In this volatile political climate, many Christians face some uncomfortable dilemmas. Is party line a salvation issue? How do we handle seemingly irreconcilable differences? What do we do going forward?
Rather than delving into those questions, I’d like to focus on the attitude of the early church, which faced internal division–Jew/Gentile controversies like in Acts 15, opinions over cultural matters as seen in I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, and external pressures.
In keeping with the spirit of the early church, let’s focus on the following list.
We must focus on and grow our own spiritual culture, independent of our earthly nationality (while observing Romans 13).
We must be faithful Christians who value being righteous, no matter the cost.
We must manage our concerns and worries by spending MORE time with each other and developing our faith.
We may need to see ourselves less as Americans and more as Christians. If we remember that our kingdom is the church first, we will be far more united.
Be awesome citizens. When outsiders hear about us, it should be that we never cause trouble, we are loyal to each other, we are selfless, we help people, we have strong families, we rely on each other, we are pleasant to be around, we are dedicated to our faith, and we love people who treat us poorly.
We must remember that priority number one is heaven. Everything else is second.
We must avoid talking or posting on social media about non-salvation issues that can and do create division or offense, out of courtesy and respect for each other (Romans 14.1-4; 13ff).
If these are the things we worry about and focus on, no political division or any other heartburn-inducing unpleasantness can affect us. Besides being happier, we’ll be a stronger church!
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 11:17ffthat 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.
We all know the story of the Tower Of Babel. It’s the event that gave us all the diverse languages of the world. That account is not just for our entertainment or education, but there are many spiritual applications that can be pulled from the event. Here are just six from Genesis 11:1-9.
What we are building will only be successful if God designed the blue prints. What are we building? Where do we choose to place our time and effort? Making a name for ourself? Making the most money? Getting the most pleasure out of life? If this is the life we’re building, like the foolish man that’s a life built on sand.
We are free to do as we want, but for every bad decision there are consequences.
There is a truth to what God said about our ability to accomplish much as a unified people. There’s also a positive side to this not so positive account. When the church body is unified there is no limit to what we can accomplish. When there’s dissension we are weaker.
Ignorance does not mean a blissful existence. It was ignorant to think that a closer relationship with God involved building a stairway into the sky that in their minds would allow God to have the ability to descend to earth. The opposite is true. God built us a way to go to Him.
Be mindful of the presence you keep and the vision you share. It seemed that most if not all mankind at this time was unified under one vision. “To make a name for themselves,” they worked together. They planned, schemed, spent resources and time to build something that would change the world forever— but it wasn’t God’s vision. The presence you keep and the shared vision matters. What are we building?
Accounts in the Bible that seem unrealistic or mythical should not weaken our faith but strengthen it when we do our due diligence in digging into His word. God is capable of great things, and that hasn’t changed. We serve a powerful God who has big plans for the world. Are we willing to side with Him?
God had promised the land of Canaan as early as Abraham (Gen. 15:18ff). The first city of Israel’s conquest was Jericho (Josh. 6:1). The word about and reputation of God’s people preceded them, so Jericho “was tightly shut because of” them. Despite this, the LORD told Joshua that “the wall of the city will fall down flat” (Josh. 6:5). Israel followed God’s unorthodox battle plan and “the wall fell down flat” and “they took the city” (6:20). Though they’d suffer a setback because of one man’s disobedience, this was the dramatic start of what would be the accomplishment of the land promise made to Israel.
God also promised Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). This was fulfilled through Christ (Gal. 3:28). One of the ways Jesus proved that He was the Christ was “with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” in their midst (Acts 2:22). He started His ministry in Galilee (Mat. 4:17) and ended it in Jerusalem (Mat. 16:21), but near the end He had His own Jericho triumphs. He had not one, but two that are recorded by the gospel writers. One involved Him performing one of His many miracles, gaining a victory over sickness, but the other was a triumph of a different kind gaining a victory over Satan.
Luke indicates Jesus was approaching Jericho when He encounters a blind beggar (Luke 18:35). Matthew and Mark also seem to record the same miracle, identifying this man as Bartimaeus, and showing perhaps “that the Saviour went in and out at the same gate of the city, and that the miracle falls into two parts” (Lange 282). But Jesus’ knocks down the wall between the haves and have nots, the socially acceptable and the socially unacceptable, when He has mercy on him and gives him his sight (Luke 18:37-43). Immediately after Bartimaeus, Jesus enters Jericho and passes through (19:1). Now, he knocks down the wall between the righteous and the sinner (19:7). He went to be a guest in the house of Zaccheus, who wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree. The end result of this encounter is “salvation” (19:9).
Isn’t it interesting that the Hebrew name for Jesus is “Joshua”? Isn’t it also interesting that Jesus performs these miracles in proximity to the walls of Jericho? The walls that Jesus knocks down are important to us today. They tell us that the gospel is for the poor, the hurting, the needy, the seedy, the rejects, and the sinner. Wasn’t God preparing us for this when Joshua spares a harlot and her family in the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6:22-23)?
