Vanity Under the Sun

Two Are Better Than One | Ecclesiastes 4

Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.
Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Ecclesiastes 4 ESV

 

The issue of community is Solomon’s primary focus within this chapter of Ecclesiastes. Though he will highlight the benefits of being in community, much of this chapter is devoted to how we sabotage community with our selfishness.

THE VANITY OF OPPRESSION // VERSES 1-3

In verse 1, the Preacher notes how community is ruined by recalling the oppression that he has seen. There is a deep hurt that is felt in Solomon’s words. It should remind us of someone who placed their trust in authority, an authority that was supposed to have the people’s best interest at heart, but only saw harm come from them. In a godly community, those with power should be servants, not oppressors. A great evil is committed when those in power abuse those without it.

He says that the situation of the oppressed is only accented by the fact that their oppressors have all of the power. They can do nothing to change their situation. Yet if Solomon was the king of Israel with all of the power and wealth that we have discussed, which oppressors was he describing? With the complete authority of the king, could not he have righted any wrongs that he saw? I believe there are two points to pull from these questions.

First, since we are told that Solomon’s heart was turned from the LORD, it is possible that he has been one of the very oppressors that he describes. Lending validity to this thought is the statement of the people to Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, in 1 Kings. After Solomon’s death, the people assemble before Rehoboam and pleaded, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you” (1 Kings 12:4). Is it not a sad sign that the people’s first reaction following his death was to beg for his son to be a better king? Thus, perhaps this verse is Solomon’s regret of how his reign declined as his heart turned from the LORD.

Or Solomon could be making a statement that, even with all of his power as king, he was still powerless to cease all of the oppression that he saw. This is certainly possible as well. Even the greatest of earthly kings are not omniscient. Policies may, therefore, attempt to limit oppression, but evil men with power will always find ways around the laws that seek to limit them.

Furthermore, notice the language that Solomon uses to build our emotive connection: “tears of the oppressed” and “no one to comfort them.” He mentions the comfort of the oppressed twice in this first verse, but not once does he explicitly mention the combating of oppression. It seems as if the Preacher understands that oppression is an inevitability in this life under the sun and east of Eden. No one can stop the abuse of power. That’s just the reality of life, and he can deal with that. But what seems to truly stir his emotions is the lack of comfort given to those who are oppressed. Abuse by the ungodly is understandable and even expected, but the lack of concern from the godly is truly sorrowful. In a powerfully written article, Matt Walsh argues that our lack of concern for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted for the faith stems from our moral cowardice. I’ll cite the first few paragraphs of this article, but it is worth reading in its entirety:

I was recently invited to attend and give a reflection at a prayer vigil for persecuted Christians, hosted by a church in Maryland. The church was hoping that 150 congregants would come. They got about three.

To be fair, there was some bad weather that afternoon. And it was on a Friday night, when most people would rather be relaxing on the couch or going out to a nice dinner with their spouse. There are a million reasons — a few of them even legitimate — why you might not show up to something like this. But it was sad, all the same, to see the bare pews, and to hear a couple of speakers deliver beautiful and impassioned pleas to an empty church. At the end they collected donations for a Christian school in Iraq, but nobody was there to give anything.

Before the vigil, I remember saying to my wife that every church in the country ought to do something like this at least once a month. Now I know why they don’t.

I reflected on this when I read a report that Christian persecution and genocide is worse now than it has ever been in history. Christians in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, North Korea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Egypt, and many other countries, are regularly imprisoned, tortured, beaten, raped, and martyred. Their churches are destroyed. Their houses burned. They meet and worship in secret, risking their lives in the process. They live every moment in constant danger.

About 215 million Christians face what is called “extreme persecution” for their faith. It’s estimated that around a million have been slaughtered since 2005. There is no way to know exactly how many. What we do know is that Christianity has been dramatically reduced in parts of the world where it had existed for nearly 2,000 years.

Tradition tells us that St. Mark brought Christianity to Egypt in the early part of the first century. Today, the seed he planted has been ripped up. Two churches in the country were attacked and 44 Christians massacred on Palm Sunday last year. In the same year, 28 Christian pilgrims were martyred while en route to a monastery. The Muslim assailants gave them a chance to save themselves if they would recite an Islamic profession of faith. They refused and so they were shot in the head. This sort of thing is a regular occurrence in Egypt and in several other nations across the globe.

But what do we care?

There are other things to worry about here. Hollywood sex scandals. Twitter disputes. Whatever controversial thing Trump said this week. So on and so on. We — myself included — spend far more time, and spill far more ink, on these issues than we ever have on the coordinated genocide of our fellow believers in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Why?

I have come to believe that our disinterest stems not only from the general apathy that defines western society and the western church, but from moral cowardice. To face the plight of our brothers and sisters is to face ourselves. To see these Christians who would rather be shot dead in the desert than renounce their faith is to see our own faith as a shabby, pitiful, hollow imitation. To see Christians who would risk their very lives to go to church and preach the Gospel is to question why we will do neither of those things, even though we are perfectly free and able. We cannot confront these truths of ourselves, so we will not confront the truth of Christian persecution.

Persecution of Christ’s followers is inevitable, just like general oppression. Like Solomon, Walsh understands this. What he cannot fathom is our indifference toward comforting (and praying for) these brothers and sisters.

In light of all the oppression and evil that Solomon sees, he claims in verse 2 that the dead are better off than the living. How could Solomon conclude this? He is, after all, the one that has been encouraging us to find our enjoyment in life through God. For a believer in Jesus Christ, this verse is wholly true. We will see in the first chapter of Philippians that Paul claims that death is far better for him because he will get to be with Christ! For the Christian, there is nothing to fear from death. What shall we fear, the end of oppression, evil, and sorrow?  For us, Solomon’s words of seeming cynicism become words of truth that we might proclaim through our hope in Christ.

Solomon’s pessimism seems to hit an all-time low with verse 3. If the dead are better off than the living because of all of the oppression and depravity, then the stillborn must be the most blessed. Why? They do not have the chance to ever experience any of the evil and oppression that Solomon describes. This is a difficult verse with which to wrestle. There is no doubt that having a miscarriage is unspeakable sorrow, but also Solomon says that their seemingly untimely death is actually a mercy of God because they get to avoid seeing the fullness of man’s depravity. How difficult to speak, but how true as well.

