Monday, June 18, 2012

Christian Homes: "The Full Armor of God"

Spirit & Truth # 277
Christian Homes:  The Full Armor of God”

By Greg Smith

            Lately, I’ve been enjoying a TV show called Deadliest Warrior.  In the show, weapons and tactics experts compare and contrast the skills and equipment of famous warriors from history and around the world.  They quantify the warriors’ strength, agility, accuracy, education, and other factors, then feed them into a computer which creates mock battles to determine who would win in a fight.  Though these warriors have never actually met in history, the computer pits pirates vs. knights, ninjas vs. Spartans, Apaches vs. gladiators to determine who the deadliest warrior would be.  Sometimes it’s skill that wins the day, and other times it’s who has the strongest armor.  

            Since the dawn of time, soldiers have relied on the strength of their weapons and armor to win battles.  But God gives a different strategy.  Rather than trusting in physical weapons, God tells Christians that we wage a different war that requires a different strategy.  Ephesians 6:12[i] says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Satan is a real enemy, but we don’t meet him on a physical field of combat.  Instead, we wage spiritual warfare in defense of our Christian homes.

            Every soldier I have known says that they serve their country, but this is only partially true.  In actual fact, they serve their country in order to protect their families.  When a human enemy threatens, volunteers join the military in order to protect their loved ones.  As we conclude our study on Christian homes, we focus on the battle that wages against them.  When sin and temptation threaten, we turn to spiritual warfare.  We must remember to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power (verse 10).”  Zechariah 4:6 reminds us that the victory comes “‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”  Try to win a spiritual battle on your own, and you will fail.  But rely on God’s power to fight for you, and you will have the victory.

            Verses 14-17 detail the components of the full armor of God.  Salvation and righteousness invoke God’s protection for your thought life and your emotional state.  With God’s truth at your core, you can withstand enormous pressures.  Centering yourself in God’s truth also protects future generations of your family.  With the peace that Jesus gives you, you can stand and fight with no desire for retreat.  Faith shields you from Satan’s fiery darts.  The Word of God turns you from a defender into an aggressor, storming Satan’s kingdom and winning the victory.

            The problem is that many Christians go into battle only partially armored (if they wear any at all).  This is a sure path to defeat.  In the eighteenth century, European army officers had long since abandoned traditional armor in favor of fashionable uniforms.  Only one piece of armor remained—a tiny metal crescent called the gorget, worn as a necklace over the collarbone.  The gorget served no real purpose.  It was simply a decoration that harkened back to the days when knights wore real armor.  Too often the Christian wears religion as a decoration, reminiscent of the days when faith was real.  Instead, believers need to put on the full armor of God, so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes.  Only when we do so can we walk in victory.  Only in victory can we have the hope of Christian homes in this generation, and in the generations to come.

[i] All scriptures taken from the New International Version

Christian Homes: "Slaves of Christ"

Spirit & Truth # 276
Christian Homes:  Slaves of Christ”

By Greg Smith

            In an economy like this one, many people are unemployed or underemployed.  Others feel stuck in a dead-end job, too old to switch careers and too young to retire.  To many, their jobs feel like slavery.  When Paul wrote his letter to the church at Ephesus, he wrote to many who felt the same way.  He wrote to Christian workers, many of whom were actual slaves, saying, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.”[i]  

            Obey is not a word that we like to hear in our culture, but obedience was a highly prized virtue in the early church.  Paul wanted Christian workers to understand that one of the ways they demonstrate their obedience to God is by obeying their human managers.  Christians need a work ethic that makes us stand out from the crowd.  Christians should be such good employees that unbelieving managers inwardly smile when they find out that they’ve hired a follower of Jesus.  

            Paul writes, “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.”[ii]  Honesty and integrity should be the hallmark of the Christian worker.  Never should it be said that a Christian employee was lazy or deceitful or false.  

            Paul speaks not only to employees, but also to employers.  “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way.  Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”[iii]  Every manager has a greater Manager, so if you have employees under you, be careful how you treat them.  Jesus said that with the same measure that you judge, you will be judged.[iv]

            Talk of obedience and mastery makes us uncomfortable in today’s culture.  But Jesus gives us a different view of submission.  He says, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”[v]  Jesus, who teaches humility by His own life and actions, asks Christian workers and employers to be humble.  Serve God, and let the rest take care of itself.

            As we continue studying the Christian home, it’s important that we understand the role that honest labor has in our lives.  A strong work ethic, passed from one generation to the next, ensures prosperity as well as faithfulness.  It also speaks well for Christ’s followers when they honor authority and value a job well done.  Will those who come after you remember you for honesty and integrity at work?  Or will those who learn from you find out how to cheat the system?  God’s Word calls us to integrity—in the home and at work.  That’s the kind of thing that makes believers stand out from the crowd.

