Growing In Godliness Blog
Author: Austin Shearer
Preparing For Discipleship
By Austin Shearer
Paul was battle bruised and scarred (2 Cor. 11:24-26). He will say of himself that he bears the marks of Christ in his own body. Further, his heart’s passion is to know Christ and Him crucified. If that meant he has to suffer a little along the way then he accepted that too. All this life under the sun had to offer him, he regards as rubbish. Gain Christ, that was what he sought (Phil. 3: 8-11).
As Paul writes his young son in the faith, Timothy. He writes from the perspective of having lived what he encourages. Listen as he helps us too:
First, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2Tim. 2:1). Paul knew that few things were more refreshing than grace. It breathes life into all relationships. Paul’s encouragement is to be strong, literally to be strengthened within, and let grace be reflected in our attitudes. Practically, that means we are all growing, even through mistakes and failures.
Second, invest consistently in the lives of others. “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (vs. 2). The word entrust is a banking term. It means to “commit into a safe deposit.” The idea is to deposit God’s truth into the life of someone else where it will be safe and secure. Paul had done that with Timothy. Now, he wants Timothy to do that with others. Then others are to follow suit. To do that means we must have a heart to help others come to Christ. We will have to be alert, looking for them and reach out.
Third, personalize the truths you have heard. “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (vs. 7). Consider means “to perceive in the mind.” In other words, fill your mind not with how successful others are as disciples of Christ but think about your own life. Make a mental picture from things you have learned about being a disciple of Christ. Then find a place to start investing yourself.
Fourth, endure all things. “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, Who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2Tim. 1:8-10). Always keep your eyes on Jesus, not yourself. Then endure. Go the distance. Be prepared to have your patience stretched to the limit.
Remember, Paul knew what he was asking of Timothy, and us. He was hated, stoned, beaten with whips and shipwrecked but he kept going. He endured because every moment of his life was motivated by the purpose of enduring “all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus…” (vs. 10a). Let Jesus be seen in you.
Let Your Tears Fall
“By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1 NASB)
We would do well to imitate the captives of Judah weeping in Babylon.
Because of their unfaithfulness to God, these Hebrews were dragged away from Jerusalem by their enemies. Every morning, they woke up in a foreign land—away from home, away from the temple, and away from the presence of God which had dwelt there. For those old enough to remember living in Zion, that memory was a seed planted in their heart which produced tears of pain as they were taunted by their captors (Psalm 137:3). “How can we sing Jehovah’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4) It was too hard. The memory of Zion made the present reality of exile unbearable.
But the psalmist does not despair. In fact, the memory of Zion is the very thing that keeps him rooted during this period of displacement.
“If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my highest joy.” (Psalm 137:5-6 ESV)
The memory of home is painful. It causes the psalmist to weep. But it is his connection to reality, and without it, he knows that he has nothing to live for.
I imagine that many of us feel this way about our earthly home. For me, it is not hard to conjure up a memory of my childhood home which brings sorrow to my heart and tears to my eyes. I miss Mom. I miss exploring the woods and building forts with my brothers. I miss playing baseball with my dad late into the Summer evening. It hurts me that I’ll never experience these things in the same way again. Sometimes the pain seems unbearable.
But if I forgot the memory of home, I would in a very real sense lose my identity. This memory—as painful as it might be—keeps me rooted in who I am and what is important.
Of course, as the people of God, Psalm 137 describes our current experience.
In his first letter, Peter refers to his readers as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11) and instructs them in godly living “throughout the time of [their] exile” (1 Peter 1:17). At the end of the book, he describes his own situation by saying, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings” (1 Peter 5:13 NASB). From the beginning (Genesis 11), Babylon has always been the city of man, the city of idolatry, and Peter—likely in Rome—speaks of himself and his readers as captives in this rebellious city. He is not at home, and longs for the day when he will be. As he says in his second letter, “We are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
It breaks our heart that we are not at home—not in the presence of the Lord as we were meant to be. We suffer the pain of loss and the fear of death. We are tortured by anxiety and troubled by broken relationships. We are discouraged by the evil in this world and the hostility we experience trying to be faithful to God. And what hurts us the most is that all these things are the result of humanity’s rebellion against God—a rebellion that we have fully participated in by sinning against our Creator. We have separated ourselves from the Source of life and of goodness, and it hurts. As Augustine of Hippo wrote at the end of the fourth century, “You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You” (Confessions I.i)
And so we should weep. But the weeping is good for us. Like the psalmist, the painful longing we have for home—an inherited memory, if you will—roots us in our identity and our purpose. It is our connection to reality—the reality of who we are, for what (for Whom) we were made, and for what (for Whom) we are waiting. To use the language of Peter, it is only by embracing our status as “sojourners and exiles” that we can “know what sort of people [we] ought to be in holy conduct and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11 NASB).