HOW TO RUIN COMMUNITY // VERSES 4-6

Solomon’s lens now shifts from society in general to us as individuals. Particularly what we find within these three verses are

Verse 4 reveals the first way that we destroy community is through envy. Are his words not true: “all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy?” We can see this on display in any city or in all of history. Why are we never content with our current iPhone whenever a new version is released? We see someone else with the new iPhone, and we want it because they have it. This very idea of covetousness that Solomon describes is what tech companies base their entire sales around. If we ceased to be envious of our neighbors, would we really want a bigger house? It’s all pointless. We constantly chase after the things that others have, and even if we actually got it all, we would be none the happier for it. Envy both fails to satisfy us and can place a barrier between us and our neighbor.

I admit verse 5 is rather strange, even for Solomon. Is he advocating self-cannibalism? Thankfully, he is not. When Solomon refers to hands, he speaks figuratively of our actions, the things that we do. That being the case, I have found it very difficult to perform most tasks with my hands folded. He is referring here someone that is so lazy that they might as well be eating their own flesh. That is how self-destructive their behavior is. Have you ever known anyone that was miserable, completely and totally miserable and lonely, and yet they were too lazy to do anything about it? Relationships of any kind are not simple, and laziness can be detrimental to their growth.

Approximately thirteen movies are released every year about verse 6. As Driscoll says of this verse, we were created to be two handed people. The thought of using two hands to toil implies that we put our entire being into our work. Movies like Click detail the tragedy of people that live this kind of a life. Everything is about work. Everything is about the next promotion. Everything is about a higher salary. But what point is there? It’s as vain as chasing after the wind, and it will shatter our relationships with family and friends.

However, for this point, Solomon also lists an alternative: have one hand that’s full of quietness. Do not be lazy with folded hands, but don’t place all of yourself into work either. Enjoy life. Be with family and friends. Take a Sabbath. Worship Jesus.

THE BENEFITS OF COMMUNITY // VERSES 7-12

The aging king writes verses 7-8 as a bridge between the ideas of how we ruin community and the benefits of being in community. He achieves this by lamenting on how terrible it is for a person to work, accumulate wealth, and yet have no one to be with. If we allow it, the search for riches can easily take over our lives because we are never satisfied with our riches. We always want more, but when we die, we will leave our riches behind. So what use is it?

Some people keep on toiling although they have no one to work for, and nothing to do with the money they make. They even deny themselves the pleasures of life so they can continue to amass funds. What a sharp example was given to us in the story of the late billionaire Howard Hughes. He did not know what to do with his money. His heirs, who have been impossibly difficult to identify for certain, were left to squabble over it… Such is the folly of toiling for riches out of ambition and ego. (Stedman, 66)

In verse 9, Solomon speaks plainly that “two are better than one” because their reward is better. What kind of reward could he be speaking of? I believe that it is the reward that eluded the hypothetical workaholic in the previous verse: the ability to enjoy the fruit of one’s work with someone else. After I get finish working each day, what I enjoy the most is to simply be with my wife. There is nothing I enjoy more than just sitting on the couch or going for a walk with her and just reminding myself that life is not about how much I work. But this is not speaking only about romantic relationships. When I lived in a house with seven guys, I would spend any amount of free time just hanging out and being in community. Two are better than one.

I believe that the reason that we find this statement to be so true is because God created us to be in community. If we recall back to Genesis 2, why did God create woman? He created her because He said that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. Man’s solitude was the only aspect of pre-fallen creation that God said was not good. We were made to interact, to love and serve one another. This is why the Church is so beautiful because it is intended to be community at its best, which is glorifying Christ.

We see the call for application of verses 10-11 in Galatians. Paul tells the people of Galatia to restore one of the brothers (or sisters) gently when they fall. This is why we have community: to help each other. How beautiful it is when a brother is rescued from traversing a path that leads to death by his friends!

What about verse 11? Is it only referencing marital benefits? No, do not believe so. Instead, I believe that Solomon is referring to the practical benefit of human contact and protection. There is little that can brighten my day like a firm handshake from my father telling me that he is proud of his son. The hug from a good friend can quickly make all the stress of the day vanish away. There is something profoundly impactful about human touch. Of course, you could also interpret this verse as biblical justification for at least one scene in Without a Paddle.

Having a best man and groomsmen at a wedding came from the tradition of the groom’s best friends not only giving their support to the wedding but also being prepared to give physical support to the groom in case the neighboring tribe attacked.  They literally stood beside the groom, swords ready, to defend him from anyone trying to stop the wedding. In any sort of situation like that, is it not better to have your friends by your side? This is what Solomon means by verse 12. In any given situation, it is more difficult to overcome three people than one. Community offers us the safety of numbers.

THE VANITY OF DISSATISFACTION // VERSES 13-16

To be honest, it would be nice if Solomon had concluded the chapter with verse 12, since it seems that each commentator has a different slant on what exactly he is saying. Yet they are inspired by the Holy Spirit as well, so let’s tackle them head on.

First, consider the opening words: “better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king.” One of the scariest things that comes from this verse is the reality that, contrary to popular belief, wisdom does not naturally come with age. Physical aging does not innately mean that you are getting the wisdom of God. Having grey hairs does not equal being a sage. Wisdom must be sought, and it must sought constantly. Wisdom does not come naturally. It comes through fearing the LORD.

Second, I believe the key to understanding the main point of these verses is the phrase “yet those who come later will not rejoice in him.” The story, of course, is of a foolish king that is usurped by a wise and beloved youth, in whom the people delighted. Perhaps David’s rise over Saul was even Solomon’s inspiration for this parable. Or perhaps Solomon was reflecting on his own foolishness and God’s promise to raise up Jeroboam to be king. Either way, the principle is that the young, wise king who was held up as a savior of the people eventually falls out of favor with the people as well. The people will eventually become dissatisfied with him, just as they were with the old, foolish king before.

I believe; therefore, dissatisfaction is a good description of these verses. We see the truth of this principle today in presidential elections. Everyone rallies behind their candidate, proclaiming that he will be the one to change the world, to right the wrongs. Yet their ratings eventually fall as well. Even the men that we would deem the greatest presidents of the United States (men like Washington, FDR, and Lincoln) faced significant criticism during their own days in the White House. It doesn’t matter who is in the office. People cannot save us. Our leaders will one day fail us, and we will be left dissatisfied. And the cycle will only continue to repeat.

