Grow Together

Have you ever met a hypocritical Christian? I have. Truth be known, I am one.

Let’s admit it. Us Christians are a community of hypocrites. We aren’t perfect. Far from it. We have an lofty standard God wants us to meet—holiness. That’s a really high bar. We sincerely want to meet that standard, but we fall short like a pole-vaulter trying to jump over Golden Gate Bridge. We sometimes act like we can make it on our own, but we often mask the truth that we struggle to be holy from our fellow Christians.

Why do we hide when we all struggle? Wouldn’t it be better if we admitted our mutual struggle and banded together to grow together? Of course! And Peter agrees too. He calls us to brotherly love from a pure heart and in the processes your display the good news to others around you (1:22-23).

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” – 1 Peter 1:22-23, ESV

The way we fight hypocrisy is through abiding in the Word of God. The Word of God is our mighty weapon against slaying hypocrisy.

The Word of God is powerful because it is the Word is Truth.

Hypocrisy is the opposite of truth. Hypocrisy lives a lie and masks the truth. When we read the Word it reads us. We see who we really are and what we need to become. While not easy to swallow it is the truth.

Jesus was the Word in the flesh—the living Truth—to set us free from sin and hypocrisy. If you look at the first Jesus followers they were a mess. Peter was the biggest mess of them all, yet Jesus loves to redeem messes. A hypocrite must first admit, “I am a mess. I am not what I am, but I want to be as He is. Help me to love truth. I love You and I want to love others too.”

The Word is living and enduring.

There is no other book like the Bible on earth. It is the very words of God. It’s alive. The Spirit of God still gives life through it. While man and generation come and go (1:24-25; cf. Isaiah 40:6-8), the Word of God stands the test of time impacting generation after generation. If the Word has the power to change so many lives he has power to change my life too, even hypocrisy.

“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” – 1 Peter 1:24-25

The Word is good and our source of growth.

The Word of God is like milk to a baby (2:2-3). A new Christian craves the Word. He can’t get enough. It is life-giving. No Christian is too old or mature to feast on the Word or drink its spiritual milk. It is the Word that gives him motivation and power to fight the hypocrisy he struggles to overcome (2:1). Remind one another of the tasty goodness therein and obey it.

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” – 1 Peter 2:1-3

Christianity isn’t a solo or personal walk. It is a arduous journey we take together with other Christians. There are many personal aspects to the journey like our salvation and daily choices, but it’s in those parts that walk with one another our faith is accentuated and amplified. We grow as Christians by growing together. We fight hypocrisy by walking in Truth together.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is hypocrisy? How is hypocrisy a temptation? What are some ways that Christians struggle with hypocrisy?
  • What are the implications of a life filled with 1 Peter 2:1?
  • How does a vulnerable and open faith within the church help us overcome hypocrisy?
  • What issues of hypocrisy do we need to deal with as a community?
  • How are you banding together with your brothers and sisters as you fight hypocrisy in your own life?
  • What is the purpose of loving one another? (see John 17) Why is love so important to Christianity? Where does true love come from? (1 John 4:8)
  • How does abiding in the Word of God help us to love one another? (see Psalm 34)
  • How can we encourage one another to renew a longing for “spiritual milk”?
  • How does Isaiah 40:6-8 speak to the issue of our brevity and the Words eternality? Why is this an important truth to dwell on as we encourage one another?
  • How does the way we treat other Christians (or non-Christians) reflect on our faith in Christ? How is the gospel preached in relationships?
  • How has your faith in Jesus changed the way you relate to people? Are there any attitudes you need to repent of?
  • What opportunities do you have to love one another in your community?
  • What does it mean that God is good? What ways in the Bible do you see that God is good? What are some ways God has been good to you or your family?
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walking with others

In our first year of marriage, my wife and I took a hiking trip together in the Rockies. We got new packs and packed light. We planned our trip well. When the day came to walk the 6 miles up the mountain we knew it would be a difficult climb. It was a good thing that we were together because it would have been much more difficult to walk alone. We were able to encourage each other steps and help carry ones pack when tired.

Walking with others in the church is both beautiful and arduous. Those two characteristics cannot be separated. As we struggle to do life with one another the old adage is true—it’s hard to live with them but we can’t live without them. The way we walk with one another demonstrates the beauty of Christ and the hard work of striving to make him famous.

There are three encouragements the author of Hebrews gives for walking with others. First, love like a brother. Brotherly love is a family-like intimacy (v.1). A family member shares blood and dirt. You know things about one another that most do not. In the community of faith, we have the blood of Jesus in common, we are adopted into the family of God, and we share a level of intimacy that is otherworldly. It is a relationship we will share into eternity. This is good reason to get along in the here and now.

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” – Hebrews 13:1-3, ESV

Second, show hospitality. Typically hospitality provides room and board to strangers, but it also demonstrates a willingness to place someones needs above your own. Jesus is our example of what hospitality looks like. He came to serve not to be served. Like Jesus we are all strangers in this world. Showing hospitality can surprise those we serve with a bountiful meal inside out and in the process we might even entertain angels (v.2).

