James 1:17–27 (NRSV)
17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
Hearing and Doing the Word
19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
There are many thing going on in the world around us. Things that make us question the very fabric of our being. Many of us feel as if everything we have ever stood for is being ripped out from under us and we stand alone, we stand with no support, and no direction. We feel as if we must grasp ahold of what every is left of the life se have known and hold on tightly, we grasp because we are afraid. Why do we fear? Why are we afraid of our future? Why do we look at the world around us and not see the hand of God but only chaos?
Perspective. A few weeks ago I mentioned that perspective is a very important. The ability to look at things from a different point of view can bring a different understanding and maybe even deepen our faith. The past month of so I presented a different perspective on the interpretation of the letter to the Ephesians that many of us had not considered before. I did this because it is necessary at times to be challenged so that we can grow, some might consider that perspective a novelty or an action to raise the eyebrows. That is not the intention. It was necessary to show this perspective so that we might see more, understand more, and be able to take steps of faith beyond where we have been. Last week I wanted us to consider the emotions of a church divided and the base emotional reaction that we have when we think, perceive, or assume actions of other. What base reaction occurs? We prepare for a fight, we begin to choose sides and garner support against the perceived enemy, and we misunderstand or are blinded to the reality of what God is doing all around us.
This week we begin to look at the letter of James. Although scholars debate who wrote this letter, because I guess scholars just like to debate, the general consensus is that this letter was written by James the brother of Jesus. I want us to consider this just for a brief amount of time because James was not always the largest supporter of the activities of Jesus. In many cases he opposed the ministry of Jesus and deemed His actions as a threat to the family. James had a perspective about things, he had an assumption as to what reality was, and his conclusion was to oppose his brother. But something happened to this once hostel sibling, his perspective was changed. At one time James was known as James the judge, but we now know him as James the just. He was once geared up to battle his own brother but that changed and he became a servant of the very one he once opposed. Everything changed when he encountered the reality of what God was doing around him. He encountered the living Christ.
James experienced something that he could not really explain, he experienced something that caused him to reconsider everything he once knew, and because of this he started down a different path. James was always a devout individual, even when scripture depicts him in the worst light his devotion to God was never questioned. Yet after James saw the broken body of Jesus that was buried in a tomb restored to life, the course of his life was altered. He became an outspoken supporter of the ministry of the apostles to the point that he became the leader of what we now call the church of Jerusalem.
He speaks of generosity as being a perfect gift from God, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. I want us to consider this for a moment because many people will argue that there is a distinct difference between God revealed in the Old Testament and the New, yet James is saying that there is no variation or change. Remember this is a devout man of faith that at one time opposed his very own brother believing that Jesus was expressing something contrary to the truth, and he is now speaking in support. There is no variation or change in the Father of Light, God has not changed but what humanity sees does. Perspective is important, not because it changes God, but because it might allow us to see God more fully.
James then encourages the readers and listeners of this letter to understand something very important. “[Let] everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” Let us allow that to just percolate in our hearts and minds for a moment. Let everyone be quick to listen. The first thing about this statement is that to be quick to listen there is a requirement for another personality to be present, a person that is speaking. James is encouraging us to place a high value on relationships. That a true servant of God listens. To listen to the stories of another we affirm that of Christ in them, we are telling them that they are worthy of our attention and are valued as a human being.
The desire to be heard is powerful. It is a base desire of all humanity, it is one that is deeply rooted in our very genes, we are a species that thrives in community. Science is proving that our brains can not function to their highest potential unless there are other brains around us to communicate with. When people feel as if they are not being heard it devastates the individual and the community as a whole because it devalues their and our humanity. Those that are unheard are pushed off to the fringe of society, and when this continues it breeds anger and revolt. The media right now is filled with the protests of a segment of our population that feels that they have not been heard, that is the root of the Black lives matter campaign.
