Monday, October 26, 2015

Evil in the Midst 6 ...Spiritual Gifts Are Not Spirituality

How could it be that God appeared to be using him so marvelously and yet he was so thoroughly evil so long?
…Because we confuse spiritual gifts with spirituality.

There are about twenty specific local churches mentioned by name in the New Testament. Out of these twenty most would agree that the single weakest church was the Corinthian church. Paul wrote many epistles to churches describing in detail their strengths and weaknesses. Acts reveals to us the inner workings of some of the early churches. John in Revelation painstakingly and clearly diagnoses the strengths and weaknesses of seven churches. Yet it remains the dubious distinction of the Corinthian church to bear the brunt of being labeled as the most carnal church described in the Scriptures. The Corinthian church could be called many things but spiritual was not one of them.
          With that in mind, I would call you to notice a fascinating statement Paul makes to this church about this church. In the early stages of the first epistle we find Paul paying this carnal church some tremendous compliments. In the midst of these introductory compliments we find the following commendation: ye come behind in no gift. (I Corinthians 1:7) Paul says here, in essence, that the church at Corinth had just as many spiritual gifts as any other church. He said this while knowing full well the carnal nature of much of their religious activity.
          Later, in I Corinthians, Paul devotes a considerable amount of attention to the misapplication of the Corinthian church’s spiritual gifts. If I may say so, the Corinthian church had a veritable plethora of spiritual gifts in action with a veritable paucity of spirituality.
What is the lesson here for us? It is indeed possible to be exercising God given spiritual gifts in His service without even having much spirituality while doing so.
We all know this is not only possible, but all too often probably the case. That special number that just blessed your heart with thoughts of heaven? The spiritual gift may well have been exercised while pride of performance occupied chief place in the soloist’s heart. That soul winner in your church who repeatedly wins large numbers of souls to Christ? It might be that gifts which in secular society would lead to many sales are being used in God’s service but with just as little real spirituality behind them as is evident in a used car salesman. That woman in the church you always ask to host the missionary because she does an absolutely stunning job? Perhaps the gift of hospitality is mingled with Martha’s resentment and wrong priorities. The revival meeting that resulted in flooded altars and weeping reconciliations? Perhaps the evangelist in question, while exercising his spiritual gifts well, has been nursing a root of bitterness and resentment against a previous pastor for a minute love offering.
The result intended here is not that you become suspicious of everybody in your life whom God is using to edify you. The result intended is that we better understand the clear distinction between spiritual gifts and spirituality. One does not necessarily always accompany the other. They should, and there is no acceptable excuse why they do not, but we must often admit such is the case.
Scripture teaches us that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (Romans 11:29) God no more takes back a preacher’s speaking ability when he backslides than He does take back his salvation. They are both spiritual gifts and as such are permanent. The spiritual gift, however, can certainly be exercised in the absence of a true heart for God. This is demonstrated by the Corinthian church, Scriptural examples such as Samson, historical testimony, and our own sorely purchased experience.
Forgive this next illustration but I have on occasion watched Jay Leno’s ability to move a crowd to laughter so effortlessly. He has an undeniable gift. The rare politician who actually speaks from his heart and soul instead of reading from a teleprompter often rises to great heights. The passion and effectiveness of such men’s gifts has led me to wonder whether God created them to pastor some church and they never answered the call. They were gifted by God, but certainly are not using those gifts to spiritual ends, or with a heart tender toward God.
          Such is the case with men who appear to be accomplishing great things for God while all the while becoming evil in the midst of the congregation. They practiced their spiritual gifts effectively without the spirituality that ought to accompany such exercise.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Evil in the Midst, Part Five... Whether He Be a Sinner or No I Know Not

Healing a Blind Man, Brian Jekel
How could it be that God appeared to be using him so marvelously and yet he was so thoroughly evil so long? …Because the spiritually blind do not notice whether or not you are a sinner; all they notice is that now they can see.

Blindness is used in Scripture as an example of an individual’s lost spiritual condition. For instance, Paul tells us in Romans that the Jewish people were spiritually blind in not recognizing the Messiah. On another occasion Paul speaks of sinners who cannot see God but are searching for Him by feeling for Him. Isaiah in a passage that is clearly Messianic equates the coming of Christ to the coming of light to men in darkness.