Third, remember the persecuted (v.3). You may know brothers and sisters who are suffering for the Name of Jesus. By ministering to those who are mistreated you are pouring on them encouragement and strength (cf. 11:25,37). We will all suffer for the sake of Christ. That is a promise from the mouth of Jesus himself. It is our badge, but we’re in this together. It is a mutual blessing to carry your brothers burden, especially when he is facing mistreatment for the Name as he will likely carry yours one day too.

Walking with others is hard because walking with Jesus is hard. Yet walking through the fire together produces a beautiful Body that you are a member.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What makes people hard to love? What makes you hard to love sometimes? Who is someone that is hard for you to love? How can you demonstrate brotherly love to them?
  • How does Jesus demonstrate brotherly love? Who are some hard to love people he loved well? What do you learn from him about how to love well?
  • What do you think of the you think of hospitality? Does hospitality natural or unnatural for you? When is it hard for you to show hospitality? What is the battle to serve and be served like within you? Can you think of a time you were shown hospitality? How did that bless you inside out?
  • Do you know someone suffering right now for Christ? How are they being mistreated? How can you minister to them? We are a Body, so as they suffer how are you suffering with them?
  • As you walk with others this week, which of these characteristics do you want to grow in most? Why?

The Church’s Work in Faith

I once heard a church member say, “The church would be a lot more peaceful if there weren’t any people in it.” As true as that statement may sound, what would the church be without people? No church at all.

A church is a community of imperfect people striving for peace together (Hebrews 12:14). This is no easy task. Often it is exhausting, discouraging, heartbreaking and wrought with conflict. However, relationships, especially difficult ones take work, but the rewards of these relationships are rich and healthy to your faith (vs.12-13).

What is the goal of the church? A church can have many goals, but the author of Hebrews cues us into a common goal—to aim for peace with all and live holy before Christ (v.14). This is the pathway to growing a great church.

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” – Hebrews 12:14-15, ESV

The church that received the letter to of Hebrews was experiencing persecution from outside the church and conflict from inside the church too (v.15). How discouraging would that be? Who would want to visit that church? Yet this is what church is like for many around the world. Living in a fallen world with broken and imperfect people, the church often reflect the world. That is okay. It is no reason to dog the church. Church and relationships are messy. Yet the church working together in grace is light and example to the world of what grace looks like between imperfect people who love the Perfect Christ.

Work in the church begins with confession. There is great power and freedom in confessing our sins to one another and encouraging one another (James 5:16). The power in confession is that we admit we cannot fight alone. We need one another. We are weak, but together in Christ we are strong. A force hell cannot reckon with.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” – James 5:16, ESV

The example of Esau is a serious warning for the church (vs.16-17). In the story of Esau, he turned his back on grace. He sold his birthright for fast-food (see Gen. 25:29ff). He did not fight for holiness rather he was driven to bitterness. When Esau wanted to inherit the blessing from his father, he was rejected—it was too late to be reversed. He became a memorable example of someone who failed to appropriate God’s grace by wasting the opportunity. Likewise turning from Christ and failing to be one’s brothers keeper will lead to ruin and sorrow in the church.

Church relationships take work. It is a two-way street. Like a family, those within the church often know intimate things about one another. A church that loves Jesus and strives for peace and holiness will grow even more intimate together because they see that the grace of Jesus can fully heal brokenness and hurt caused by sin within the Body. May we be more like Jesus with one another.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How does this passage encourage you? How is it meant to encourage you to strive for peace in the community of faith?
  • How do we reach the goal of peace with all people and live holy before the Lord, especially in the church? What happens when the community doesn’t aim for this goal with one another? How does this text help churches before of during conflict?
  • What makes relationships within the church difficult? Why is it worth the work to strive for peace and holiness? How have you benefited in your faith with the church? What would be the detriment to your faith if your were without the church?
  • What responsibility do we have to one another in the church? What is your role and responsibility to help your brothers and sisters? How will you strive for peace and holiness together with them?

living and serving with others

serving with others

Living the others can be difficult. My first experience living with another person was in college. As a freshman, I was preselected a roommate and had no idea who he would be. I was going to share a fifteen foot by fifteen foot room with a stranger. It turned out my roommate was a dairy cow farmer from Ohio and a camping ministries major. I remember after a whitewater rafting class he got a bad sunburn. He bathed himself in vinegar and smelled like a pickle for a week. Although we were very different and butted heads on occasion our living arrangement worked out.

Sometimes living and serving with others doesn’t work out so easily. Sometimes it is work. Hard work. If you are doing life with members of a church or are serving on a team with other Christians you know just how hard it can be.

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes five rapid-fire imperatives and one promise to those who are living and serving together in the church. The five imperatives have one singular focus on bringing unity to the Corinthian church. Take note of how intentionally intrusive they are. Paul knows firsthand that ministry relationships are full of passion and opportunities for disunity are apparent. Unless you are a hermit, being intentionally intrusive with others is important, especially if you are living and serving with others.

