Posts Tagged With: unity of the Spirit

Reflection on Mark 9:38-41 (Revisited)

This post was originally published on August 16, 2013. It remains one of the most-frequently read articles on this blog.

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. (Mark 9:38-41, ESV)

Mark 9, along with its parallels in the other Gospels, has popped up often for me: In my personal devotions, sermons I’ve heard, and books and articles I have read. Maybe God is trying to tell me something. God wants His children—myself included—to confront the conflict between pride and prayer, self-seeking and selfless service, and the other spiritual battles common to growing Christians.

To see the irony of this discussion, one should consider all that had occurred earlier. John had just been one of three disciples to witness the Transfiguration, when Jesus radiated His divine glory while visited by Moses and Elijah on a mountain (Mark 9:2-8). John, more than almost any of the disciples, should have been humbled in Jesus’ presence, having seen first-hand that He was more than a great teacher!

Having come down from the mountain, they found that the other nine disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a boy. The disciples were experienced exorcists, having been sent on a ministry trip for which Jesus empowered them to cast demons out of people (Mark 6:7). Yet, they had failed because, Jesus said, this kind of demon “cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29).

This incident was followed by other discussions, intended to change the worldly perspective of the disciples: Jesus’ prophecy of His impending arrest, death, and resurrection (Mark 9:30-32); and instruction about the disciples’ need to be humble and childlike, instead of arrogantly seeking status (Mark 9:33-37).

Like many of us, the disciples were slow learners. Despite these instructions and their previous failures, John essentially boasts that some of the disciples had tried to stop someone from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, simply because he was not part of their travelling party. I can almost imagine the rebuke sounding something like, “Hey! Stop doing that! You don’t have ministry credentials for that. We have certificates, signed by Jesus Himself, saying that WE should do that when He’s not around. Why don’t you just go feed the poor and leave the REAL ministry to us?”

(I am sure that in the back of John’s mind, he was really thinking, “STOP THAT! You’re making us look bad? How dare you cast out a demon after my friends just had trouble with one last week? You’re ruining our credibility!”)

Jesus response calls us to the charity and unity that should draw His followers together. The disciples’ status did not matter. Yes, they enjoyed a unique relationship with Him, gaining in-depth teaching and training that others did not enjoy. Many people admired Jesus and rushed to hear His teaching. I am sure many sought to live by His doctrine, even if they did not have the privilege of travelling with Him. Yet, only 12 spent all their time with the Lord, having many hours to pick His brain.

The disciples had a special privilege and a deeper call to serve the Lord. Yet, they were not expected to claim it as a reason to exclude others. Jesus called them to serve, not to claim offices and titles. Later, Paul would write that their role was to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). John’s response to a common man’s success in casting out demons should have been, “Congratulations! Great job, brother! We need more guys like you in this ministry.”

Modern Christians should focus on service instead of status, on the task instead of the title. We need to recognize the gifts God has given us, and the mission He has called us to, and put that first. We must resist the temptation to let titles, recognition, and prestige distract us from the needs around us and our ability to serve.

We need to recognize, respect, and encourage the gifts God has given to others. The pastor’s job is not to do all the ministry, but to equip the saints for work of service. When somebody shows an aptitude and eagerness for a ministry, that person should be encouraged and trained, not “put in their place.”

Yes, there are times some people will try to exercise spiritual gifts they do not really have. Some churches over-emphasize certain gifts, like prophecy and healing, to a point where people feel like second-rate believers if they do not have those gifts. When a person does not have a particular gift, or is not fully equipped in a particular ministry, he or she should be trained or re-directed.

Finally, the unity of believers is precious to our Lord. Christians have a terrible history of dividing ourselves. We divide over doctrine, denominations, worship styles, etc. We divide ourselves into churches that serve a specific racial or ethnic group. We refuse to fellowship with those who practice certain sacraments or ordinances differently. We even divide within our own congregations, into cliques of clergy vs. laity, of the “in” crowd vs. the outer circles.

Jesus said, “For the one who is not against us is for us.” Let us remember that it is not our denomination or dogma that matters. It is the Lord whom we claim to love and serve. He comes first, and He calls us to serve, even as He came to seek, save, and serve.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Honesty and Unity—Ephesians 4:25–27

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:25–27).

ephesians-4-26-27.jpgIn December, I posted an article entitled “Renewed Mind and New Self—Ephesians 4:17–24.” This article follows up on that post, in part because the verses cited above immediately follow those. Furthermore, having your mind renewed by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God will not only empower you to live like the “new man” God says you are when you come to Christ: This leads to a transformation in your relationships with others.

Our relationships with other Christians should especially be affected. Jesus commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This should especially occur in our relationships with other Christians. Paul says each of us should “speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Whether we like it or not, we are united with other Christians, and this should affect how we live. Paul writes that we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

This spiritual unity should guide our entire Christian walk. We do not go to church: We are the church. We are members of the body of Christ and, as such, members of one another. If I attack or abuse my brother or sister in Christ, I attack or abuse Jesus and, in the process, I abuse myself.