This idea of listening, of building a relationship with those around us goes beyond humanity. It also applies to listening to God, and recognizing His place in the community. The most recognizable aspect of our Friends tradition of faith is our practice of listening worship. From the very origin of our movement leaders and worshipers would meet together to simply listen in silence. James and our spiritual ancestors of the Friends tradition recognized the importance of allowing space to listen to God by observing the lifestyle that Jesus lived. He made it His custom to worship, and he would withdraw often to pray in isolated places, and then he would minister to the community. Listening is not a passive task but the most important aspect of a relationship with humanity and with the divine.
“Slow to speak,” is the second part of James’ advices to the followers of Jesus. When we look more deeply into the usage of the words that James penned this has deep meaning. On the surface we might say that we should allow some time to pass between listening and responding vocally, but that is not the full depth of what James is saying. To be slow to speak is to mind what we say and not mock, judge, speak falsely, or accuse. So when we speak we should make every effort to encourage a deepening relationship, our words should be considerate and uplifting, building up the community with love and grace which flows from the father of light.
Next is slow to anger. This anger is not the initial emotional response of being upset but refers to wrath or inciting deeds of anger. To be slow to anger means we should actively seek the opposite of wrath which is forgiveness and reconciliation if a relationship is strained.
So when James says, “Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” he is encouraging us to build relationships between humanity and God, encourage a deepening and more meaningful conversation that is focused on grace, forgiveness and reconciliation instead of condemnation. And if we are willing to listen and strive to encourage and reconcile relationships we should be moved to participate in that relationship through action.
James says be doers not just hearers. Again this is a reflection of the life of Jesus, he would move out of the isolated places of prayer and would enter into the community ministering to all of those in need. He would heal the sick of diverse illnesses, and he would listen to the words spoken to him. He would not just stand and preach but often he would allow the conversation to flow. Consider the woman at the well, he asked her for a drink of water, which immediately entered into a political debate over the validity of the heritage and faith of the people of Samaria. Jesus did not condemn the woman but was slow of speech, moving the conversation away from who is right to something deeper as he explained that a time will come that true worship will not be done on the mountain or in the temple. He then moved the conversation to grace.
James is telling us that God has not changed but our perception has, it has become cloudy and we need to step out of the clouds to see the truth. He is saying that we can be completely right and completely wrong at the same time if we are not actively participating in honoring and restoring the humanity of our community to a right relationship with God. James was a devout man of faith yet he realized that all his religious devotion was not helping anyone. Jesus does not call us to participate in ritual but in live. He is calling us to reflect the light of the Father to the world that is trapped in darkness. And to reflect that light we must listen to those around us, we must speak words of encouragement and restore their relationships with the community. This is true worship, the true religion. It is not about what we are getting out of the church services, or sermons, but listening to the voice of God and the voices of those around us. It is about being moved into action and living the love of Christ with others.
As we enter this most sacred time of our meeting for worship, the time where we listen to the voice of God, I pray that we will be quick to listen, and respond accordingly to what he has to say. Let us also consider how well we follow the advice of Jesus’ brother and be willing to help those that could use the encouraging word or deed.
Ephesians 6:10–20 (NRSV)
The Whole Armor of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
When we began this series in Ephesians I am sure we learned many new things. The first being that the letter was not written to a Gentile majority but largely focused on Jewish people from an Essene perspective. But I hope that the main thing that we have learned is that there are always things that seemingly divide a group, but that in Christ we can come together and see the kingdom of God built around us.
As I have studied this letter the past few weeks it has been as if I have read it for the first time again. For the first time in a long time it is as if the words Paul wrote so long ago have spoken directly to my heart, causing me to look at things from a different perspective. The Ephesian Church is a church that is on the verge of a complete and total split. The members are lining up along one side or the other, looking at those around them and casting judgement on things that have little to do with the church, but mainly focused on differing perspectives. One side is focused on a three hundred year heritage built on tradition, while the other seeks to open the doors up to an emerging future. The Ephesian church has found itself at a cross road of history, the ending on one age and the beginning of another.
