Today it is very popular to hear a Bible teacher or preacher expound on Scriptures that promise you a blessed, happy, and prosperous life. There are definitely principles in the Word of God that when implemented will produce such benefits as health, financial success, peace in your life and relationships etc. I am not opposed to any of it. What I do find alarming is when we major on the blessings of God without hardly a mention of the cross and the price of obedience to follow Jesus. Preaching and teaching on only these principles can easily turn the hearers into “fish and loaf” believers, and the preachers/teachers into ear-tickling motivational speakers who lull their hearers into a false sense of security that sets them up to be targets of deception. When we preach seeker-friendly messages and exclude the holiness of God and His commands to lay down our lives we will breed soft “Christians” who easily succumb to the storms and pressures of life. Here’s some food for thought: it’s easy to embrace the Christian blessings without embracing the Christian faith. The Christian faith is not the outward blessings but the inward Christ life.
Here is a unique Scripture and the fruit of sowing sugar coated messages:
“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5).
Another translation says it this way: “If you have raced with runners and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in a peaceful land, what will you do in the thickets of the Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5).
It is easy to breed soft believers in the West where comfort and convenience seem to be the aim of most. Compare it to the days of the early Church where trials and persecutions abounded, and it cost people their lives to be identified as a Christian. Compare it to many Eastern countries today where the Bible and preaching are banned, where it is illegal to convert to Christ, and where many saints are still killed for the faith. For the most part we’ve been insulated against such here in the West. Why is this important?
Because the Bible is not a Western book, and cannot be read through Western lenses lest you be deceived and settle for a half-hearted devotion to Christ that is so prevalent in the Church today. This deception has a tendency to thicken when our surroundings are superficial and shallow. Understand that what you associate with, who you listen to, and what you view will shape what you believe and who you are. This makes it even more critical and vital that Bible preachers and teachers are expounding on the full counsel of God and not just teaching principles of success and prosperity. Actually, in one way it can even be more of a challenge to minister to believers in the West than in persecuted nations because of the comforts, conveniences, and materialism that often breed compromise and complacency. Such a people will grow weary in any kind of battle. According to Jeremiah they will not be able to race with the runners much less compete with wild horses. They will stumble in a land of peace much less in a land of unrest and hostility where the opposition is greater.
THE POWER OF EXAMPLE
Imagine what it was like for the early Church believers sitting under the apostles teaching and having a close-up view of their daily lives. In our cozy culture I think we forget this or just don’t want to think about it. We have an abundance of gospel preachers and teachers full of so much “Christian” knowledge, much of which they never learned through suffering or even personal application in an uncomfortable and hostile environment. In the early Church much of the teaching was by life example and modeling Christ. The apostles spent 3 years with Jesus. Three years! Every day! In every kind of situation. With all types of people. Do you think that’s worth anything? In the West it’s too easy to miss that.
In the days of the early Church new believers observed the apostles as they used every opportunity to preach the gospel while suffering persecution for it. After Stephen was martyred there was great persecution that arose against the Church that scattered the believers, but they kept preaching the word everywhere (Acts 8:1-4) (Acts 11:19-21). The example of the apostles’ boldness and unfailing courage to continue to preach the gospel in spite of the persecution motivated the early believers and the young ministers like Stephen (Acts 7) and Philip (Acts 8:5-8) to do the same.
The early believers carefully observed the apostles’ response to the persecution and they imitated them (Acts 4:13-31) (Acts 5:17-21; 40-42). They also observed their care for new believers in various cities and towns (Acts 11:22-24; 14:22; 15:41; 18:23; 20:31) (Col. 1:28-29) (1 Thes. 2:11-12). They knew that Jesus and His gospel were the passion and purpose of their lives that even the threats of death could not stop them. Because the apostles patterned their life and ministry after Jesus and modeled the Christ life to them, the early Church was full of functioning disciples and workers in the harvest fields who did the same. We often forget this most important element of discipleship. Most Western schools fill our heads with knowledge and theory but neglect the impact a life totally devoted to Christ can have on the heart of another. We place great emphasis on titles, degrees, and credentials unlike our Master who chose simple uneducated men whose hearts He could impact. And although the apostle Paul was educated and probably possessed the highest degrees of his day he put no stock in it (Phil. 3:8). These were the credentials that were important to him and that he reminded his followers of:
“But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yettrue; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yetnot killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6:4-10) (Also see 2 Cor. 11:22-28).
PAUL PREPARED THEM FOR THE STORM SO THAT HIS LABOR WOULD NOT BE IN VAIN
“Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens, and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles. Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know. That is why, when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong. I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless. But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence” (1 Thes. 3:1-9).
Paul sent Timothy to check up on these believers to make sure they were standing strong in their faith and not yielding to the temptations of the devil and allowing the troubles and persecutions that he had already warned them about cause them to be shaken in their faith. If so, his labor of ministry to them would’ve been useless or vain, and he would’ve been in danger of losing his own reward . Paul had a habit of checking up on the fruit of his ministry and the people he had laid down his life for. This was his pattern.
“Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless” (Phil 2:16).
THE KEY TO SURVIVING ANY STORM
What is it that will cause Christians to survive the storm and the pressures and troubles that come to us all? According to the full counsel of the Word, it is obedience that derives from both a love for the Lord and the true fear of the Lord. God’s grace imparts the ability to obey His Word, but it is His fear that keeps us from receiving His grace in vain (2 Cor. 6:1; 7:1) and coming short of His rest (Heb. 4:1). A revelation of the Father’s love keeps us from having a legalistic and obligatory relationship with Him while the fear of the Lord keeps us from drifting and backsliding.
The fear of the Lord is primarily cultivated through knowing the judgments of God and the punishment and penalty for sin and the loss of our eternal rewards. We have an absence of this in the West that has weakened the foundation of the Church. Without this foundation our house will not stand in the storm. In one word, the foundation is obedience for that is what the fear of the Lord produces. In the parable of the house built on the sand and the house built on the rock (Mt. 7:24-27) obedience to the Word of God was the rock and the key to the house surviving the storm.
When you’re building a house the most important part of it is the foundation. If the foundation is strong the house will stand when the storms come.
“When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation” (Pr. 10:25).
“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure” (Is. 33:6 – NIV)
A house is built and established through God’s wisdom, but the fear of the Lord is the key to having a strong foundation. To be continued…
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