This far, and no farther

Forgive me for not remembering where I first heard the title to this post, all I know is that there is a similar reference in Job 38 that I will refer to within these thoughts I’m about to share. The main thrust of this study will be our tendency as human beings and even Christians to speak about things we think we know despite our occasional ignorance of the very things we claim to profess. In addition to this is our tendency to speak things out of place or in a manner that fails to encourage and edify the brethren. Both are much more common than we realize and I am certainly not without these tendencies myself at times. I intend to divide this subject matter into three sections as follows:

1. Our interaction with our Father

2. Our interaction with other people

3. Our interaction with professing Christians

The primary passage of reference will be Colossians 4:1-6 which speaks;

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person”

Section 1: Our interaction with our Father

As we see clearly in the verse above, the manner we speak to other human beings is important. It’s just not the message we share but the manner in which that message comes across that matters to God. Not one alone, but both impact our effectiveness with other people.

Before we speak to other men about God, it is vital that our fellowship with Him is active and intimate. Any hope of aiding others into the truth must originate in our care for them in private and through our prayers to God for them on their behalf. Absent of this, we only become clanging symbols that do more damage than good for the cause of Christ. We must remember often as it is said above…..we too have a Master in heaven. Humility is the foundational key that affords us the opportunity and might I even say the privilege to speak for Almighty God.

One’s concept of God directs their speech

Like it or not, our concepts and beliefs about God will affect the manner that we speak to others. For example, if we believe:

  • God is a harsh taskmaster (then we will likely be speaking out of our own fears about judgment and therefore present God to others as cruel and vindictive verses loving and merciful)
  • God mandates various religious observances (then I will promote those alongside or in addition to His grace for salvation whether that be baptism, the Lord’s Supper or church related activities or meetings) or as evidence of faithful Christian service.
  • God returns evil upon His sons and daughters based upon their sins and disobedience (then I will warn people that God can and will send evil spirits upon and even into them and even damn them if they persist in sin) Please note: Unlike others who may disagree, I do not view what God calls His children as the same under the Old and New Covenants. For example, most if not all of the promises God gives to born again believers were never given to those among Israel. One only had to be among this nation and people group to be considered one of God’s people. It had nothing to do with an internal change or calling from God Himself which all Christians have experienced today.

If we believe in any false concepts about God such as those promoted by Purpose Driven Theology, Word Faith Doctrines and those of the New Apostolic Reformation, how will those not be promoted by us in our efforts to reach out to others. And how will those not be readily received by the deceived masses knowing that they cater to our selfish sinful nature which opposes God’s command to put that nature to death?

Regardless of how our concept of the nature of God Himself or what He has revealed as the truth is skewed, in that very area and to the degree that we believe these falsehoods will we affect others adversely. It’s easy to say or claim the passage in 1 John 2:27 which is true but was never meant as justification for making confident judgments about others outside of the counsel of the righteous or the assembly as a whole. For example, I might think a believer I’ve been spending time with on the outside is a threat to the assembly. I can therefore “cut off” this contact if I believe that to be appropriate. On the other hand, once that person “belongs” to the assembly, I can no longer arbitrarily oust that person from the assembly as I have other people to consider who also have a say in this matter. It is no longer to be my decision alone. The fact is, my individual judgment is not to be trusted in such matters, it is the combined counsel of the saints that must decide before all what actions if any should be taken. I should always speak my concerns, yes, but the decision about what to do is not mine. This far, but no farther.

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” [Romans 12:3, 16]

Section 2: Our interaction with other people

Every person we meet affords an opportunity of some sort. At times a simple friendly gesture, at other times a full scale gospel presentation if afforded the time. It’s really up to us within the framework of these opportunities to be used as the Holy Spirit might desire to lead us. But again, these opportunities will only be productive based upon what has happened prior…in those secret places of devotion to God and prayer on behalf of others.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me” [John 15:4]

Sadly and far too often, our present circumstances and difficulties affect these opportunities and even the manner in which we speak to others. Whether we are allowing the stress in our day to become paramount, letting others grind upon our nerves or rehashing some past pain we believe someone has caused us, these situations unchecked will hinder our potential outreach and effectiveness. Who hasn’t experienced the ill-timed judgments that proceed from our foul mouths toward others all due to neglecting a special time with our Lord that morning? We must put those things to death (as to their power) by embracing them (that is, these difficulties) as a  means to an end (a closer unity with Christ as we die to ourselves again and again).

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech from your mouth” [Colossians 3:8]

A hundred other things could be added to the list above. The point is this: Whatever I’m refusing to relinquish, that is what is killing me and crushing my effectiveness in Christ with others.

Just today a man at the restaurant called my first and last name and I looked over to see who it was. I was so embarrassed, I didn’t even recognize the guy or know who he was. I had to ask him how he knew me. As it was, he remembered me from AA, a program I haven’t attended in some 15 years! Upon his way out of the restaurant he gave me one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received to my surprise. It seemed that my preaching in AA actually did impact him- so much that he remembered my full name despite the short time we knew one another.