THE MIND OF CHRIST // PHILIPPIANS 2:3-11

So where is the hope in all of this? I would argue that each way that we destroy community (oppression, envy, laziness, busyness, and dissatisfaction) are all rooted in one thing: selfishness. Oppressors oppress because they are selfish. Kim Jong Un is willing to let his own people starve to death in order to pretend that he is a god. We envy others, not because we see them as valuable images of God, but because we see them as people who have what we want. We are lazy because we care about our pleasures more than we do the needs of others. We are busy because we want to feel valuable. When fear that if we stop and pause to rest, our worth will diminish. We are dissatisfied because the world is supposed to revolve around our wants and desires. All of these forms of ruining community derive from a selfish heart. Lewis, after all, called pride the great sin, and pride is simply self-aggrandizement.

For our hope, we must lift our eyes beyond the sun. Philippians 2:3-11 will help us do so.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What we have in verse 3 is a command that I doubt any of us can do very well for more than five minutes at a time. Perhaps not even that long. One problem with fallen humanity is that even when we do good to others we often do so from impure motives. Often, we do good works in order to be seen as being selfless by others. Or sometimes we serve others in an attempt to offset our guilt over having sinned. Paul peels these things away by upholding that good works are not sufficient in and of themselves; we must also do them without any form of selfishness.

How is this even possible? Verse 5 gives us the answer. This mindset of humility can only come from Christ. Notice that he does not say, “have these deeds among yourselves”; instead, he says, “have this mind among yourselves.” Brothers and sisters, even the world loves to talk about being like Jesus, just as they love to speak of imitating Gandhi or Mother Theresa. Yet they know nothing of having the mind of Christ. After all, we see Jesus not only showing compassion to the masses but also telling them to eat His flesh and drink His blood. This Jesus does not simply heal the sick; He also declares Himself to be the way, the truth, and the life. We must by all means serve the poor and alleviate the sick as imitators of Christ, but we are also called to greater things. We must imitate the mind of Christ as well. Serving can be one of the most deadly acts for our souls if we do not have the mind of Christ. After all, if we do not have a mind of humility, our very acts of service can create a superiority complex within us.

We must instead clothe ourselves with the mind of Christ, which Paul says is already ours! How in the world could we already be given the mind of Him who willingly left His cosmic throne in order to submit Himself to the humiliation of death on the cross? We cannot possibly hope to do anything remotely that selfless. To die for a single ant is too small of an analogy for Him dying for us. Yet when we are given the Holy Spirit, Paul declares we are given the mind of Christ.

The answer to how we have true community within a broken, fallen world is not just to do more; we must trust more. We must turn to the One who gave Himself for us. We will never be able to anything ourselves out of an entirely pure motive. Isaiah rightly calls our righteous acts filthy rags before the LORD. This is why Peter says that if we serve, we must serve from the strength that God provides, and if we speak, we must speak the oracles of God. Or to put it another way, whatever we do, even serving others, outside of faith is sin. We, therefore, are in desperate need of grace. We need the Savior whose blood was spilled for us to become His bride and His body. Outside of Him, we can do nothing. Our communities and our lives will never be marked by the sacrificial love of Christ until we turn to Him in everything that we do.

Let us have this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus.

Let us exalt Him whose name is above every other name as we seek to also treat others as better than ourselves.

The Pilgrim’s Playlist

When Brothers Dwell in Unity | Psalm 133

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

Psalm 133 ESV

 

Within this penultimate psalm, the Songs of Ascents prepare to conclude. Psalm 132 called us to meditate upon Jerusalem and its king and people. Particularly, it focused upon the beauty of God choosing to dwell among His followers. Psalm 133 now turns our attention toward that God-inhabited community, reminding us of the beauty of being a unified people for God.

THE GOODNESS OF UNITY

This psalm is a poetic meditation upon the sweetness of brotherly unity. It is a psalm of David, who certainly understood from personal experience the damages that strife within a family could cause. Verse 2 is an image of the pleasantness of unity by describing the anointing ceremony of Aaron as the high priest. The anointing oil was meant to represent the Holy Spirit coming upon the person to empower them for their task. The second imagery in verse 3 is of dew from Mount Hermon descending upon the mountains of Zion. The first analogy exemplifies the holiness that must both mark and empower God’s people in unity, while the second emphasizes our dependence on God for our unity. Theses are, therefore, the basic ideas of the psalm; let us now apply them toward the brotherhood that we share in Christ.

We must begin by noting that the New Testament affirms the goodness and pleasantness of God’s people being unified. In the high priestly prayer of John 17, Jesus asked the Father to unify His disciples even as He and the Father are one. Paul similarly upholds the importance of unity within his letters. In Philippians 2:2, he states, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” To the Ephesians, he claims that walking in a manner worthy of our calling means being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). In the following verse, the Apostle roots our unity in our worship of one God, by one Spirit, into one body, through one faith, in one baptism, for one Lord. To the Colossians, he wrote, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:14). To the Corinthians, he appealed, “that you may agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1:10). Peter, likewise, urged that “all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).

Still, the New Testament’s warnings against disunity are just as numerous.

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17).

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

It is worth noting that the list of the flesh’s works in Galatians is presented as the opposite of the fruits of the Spirit. While Paul lists fifteen sins, eight of them are sins which directly threaten the unity of the church. Obviously, therefore, the New Testament places a significant importance upon the unity of the church. But why is unity so highly emphasized in the first place?

The unity of the church reflects the power of the gospel to the world. Paul spends a significant time in Ephesians addressing how the gospel destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. Indeed, the gospel alone was mighty enough to bridge the gap between those peoples. Similarly, whenever we stand firmly together without anything to link us but Christ, the strength of the gospel is made visible. And given that the gospel message is actively undoing the effects of Babel in the world, we should pray that its power spreads all the more.

Furthermore, unity is an indicator of holiness. God’s people are holy because we belong and imitate our holy God. Those, then, whose lives are marked by God’s grace will be happy givers of grace as well. Those who have been embraced by the Father will be glad to embrace others as well. Those upon whom the peace of God dwells will be peacemakers. When we strive for unity, we image God; we live as His holy people.

This is especially critical because the world cannot duplicate the unifying effects of the gospel. Skim through today’s media, and you will be met with the ideas of diversity and tolerance being held out as some of the supreme dogmas of the day. Yet in practice, uniformity appears to be the actual goal, which is made evident when differing viewpoints are demonized in place of being understood.

