The Bible Teaches Us How to Live With One Another

Scripture is packed with instructions of how Christians should treat each other

 The Bible teaches us how to live with one another.Last year I shared 13 Reasons Why I Love the Bible, and I periodically expand upon one of those thirteen reasons. Today we’ll explore how the Bible teaches us to live with each other. Although these lessons occur throughout the Bible, let’s focus on one reoccurring theme. I call these the “one another” commands. These instructions teach us how to treat each other.

The Bible contains thirty-one of these one-another instructions. Most only occur once, but four of them occur multiple times. This must mean they’re more important, or else they wouldn’t be repeated. They are:

Love One Another: The command to love one another occurs ten times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. John writes about this the most but so do Paul and Peter.

Unfortunately our society today has a skewed understanding of the word love. Consider the following.

  • I’d love to go to the movies with you.
  • I love pizza.
  • I love to read the Bible.
  • I love my family.
  • I love God.

These are all phrases I’ve used. But they convey different meanings of the word love, ranging from preference to passion. What is love? Our society often treats love as an emotion, but let’s consider love as an attitude that prompts unselfish action. When it comes to loving one another, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 gives us some helpful instructions on how to do this. By following these verses we can begin to love others in a biblical way.

Encourage One Another: In four places, both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible tells us to encourage one another. Using positive words to lift others up and inspire them in their life and faith is a simple thing, yet most of us fail to do so most of the time. This is a skill we need to learn and then apply.

We all know people who encourage us. We enjoy our time with them, because we feel better about ourselves afterwards. May we be like them.

However, we also know people who we don’t enjoy being around because they discourage us, either directly through negative talk or indirectly through their attitudes. May we not be like them.

Let us encourage others and provide a positive, nurturing relationship that motivates them to do better.

Live in Harmony With One Another: Paul and Peter tell us we’re to live in harmony with one another. This is key. Harmony comes out of biblical love and is bolstered by encouragement, but there is more to harmony than that.

Two words come to mind that relate to harmony. The first is peace. We should strive to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

The second word is unity. It’s critically important for followers of Jesus to live in unity with one another. When we do so, we point others to Jesus. When we fail to do so, we push people away from Jesus. May it never be so.

Unity—that is, harmony—is important to Jesus. In one of his prayers he asks his father that we will live in unity, that we will be one just as he and his father are one (John 17:21).

Greet One Another With a Holy Kiss: The fourth of the one-another commands that appears multiple times in the Bible is a perplexing one. It’s the instruction to greet one another with a holy kiss. What does that mean?

I explored this in another post where I speculated that this command might be a “sacred act of intimacy for the church community.” Then I admitted that I’m not really sure.

Another thought is that greet another with a holy kiss might be like a secret handshake, a way to express Christian affinity without saying a word. I suppose that works, too.

Or we could interpret this command to greet one another with a holy kiss as a principle that implies acceptance and affection with all others who follow Jesus. This also might be a viable interpretation of this confusing phrase.May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us. Click To Tweet

In addition to these four, there are twenty-seven other one-another commands in the Bible. As we strive to follow them and put them into practice, the Church of Jesus will grow, and the world will be better for it.

May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us.

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One Way That Jesus Fulfills the Old Testament

Jesus turns the celebration of Passover into the celebration of Communion

One Way That Jesus Fulfills the Old TestamentAs the Israelites prepare to leave Egypt, Moses instructs them to have a special meal with their families and neighbors. They celebrate the first Passover. From then on Passover becomes an annual celebration.

Fast forward a couple millennia. Jesus gives his disciples instructions to celebrate Passover together. As they eat the Passover meal, Jesus adds something new to their tradition and gives it fresh meaning. Taking the bread they’re eating, Jesus uses it as a metaphor for the sacrifice he’s about to make. Then he repeats this with the wine.

The Bible records this event in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:15-20. Paul also gives instructions about this remembrance in his letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:22-29.

These passages provide us with the basis for how we celebrate Communion. We may also call it the Lord’s Supper, The Holy Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, or Holy Eucharist. They all mean the same thing. They all direct our attention on Jesus and what he did for us to reconcile us with Papa.

When Jesus institutes what we turned into the sacrament of communion, he fulfills the Old Testament practice of the Passover. That means he takes something old and adds his own twist to make it something new.

