February 22, 2011 Devotion Sharing

What words from the text highlight the urgency and high stakes involved in ministry?

In Ezekiel 33 God highlights the urgency and high stakes involved by presenting the imagery of an army invading God’s people with swords drawn to kill .  God makes it clear that if the leaders, who were supposed to be the watchmen for the people fail to do their job of warning the people, then God will hold them accountable for their blood.  Then at the end of that passage God makes an urgent plea, “Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?”  God sees that His people were on their way to perish, because of their evil ways, but God wants them to turn and repent, so that they may live.  There’s urgency and high stakes involved in for God’s prophets and appointed leaders who were given the responsibility to be ‘watchmen’ over His people.  The people need to be warned of the coming destruction due to their own sins and offenses that weighed them down.

In 2 Timothy 4:2-5, God tells Christian leaders to be prepared in season and out of season to correct, rebuke and encourage.  This again signals the urgency the leader ought to have in approaching ministry, because a time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  People will be self-deceived and surround themselves with teaching that their sinful, ‘itching ears want to hear’.  A time was coming when people will turn from the truth to myths and lies.  Those times will be maddening and heart breaking, so the leader is warned to keep his head in all situations and endure hardships (2 Timothy 4:4).

Note the frequent occurrence of words describing unpleasant and confrontational speech.  What is it about human nature that makes such a disproportionate emphasis on correction and confrontation appropriate?

It’s in our human nature to be stubbornly set on sinning and even being self-deceived about our true motives in making compromises and being open to sin.

Chuck Colson wrote these words in reaction to former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford’s affair that was exposed in 2009, which led to his abrupt resignation.

Chuck Colson says, “We humans, you see, have an infinite capacity for self-rationalization. We reason that we can give in to those seemingly minor temptations—say an emotional attraction to a co-worker, or just one drink at the party—because we think we know the boundaries. We think our reason can keep us safe.”

The need for unpleasant and confrontational talks with a brother or sister wouldn’t be necessary if people were indeed committed to truth, but that’s not how people are in reality.  As Chuck Colson says, “people have an infinite capacity for self-rationalization,” and this requires a leader to go beyond just pointing out the obvious.  At times a brother in Christ can be so blinded and self-deceived by the sin he is engaged in that he needs a leader to confront him with compelling words and evidences to help him see that he is in spiritual peril.  When it comes to this, it’s not pleasant for both parties.

As a leader I know that when I need to have a serious talk with a bro who is steeped in sin and in self-rationalization, I find myself praying, sometimes fasting, and thinking through how I can persuade and stir that brother to see the truth about himself and what he is becoming.  My heart trembles with fears of how that brother is going to respond, because I want so much for him to turn away from his self-destructive path…to turn back to God in repentance and be restored in his “koinonia” with the rest of the brothers and sisters in the church.  I definitely don’t look forward to such confrontational, serious conversations.  In those times I find myself anguishing in prayer.  All my agendas and plans for that day or even that whole week goes out the door as I try to share in God’s grief and compassion to see that brother turn from his sinful ways.

How would the actual practice of these instructions—e.g., “rebuke them sharply”–be received in today’s churches?   What is it about today’s values that finds such a practice repugnant?

I think the actual practice of these instructions to correct and sharply rebuke people when situations call for them would be received by most churches as unthinkable and too harsh.  It rubs against the post-modern, relativized sense of what’s fair and kind.  “Tolerance” is paraded as the greatest commandment among many Christians in America, but this betrays what God instructs us to do, which is to love one another with the truth.  Just today on NPR I heard that some liberals are publishing a new version of the Bible that’s supposed to be non-religious and more palatable for the post-modern man.  I’d imagine it would redefine the greatest commandment in the Bible to be something like:  “Love yourself with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And love your neighbor as you would want to be loved (ie  don’t bother him and he won’t bother you)”

What words describe the positive outcomes envisioned in these passages?  Why are these outcomes not usually achieved in many modern day Christian contexts?