Christianity, on the other hand, should be the exemplar of diversity and tolerance. What, after all, could be more tolerant than loving those who hate you and praying for those who persecute you? What could be more tolerant than Jesus healing lepers and demonic mad men in the first century? Yet Christianity exemplifies these ideas precisely by not making them primary. We hold to Jesus alone as supreme, and, because of that joyous truth, we are then able to love others like He did.

Hear this, brothers and sisters, nothing is more unifying than the gospel. The reasoning is twofold.

First, the gospel beings by reminding us that we are all equally damned before God. Ephesians 2 says that before Christ we were dead in our sin. Are there different levels of deadness? Is the one who died five minutes ago less dead than the he who died 500 years ago? No, dead is dead. Likewise, sin condemns. Each sin is an offense against the holy, good, and eternal God, and each one, therefore, earns us a just and eternal punishment.

Second, the gospel makes us children of God by the exact same work. Christians are able to be unified because there is no hierarchy within the body of Christ. The substitutional death of Jesus bought forgiveness for each of us. We, therefore, have no grounds for boasting; our works were worthless. We each have different roles and functions, but we still form just piece of the whole. And we’ve been grafted into the body because of the Christ and Christ alone. We have all been made Christians by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, nothing more, nothing less.

Too often we can begin to believe that being a good theologian makes us a good Christian. We can believe that knowing theology will bring us into a higher form of Christianity. Ben Myers aptly writes against this mentality by revealing the true benefit of a greater theological understanding:

“’All things are yours,’ says Paul: ‘all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God’ (1 Cor 3:21-23). We are not beggars hoping for scraps. We are like people who have inherited a vast estate: we have more than we can take in at a single glance. In the same way, it takes considerable time and effort to begin to comprehend all that we have received in Christ. Theological thinking does not add a thing to what we have received. The inheritance remains the same whether we grasp its magnitude or not. But the better we grasp it, the happier we are. (The Apostles’ Creed, xv-xvi)

Therefore, arguing degrees of sin or righteousness is utterly nonsensical. Gloating that someone is more sinful than you is like being on a sinking ship and rejoicing that someone else went into the water first. Likewise, boasting in your own righteousness is like a man bragging that he has more paperclips than his coworkers. All of our sins, big or small, condemned us to hell, and our good deeds, however great or numerous, were powerless to save us. We are all in the same boat, and that is fertile ground for unity. The gospel is the only solid foundation for true unity. It is the gift of God that He alone rains down upon His people through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord.

UNITY AT WHAT COST?

But if unity is such a good thing, we must then ask when is (or even whether there is) a proper time for severing that unity? The unity described is between brothers, so at what point does a person who claims Christianity remove themselves from the brotherhood? How can we discern between a true brother with whom we may sharply disagree and someone who has ventured into heresy, leaving behind sound doctrine and abandoning the faith?

These are the kinds of questions that particularly shape how we view ecumenical efforts. Ecumenism is typically understood as attempting to unite the various branches of Christianity together. Sometimes it is used as uniting all religions, which is really just religious pluralism, so we would obviously reject that understanding. But unifying all of Christianity, isn’t that a worthwhile endeavor? Should we pursue ecumenism?

First, we must remember that unity is not maintained at the expense of sound doctrine. A departure from the essential beliefs of Christianity is a denial of Christianity itself. Then, of course, comes the question: what are the essential beliefs of Christianity? We might rightly begin with the sort of proto-creed in 1 Corinthians 15: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” Since Paul calls this statement of first importance, we should conclude that a denial of the atoning death of Jesus and His bodily resurrection is a denial of Christianity.

But still, most Christian groups affirm those verses. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and even Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to believe in the death and resurrection of Christ. Should we, then, all unite under this truth? Very early into church history, Christians began to declare a series of core truths during baptism which revolved around affirming the Trinity. This baptismal confession came to be called the Apostles’ Creed. Although it was not written by the Apostles themselves, Christians readily affirmed it as a summary of the Apostles’ teachings. This creed would go on to form the basis of the more detailed Nicene Creed, which clarified the divinity of Christ. If we hold to the truths expressed within those creeds, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses are both removed from the stream of orthodoxy.

What about Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox? Both fall into conflict with Protestantism’s declaration of salvation by faith alone. While I have no doubt that there are genuine disciples of Christ within these branches of Christianity, I do not believe that the beliefs themselves align with the truths of Scripture. Our understanding of the gospel is so different that unity under the gospel is virtually impossible. This is especially true of Catholicism, which in the Councils of Trent declared anathema (or eternally damned) everyone who believes salvation by faith alone. By this still standing official doctrine, we cannot be united with Roman Catholicism.

What do we do then with fellow Protestants? We must begin by recognizing the differences between convictions and essentials. This is crucial because a person who denies an essential doctrine of Christianity is a heretic, which means that they are not of the faith, they are not in Christ, and they are still in their sins and under the wrath of God. That is the reality of being a heretic. O brothers and sisters, may we never pronounce that word upon others flippantly. We must remember that God holds unnecessarily dividing His church as a form of heresy in and of itself. To cause divisions within the church over personal convictions is the self-condemning action of a warped and sinful person. We must, therefore, guard ourselves against the extremes of both liberalism and fundamentalism. Liberalism seeks to place all essentials into the realm of conviction, while fundamentalists want to make their convictions into essentials. Both, though in different ways, undermine the essential doctrines of the faith.

But even when we agree on the essentials, we may have deep convictions that make it difficult to be unified. Some of these convictions will certainly run so deep that we are not able to gather together within the same local church each week.[1] Navigating through strong convictions is perhaps made easier if both parties can agree upon the authority of the Scriptures, which is a foundational belief since Paul grounded the death and resurrection of Christ as being “in accordance with the Scriptures.” If we can both agree that Scripture is our final authority, we should at least be able to understand one another’s reasoning. Without the Bible as our authority, we will each appeal to various traditions, philosophies, arguments, and viewpoints, yet if it is, our discussions should have a fairly fixed reference point.

GUARDING UNITY

But how exactly do we fight for unity within the church? Peter said it well: by possessing sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Unity is impossible without these qualities.

Sympathy urges us to seek mutual understanding. Perhaps this is the quality most sorely missing in today’s climate. Too often, even within the church, we tend to presume guilt by default instead of actively giving others the benefit of the doubt. Do you actively seek to understand others’ viewpoints? Do you assume the best about your brothers and sisters with whom you disagree?

