Know God, Advance Missions – Part 2

We had friends who talked about building their house in stages in an effort to have the least amount of debt.  The plan was to buy the land first.  When that was paid for, they would build a foundation/basement and just put a roof on it.  They would then live in the basement while paying it off and raising the money for the rest of the house.  It wouldn’t be an ideal living situation, but they were willing to endure it for a season for the goal of a bigger, more comfortable, paid for house.  I wondered if my wife and I could do this.  I’ve done a lot of home renovation in the past.  I could take my time and actually build the rest of my house myself.  Then I remembered the trim sitting in the garage that’s waiting to be installed because the basement renovation is to the point where it’s totally comfortable and livable.  Or the shower kit that leaned against the bathroom wall for years because we had another usable shower upstairs.  It seems that once something gets comfortable and livable, the other plans get put on the back burner.  And isn’t that a lot like our Christian life?  In part one, I wrote about the foundational/elementary doctrines of Christ.  Salvation by grace through faith, not works.  Baptism and understanding your role in the Church, the body of Christ.  And final things such as resurrection and judgement.  Not that there isn’t some good, meaty stuff here, but some Christians, some churches, make their home here.  They are satisfied living in this comfortable and livable basement not realizing what a grand house that God wants to build upon it.  Hebrews 6:1-2 tells us to leave these elementary doctrines and go on to maturity, not to keep laying the foundation but to build upon it.  So, the question is then, what do we build?

II Peter 1:5-7 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

God conveniently gives us a list of what we can supplement, add to build upon our faith foundation.  Let’s go through this list.

Virtue: The first addition to build is ‘virtue’, or as some versions translate it, ‘goodness’.  It has the idea of excelling at that for which we were designed.   So, for what were we designed?  Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we can’t be saved by our own works, only through God’s grace through faith.  Ephesians 2:10 tells us why.  We were designed to do good works.  The fact that we don’t, either actively or passively, or that we do the opposite, means that we are broken.  We are not doing what we were designed to do.  And we can’t fix ourselves by trying harder or doing some, or even a lot, of good works.  No matter how hard we try, we are still broken.  Imagine a locomotive.  It was designed to pull a train, travel great distances, haul a heavy load.  But not if it’s derailed.  If it’s off the tracks it isn’t going anywhere.  It can spin its mighty wheels, rev its powerful engine, but it’s not going anywhere.  It can’t save itself.  It needs an outside force to pick it up and put it back on the track.  Now it can do what it was designed to do.  It shouldn’t, after being put back on the track by that outside force, do nothing and expect the outside force to push it to its destination.  It was made to go to that destination by itself, given the power by its designer and must now put in the effort.  The same with us.  We are designed to do good works, but sin has derailed us.  Nothing we can do can get us back on the tracks.  We need God.  His grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, is what puts us back on the tracks.  But we can’t just sit there waiting for Him to do something.  Now we need to put in the effort to do good works for which He made us.  There are common works which all of us should do, such as all the ‘one another’ verses in the Bible and sharing the Good News of the Gospel (short-term missions anyone?).  But there are also specific things that God has designed for each of us and has given us the personality, talents and gifts to do.  That’s implied in the foundational doctrine of ‘laying on of hands’, or commissioning, mentioned in Part One.  That’s something that we each need to discover for ourselves, but it isn’t for when we ‘grow up’ in Christ.  It’s something you need to discover right away.  It’ foundational.  And the church should confirm your discovery.

Knowledge: To know the things that we are to now do requires us to gain knowledge.  That means digging into the Word and seeing what it says.  Listening to a pastor preach from the Bible is good, but if that’s all you do you aren’t going to build very much or very fast on your foundation.  As a mother bird chews up and partially digests the food before spitting it up into her chicks open mouths, your pastor has already dug into the Word, chewed it up, digested it and is just regurgitating that info into your open ears.  Or maybe the idea of milk and baby food is a less disgusting illustration.  It’ll keep you going, but not if you want to grow and mature.  That’s the very reason the writer of Hebrews was telling them to quit living in the foundation and move on, build upon it.  It’s because they were still living on spiritual milk and not solid food. They were still infants but needed to become mature adults. (Hebrews 5:12-14).  If you need a place to start, look up the ‘one another’ verses mentioned under ‘virtue’. Employ a concordance (now the search feature of any e-Bible) or just google ‘one another verses’.  That should give you several websites to look through (but then get back to your Bible).  A commentary is another helpful tool to see what scholars have to say about a passage (just remember that they aren’t inerrant as the Bible is).

Self-Control:  Once you know what and what not to do through your study, you need to put it into practice.  No longer being controlled by your passions, but controlling them.  

I Peter 1:13-16   Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

The world knows the positive impact of this type of self-control has on individuals and society. Both the Greeks and the Jews espoused the virtue of self-control.  But the Greeks held the worldly view that self-control was obtained solely through human achievement.  The Jews recognized that it was from God.  And we today know that it is achieved through the Holy Spirit giving us the power to accomplish it (II Timothy 1:6-7).  That it is through submitting to the control of God and separating ourselves from those temptations.  