Friends, that’s what I’m after, a testimony from God that lasts among others, and I know you are too! That starts with a devotion to Christ, is empowered by prayer, stimulated by love and brought to fruition by the Holy Spirit along God’s timelines. Nothing needs to be forced…..where death is sown, life will result as naturally as any tree planted in the ground. Now if only my memory would improve…..

In the passage above we find the apostle Paul  with this request to his fellow brethren:

…praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth…..

It almost seems kind of odd doesn’t it, the most preeminent apostle asking the average Joe’s and Jane’s of the local assembly to pray for him…..so that he may speak…..that I might make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Obviously these texts prove that their is a right way and a wrong way to speak and a right and a wrong time to speak. Then Paul’s admonition to them:

“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders (unbelievers), making the most of the opportunity” What opportunity? “The opportunity” we are supposed to be praying for and prepared in advance for.

Far too often we just throw out the gospel or gospel tracts in the hope that someone will respond favorably. Is this what Paul would call “conducting oneself with wisdom toward outsiders?” I’m not so sure myself. What we do know is this:

“Let your speech always be with grace (be gracious), as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person”

Did you get that? The emphasis upon each individual is paramount. Without a gracious approach and testimony, hardly will anyone give us a hearing and are more likely to assume we’re just the next religious nut on the scene. We may be still called that, but there is no reason now to make that true now is there? This far, and no farther.

Section 3: Our interaction with professing Christians

More than ever before, we know we must be ever diligent to test and discern the various spirits that are opposing the true gospel message and avoid those people who attempt to use them in influencing the saints adversely. At the same time we must be careful not to reject a genuine brother or sister who may simply be mistaken about the truth or been influenced themselves due to their own ignorance of the truth. At other times the flesh might be the real culprit and the answer to their problem is nothing more or less than this individual learning to deny themselves and carry a daily cross. I can’t help someone if I prematurely judge them without discerning the real issue at hand. This takes time and once again necessitates the corporate witness of the saints.

For many a believer, they are quick to judge what they deem to be a serious issue with a brother or sister and label  that a particular or even specific problem. This includes but is not limited to:

  • The type of church they attend (or simply attending a church at all)
  • The denomination they claim (or the fact that they claim one period)
  • Allegiance to men (through a system of theology or a religious leader, guru)
  • Failure to overcome one’s sins (labeled demonic oppression/possession)
  • Using worldly resources to solve personal problems
  • Any apparent opposition in an assembly (as another spirit’s influence)
  • Deviation from what we presently believe the Bible says or what we believe to be true

The fact is, none of us like problems with people and it is much easier to label the supposed offender and then oust them due to their opposing views or their perceived “opposition.” It’s much more difficult, takes much more patience and is much more scripturally proper to longsuffer with people as the true source of their opposition is discovered. And yes, contrary to the beliefs of some, no Christian is called to ever believe the observations or counsel of others in such a situation if that counsel is contrary to their own beliefs and present understanding. They very well may need to heed the counsel of elders within an assembly in order to press forward together, yet they are never told to blindly accept the words and judgments of anyone else in the assembly or some so-called religious leader. The Holy Spirit Himself must be the one who confirms the truth for each of us. This is the manner a proper and lasting consensus is reached.

Can I ask you all two questions? Look at the list above and ask yourself these questions? Would you fellowship with someone who desired to meet with you if they had one, more than one or all of the above different than you? What would be the basis for your judgment in this matter?

I can’t speak for any of you, but I have no fear whatsoever of being deceived by some “spirit” that may be trying to deceive me through someone else. I have learned to love first, serve others as I’m led, all the while watching and listening to what others have to say. Christian or otherwise, people eventually speak and many write out what they believe for all to hear and see. Only after I have adequately ascertained what I believe are the facts  can a proper judgment be made about someone else or their behaviors. Even then, wise counsel should be sought among the other saints. In most cases I believe what some deem to be serious inroads by Satan are actually just the fleshly foibles of others or their ignorance in scriptural matters. That doesn’t mean we should let our guard down, deceivers are about, but the amount of light among the saints eventually reveals the true from the false. Light always exposes darkness. Just because someone is mistaken about a truth or doctrine does not make them a heretic or on their way to hell- neither does an unwillingness of someone to own what we believe are their sins make them a liar. In both cases, much of our judgments are selfish in nature, we either don’t want to deal with another’s headaches or we expedite the problems through our labels and premature judgments. Both are just as sinful as the person above who may have committed the crimes. If we’re trusting our Father, in time a consensus of the saints will occur and at that point proper decisions can be corporately made and implemented.

For the record, witnesses to sinful behavior according to scripture are exclusively people who agree with an initial brothers and/or sisters conclusion about another saints sinful behavior AND who come forward to confront the offender openly. It is not adequate to simply discuss another’s so-called wrongs or even agree with a particular assessment about someone. In addition, a husband and wife are not to be considered two witnesses but simply one by the fact of their having been joined together in marriage. The two have been made one, no? These are simple observations that must be observed if one is to scripturally confront another who is believed to be in sin.

