WHENCE AND WITHER
By Larry White
(Originally delivered in Boise, ID. December 29, 2002)
The last sermon of the calendar year to me is not an enviable platform from which to speak; for what the hearers are expecting of me is no less a feat than to climb the highest peak and obtain the most sublime vista of our past and future and to report back what I have seen.
Not only is that a grave responsibility but also the love associated with the zeal to bring back the report is not often met with the corresponding love of understanding and reflection.
Abraham Lincoln once said, "If we could know from whence we came and whither we are tending, we could better judge of what to do and how to do it." Some people might say that Lincoln had a talent for simply stating the obvious. I would hope that today I could come away having at least done that.
I suppose the outline of my sermon could be "whence and wither". I'm sure you will see aspects of both of these. The object of my lesson would be for each one of us to make a resolution (not a New Year's). I will be presenting many ideas for your consideration - but for you to be resolved about one thing that I mention this morning would be to fulfill my purpose in speaking.
Pick one thing in the lesson and pursue it. Study it - investigate it - and as one path leads on to another, the gems you find along the way will be so valuable that you will not ever stop pursuing the truth. Or pick one thing you would disagree with and prove me wrong. But pursue it with scripture - not with what you have always heard, that is just a substitute for orthodoxy. [ortho = right, doxa = opinion, so it means the right opinion] Well, what is the right opinion? It is a book, chapter, and verse! Come to the matter with scripture.
Now the purpose and goal of the church should obviously be the purpose and goal of God. He would have all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (1Tim.2:4) This is something for which Paul says we should pray. Also, according to his purpose and the good pleasure of his will, he wants those who are saved to be conformed to the image of his son. (Rom.8:29) This maturing of the saints, the perfecting of God's children is what the church is all about.
And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
The unity of faith and knowledge - when we all believe the same things and we know and understand the same things. Of course this can only be possible if there is one body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism and God. In other words truth is one, just as God is one, and in Christ, i.e. in the Spirit, we all are one. That spiritual fact is what makes any unity possible.
Now for the "whence". I think it would be good to consider briefly what has occurred in the past not only for your review but also for those new to our congregation.
I ) A Peak at the Past Preaching Plan
Define the Need:
1. Need More Faith
2. Need More Spiritual Understanding 3. Need More Strength and Devotion
1. Build More Faith
Identify who we are
Not mere men - sons of God, Alive from the dead. Walking in the light.
Who and where is God?
That he is Spirit and transcends Time and Space.
What is reality?
Truth - Abide in the truth.
2. Open Spiritual Eyes
We are not under law
Much of what Paul wrote concerned this. It is necessary to understand our freedom in Christ.
The rule of the Spirit
That which fulfills the law, when we walk in the Spirit.
The Mystery of Christ
The place the rule of the Spirit is taking us - Christ in you the hope of Glory.
3. Encourage More Commitment
Love of God
Keeping his commands
Give ourselves 100%
Where our heart should be, our eye being single and healthy, and being full of light
Love of the Truth
Keeping his word inviolate, not putting ourselves forward with our own ideas from our own resources.
But this kind of plan really doesn't give me an outline for growth. It does not spell out the "wither." I for one have pondered and even agonized about my growth as a Christian. Am I growing? or backsliding? How can I tell where I am or where I should be?
What I have learned is that is is not in me who walks to direct my own steps. (Jer.10:23) Christ is the one who directs my growth or correction, (but ultimately growth). It is my job to trust him and pursue him by the study and acceptance of his word.
Now may our God and father himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you.
And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which he called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and our God and father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.
(There again you see the goal and the roles and duties of each in salvation.)
Yet over the years of my struggles and joys, it is not like I have not been paying attention. There are broad levels or stages in growth that seem to take place. Now, I am aware that everyone is different and we all might not experience the same things. But then I also am a man and my case is not all that unique. A sage elder once told me, "One of the delusions of immaturity is that its experiences are unique, whereas wisdom knows that what befalls anyone has happened a myriad of times before."
II ) So, in broad strokes borrowed from some students of the human condition ... there are four stages in a human life. The first column has to do with our age in our psychological development. The second column are the stages working from the bottom to the top. The third column are comparable stages in the life of a Christian. And the forth column is the characteristics of these stages.
Working from the bottom up:
Age Stage of Human Growth Stage of Christian Growth Characteristics 4) 40-52 Care for Life
Wisdom, able to see the Whence and the Wither.
Perfected in Love
Discerning good and evil. Reigning with Christ. Reflecting his image. Knowing God.
Having fellowship with God. Working as a mature citizen in the kingdom. Helping to bring about his purpose with understanding. 3) 27-39 Mastery
Intimacy, Spouse, Career, Adult living
Becoming like Jesus
Being perfected in love. Coming to know God. Christ living in us.
Coming near to God. Being led by him. Doctrinally grounded. Knowing his word. 2) 13-26 Identity
Gender, Personality differences, Talents.