This is why I find it so fresh and new as I have been studying it these past few weeks, because I can imagine myself in the midst of the conflict. I can see myself on either side of the issues holding fast to the ancient traditions or embracing the exciting future. I can imagine myself from the perspective of either faction within this ancient church because there are aspects of these very struggles that we face today. The future is often cloaked in a fog, we only get a glimpse of it through the misty waves as the Spirit moves like the wind. But Paul tells them that we are not at war with one another because we are all the same, he reminds both Jew and Gentile that we are all born into the same condition and remain in that place until the community seeks to bring us in. Paul reminds them that the struggle should not be between Jew and Gentile but instead we should be laboring to bring people into the community through the power of God that has been given to us by the Spirit through Christ.
I want us to consider this struggle as we reflect upon this passage. I want us to remember just how tense and raw the emotions can be when a church is on the brink of splitting in two. I want us to remember this because Friends we have been there, I may very likely say that we are there right now. We can identify with this ancient church because we too are struggling to find our way into this cloudy future, a future that so many people throughout our society claim is post Christian. Paul knows that this ancient church is in the middle of a fight and that is why he writes the way that he does. Put of the armor of God!
I want us to stop for a moment right there because I want us to just consider how out of place this passage really seems. For the past five chapters Paul has encouraged this church to live in the love of God with each other because we are all members of one another, because we have all been joined together through Christ, he has urged us to sacrifice ourselves, give ourselves for the sake of the Gospel, and then he speaks about putting on armor for a fight? We have all read this passage out of context for probably our entire lives. Many of us have grown up coloring pictures of the armor of God thinking it is just wonderful, maybe we have even made costumes and dressed up in the armor claiming to be soldiers for God going out to do battle in the world. But I really think if we read this passage in light of the rest of the letter we would see it for what it truly is, a literary play on words that should cause us to think.
I say this because Paul begins this segment by saying, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Many, if not all of us, totally forget the first sentence of the passage, because we are too busy arming ourselves to fight. We are too busy and too focused on the struggle before us to actually listen to the words being said. We are so busy trying to demonize those that might have a differing view, or we might think has a different view that we totally miss the most important statement of this entire passage. Be strong in the Lord. This passage has very little to do with battle. It in fact is telling us to be clothed in Christ.
When we look at this passage from this perspective, we can begin to see things a bit differently. But why would Paul use such imagery if he is merely speaking about putting on Christ and not gearing up for battle, you might ask? For the very same reason most children stand amazed when they see a convoy of military vehicles driving down interstate or see a formation of jets pass overhead. The image of power and strength is great. But he again reminds us that this struggle is not between us, it is not between flesh and blood. We are not at war against our fellow human beings, the battle is more abstract. He says put of the armor of God because our struggle is against rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers.
It is very easy to misunderstand what these three things are, especially when two of the three are pretty much synonyms in our language. The word that is translated rulers is actually a term in the Greek that means the supernatural forces that are behind the unexplainable. The word authorities is the governing systems that can be just or unjust, systems of human behavior that encourage or exploit. And cosmic powers refers to the forces of nature. When we understand what these forces are it basically proves that the armor of God has very little to do with warfare and everything to do with our ability to survive in a seemingly crazy world.
Back to the armor. I mentioned that imagery of the military power is striking. It catches our attention and leaves us standing in awe. I remember attending an airshow at the air force base in Wichita as a child, being able to climb up and look into the cockpit of a jet, to touch a round that would be fired from one of the massive machine guns, and hearing the sound of the engines after I saw the plane pass quickly before my eyes. There are very few things that can show the strength more than these weapons of war. But Paul is telling us to put on Christ, which is an armor that is far more powerful than these.
If you want to move beyond these petty struggle and stand firm against the evil forces at battle all around us we must clothe ourselves in Christ. And it begins with a belt of truth. This idea of truth is not just facts. It is a lifestyle of truthfulness, a lifestyle of integrity. We should be centered on reality and authenticity, not playing games and putting on a show. If we want to see the kingdom of God being expanded throughout our community it begins with each of us being honest, humble, and vulnerable with one another. This is one of the foundational aspects of the Christian life, and one of the most important pillars in the Society of Friends.
