Sunday, July 08, 2007

How Should We Live in Light of the Coming End (Part 4 of 5)

A Love That Covers
And why should we love this way? We should love this way because such a love as this covers a multitude of sins. Since Peter is not specific here, whether we see the covering of sins as the act of God covering the sins of man through His love, or we the covering of sins as the act of Christian people forgiving one another, the truth remains that love covers a multitude of sins.

While the idea of love covering a multitude of sins includes the expressed forgiveness we extend to those who have wrong us, it goes much deeper than that. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Cor. 13:5d). In making the ongoing preparations for the imminent return of Christ, we must love one another with a Christ-like love that does not keep a detailed account of the times and circumstances surrounding the instances in which a brother or sister in Christ has wronged us. Our love for each other must be so genuine, so deep, so sacrificial that that real love literally hides, completely obscures the sins of our brethren.

It’s not that we overlook the sins of our spiritual brothers and sisters. We must continue to participate in mutual accountability and discipline those within the church who refuse to turn from their sin and glorify Christ in their lives. In fact, one of the many present failures of the American Church is the growing apathy and fear when it comes to exercising biblical discipline with errant, wayward church members.

The American Church is weak because, in part, the Church welcomes everyone who professes the name of Christ, yet refuses to hold those same people accountable to live according to that profession. We’ll simply call them “backsliders” instead of calling them to live holy, godly, and righteous lives. This is one of the reasons the Body of Christ, in so many places around the world, looks at the American Church and sadly shakes their heads.

A love that covers a multitude of sins is a love that quickly forgives, exacts discipline when necessary, and, at the same time, does not look negatively or judgmentally upon brothers and sisters in Christ once forgiveness has been given and received, and once discipline has taken place—always for the purpose of restoration and spiritual and relational healing.

Be Hospitable
In addition to loving each other fervently, we must also “be hospitable to one another without complaint.” Hospitality goes hand in hand with genuine love. Jewish law required hospitality to strangers. And we are all likely familiar with Jesus’ commands to give water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, ministered to the infirmed, and visit the prisoners. But hospitality goes well beyond these acts of kindness. Hospitality extends to the condition and attitude of one’s heart as they engage in hospitality.

If you invite someone to your home for a meal and fellowship, yet you complain to your family about how the house looks, or how little time you have to prepare, or how tired you are from a long day of work, or how you can’t wait for the evening to be over; and then you put on a plastic smile when the doorbell rings; guess what—you are not being hospitable. Why? You have marred your act of kindness and service with a sinful heart that fails to follow Paul’s admonishment to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phil 2:14).

The goal of the modern-day church must be to revert back to the biblical forms of hospitality practiced out of necessity, by the First Century Church.

"And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:43-48).

If we are truly expecting the Lord to return at any moment, if we are truly preparing for the coming end of all things, then we will practice biblical hospitality with friends and strangers alike.

And here’s a quick tip for applying this biblical principle of love and hospitality with strangers, such as the homeless you see on the street. Now, I never give cash to a homeless person, for all of the obvious reasons. Wanting to be a good steward of God’s resources, I don’t want the cash God has given me to go toward the purchase of alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs. I want the money to go toward feeding a hungry person—maybe a person who is so consumed by his or her own destructive behaviors that they don’t care that they are hungry and thirsty.

So, I carry $5.00 fast food gift cards on me (In-n-Out, Starbucks, Baja Fresh, Quiznos, etc). When I see a homeless person, I will give them one of these gift cards. I can do so with the confident assurance they will use it to buy a meal. Why? Well, that’s all the cards are good for.

But I don’t stop there. I also make sure to give them a gospel tract or engage them in a spiritual conversation. This is very important. Why? The reason is this. Feeding a hungry person will not bring that person to repentance and faith.

Only the gospel of God has the power to do that (Romans 1:16). I use the feeding of a person’s stomach as an opportunity to provide them with the Bread of Life, which, when taken, will bring a person to a place where they will never hunger or thirst again.

Use Your Spiritual Gifts
Finally, in exercising our Christian duty, in preparation for the Lord’s imminent return, we must employ the spiritual gifts He has given us, for His glory. Peter wrote: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The apostle Paul likewise wrote to the Church in Corinth: “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good . . . One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:7, 11).

If you are curious as to what the Bible considers a spiritual gift, there are two primary lists given in the New Testament. I encourage you to read these passages today. They are Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

In 1 Peter 4:10, Peter divides these gifts into two general categories—speech and service. John MacArthur wrote: “Whoever speaks will minister through categories of preaching and teaching, wisdom, knowledge, and discernment. Whoever serves will minister through areas such as administration, prayer, mercy, or helps. And those who speak must communicate not human opinion but the utterances of God, as revealed only in Scripture. Similarly, any serving gift is to be exercised, not by human power, but by the strength which God supplies, that is, in dependence on the Holy Spirit.”[1]

Our duty, as followers of Jesus Christ, is to put the spiritual gift(s) He has given to us to use for His divine purposes and glory. Everyone in this place of worship who truly knows Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Savior has received at least one (if not more) spiritual gift for His service. Again, these gifts have been given for His service.

Our duty is to employ our gifts to bring our heavenly Father honor, and glory, and pleasure. And, as is the case in our love and hospitality toward and for others, the exercise of our spiritual gifts must likewise be “other minded.” Furthermore, we must be good stewards of the spiritual gifts God has given us. D. Edmond Hiebert put it well when he wrote:

"Christians are stewards, not owners, of the gifts and means they possess. A steward was an individual entrusted with the administrative responsibility for household affairs. This included the handling of property or wealth according to the owner’s will and direction . . . The entrustment was not made to him for his own enjoyment; he was responsible to use his gift for the benefit of those he served. It was a position susceptible to abuse . . .

"An appointment to the office implied not only entrustment, but also trustworthiness . . . ‘As good stewards’ means that believers not only resemble, but should actually be, good stewards, blameless in every aspect, performing their duties in a noble and attractive manner.”[2]

It’s also important to note that since every good and perfect gift comes down from our heavenly Father (see James 1:17), and since every spiritual gift is given by the grace of God, neither individuals nor para-church ministries or organizations can determine who is gifted in what way. Manmade tests for determining one’s “gift mix” or “gift set” abound. Such tests might be helpful in determining what you like to do, but they are fallible and limited to man’s wisdom in helping you determine what God has gifted you to do.

The best way to determine how God has gift you for ministry within His body—the Church—is to simply go to Him in prayer, saturate yourself with the truth of His Word, and, through your God-given conscience and His Word, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s direction for your life. Here are some verses that I think will be helpful to you. Commit them to memory. Write them on your minds and your hearts. Believe the Word and allow it to dwell within you.

"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you" (John 14:26).

"For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE SHOULD INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

Once you have determined how God has gifted you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, then you are obligated, as a matter of duty, to employ that gift for the benefit of the Church and for the glory of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To do otherwise is to sin against God.

[1] Ibid. MacArthur, p. 245
[2] Ibid. Hiebert, p. 275

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