The Culture of Jesus – Safe to Learn

If we want to learn and grow, what kind of environment would be best suited for that learning? In our businesses, do we want to encourage participation and collaboration? At home, are the people in your family safe to ask questions? Are they safe to make a mistake? What about at church? Is the culture present that invites people to question, offer alternative views, and even disagree? Have you ever asked a question or made a mistake and then had someone jump down your throat for it? Have we done that to others?

Let’s turn to the gospel accounts and look at the life of Jesus. What culture was present around Jesus, especially when it came to learning and growth?

With Jesus, it was safe:

  • Safe to learn
  • Safe to question
  • Safe to be wrong

You can see that the disciples (followers of Jesus) flocked to Jesus to be taught, and that’s what He did…He taught them (Matthew 5:1-2; Mark 2:1-2). But was this a one-way exchange? Meaning, was the culture of learning around Jesus such that only Jesus spoke and nobody else said anything?

Jesus established an environment around Himself where people were free to ask questions. His disciples did it all the time. They wanted to understand a parable, so they asked Him to explain it (Matthew 13:36). He spoke in parables and they didn’t understand why, so they asked Him about it (Matthew 13:10). When they wanted to grow in their prayer lives, they requested to be taught how to pray (Luke 11:1).

Even when they were hurt and did not understand why He did things a certain way, they challenged him. Martha and Mary did this when their brother Lazarus died. They had requested His presence days before, and He didn’t come. Now Lazarus was dead, and they didn’t understand. “If you would have been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21,32).

What about when they were wrong? How did Jesus treat them? Please understand that Jesus often corrected His disciples, and even at times asked them why they still didn’t get certain concepts. But please understand that they were safe. When Jesus was trying to tell His disciples that He was going to be crucified, they were arguing over who was the greatest. They were trying to get the best seats in His kingdom! How did Jesus respond?

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them…” (Mark 10:42).

He called them to Himself. He gathered them around Himself to teach them more. With Jesus, it was even safe to be wrong. He saw that they were still willing to grow and learn, so He kept working with them.

Let’s meditate today on the environment and culture around us in our homes, families and businesses. Are people safe to learn, to ask questions, and even to be wrong?

The Culture of Jesus – It Matters

Culture. You hear this term a lot, especially lately. The culture of a country, a police department, a business, a church, a family, a sports team, etc.

I understand this term to mean the collective mindset, personality and approach of a particular group.

Here’s a great quote I found about church culture:

Culture is the most crucial component of the church. If a good steak is the vision, then the plate on which it is served is the culture. If the plate is dirty then the steak (vision) is devalued. From churchexecutive.com

Culture matters. Mindset matters. The approach a group takes to handling a problem matters. This is not just a buzz phrase found on the news cycle or in a business manual. Look in the Scripture to see how Jesus or Paul addressed the collective mindset of a congregation.

Culture matters to Jesus. Did the collective mindset and approach of a group matter to God? Look at Revelation 2-3. What was the general mindset in Ephesus? A lack of love. How about Laodicea? Arrogance, materialism and self-sufficiency. You can see how Paul spoke to churches at Corinth, Philippi and Thessalonica about the culture and personality of each congregation.

The mindset of an individual is important, but so is the group mindset. An individual can pile up good works, but lack love, so it profits nothing (1 Corinthians 13). A church can also pile up good works, like Ephesus, but not have the love as they should, and Jesus will not be among them (Revelation 2:5).

Culture matters to Jesus. How we think and approach things as a group is very important to Jesus.

Euodia and Syntyche, Part 3

Today is the final part of the series on Euodia and Syntyche. Here are the links for first two articles.

Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:1-4).

Help these women who labored with me in the gospel. Euodia and Syntyche were women of the best intentions, and they had servant hearts. The church at Philippi began with strong women (Acts 16:11-15). Of course, by the time of the writing of this epistle, Philippi had elders and deacons, but they still had strong women. These women aren’t to just fade away into inactivity because they now had elders and deacons. Paul tells the congregation to help these women in their work as they are fellowshipping in the gospel. Whatever these two sisters were doing, whatever work they were involved in, Paul tells the brothers and sisters to be an encouragement and support to them in their work for Christ.

