September 1, 2014

Be strong but not feisty

Today begins a new devotional theme: being alert to spiritual danger. We know the deadly trio of the world, the flesh, and the devil. They unite in efforts to ruin the lives of Christians, not in the sense of physical destruction (although that can happen), but to stop God’s people from doing God’s will.

The threat is not imaginary. The Bible says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14)

The opposite of being alert is to be oblivious which leads to being wishy-washy, cowardly, weak, and not at all interested in the well-being of others. In this North American culture caught up in personal comfort and the pursuit of ‘what works best for me’, the people of God are supposed to be different, sharing and living out the values of Christ. Spiritual danger threatens as the world sucks us into ungodly pursuits. Also, the flesh seeks comfort and well-being above all else, and the devil feeds us lies to keep us on a self-centered track.

As Paul wrote Timothy, we are to “Flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:11–12)

The devotional writer begins this series by saying some of the greatest dangers are not from outside, but from within. He is not referring to the flesh (my inner sinful nature that must be denied) but to others who are in the church, who profess to be Christian but generally are not, or who are caught in false teaching that they push on others.

I understand this to mean people who “cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” (Romans 16:17–18)

The Bible warns me not to get involved in anything to do with “foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (Titus 3:9) This covers a lot of territory. Christians can debate the most trivial matters. We can get caught up in who said what, or what media source is the most reliable, never mind church matters such as modes of baptism or how to serve communion. We can think that our tradition is vital and everyone else is wrong, even when the Bible does not offer a point-by-point description of how to do something, and just says to do it.

This does not mean to reject Christian principles or biblical doctrine, but I know I can stick to what God has taught me without fighting about it. I can let others have their opinions without any effort to force them to change so their opinions match mine.

How I live needs to line up with another charge from Paul to Timothy. He told him, “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:22–26)

This is timely advice for me too. Yesterday someone in the church challenged me. I could go into this ‘tooth and nail’ but decided to let God do the persuading. I think that person is wrong, but who knows? I could be the one who needs to change. Either way, God will make it clear. My part is to first be kind, teachable, patient and gentle. If God wants me to teach and correct, then He will let it happen. I don’t have to force the issue. I just need to be spiritual alert and listen for His direction.

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