Brotherly love, then, makes us genuinely seek each other’s good. When you disagree, especially with a fellow Christian, do you seek to win the argument or to build them up in the faith?

A tender heart keeps us sensitive to the needs and weaknesses of others. Consider how a tender heart may be necessary for loving and shepherding someone who is leaving heretical spin on Christianity, such as Mormonism. The indoctrination of those groups is so powerful that a significant length of time might be necessary to help them see the true teachings of Scripture. To label this person who is laboring to leave heretical teachings a heretic could inflict a much deeper wound upon the already wounded. A tender heart, however, keeps us ready to care for the weaker sheep among us.

A humble mind keeps us willing and ready to admit our errors or faults. Note that true humility is ready to concede when necessary. Too often, I am fine with the abstract concept of admitting an error, yet I prove to be unyielding when the time comes. The prideful holding of ground can cause splinters within God’s people, but humility nourishes a church’s unity.

Given that we will continue to wrestle against sin throughout this life, we will need to possess these qualities in abundance. Our unity depends upon them.

Yet ultimately, our unity is reliant upon God. Like dew from Hermon falling upon the mountains of Zion, God must give us the power to remain unified. We must be led and guarded by the Holy Spirit in order to bear with one another in love.

Indeed, whenever unity is present, true and biblical unity, the blessing of God is surely to be found. A people cannot be united by the Living Water and not themselves become fountains of that same Water. A church that is unified both in spirit and in truth becomes a conduit for God’s blessing. We glimpse the glories and goodness of eternal life with God whenever we participate in the blessing of the communion of the saints here.

Unity, indeed, is pleasant. Have you savored it yet?

May we, therefore, strive for unity with one another.

May we earnestly seek unity through sympathy, brotherly love, tender hearts, and humble minds.

May we keep the gospel front and center of our lives, knowing that only it can destroy the walls of hostility caused by our sins.

May Jesus both unify and glorify His church.


[1] Although, I believe, we should balance this thought with the realities of church life within the New Testament. For example, Jesus told the church of Sardis that they were a dead church with nothing more than a reputation for being alive. For the believers in Sardis, there was no other church for them to move to. They were forced to face the reality that Jesus was speaking to and of them. Their collective repentance would also need to be done as individuals.

Vanity Under the Sun

The Vanity of Community Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes 4

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Ecclesiastes 4:6 | Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.   

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 | Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

OPENING THOUGHT

Ecclesiastes is a unique book both within the Bible and outside of it. Written by the Preacher (probably Solomon), it aims to analyze and evaluate everything under the sun to see if any lasting meaning, joy, and purpose can be found in this life. The Preacher’s answer is that everything under heaven is vanity, nothing more than passing vapor.

The bulk of Ecclesiastes is composed of Solomon’s report of his inquiry for meaning under the sun. So far, he has evaluated two broad topics: pleasure and time. Because pleasure makes us feel good, this was the logical place to begin, but the Preacher said that he only enjoyed pleasure for a moment. It offered nothing lasting.  The Preacher also concludes that time is vanity since it consumes the rich and poor alike. Even the greatest of kings and kingdoms succumb to the inevitability of their time running out.

The issue of community is Solomon’s primary focus within this chapter. Although he will highlight the benefits of being in community, much of this chapter is devoted to how we sabotage community with our selfishness. To give structure for interpreting this chapter, we should understand that verses 4-12 cite a personal, ground-level view of community, while 1-3 and 13-16 bookend the chapter with a broad view of how those in authority relate to those below them.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Ecclesiastes 4 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Ecclesiastes 4 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. Why are two better than one? How were we designed for community? What are some examples from your own life of the blessings of community?
  3. What are some ways presented in this chapter that we can ruin community? Which of these do you find most common in your heart and life?
  4. How can we redeem community through the gospel? What practical steps can we take toward making Philippians 2:3-11 true in our hearts?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions about the present text.

  • What has God taught you about Himself?
  • What sin is God convicting or reproving you of?
  • How is God correcting you?
  • How is God training and equipping you for righteousness?

Healthy Church | Ephesians 4:1-16

Sermon | Week 5

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

In the Western Meadows Values Series, we have been studying the primary values that we hold as a church. We began with the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command for His disciples to continue making disciples. The great purpose and mission of each Christian and church is, therefore, to make disciples, and we do so because by making more disciples of Jesus we continue to fill the earth with Christ’s image and glory.

Like the Christian walk, making disciples happens on two fronts: individually and corporately. As individuals, we live our lives as a witness for Christ, proclaim His gospel to nonbelievers, and teach other Christians to obey all that He has commanded us. Corporately, we make disciples by devoting ourselves to Scripture (by faithfully preaching and hearing them), prayer (specifically praying for boldness to proclaim the gospel), and community (by loving one another as Christ has loved us).

Having now studied our values, we will finish by spending two weeks in Ephesians 4 where Paul provides a wonderful glimpse at what healthy churches and church members look like. In the first sixteen verses, Paul gives to us a description of a healthy church, noting that it will be a church of diverse members united and growing one another into the maturity of Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 1-6 and discuss the following.

  1. Why does Paul emphasize the importance of unity within the church? What might a united church look like? What might a divided church look like?

Read verses 7-13 and discuss the following.

  1. What is the main purpose of leadership within the church? What are some common gifts found within churches? How does the diversity of gifts benefit the church?

Read verses 13-16 and discuss the following.

  1. What are some characteristics of Christian maturity? Which characteristic is most convicting? Why?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Community | 1 Peter 4:7-11

Sermon | Week 4

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

A new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

OPENING THOUGHT

Through the Western Meadows Values Series, we are studying the biblical values that we hold as a church. Jesus’ Great Commission is our foundation. With those final words, Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations. Our Lord calls us to fill the earth with His disciples, His image-bearers, so refusing to do so is disobedience.

Knowing Jesus’ command is important, but it is also necessary that we know how to make disciples. Like our Christian walk, disciples are made on two levels: individually and communally. Individually, we make disciples through witnessing about Christ with our lives, sharing the gospel with our words, and teaching one another to obey everything that He has commanded us. Communally, we make disciples as the church through the proclamation of the Scriptures, praying together, and loving one another in community.

Since we have addressed the importance of Scripture and prayer, we will now study the necessity of community. Though there are many texts that describe Christian community, Peter writes one of the best. He emphasizes that godly love must be earnest, and it will display itself through hospitality and using our gifts to serve one another. While this type of community is evangelistic, it is predominately a means of discipleship, building one another further in their walk with Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verse 7 and discuss the following.

