  • Gossip
  • Strife 
  • Drama
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Pride and boasting
  • Selfcenteredness 
  • Manipulation
  • Grudge-bearing

Too often, these drain the life of a congregation and are a drag on its attempted works. God is not glorified and the body is not edified. In Paul’s discussion about some specific gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the word edification repeatedly comes up as rationale for the exercise of those gifts (14:3-5,12,17, 26).  Gifts build up by design.

It’s proper and necessary for us to gauge our actions, to see if we are living as Paul urges the churches of Galatia: ” Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:24-26).

God desires us to find our gifts and place in the body and pursue using them for His glory. The “non-gifts,” He wants us to crucify! They take no talent, but they rob us of peace and joy.

“Dear church…”

“Dear church…”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

When I was in elementary school, we had a teacher who taught us how to properly write a letter. Miss Crews, my fourth grade teacher, told us it included the heading, greeting, body, complimentary closing, and signature. Isn’t it interesting what we retain (or fail to retain) from childhood?

Applying that basic analysis to the New Testament epistles, we are greatly helped. In addition to reading who the epistle of 1 Corinthians is from (1:1) and who it is to (1:2), we have a heading (helped by the information in verse 2), greeting (1:3), body (1:4-16:18), complimentary closing (16:19-20, 22-24), and signature (16:21). It is also in this first section of the letter (1:1-17) that we find the purpose of the letter. Notice some key aspects of these first several verses.

PAUL REMINDS THEM OF WHO THEY ARE (1:2-3)

In the daily grind, I can be apt to forget exactly who I am and who God has called me to be. It seems this had happened to the entire congregation at Corinth. Paul starts out this letter by reminding them they belong to God, set apart, and recipients of grace and peace. 

PAUL TELLS THEM WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR THEM (1:4-9)

Except for Galatians, Paul begins with a prayer, blessing, or thanksgiving. Here, Paul reminds them of how blessed they are–with grace (1:4), riches (1:5), confirmation (1:6), various blessings (1:7), hope (1:8), and fellowship with the Father and Son (1:9). I don’t know about you, but I often need to be reminded of how mindful the Lord has been of me. I need to reflect on my blessings so I won’t obsess over my problems. Paul is going to be addressing a serious problem in their lives, but he starts by centering their focus on their spiritual treasures. 

PAUL URGES SOMETHING OF THEM (1:10-17)

One of the ways a New Testament writer indicated the purpose of his writing is through petition verbs. While Paul actually uses a petition verb three times in this letter (1:10, 4:16, and 16:15), there’s no doubt that his first one sets the tone for the rest of the letter. They have a big problem at Corinth: division. We can see this in greater detail as we walk through the letter, but their division was seen in their allegiance to men instead of Christ, in their worship services, in their exercise of spiritual gifts, in their exercise of their Christian liberties, in their view on various sins, and more. So, Paul brings them into focus here.

  • He urges them to be complete, by being of the same mind and judgment (1:10).
  • He urges them to see the true nature of Christ (1:11-13).
  • He urges them to focus on the gospel and the cross (1:14-17). 

Keep in mind, as you read through this entire letter, that God had something He wanted Corinth and all subsequent churches and Christians facing the same general struggle to understand. It requires us to keep sight of our identity, blessings, and purpose. Otherwise, we open the door to division which can be the gateway to “disorder and every evil thing” (Jas. 3:16). 

photo credit: Flickr
Three Keys To Better Bible Classes

Three Keys To Better Bible Classes

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard  

The Tompkinsville church family is blessed to have some righteous and knowledgeable elders. In the past week and in separate Bible classes these men have each shed some insight on three different biblical texts. One elder brought a passage of scripture to the table that clarified the difference between anger and sinful anger. Another elder gave a separate take on the dispersion of humanity after the language change at Babel. After a discussion surrounding the blessing that was promised to Jacob, one of the elders broadened the scope and showed how that promise played out in Jacob’s life and in the life of the Israelites. Though the insights they offered in class were contrary to some beliefs in the brotherhood, they navigated the disagreements with grace and tact. These were not matters of salvation and in some cases were simply a matter of opinion.

The biblical text is not always clear in the English translations since there is the cultural and linguistic barriers that must be taken into consideration. Since that’s the case, there are occasionally opposing views that could both be correct. To some degree, speculation and educated guess work will attempt to fill in the gaps. Is there a hard line in the sand that indicates when anger becomes sinful? Certainly. Could God have miraculously scattered the confused people after the Tower of Babel was completed? Yes. God could have also allowed them to naturally migrate to their respective regions. Are there several applications that can be taken from Genesis 32 where we read that Jacob wrestled with God? Definitely. A church family should appreciate an eldership with a heart and mind so immersed in God’s word that they have drawn their own conclusions based on their personal study. Godly men and women express their faithfulness in Bible classes in several ways. 