With this in mind, consider another psalm, Psalm 126, written by the Hebrews that returned to Jerusalem when the seventy years of captivity were completed.
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.” (Psalm 126:1-2 ESV)
Can you imagine the laughter of those exiles as they approached their homeland after so many years of weeping? And is there anything quite as powerful to the human spirit as a rich, wholesome, joyous laugh?
By His faithfulness, Jesus has delivered us from the captivity of sin (Romans 6:6), or to use Peter’s language, we have been “born again” (1 Peter 1:3,23), “ransomed” (1:18), brought “out of darkness” (2:9), and we have “returned to the Shepherd” (2:25). The Lord has restored our fortunes, and our mouths are filled with laughter.
And we should laugh. Not the cynical or superficial laughter of the world (see Luke 6:25), but the blessed laughter of those who drink deeply of God’s goodness. As Peter describes, “though you do not see him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9 NASB). But there we are again, we do not yet see Jesus and we have not yet fully obtained our salvation.
So laugh, and weep. Weep, and laugh.
Weep for sin and for the brokenness that it has brought into our lives and the lives of those we care about. Weep for the pain of loss and separation that we are subject to while this age endures. And laugh for the joy that God has brought into our lives by freeing us from sin and giving us His Holy Spirit. Laugh for the certain hope that Jesus is coming back to set all things right and fulfill our deepest longings forever.
For, as the psalmist continues,
“Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6 ESV)
And as our Lord has said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21).
Let your tears fall to the ground. Let them purify the soil of your heart so easily polluted by the world. Let your tears water the earth. And let them be planted like seeds that will bear the fruit of inexpressible joy, now and forever.
One New Man
How can man have a relationship with God? How can man who is far off from God be near? How can man be part of God’s family? How can a dead man be a new man?
Without hope, now hope
Man needs God. Man needs what God provides. Sin estranged man from God (2:1-3). God did not abandon man. Man abandoned God. In Christ, God makes the move toward man to reconcile him. It may be hard for us to see ourselves in the book of Ephesians. We do not see ourselves as Gentiles. Yet, the description by Paul about the Gentiles applies to us (Ephesians 2:11-12). Paul has said that man is lost and God has reached out in mercy, love and kindness through His Son to save him (2:1-10). Now, he describes the Gentile (and us) as estranged from God, a stranger, without hope and without God (2:11-12). What a desperate, bleak picture. Good news! Man does not have to be without Christ. Gentiles may not have had a codified law, like the Jew, but in Christ he can have a covenant relationship with God. He does not have to remain alien to God or be without promise. Because of God’s grace, the Gentile, who was once far off can now be near (2:13). He can belong to God. He can be a citizen in His kingdom. He can have a home. Once described in the bleakest of terms, he can now be described as God’s child.
Both, Jew and Gentile, One New Man
The focus of the gospel message is singular: “I have given My Son, so you can be my child.” In Christ, God’s purpose is making both Jew and Gentile one new man (2:14). He made both one. Yes, He made possible for Jew and Gentile to be brothers. But in making both one His aim was reconciling Jew and Gentile. The reconciliation is not between them. The one new man is not Jew and Gentile, but out of the Jews and out of the Gentiles, one new man, that is the same kind of new man. One kind of man that serves God, a Christian. He made both one, one thing of them both. A Jew still remained a Jew; a Gentile still remained a Gentile. But, in Christ, both are a new creation, a new kind of man. Now at peace with God (2:16-17). The law is taken out of the way (2:15). It was the special arrangement for Jews that made them a different kind of people from the Gentiles. When that was taken out of the way Jew and Gentile could be one with God. The force of what separated them has been dissolved. Not only that, but the estrangement man had with man has now been removed, especially between Jew and Gentile. There was a middle wall of partition. That wall has been abolished. Abolished means that which has separated Jew and Gentile has been rendered inoperative. That is, by His death on the cross, Jesus abolished the law of commandment and rendered inoperative the whole Mosaical system. That system contained ordinances that were designed to keep the Jews separate from the rest of mankind. But those ordinances were only designed to continue until Christ came and died as a sacrifice. After His death there was no longer any occasion to continue the ordinances and figure of the law that caused enmity between Jew and Gentile.
No access, now access
As a result, both have access to the Father (2:18). The idea of access takes us back to the imagery that if a person wanted an audience with royalty, that is a King or Queen, it was not because one sought it freely. If a person went up to the door of the King and knocked on his door to request an audience with Him, he may find himself without a head. No, if a person wanted access to the king, the king sent for that person. It was a great honor to have an invitation with the king. It was a great honor to have his attention. Here is the great news! In Christ we have an audience with the King and we do not have to wait to be invited by Him. We can have access to Him any time, any day, any place. The new man, with his new mind and new relationship, because of Christ’s blood, can have access to God!