  1. Peter states that we are living in the last days. How does this fact connect to both prayer and community? How does Jesus’ coming impact how we live now?

Read verse 8 and discuss the following.

  1. Why is it important that our love for one another be earnest? How does love cover a multitude of sins?

Read verses 9-11 and discuss the following.

  1. Peter describes two ways that we love one another: by showing hospitality and by serving. Why should our hospitality be free from grumbling? Are you hospitable? What things typically cause you to grumble?
  2. What gift has God given you to serve the church? How can we speak “as one who speaks oracles of God”? How can we serve in the strength God provides?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

How Do We Make Disciples? (Making Disciples: part three)

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Acts 2:42 ESV

It is wonderful to speak about the importance and preeminence of making disciples; however, most of it is meaningless if we never ask the next question: How do we make disciples?

There has been a wonderful movement over the last several years to reclaim discipleship.

The state of the modern church looked rather bleak. The need to be comforted and encouraged slowly replaced the gospel call toward holiness and sanctification. Worship preference replaced joyfully solemn worship of the Holy One. And many saw these changes as the failure to make biblically-mandated disciples.

The response was to bring discipleship to an individual level, emphasizing that each Christian has the responsibility to make disciples. Typically, one-on-one regular meetings are promoted most, though discipleship within small groups has also become tremendously popular.

As I said, this is a wonderful and much-needed movement, but we must also be careful not to jump to another equally dangerous extreme in reaction.

I believe discipleship, like our own walks with the Lord, occurs on two fronts, individually and communally.

In the past, we tended to rely upon the church community alone to make disciples, but we must be wary of over-emphasizing individual discipleship now, lest we ignore the benefits of community discipleship.

Because these posts are focused upon the church as a whole, I will spend more time covering the three basic forms of communal discipleship (Scripture, Prayer, and Community) within the next three series.

But for now, let us briefly discuss over the next three posts the three broad ways that we are able to make disciples at an individual level: witnessing, evangelism, and teaching.

The Great Commission | Matthew 28:18-20

And Jesus came and said to them,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go therefore
and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name
of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold,
I am with you always,
to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

 

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is important because it is Jesus’ final words to His disciples before He ascended into heaven. Christ wanted these words to be ringing in our ears until He comes back. We would, therefore, do well to pay attention to them.

But the beauty and weight of the Great Commission does not begin in Matthew but in Genesis.

Allow me to explain.

The first book of the Bible opens with the sweeping account of God creating everything. Within the span of six days, the heavens are formed, the seas are filled, and the earth is sculpted. All of creation was created and placed into order in less than a week by God the Creator, and the capstone of His creation was Adam, the first human. We are told that humans are unique from all other forms of creation because they alone were created in God’s image.

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ (Gen. 1:26)

Because of their status as God’s image-bearers, the Creator also gave humans dominion over all the earth. Every animal that swam, flew, walked, or crawled fell under the authority of those who bore God’s likeness.

But He didn’t just give them dominion. He also gave them a mission: multiply.

Humanity’s primary job was to fill the whole earth with more humans.

That’s it. Manage the earth and have children. Not a bad deal if you ask me.

But have you ever wondered why God would command Adam and his wife, Eve, to multiply and fill the earth with humans?

After all, God could have instantly created billions of humans, filling the earth as it is filled today. Why then did He only create two humans and command them to multiply?

The answer hinges on humans bearing God’s image.

If the earth was filled with humans, it would also be filled with God’s image.

By living in obedience as God’s image-bearers, we were created to display and to fill the earth with His glory.

And God intentionally left the earth unfinished, only creating two humans, in order that they might serve as His instruments for filling the earth with His image. Being made in God’s likeness meant being invited to participate in God’s work.

All of that sounds great, but of course, we know that things went downhill fast.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve disobeyed God by doing the ONLY action that was forbidden, plunging humanity into a battle-to-the-death against sin.

Providentially, God was not ready to give up on His image-bearers just yet.

THE GREAT COMMISSION

The life of Jesus is the most astonishing act in all of human history.

Because of our continuous sinning against God, we deserve nothing from Him except His wrath. As the Creator of everything, He demands absolute perfection from us and even the smallest of sins bears eternal consequences because He is an eternal God. We are trapped in a well of sin with no hope of escape.

Enter two of the most beautiful words in the entire Bible: but God.

They appear whenever God intervenes on our behalf, which means they appear often. Sin and its consequences are bad news, but God intervenes by bringing good news to His broken creatures.

The good news is that God came into the world as a man, Jesus Christ. Being fully human and full divine, Jesus lived the perfect sinless life that we were commanded to live. He then died a horrific death for us, even though He had no sin by which to earn death. Jesus lived His life and died His death in substitution for us. But the good news doesn’t stop there. Jesus did not merely die for us; He also rose again to life, defeating death permanently.

It is from this position of death-conquering that we receive the Great Commission for Jesus Himself.

Before ascending to sit at God the Father’s right hand, Jesus gathered His disciples to Him for one final in-person teaching. He gave them a declaration of His authority and their final mission until He returns.

Notice that Jesus prefaces His commands with a declaration of His authority. Just as God gave Adam the First Commission as Creator, Jesus commissions His disciples as Lord of all, as the Re-Creator. We must, therefore, keep this authority in mind as we move forward to the commands.

As with the First Commission, Jesus issues four commands, but they are summed into one. The heart of the First Commission was the order to multiply. Being fruitful was accomplished through multiplying, and filling and subduing the earth could only be fulfilled via multiplication. Likewise, making disciples is the heart of the Great Commission. We go to all nations, baptizing and teaching, in order to make disciples.

We are called to make disciples, and this call comes from our Lord, who has absolute authority.

Making disciples, therefore, is not optional.

We can only either obey or disobey the command, but we cannot opt out of it.

But why does Jesus call us to make disciples anyway?

Jesus did not command His disciples to multiply simply for the sake of creating more disciples. Jesus never played the numbers game. John 6 gives the account of Jesus feeding the 5000, and after doing so, Christ had more than 5000 followers because everyone loves free food. But seeing that they were not actually interested in His words, He told them that by eating His flesh and drinking His blood they would find real food that satisfies. Almost everyone left because no one likes to get free food from a possible cannibal.

