The Animal Kingdom is full of various creatures who are known to devour others of their own kind. Sharks, spiders, wasps, polar bears and even chickens have been known to turn their own species into a delicious afternoon snack.
Too often the church appears to be modeled more after the Animal Kingdom in this way than it does Christ’s selfless sacrifice. Anyone who has been around the church for awhile will easily be able to recollect numerous occasions where other Christians have hurt them in significant ways. Countless people have turned their back on the church for good because they have been harmed more grievously by Christians in the church than by others outside of the church. The place that is supposed to be a safe haven for us can quickly turn into something that feels like a cannibalistic frenzy.
Why do Christians so easily and readily hurt one another? At the root of it all is sin, and this sin manifests itself in numerous ways. Sometimes we are just paying our pain forward; we hurt, so we want others to hurt. Other times we are just insensitive to those around us. Often we set unrealistic expectations of others, forgetting that we too are sinners in need of grace. Unrepentant sin can foster bitterness, which then gets extended to our brothers and sisters in the church.
But the cause of this problem is not the purpose of this post. My desure instead is to point those of you going through this kind of pain and betrayal to a Man who knows a thing or two about this subject.
Christ our King understands what it means to be betrayed by those closest to him. John 1:11 says that Christ came to his own people, but they did not receive him. In the book of Zechariah, we see a prophetic message for what the Messiah will endure at the hands of his friends:
And if one asks him, ‘What are these wounds on your back?’ he will say, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’ – Zechariah 13:6
Jesus tells us that a servant is not above his Master (John 15:20). Therefore, we should expect to identify with him in his betrayal. As dysfunctional and painful as that sounds, it is a reality of life in a sinful world on this side of glory.
But this is not the end of the story, as identifying with Christ’s betrayal is not only the problem but also the solution to our pain and the beginning of healing. In his book Hit by Friendly Fire, Dr. Michael Milton identifies how, through relating to Christ’s betrayal and suffering, we can move beyond our pain and begin to apply the gospel remedy to heal our soul. Dr. Milton identifies three “steps” to seeing the gospel in the midst of our pain from being wounded by other Christians:
1. Take up your cross. When Christians take up their cross, they are identifying all of their pain and suffering with the sufferings of Christ. The Apostle Paul often knew what it meant to take up his cross. In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul’s cross is imprisonment at the hands of other would-be preachers of God. Yet, Paul is able to rejoice because he has related his predicament to the sufferings of Jesus. “Only that, in every way…Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).
2. Take off your crown. Anglican Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda once said, “So much of our response in the Christian life is difficult, but necessary.” As difficult as it is, we must trust God’s sovereign plan for our lives. He is in control, we are not. What does it mean to trust God’s plan in the midst of being betrayed? It means drinking from the cup we have been given, just as Christ did. It means we say, like Joseph, “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Cherish the promise of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
3. Go to your Gethsemane. There must be a moment when, in the midst of our pain, we look it square on and say “Not my will, but Yours.” We must respond to the pain and hurt and trust totally in Christ. This final step frees us from pain and bitterness, and allows the grace of the gospel to foster forgiveness in our hearts. We can hand the actions of others over to God, knowing in the end he is sovereign judge.
When we know that pain and betrayal is possible at the hands of our Christian brothers and sisters, ‘trust’ is a concept that may be hard for a lot of us. I love how Dr. Milton sums up our response to this predicament, “It is not that I implicitly trust all men, it is that I trust God in all situations. And that makes life sweet.”
“My Study Bible notes say…”
“Well, MY Study Bible notes say…so I think..”
“MY Study Bible has history scholars in it and THEY say..so I think…”
A typical weeknight Bible study session. Or should I say, a Study Bible session.
The modern church has a deep-rooted but easily blinded problem: biblical illiteracy. In an age where the answers to our questions are just a Google search away, we quickly rely on whatever answers we can access the fastest. We look for answers before we know what question we are even asking, and readily accept information about the Bible before we’ve critically read the Bible for ourselves. We become a slave to what other people say about the text, rather than learning how to read for ourselves.
One of the worst culprits of this phenomena are Study Bibles. Now please don’t misunderstand me; I love Study Bibles, and I love all of the internet resources readily available at our fingertips. We truly live in a time where we are gifted with far more information than we know what to do with. The problem arises when we quickly accept all of this information without learning how to work for ourselves.
A church who does not engage critically with the Bible text themselves is a church who knows Bible facts without having a Bible heart. There is no life in facts. The Holy Spirit rewards us and brings us life and joy through our work and effort with the text, not in quick Google searches and Study Bible look-ups of the facts. We are unable to really respond to peoples questions and oppositions to a Christian worldview because we ourselves are just walking fact machines. We learn to rely on resources to answer peoples questions and not the Bible itself. Does Scripture say that it is Gods Word or resources about Gods Word that are useful for all things, including teaching and rebuke?