Many evangelical Christians speak of having “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” However, while the relationship is personal, it is not individualistic. It is a familial relationship. My relationship with Christ unites me with other people who are part of the family of God, the same way other family relationships unite us with others.

This relationship with Christ demands us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as much as we love ourselves, because God is love. It also calls us to live honestly and truthfully with other Christians, because Jesus is the Truth.

This does not mean we must admit every sin and struggle to every other person in the church. Unfortunately, none of us is perfect, and some believers can be terribly critical or judgmental, and may be horrible gossips. However, we should be honest with ourselves, with God, and with others: Particularly, we should not deceive anybody, and we should find those mature brothers and sisters with whom we can be completely honest. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

james-5-16

In some churches, you may be able to go to a member of the clergy for sacramental confession. The priest or minister is required to hear your confession, remind you of Christ’s forgiveness, and never mention your sin again. They should model forgiveness, so that you may be empowered to live a holy life.

If your church does not have sacramental confession, find a mature believer whom you can trust: Someone who will listen to you without demeaning or judging you, who will remind you that you are forgiven, and who will guard your darkest secrets as if they are his own.

We should be honest about our emotions and our conflicts as well. “Be angry and do not sin” does not mean we should look for opportunities to get ticked off. Rather, it means we will get angry eventually. People will say or do things that hurt our feelings. However, that does not mean we should act out sinfully to resolve a situation. We should not bottle up our feelings. However, when we express our anger, we should do it in such a way that we work toward restoration of the relationship as quickly as we can. Do not give the devil an opportunity to inspired bitterness, grudges, hostility, or conflict within the church, the family, or the social circle. Speak up, speak honestly, speak the truth in love, and allow the God of truth to work in your life and heart.

Christian unity is not based on our feelings. It is a supernatural result of our unity with Christ. Because we are members of His body, we are united with other believers. Because of this, love and sincerity should characterize our relationships one with another.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reflection on Mark 9:38-41

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. (Mark 9:38-41, ESV)

Mark 9, along with its parallels in the other Gospels, has popped up often for me: In my personal devotions, sermons I’ve heard, and books and articles I have read. Maybe God is trying to tell me something. God wants His children—myself included—to confront the conflict between pride and prayer, self-seeking and selfless service, and the other spiritual battles common to growing Christians.
To see the irony of this discussion, one should consider all that had occurred earlier. John had just been one of three disciples to witness the Transfiguration, when Jesus radiated His divine glory while visited by Moses and Elijah on a mountain (Mark 9:2-8). John, more than almost any of the disciples, should have been humbled in Jesus’ presence, having seen first-hand that He was more than a great teacher!
Having come down from the mountain, they found that the other nine disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a boy. The disciples were experienced exorcists, having been sent on a ministry trip for which Jesus empowered them to cast demons out of people (Mark 6:7). Yet, they had failed because, Jesus said, this kind of demon “cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29).
This incident was followed by other discussions, intended to change the worldly perspective of the disciples: Jesus’ prophecy of His impending arrest, death, and resurrection (Mark 9:30-32); and instruction about the disciples’ need to be humble and childlike, instead of arrogantly seeking status (Mark 9:33-37).
Like many of us, the disciples were slow learners. Despite these instructions and their previous failures, John essentially boasts that some of the disciples had tried to stop someone from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, simply because he was not part of their travelling party. I can almost imagine the rebuke sounding something like, “Hey! Stop doing that! You don’t have ministry credentials for that. We have certificates, signed by Jesus Himself, saying that WE should do that when He’s not around. Why don’t you just go feed the poor and leave the REAL ministry to us?”
(I am sure that in the back of John’s mind, he was really thinking, “STOP THAT! You’re making us look bad? How dare you cast out a demon after my friends just had trouble with one last week? You’re ruining our credibility!”)
Jesus response calls us to the charity and unity that should draw His followers together. The disciples’ status did not matter. Yes, they enjoyed a unique relationship with Him, gaining in-depth teaching and training that others did not enjoy. Many people admired Jesus and rushed to hear His teaching. I am sure many sought to live by His doctrine, even if they did not have the privilege of travelling with Him. Yet, only 12 spent all their time with the Lord, having many hours to pick His brain.
The disciples had a special privilege and a deeper call to serve the Lord. Yet, they were not expected to claim it as a reason to exclude others. Jesus called them to serve, not to claim offices and titles. Later, Paul would write that their role was to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). John’s response to a common man’s success in casting out demons should have been, “Congratulations! Great job, brother! We need more guys like you in this ministry.”
Modern Christians should focus on service instead of status, on the task instead of the title. We need to recognize the gifts God has given us, and the mission He has called us to, and put that first. We must resist the temptation to let titles, recognition, and prestige distract us from the needs around us and our ability to serve.
We need to recognize, respect, and encourage the gifts God has given to others. The pastor’s job is not to do all the ministry, but to equip the saints for work of service. When somebody shows an aptitude and eagerness for a ministry, that person should be encouraged and trained, not “put in their place.”
Yes, there are times some people will try to exercise spiritual gifts they do not really have. Some churches over-emphasize certain gifts, like prophecy and healing, to a point where people feel like second-rate believers if they do not have those gifts. When a person does not have a particular gift, or is not fully equipped in a particular ministry, he or she should be trained or re-directed.
Finally, the unity of believers is precious to our Lord. Christians have a terrible history of dividing ourselves. We divide over doctrine, denominations, worship styles, etc. We divide ourselves into churches that serve a specific racial or ethnic group. We refuse to fellowship with those who practice certain sacraments or ordinances differently. We even divide within our own congregations, into cliques of clergy vs. laity, of the “in” crowd vs. the outer circles.
Jesus said, “For the one who is not against us is for us.” Let us remember that it is not our denomination or dogma that matters. It is the Lord whom we claim to love and serve. He comes first, and He calls us to serve, even as He came to seek, save, and serve.
Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unity of the Spirit