Jesus was never afraid to thin the crowd by separating the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats. But still Christianity has become the most culture-shaping force on the planet, with Christians being found in every nation. How is this so?

We should note that disciples, being students, embody the characteristics of their teacher. It is a nature process to become like whomever you follow. This thought is captured in the word Christian, which essentially means “like Christ” or “little Christ”. As Christians, we desire to become like our Lord and Teacher, meaning the goal of creating a disciple is to create one who bears the image of Christ.

The First Commission and Great Commission, therefore, both have the same goal: the glorification and exaltation of God. And both accomplish this goal through multiplying and filling the earth with God’s image-bearers.

Making disciples means creating more image-bearers of Christ.

As disciples of Jesus, we should desire to make more disciples of Jesus.

We should desire to make the good news that God saves sinners like us known to the world.

As the Church (the collective followers of Christ), our aim and mission is to make disciples, which is both the expansion of Christ’s kingdom and the glorification of Jesus Christ.

Because local churches are composed of their members, each individual church congregation will change continuously with each member that goes and comes, but this mission does not and cannot change. The function of the individual Christian and the Church collective is to make disciples.

A Christians that does not make disciples is no Christian.

A church that does not make disciples is no church.

HOW DO WE MAKE DISCIPLES?

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)

Speaking about the importance and preeminence of making disciples is great; however, most of it is meaningless if we never ask the next question: how? How do we make disciples?

There has been a wonderful movement over the last several years to reclaim discipleship. The state of the modern church was looking rather bleak. The need to be comforted and encouraged slowly replaced the gospel call toward holiness and sanctification. Leaders began catering to worship-style preferences to the loss of joyfully solemn worship of the Holy One. And many saw these changes as the failure to make biblically-mandated disciples.

The response was to bring discipleship to an individual level, emphasizing that each Christian has the responsibility to make disciples. Typically, one-on-one regular meetings are promoted most, though discipleship within small groups has also become tremendously popular.

As I said, this is a wonderful and much-needed movement, but we must also be careful not to jump to another equally dangerous extreme in reaction. I believe discipleship, like our own walks with the Lord, occurs on two fronts, individually and communally. In the past, we tended to rely upon the church community alone to make disciples, but we must be wary of over-emphasizing individual discipleship now, lest we ignore the benefits of community discipleship.

Within Acts 2:42, we can see three means of communal discipleship: Scripture, prayer, and community. The apostles’ teaching later came to be known as our New Testament; thus, they devoted themselves to Scriptures. Fellowship and breaking of bread together describes the tight-knit community that believers are called to become. They also devoted themselves to prayer, petitioning the Father on behalf of one another and the mission. Through their devotion to Scripture, prayer, and community, the early church made disciples as a community.

Because this book is primarily focused upon the church as a whole, I will spend more time covering those three forms of communal discipleship within the next three sections. But for now, let us briefly discuss the three broad ways that we are able to make disciples at an individual level: witnessing, evangelism, and discipleship.

WITNESSING

We know that we have found the good news of God, but that truth is invisible to the outside world unless we make it known to them. One way we can do this is by living as a witness for Christ. Witnessing, or testifying, is about displaying Jesus to a lost and dying world. When we witness, we attempt to live like Christ before the world in order that they might get a glimpse of His beauty and grace.

The word martyr comes from the Greek word for witnessing. Martyrs, therefore, witnessed about Christ to the world via their deaths. By boldly and joyfully facing their end, they displayed the hope and victory of Jesus over death to the watching world. Their actions were a living portrait of Christ.

In the same way, our lives should be a constant testimony of who Jesus is. We see this principle in the word Christian. Likely started as a derogatory term, Christian means little Christ or Christ-like, which is entirely fitting. We are meant to be small, imperfect versions of Christ before the world. In fact, we are the only Jesus they get to see.

This is why Paul gives us commands like the one in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” What a blanket statement! Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God. There is nothing so small or insignificant that it cannot be done worshipfully to God.

Colossians 3:17 speaks the same theme, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” We all called to do EVERYTHING in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Throughout high school and college, I worked as a teller in a bank. The bank would provide us with shirts to wear that sported the bank’s logo above the left breast. Whenever I went to a restaurant or ran an errand during lunch, I would be slightly more conscious of how I behaved because by wearing the bank’s logo, I knew that my behaviors (for good or bad) would be attributed to the bank. Even if it was subconscious, it was inevitable. As long as I sported the bank’s name, I was their representative to the world.

This is true of the Christian life as well. We bear the name of Christ in all that we do. We are His representatives to the world, so we should do everything in such a way as to bring Him glory.

Writing to His disciple, Titus, Paul applied this principle to how bondservants should work for their masters:

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9-10)

Some have interpreted adorning the doctrine of God to mean that our lives beautify the teachings of Scripture, but that is not what it means to adorn something.

Consider this example. My wife is gorgeous. She is a smoking hot, Colombian supermodel. And she loves scarves and hats. She loves them to the point that I had to declare that our holding capacity is reached, so if she gets a new hat or scarf, she must give away an old one. Honestly, I think she pulls off scarves and hats beautifully, but like any good accessory, they merely accent and call attention to her beauty. They in no way beautify her.

In the same way, the doctrines of God are beautiful. Far more beautiful, in fact, than we presently understand or realize. Our lives can do nothing to increase the beauty of God; they only call people’s attention to their beauty.

When employers begin to notice that their best employees are all Christians, the doctrine of God is adorned. When teachers realize that their kindest and most respectable students come from Christian households, the gospel is adorned. When Christian marriages are seen to be healthier and happier than most marriages of the world, the teachings of Scripture are adorned.

The call to witness for Christ is the call for each and every Christian to adorn the gospel by living our lives to the glory of God.

EVANGELISM

To be honest, I never thought of evangelism and witnessing as two separate actions until recently. In his short (and free!) ebook, What Is the Great Commission?, R. C. Sproul writes:

Evangelism, on the other hand, is the actual proclamation—either oral or written, but certainly verbal—of the gospel. It is declaring the message of the person and work of Christ, who He is and what He has done on behalf of sinners like you and me.

That means there are several things that evangelism is not. It is not living your life as an example. It is not building relationships with people. It is not giving one’s personal testimony. And it is not inviting someone to church. These things may be good and helpful, but they are not evangelism. They may lay the groundwork for evangelism. They may allow others to relate to us, or they may cause someone to be curious about why we live the way we do. But they are not evangelism, because they don’t proclaim the gospel. They may say something about Jesus, but they do not proclaim the person and work of Christ.