“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)

1. Rejoice.

There is no surprise that the first imperative is “rejoice”. Why? Paul longed for the Corinthians to be a cause for his own rejoicing (cf. 1:24; 2:3). He loved the church deeply. He knew there would be rejoicing in the church if all members listened to him, trusted his apostleship and walked in repentance. Paul had every reason to despise the Corinthians and to give up on them. So “rejoice” is an imperative full of faith and expectation that the Corinthians were on the verge of joyous unity. He was nowhere near giving up on them. They brought him that much joy!

How can you rejoice in the Lord giving you a church? How are your church members a cause for your own rejoicing?

2. Mend.

The second imperative, “Aim for restoration,” has the sense of putting back into place or mending or repairing. Living and serving with others is a group assignment and the more you are with each other the great the probability there will be friction and fraction. Paul lays the responsibility directly on the church—“Get it together”—work at restoring your unity in Christ (cf. 13:9; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:10). Paul echoes this when writing another church, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1b-3)

Are there any relationships within your church that need mending or repair?    What are the most prominent heart idols that you anticipate may get in the way of you allowing others from being intentionally intrusive into your life (i.e. fear of man, lover of pleasure, pride, wanting control, comparing yourself to others, failing to believe the best in another, etc.)? Are you working towards restoration rather than destruction? Explain.

3. Comfort.

The third imperative is to “comfort one another” or listen with tenderness (cf. 1:3-11). Paul was aware of the depth of the hurt among both those who were in the right and in the wrong. He himself needed comfort as his relationship with the Corinthian church was frayed.The situation then and now in Corinth demanded mutual tenderness and comfort. Comfort is the currency of unity and harmony. To comfort another means you spend your time and energies to reassure, relieve and repose another who is hurt or struggling.

Who is someone in your church who needs the tenderness of Christ right now? How will you comfort them?     If you were to be struggling with allowing someone to be intentionally intrusive into your life, what would be the manifestations of your struggle (i.e. not returning phone calls, short answers, no eye contact, easily irritable, blame shifting, etc.)?

4. Harmony.

The next imperative is to “agree with one another” or “be of one mind” or “live in harmony” (cf. 1:10). Every church needs this admonition, but no church needed it more than Corinth. The elitist, Corinthianized super-apostles had issues with everything Paul stood for. Harmony is sounds working together on different notes that make a pleasing sound. Paul did not ask the church to agree on everything, but they were called to agree with one another on the the main things like his role as an apostle and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Are there secondary issues that are causing disunity among you and another church member (i.e. decision making style, not being understood, not liking what someone else is doing, etc.)? Have these secondary things become an idol in your heart? How can focusing on the main thing or the essentials help build harmony between you and others?

5. Peace.

Lastly, the imperative to “live in peace” flows out of such harmony, since being out of tune is not a peaceable sound; rather it’s discord. Peace doesn’t come passively. Nevertheless, living in peace requires intention and determination (cf. Mark 9:50; 33-37; 42-48).

How are you pursuing peace with church members? Would others describe you as a peacemaker? How can you actively live in peace?

God’s Promise

Now, if you step back and look at the whole, all five imperatives call the Corinthians to continuous action day in and day out. If the Corinthians heed them and walk in them they are given a resplendent promise: “and the God of love and peace will be with you” (v. 11b). God promises to give his children his love and peace as they actively do his work together.

What is it like to not experience the love and peace of God? How can the love and peace of God be with you when others do not seem to be at peace with you? In what ways are you being blessed by God’s love and peace with your church members?

Unity by living and serving with others in a team/church does not come easily. We must work at every facet at all times. Restoration is work, comfort is work, harmony is work, peace is work, and even rejoicing requires work. Paul called for continuous, specific focus for the church—and everything depends upon their response.

“Passion for the church involves diving into the community of the local church. It means ‘doing life’ with other Christians by pursuing relationships that extend beyond the church building and official church functions… ‘Fellowship is a uniquely Christian relational experience,’ writes pastor John Loftness. ‘Fellowship is participating together in the life and truth made possible by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ. Fellowship is sharing something in common at the deepest possible level of human relationships – our experience of God Himself.’ Fellowship means belonging to each other” (Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church pg. 75).

Paul was so concerned about restoration and unity in Corinth that he became especially directive about demonstrating affection. First, he called them “brothers.” (v.11) Paul’s relationship to the church is not professional. The familial language assumes that Christians are family in meaningful spiritual relationship. Second, to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (v. 12) was a cultural expression of affection among family members. It is difficult to embrace another person with whom you have discord. Third, Paul shares a “Hello” from his companions in Ephesus, “All the saints greet you” (v. 13). The unity he desires to renew in Corinth is universal. Christian unity is true for the whole Body of Christ. Finally, in Paul’s final benediction he says, “The [amazing] grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the [extravagant] love of God and the [intimate] fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (v.14) The example of the Trinity is also a picture of unity. The promise was for everyone—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was Corinth’s hope. And today it is ours too!

Who is a person in your life whom you welcome to be intentionally intrusive who you know will love you in Christ, show you grace and provide intimate fellowship? How will you be more intentional involved in the fellowship of your church? How does the grace, love and fellowship of God encourage you to share the same with others?