Jesus was certainly about knocking down the walls we can be quick to build. Who does Jesus want us to be taking the gospel to today? Certainly, He’s not against those who are financially blessed (Zaccheus was). He’s not against those who are socially well-connected (many Christian converts in Acts and the epistles were). But, here is where Jesus is revolutionary. As Paul puts it, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not” (1 Cor. 1:27-28). He chose “the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (Jas. 2:5).
What should His church look like today? The gospel transforms lives and lifts people morally and spiritually higher. But, He’s interested in the Rahabs, Bartimaeuses, and Zeccheuses of our day! Jesus wants to break down barrier walls (Eph. 2:14). He wants you and me using the gospel to do the job for Him today!
It is no secret that we are politically divided in this country. Larger cities are typically progressive, while the majority of a state’s rural populations are conservative. This has even dictated what kind of news we watch! If you watch CNN, you fit in with progressives. If you watch Fox News, you are most likely conservative. Both approach reality with their own highly specific bias in order to appeal to their respective audiences. As a result of this, we have entered into what is being called a “soft civil war.” Liberals speak with extreme hatred against conservatives. Conservatives speak with great hatred against liberals. It may be a soft civil war right now, but it would not take much at this point to become a full-fledged war.
As a church, we are a kingdom. Our king is Christ and the citizens of this kingdom are Christians. Sadly, the church is not immune to soft civil wars. In Philippians 4, Paul strongly rebukes Euodia and Syntyche because their argument was destroying the church. How easily we can become heated and hateful over matters of opinion! The way we handle differing opinions on matters not pertaining to salvation determines whether we will be unified as a church or whether – like Euodia and Syntyche – we will be a force for division. The greatest tragedy of the American Civil War was that families fought on opposing sides and killed one another. As the body of Christ, let us continue to handle our differences with godliness, love, and patience.
We get an interesting glimpse into the life of the early church in Acts 2.44-47. While it is not practical for us to live in that same way, there is one principle that we should examine. The early church spent a great deal of time together outside of their worship on the first day of the week. Acts 2.46 says, “And day by day, they were devoted to the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all of the people.” What’s going on here? The members of the church dedicated time every day to growing in their relationships with one another. To them, “church” was so much more than just showing up for worship every time the doors were open. It was the Monday through Saturday relationships that fortified their faith. What was the result of this dedication? “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47). Are we likely to live for a faith we have not invested in? Are we likely to stand up under trials if we do not have a sense of community in the church? Are we likely to resist temptation without strong ties in God’s family? The early church faced trials we could never understand, yet they remained faithful because of their strong relationships and resulting faith. The early church relied on constant contact with one another to help them build their faith. Nothing builds a Christian’s faith more than being around a group of people who want the same thing (to live like Christ), genuinely care for one another, and share a common goal (heaven).
When it comes to the families that make up the church, what ties us together is a common bright future. While every family has it’s differences, one constant remains— the church. All strive to follow those guidelines laid out in Scripture. Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “And I’m SURE of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
The writer speaks with assurance, and that confidence is well placed. From His-story we see that God always completes His projects. He never dreams, He creates. He decided to create the world and here it is. He decided to save the world, and here we are.
Paul also would write in Romans 7-8 that the flesh tends to get in the way of the spiritual. God is perfect, but we’re not. That’s what makes us a work in progress. Aren’t we thankful that God provides the solutions to “fix” us up?
We’re involved in a great work because there simply is no better work than what is being done by His church. That being said, many of us struggle with overcomplicating things. We try to make sense of our individual lives, and when we leave God out it all becomes a discouraging battle. Where’s the peace? Joy? Confidence? Maybe it was left behind when we left God’s path. Thankfully God came down to earth years ago to teach us everything we need to know. We see that in His interactions with people. Even His twelve original followers were an odd group.
Each had a diverse background. Some were Fishermen and some tax collectors.
Each one had a unique personality too! They ranged from timid to assertive.
Each one had spiritual battles from greed to crippling doubt.
Yet each one rallied under His leadership and were united through a common hope.
What’s changed? Not much.
The personalities, talents, backgrounds, and flaws mixed together create a unique blend that make up each one of us. Yet, here we are rallied under His leadership, united in common hope.
Wasted potential is a terrible tragedy and this could not be more true when it comes to those who squander their potential in the church. Consider two common examples we find in many congregations today. There may be an older man who uses the respect, earned by his lengthy life experiences, as a platform to give strong opinions— disguised as gospel truth. Or, what about the young woman who has been labeled as a liberal? She has these new and fresh ideas, but many aren’t Divinely authorized in scripture.
Both of these individuals could not be any different, yet both have caused severe damage in their local church families. The older man clearly has a commanding presence. When he speaks, people will listen. What a gift! He could build up and strengthen the church in numerous ways— if he put his mind to it. He owns the power of persuasion, a talent others deeply desire. The young woman also has talent. She’s outspoken, energetic, and inspiring to many of her peers. She’s loving, gentle, and full of life. With so much to offer, how could she throw it all away by pushing her modern, but unbiblical views?
