Thursday, November 30, 2006

Biblical Roles: Apostles (Part 2)


“For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15)

Paul was a spiritual father to individuals, such as Timothy, but he was also a father to churches. Paul reminds the church at Corinth that he had become their father in the spirit because he was the one who brought the gospel of Christ to them and he lead them to new life in Jesus; he birthed them and he fathered them. While many would come and minister to the believers in Corinth, they would never replace Paul nor the place he held in their hearts and lives.

Apostles are fathers to churches. Either because they were the one who brought them the gospel and “birthed” the church or because of the relationships they formed with those in the church. Many churches today are birthed without any apostolic involvement from the beginning, but this does not mean that they cannot be fathered. Many churches today are seeing the need for fathers and are reaching out to apostolic people and ministries to receive the fatherly ministry that the church needs. So what does it mean to be a father to a church?

“You know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

A father exhorts and encourages his children to reach their full potential. He encourages them to be the people who Jesus has called them to be. He does not caudle them in their weakness but implores them to rise up in the strength of Christ and overcome their weakness. He does not excuse them when they sin; rather he calls them to repentance and holiness. As a father, he is like a coach that is able to inspire, motivate, and provoke his children to give and be more than they ever though they could give or be.

“For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” (Acts 20:27)

A father tells his children what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. A father, in love, tells it like it is. One of the hardest parts of growing up is hearing things about ourselves that we don’t want to hear. While the truth can set us free, it often hurts first. Before we can receive the forgiveness that is in the gospel, we must first receive what the gospel has to say about us being sinners. None of us likes to see our children hurting, but we also know that sometimes the sorrow of God must first precede the life of God. A father does not shrink back from telling the truth, from telling us what we really need to hear.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

Fathers bring discipline. No child ever grew to maturity without discipline. It is through discipline and instruction that we bring our lives into conformity with the image of Christ. A father’s discipline should never be the result of anger but rather should always be exercised with the best interests of the child in mind. A good father disciplines his child out of a desire to see his child grow and mature. It is for this reason that our heavenly Father disciplines us. “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10) Fathers discipline because of the hope and certainty they have for what their children can and are called to be, therefore, they discipline in hope not anger.

More to come… David Robison

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Biblical Roles: Apostles (Part 1)

The role of the Apostle

“Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas -- Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them, ‘The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings.’” (Acts 15:22-23)

I believe that in this verse, Paul outlines the governmental structure for the church: the Apostles, the Elders, and the Brethren. In this post (and those to come) we will look at some of the roles of the Apostles. This list is not exhaustive, but contains some of the role I believe to be important.

Master Builder

“According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)

As a “master builder,” Paul describes himself as one who oversees the building of the church. While Paul did not oversee every little aspect in the church, his role was as an architect. He was concerned with what the church was to become, and as such, his chief focus was upon the foundation. The foundation determines the extent of what can be build upon it. If you have a small foundation or if it is build with inferior material, then only a small building may be build upon it, but if the foundation is laid upon a rock and built with superior material, then there is no limit to the structure that may be built. Jesus put it this way, “Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.” (Luke 6:47-48 NKJV)

One of the roles of an apostle is as a master builder. In this role, an apostle is responsible for laying a solid foundation in the church. Paul makes clear that the foundation they are to lay is Jesus Christ. They are not concerned with establishing a denomination or with teaching sectarian aspects of one or another sect of Christianity. Their main concern is seeing Jesus Christ established at the center of every believer’s heart and at the center of every local expression of the Body of Christ. Apostles understand that, unless Jesus is the foundation of everything we do, then all our works will be like those built upon the sand and whose end will be, “the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:49)

In laying a foundation, an apostle also understands that a foundation is not what you know, but what you do. Jesus said that the man who laid a solid foundation was one who “comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them.” (Luke 6:47) An apostle is not as concerned with changing someone’s doctrine as they are with changing someone’s way of life. They want to see people’s life changed and they want to see all believers come into conformance to the image of Christ. Paul put it this way, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19) As a master builder, they are concerned with the heart, not the mind. They are concerned with transformation not education. They are concerned with the foundation not the outward appearance of the building.

More to come… David Robison

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Don't call me Teacher: We are all brothers

You are all brothers

How do we resist the temptation to lapse back into a class-based religion? Jesus gives us the key, “You are all brothers.” (Matt 23:8) We must always remember that, in Christ, we are all brothers and sister. Paul reminds us that in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) God does not see any distinction between believers. He does not see clergy or laity, rich or poor, young or old; He only sees sons and daughters. Even when Paul went to Jerusalem to submit to the Apostles the gospel he was teaching among the gentiles, he recognized that there was no difference between him and the Apostles or even the rest of the brethren. “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) -- well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.” (Galatians 2:6)

God does not make distinctions among men, but far too often we do. We elevate some and appoint to them the professional ministry of the gospel. We let them to the work of ministry while we remain but spectators of the kingdom of God. As leaders, we often relish in the promotion we receive in the estimation of others. We like being thought highly of by others. We can even begin to see ourselves as being special, better than the people we lead. While we may see ourselves and others in this light, God does not. We must renew our minds to realize that, no matter the specific function we fulfill in the Body of Christ, we are all equal; we are all bothers and sisters in Christ. Whether Pope, Priest, Father, Bishop, Pastor, Teacher, Elder, or believer, we are all bothers.

In the church, there is really only one who is special, one who has first place, one who is preeminent and that person is Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us shed the old garb of clergy/laity and return to a biblical understanding of the body where we can once again be simply brother and sisters in faith.