Ezekiel 33:11 –>  people will repent and live, rather than be ruined and destroyed by their wicked ways.

2 Timothy 3:17 –> so Christians can be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Titus 1:13 –>  …so that they will be sound in faith

Colossians 1:28 –>  to present everyone perfect in Christ

I think these outcomes are not usually achieved in many modern day Christian contexts, because Christians don’t allow anyone to have an authoritative voice in their lives to correct and even rebuke them.  So often Christians without spiritual authority over them live lives that betray what they profess to believe, or at best they live ‘compartmentalized’ lives with pockets of hypocrisy and compromises that causes them to lose their integrity and wholeness before God and others.  It’s no wonder that so many non-believers out there have noted in a survey that they don’t really see that much difference between them and Christians they know.

I’ve heard many confessions of seekers, who say things like, “the Christians I knew couldn’t give me an answer to questions I had about Christianity.”  So we find many Christians who not only live morally compromised lives, but also people who are so ill-equipped to be a witness for Christ.  I think this an indication of Christians not taking their identities as Christ followers seriously, as well as an indictment against churches that are not being faithful to actually use God’s words to ‘teach, rebuke, correct, train in righteousness’ their members.

Think about all the factors and considerations that weigh on the heart of a Christian leader. What qualities are needed for someone to bear these burdens, balance competing factors, and faithfully discharge the duties of a minister?

Thinking about all that a Christian leader is supposed to be doing, I see that a leader needs to have the following qualities:

·         Knows the Bible well and practiced at applying the scriptures in his own personal life.  He needs to be continually growing in his knowledge of God and His ways, so that he can thoroughly equip others for every good work.

·         To be emotionally self-controlled and have a surrendered spirit.  A leader needs to be able to love someone enough to have righteous anger towards the ways that person is sinning and ruining himself, but also to exhibit “great patience and careful instruction”.   And he needs to be able to love someone with the truth like this “in season and out of season”.  In other words, a leader needs to be practiced at having his plans turned upside down as people issues arise.  He needs to be a ‘servant’ of the church in the fullest sense of that word ‘servant’.  He needs to be flexible with his time and be welcoming of interruptions, including heart wrenching issues of someone being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

·         Discerning and attentive to what people under him are going through.  The leader needs to be a ‘watchman’.  He needs to be in touch with the reality on the ground of what people under him are going through.  He needs to be asking himself, “Are there patterns of someone flirting with sin? “, “Why is so and so not looking good these days?  Is he discouraged about something in his life?  Perhaps he flunked an exam or lost a job.  Maybe this is causing him to harden his heart towards God and making himself vulnerable to sin.  How can I encourage him and help him hold onto God’s truths and promises to press on again?”

·         Above all I see that a leader needs to really be in it out of love for God.  I know that I wouldn’t last very long in being a leader in God’s church given all that I’m called to do as a leader.  Only my love for God will help me regard all I’m doing as a privilege and an honor, and so I think every leader needs to always be in touch with his own love and appreciation for the gospel.

As Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 21 seems to suggest, the necessary precursor to serving as a leader or a shepherd of God’s people is to first answer Jesus’ question, “Do you truly love me?”  The most important qualification of a leader is to be able to answer this question with a “YES” each and every day.

APPLICATION

I’m overall challenged by the portrait of what I am supposed to be doing as a leader in God’s church.

In particular I’m challenged to be a ‘watchman’ over God’s people that He entrusted to my care.   I need to first watch over my own life closely, because if I’m blind to myself and overrun by sins, then I’m no good to be a watchman for others.

1 Timothy 4:16 says

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

I also need help in being able to ‘see’  and discern things better.  Do I have eyes to see what to be alarmed about in others?  On one hand I could be dull and lazy about noticing things about others and asking questions to get into their lives, but on the other hand I could be seeing and hearing stuff without properly discerning to raise the flag about important things I ought to be alarmed about.