Witnessing does not necessitate words, but evangelism must use words, either written or spoken. We see this thought from the word evangelism itself. It comes from the Greek word for gospel, which means good news or good message. Therefore, evangelism is gospelism. It is making known the gospel, and because the gospel is a message and messages must be expressed, evangelism is a verbal act.

Many Christians become incredibly fearful at the thought of doing evangelism, while others write it off as a special gifting for some Christians. While there are some Christians with the passion and gifting of evangelism, all followers are called to the task.

We see this principle in the book of Acts. Following the death of the Stephen, the first martyr within the church, the Christians of Jerusalem fled across the Roman Empire. Here is how Luke describes the act: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4)

As they fled from Jerusalem, they continued to preach the word wherever they went. They continued to tell the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord. They kept proclaiming the truth that God saves sinners from the consequences of their sins.

This powerful statement is only made more powerful by who Luke is describing. He is not merely writing about the original disciples of Jesus, like Peter or John. He is not talking about the newly formed church leaders, like Stephen’s fellow deacons. No, Luke is describing the Christians in general. Normal, everyday followers of Christ preached the word of God wherever they went, and the world was irrevocably changed.

Evangelism is the work of every believer, but please realize that this does not mean you need to have a PHD in theology. John writes that Christians overcome satanic forces “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11).

You do not need to know the ins and outs of systematic theology in order to share the gospel; you only need to have experienced the power of Christ’s saving blood and be able to express how He saved you in words. If Christ’s blood and our proclamation of how He saved us is enough to conquer Satan, it is also entirely sufficient for delivering the gospel message to a heart that is dead in sin.

One more thought on evangelism before I move on. Your salvation was the work of God, not yourself. You were dead in sin, an object of God’s wrath, but Christ made you alive because of God’s great grace and love. Therefore, lay aside the weight of thinking that you will save people with evangelism. We can save no one. Even if we argue someone into Christianity, someone else can always argue them out.

We are simply called to share the gospel, to proclaim the good news.

God does everything else.

As a farmer sows seed but God produces the growth, may we also be faithful to share His truth, knowing that God alone can bring the dead to life.

DISCIPLESHIP

Too often, we think of discipleship and evangelism as two entirely distinct enterprises, but they are, in reality, two sides of the same coin. Both are sharing, proclaiming, and teaching the gospel. They only differ in their audience. During evangelism, we teach the gospel to non-Christians, and during discipleship, we teach the gospel to Christians. Therefore, discipleship is evangelism for believers, and evangelism is discipleship for non-believers.

The process of discipleship is important because our call to make disciples is not complete after someone becomes a Christian. Jesus did not command us to make converts; He told us to make disciples, which are students and followers of Him.

How then do we continue the process of discipleship after someone becomes a Christian?

Our Lord answered the question Himself in the Great Commission: by teaching them to obey all that He commanded us. Each generation is called to teach Jesus’ teachings to the next wave of disciples.

As with evangelism, God does give to some in the church the specific gift of teaching; however, each Christian is still called to teach in some capacity. Consider Paul’s charge to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).” Paul encourages Timothy to continue the process of teaching other men what it means to follow Christ.

But the process is not for men only.

In Titus 2:3-6, Paul gives Titus these words for women: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanders or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Notice that Paul commands older women to teach and train younger women.

Both men and women are called by the Scriptures to teach those who are younger in the faith. I say younger in the faith because physical maturity is not indicative of spiritual maturity. A young man might be quite mature in Christ, while an older man is still an infant in the faith.

Of course, this does not mean that less mature believers have nothing to share. Just as we are told to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, so should we teach one another the truths of God that we find in Scripture (Ephesians 5:21). We should mutually build one another up in the Lord, teaching one another to continue walking faithfully with the Christ.

This process of discipleship can be as intentional as meeting regularly with someone or a small group to study and discuss Scripture, or it could be as relaxed as two families eating together, discussing what God has been teaching them recently. Appendix A of this book provides three outlines of biblical texts that can be used for discipleship when meeting with another brother or sister in Christ.

The key is to actually discuss the Scriptures and what God is doing. If we meet with brothers and sisters in Christ without discussing Christ, what makes us any different than the world?

THE CALL & COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

We cannot conclude our study of the first value without also considering the call and cost of being a disciple of Christ. As we have stated, a disciple is a student or follower; therefore, all Christians are Jesus’ disciples. We can be nothing else.

To each of His disciples, Jesus gave a single command: “Follow me.” Peter and Andrew left their fishing nets and boat behind to follow Christ. John and James left their fishing gear as well as their father to be Jesus’ students. Matthew left behind his high-paying, low-effort job as a tax-collector to go wherever Jesus went. Paul abandoned his prestige as an up-and-coming Pharisee to join the people he was having killed.

They each left behind their entire way of life to follow Christ, but many did not. Luke 9:57-62 gives three accounts of Jesus challenging would-be disciples.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The cost of following Jesus is great. He demands our entire life to follow Him. If we love anyone or anything else more than Him, we are not worthy of being His disciples (Matthew 10:34-39). This means that our own wants and desires must be sacrificed continuously by choosing to do His will. The Christian knows that Christ alone has purchased his soul from the eternal consequences of sin; therefore, he cries out with Paul that we are not our own but have been bought with a price, so we glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Followers of Christ forfeit their own rights, desires, and goals. They shun all efforts of honoring and glorifying self, seeking instead to exalt the name of God alone.

If you are indeed a disciple of Christ, the call of make disciples is not a suggestion. It is not a side project. It is not an item on the to-do list. Making disciples is the reason Jesus saved you. You were made into a new creation in order to proclaim the excellencies of the gospel (1 Peter 2:9).  Everything in your life must revolve around this one command. Everything that you do must be for the exaltation of God’s name that He might be worshipped by all people.

Follow Jesus.

Make disciples.

Those saved by grace can do nothing less.

DISCUSSION & REFLECTION

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Genesis 1:28 and discuss the following.

  1. Why did God command humanity to multiply and fill the earth?

Read Matthew 28:18-20 and discuss the following.

  1. Why does Jesus command His disciples to go to all nations and make more disciples?
  2. How can each Christian obey the command of making disciples?
  3. How do you actively make disciples?
  4. How does the church as a community make disciples?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon Matthew 28:18-20, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.