The elderly may argue that the problems we find in the church today are on account of young minds with liberal beliefs. The younger generation have become disenchanted with “church” because they believe it’s outdated, hypocritical, legalistic, and impossibly demanding. While there is truth to be found on both sides of the fence, it’s also true that talent is a tool that is often misused.
The elderly bring experience and wisdom. The young bring energy and enthusiasm— though I do acknowledge that these stereotypes may occasionally be seen in members of both groups. If there are thoughtless accusations, without thoughtful solutions, you end up with a congregation full of members fighting for the spoon which stirs the pot. A serious solution can only be scriptural. After all, God made people and He knows how to fix them.
Maybe we need to go back to those basic and foundational principles that we find in that thriving first century church. Despite adversity and an overwhelming hostile environment, they had Jesus’ power over the world (John 16:33). Since this is the case, may we never fool ourselves into believing the lie that the strange darkness of our time is too dark for The Light that is Christ. When this poison is digested, the devil smirks, and droves of people stumble into eternity unprepared all on account of a literal and tragically damning lie.
God has allowed us to discover hope, experience growth, and uncover a calming peace when simple Christianity is practiced. It’s this beautiful simplicity that makes God’s will a rewarding journey to seek and follow. The power of God can turn a struggling congregation into a thriving one, but there must be a radical transformation in the heart of each individual that makes up that Body. It’s radical, but it’s not complicated. It will take prayer, a reliance on God, courage to act, and a willful determination to follow Jesus wherever He goes (Luke 9:57-62).
So where do we begin? With a dedication to the understanding of Him, and those made in His image.
I wonder if we’ll ever live in a world free of racial turmoil, tragedy, inequity, and bigotry. Whenever we make assumptions, blanket statements (or beliefs), or judgments about people based on something so literally superficial as skin color, we miss the deeper possibilities–love, relationship, and unity, just to name a few. One thing we can never legitimately do, when seeking to prop up racial prejudice, is to lean on the Bible to do so.
Scripture highlights the racial tensions that existed on both sides of the Jewish-Gentile divide in both testaments. Yet, instead of endorsing it, the Bible–especially through Christ–seeks to transcend and destroy it. Consider some beautiful truths it teaches about race.
–“He made from one man (literally, “from one”; some versions say “one blood” and others “one ancestor”) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…” (Acts 17:26). As many have put it, “We’re all related through Adam.” Malachi rhetorically asks, “Do we not all have one father?” (2:10). There is biological unity among the races.
–“Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26). The Godhead declares this at the creation, when making that first man. Every person of every race shares this marvelous, identifying trait. No human should suffer an identity crisis, in the ultimate sense. We’re made in the image of God! There is existential unity among the races.
–With no qualifier, Scripture says “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). There may be different genetic predispositions or conditions that strike each of the races of humanity, but this inevitable ending awaits us all. There is corporeal or physical unity among the races.
–Among so many passages that relates a similar principle, Solomon writes, “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Prov. 15:13). Each individual has a particular makeup, whether we speak of extroverts or introverts, moodiness or even-temperedness, expressiveness or reservation, or the like, but all of us have an emotional makeup. There is emotional unity among the races.
–“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Each one of us has unique struggles, weaknesses, and temptations. Ultimately, none of us escapes this reality. There is spiritual unity among the races. This extends to the fact that One man died for all sinners (2 Cor. 5:20). Then, beautifully, because of this, He places every obedient believer in Christ in one body (Eph. 2:16). As Paul declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is [a]neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
Men will try to stoke and foment division. The carnal will embrace and inflame such baseness as racial prejudice, with its fear, assumption, and blind ignorance. But let all who do so step away from the Bible and away from the cleansing blood of the Savior. For neither cover such sin! Instead, let us answer the call of Scripture to strive toward unity in every area God sets forth.
My wife and I were watching an NCIS episode where terrorists attempt to use fake currency to carry out an attack on the U.S. power grid. Their trail was picked up when instead of “United States” on the bills, “Untied States,” was found.
With the pandemic we’re facing, we have briefly enjoyed some unity not seen in seven decades. A lot of the partisan stuff has slowed, a lot of the animosity between political parties has simmered down, and people are beginning to treat each other like neighbors again.
With the cautiously optimistic breakthroughs in our fight against this virus, we seem to be slipping back into the “Untied States.” I think our enjoyment of the peace accompanying this unity will stick around and we’ll be as neighborly as we have been, even after quarantines have been lifted. We’re witnessing the ugliness of a government not unified and perhaps we will have gained some perspective as a result of this global trial.
That feeling of relief, calm, peace, reset, unity, and love has to be what God feels when His church is unified. It is what we experience when we put others above ourselves and treat each other like family.
We have a super cool opportunity once quarantines are lifted! I miss my family at Hebron like crazy – I’m not alone in missing my church family. We have a chance to use that momentum to love more, be more selfless, argue less, and encourage more. If we take these qualities and run with them, the church will grow like wildfire. Beyond that, the world will see the love we have and will want to be a part of it.