Putting on the New Man
Sanctification of the Spirit. Reckoning to ourselves the life of the risen Christ.
Maturing in faith. Experiencing freedom from sin, liberty of the children of God. Putting off the old man. 1) 0-13 Trust
Parents and the world - whom to trust, whom not to trust
Faith in Grace by Jesus
Trusting God and Jesus. Giving him our lives as the creator.
Reborn - child of God. Having the heart established in grace. Trust that all our sins are washed away - because Jesus died for me.
Of course there are no age limitations in the spiritual application of these stages. All of this is on a time schedule that only God knows and of which you might be aware if you also care about your growth, and are pursuing a steadfast continuance in learning from him and obeying him.
III ) One other progression that I have noticed over the years involves growth in Spiritual understanding.
In the fundamentals of the doctrine of Christ, a deeper understanding of them will of necessity involve the work of the Holy Spirit. Now, given the fact that in the churches of Christ generally the work of the Holy Spirit is rarely understood; for us to get more than just a surface understanding of some doctrines is going to require a great deal of effort, argument, confrontation, and sometimes suffering. If you have been at all aware of your growth, then you will recognize the opposition we must confront every time we get close to understanding more or realizing other applications of truth. The higher you climb the more you make yourself an object to shoot down. So, expect attacks and do not let them throw you or dissuade you from your course.
In your future investigations of the truth, let me suggest to you some fundamental keys to hang on to as you study.
A.) Baptism for the remission of sins
The thing to investigate is the new birth of the Spirit. (Jno.3:5) We are born of the Spirit, made alive in the spirit, quickened to a new spiritual life by the same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead. (Col.2:12-13)
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is about to come.
The Spirit is the one who makes us alive. (2Cor.3:6) Life is knowing God experientially.
And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Therefore the life that the Holy Spirit communicates is the life of Jesus himself; in him is life and we live in him, through him and because of him. (Jno.14:19)
B.) The gift of the Holy Spirit
The thing to key on is again, the life he gives us, the life of Christ, whereby we live spiritually. By his indwelling he puts us in contact with the spiritual realm. (Eph. 1:15-19, at which we already looked). That is why He can be the down payment of our inheritance - he gives us a foretaste of the glory that is coming for each of us. He communicates the mind of Christ (1Cor.2:12-16). To live, to know God, is to have the mind of Christ.
C.) We are not under law
Being that we are ruled by this Spirit of life (Rom.8:2-4) the next thing you want to investigate is that we are therefore not under an external law of commandments. But now we have freedom and he is the Spirit of Liberty (2Cor.3:17). We follow a law of liberty, which is the royal law, the law of Christ, which is love. If we love we have fulfilled every commandment. The Holy Spirit brings us to the holiness of Christ, which is an aspect of life.
D.) The coming of the kingdom
The fourth thing may not seem to be related to the Spirit, but will ultimately be seen to be the environment in which all spiritual activity takes place.
When you consider the coming of the kingdom, bear in mind that few if any, including me, have all the answers concerning the end times and Christ's coming. But what you can do is be painfully honest with the scriptures. There are many scriptures that suggest that instead of the kingdom coming on the Day of Pentecost, it was rather a forty year process that culminated in the year AD 70 with the destruction of the O.T. Temple and capital city. Like Luke 19:11 that Luke explains why the parable of the talents was taught.
Now as they heard these things, he spoke another parable, because he was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God was about to appear immediately.
Or like Luke 21 that explains that the kingdom was coming in their lifetime but after the destruction of the Temple.
Then he spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.
Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.
Even the verse that we use to show that the kingdom came on Pentecost when read in context suggests something else.
38 For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the son of Man also will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels.”
1 And he said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will by no means taste of death till they see the kingdom of God having come with power.”
This points to Christ's second coming during their lifetime as the time for the kingdom to arrive. And the power is related to him coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Only some would not taste of death before the kingdom came -- if it was on Pentecost, it was not some, but all except Judas saw the kingdom come. If Luke is right, and the kingdom came after the Temple was destroyed, then it would definitely be only some who saw it.
Look at the parallel passages to Mk.9:1. (cf. Mt.16:27-28; Lk.9:26-27)
Be forewarned -- each one of these (A thru D) is met with opposition, sometimes fierce and unreasoning opposition; especially from your own brethren. But that is just a fear reaction. Do not take it personally. It is not easy to gain understanding, especially spiritual understanding. But that is just the nature of our environment, the course of this world. We are in a war zone. Sending up flares will only get you shot. It is something that we also must overcome.
IV ) One last word of exhortation. In your growth, be careful to be in obedience to God to the best of your ability in everything you do. Remember, God is not mocked.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the spirit will of the spirit reap everlasting life.
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Make sure in your repentance toward God that you are not deceiving yourself. Repent means to change your mind - with the corresponding change in behavior. Change your mind concerning what you know to be against his will and literally cease what you were doing and stop sinning. Like James says:
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
~ Invitation ~