Next comes the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate is one of the most visible and largest of all the pieces of armor in ancient days. But what is righteousness? In past generations we understood this to be holiness, and holiness can quickly morph into legalism. But righteousness is loving justice. The most visible aspect or the Christian life should be focused on the most visible aspect of the life of Christ. Jesus was all about justice. He was all about loving those around him and encouraging them to enter into a better lifestyle. The breastplate of righteousness is living a lifestyle of encouraging those around us to live the love of Christ with others. It is standing up in the defense of the exploited and helping those in need. It has more to do with right actions than right answers. And those outside of the community should be able to see this in all that we do.
Shoes to proclaim the gospel of peace. There are several things wrapped up in this aspect of armor. Simplicity so that we are able to move freely and readily. As well as a testimony of peace, meaning that we value the life of all people and seek unity instead of conflict. But most of all the gospel, the good news which is the message of reconciliation and access to God. To put on the shoes of Christ we position ourselves to hear the voice of the Spirit and move to act upon His leading.
A shield of Faith. Is more than just protection, but the assurance that though we may face trail we are on the right path. It is the ability to believe, trust and entrust our lives fully to God, moving forward into the valley of shadows and doubt without fear. Coupled with this shield is the helmet of salvation which like faith points to deliverance. Placing our trust not in ourselves but entrusting every aspect of our lives into the hands of God carry us though.
And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. I want us to think of this for a moment. Paul is telling us to put on Christ, to reflect Christ. All of these aspects of armor are visions of protective strength. Absolutely none of it is from ourselves but is the Lord, and His strength. Then we come to the sword the only actual weapon. Friends this is not our sword we do not wield this sword, just as we are not the armor but all of which is God. We do not convict, we do not judge, we only go where God calls us and bear witness of him as we reflect his life though ours. The Spirit is the one that wields the knife.
We are struggling but it is not against each other and it is not against other human beings either. The battle is against things beyond our control, so we cannot wield the weapon because we do not know how to use it. We only bear the armor. Living lives of integrity and truth, showing and being the love of Christ to others as we stand against injustice and stand for righteousness. Living lives of simplicity so that we can freely and quickly move into action as we share the gospel of the kingdom and promote unity and the sanctity of all life. And walking forward with our lives fully entrusted in the hands of God. If we bear the armor in the world of darkness the Spirit will do its work, God himself will take down the rulers, authorities and tame the cosmic powers that threaten humanity. And we bear this armor if we live the lifestyle that Christ taught us. A lifestyle where we withdraw often to the isolated places to pray, where we make it our customer to join together to worship and encourage one another, and go out into the world to minister to the needs of our community.
Putting on the armor of God is nothing more than living the lifestyle of Christ. It is loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. As we enter this time of open worship and holy expectancy I pray that we will realize that the battle is not ours to fight, that we are not enemies but members of one another, that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and that if we are willing to live wearing and reflecting the life of Christ in all we do we will see His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Ephesians 4:25–5:2 (NRSV)
Rules for the New Life
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
As years progress and the courses of history move from one era into another, those that live during the transition often wonder about the future. During the transitions of time things seem to change faster than the community can adjust, cultures move and people slowly adjust. During these periods of adjustment many begin to look to the past with nostalgic lenses wishing that things would return to a simpler time period, yet we often forget that those yester years were not as simple as we remember. Others look to the future with longing that all the problems would just go away without realizing that we must walk the paths to the future through the trials. I continue to speak in this manner because focusing solely on the past or the future can leave us blind to the present, and the present is the most important time and place to be. But it is difficult to keep our presence of mind focused during transitional periods because there are so many pressures squeezing around us, pressures that make us feel as if everything we once knew no longer matters.
We are living in transitional times of history. We are witnessing the first stages of the next great awakening. Just over the horizons of time we will see something beyond our wildest dreams, something that will give us hope and passion. We are going to see God build his kingdom here. How do we get there is the greatest question. How do we move from this seemingly hopeless state we often feel ourselves living in and move into the construction zone of the kingdom? Friends the reality is that we are already there.
