…we’ve been given the privilege to suffer and to learn through theses same trials so that we can become Christ’s ambassadors. What an awesome calling!
Exactly three years to the day, before he succumbed to cancer on November 25, 1986, my Dad gave me a Bible with the following Scripture reference inscribed on the flyleaf:
Get Wisdom at Any Cost
4 Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
pay attention and gain understanding.
2 I give you sound learning,
so do not forsake my teaching.
3 For I too was a son to my father,
still tender, and cherished by my mother.
4 Then he taught me, and he said to me,
“Take hold of my words with all your heart;
keep my commands, and you will live.
[Proverbs 4:1-4 NIV]
That was 30 years ago. I still ponder those words. Until a few years ago, I used to think that when one got white hair then one was wise. I supposed that it sort of happened magically. Then recently I was reading through the book of Job [I have lost count how many times that I have read his account but it is one of my favorites] and I read where the young man called Elihu’s brings rebuke to Job’s three older friends who were attempting to bring Job ‘counsel.’ Elihu said “It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.” [Job 32:9, 8 ESV]
Suddenly, the magic disappeared and it became clear. God our Father wants me to take a grip on His words, not in my cerebral spaces but with my heart. Here is a command with a distinct promise: “keep my commands, and you will live.” What have I learned in three score and twelve years? Just this, that there is nothing that will bring peace, insight and clarity to my existence than paying attention to my Father’s instruction. It has meant that I have had to learn to be obedient in the right direction over the long haul. I wish I could say that I was always a willing learner. But I have learned that by taking hold of His words and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach my heart, it has brought guidance, prudence, knowledge and discretion to my words and actions.
I would like to pass on what I have struggled to learn. So join me in a journey through Proverbs.
“I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.” Psalm 119:7 NIV
Life is an ongoing process. We arrive on earth bringing nothing with us. We leave this earth taking nothing with us. But the latter is not exactly the whole story. For the Christian, he takes with him a relationship that is built on learning how to worship God. Time here on earth is just God’s time getting us ready, those of us who have responded to God’s call, for living on a new redeemed earth. For those who have learned to obey their Creator, when they hear the name of Jesus, their knees will bow in eager homage to the King of Kings. The resistant [those who ignore Jesus for ‘better’ things here on earth] will have a bitter surprise. They will not be accustomed to their heart’s ‘bending the knee’ at the name of Jesus. They will be forced to acknowledge the King of King that they may have paid lip service to but in obedience ignored. Their future will be a dark, cold and full of cursing.
“Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” [1Ti 2:14-15 NASB]
If I need to divide a pie into four equal parts than I need to accurately divide it so each piece is equal. I need to cut straight. When teaching I need to be accurate and not fudge on my research. Communicating the gospel requires care and a willingness to work hard. At each step I need to ensure the Holy Spirit is working and I am not hindering His work in me. Let’s look at the word “approved.” Webster defines this word as: acceptable, tried and refined, proven to be genuine. Synonyms would be worthy, able, chosen, faultless and blameless. The antonym would be reprobate.
I heard a preacher say recently that we cannot know everything in the Bible. And that is a very true statement. The God we worship and serve not only created us but the time frame we live in. He alone is outside our time. If we cannot know everything in the Bible what is the point? Because God loves it when we search to know Him. In His wisdom, we are made of dust but we handle eternal things when we study His ways and means. We are handling eternal beings when we engage people in eternal truth.
Journeymen Electricians must go through a rigorous process. They may either work under a journeyman electrician for 4000 hours and then take the licensing examine or they may first complete an apprentice program. An electrician apprentice program combines classroom work with field training. This program lasts about four years and requires the apprentice to complete at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. While the classroom work teaches about blueprint reading, electrical code requirements, soldering and electrical code requirements, field training allows the apprentice to apply this knowledge to practical work under the supervision of a licensed electrician. After all that, then they are ready to take the licensing examinations. This examination ensures that the apprentice understands the various aspects of electrical theory, the National Code, the state and local building and electrical codes.
Churches should be doing the same thing with every member so that they are trained “as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” We have lots of programs in the church that fill up the calendar. But what are we doing in the average church to provide the opportunities to become a workman approved by God? To become skilled in accurately handling the word of truth, we must provide not only classroom training but also OJT [On the Job Training]. This is where we allow our members to actually practice what they are learning. Teach them how to take a passage of Scripture and create a simple lesson plan. Then get them up in front of the class and give the lesson. Have them pray in front of the church by praying for the offering. Teach them how to witness. Then go out and actually do that in the local park. Have them give a sermon. That is scary, isn’t it pastors!
If we are to fulfill the mandate of Matthew 28 that Jesus left we need to be serious about discipleship and training our flock to do the work God has given us to accomplish. God has only one plan for the prorogation of the Good News regarding Jesus. He has no backup plan for telling people of the comfort, truth and love that He alone can provide. That one plan is us in the fellowship, sitting there comfortably in the pews. The “pastor” cannot do it all nor should he. We are to be the witnesses. The propagation of the Gospel is a participatory ministry. We need to be in the marketplace where the people are, exercising the gifts that He has given us.
He knows that each of us is up to the job. All we need to do is allow ourselves the opportunity to be trained as workmen. The training is available. The Holy Spirit awaits in the wings for us to take what we learn and go to stage center … wherever that is that He directs. We have learned His Script. He promises to direct our feet and our words so that the play unfolds and lost people find Christ.
So what is the point of all this?
First, we will get to not only do what He commands us to do but we will get to see up close and personal His working in the lives of others. Watching a life be redeemed and then transformed is more awesome than any miracle found in the Bible!
Second, Pastors, keep your flock “Reminding them of these things…” and give them the training and opportunity to “accurately handle the word of truth” in the church [that is the training ground] and then in the world around you.
Third, remember you only got proficient in handling the Word by doing it in real time. Practice makes perfect.