Rightly Discerning the Body of Christ

Aduterous woman and Jesus 2

What right do you have to criticize someone else’s servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right, and the Lord will make sure that they do right. (Romans 14:4 CEV)

What an amazing verse this is! Here Paul wrote that only God has the right to decide whether one of His saints is doing as they should and not only that, He has the power to put them back on the right path. There are many people in the church today who want to take this right into their own hands and speak out against anyone that is not toeing the line as they think should be done.

Another form of judging involves people who judge others in their hearts but do not verbalize it. They think they are okay because of their silence. Yet, the scripture says that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. God hears our thoughts and knows our hearts. Do you still think you are doing just fine when it comes to judging? Well, listen to your thoughts the next time you are driving in heavy traffic. Paul wrote,

“For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.” (Romans 12:3 RSVA)

Thinking of ourselves as God sees us is a rare thing. We usually think of our spiritual estate as better than it is. Not many of us see ourselves according to the measure of faith that God has given us. Satan is the accuser of the brethren of Christ. Often we find our thoughts agreeing with him as if we are the one who has the right to judge, taking the place of God to ourselves! Funny, but this is exactly what Lucifer did (see Isaiah 14:12-15).

Have you ever noticed that Jesus never went around claiming that He was the Messiah? Even when pressed by the Jewish leaders to say so, He seemed to avoid taking the title to Himself. Instead He let men tell Him what He was while they observed His actions and words (see Matthew 16:16). The title does not make the man, and neither do his degrees. On the other hand, Jesus did take the title “the son of man.” There was nothing special about being “the son of a man.” We read that when He found Himself in the form of a man, He became a lowly servant, not a Prince in a palace or a High Priest. As he grew in Christ the titles Paul the apostle claimed diminished until finally he called himself, “the offscouring of the world” (1 Corinthians 4:13). When we rightfully compare ourselves to Christ, the Father’s Standard of righteousness, it should humble us as it did Paul.

Jesus took the lowest place His whole life. He was born in a barn, and laid in a feed trough in the least of all towns in Judea. He grew up in a town in Galilee that was considered least by the Jewish leaders of that day. Referring to Him they said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” He spent most of His life in what was called “Galilee of the Gentiles,” disdained by the Jews. He was loved by the common people, but was rejected by the leaders of His own people. Finally, he was tried like a common criminal, crucified between two thieves and His body placed in a borrowed grave. If being born in the right family and having a place of respect in the local community was an asset for gaining power and respectability, somebody forgot to tell God.

We often have this “uppity” attitude toward one another as if we think we are something when we are really nothing. It is a dead give-away when we hear ourselves saying to another saint, “When I was a younger Christian like you I thought that way too.” “I know what you are going through.” “Here is what you need to do…” And the all time classic, “I feel your pain.” We are all too quick to put ourselves in a higher place in our thinking than the one we are “reaching out to in love” or speaking to. We are all too quick to try and do the convicting work of the Spirit of God in each others lives.

One of the subtle ways we elevate ourselves over others is by posturing. We do so by flaunting our experience, our titles, our degrees, even with our attitudes and body language. “Touch me not, for you are unclean!” “I am holier than thou.” We might not say this, but we often act it out and others can sense it. Yet, Jesus, who should be our example as Christians, allowed Himself to be touched by women who were bleeding, and unclean according to the Jewish law. He hung out with sinners and prostitutes and even touched lepers!

Jesus identified with the multitudes (Greek, ochlos by definition – the common people and the rabble) and was often found mingling with them. He was criticized for it by the Jewish leaders. How often we see people who love their titles and respectability keeping the common people at arm’s length or even further, but not our Lord. This attitude is not the Spirit of Christ. He did not have an appointment secretary who acted as if she went to guard dog school. But I am afraid this is all too common today among recognized church leaders. By looking to people such as these as an example, we take on the wrong attitude toward others. Like so many children, we learn more from what we observe in our leaders than by what they say.

In contrast we find Jesus rebuking His disciples for trying to keep women and their children away from Him. He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” In short, Jesus was a servant to all and always accessible to the “little people,” even saying that they will fill His Father’s kingdom, not the elevated ones.

Saints, there is no substitute for the work of the cross and the excellent knowledge (intimate knowing) of Jesus Christ in our lives. There is no substitute for the unction of the Holy Spirit and the heavenly teaching that comes from Him as we open our hearts to God. Institutions can teach you the history of the church and details about the Bible, but they cannot give you the rhema word and moment by moment guidance of God. No, you must walk by faith in humility if you are to be an effective witness of God’s kingdom and love.

Remember that Paul had the best education the Jewish system could provide and he counted his history, bloodline and education, etc., as less than nothing, except for his intimate relationship (“excellent knowledge of”) with Jesus. Mark his words, “We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:1-2, NKJV). It is not what we know that counts, but whether Jesus knows us and we intimately know Him (see Matthew 7:21-23). We cannot effectively teach what we have not become. As with John, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, NKJV). There is nothing more detracting in us from portraying Christ to the “lost world” than pride. And pride keeps us from becoming truly one with God and with each other as well.