When we make our own judgments against others prematurely without proper counsel and scriptural support, we will either incite the wrath of others, fail to be the bridge and beacon of truth we claim to be and likely destroy any hope for a continued influence or friendship. I can’t speak for any of you, but I want none of all that. This far, and no farther.

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us IS TO exercise them accordingly…..according to the proportion of his faith” [Romans 12:4-6]

We are commanded to exercise our individual spiritual gifts- and according to who’s faith? That’s right, our own faith. Are we to do this in some selfish way because that is our right? Of course not, but rather;

“Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation” [Romans 12:16]

This far, and no farther [Job Chapters 38-41]

God in His sovereignty has placed tasks and restraints upon all of His creation, from the sun and the moon to every living thing under the sun including each of us. It may be easy to discover one’s identity in Christ scripturally speaking, though it is no easy task to live in that identity worthy of Him who we profess, all the while recognizing how unworthy we are to even partake of it. It is my observation that one manner in which we fail to do both is when we confidently use the words “God told me” in reference to another believer. Why does this concern me? I don’t know who started this, but it reeks of pride, not to mention favoritism with the Almighty. We have people all over the globe who think God is telling them things and in many cases HE is telling THEM something. But seriously folks, is God incapable of telling us as individuals what He wants us to hear without the help of others? And just how are we to know that God’s message to us is coming from another person? In what manner can we test the spirit of what others speak to us as God has commanded us to do? Are we to believe others simply because they say so or speak with confidence?

Our individual responsibility is to speak truth one to another and allow the Holy Spirit time to work amongst our brethren. Our so-called prophetical insights about others just aren’t necessary and in most cases have no scriptural validity and in some cases amount to slanderous judgments that are outright lies about others.

Little brings more shame upon God’s people than those who profess to be better than others, those who think that due to their profession of faith have now found some kind of unique favor with God that the world’s people and lesser Christians lack. This is manifested in all sorts of bizzare ways from predictions about revival, special outpourings, supposed prophesies, seven mountains mandates and predictions about America. God makes plain that these “confident assertions” (aggressively confident statements) are the result of those who have abandoned the original call of our mutual instruction one to another:

“As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere SPECULATION rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” [1 Timothy 1:3-7]

In short, speculation is the opposite of fact. We are forever like Job’s friends trying to solve others problems and a perverse societies, all the while failing to recognize how pathetic we really are and how incapable to even alter our own dispositions and selfish appetites. It is not that we don’t have a responsibility like Job’s friends one to another, we do, we simply do not see as clearly as we think and therefore bring our own judgments of others upon ourselves.

Job was righteous by God’s own decree, but that wasn’t enough. He failed to see himself as he really was without the influence of God upon his life. Once he owned this, God’s favor was restored to be enjoyed more than ever before.

In this very book God allows Satan himself to come among the sons of God who were presenting themselves among the Lord in heaven. [Job 1:6, 7; 2:1, 2] Not only does God allow this, He uses Satan to accomplish several things he has in mind- for Job, his friends and even those today who would learn from the story about this godly man. It was God’s intent that for a short season Satan be allowed among God’s people- even directly attacking Job and testing his faith. The only restraint placed upon Satan by God was the prohibition of taking Job’s very life. [Job 2:4-6] As it turns out in the providence of God, all of God’s intentions and lessons are learned by all- specifically as a result of the issues that prevailed among Job and his friends. They all needed to repent, and after they did their unique fellowship and intimacy was restored.

I don’t write this with any specific intent of my own in mind, but as a reminder to each of us to be careful with our notions and even thoughts about our brothers and sisters in Christ. There are indeed times where out of necessity we must speak, we must rebuke and even correct others in error. We do well to remember the manner in which this is to be done and check our own motives before we make these advances. If in any way our comfort level or expectations are part of the picture, our hearts are not right and at best we ought to reserve our judgments for a later season.

This far and no farther. It is a blessed thing to discover our place among the body and to boldly and faithfully carry out those responsibilities. It is not wise to exceed those boundaries despite how tempting that might become. Day by day we rest in Christ and only those who do so can be adequately prepared for God’s instructions and leading for any particular day or specific endeavor. God uses us as He will, there is no fixed religious position or even everlasting spiritual gifts which cannot be altered or removed by Him one season to another, just as no guarantee exists that our new found friendships will last for a lifetime.

The title herein has one last application. To whatever extent any individual has contributed to conflict among the unbelieving or saved peoples of the world, it remains our ongoing responsibility to retain peace among all men as far as this is possible. If this means a confession so be it, if it merely means a willingness to forego wrongs may that also be so. More damage can occur “after the fact” where others remain unaware of those who may retain things against them for no apparent reason. Let’s not give our adversary such a position amongst us. I for one harbor no wrongs against anyone, despite the pains of the recent past.

Let’s value what we have this day in Him, whether alone or in fellowship, rejoicing and being content with His particular calling at present regardless of the cost.

 

-the end

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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