I’m not at all arguing for the elimination or removal of resources like commentaries and Study Bibles, quite the opposite as a matter of fact. Instead I am arguing for the church to learn where the proper place is for these resources. We should use these resources after we have learned how to think critically about the text for ourselves, not before.
Below are some suggestions I have for individuals and the church that I think would not only benefit our minds but our hearts. Learning how to think critically about the Bible for ourselves can only serve to increase our affections for Jesus.
1. Learn how to ask the right questions. God could’ve chosen not to leave any form of communication with us, but instead he left us the Bible. When we pause to think about that, our desire should be to learn how to interact with it! Here are some questions that might help you engage with the Biblical text:
– How does this passage or topic fit into the grand narrative of scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration)?
– What is distinctively Christian about how I am reading this passage or engaging this topic? Note: Our Bible studies, sermons and readings are not Christian because they use the name of Jesus or reference scripture. Cults, heretics and even atheists can do that.
– What does this passage or topic tell me about Jesus?
– Does this passage or topic point forward to the cross, backward to the cross, or forward to Christ’s return? How?
– How does this passage or topic equip God’s people to live on mission?
2. Put down the Study Bible, turn off the internet and engage just with the Biblical text. Allow time for the Bible to speak for itself, engage and think about everything you know in light of the current text. After you’ve spent time engaging with the text on its own, make a list of your questions that remain unanswered. Then take these questions and open your Study Bible, internet resources and commentaries.
3. Leave the Study Bible at home. When we bring our Study Bibles to church gatherings, sermons and Bible studies the temptation is to rely on our notes rather than engage with others on the text.
4. Churches: teach your people HOW to ask the questions. One of the primary responsibilities of a local church should be teaching her people how to engage with God’s written Word.
5. Try to read at least one resource a year on engaging with the Bible. Here are a few recommendations:
– The God who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story by D.A. Carson
– From Creation to New Creation: Making Sense of the Whole Bible Story by Tim Chester
– Jesus on Every Page by David Murray
– New Testament Exegesis by Gordon Fee
I am an introvert. I always have been. I took the Myers-Briggs test a few years ago and my strongest pull was in the introvert category. Since that time, I’ve always felt like the label ‘introvert’ has a negative stigma surrounding it; like culture only positively receives extroverted and outgoing people. I’ve often tried to avoid this label, or make myself become an extrovert. If you’ve been around the church awhile, you’ve probably heard plenty of sermons or read plenty of books about how Christians are meant to be compassionate, outgoing, engaging, well-spoken and constantly extending hospitality to others. I think the picture often painted in churches is more of what an extrovert looks like in the church, and not necessarily how each of us can uniquely glorify God with how he has created us.
What that means for me is I’ve often felt like my strong tendency to wax introvert is more of a disease than a personality trait. I’ve always been aware that I can be received as shy, socially awkward, or hard to get to know. I’m near the bottom of the list when it comes to asking others to spend time with me. People wear me out, and when I come home from church on Sundays I tend to feel exhausted. I dislike being in a room with a lot of people, and I’m more comfortable talking TO a crowd than I am being IN a crowd. I prefer a quiet corner of a party over the main room. It is really, really difficult for me to talk to people – regardless of how well I know them. I much more enjoy quietly setting up or tearing down our church than I do having to actively engage with people. I often don’t mind standing or eating with people in silence; that is normal for me. I like having “me” time, it’s how my batteries recharge. Workouts by myself, time spent alone watching or reading something is how I think and energize myself.
You see, it’s not that I think being outgoing, engaging, hospitable or conversational are bad things or that I don’t like to do them. It’s not that I don’t like being around people. It’s not that I’m shy, rude or socially awkward. I am a lot of things, but those aren’t really the words I would use to describe myself. Some people might think I don’t have much to say; on the contrary I have quite a bit to say (have you seen my Facebook or read my blog?)! I love people, and I love talking to them about Jesus. I love sharing the gospel with people. The thing is, these activities and forms of communication both terrify and exhaust me. When I hear about doing them, the stress of thinking about being terrified and exhausted in turn makes me exhausted.
In light of what is often spoken of in churches and how culture tends to receive people, I’ve struggled with feelings that there was something socially and culturally off about me.
This is especially difficult as someone who wants to pursue full-time ministry opportunities in the future. If this is who I am, can I really be someone who God can use in ministry? More often than not, it seems like those whom God uses are the “go-getters.” If it’s hard for me to actively spend time with people, how could I ever minister or pastor someone well? These factors continually and constantly build up doubt and shame in my mind.
