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Forgiving as We Have Been Forgiven

From a Roman prison cell Paul wrote a short letter to be hand delivered to a Christian brother. The recipient was Philemon, and the deliverer was his runaway slave, Onesimus. Paul could refer to Onesimus as “my child. . . whose father I became in my imprisonment” (v. 10) because this slave became a child of God by faith. As Paul discipled this new believer, his heart was knit to that of Onesimus. This young believer was of great encouragement and service to Paul, but Paul knew that Onesimus needed to be returned to and reconciled with Philemon. On his behalf, Paul writes to Philemon to receive back on brotherly terms this one who had run away.

While it is easy to harbor a hurt and resentment, it is our duty, our “glory to overlook an offense” (Prov 19:11). If we withhold forgiveness, we put a basket over our light. Nothing causes our testimony to shine brighter than when we forgive for Christ’s sake. Onesimus had an opportunity to show obedience to the Lord by returning to the one he robbed by running away. Philemon had an opportunity to show the forgiveness of the Lord. Paul had an opportunity to lead both men to be more Christ-like.

Onesimus had not a farthing to restore him to Philemon. Philemon could not begin to pay Paul for the spiritual debt he owed him. Paul could very easily have pressured Philemon to do him a favor, but instead he tenderly leads Philemon to the high principle of forgiving one who owed him so much.

It could be said of all of us that we have a debt that we could not pay. No one is more in debt than a sinner is to God for sending Jesus to die in our place. Like Onesimus, we were in no position to contribute anything to change our status before God. Whether someone has defrauded you or maligned you, you are not owed as much as you owe your gracious God for salvation.

Our heavenly Father, like the loving father in the story of the prodigal son, gives total, glorious forgiveness. We have no right to give anything less than complete forgiveness. Paul instructed the church at Colossae, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:13). The standard we are to live by is very high and does not change. We cannot seek what we are not willing first to give (Matt 6:14).

When we show mercy we promote unity. When we forgive beyond what is commonly seen in the world, forgiving as often as someone wrongs us (Matt 18:21), then we show we value true fellowship more than anything and want the focus to be on Christ.

Instead of demanding justice or compensation, the Christian practices compassion in light of the great grace shown to us while a sinner with nothing to offer.

To refuse to forgive someone who has wronged you is to declare that you are not forgiven and changed by God, or else that you have been forgiven your sins by God, but are asking for chastening for not obeying the commandment of God. But to forgive as Christ forgave you is to give a clear testimony to the One who redeemed you.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

April/May 2010

Faith, Leading, and the Will of God

“I’ve been ministering in this church for three years and have seen no fruit. Most days I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall, but I’m never going to quit because I have faith God wants me to be here.” Maybe you’ve heard a testimony like this from a missionary or Christian worker and walked away encouraged by their resolve and spirituality. But maybe the conversation went like this: “We have tried everything we can think of for three years. We have prayed, we have worked, and we have prayed some more. God is leading us to another ministry.”

Which person was actually doing God’s will, the one who stayed or the one who left? Is there any objective way to find out? How do I know what God’s will is when I am faced with a similar situation?

Continue reading ‘Faith, Leading, and the Will of God’

Spiritual Gifts and the Church Today

The debate about spiritual gifts in the church today has not abated in recent years. While the topic of gifts exercised by the body should not dominate discussions, neither should it be a subject that we ignore. Since the Bible does speak of spiritual gifts being provide by God and used in the local church for its edification and maturity, this area of study should not be surrendered to charismatics to be twisted and abused.

Continue reading ‘Spiritual Gifts and the Church Today’

Every Member Ministry

Ephesians 4 follows three chapters that rehearse the glorious position that belongs to the Christian because of the work of Christ. It starts the final 3 chapters that make everyday applications of the gospel in the local church, the home, the workplace, and the world at large. In 4:11–12, Paul speaks of leaders who have been given to the church by God for its development. My understanding of verse 11 (with an eye on 2:20) is that the gifts of apostle and prophet were foundational and temporary, but that the gifts of evangelist and pastor-teacher are still functioning today. I’d like to focus on verse 12, however. It teaches that one of the main jobs of ministerial leaders is to “get the work of the ministry done through others,” as Bill Hull put it in his very helpful book The Disciple Making Pastor. The American Standard Version of 1901 communicates the idea most clearly. Church leaders were given by Christ “for (pros) the perfecting of the saints, unto (eis) the work of ministering, unto (eis) the building up of the body of Christ.”

So what? So the pastor-teacher is to equip the entire church body with the goal that they can minister and build each other up effectively. Your pastor’s job is to get you working—and your job is to make that easy on him! The biblical norm is “every member ministry.” That’s the point of 1 Corinthians 12’s body imagery. That’s the point of Ephesians 4:15–16’s focus on “every joint” and “each part.” That’s the point of the perpetual focus on “one another” ministry in the New Testament.

