Sunday, February 19, 2012

Finishing Strong or Puttering Along?

Many of the subjects I discuss here are in response to questions I receive from people who take the opportunity to write me and ask for my thoughts concerning a great number of things. Today is one of those times where what I wish to talk about is something I was asked about this week and it concerns the actions and attitudes of some within the body of believers which we call the church. As we approach what many of us believe is the end of our struggle here on earth culminating in an event we call the rapture, you would think the body would be performing at peak efficiency. The sad truth, however, is that there are numerous examples that this is simply not the case at all.

When I was twenty something (all too long ago), I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to rebuild and restore a 1955 Chevrolet. As you might expect, the motor I chose to put in it was slightly more powerful than necessary. Did I say "slightly"? Oh yeah, it could really move down the road. Unfortunately for me, however, in the late 70's and early 80's the government began to mandate change in the formulation of gasoline which led to the removal of lead as an additive. The result of this was immediate and profound in my car as the motor needed lead and the octane that came with it in the worst way. Basically, with the wrong kind of gas in the tank, my car ran about as lousy as my lawn mower.

As believers, we have a fuel tank as well, and the gas we choose to put in it will dramatically affect our performance for Christ. I have spent a lot of time studying and analyzing what the Bible has to say about the Church just before the end of the age, and the best thing I can say about it is that it looks like it runs just about as well as my car did with the wrong gas. If you find that hard to believe, just look at what Jesus says about it in His letter to the Church.

"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
Revelation 3:15-16 NKJV

Since the issue here certainly seems to be a lack of performance, my question was what were they doing wrong to put themselves in this position? Or better yet, exactly what was wrong with the gas in their tank? The answer to that may be far more simple than you think. If we look at Jesus' own words to His disciples just before He ascended to Heaven, we might get our first clue.

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
Acts 1:8 NKJV

The power to which Jesus refers is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which He sent to us on the day of Pentecost just 10 days later. So if Jesus Himself told us that when we become believers we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and along with that gift the "power" we need to serve Him as we should, why isn't the Church "performing" as it should? The answer to that is given to us by Paul the Apostle in his letter to the Church in Rome. Notice if you will that the problem he addresses is the same, as well as his description of the reasons.

Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 13:11-14 RSV

You may notice that I used a different version than I usually use for this particular passage, and I did that for a particular reason. There are two parts of this passage that describes things I see happening more and more lately within the body, and I like how this particular version translates those. I want to draw your attention to the words “becomingly” and “quarreling and jealousy”. Becomingly is translated from the Greek word euschēmonōs, which simply describes the manner in which we act, or in other words what we are being told is to be sure we act as we know Jesus would want us to by exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. One of the ways we do that is to avoid doing certain things that are demonstrative of a worldly attitude rather than one focused on serving God as an example of a people filled with the Spirit. Two things we are told in this passage that are “works of darkness” are “quarreling and jealousy”.

These two words are actually used together elsewhere in the scriptures, and it seems that it follows you can't have one without the other. The word translated as quarreling is eris, which is defined as contention, strife, or wrangling. Jealousy is translated from the Greek word zēlos, and means zeal, ardour in embracing, pursuing, defending anything. So if we take a step back and examine this passage in it's context it appears that Paul is telling us that something we will see in the church as we approach the end is believers acting like the world by choosing to argue strongly about something rather than to demonstrate the fruits of the spirit such as gentleness, kindness, and meekness. If this sounds a little strong to you, consider another place where Paul uses the same two words to describe a situation in the Corinthian church.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual [people] but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able [to receive it], and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where [there are] envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like [mere] men? 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NKJV

So what Paul seems to be saying as he takes these believers to task is that if they are preoccupied with quarreling and arguing, not only are they “carnal” Christians, they can best be described as immature babes in Christ. I'm sure most of us understand that the actions of babies are for the most part entirely selfish in nature because at their age, they only know what they want for themselves. But as babies grow into children and then adults, they hopefully mature to the point where they begin to think of others first and consider their actions and how they might affect those around them. Unfortunately as we all know, there are always those few who refuse to grow up, choosing instead to remain selfish and self-centered.

As we see from what Paul writes, believers in the body can, unfortunately, make that same decision to remain immature in their dealings with others. Why a decision? As believers these people are just puttering along like my hot rod because they choose to run on gas without the high octane available from the Holy Spirit. We as believers must not only make the decision to accept the salvation offered to us by God through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, but we must also make the decision to allow the Holy Spirit to control our actions which is in essence, the process of maturity.

To be filled with the Spirit is to receive the power to say no to self, and to say yes to obedience to Christ. We serve Him by being different and letting our light shine, not by acting the same as the world. In 2 Kings 2:9 the prophet Elisha asks for a "double portion" of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a gift to all believers, but it is also something that can and needs to be refilled at times. Have you asked God lately to fill your tank with more of the power for living that you need? Is your desire to be filled with the Spirit, and to act as a mature believer should by exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit, or do you fall back into immaturity and cause the body to putter along by “quarreling and jealousy”? All we need to do is ask, and God will give us all of the Holy Spirit our tank can hold, and we can then finish the race running as strongly as we can.

So my question to you today is are you finishing strong, or just puttering along?

Keep watching.