“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. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV).

While meditating on Ephesians 4:1-16 recently, I realized that the entire passage focuses on Christian unity, which St. Paul here refers to as “unity of the Spirit.” Paul often addressed threats to Christian unity. To this day, the unity is threatened.

Before I proceed, I would like to clear up a major misunderstanding about Christian unity. The unity of the Spirit is not developed by an absolute adherence to common dogma. Some who profess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will reject those who disagree with them on secondary (or even less important) doctrines. Whether it be eternal security, methods of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, eschatology, etc., these are not issues that allow one Christian to condemn others to hell. None of us has a right to claim that others are not saved, or are somehow second-rate Christians, if they disagree with us. I am not saying that doctrine is completely unimportant; we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8), and doctrine is important insofar as it keeps our eyes on the true Jesus of Scripture (as opposed to a “Jesus” that we make up to suit our own needs). However, doctrine is only useful as a means of fostering our relationship with Christ. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ comes first; doctrine and church practices are tools to foster that relationship.

What is truly important in the “unity of the Spirit” is the personal relationship with Christ. Through that relationship, we are bound to other Christians in the church. Scripture often very appropriately uses the language of family to describe the church: God is our Father, and we are brothers and sisters through our relationship with Him.

In Ephesians and elsewhere (First Corinthians 12, for example), St. Paul refers to the church as “the body of Christ,” which is also a fitting image. We are tempted to view some members of the church (including the pastor, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, or others with visible roles on Sunday morning) as “more important.” Yet, as 1 Corinthians 12:15-26 shows, the less glamorous or visible members of the body are important too. Some organs seem more important than others, but each one fulfills an important role.

Since we are a body, it is not our job to create spiritual unity. Ephesians 4:3 calls us to maintain the unity of the Spirit. It is already there. Just as my right hand has maintained a connection to the rest of my body since before I was born, so every Christian has a vital spiritual link to other believers. I do not have to buy a right hand and glue it on; I just need to preserve it and care for it, so that it can continue to fulfill its role in my body.

This unity of Christians is multi-faceted. It is a unity of existence: There is one body and one Spirit. We share a unity of purpose: One hope that belongs to our call. We share a unity of Lordship and fellowship: One Lord (Jesus), one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.

Unity is preserved through the ministry of the church. God has appointed certain people within the church to a role in the fourfold ministry (some sincere believers think it is “fivefold”; the original Greek implies four ministries, but this is a subject for another study): apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd/teachers (the Greek suggests these are the same; the same word can be translated either “shepherd” or “pastor”). Though different ministries, they share a common mission:

… 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, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:12-14).

Unity of the Spirit is something we gain through our spiritual birthright, by being believers in Christ. Unity of the faith and of knowledge is something we grow towards. Perhaps this is something that will not be completed until we get to heaven. As long as we see in a mirror dimly or through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), we have room to grow. Nevertheless, those who are called to teach and preach the Word of God to the church are not called to promote division or denominational distinctives, designed to set themselves apart from other Christians. They are called to preach the truth about Jesus Christ: to bring people to knowledge of the Son of God. They are called to bring people to spiritual maturity.

Their mission includes promoting unity through their diversity. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd/teachers have different skills, perspectives, and talents. They approach their ministries from different angles. Yet, they work together to carry out a common goal: to bring people to maturity in Christ.

The true measure of success for these ministers is when those within their flock develop their own ministries (Ephesians 4:12). Each of us has a different place of service within the Body of Christ. The church needs those who serve in the fourfold ministry. It also needs the secretary, the prayer warrior, the musician, and the janitor. It needs the person who holds no official title in the church, but is always ready to encourage the downtrodden. The church needs the guy who is willing to drive people to and from church. Whether it is a “spiritual” ministry that demands in-depth Bible training, or serving others with talents one could use in the most secular of businesses, your skills and talents are needed.

Christians are called to work together to glorify Jesus Christ. We are called to grow up into Him: to become more like Christ as we mature. We are called to unity, not uniformity: We build the church and preserve its unity not by forcing everybody into the same mold, but by allowing people to grow in their own gifts, talents, and passions, so that together we can strengthen the church, glorify our Savior, and draw people into relationship with Him.

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