[i] Ephesians 6:5 NIV
[ii] Ephesians 6:6-8 NIV
[iii] Ephesians 6:9 NIV
[iv] Matthew 7:2
[v] Mark 10:42-44 NIV

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Christian Homes: "God's Kids"

Spirit & Truth # 275
Christian Homes:  God's Kids”

By Greg Smith

 “The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children.”
-King Edward VII

            “Kids today!” say the parents of each successive generation, rolling their eyes at the behavior of their own children.  “Why, when I was a child,” say the grandparents of disrespectful descendants, “I never would have behaved in that way!”  Yet those are precisely the words that will come out of those children’s lips once they have grown up a few decades and are faced with the challenges of raising their own kids.  The fact is that it’s easier to blame “kids today” than it is to take responsibility for our own parenting.  Grumpy grandparents and perturbed parents instead ought to say, “Parents today!”  For the trouble we have with our children is often the result of lazy parenting.

            Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”  These verses clearly place the responsibility on minor children to obey, and on grown children to honor their parents.  But the next verse says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  Unfortunately many parents expect to be obeyed and honored, without first seeking God’s plan for raising their families.  The greater burden is clearly on the shoulders of the parents—and when each successive generation gets worse than the one before it, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  Poor parents exasperate their children when they refuse to bring them up to be God’s kids.

            Families are eroding at an alarming rate.  Factor together the current divorce rates that lead to single-parent homes, along with the percentage of never-married couples raising children, plus the households that defy any traditional framework, and you get a situation that is ripe for conflict and rebellion.  Self-centered parents are too busy taking care of their own “needs,” rather than seeking their own spiritual development and investing in the lives of their children.  The result is evident in the degradation of homes and society.

            Is there hope for our families?  On Pentecost, when Peter called crowds of families to salvation, he said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:38).”   Peter promises that when we turn from our selfishness and sin, and trust Jesus for salvation, then the Holy Spirit will become the guiding principle for our families.  The result is that future generations will know the promises of God.

            The old hymn says, “God, give us Christian homes.”  It’s more than just a song.  It’s a prayer.  And it’s more than just a prayer.  It’s something that you have to work for.  Have you asked Jesus to be the Lord of your home?  Follow Him—and He will do more than just save your soul.  He can also save your family.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Christian Homes: "As Christ Loved the Church"

Spirit & Truth # 274
Christian Homes:  As Christ Loved the Church”

By Greg Smith

            In these weeks from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day we’re talking about how we can have Christian homes.  We heard the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:21-22[1]: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”  This week, the submission verse has a counterbalance, which reads: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).”  God calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church—to the point of self-sacrifice.

            How does Jesus love His bride, the church?  He puts her needs above His own.  1 Peter 2:23-24 says, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’”  If you’re a husband, then God wants you to love your wife by resisting the urge to retaliate.  Love your wife by being willing to trade being right for being responsible.  Love your wife more than you love your rights—then you’ll be able to show Christ’s kind of love.

            Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus didn’t wait for us to apologize for our sin before He gave Himself to save us.  Instead, He offered His restoration first, and then invited us to receive it.  God asks husbands to do the same with their wives.  Don’t demand an apology when you think she’s in the wrong.  Instead, forgive her, even without an apology.  Not because you think she deserves it, but just because you love her.

            2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  Jesus loves the church by keeping His promises.  Husbands who love their wives as Christ loved the church must follow the Lord’s example, and be trustworthy in all they say.

            Jesus gives gifts to His church—something that husbands would do well to learn.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Then the Holy Spirit, sent by our Lord, also gives ministry gifts to the church (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12).  In the same way, husbands need to love their wives by giving good things to demonstrate their love.

            In Romans 8:34 and 1 John 2:1, Jesus demonstrates His love for His bride by praying for believers.  Husbands—are you praying daily for your wives?  You will—if you love your wives as Christ loved the church.  Even as Jesus does, intercede before the Father on her behalf.  Show her Christ’s kind of love.

            Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  To give your wife the love of Christ means to be faithful to her as long as you live.  “The one who calls you is faithful,” says 1 Thessalonians 5:24.  So should you be—if you love your wife with the love of Christ.

            Dr. Anthony Campolo writes:

I challenge those who come to me for marriage counseling this way: "If you do what I tell you to do for an entire month, I can promise you that by the end of the month, you will be in love with your mate. Are you willing to give it a try?" When couples accept my challenge, the results are invariably successful. My prescription for creating love is simple: do ten things each day that you would do if you really were in love. I know that if people do loving things, it will not be long before they experience the feelings that are often identified as being in love. Love is not those feelings. Love is what one wills to do to make the other person happy and fulfilled. Often, we don't realize that what a person does influences what he feels.[2] 

            I have found this to be true in my own marriage.  During those times when I haven’t felt particularly loving, I have decided to behave in a loving way.  I have found that the act of loving shapes the attitude of love.  So when “you’ve lost that loving feeling,” bring it back by loving your wife anyway.  I imagine that the church isn’t always easy for Jesus to live with.  Yet He loves her unconditionally.  If you’re going to love your wife the way Jesus loves the church, you’ve got to give that kind of unconditional love.  Give yourself up for her.  Only by giving yourself away will you gain God’s—and your wife’s—ultimate love.

[1] All quotes taken from the New International Version
[2] Dr. Anthony Campolo.  Homemade, June, 1988.