Monday, April 29, 2013

When what we need isn't what we want

Almost no one likes to be corrected or rebuked - at least that's my experience. We (I include me in that) much prefer to be encouraged, uplifted, even applauded. We want to be made to feel 'good' and 'happy' at all times, not to be made to feel as if we have failed or have flaws that need correcting. There's a clear and obvious reason people today flock to the feel-goodism, Gospel-bereft preaching of the Joel Osteens of the world. It feels good. But is it good? Is it godly? And is it how God intended us to hear from Him thru his Word for our benefit?

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  - 2nd Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV)

The Holy Scriptures are God's very words, breathed directly from Him to us so that we may be wise for salvation. They teach us of His great offer of grace to us (the Gospel) and they make us ready (equipped) for useful service to our King. In order to serve God faithfully and honorably, we need to be challenged about our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. We need to feel the convicting power of the Holy Spirit about our sins. We need to understand, apply, and surrender to the full weight of God's Word. We need to hear hard things - critical things - painful things even - in order to become the people God wants us to be and live as God wants us to live. We need to learn to love the reproofs of God through His Word for those very purposes. We need to see that God's reproofs are for our benefit and His glory. We need to sense the shaping hand of the Potter, making us into a vessel of honor that He can use for great purposes. We need to know that all that God does for and to is issues out of His great grace and love. 

Thomas Watson, a great Puritan preacher and prolific author wrote:
Question: How shall we know that we love the reproofs of the Word?
Answer 1: When we desire to sit under a heart-searching ministry. Who cares for medicines that will not work? A godly man does not choose to sit under a ministry that will not work upon his conscience.
Answer 2: When we pray that the Word may meet with our sins. If there is any traitorous lust in our heart, we would have it found out and executed. We do not want sin covered, but cured. We can open our breast to the bullet of the Word and say, 'Lord, smite this sin.'

Later in that same letter to Timothy (Paul's apprentice in the ministry) referenced above, Paul shares this guiding principal to all who will ever preach the Word and this warning to all who will hear it:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming whenpeople will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  - 2nd Timothy 4:1-4 (ESV)

Paul's was describing to Timothy the exact sort of phenomena we are seeing in the modern American church: people flocking to hear 'preachers' say what they want them to say. Their ears 'itch' to be scratched - to be told about their potential, their goodness, their abilities, etc. and never to be told about holiness, repentance, sin, etc. While they may leave those gatheringsfeeling better, the question is, are they better? That is, can you grow up spiritually in that environment? Can you become Christ-like? Can you develop perseverance for difficult days ahead? Can you overcome sin and become more pleasing to God? Can you allow the Word of God to run its God-intended course in you if you refuse to hear, receive, and apply correction and rebuke (reproof)? The honest answer - of course - is an emphatic NO. Paul said the result of this sort of teaching coupled with that sort of hearing will be an inevitable turn away from truth and to myths. That's what we are seeing today: A proliferation of myths … the myth of the so-called prosperity Gospel; the myth of the "word-faith" movement; and every other myth of the modern church that no longer teaches the full counsel of God's Word.

I say all this to say, enjoy all the teaching of God's Word and receive it all gratefully and humbly. Know that it is through reproof and correction that we are reminded of God's love, told of God's will, and delivered from the sins that would keep us from enjoying Him and His glory. God's role in every believer is to mature them in Christ. Did he not say so emphatically in Ephesians 4:1-15? There we are told how God wants us to "grow up" in Christ. To accomplish that, we must - among other things - submit to those He gave to lead and instruct His church - and receive "the truth in love" spoken to us so that we are no longer "children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." (vs. 14).

"The truth in love" ... That means I will - if I want to hear from God and become like Christ so that I may serve Him - have to hear, receive, submit to, and obey hard things from God's Word and God's messengers. I will have to learn to love reproof.

"I would prefer to mature through less painful means. I would prefer to mature through a flood of sanctified encouragement—that’s what I’m talking about! But the reality is that I have grown far, far, far, far, far more from criticism and correction than from all the wonderful encouragement I have received over the years." - C.J. Mahaney

I pray that all of us would be more willing to receive from God that which would truly bless and benefit us for our sake and His glory! Know that in correction and even criticism is the potential for growth and development. Know that God is blessing us as He is maturing us!

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law ...  - Psalms 94:12 (ESV)

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