For the month of February, we are preaching a series entitled PAUL &. It is an important sermon series designed to remind our church of its “family traits” or core values: Gospel Truth, Gospel Community, and Gospel Living. Instead of three sermons with those titles, we’ve decided to examine four different relationships Paul had over the course of his ministry.
The first Sunday in our series we preached about Paul & Barnabas. This text emphasized gospel-encouragement. Although we’d love to be known as a church full of good people who say good things to make you feel good, we believe the Bible. And the Bible says that we are a church full of bad people who put their faith in the goodness of Jesus who helps us, by grace, encourage others. In other words, if we are not encouraging by, for, and to Jesus, then we are not encouraging the right way (or at least in a way that matters). If Barnabas is an example, then we see that Jesus calls us to encourage everyone in the two ways Barnabas for Paul: 1) First, we need to encourage one another to KNOW Jesus and to embrace our identity in Him through the gospel. This is hugely important when we feel like crappy about ourselves (hope in Jesus) OR when we feel too awesome about ourselves (boast in Jesus). 2) Second, we need to encourage one another to make Jesus KNOWN to a dying world, whether that be our family, friends, neighbors, or strangers. This is encouraging people to get on mission, to deny ourselves, to be devoted, to go and take the gospel to others.
We need a church full of disciples committed to both. If we forget the first, but master the 2nd, our “gospel work” has the wrong motivation. We do it out of guilt or in an effort to be “spiritual”. If we succeed at the first, but fail at the 2nd, then we gather together in our Christian club, feel good that Jesus saved us, but not good enough to share it with anyone else (in what we say or how we live). We need to know Christ and, in response to knowing him, make him known.
During week 2, last week, I preached on the relationship between Paul& Peter as observed in their exchange recorded in Galatians 2.11-14. In this first letter, Paul combats false gospels plaguing the Galatian church. Paul not only attacks the claims of false teachers, he also defends his own apostleship. Part of his defense is a confrontation with Peter. He describes an encounter in Antioch whereby both Peter, and subsequently Barnabas, are challenged for their behavior “not in step” with the gospel. We are called to speak the hard gospel truths in a gospel way.
Some of us struggle with speaking hard truth, some with receiving hard truth, and others with both. Jesus himself spoke hard words to many, all without sin. Jesus rebuked strangers, enemies, and his closest friends. Not only did he give us an example, he gave us a command. Jesus taught his disciples that reproving your sinning brothers was the right decision; He gave us His word to help us make sure we reprove the right things, and He sent the Holy Spirit to help us reprove the right way. We know then, that effectively Biblical admonishment requires much more time in God’s Word and prayer than we might suspect. This goes for both speaking AND receiving admonishment.
As I reflected on what I learned from preaching (yes, I do this does happen), I was left with the realization that 75% of my sermon was about speaking the truth, while about 25% was about receiving it. And, if I’m honest, I have more trouble having truth spoken to me than in speaking it to others. I’ve realized that, my willingness (or reluctance) to speak or receive the truth is directly related to what I believe about God’s truth. Do I believe that it alone has the power to change hearts? Do I love this person enough to tell them God’s truth? Though I might love them enough to hold my tongue, or to say something kind to lift their spirits, do I love them enough to share with them the only thing that will set them free? And, do I believe that this applies to me too, that I am loved by those willing to speak hard truth to me, that my heart still needs changing, that I still have much to learn? Convicting. I am praying for both courage and humility at the same time.