From this we see three key elements of Communion:

Part of a Meal: We see the practice of Passover and Communion in the Bible as part of a meal. Matthew and Mark note that Jesus’s reflections happen as they eat. Luke adds some additional detail. He records a second mention of the cup after the meal. The key point is that communion is part of a shared meal, not an act separate from it.The key point is that communion is part of a shared meal, not separate from it. Click To Tweet

With Family: Neither Passover or Communion take place in a large church gathering or religious ceremony. Both happen as a private gathering within a community of family or close friends—our squad. The people celebrate Passover in homes with family (or with neighbors). The Communion Jesus shares with his disciples occurs in an intimate setting with his close friends. This shows us Communion isn’t something that happens at church but apart from it, usually in homes.

As an Annual Celebration: Jesus says we are to celebrate Communion in his honor to remember him. Paul adds to this, writing that Jesus also said, “do this, whenever you drink it” (1 Corinthians 11;25). Though we may interpret Jesus’s words to mean every time we have a meal, the context is Passover, so a better understanding is every time we celebrate Passover, which is an annual event.

When we observe Communion every week at church, even once a month or quarterly, it can become routine and lose its meaning. Instead we should treat it as an annual celebration that we greatly anticipate and highly revere.

When we add this to the concept of a family meal, Communion could elevate to the level of a treasured family celebration similar to Thanksgiving or Christmas: a special time with family gathered.

The ancient practice of Passover and Communion bears little similarity to what we do today. I can’t ever recall celebrating communion in church as part of a meal. Communion was always a ceremonial representation, included as part of a church service.

The bread was reduced to a small bit of bread or a cracker. The wine was reduced to a mere sip, barely enough to wash down the morsel of food we ate just before it. In doing so we trivialize Communion by making it less than what it should be.

Let’s take back Communion. We can return it to an annual celebration in our homes with our family. And we will do it in remembrance of Jesus.

Why Do We Listen to a Sermon at Church Each Sunday?

The Bible offers little support for a minister to preach a sermon to us at church

Why Do We Listen to a Sermon at Church Each Sunday?Many changes occurred in church practices because of the Protestant Reformation some 500 years ago. One of those changes adjusted the emphasis of the Sunday service. The reformers had concern over the focus of Sunday gatherings being on the altar and the celebration of the Eucharist. They intentionally shifted the focus away from that and to the sermon. I understand why they did it, but I think they were wrong.

When Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, NIV), he provided the basis for us to celebrate communion. This gives biblical support for us to periodically observe the Lord’s Supper as part of our gatherings, be it on Sundays or at other times.

However, I don’t see any biblical command to have a paid minister preach a sermon to a local congregation each Sunday. In fact, I see little biblical support for this. Here’s what I do see in the Bible:

Preach to Those Outside the Church: Jesus told his followers to go around and tell others about him. He said to “preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15, NIV). Here’s a direct command from Jesus to preach, but the setting isn’t inside the church walls, it’s outside the confines of the church, in the real world. Although this gives a command to preach, we miss the point. The teaching Jesus talks about isn’t to those who are already on his team, it’s to those who aren’t.

Teach New Converts: In Acts we see the apostles holding regular classes to teach about what it means to follow Jesus (Acts 2:42). Since back then almost everyone was new to the faith, think of this as a new members class. Note that this is an example of what the church did, not a command to do it. This teaching is optional, but if we do it the focus is likely on new converts.

Give Updates: Another example in the New Testament of people speaking to local congregations is when traveling missionaries or church delegations visited local churches. They spoke to the people to update them on what was happening elsewhere and to share stories of God at work. The purpose of these talks seems to be to offer status reports and provide encouragement. Again we see this as an example of what the early church did, but there’s no command for us to do likewise.

In these three scenarios we see people speaking either in the church or outside it. But nowhere do we see a command for clergy to preach to a local congregation in church each Sunday. So why, then, do we have a weekly sermon?The people in the church should minister to one another, not have paid clergy preach them a sermon. Click To Tweet

What should we do differently?

Paul answers this in his letter to the church in Corinth. He says when we gather together each person should be ready to share a song, teaching, revelation, tongue, or interpretation. The purpose of this is to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Paul’s instruction, his command, is that the people in the church should minister to one another, not have paid clergy preach them a sermon. With such little biblical support to have a professional minister deliver a sermon on Sunday mornings, maybe it’s time for us to abandon the practice. Instead let us begin ministering to one another as the Bible instructs.