I’m reminded of my need to grow in being able to be more discerning, more alert, and to have wiser eyes to watch over the people I’m ministering to.  Part of my training in growing as a ‘watchman’ is through personal study of God’s words, but I know the training I also need to receive is through the guidance and feedback of my leaders.  I need to be eagerly desiring to receive from more experienced ‘watchmen’ the teaching, training and at times the corrections and rebuke they can give me through God’s words, so that I too may become more thoroughly equipped for every good work God entrusts to me.

Submitted by Steve Kim, Gracepoint Riverside


Note the frequent occurrence of words describing unpleasant and confrontational speech.  What is it about human nature that makes such a disproportionate emphasis on correction and confrontation appropriate?

Human nature is bent.  We easily gravitate away from even what we know is right and true and move instead towards our selfish desires that becomes a snare to ourselves and to others.  When we are continually left to ourselves without any correction, we then become blind to our sins and are no longer living in truth.  In such a state, we are proud and arrogant and our nature is to rebel against anything that threatens our pride.  Therefore it necessitates correction and confrontation in our lives so that we are brought back to truth from delusions about ourselves, and to restore the proper view about ourselves so that we can be restored to a proper relationship with God and others.

How would the actual practice of these instructions—e.g., “rebuke them sharply”–be received in today’s churches? The actual practice of these verses will be considered too harsh and not received in most of today’s churches.

What is it about today’s values that finds such a practice repugnant?

Today’s values about being “tolerant” of others regardless of people’s wrong or harmful behavior; prioritizing people’s emotions/feelings above truth; and a relativistic world that refuses to acknowledge absolute truth (even in the church many times) makes it difficult to accept correction and rebuke as necessities.  Many would call such practices being too harsh and unloving.  However, we must love in truth, not merely appease with niceties.

What words describe the positive outcomes envisioned in these passages?  Why are these outcomes not usually achieved in many modern day Christian contexts?

Ezekiel 33- turn from their own ways and in live

2 Timothy 3 – so that man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work

Titus 1 – that they will be sound in the faith

Colossians 1 – we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

These outcomes are usually not achieved in many modern day Christian contexts because many spiritual leaders within the church first of all do not see their calling and responsibility to take care of, train and raise up their members, keeping in mind that first and foremost they are accountable to God for the people who have been entrusted to them.  Therefore with the lack of a sense of accountability before God, there is a lack of ownership over the lives of the Christians under their care.  And when that spiritual ownership over one another is absent, then many Christians are left to themselves to try to live out their faith in the midst of temptations and many false and competing values from the world.  But without proper guidance of spiritual leaders and the church, many find it difficult to maintain their faith and convictions all lone and can easily flounder, be led astray and often wondering what happened to their once clear convictions, faith and zeal.

Think about all the factors and considerations that weigh on the heart of a Christian leader. What qualities are needed for someone to bear these burdens, balance competing factors, and faithfully discharge the duties of a minister?

Factors and considerations that weigh on the heart of a Christian leader:

-the spiritual growth of a person – whether the person is growing in spiritual hunger, depth/substance, Bible knowledge, convictions regarding the gospel, spiritual disciplines, etc.

-the relational growth of a person – whether the person is growing relationally with others in the body of Christ; growing in greater love and servant hood for others

-what areas of godly character do I need to help this person grow in?

-discerning what kind of spiritual formation a person needs at what time (i.e., encouragement, exhortation, challenge/inspiration, training, correction, etc.)