  • First, they understand that the truth must be spoken in love (Ephesians 4.15). They are able to tell the difference between matters of opinion and matters of salvation. 
  • Second, they are eager to maintain a unity of spirit and a bond of peace (Ephesians 4.3-6). Godly members are not purposefully divisive or quick to start heated debates. 
  • Third, the older Christians recognize the responsibility they have to share their wisdom with the younger generation and the godly youth respect the wisdom that is given from the older generation (Titus 2.2-12). 

When the body of Christ is unified it’s also unstoppable. The church family that respects those God-given rolls that we are all assigned will find that Bible classes, Biblical discussion, and relationships are enriched and strengthened. Knowledge is both shared and received in love and humility. 

A Pig In A Dress

A Pig In A Dress

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail 

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Dale Pollard

The Muppets are great. Those classic characters like Kermit the Frog, Animal, and Fozzy Bear have entertained us for years. The writers of that show understood and appreciated the humor found in irony. In one particular episode, Mrs. Piggy is about to marry Kermit and It’s hilarious to see a pig in a wedding dress. Pigs don’t wear dresses…or do they?

The church has been described as the “Bride of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2-3). What kind of bride are we? An ugly bride is not unified, calloused towards one another, hateful, hard hearted, hard headed, and proud. The truth is, an ugly church can only be made up of ugly people. Sin is an ugly thing, and the display and manifestations of sins such as pride and hatred turn even the worldly away.

Think about 1 Peter 3:8-11, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.” What we have described and depicted here is an attractive bride. Don’t let your life combined with Jesus be a juxtaposition. Don’t make the Bride of Christ a pig in a dress.

ACHIEVING UNITY THROUGH HUMILITY

ACHIEVING UNITY THROUGH HUMILITY

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

The late gospel preacher, George Bailey, was known for saying, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package.” Truly, there is a little “i” in Christ! Paul exemplifies the way a servant of Christ and steward of the gospel (1 Cor. 4:1) behaves. How can we humbly serve Christ and, through such, contribute to unity in His body? Let’s examine 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:13 for some important keys.

Do Not Deceive Yourself (3:18-23)

Paul draws on his contrast between wisdom and foolishness back at the beginning of the letter. The wisdom of this world is foolishness before God (3:19). Why does Paul say that here? In part, it’s to drive home the point that they should not boast in men (like himself, Apollos, and Peter). But it is also to remind them that their glory and worth are tied to their being in Christ and belonging to Him. We wrestle so much with pride in our earthly accomplishments and attributes, but none of those things, of themselves, get us into heaven or bring about unity. Paul drives the point home by quoting from Job and Psalms. Worldly wisdom is a dead-end street. 

Be A Faithful Steward Of The Mysteries Of God (4:1-2)

Instead of being spiritual heroes to be idolized, Paul says that he and other church leaders were servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1). The mysteries of God is the testimony of God (2:1), God’s once-hidden mystery (2:7) now revealed in the preaching of the gospel (see Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1ff). Paul wanted to be seen as a trustworthy steward (manager) of that unparalleled message (cf. 3:11-15). Here’s the point. Paul knew he had only so much time, energy, and other resources to spend on accomplishing his purpose, and he wanted to be the most effective worker for Jesus that he could be. If that’s how we see ourselves, our purpose and work, it will keep us from focusing on who we are and what we have done. 

Remember Who Is Examining Your Work (4:3-5)

The previous point is made more powerful by the fact that not only should we not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but we need to remember God is examining us. Ignore the idle critic or the armchair quarterback. Don’t spend a lot of time polishing your trophies and reading your “press clippings.” “Wait until the Lord comes” (4:5) and let Him acknowledge you and reward you. He will reveal all the secrets and He will disclose men’s motives. In other words, do the right things for the right reason and you will be richly rewarded by Christ in the end. God will praise you at The Judgment. 

Follow Good Examples Of Humility (4:6-13)

Paul and Apollos did not view each other as rivals, measuring who was more successful, more loved, or more influential among the Corinthians. He urges them to look at their example, and let God’s Word be the measuring stick of success and failure. The end result would be preventing arrogance and rivalry. These servants of Christ had been doing their service to Him at great personal cost–they were a spectacle to the world (4:9), fools  for Christ’s sake (4:10), weak (4:10), without honor (4:10), physically deprived (4:11), reviled, persecuted, and slandered (4:12-13), and, in summary, “we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (4:13b). Doesn’t sound like a condition to brag about, does it? Paul is not trying to portray himself as some spiritual superhero. Neither is he whining or complaining. He is trying to get the Corinthians to understand what matters. It’s not about jockeying for the top spot in the kingdom. It’s about being a faithful steward of the gospel and servant of the Christ. Focus so hard on that goal that you can ignore the praise and the persecution, and let Jesus exalt you at the end. A mindset like that kills division and disunity. 