We Should Pay Attention When Jesus Says, “But I Tell You.”

Jesus fulfills the Old Testament Law and Prophets when he gives new meaning to the old ways

We Should Pay Attention When Jesus Says, “But I Tell You.”Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law and Prophets (Matthew 5:17). One way he did this, the most significant way, was to satisfy the anticipation found throughout the Old Testament for a coming savior, a Messiah, who would save his people.

Jesus also fulfilled the Law and the Prophets by changing the way people viewed God and treated others. We’ve talked about this in another post. Because of Jesus we became God’s temple, and we’re to serve as priests to one another. That means we don’t need to go to church to seek God or have a minister lead us. Seriously.

A third way Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets is by giving us an enlightened understanding of the intent behind the literal interpretation of what the Old Testament said and how the people thought. He does this in the teaching we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” Each time Jesus makes this transition from the old way to the new way, he says the words, “…but I tell you.”

Consider the following examples:

Murder and Anger: The Old Testament said murder was wrong (Exodus 20:13). Jesus says we need to control our anger (Matthew 5:21-22).

Adultery and Lust: The Old Testament commanded us to not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14). Jesus says that lust is just another form of adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).

Divorce and Commitment: The Old Testament made it easy for a man to divorce his wife (Deuteronomy 24:1). Jesus says the only justification for divorce is adultery, else couples should stick together and make it work (Matthew 5:31-32).

Keeping Vows and Avoiding Vows: The Hebrew traditions said to not break your promises, but to fulfill all the vows you made. Jesus says to not make a vow at all (Matthew 5:33-34).

Revenge and Forgiving: The Old Testament people could exact revenge on those who hurt them, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24, though this was actually to keep people from retaliating in disproportionate ways). Jesus, however, says don’t resist evil (Matthew 5:38-39).

Hate and Love: Another old Hebrew tradition said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Jesus says to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44). Jesus turned the law into principles to guide our behavior and exhibit the heart of God. Click To Tweet

Jesus took the legalistic approach of the Old Testament Law and the people’s interpretation of it, and he turned them into principles to guide our behavior and exhibit the heart of God in how we interact with others.

May we follow these new ways of Jesus.

How Does Jesus Fulfill the Law and the Prophets?

Jesus does three things to complete what the Old Testament started

How Does Jesus Fulfill the Law and the Prophets?Jesus drew people to him. The words he spoke and the hope he communicated attracted them. Some people assumed he had come to replace the Old Testament Law and the work of the prophets, but revolution was not his calling.

Jesus didn’t come to do away with what the Old Testament taught. Instead his mission was to bring the Old Testament into fruition, according to God’s plan from the beginning.

Jesus made this clear. He said, “I have not come to abolish the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). How did Jesus do this?

Jesus Became the Ultimate Sacrifice: The Old Testament is packed with instructions for making sacrificial offerings, commands that showed the people’s relationship with God. These sacrifices had various meanings, but one key sacrifice occurred to redress sin. An animal had to die because the people had sinned. Because the people continued to sin, animal sacrifices continued to be required. These sin sacrifices happened over and over, year after year, century after century.

Jesus, in his sacrificial death on the cross, became the ultimate sacrifice for sin to end all sin sacrifices. In his once-and-for-all sacrifice, he died to make us right with God, to reconcile us into right relationship with the Almighty.

Jesus Turned Law into Love: Despite Jesus’s fresh way of looking at the understandings of his people, most of his followers still struggled to fully comprehend what he meant. They wrestled to reconcile his teachings with their traditions.

One such person asked Jesus to identify the greatest commandment in the Old Testament. Jesus’s answer was love. He said to “love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.” This stands as the greatest commandment, but then he added one more. He said to “love others as much as we love ourselves” (Matthew 22:36-40). These two simple principles summarize all the Old Testament Law and the writings of the prophets.

Jesus removed a set of impossible-to-please laws and replaced them with one principle: love.