When the Lord’s people get a new spiritual Holy Ghost revelation of the Sovereign Headship of Christ, and begin to hold fast the Head, they let go of everything that is local, and personal, and different, and scattered on the earth. That is the place to which to come for unity. We cannot be at variance with one another as the Lord’s children if Christ is absolute Sovereign Head in our lives. When the Lord Jesus gets the complete mastery as Head in our lives, then all independence of action, and life, and all self-will, self-direction, self-seeking, self-glory and self-vindication will go. These are the things which set us apart from one another. You pass from Isaiah [Isaiah 6:1-8], and as you do, so you remember that you have the results of such a vision seen in this man Isaiah. Such a vision immediately has the effect of humiliating him to the dust. Oh, yes, we lose all our pride, all our importance when once we see the Lord in glory. “Woe is me….” That is humiliation! Then, after humiliation, there is consecration: “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” And, after humiliation and consecration, there comes vocation: “…who will go for Us?” “Then I said, Here am I; send me.” ~ T. Austin Sparks http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001461.html

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By What Are We to Compare Ourselves and Others?

justice-scalesWe men tend to be what is called “left brained.” And I am told that women tend to be “right brained.” Men tend to think logically and comparatively and they love rules and order while women think in terms of relationships and making them work with love and mercy. A man sets his perimeter around his home and looks outward where a woman focuses inside the perimeter and wants peace and love to prevail there. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. Somebody pointed out that a man will say, “I think thus and so…” But a woman will say, “I feel thus and so…” One is calculated and the other is emotional. Is God one or the other or both? In Genesis we read that He created man in His own image, male and female made He them. So on the one hand we see the God of Truth and on the other He is the God of mercy. He is both!

Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusts in you: yea, in the shadow of your wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities have passed. I will cry unto God most high; unto God who performs all things for me. He shall send from heaven, and save me from the reproach of him that would swallow me up. Selah. God shall send forth his mercy and his truth. (Psalms 57:1-3 KJ2000 – emphasis added)

Surely his salvation is near those that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalms 85:9-10 KJ2000 – emphasis added)

But with men and women it seems to be one or the other. All mercy or all truth. One old sage told me that the mercy and truth of God only meet in Christ, so when we are one or the other in our thinking, we lack Christ’s life in us. Remember that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no man can come to the Father but by Him.

Here we have been making comparisons of men to women. What I want to point out is the folly of making comparisons in our relationships. I remember how shocked I was when my dear wife, Dorothy, reacted to a “compliment” from me in our first year of marriage. I simply said, “You sure look pretty… for a change.” She informed me that I gave her a nice compliment and then I took it away in the same sentence by qualifying it. My mother did that all the time. Her love was always conditional. “Michael, do (this or that) so we can be proud of you.” I have learned the hard way over the years (fifty with the same woman) that no woman likes her man to compare her to herself or to other women. Men, to be safe, just don’t do it because they will hear it wrong no matter how you butter it up.

Paul had something to say about making comparisons among ourselves, as well,

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. (2 Corinthians 10:12 NIV)

In Hebrews it is clear that there is only one measuring stick that we are to compare ourselves to–God’s own Son.

Therefore seeing we also are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds. You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:1-4 KJVCNT – emphasis added)

When we think we are really doing quite well by comparing ourselves to another human or even to the way we used to be, what have we accomplished? The Bible says that Jesus is the First Born of many brethren, and when He appears we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. We are to be looking to Jesus who is the Author and the Finisher of our faith, not our fellow man. Yet in our pride, we choose a lower standard so we look good in our own eyes and the eyes of others.

Another failing in us is the tendency to make another person our idol. Oswald Chambers wrote,

Refusing to be disillusioned is the cause of much of the suffering of human life. And this is how that suffering happens— if we love someone, but do not love God, we demand total perfection and righteousness from that person, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; yet we are demanding of a human being something which he or she cannot possibly give. There is only one Being who can completely satisfy to the absolute depth of the hurting human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

(http://utmost.org/the-teaching-of-disillusionment/)

Does the love of God in us compare ourselves with others or their conduct with ours? I was thinking about what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends… (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 RSVA)

So, to put it in the negative form for contrast — a lack of God’s love (actually a lack of Christ) in us makes us impatient, cruel, jealous, boastful, arrogant and rude when we are with others. We insist on getting our way and are irritable and resentful. We can’t wait until those we don’t like get theirs and rejoice when bad things happen to them. We find things that don’t go our way unbearable, we are filled with doubts and have little endurance in us. Our love for others fails as soon as they cross us.

In the verses above, we do not see a lot comparing going on in the love of God, but in the negative, more human form of it, we see lots of comparisons that have no grace or love toward others. That is the nature of the old man, Adam, that is in us. But with God there is hope because God is love.

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, has made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you are saved;) And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10 KJ2000)

In and of ourselves we are wretched and without hope, but in Christ we have great faith, hope and love. It is all a gift from Him. This transformation is totally by the working of God in us. When we have our eyes fixed on Jesus as the Author and the Finisher of our faith, we will not be looking at the failings of others or even at our own. Instead, we will be looking at “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8 RSVA)

Great advice! (I want to thank Susanne Schuberth for her valuable input on this subject)