The kingdom needs strong, servant-hearted women. Strong-minded is not to be confused with always going around giving people a piece of your mind. Nor does it mean being stubborn and unwilling to consider other viewpoints. However, we must not also confuse “meek and quiet” and “submissive” (1 Peter 3) with being a doormat that sits still and never uses the talents, voice and strengths God gave to the woman. This balance comes when we become “one mind” in Jesus. Our strengths, our talents are tempered and guided by the love and humility of Jesus.

God’s work, not mine. Paul’s letter to the Philippians often mentioned joy and rejoicing, but that is not what the letter to the Philippians is primarily about. He often used words like “mindset” and “mind” in this letter, but Paul was trying to get at more than the power of positive thinking.

If you go through this short letter, and underline or highlight all the times Paul says Lord, God, Jesus, Christ, or Savior then you will begin to understand the theme of Philippians. Why did Paul endure such cruel suffering and harsh treatment? Because it is all about Jesus (Philippians 1:21,29-30; 3:10). Why did Jesus leave heaven’s glory to die on the cross? Because it was God’s work and God’s glory that would be accomplished (Philippians 2:4-11). Why did Timothy put his own interests aside and sincerely care for the brethren? Because Timothy sought the things of the Lord Jesus, not his own things (Philippians 2:19-21). Why did Epaphroditus come close to death? Because he did everything “for the work of Christ…not regarding his own life” (Philippians 2:30). Why did Paul want to stay on earth and help Christians when he would much rather die and be with Jesus? Because he was all about serving Jesus and doing His work for His people (Philippians 1:19-26).

It is God’s work that He begun in the Philippian disciples, and it is God that continued to work in them and through them (Philippians 1:6; 2:13). Paul considered himself just an instrument in the hands of the Great Physician. Euodia and Syntyche needed to be reminded of this valuable principle. It is not our ministry, nor is it our church. The money isn’t ours. Those Bible classes are not our Bible classes. It is not our worship service. Those people being taught are not our people. It’s all about Jesus. This is His work. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10).

My mother, Linda, shared with me some very simple yet powerful words as I began my first full-time preaching position in Columbus, Ohio. She said with tear-dimmed eyes, “Remember who your Master is.” How right she was. Once we fully grasp that, and once we as individual Christians own that concept, then we can begin to view ourselves as merely instruments and servants of the Master. We see the value in others walking along with us as partners, sharing in the work together, side by side. We stop looking for ways to get the credit for teaching someone or having the best ideas, and we look to lift up other brethren and point out their great worth and their ways of contributing to the family and body of Christ. We will listen to other ideas and consider other ways of doing things instead of saying “This is the way we’ve always done such and such.”

Being of one mind. This means we are focused on the same purpose. We have the same Lord and we belong to the same team. Our goals and purposes are the same. We have the same enemy and we are on the same side in the conflict against the Devil. Look for the word “same” in the letter to the Philippians – it is very instructive.

This requires listening to each other. Being of one mind requires valuing other’s input. That means I have to stop and consider the feelings of others. We have to take the foot off the accelerator sometimes and remember that the task is not as important as our relationships with each other.

If we accomplished the job, but we hurt people and alienated them along the way, then was it worth it? Of course not. If we finished the task, but did it alone when it would have been better to join with others, then we missed the greater purpose. If we finished the task, but stepped all over another brother or sister’s feelings, then what did we really accomplish? God doesn’t want individuals living to themselves. He wants a body. He wants a family.

Let us be of one mind, serving together side by side for Jesus, as Paul encouraged these two sisters in Philippi to remember.

Euodia and Syntyche, Part 2

Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:1-4).

We continue where we left off yesterday in discussing Euodia and Syntyche from the book of Philippians.

Synergy.

Euodia and Syntyche were called “fellow workers” by Paul. He used the Greek word sunergos, which simply means to work together. This word is the basis for our English word synergy, which means “the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects” (thefreedictionary.com). Many good brothers and sisters in Christ were called fellow workers by Paul – Paul did not spread the gospel to the whole world by himself. There were many selfless servants of Jesus Christ who risked their necks, sacrificed their lives and material goods, and devoted themselves to the high purpose and calling of living and sharing the good news of Jesus. Synergy. Many souls joined their energy, resources and talents together so that through their cooperation, the combined efforts resulted in a greater harvest of souls. “Each part doing its share” (Eph. 4:16).