Let’s close with a picture. Too many churches rise and fall with the pastor. Relationships and responsibilities look like a wagon wheel in which all the spokes are connected to the pastor-hub. If he falls, or leaves, or dies, every other spoke is in jeopardy. He’s the center; he’s essential; he’s preeminent. Much better is a church that looks more like a spider web, with relationships and responsibilities moving in every possible direction, thereby making every member both important and expendable—including the pastor. The only indispensable one is also the only preeminent one: Jesus Christ. August Strong put it this way in his Systematic Theology:

“That minister is most successful who gets the whole body to move, and who renders the church independent of himself.  The test of his work is not while he is with them, but after he leaves them.  Then it can be seen whether he has taught them to follow him, or to follow Christ; whether he has led them to the formation of habits of independent Christian activity, or whether he has made them passively dependent upon himself.”

A healthy church isn’t dependent on one man or even a handful of people. It is one in which 100% of the people do 100% of the work, to the glory of God. Every member ministry.

February 2010

Coming Apart and Working Together: Christian Camping and the Local Church

“Only five more days until camp begins. I’m sooooo excited.” This is a typical Facebook status for many young people as they count down the days until their week at camp. Staff have also been preparing for the week, desiring “to give God a part of my summer” or wanting “to help campers take that next step spiritually.” A Christian camping experience is frequently the high point of the year for many and rightfully so. Let’s examine the value of this type of ministry to a local church.

Continue reading ‘Coming Apart and Working Together: Christian Camping and the Local Church’

Thoughtful Wonder

One of the most rewarding spiritual exercises I’ve engaged in during the last several years is the writing of hymn texts. Some of them have been useful to local churches, by God’s grace. Many others have never been released from the prison of my hard drive and are in need of serious rehabilitation. A few that should have been locked up in maximum security have managed to escape, much to my embarrassment. At any rate, it’s tiring and sometimes frustrating work searching for just the right words and rhythms and rhymes. A misstep can leave you sounding like Mother Goose—and not in a good way! Nevertheless, it’s incredibly rewarding in that it has deepened my understanding of worship. By God’s grace, the process encourages an intense study of biblical themes, what Joe Tyrpak describes as “meditation on steroids.” It has often revealed to me two things that are often missing from our worship, or at least from mine: thought and wonder. Both are essential.

First, worship should incorporate thought. It is not a brainless thing. Indeed, where there is no thought, there is no worship, for our Lord commands us to love Him with all our minds (Matt 22:37). Though I’ve heard a number of church growth gurus commend the power of music to “bypass the intellect and speak directly to the heart,” that’s not at all what we’re after when we offer praise to God. Certainly we want to worship with our emotions and wills, as well, but we do so by way of the mind, not by avoiding it. Notice how the Psalms often encourage this sort of thoughtful worship by calling for praise and then listing the reasons why it is appropriate: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Ps 106:1) So when we’re listening to Scripture or sermons or testimonies, we should be thinking. When we’re praying, we should be thinking. When we’re singing, we should be thinking: “Why does the text use that word? What is the Scripture behind that idea?” Our worship would be greatly enhanced by what the Bible calls meditation (Ps 1:2, et al)—and what everyone else calls thought.

(This is for free: If one thing missing from our worship is thought, when faced with a near comatose congregation, worship leaders would be wise to encourage thoughtful engagement, not to make a joke or call for vigorous handshaking to liven things up! Encourage brain waves, don’t prohibit them!)

Second, worship should incorporate wonder. To say that worship should engage the mind must not be construed to mean that we worship like scientists who have God figured out. We do not, I assure you. Instead, our worship must be filled with humble amazement; with awe; with the sense that the Savior and salvation of which we’re singing is amazing and thrilling. It’s what the psalmist confessed when he said that truth about God “is too wonderful for me…I cannot attain it” (Ps 139:6). It’s acknowledging that God’s graces can’t be adequately told (Ps 40:5) and that His ways are beyond our understanding (Rom 11:33). It’s recognizing that while we’re coming to know God’s love, it is actually beyond our knowledge (Eph 3:19)—what we mean when we sing of Christ’s death that we “scarce can take it in.”

What would thoughtful, wonder-filled worship look like? Joy—singing and praying that is bursting with gladness! Or tears—amazement and gratitude that brings a lump to your throat, a crack to your voice, or tears to your eyes. Or if you’re not as emotionally expressive as I am (and that will be many of you, which is fine), silent reflection—a private but strong amazement at what you’re hearing or reading or singing. The main thing I’m describing is just engagement—attentiveness rather than bored and habitual mumbling of familiar rhymes and tunes.

I suggest that you try writing a hymn text. It will be good for you, even if it’s a private venture. But even if you don’t take me up on that, I urge you to worship our Lord with thought and wonder. He deserves no less.

January 2010

Some Things Don’t Mix

A senator who switches parties can get press attention for weeks. While some will praise him for his bold move, others will criticize him for his spineless defection. When a popular evangelical pastor or apologist reverses his position on the creation account, there can be a similar response. Some will talk of his courage and intellectual honesty, while others speak of his foolish compromise.

February of 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of his book, Origin of Species. Darwin’s theory of evolution was celebrated not only by Christ-denying secular professors, but also by many pastors worldwide who lined up to eulogize this controversial man. Continue reading ‘Some Things Don’t Mix’


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The OBF Visitor is the official publication of the Ohio Bible Fellowship. Feature articles from past issues of the Visitor are made available here for your use. You may read, distribute, and use this material as long as you do so in its entirety and without modification. All articles © The Ohio Bible Fellowship.

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