Posts Tagged ‘Discipleship’

Says What Now? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Here we go with the first entry in the Says What Now? series!  I’m starting with a verse whose misuse is obvious, and whose real meaning is meaty–challenging, encouraging, and spurring us to live passionately.

The Verse

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

The Common Interpretation

People read this in the context of evangelism & the gospel.  Jesus is standing at the door with the gospel invitation–just open the door, and he’ll come into your heart.

The Context

14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

The Meaning

Jesus isn’t talking to people outside the church–this is one of the messages to seven churches in Asia!  (There’s a question about what exactly “the angel of the church” means in these seven messages, which I’m going to ignore.)  So looking at the context immediately tells you that verse 20 isn’t about general evangelism.  What does it mean?

The first thing that strikes me is this: Christ is inviting people inside the church to let him “come in and eat with” us.  Is this some kind of higher level of intimacy or blessing?  If so, that should thrill us, and make each of us consider carefully.  How is he inviting us? How do we partake?  What’s actually going on?  Are we already there?  If so, who isn’t? (And how do we help our brothers & sisters enter into it?)

Laodicea the Lukewarm Church

Specifically, Jesus is speaking to the lukewarm–churchgoers who do not pursue God with passion & zeal.  Perhaps it’s people who “prayed a prayer” or “joined the group”–but they’re personally apathetic.  Jesus calls them to repent–not from active rebellion & hostility to God, but from lives of comfortable presumption that it doesn’t matter how they live.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a standard passage in evangelicalism; we love it for the simple statement that we do not earn salvation–we’re saved by God’s grace, through faith, not as a result of our works.  I imagine the Lukewarm are those who bank on those verses, but who want to ignore verse 10–that we are created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do.  We’re not saved by our works, but we’re saved for them.  The grace of God is not intended to give tickets to heaven to the lazy & comfortable–Christ “gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)

Christ died to save us, and to change us, to live lives of reckless abandon for him.  This is what he is calling us toward–opening our eyes to see true riches.  (Not that we do this by our own strength–it’s part of God’s grace in our lives, Phil 2:12-18.)

The Carrot and the Stick

And this is not simply a pleading invitation–there is carrot and there is stick.  There’s reproof here–discipline coming from his love for us, but discipline nonetheless.  Namely: Because they are lukewarm, uncaring, Christ is ready to “spit you out of my mouth”.

It would be inconsistent with the Gospel to say that this means, “Meet a certain standard to earn your continued salvation, or you’ll be kicked out.”  But it is easy to see the connection with the common theme in Scripture of “fruit”.

  • That “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
  • That real faith shows itself in works. (James 2:14-26)
  • That who we are & our relationship to God is revealed by our fruit (Matt 12:33, Luke 6:43-44, 8:9-15, John 15:2, Gal. 5:21-24, 1 John 3:9-10), and every tree that bears no fruit is cut down, because it reveals they do not know Christ (Matt 7:15-23).

So, it is possible that the Lukewarm in Laodicea did not yet truly know Christ.  It’s possible that they know Christ, and this is what God used to transform them.  (Or, if those who think you can lose salvation are right, these could be true Christians in danger of falling from grace.  But I take Rom 8:26-30 to mean that God bends every event in the lives of his children to prevent that from happening.)  I assume that the church would include a mix.

In any case, we’re being called toward what we were created for–the life of joy & passion & love we’re meant to live.

P.S. “Crazy Love”

I haven’t read it myself, but my parents tell me their church is studying Crazy Love, by Francis Chan.  It discusses these issues from Revelation 3, describing both the Lukewarm Church, and a life of “crazy love”.

Who is Church for?

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Here’s a brief interruption to my “Homosexuality & Hypocrisy” series.

The Church is the only society that exists primarily for the sake of those who are not its members. — William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (1881 – 1944)

I’ve been thinking about this quote since I heard it a week ago.  (I’m not sure about the exact wording–Google reports many forms.)  How true is it?  Or maybe put the question this way:  In what sense is that sentence true, and in what sense is it not true?

It’s clearly true in this sense:  For every Christian, evangelism and acts of service are part of our discipleship.  Part of being like Christ.  Our lives should include an outward orientation.  Part of following Christ is loving people.  So as Christians, part of our lives is supposed to be for the sake of those outside the church.

But what does “the Church” exist for?  When we meet together in a local church, what are we doing?  Aren’t we coming to be built up & fed?  To be challenged, encouraged, convicted, held accountable, comforted, consoled, rebuked, taught?  In that sense, doesn’t the church exist to build up the members?

That is, after all, what Jesus commissioned Peter to do–feed His sheep.  He commissioned Peter as a shepherd–a pastor.  The leaders of the church exist “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-16).

Of course, we don’t come to be passive.  The leaders aren’t the only ones who serve.  On the contrary, 1 Cor. 12-14 tells us that we are all given gifts by the Spirit–”To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”–and each member of the body is needed.  So we come together to love and serve one another.  When we’re fed, it’s “for the work of ministry”.

It’s interesting, though.  In these three passages, the purpose of gathering together is talked about in terms of building up the Body.  In that sense, the church–seen as a local gathering of followers of Christ–exists for the sake of its members, not for its non-members.  We gather to be fed, and to serve one another.  When we gather, it isn’t directly for the sake of people outside the church.  Except…

It’s not quite either/or.  The two sides come together, in at least these ways:

  1. The church sends out missionaries.
  2. When we are fed & built up, that means that we grow in discipleship.  And discipleship includes loving those who do not know Christ.  Our edification does include an outward aim.
  3. Feeding & equipping Christians to serve can mean organizing community service efforts.  Or it might not.  Instead, a church might help its members get plugged in with existing community service groups–or encourage & exhort its members to serve in “unorganized”, random acts of kindness.  All three can be good.

But however the church handles community service, we should be sure that we are adorning the gospel with good works–not replacing the gospel with good works.