The first century Church at Ephesus experienced similar things that we are experiencing today. I know this because they are just as human as we are, I know this because every generation views the past with nostalgic lenses and the future with smoke and mirrors. I know this because I like the music of my youth and think the music of today is horrid, just as my parents thought and their parents before them. Yet the church in Ephesus was not held back by these thoughts but boldly proceeded into the future and saw the kingdom grow on earth as it is in Heaven.
The key is to focus on what matters. Paul opens this passage by saying, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” This is an amazing statement, because prior to this He had been speaking to the Jewish and the Gentiles attempting to reconcile the differences between them, going so far as saying that we all entered this world equal, none were born more righteous than anyone else, all were born uncircumcised until we were brought into the community of the faithful. This church in Ephesus was facing major struggles, the Jewish community had been living, working, and worshiping in this place for over 300 years and suddenly the culture was shifting and now after 300 years there were gentiles coming to faith. How were they to handle this change?
Paul says, “Put away the falsehood, stop playing games and justifying actions, and be real.” That is where we must begin. The number one complaint against the people outside of the formal church is that people are hypocrites or fake. The contemporary generation is even more sensitive to this than the previous generation. The generation that is moving into adulthood today are tired of people playing games, saying words that they have no intention of keeping and people acting contrary to what they say they believe. To them it is a total waste of time and energy to put on a façade, or to act. Why waste the energy to convince people of something everyone knows is a lie? Many of us here today look at this emerging generation with disdain because they do not respect or honor authority, we see this a rebellion, but this current generation is probably the most honest generation that America has ever seen.
Put away the falsehood and be real. This passage should deeply resonate with Friends because this is really the core of our faith. Honesty and integrity are one of the pillars of our faith that stretches across the entire spectrum of Quakerdom. People knew and respected the integrity of our culture to such a degree that the name Quaker represented truthfulness and quality. There is something important in that, there is something very important in authenticity 2000 years ago up to today.
Paul does not stop with authenticity though he goes on to say, “speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” We are members of one another. This is a profound statement. No matter how independent we think we are there is a deeply rooted need for community. We may perceive that we have made our own way, but we are members of one another. I know many of us do not like this thought, but I want us to consider it for a moment. I do not stand here alone. I stand here because of generations of ancestors that have gone before me. I stand here because someone took the time to talk to a young man and listen to all the questions. I stand here because a community saw a broken man and instead of judging the past they looked beneath the surface and saw something more. I stand because someone invested their life into mine because we are members of one another. I could stand and list off the names of those people that realized that they had a responsibility Leo, Earl, John, James, Leslie, Lois, Bob, Carol, David, Charles, Vicki, Cliff, Candice, Donna, Virl, Larry, and many more… common names, names of people that may not be considered great in anyone’s eyes but mine. They are the names of church members, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends. We are all members of one another, members of the kingdom.
Those people that moved beyond, they looked beneath the surface and began to nurture within me something that no one else saw. They invested their lives and spoke the truth. They showed me the gospel not in word but in life. They fed me, clothed me, taught me, you might say they had to they were family, but you do not know which of them is the most important or why.
I say this because the kingdom of God is built on the lives of common people doing common things. The kingdom is built by each of us seeing into the very hearts of those around us and recognizing that spark of light within, and nourishing that light.
The only way to nourish the light is to be authentic. Just like everything else discipleship is a cyclical process. For us to encourage the light to grow within someone else we must feed it with the light living inside of us, showing them life. For many we look at this passage and we can easily be confused because it sounds contradictory. Paul says be angry and then a couple of verses later he says not to be angry. Because of this I looked up the words just to see if maybe they were different, thinking maybe there might be two types of anger that Paul is speaking about. But it is the same. Anger is anger. Wrath is wrath. Paul is saying be real. If you are angry, be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger. We can disagree on many things but we should never let that disagreement harm the relationship, if it is something that might we must do what we can to reconcile the friendship. If we neglect this process of reconciliation, if we allow the emotions of anger to dominate our lives and cause division within our community, we are allowing the unholy to reign in our lives.