These ladies were strong-minded workers determined to work as hard as they could for Jesus and for Paul. They are going to heaven – their names are in the Book of Life. Paul tells the congregation to assist these two sisters in their work. It tells you a lot about these two women, doesn’t it?  They wanted to do great things for Jesus, and they were working tirelessly in their work. However, Paul is telling them that doing great things for Jesus is not enough. They must be united as a team, joined together with one mind, as they served the Lord Jesus.

In the same way we considered Priscilla and Aquila’s “synergy” for Jesus, we must also consider the way brothers and sisters work for Jesus. Way too often we work as individuals doing our own thing, going our own way, focused on our “ministry,” but we are not together in spirit.  As long as I work on my task for the Lord and you work on yours, we do just fine, but what happens when we cross paths? When you and I are working on the same task, then your strong opinions cross my strong opinions, and then what? What happens when you don’t teach a class the way I think you should? What happens when we don’t agree on which Bible curriculum we should use for the kids’ classes? How do we handle our disagreements on how to raise our kids, how to educate and discipline them? We both have ideas for how the classrooms should be decorated and furnished, now what?

When we worked independently and left each other alone, everything was great, right? Wrong! It was not okay, because Christ did not save us and leave us to be individuals operating independently. He placed us within a body, both in a universal and a local sense. All Christians everywhere in the world are part of one body of which Christ is the head (Ephesians 1:21-22), but Christians are to work together locally with Christians, assembling as one body and one family to worship, to build each other up, to reach out to save souls, etc. Paul tells the local body of believers in Philippi to be of the same mind, just like a body with hands, feet, eyes and ears working for the same purpose (1 Corinthians 12:11-27).  Euodia and Syntyche were not doing that, even though as individuals they were doing good works for the Lord. My brother, Mark, has said that a “pile of body parts doesn’t make a body.”

Paul doesn’t have to correct their servant attitude, he doesn’t have to tell them to get busy for Jesus, but he has to exhort them apparently to stop butting heads, forsake the opinionated junk, and work together for Jesus as a unit. We must be reminded of the words of God through Amos when He asked, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3).

When you have two very strong people with strong minds and strong wills laboring for God, they sometimes will lock horns because of various differences. As that happens, everyone else is affected because we are a body and family and the true work of God is side-tracked. However, when those strong-minded brothers and sisters put aside their differences and humble themselves and submit their minds to the real work of Christ, it is a powerful and unstoppable force for good. The church at Philippi was doing great things for Jesus and Paul, but they will be even greater when they work as one mind, in harmony of spirit.

More to come tomorrow, Lord willing.

Euodia and Syntyche, part 1

This is an article I wrote years ago, and I’m going to divide it up over the next few days for your consideration.

Euodia and Syntyche

Philippians 4:1-4

A long-awaited letter. Picture yourself back in New Testament times when the congregation in Philippi received a letter from the beloved apostle Paul as he sat in a Roman prison. As the congregation assembled together, they are filled with excitement and great anticipation as the letter is read publicly. This is every saint’s first time to hear Paul’s special words from God for them. They did not have a copy machine, so this was the only copy available for the whole church until someone could hand copy the letter. Today we can freely and quickly send information to outer space and back, and we can turn on our smartphones or tablets and have a live video conversation with someone thousands of miles away. We can see them and they can see us in real time. It seems to be no big deal anymore for most in Western Civilization to communicate across the globe; in fact most of us probably take it for granted.

We may not be able to grasp how incredibly valuable this letter from Paul was that traveled by land and sea from Rome to Philippi. They had been waiting for news and encouragement from the man who is responsible for their beginnings in Jesus Christ (see Acts 16).

Philippians 2 indicates that it was Epaphroditus that hand-delivered this letter to the brethren.  He was the messenger that the brethren at Philippi had sent to Paul to bring things to aid Paul with his necessities. We also know from chapter 2 that the brethren heard that Epaphroditus was sick and almost died, and they were greatly concerned about his welfare.  Paul sent this letter in the hands of Epaphroditus as a way to comfort and encourage the brethren even more.