The Apostle John tells us the story of an encounter Jesus had with a blind man one day. The apostles were eager to fix the blame while Christ was eager to display God’s power. Our Saviour spit on the ground, mixed clay, anointed the blind man’s eyes, and literally sent (Siloam) him to wash it off in a specific pool of water. The result of this man’s faith and obedience coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through Christ resulted in a complete reversal of the man’s natural blindness and he came seeing. Just before healing the blind man in this fashion Christ announced yet again, I am the light of the world. (John 9:5) Clearly this story is an illustration of Scriptural salvation available through Christ via the Holy Spirit when we exercise our faith in Christ with simple obedience.

To a very real extent this blind man’s story is the story of all of us. We were all darkened by sin until by the grace of God the light of the glorious gospel shone, and the day star arose in our hearts. In almost every case of which I am aware this illumination - while empowered by the Holy Spirit using the Scriptures - was facilitated by human intervention. Someone handed you a tract. Someone invited you to hear the evangelist. Someone knocked on your door with an offer of salvation. Someone brought your name repeatedly before the Throne of Grace in intercessory prayer. Someone opened up the Scriptures and took you step by step through the plan of salvation and lead you to place your faith in Christ. Scripture, history, and experience show us that God chooses to use men to advance His Kingdom and share His Gospel with the lost. This is an undeniable fact. We do not mix the clay or apply a poultice of our own devising. We do not send the blind where we wish. We do not in any way heal them. Yet it is through our human instrumentality that others come to see the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings. (Malachi 4:2)

Often when such wondrous sights are revealed for the first time to the spiritually blind the result is a great love, affection, and even loyalty to the man God used to bring them healing for their sin sick soul. This in no way detracts from the glory of the Great Physician. In actuality, it only adds to the sweetness of our earthly spiritual relationships. Paul admonishes the wayward Corinthians as dear sons in one verse and in the next explains why they have such a relationship: For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. (I Corinthians 4:15) Christ did the saving but He used the human instrument of Paul in so doing, and that resulted in a warm relationship between God’s man and the people he had reached.

It is also true there can be a danger here. Sometimes this great affection and loyalty between the people of God and the man of God who has been instrumental in their salvation and spiritual growth can result in an unwitting blindness to the flaws of their spiritual father and mentor. The old phrase “Love is blind” has a great deal of truth. Consequently, when those whom we love as fathers in Christ are clearly seen to be in error by others less emotionally attached it is not rare to find still a great loyalty and affection amongst those whom God enabled that man to reach.

The blind man healed by the Saviour in John 9 was soon swept into the clutches of the Pharisees who were looking for a pawn in their attacks upon Christ. His parents, out of fear, would not defend their son, and so he was shortly called to account for his own miraculous healing. After repeatedly explaining exactly what happened the Pharisees endeavored to get the blind man to agree that his Healer was a sinner. The blind man’s answer is tremendously revealing. He said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. (John 9:25) The point in no way is that the Saviour was a sinner. The point rather is that we notice the reaction of the newly saved to the human instrument that brought them healing.

The people God in His grace enables us to reach often do not realize to what extent we actually are sinful. Indeed, they rarely notice that. What they do notice is their own sight, and with grateful eyes and loving hearts they reject any calls by cooler heads who endeavor to call attention to their spiritual father’s error.

blind-man-hHave you ever wondered how some men, after many repeated and public revelations of secret sin, still have a hard core group of loyalists loudly proclaiming their virtues to the entire world? Those people were often reached personally by them in some way, and their reaction all too often is Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.

The great danger here is that this can lead to feelings of spiritual invulnerability about the consequences of personal and private sin on the part of the man of God. Some crack in his carefully cultivated reputation is exposed to the harsh light of day and his people do not even blink an eye. They are focused on all he has done for them, and thus ignoring the danger signs they unwittingly contribute by such unquestioned devotion to the corruption and pride within his heart. While Scripture clearly admonishes us not to be critical of God’s men we also ought not allow our personal feelings of gratitude, loyalty, and affection for them to cause us to bury our head in the sand when red flags are flying. But sadly, many do, and this in its own way enables all evil in the midst of the congregation.

Your new converts and Sunday School students do not know if you walked with God this week. They only know that they can see now. They have no notion of what is hidden in the chambers of your imagery. They only know that because of you they see some great spiritual truth or gain some wonderful spiritual benefit. Their loyalty and love for you springs from the care and help you have extended to them, and they often do not even notice your sins.