Jesus Changed Our Perspectives. Jesus liked to review what the Hebrew Bible said, and then he would expand on it. He often made this transition by saying “but I tell you…” Then he would give his enlightened explanation about what God meant. We’ll do well to carefully study what Jesus said immediately after his words “but I tell you…” Look for more about this in the future post.Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament Law and the writings of the prophets. Click To Tweet

What’s important to understand when we consider that Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament law and the writings of the prophets is we must put the Old Testament in proper perspective. This doesn’t mean to ignore the Old Testament because Jesus fulfilled it, but it does mean we need to consider the Old Testament in the context to which it was given. In addition to teaching people how to live back then, the Law and the prophets also pointed them to the coming Savior, Jesus.

As we read the Old Testament we see allusions to Jesus and the freedom that he represents. And if we read the Old Testament with care, we will also see that this future revelation about Jesus applies to all people, not just God’s chosen nation of Israel.

Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament Law and the writings of the prophets. And we are the benefactor of that.

Thank you Jesus.

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What’s More Important, Family or Church?

We need to order our priorities with intention and do what matters most

What’s More Important, Family or Church?Whether we realize it or not, we form priorities to order our lives. For most of my adult existence my number one priority has been God. Though I held this out as my ideal, sometimes, perhaps too often, my actions didn’t live up to this principle, but I did strive to reach it.

Many years ago, I mistakenly included church in the box that should have been reserved for God. As such, I elevated the importance of church to the level of God, effectively making church activity my highest priority. During that season of my life, whenever the church doors were open, I was there. In addition to attending twice on Sunday, I also served on committees and helped pretty much wherever and whenever someone asked. As a result I spent two, three, and sometimes even four evenings a week at church fulfilling various roles, commitments, and needs.

When I was busy at church doing these things, my young family was at home—functioning without me. I had mistaken the elevated church activity above family life. I have long since moved past that church, but my family is still here. They are my priority over church—any church.

If I ever need to choose between church and family, I now choose family.

As far as church activity, aside from the Sunday service, I limit myself to no more than one other commitment—if that. This helps me keep my actions aligned with my priorities.

Yes, God is still the number one priority in my life. But now family comes in second. And they have for a long time, too. Church, however, is further down my list.

God is number one, as he should be. Family comes second. After that is work, writing, and friends. I suppose church activity comes in next. That makes church number six on my priority list. And I think that’s the right place for it to be.Be intentional, and make a thoughtful determination about what your priorities should be. Click To Tweet

I can’t undo the mistake I made a couple decades ago when I placed church over my family, but I can make sure not to repeat that error again. Not with my wife, not with our children, and not with our grandchildren.

Just because this is how I order my life, doesn’t mean that’s how you need to prioritize yours. But I do encourage you to be intentional, and make a thoughtful determination about what your priorities should be. The next step is to make your actions align with your ideals.

Should We Pray “If It’s Your Will?”

We can learn to pray by following Jesus’s example, as long as we don’t misapply it

Should We Pray “If It’s Your Will?”When it comes to praying, there is no better teacher than Jesus. Perhaps that’s why many of his followers memorize the prayer he taught his disciples and why many churches include this prayer in their church services. We commonly call this The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This prayer serves as our model.

Another one of Jesus’s instructive prayers occurs in John’s biography of Jesus. In the most lengthy of Jesus’s prayers in the Bible, we see three themes. First, Jesus prays that his death will glorify his father. Next, he prays for his disciples. And last, he prays for his future followers: us (John 17). This final section of his prayer shows us what Jesus expects of us, which should inform how we pray.

A third prayer of Jesus stands as his most passionate. As he prepares himself to become the ultimate sacrifice, he asks his father for a reprieve, perhaps thinking of when God kept Abraham from sacrificing Isaac by providing an alternate option (Genesis 22:1-19). Yet after making his bold request, Jesus quickly confirms he will obey his Father and do his will (Luke 22:42, Matthew 26:39).

Most translations of the Bible (32 times out of 56) use the phrase “if you are willing” in recording the opening to this prayer of Jesus.

Should we do the same?

Yes. By including this phrase, we follow Jesus’s example by acknowledging God’s sovereignty, that is, his supreme authority and power over us and everything that is. We admit his plan is far better than our wishes and narrow perspective. We concede he is in control and we are not. Affirming God’s will in this way, confirms his character.It’s right to pray “if it’s your will” as long as this reminds us of God’s sovereignty. Click To Tweet

Yet, this phrase can also give our faith an out, an escape hatch. If we make an audacious request of God and then tack on an “if it’s your will” at the end, we provide ourselves a feeble rationalization should God not answer our request the way we hope.

