A Pharisee is hard on others and easy on himself, but a spiritual man is easy on others and hard on himself. A.W. Tozer
We’ve been talking in recent weeks about what we can all do to maximize our engagement with God’s people now that Covid has calmed down, and we are resuming our corporate worship and small group gatherings.
The wonderfully good news is Christ the Head has so designed the inner workings of His church so that every member can contribute in a supernatural life giving way. You do not have to have a seminary or Bible college degree to make a significant and ongoing contribution to the growth and maturing of Christ’s church. You do need to be ever more connected to Christ the Head (“…. holding fast to the Head… Col. 2:19), so that His life can flow through you to others, and so you can appropriately receive from Him through others! That’s what I want to try to help facilitate via this post (and the ones following).
I’ve been reflecting of late about the life of Abraham. He and Moses are the only Old Testament characters who are referred to as “friends” of God. Abraham is mentioned often in the New Testament as an example of the kind of faith God is looking for in His children/servants/friends. But the primary way his faith was expressed or demonstrated was his obedience. For instance in Hebrews 11:8, the writer says of him, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out….”. And what was significant about his obedience in that situation was he had no clue where God was taking him. Perhaps his greatest act of obedience was his willingness to sacrifice his long promised son and heir of God’s promise (Isaac) (see Genesis 22 & Heb. 11:17).
Jesus clearly and repeatedly in John chapters 14 and 15 communicates that intimacy or friendship with Him is closely tied to our obedience (e.g. “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.”) John 14:15. (see also14:21, 23 & 15:14).
Please listen to this: One of the greatest reasons both our contribution to the growth and maturity of the body of Christ and our ability to receive fully from others’ contributions to us is so limited is because our daily obedience to Christ is so weak. And one of the areas where our obedience is the weakest is in our daily focus on ourselves.
What?!!! That sounds so selfish! Well allow me to explain with some scriptures that command us to give far more attention to ourselves and to our own growth than any of us are giving.
Matthew 7:3-5 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother,’Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Jesus is not against our helping one another grow. He knows in some respects we cannot grow without one another’s help. The call for each of us to pursue Christ likeness and holiness is clear (see Romans 8:29, I John 2:6, etc). And so is the call to practice ministering to our brothers and sisters and receiving from them (e.g. “…love one another”, “…encourage one another”, “….build up one another”, “….confess your sins to one another”, “….pray for one another”, etc.).
The problem He is addressing in Matt. 7:3-5 is that we typically are so focused on the sins and problems and needs of others, that we neglect to even “notice” our glaring needs for growth and change and cleansing and deliverance (our log or beam), etc. Our ability to effectively help others grow and change is absolutely tied to our obedience in giving adequate daily attention to our own growth and transformation. It is our daily experience of personal growth and transformation out of which we help others with their need for growth and change. Ironically, those of us who are called to shepherd and equip the sheep are the most guilty of focusing on their warts and need, all the while neglecting to give attention to our own.
Let’s look at some more instruction from Jesus on this issue:
Luke 17:3 “Be on your guard (lit. Take heed to yourselves)! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”
In my Bible there is a little numeral one before the word “Be”, which tips me off that there is a marginal note, which informs me that literally this should be translated “Take heed to yourselves!” The context here is a discussion of the great danger and grave consequence of being a stumbling block to others or causing others to sin. Because of that great danger and grave consequence we are to go to our brother or sister and help them turn from their sin. But before we do that, we are to give focused attention to ourselves! One of the most hurtful and damaging things in the body of Christ is when someone who is blind to their own sin and desperate need for transformation and cleansing, rebukes or corrects someone else, who usually knows that the correcting person is blind to their own issues.
One of the reasons we need to take heed to ourselves is so we can be more humble and gentle with others, knowing how merciful and tolerant and forbearing the Lord has been with us.
Mark 9:50 “….Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” Two commands for disciples of Christ. The latter (our corporate life together in Christ or our body life) depends upon the fulfillment of the former (our own personal pursuit of holiness). The scriptures, the Holy Sprit, the blood of Christ are all wonderful provisions (salt) for our ongoing transformation. But we must pursue them and access them as a way of life.
Acts 20:28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock…”
In Acts 20:17 the apostle Paul is found having sent for the elders of the church in Ephesus. They came to him there on a beach in Miletus where he was going to board a boat and travel away (vs. 18a). Starting in vs. 18b Paul begins to address them as one who had poured out his life for them for three years (vs. 31), and who would probably never see them again this side of heaven (vs. 25). In vs. 29,30 he warns them soberly of “… savage wolves” that are bound to try to deceive and destroy the sheep of God. His remedy is in vs. 28; and as with Jesus, it starts with giving attention to ourselves first. Our ability to effectively shepherd the sheep will depend on our obedience in daily giving attention to our own pursuit of righteousness, godliness and holiness (II Tim. 2:22, Hebrews 12:14). It is in our own daily pursuit of these things, that we learn how to obtain them, and thus how to help others pursue and obtain them.
I Corinthians 10:12 "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall."
The apostle Paul was reminding the Corinthian church of some of the major sins of the people of Israel in 10:6-10 so they would not make the same mistakes. Now in vs. 12 he exhorts them to give attention to their own lives in such a daily way, that they will not fall into these same sin patterns, knowing God is there to help them in every temptation (see vs. 13).
Galatians 6:1 “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restores such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”
Paul’s expectation is that we believers who are seeking to help others overcome sin in their lives are regularly spending time in the Lord’s presence asking Him to help us overcome sin in our lives. It is very dangerous to try to do the former without the latter. And the church suffers when we don’t do the former because many are stuck in sin, and need our loving, humble and gentle help to get free.
I Timothy 4:16 “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
Paul was of course speaking to his protégé Timothy, but this directive clearly (from the other scriptures we’ve looked at) applies to all of His servants who want to count for Him and His kingdom, and who aspire to teach and disciple others. Only when we on a daily basis by the Holy Spirit’s power and by the grace of God give focused attention to our own growth and cleansing and transformation, and then to our teaching, (whether before a small or large group or in a one on one setting), ….only then will we ensure ongoing salvation or sanctification for ourselves and for those we minister to.
I Timothy 5:22 "Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin."
Paul again speaking to his disciple Timothy, who has the weight of the churches he was overseeing on his shoulders. Under that weight, and the sometimes desperate need for help in shepherding the sheep, it is very tempting to lower Biblical standards to secure that help. Paul warns against this reminding Timothy of the consequence of doing so. And then he add, "....keep yourself free from sin." Paul emphasized throughout chapter four that Timothy must give daily attention to his own life and growth and progress in spiritual things. Now he comes back to that again, knowing how easy it is for a minister to be so taken with the needs of the church, and the communities wherein those churches exist, that he neglects his own growth.
II John 8 “Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward.”
The apostle John was warning them both before and after this verse of those who are walking in deception, and who are not walking in truth. Such folk wander in and out of our churches, and today light up the cyber world. There is great reward for those who give daily attention to the nourishment of their own souls, and thus who are able to discern error and avoid it (and those who espouse the error).
Well hopefully I’ve shared enough scriptures and observations wherein we clearly see the principle of putting our own growth and progress first before trying to help others. In my next post, I’m going to try to get very practical in how we can better focus on our own growth and transformation, and thereby enjoy the life and growth that comes from engagement with Christ’s church.