The community, the Kingdom of God that is around and in us is the most important thing we should pursue. This is what Paul is telling the Ephesians. They were dividing, choosing sides and pointing fingers at others. They were neglecting their first love. This is seen in how they speak to one another and how they treat those around them. They were allowing disagreements to damage friendships and they were allowing friendships to die because they were unwilling to forgive. But there is more. Anger and Theft are mentioned directly. This concept of thieves is very interesting because it really is not what it appear.
The ancient world was a world that was dominated by classes of people. There were nobles, freemen, and slaves. If you think there is economic disparity today the ancient world was much worse. The nobles controlled everything. The concept of thieves that Paul is mentioning is actually speaking to the way freemen and slaves relate to the Nobles. If a nobleman considered your good or service not to their liking they could charge you with theft and you would be convicted. The church was beginning to grow and people were turning away from the religions of old, this was causing cultural rifts. Slaves were beginning to see themselves as equals in the eyes of the divine and were no longer easy to control, so the nobles were charging the early Christians with theft because they were stealing property and food. Paul actually has a bit of humor in this passage because he is saying you thieves work stop stealing and do your job. But do not just do it do it better than the others so that you will not be seen as a thief any longer. Work harder and use the fruit of your labor to help others. Freemen likewise use the wages you earn benefit the community. Again he is reminding those in the church of Ephesus that the community and the relationships within are of greater importance.
This humor is not all fun because he is also addressing another very real concern within the Greek and roman cultures. Within the culture was an idea that the intelligent and philosophical minded people could become benefactor. These sages would expect a free ride in life because they were passing on wisdom. So as people grew in knowledge they would begin to expect the church to pay their way. This joke just became a double edged sword especially to those who wielded influence over others. Paul is calling them thieves as well, because everyone should be laboring and helping others within the community. No one person is of greater importance we all have jobs to do and a responsibility to those in need. Pastors cannot demand payment beyond the means of the community and in the same sense the community cannot withhold from their leaders proper compensation for the services they provide to the community. Again a cycle, a cycle based on honoring the relationship of all within the community.
Right after Paul calls everyone a thief he then proceeds to focus in on how to speak to one another. The words we say should be simple, plain, and truthful but they should be spoken in a manner to encourage growth, grace, and a deepening of the kingdom. When we act we should be putting others before ourselves and when we speak our words should be filled with the same intent. We should be mindful of how our words will be heard and quick to recognize when we may have been misunderstood. If the words we used insight anger we should strive to reconcile the relationship. Easy right!
Paul pretty punches each of us right in the gut. He hits our individual liberty, he cause us thieves, and he tells us to work harder, to speak truth, but not incite anger. He basically tells us that what we think is not really all that important and the worst thing about it is he is right. Be imitators of God, live the love of Christ with others, make your life a fragrant offering to God. The first must become the last and the last the first, the greatest in the kingdom must become the servant of all. It cycles back to the beginning again be real and speak the truth to your neighbor because we are members of one another.
I speak of a new era emerging around us, I speak of transitional history, and how the kingdom of God is just on the horizon. I say this because I believe it to be true. The emerging generation wants truth, they want reality and they do not have time to waste of anything fake. They are crying out for the gospel, they are seeking the very thing we say we have so why are so many leaving the community? Friends this is not a testimony of how bad the culture and the world is around us but a testimony of how we have distorted the gospel in the past. But there is hope. Jesus did not come to save the righteous but the sinners, he came to heal the broken and the sick, to restore to life those that were caught in the grips of death. He came to give us life, life filled with the things that matter to Him. We are in the construction zone of the kingdom God is working all around us and He is calling us all to speak the truth to our neighbor, because those people outside of these walls are the very people He wants and we are not his people until we recognize them as our people. As we enter into this time of Open worship and Holy expectancy I want us to consider these words of Paul. Have we caused anger to control our lives, have we become thieves to our own community, have we neglected imitating God in how we interact with those around us? Are we willing to repent? Are we willing to look beyond the surface and nourish the light within other?