David Robison

Monday, November 20, 2006

Don't call me Teacher: Desiring to be Praised

A desire to be praised

In describing the Pharisees, Jesus said, “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.” (Matthew 23:5-7) The Pharisees loved the praises of men. They loved being honored and respected by others more than by God. All their works were motivated by their need to be noticed by men. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us,

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:1-8)

When we allow others to call us Pastor, Teacher, Elder, or Father we open ourselves up to the desire to be praised. We can easily fall into the same trap as the Pharisees, where we desire the notice of men more than the notice of God. When we live for the praise of men, our lives become wholly about us; we cease to live to serve God and man and instead live only for ourselves. Praise can become an intoxicating drink that clouds our minds and perverts our judgment. This is why King Solomon said, “Each is tested by the praise accorded him.” (Proverbs 27:21) It is better to be praised by God than to be praise by men.

When we live for the praises of men, we grow weak in our faith. Jesus said, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (John 5:44) When we look away from our heavenly Father and seek to receive praise and acceptance from men, we loose sight of the promises of God and we grow weak in our faith. Our strength comes from looking into His face and receiving what He has to say about us. Our confidence grows when we understand how much the Father loves us and when we learn to hear His praise for us. With men, we might have our “15 minutes of fame,” but with God, His love and acceptance for us is eternal.

David Robison

Monday, November 13, 2006

Don't call me Teacher: Desiring to be Served

We Desire to Be Served Rather than Serve

On the night Jesus was to be betrayed, there arose a dispute amongst the disciples as to who was the greatest among them. Jesus answered them saying,

“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27)

When we allow others to call us teacher, leader, and father, we open ourselves up to the temptation that we are to be served more than we are to serve. Jesus notes that those in the world who have authority are call “Benefactors,” in other words, the leaders of this world are the one who benefit from their leadership. For example, many of the most dictatorial leaders today are also the wealthiest amongst those whom they lead. Their leadership has gained for them great wealth; often at the expense of those whom they have led. Jesus tells us clearly that this should not be so in the Body of Christ. Those who lead in God’s church are to lead in a way as to serve others before themselves. The benefactors of their leadership should be those in their charge, not themselves.

If you are a leader in the church, ask yourself these following questions:

  • How much effort in the church goes to supporting and growing my ministry as opposed to the ministries of others in my church?
  • Do your corporate expressions and meetings center around your gifting and ministries more than the ministries and gifting of others?
  • Do others in the church serve to support your ministry more than you serve to support others ministries?
  • How much attention in the church is given to your personal preferences, likes, and comfort?

I have actually known some pastors that even have their own personal bouncers to keep them from being inconvenienced after a service by those who desire their attention, counsel, and prayers.

Jesus tells us very clearly, “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) Jesus was among us as one who serves; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords humbled Himself to serve mankind. In the same way, we too are called to serve. We must never let our high opinion of ourselves convince us that we deserve to be served or that serving is beneath us. The greater our authority and our calling of leadership, the greater is our responsibility to serve.

David Robison

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Don't call me Teacher: Desiring to be First

These verses in Mathew 23 not only address what we call others in the body of Christ but they also caution us about what we allow others to call us. These verses say that we should not allow others to call us Rabbi, Teacher, or Leader. When we allow others to address us with such titles we open ourselves up to the temptation of the devil. Here are some of the things the devil will tempt us with.

The Desire to be First

I have over the years meet many people who wanted to be leaders, teachers, and pastors because the loved the titles more than the loved the work. For them, the titles served to elevate them above others, set them ahead of the crowd, and make them special. This was the case of a man named Diotrephes. John wrote of him to his friend Gaius saying, “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.” (3 John 9-10) Diotrephes was one who loved to be first. Diotrephes was apparently distinguished among many in the church and obviously possessed a mantle of authority. There were also other elders in the church, including the beloved Gaius, to whom John wrote his letter. But Diotrephes was not content to be one among many; he sought to be the head, or the ruling authority, in the church. He wanted to be first amongst all the brethren, the one calling the shots, the one in charge. In the end, it caused him to become suspicious of even John and the men ministering with him. Diotrephes ended up rejecting all outside ministry and authority and requiring that all those in “his” church to do the same.

It is very tempting for leaders today to fall into the same temptation as Diotrephes when we allow our parishioners, or congregants, to lift us up with lofty titles that create a class system of clergy/laity within the Body of Christ. These titles serve only to create distinction amongst members of the one Body. They lift some up while placing others beneath the exalted ones. These titles identify a group of people, the leaders, teachers, and pastors, as being more important, of having preeminence, and of being superior to the other members of the Body. And, if we are not careful, as leaders, teachers, and pastors, we can begin to believe these lies ourselves. Unfortunately, the fruit of these lies is not greater ministry, but like Diotrephes, its suspicion of others and a desperate struggle to hold on to our position, power, and authority.

Jesus views being first very differently then we do. For example, consider apostles. Paul says that they were appointed as first in the Body of Christ. “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:28) But it was Paul’s personal experience that, as an apostle, being first was not all it is cracked up to be. “For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13) Paul understood that, in the Kingdom of God, being first meant being last. Paul understood that his calling as an apostle was a calling to be the servant of every man. Being an apostle did not mean that he got to be first but that he got to be last. His needs and his desires were to forever become subordinate to the needs of every other man.

When God calls a man or a woman to be a pastor, teacher, or leader, He is calling them to take up the lowliest place and to give their lives serving the needs of others. This is why Jesus reminds us that, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12) Let us not allow the titles bestowed upon us by others to go to our head. Let us remain humble and remain willing to take up the lowliest place, as servants of the mighty King.

David Robison