I’ve been thankful and blessed recently by some blog posts by Thom Rainer (president of Lifeway) and Ron Edmonson (pastor and church planter). Both of them are strong introverts like myself and have written and discussed much in the way of being an introvert in ministry. They have helped me see I’m not alone, and helped me realize that just like anyone else I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and that God through his Holy Spirit has appointed me uniquely with gifts to serve the common good (1 Corinthians 12).
I am reminded of Moses prior to his journey to Egypt. When God appeared to him to tell him that he would be the one to deliver his people from bondage and slavery, Moses resisted. While some might think Moses as foolish for resisting God, his reasoning makes a lot of sense to me:
But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue…Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” – Exodus 4:10, 13
I look at this line and can’t help but think Moses was an introvert. He wasn’t what some might call a “people-person.” It was hard for him to talk to other people. But God doesn’t make mistakes, and chooses people for very specific reasons:
Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” – Exodus 4:11-12
God chose Moses not because of his strengths but in spite of them. This is a comfort for me and I hope it is for anyone else who has these personality traits. My service to God – whether in full-time ministry or not – may look different than some or most, but he has chosen me uniquely to serve his kingdom in some way. Not because I am strong, but because Christ is strong.
Help me, Oh Lord, to be content with who you’ve created me to be in light of who you are. Help me to have a willing heart to serve you not because of my strengths but in spite of them.
Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this…We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 1938
The great Prince of Preachers Charles Spurgeon once said, “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.” At the time Spurgeon was addressing a new attitude cropping up in the seminaries, where students thought themselves able to avoid the study of saints in Church history simply because they (the students) had the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
I’d like to open up Spurgeon’s line of thought and apply it to the church today: It seems odd that the church of the 21st century thinks so highly of what the Holy Spirit has taught us that she (the church) thinks so little of what the Holy Spirit had to say to the church throughout history*. Spurgeon’s thoughts here remind us of a very important truth: the Holy Spirit is not an individual gift. The Holy Spirit is a gift to the body of Christ, and he has taught others throughout history and continues to teach us today**.
Unfortunately for many Evangelicals the personal aspect of the Holy Spirit today is continually given more and more emphasis. This over-emphasis is now landing entire churches and denominations in terrible error. For many, their understanding of God’s Spirit is that since he leads us into all truth, they don’t need the church. For others still, they believe that they can easily refute historic church doctrines simply because “the Spirit told me so.” Their personal understanding of the Holy Spirit conveniently allows them to use all sorts of excuses like “that isn’t what this text means to me” or “I have the Spirit so I don’t need to go to church.” When the personal experience of the Holy Spirit is emphasized above the experience of being brought into the body of Christ, that person will always talk about “I” and “me” but never about “we.”
We would do well to catch ourselves in this error while we have a chance before it runs even more rampant than it already has. The result of this personal emphasis of the Holy Spirit is not only unbiblical practices, but an identity build on rugged individualism and proud separatism. This identity can never lead to Christian love.
The working of the Holy Spirit is not primarily a personal category, it is first-of-all a Body-of-Christ category. The gift of the Holy Spirit isn’t about you. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to the church. Scripture tells us that God’s Spirit belongs to him and is a gift to his people:
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” – Galatians 4:6
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:16-17
The church corporate is being conformed to the image of Christ. Ephesians 1:18 tells us that the saints (read: the church) are Christ’s inheritance. There is one body and one Spirit; we can no longer think of ourselves as individuals (Ephesians 4:4). One way the Bible speaks to this is by means of our adoption. The Westminster Longer Catechism describes our adoption this way:
Adoption is an act of the free grace of God, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory.
While we were formerly individuals and lost in our sin, we do not remain that way when we are brought into the family of God:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12–13.
The role of the Holy Spirit is to point us to Christ, and when we are guided to Christ our concern should always become about the church body and not us as individuals. Within the body of Christ, we are intended to love one another. Love is the reflection of what we have received from God through Jesus Christ; this love is the vital reflection and unity of the church. This is why Paul routinely speaks out against individualism in his epistles. Love is not individualistic or proudly separate, but always concerned above all-else with the body and not the individual. This love is inspired by the example and self-surrender of Christ and therefore it is specifically and distinctly Christian.
* Thanks to Dr. Nichols from Ligonier’s “5 Minutes in Church History” for this elaboration.
** Let me first say that I am grateful that we even have a personal understanding of the Holy Spirit. It is certainly important for us to understand that the Holy Spirit does work in the individual and brings individual sinners towards understanding, faith and repentance. The Holy Spirit does train us in righteousness through the Word of God. He does give us the power to resist sin and the devil, as well as the strength and heart to pursue Christ. I am not, and would never deny any of those things (as well as others like equipping the church by the distribution of gifts, etc.).