Steadfastness/Perseverance:  The more you practice self-control and experience the power of the Holy Spirit strengthening you to do so, the longer you can stand up under trials (both temptation and hardships).  That perseverance then produces character and character produces hope (Romans 5:1-5).  The same hope that enabled Christ to endure the cross and scorn it’s shame (Hebrews 12:1-3).  He knew the full plan.  He knew God’s way wins in the end.  He knew the joy that awaited so that He could endure anything on the journey there.  We will never have to endure what Christ had to.  Even so, that example should allow us to “see our apparent misfortunes in the calm light of eternity” as Michael Green puts it in his commentary on Second Peter.  As we start to do the works for which God made us, as we strive to learn what those are, as we work to apply them in our lives, we recognize God’s good plan in all this, we see further to the future He has prepared, and we stand.

Godliness: As we stand and experience God’s plan unfold, we gain a deeper respect and reverence for God.  The word used here, eusebeia, has the idea of piety and was used by the world for ‘religion’ in New Testament times.  So many times religion is an outward and ceremonial action. The offerings to your particular god, the ceremonial washings, the liturgy, the rituals, etc.   To be fair, all of the those are in the Bible, but they were to be done to draw people into reverence and awe of God.  But even God’s chosen fell into the trap of just going through the motions instead of having those outward motions be a reflection of inner change.   ‘…to obey is better than sacrifice’ I Samuel 15:22.   Jesus was constantly chastising those who ‘played’ religion, who went through the motions with no heart change.  He called them whitewashed tombs because they looked good on the outside but were dead inside (Matthew 23:27).  But as we continue on this journey that Peter set us on to add to our faith, we can’t help but be changed inside and appreciate Our God more and more.

Brotherly Affection/Kindness:  And if you love God more and more, you will also love His church.

I John 4:20-21 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

In fact, we are to be recognized and defined by this love for the family of God.

John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Family is sometimes hard to love.  We see them at their worst.  We see their flaws.  We see their foolishness.  But we forget that that is how they see us as well.  Oh, we might have excuses for our behavior.  ‘I was having a bad day.’  ‘There’s a lot of stress at work.’  ‘I had good intentions.’ And expect to be shown some grace, but why do we have a hard time giving the grace, giving the brother or sister the benefit of the doubt.  I Corinthians 13 is the Love chapter.  It explains how we are to love with God’s love.  

I Corinthians 13:4-7   Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

And God wants us to love one another. Romans 12:10; I Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; I Peter 1:22; I John 5:1. I think God was serious about this.

Love:  I had a professor suggest to us that church was the practice lab for love so that we could then go out and love the world as God intended.  Loving all is the culmination of what we are adding.  When we have a deeper appreciation and reverence for God and realize that we need to also love those in His family, we start to understand that everyone needs to be in God’s family.  They are all made in His image.  They all have sinned and have fallen.  They all are loved by a Father who sent His Son for them.  And it is our job to show that love by sharing this good news with them.

While ‘loving all’ is the culmination of this list of qualities we are adding to our faith, it is not the end of it, nor the reason for it.  Second Peter goes on to say that you should not only add these qualities but in increasing measure.  It’s like a spiral staircase.  Each quality you are to add is a rung and it takes all seven of these qualities to do one full rotation on the staircase.  So adding each quality takes you higher and around the staircase all the way to love, seven steps up.  But the staircase continues up and, what do you know, the next step is virtue again and when you look down, you can see that it’s directly above the first virtue step.  Now your higher and have been adding to your faith and now have a deeper and richer understanding of the good works that God has prepared for you so you continue higher and add more knowledge and more self-control, etc., etc.  And we don’t stop until we are with God in heaven.

And the purpose of all this is not that we will be mature (though that will happen).  It’s not that we will bring many into the family of God (though that will happen too).  It’s not even so that everyone will love each other (though that would be a result).  Peter says that it is so we might be effective and fruitful in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Knowing God is our ultimate purpose and all the rest are byproducts of that knowledge.  More on that in Part 3.

At TIME Missions, our missionaries work with local churches in the Dominican Republic and in Monterrey, Mexico to help strengthen and grow their churches.  We host groups from the States that take a short-term mission trip to one of our countries to do ministry with these local churches.  The ministries are varied; from VBS to sports ministry, medical missions to women’s ministry.  All so the local church can reach their community for Christ.  One of the biggest ministries in the DR is building chapels.  

There are local congregations meeting without a building.  Through the help of our teams and church partnership, we build chapels for these churches so that they can do more for Christ in their village.  It’s a pretty slick system.  We build a cinderblock foundation at the site.  Then the short-term missions group builds panels all week at our TIME Center.  At the end of the week, we load it all up on a truck, take it to the site and put it all together.  The point is, once we build the foundation, we are not done.  We don’t just keep working on it, redoing it, touching it up.  No. We build upon it.  A lone foundation does no one any good.  It’s what’s built on that foundation that reaches the community.  And the purpose of what’s built on it is not to keep the rain off of their heads (though it does) and not so the community can be impressed with a building (thought they are) but for the purpose of letting that community get to know a God who loves them and to get to know His Son who sacrificed Himself to save them from death.  Don’t camp on your foundation, but add to it.  Build a strong and beautiful house so that not only will you grow in your knowledge of Him, but it will attract others to Christ and they can come to know Him as well.