 
Lehman members, led by our young people, putting songbooks and Bibles back in the pews last week.

The Unified Church

The Unified Church

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

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Carl Pollard

In a society of division and separation, many churches have begun to struggle with unity. Members are bickering with each other, elders are unsure of how to respond to the events that have unfolded in the past year, and deacons are struggling to maintain the proper relationship with each member.. All of these factors combined has caused several churches to split or lose the unity they once had. 

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:17ff  that some who came to worship would be hungry, while others would be drunk and incapable of edifying each other. His point? Far too many churches are split due to a lack of understanding. We fail to understand why it is that we assemble together in the first place. Having a unified assembly starts with the individual. No church will find harmony if each member is unwilling to submit to God’s will and to His church family. 

When we come to worship, there are key aspects that we must insure take place (1 Corinthians 14:12-25). We must make sure what we do edifies others (v. 12). Paul in the context of tongues and prophecy says,  “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (14:12). 

Our actions must help build up the Christians around us. Our words must edify our brothers and sisters who are dealing with problems we may never even know about. And so the questions we must constantly be asking ourselves are these: How am I edifying? Am I being an encourager (making my fellow Christians stronger)? Am I building up others (boosting their confidence to help them deal with the world)? Am I promoting unity? 

As humans we thrive on encouragement.  We feel good when we receive a compliment. That’s because there is power in edification. As fellow brothers and sisters we should be actively trying to find ways to build each other up. 

This also means we must be sure to understand the power of our words and actions. Rather than spreading gossip or discord with our lips we must make it a priority to edify, encourage, lift up, serve, compliment, and look out for the good in our church family.

THE IMPERATIVES OF ROMANS 15

THE IMPERATIVES OF ROMANS 15

Monday’s Column: “Neal At The Cross”

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Neal Pollard

When examining a passage that we need to put into practice, one of the most important things we can do is to find the imperatives in that passage. For example, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 contains one imperative–“make disciples” (19).  Two participles tell us how to do that: “baptizing” and “teaching” (19-20). Another example is Ephesians 5:18-21. There is a double imperative here: “Do not be drunk with wine” (18), but “be filled with the Spirit” (18). How do you obey the command to be filled with the Spirit? There are five ways, according to Paul. You are filled with the Spirit by “speaking,” “singing,” “making melody,” “giving thanks,” and “being subject to one another.” 

In his closing appeal to the Romans, Paul is concerned about how church members are treating each other. There are apparent struggles among them over their diverse religious past. Paul pictures this as those “weak in faith” (14:1)  and those who are “strong” (15:1). The strong is also called one who has faith (14:2). Apparently, God not only expects that congregations will have both categories of Christians, but He expects us to successfully work through situations that arise out of this fact. 

Apparently, one of the most damaging ways we handle such differences is by “judging” one another (14:3-4,10,13). The way Paul uses that word here means to “pass an unfavorable judgment upon, criticize, find fault with, and condemn” (BDAG 567). The issues in their circumstance were things like eating meets offered to idols and observing special days (14:5-6). Those things seem strange, even trivial, to us today. But the church in every generation has their own petty problems to negotiate, things that are struggles of faith nonetheless (14:16-23). This clash of convictions and maturity levels must be successfully met and overcome. How?

That’s where we turn to Romans 15. Paul gives two imperatives that are at the heart of negotiating the prickly situations like those we are facing right now. They are “please your neighbor” (15:2) and “accept one another” (15:7). Those two commands can be the hardest thing to do when we disagree with how our brother (or sister) handles a matter, especially matters without clearcut instruction. To “please” is to accommodate others by meeting their needs and sacrificing self-interest. None of us wants to do that, but if you are strong (15:1) it’s what you do. It’s what Jesus did (15:3)! To “accept one another” is best defined by contrasting it with its opposite, which in this context is to “regard with contempt” (14:3). That’s reflected in a sinful attitude, dismissing, disdaining, judging, and looking down on. 

Think about the difference when one obeys or disobeys these two God-given commands. If our mentality is to “please” and “accept,” how does that affect our relationship with those drawing different conclusions in matters of judgment? If we choose to please ourselves and reject our spiritual family based on their different conclusions, where do we wind up? According to Paul, it’s not a good place (14:12,15). 

I have yet to hear of a congregation without at least “two sides” in negotiating all that’s involved in reacting to the current pandemic. Everything from masks to isolating versus assembling to rational versus irrational fear gets dragged into the conversation. It’s easy to dig our trenches deeper and draw our lines bolder. What is to govern us in these tedious, perilous times? At the heart of it all, we must obey our Lord’s instruction. “Please your neighbor for his good, to his edification” (15:2) and “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (15:7).  Never lose sight of this!