Now family, now God’s child
Further, because of what God has provided in Christ this one new man can be a member of God’s household (2:19). Just think, one time man was a stranger to God, now, in Christ, he can be a member of His household. One time man was without right of citizenship. Now he is a fellow citizen enjoying equal privileges. Is it any wonder we sing, “Our God is an awesome God?”
Built on the chief cornerstone
Finally, Christ is the foundation of this new relationship. He is described as the chief cornerstone (2:20-21). The chief corner stone served as the primary foundation stone at the corner of a building. The architect fixed his standard for all measurements of the building on this stone. There was not a single line or angle of the building which was not determined by and adjusted to perfect symmetry of that stone. So it is with Christ. Christians find their true place of usefulness because of their relationship with Him. We find our rule and order for life in Him. Everything is measured by Him and everything is builded together and fitly framed in Him. Because of what Christ has done for us, God can live, rule in and dwell in us. His spirit can become my spirit (2:22).
So What Does This Mean For me?
Ephesians tells me I can receive God’s grace. I can live with hope and face God with hope. I can receive His promises. I can belong to Him. I can be a citizen in His kingdom. I can be a new kind of man. I can have the peace of God that passes understanding. I can have access to Him as my Father. I can be part of His family. I can enjoy all the privileges of being His child (1:1-14). I can build my life with Christ as my foundation. I can have His spirit. I can be His special creature created by Him for every good work (2:10). Look at what God has made possible for me! He made it possible for you too!
Two Ways to Read the Bible
I would suggest that there are two basic ways in which people read the Bible. There are those who read the Bible superficially, and there are those who read it more accurately. Now the alarming news is that sometimes it is sincerely religious people who make the mistake of reading the Bible superficially. Think of the difference between the way the Jews of Jesus’ day handled the Scriptures (take Matt 19.18-20 or Matt 15.3-6 as an example), and the way Jesus approached it (compare Matt 22.31-32). The Jews of Jesus’ day are a good example of highly religious people who had read the Scriptures superficially.
What is this superficial kind of reading? It is, among other things, often a self-centered and a this-worldly reading. In other words, people who take this approach often believe that the Bible is about some earthly condition or situation that will come about for them if they can understand how to get it from God. The condition may be the hope of an earthly kingdom, or it may be the prospect of getting rich, or it may be some nebulous sense of intellectual enlightenment, but whatever form it takes this approach to the Bible says that the Bible is about me and what good things God will do for me in my present life if I can just manage to please God. This is, generally speaking, the approach to religion of most pagans in the ancient world, and it is the approach to the Bible that is commonly found among the television evangelists today (especially those who preach the “Health and Wealth Gospel”). The tragic thing about this approach to the Bible is that it actually prevents the Bible from communicating its message. When we read the Bible through the lens of our own hopes and aspirations, the result is that we convince ourselves that the Bible really is talking about such things when in fact it is otherwise. In the end we only become self-deceived as we read the Bible in this way.
What about the other way of reading the Bible? How can we make sure we are reading it correctly and accurately?
Getting It Right
The answer is that we need to let the Bible itself show us the way. What we need to do is adopt the perspective of the Bible authors themselves (if we indeed believe that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit), and learn to read the Scriptures like they did. Then we will be reading the Bible as God meant it to be read; then the Bible will be communicating its message more clearly to us.
Now I realize that things are not always black-and-white. The fact is that some people manage to understand some parts of the Bible accurately while reading other parts superficially. Some parts of the Bible are “naturally” easy to understand correctly (although some people manage to misunderstand even the easy parts), and others are more difficult. Yet it is not a matter of percentages, as if the person who reads 51% of the Bible more accurately is the better Bible reader than the person who only gets 27% of it correctly. Furthermore, the Bible does not begin with a list of hermeneutical rules. Instead, God expects us to pick up the Bible and simply “listen.” He wants us to learn His view of things and see the story from His point of view. When we let the Bible simply tell its story on its own terms, then we are reading it correctly. When we bring our own self-seeking agendas to it, then we end up preventing the Bible from communicating to us, and the result is that we read it superficially.
We are talking here about first getting the right orientation, the right perspective. The orientation determines, in a large measure, the destination.
So what does the Bible tell us about this? Does the Bible reveal a particular perspective through which we are to understand the Biblical story? Is there a particular orientation which the Bible itself presents to us, for us to adopt as the way we look at things? I believe the answer to these questions is “yes,” and in the following installments on this topic I hope to help you see it.