These Christians at Philippi, “from the very first day” of their salvation, supported Paul’s ministry in multiple ways, especially by sending him funds “once and again” as he was in other locations preaching the gospel (Philippians 1:5; 4:16).  They were hard-working, loving, dedicated servants of Jesus. Paul loved them dearly (Philippians 1:3-9).

A letter all about the mindset of Jesus Christ. So now the church is assembled, and the letter is read. Paul’s short letter is jam-packed with teaching and examples concerning having the mindset of Jesus Christ. This letter is all about mindset and it is all about Jesus as the foundation for that mindset. Paul had that mindset (Philippians 1 and 3). Timothy and Epaphroditus had that mindset (Philippians 2). Jesus demonstrated the ultimate example of that mindset by leaving heaven and coming down to die on the cross (chapter 2). Some did not have this mindset and they became enemies of the cross of Christ, and it made Paul weep (chapter 3).

As they near the conclusion of the letter, Paul singled out two women in the church at Philippi for a special exhortation about their own mindset and he also addressed the congregation about their responsibility toward these two sisters.  Let us consider what these sisters heard from Paul as this letter was read in front of the whole congregation.

Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:1-4).

Are your ears burning? Can you imagine sitting in the assembly and hearing your name singled out by the apostle Paul in this letter? Even more, can you picture sitting there as Paul in his letter tells you and the other sister to get along in the Lord? How did he know? Would your face turn red? How would you respond to being singled out for this exhortation by God’s apostle?

I’m begging you! Paul used this verb “implore” twice, once for each woman. The word is parakaloo, which means to call near to one’s side; it is also translated “urge”, “plead”, “beseech”, “entreat.” I like the word “beg.” I beg Euodia…I beg Syntyche. Whatever was going on between Euodia and Syntyche is unknown to us, but just like the situations in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11; 11:18) it was a matter that had come to Paul’s attention, and required his Spirit-led input to guide them.

As I teach often, “the issue is never really the issue.” Christians get bent out of shape over something and think that some issue, decision, or course of action is worth the fight.  Because of that determination to win or to prove ourselves justified, we end up severing relationships, hurting feelings and slowing down the work that we should be accomplishing for Jesus. The issue or decision that was supposed to be the thing we were discussing was forgotten long ago, and it becomes about personalities, long-held resentment and bitterness, who is more involved in the church, who has been here longer, who knows more, etc.

Did you notice in the text that Paul never addressed the specific issues between Euodia and Syntyche? He didn’t say, “Euodia, you were right on this topic concerning helping the widows.” Or, “Syntyche, your way of doing things is better suited for teaching the young women than the way sister Euodia really wants to do it.” No, because the issue was not the real problem. What really mattered was that Paul begged them to keep working for the Lord, but to do it joined together in unison.

Part 2 to come tomorrow, Lord willing.

Acts 6 – Getting Everyone’s Input

We continue our in-depth look into Acts 6:1-7.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
(Acts 6:1-7)

Getting Everyone’s Input

Here are two observations for today about getting everyone’s input.

“Assembled the full number of the disciples.” Do you see that? They brought the whole church together to discuss this matter and get ideas. The apostles saw this was a congregational issue, so they gathered the entire congregation. What is accomplished here? The problem is clearly validated and brought out into the open. The members of this local congregation are given value by being able to be part of both this discussion and the solution.

Who chose the seven? Did the apostles here in this church choose the seven men? Did you see the apostles say, “We have picked Stephen, Philip, etc. and we are appointing them over this business.” No, they gave the amount of men for the task (seven), and through the Holy Spirit laid out the kind of character these men should have. That’s it. Then the congregation was entrusted to understand God’s expectations and to know what men among them possessed those qualities. Acts 15:22 is another example of how the “whole church” was involved in the selecting of certain men for a task.

There are times as leaders (in homes, churches, etc.) that we need to gather everyone together to get their input on things. It doesn’t mean that every decision has to be ratified and approved by the entire group. That doesn’t work in churches, teams, homes, nations….well pretty much anywhere. But when leaders make themselves transparent and put trust in the people they are leading to give input, it makes others feel like they are actually part of the team. The apostles did that very thing, they made sure that the whole congregation was part of coming up with the solution.