In some sense this can be encouraging. What man has not at some point questioned his fitness to teach, preach, or witness because of sin present in his life? We need to remind ourselves that the people we will hand tracts to today do not care if we struggle with some besetting sin; they only care about the spiritual blindness with which they suffer and with which we might help them. This thought can motivate us to continue with ministry even when the devil would discourage us with thoughts of our own unworthiness.

Yet it is also true that we must not leave our people there! While it is enjoyable to accept the respect, affection, and loyalty of people we have helped we must lead them to maturity in Christ. Such maturity will enable them to look behind even the fa├žade we construct as their leaders, and discern for themselves what is right and wrong in our life. While it might be more convenient for us to leave our people dependent on us, blind to our imperfections, and while we might justify such a condition as only natural and conducive to good leadership, we must be cognizant of the danger inherent in such an approach. We must rather lead our people to become them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:14)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Evil in the Midst, Part Four... Oh What a Dust I Raise!

How could it be that God appeared to be using him so marvelously and yet he was so thoroughly evil so long?
…Because this leader, applying Scriptural principle, grows his pride to the place where he thinks he is accomplishing something for God in spite of his sin.

What thoughts pass through the mind of men who lead a ministry growing by leaps and bounds in spite of their hidden sin? Perhaps some of the faulty thinking that equates Scriptural success to accomplishment blinds the eyes of the wicked leader in question to the gravity of his own spiritual condition. He has applied and taught some Scriptural principle and people have flocked to hear him as a result. The excitement engendered by such a crowd draws even more. The whole time he has been coming increasingly under the thrall of some particular perversion or another, yet his ministry continues to expand. Perhaps his pride and self-justification lead him to think thus: “Look, what I am doing in secret cannot be all that bad for God is still blessing.”

The story is told of a fly who sat upon the top of a coach and four traveling at a fast rate of speed in a dry region of the country. As he looked behind him he noticed the vast dust cloud left behind in the wake of the coach. Impressed with the size of the plume he sagely muttered, “Oh, what a dust I raise.” The truth is he had nothing whatever to do with the size of the reaction. He had done none of the actual work. It had all been done by the horses. But because he sat on the top and saw the extent of the accomplishment he soon considered himself to be the author of it.

Stagecoach_on_road_on_Catalina_Island,_ca.1903-1905_(CHS-1697)Many a preacher, at the top of a growing church, acquiring a national reputation by leaps and bounds, has thought himself responsible for the accomplishment. The truth is he had little or nothing whatever to do with the size of the accomplishment. The Holy Spirit had done all of the actual work. But because he sat on the top and saw the extent of the accomplishment he soon considered himself to be the author of it. This dangerous pride, when combined with a life of secret sin, may soon render the preacher invulnerable in his own thinking to any accounting for his wickedness. It is tremendously easy to justify one’s own sinful actions as not all that bad when we think we are raising quite a dust.

The very first king of Israel, Saul, seemed to be accomplishing great things initially. He forged the scattered people together as one and punished the Ammonites and the Philistines, throwing their yoke from the neck of the people of Israel. Yet upon closer examination of the story in I Samuel we read such phrases as “And the Spirit of God came upon Saul” and “the fear of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out with one consent” (I Samuel 11:6, 7). So we see that it was God who was doing the actual work involved in the excellent beginning that Saul made of his reign.

Later, after his reign had degenerated into a bitter travesty of justice filled with attempts on the life of David, and marked by his own pride and rebellion in dealing with Samuel and Samuel’s God, Scripture records “And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?” (I Samuel 15:17). Saul’s pride, which stemmed from his “success”, led him to sin in jealousy, rebellion, wrath, and disobedience. He lost the proper humility of his early years, and proudly secure in his position of power and authority, he allowed the cancer of sin to eat away at his insides.

Many a man of God starts off with the best of motives and intentions. He applies Scriptural principle and begins to see some “success.” He wrongly begins to think that accomplishment is success and pride enters his heart. This pride leads him to overlook his own growing sin problem because God is still apparently blessing. He begins to feel a certain invulnerability to judgment as he views how important and successful his service for the Lord is. His followers, meanwhile, remain completely ignorant of his growing sin problem, content to proclaim him used of God based upon all they see happening around him.

There is something to be said about the massive folly of a man who believes his own publicity reports…”Oh, what a dust I raise.”