Wednesday, May 7, 2014

More fruit: Lessons about the growth of the body, from the Apostles.

Matthew 13:18-23

King James Version (KJV)
18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Ever wonder why we pray and speak the truth to folks and it seems to fall on deaf ears? It seems to me that there are two sides to this answer. 

First of all, I'd like to point out that there are four distinct types of hearers here in this passage.

Of those, 3 of the 4 (75%) do not reject the word of God outright. Indeed, they do receive it- happily. 

Of the 3 that receive it, 2 fall away (66%). One because of the trials of life (they get hurt). The other because of the cares of this life and the pursuit of success (they get sidetracked).

So preachers and teachers- indeed, saints of God- keep on telling it like it is. But, understand, that of the 4 you talk to, only one is going to stick around long term. 2/3 of those you reach will backslide. 

By all means do pray for and go after them. There will be some prodigals among them who will come to their senses and return to Jesus. Don't give up on them. You never know which one will respond.

Secondly, another reason for our lack of response is our own dedication to Jesus. This lack of dedication is shown in Jesus' words when he says that some will bear fruit a hundredfold, sixty fold, and thirty fold. If we all put forth the same effort with the same dedication, then we'd all bear fruit a hundred fold. 

In his opening remarks to his New Testament translation, J.B. Phillips made this statement: "Perhaps if we believed what they (the Apostles and early church) believed, then we could achieve what they achieved." 

I agree, but I would alter his statement for our modern audience: "Perhaps if we believed and practiced what they believed and practiced, then we could achieve what they achieved."

With that in mind, what did they practice, generally, that many of us no longer practice?

Luke 24:49

King James Version (KJV)

49 And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.

Here Jesus gave them a direct command. And they obeyed. 

How many times does Jesus give us a direct command and we either disobey, or analyze it to death- trying to figure it out.

The early church was unquestioningly obedient to the Lord. Shouldn't we be the same?

Acts 2

King James Version (KJV)

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

First, they were ALL filled with the Holy Ghost. This was not guesswork. This was not an empty "just believe it." This was a fact. Jesus had promised them power from on high, and he fulfilled it in the lives of all 120 people in that upper room. So powerful was the experience that it got the whole cities attention. Before that day was out, there were another 3000 souls born again through the same truth and experience of the original 120.

Acts 4:8

King James Version (KJV)

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel,

Next, they spoke only when filled with his spirit. They didn't rest on the first experience with God. They pursued him all the more! So much so that three times in the first four chapters of Acts, they were filled with the spirit. We should not rest on our initial salvation. We should seek him for more of him. More truth. More love. More of his spirit. 

Acts 4:31

King James Version (KJV)

31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

They stayed in a state of prayer. They had set times for prayer. They also prayed whenever they needed or wanted to in addition to those set prayer times. As such, they stayed in right relationship with God and he was able to do great and mighty things through them. 

Acts 6:4-6

King James Version (KJV)

But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

They allowed others to handle needs. It wasn't a one man (or twelve man) show. It was about the whole body of Christ responding as God moves. Too many of our churches today believe it's all about "the ministry." Only the pastor (or staff) can do things. Everything must go through the "man of God." Sounds good to many, but in fact, it stifles the free flow of the Holy Ghost. 

The pastoral calling is not the whole five fold ministry. There are four other offices listed. Also, there are other offices (Bishop, deacon) listed as well in the scripture. The word pastor is only used ONCE in the whole New Testament. Where do we get the idea that they are the end all and be all of everything?

Look at the purpose of the five fold ministry: 

Ephesians 4:10-13

King James Version (KJV)

10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

Notice the progression. Jesus gives the five fold ministry. Why? For the PERFECTING OF THE SAINTS. Ok. We seem to have that much right these days. 

But, why do the saints need to be perfected? To go to heaven? (Yes, but that's not what is listed here.) Notice, the saints need to be perfected, "for the work of the ministry."

Wait, I thought the five fold ministry did the work of the ministry. I challenge you to look up that word "ministry" in the Greek. It's not just about the preachers. It's about helping others. When we give food to the hungry, we are in ministry. When we visit the sick and shut ins, we are in ministry. When we give a testimony, we are in ministry. When we pray for others, we are in ministry. 

But, brother Mike, what if they mess up. Shouldn't they have to go through their pastor for permission first? NO! The pastor is not their Lord, Jesus is!
The pastor is to lead them and teach them the truth. He is to help them grow and pray for them. But, he is NOT in control of what they do when they leave the doors of the church building. Jesus IS!

Besides, what preacher is perfect? Which one of us has never made a mistake since we've been called into his glorious light? Why do pastors and leaders burn out? Because they try to do it all!

Pastors, help your people to grow in God. Teach them to rely on Jesus and his word. Stop trying to control people. It's not your job to control. It's your job to help them to walk in the calling God has laid on them. Let God be God!

If they make a mistake, help them to prayerfully fix it. When a baby falls down or breaks something, we don't lock the child in a corner and not allow them to do anything. We clean them up and teach them. We keep feeding them so they can grow.

So, the saints need to be perfected so that THEY can minister to others. Why? "For the edifying (building up) of the body of Christ."

A) People will get excited when they are used by God to minister to others. This builds up the church- in strength and power. B) When others are won to the Lord through the saints ministering, THIS also builds up the church- in numbers.

We get so caught up in numbers, that we stifle the ministry of the body. This begins to stagnate and kill the body. We have it backwards. 

"Till we all come into the unity of the faith..." We always like to hammer about being on one mind and one accord like the early church was. How do we achieve this? Through creeds? Through control? Through religious education? No! 

We do it through the steps we just covered. When the saints see that God can use them, they will jump at the chance to pray, study, and fast. Why? Because they will be excited about seeing others come to Jesus! They will know that God can use them. We will all be on one page- in unity. 

Unity is not achieved through our programs. It is achieved through our walk with God. It is achieved through the ministry that he gives each one of us. 

Yes. The preacher is important. But, so is the Sunday School teacher. So are the ones who are reaching out to addicts. So are the ones that feed the hungry. It all works together. We are all different parts of the same body of Christ.

The mouth can't grab someone and stop them from falling. It takes eyes to see the danger, a brain to process the danger, and a mouth to warn of the danger. It takes an arm and hand to reach out and grab the person. It takes feet and legs to anchor, so that the back and arms can pull backwards and stop them from going over the cliff. 

See, it all works together. That's how God's church: the body of Christ is supposed to be. 

If we try and do it differently, then we stunt the growth of the church. 

Finally, some people are naturally going to work harder for God than others. That's why some folks produce a hundred fold, while others produce thirty fold. But, they still produce! 

Let the body be the body. Let the vines be the vines. As long as we stay anchored in the branch (Jesus), we will be alright. Let's all do our own part. Let's all work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. 

It worked in the early church. When persecution scattered the church abroad, did it die? NO! It grew wherever it landed. 

If we let God be God, when persecution hits us, we will be fruitful wherever we land. When we let his spirit guide us and his love compel us, we can't help but grow wherever he plants us.