The qualities needed for someone to bear these burdens starts with the need to be personally rooted deeply in the truth of the gospel and in God’s Word.  This person would need to have a clear sense of personal calling and sense of responsibility with fear and trembling regarding the people entrusted to their care; to be able to discern where a person is and how much correction they can handle; need the keenness to notice different character flaws and sins that’s affecting others in the body of Christ and the discernment to know when and how to correct.  One would need emotional resilience so that regardless of the response one receives from those they are trying to teach and train, they would remain faithful to their calling, committed to the truth and persevere with people in love.  Need to be able to have compassion and understanding but at the same time be committed to the truth and so have courage to confront when necessary.  Can’t lose your head over one situation, but keep their head in all situations regardless of various competing situations that rise up in ministry and remember his/her role as the spiritual leader to continue to be mindful of the entire ministry and not just get caught up in one area or get defeated in one area that might cause me to neglect other areas of ministry or people.

APPLICATION

The call to “present everyone perfect in Christ” is a weighty calling that as a spiritual leader I must take up with a sober sense of responsibility.  These passages make it clear that I have a responsibility to lead others whom God has entrusted under my care to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness even though this call is a difficult one.  There is definite clarity about the urgency of why I must never be lax about leading God’s people because the stakes are very high – one person’s spiritual health is at stake if I neglect to follow through in warning someone in a timely manner.  Resorting to my own self-preservation to avoid conflict or an unpleasant situation can have consequences on someone else’s spiritual life. Ultimately I am accountable to God for the people I lead.  So this also means I must be vigilant in my own personal relationship with God and seeking out my own spiritual leaders for constant guidance, help and correction when needed so that I can be prepared to lead others properly in Christ as well.  I must accept that a huge part of my responsibility is to raise God’s people to be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” which requires that I speak uncomfortable truth in love, often at the risk of being misunderstood, unwelcomed and rejected.  This time around I was also struck by the phrase in 2 Timothy 4:2 to “preach the word:  be prepared in season and out of season.”  Regardless of the season – regardless of my circumstances, it is clear that I must be faithful to preaching God’s word of truth at all times.  There is no designated “right” time to speak the truth of God’s word than any other time.  Regardless of how I am feeling on a given day, regardless of how many competing responsibilities I have around me, I must expect to speak the truth in love and not make any compromises according to my own desires and comforts.

Submitted by Alice Rhee, Gracepoint Minneapolis


This text directly applies to me as I’m a Christian leader ministering to many under my care. I feel the heavy burden and the weight of responsibility to present everyone “perfect” in Christ, or to “turn from their wicked ways” or to warn, to teach, to correct, rebuke, and to encourage with GREAT PATIENCE and CAREFUL INSTRUCTION.  Especially given today’s value which highly emphasizes not wanting anyone to feel bad this is a huge challenge to be a minister that desires to shape people to become full fledged disciples of Christ. We are a nice culture where the one who is made to feel bad about anything is a victim of cruelty and the one to blame is the one who is making them feel bad. The negative outcome of this kind of value is that there is no growth. A coach cannot help someone improve by saying only nice things to them.

One thing I’m really encouraged by is 2 Timothy 3:16 as Apostle Paul tells the young pastor Timothy that it is scripture that is useful to do all these things teach, rebuke, correct, as well as encourage and will thoroughly equip the man of God for every God work. He gives Timothy the charge to PREACH THE WORD and this is something that is doable. As a sinner, it does feel like a heavy burden to be that coach, discipler, to bear the burden and be held accountable to God for all that I do. I think one way to not buckle under that pressure is to see that ultimately I’m held accountable before God and that I need to preach the word. It is the word of God that has truth that can correct people’s thinking, values, and mold and shape them and not all my wisdom. I need to preach it not just with my mouth but I need to know scripture that is useful for all these things to help others, I need to live it so that the word of God will be embodied in my life and my life will leave an imprint on others where they can see God’s word embodied in the church, in the community.

It’s a heavy task to be someone who can genuinely care enough about God’s church, God’s people, to love them to labor to present them perfect in Christ. It’s a task I embrace with much fear and trembling and commit to developing qualities of courage, love, wisdom that is much needed to shepherd God’s flock.

by Suzanne Suh, Gracepoint Berkeley

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