Before we do that, however, a fundamental starting-point needs to be established. If we truly believe that the Bible is the word of God, then it would be best to begin reading the Bible with the understanding that it is God’s revelation of Himself to us. In other words, the Bible is primarily about God. That is to say, it is not primarily about us. Oh, we are involved to be sure, and God makes some wonderful offers and invitations to us in His word. But the Bible is not about satisfying our self-centered personal ambitions and worldly dreams. It is not some kind of code for getting rich or for dominating the world (like a political nation-state would). It is the revelation of God about Himself. It is the story, told by God Himself, of what God has done, is doing, and will do, a story that invites us to share the benefits of God’s wonderful activity.
God of Wonders
Habakkuk decries the evil running amuck among the Lord’s people and asks God to act. He could not have anticipated God’s reply, “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—you would not believe if you were told” (Habakkuk 1:5). God further reveals that the Babylonians would serve as God’s instrument to judge His wayward people. Habakkuk was not particularly excited about the news and it only raised more questions in his mind.
The last statement of verse 5 is worthy of much meditation as it summarizes the ways and activity of God. Our God is a God of Wonders! “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways” (Romans 11:33). While we may greatly struggle to fully process the depths of this statement about God, such lofty thoughts of Him should be often frequented in our minds.
Three important thoughts flow out of God’s words to Habakkuk: 1) God’s activity astonishes. 2) God’s activity is not thwarted by powerful men. 3) This same God is still active today.
The whole Bible story continually reveals the grandiose nature of God’s doings. Anticipating the role of a suffering Savior in man’s redemption, the inspired psalmist writes, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:22-24).
Extraordinary signs demonstrate God’s limitless ability. He makes an axe head float. Jesus walks on water. He feeds thousands with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread while the leftover fragments exceed the original amount of food. While astonishing, such acts are easily consistent with a God whose “understanding is infinite” and One who is “abundant in strength.” After all, “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them” (Psalm 147:4, 5).
Particularly impressive to me is the day of which it is said, “And there was no day like that before it or after it, when the Lord listened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:14). Following the dramatic victory at Jericho and ultimate victory at Ai, the Amorite kings and a quite formidable army unite to attack Gibeon, who had made a life-saving alliance with Israel. God informs Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands, not one of them shall stand before you” (Joshua 10:8). Joshua and his army march all night and suddenly fall upon their foes. The Lord confounds the Amorites and pummels them with hailstones as they flee. Joshua needs more daylight to finish them off and pleads, “O, sun stand still at Gibeon, and O moon in the valley of Aijalon” (Joshua 10:12). Both the sun and moon stop, “And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13).
Some claim, “Impossible!” We know what Joshua did not. It’s not the sun moving around the earth but the earth’s rotation that gives the appearance of the sun moving from the east to west. We are told by skeptics, if the sun stood still for “about a whole day,” the effects would be cataclysmic. But remember, this is the Creator we’re talking about. Nothing is too difficult for Him.
When God speaks to Habakkuk of His wonder He is about to perform, nothing miraculous is under consideration. Assyria, the present world power, is going to eventually relinquish world dominance to the Babylonians and God is going to use them to judge and teach His people in Judah as He had used the Assyrians — “the rod of My anger” — to punish Israel (Isaiah 10:5).
A careful reading of the last several chapters in Daniel causes one to marvel at the activity in the spiritual realm that is behind what is playing out in the kingdoms of men. Government leaders rarely see themselves for what they really are, nothing more than God’s pawns to accomplish His purposes (cf. Isaiah 40:12-25). Even the Babylonians did not see it, “…they whose strength is their god” (Habakkuk 1:11).
No elected official or government in this whole world is capable of overthrowing what God has done or is planning to do. Certain freedoms might be restricted that we might presently enjoy but God’s salvation will still be provided to those who seek it. His spiritual kingdom will continue on (cf. Daniel 2:44). History will culminate the way God intends and at the time He decides. Only due to God’s patience does the world still exist to this time (2 Peter 3:9, 15).
The appropriate reaction to the God of wonders is to fully submit to His purposes. Find your purpose in His great purposes. No greater purpose for our lives can be pursued. If you think about it, how do most people spend their days? They work, accumulate things, improve their circumstances, enjoy family, seek fun and then ultimately someone else ends up with all of their stuff and their position. Eventually, they become just a footnote in history and most are forgotten. How much do you know about your great great grandparents?
While our deeds in human history may not be remembered by future generations, involvement in God’s things contains far-reaching and eternal implications…the destiny of souls! Can anything in this world exceed being “a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21)? People get excited about a lot of different things that have a temporal purpose and a temporal reward. We stack those things back to back to back and they become the stuff of life. But those things must be secondary to our greater spiritual purpose and pursued in light of it or they become a snare to our souls. Ultimately, only one thing matters, “…rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 17:20). And God will not forget the things we have done to promote His cause in the world (Hebrews 6:10).
Christians find liberation from the anxieties that plague so many. God equips us to face and endure the crippling pain and troubles associated with life in this world. We trust in the God of wonders! We know “Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20, 21).