For example, if we pray for a miraculous healing, but it doesn’t occur, we can shrug and say, “I guess it wasn’t God’s will.” This helps stave off disappointment. It also keeps our faith intact. Taken to an unhealthy extreme, this phrase can even remove faith completely from our prayers, along with the expectation of the answer we long for. Praying “if it’s your will” could turn our prayers into weak, meaningless requests of an all-powerful God. May it never be.

It is right for us to pray “if it’s your will” as long as this reminds us of God’s sovereignty and character. But if this phrase effectively removes faith and expectation from our prayers and renders them powerless, then it might be wise to avoid it.

The key is that God wants us to pray. He wants us to talk to him. The words we say aren’t as important as our intent behind them. May our prayers always serve to connect us to our Father.

How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?

Through Jesus we can discover our response to violence and oppression

How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?Seldom a day goes by when we don’t hear of terrorists who commit violence and murder in the name of their faith. These religious zealots believe a higher calling gives them the right to kill others in order to elevate their beliefs.

This seems barbaric, ignorant, and misguided. We, as followers of Jesus, would never do that. But Christians have. In the name of religion they killed. And we only need look at the Old Testament for a precedence that seems to give permission.

Old Testament Violence

As the nation of Israel leaves Egypt and comes to reclaim the territory God gave them, he tells them to annihilate the inhabiting people, to utterly destroy them and their pagan practices. As I read these accounts in the Old Testament, I struggle with the violence I encounter. I don’t get it. It doesn’t seem justified, and it’s not fair.

Yet, I see four things that somewhat help me reconcile the violence we read about in the Old Testament.

It Was Specific: God does not give a universal command for his people to kill all their enemies, regardless of geography or situation. He directs this instruction only at the people living in the Promised Land, occupying the territory he gave his people. To apply this to any other circumstances is inappropriate and a misuse of scripture.

It Was For One Season: God’s command to wipe out the inhabiting peoples only applies to one period of time: as his people take back the territory he gave them. He never says this instruction to kill and destroy applies for all time or extends indefinitely into the future.

It Was an Anomaly: In a general command, one without limits, God tells his people to treat the foreigners living among them as one of them, as native born (Leviticus 19:34). This is far different than his one-time instruction to kill.

It Was Fulfilled: Even if we disregard that the command to kill was specific and for a limited time, remember that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17). It is over, in the past. The old ways are gone.

Still, these seem to me as poor justifications for the Israelites to kill. Though I’m content to accept God as sovereign and freely admit that I can’t begin to understand him or his ways, I still struggle with the Old Testament’s slaughter of people. (By the way, it’s hard to convert people to your way of thinking when they’re dead.)God says we are to love our enemies, pray for them, and live in peace. Click To Tweet

New Testament Nonviolence

I am, however, comforted by the New Testament, which doesn’t perpetuate God’s people inflicting violence on others. I’m encouraged by what Jesus and his followers say to counter the Old Testament’s accounts of violence:

Love Your Enemies: Jesus says we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). When we love people, we want the best for them. Check out 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 for details of what love entails.

Pray For Those Who Persecute You: Right after Jesus commands us to love our enemies, he adds that we should pray for those who intend us harm (Matthew 5:44). By the way, this includes the terrorists who today kill people in the name of their religion.

I’ve never thought to do that until right now. It’s going to be hard. Will you join me?

Live in Peace: Paul writes to the followers of Jesus who live in Rome, instructing them to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). In the book of Hebrews we read the same thing, along with the kicker to be holy as we do (Hebrews 12:14). Our holiness points others to God, allowing them to see him for who he is.

Though the violence in the Old Testament perplexes me, what applies to us today comes from the New Testament: Love our enemies, pray for those who intend us harm, and strive to live in peace with everyone.

That is how we are to respond to the violence around us today.

How Can You Shrink Your Church?

We live in a world that thinks bigger is better, but that’s not always true

How Can You Shrink Your Church?Our modern-day society evaluates things based on size. We celebrate magnitude, with bigger being better.

This includes church. We often assume that bigger churches, in terms of both facility and attendance, equates to God’s sure blessing and his implicit approval. But we are wrong to do so.

I once attended a conference where many of the attendees were ministers. Invariably every conversation I had with a pastor included a mention of or a question about church size. I expected this and resolved not to play their game.

Some wanted admiration, but I refused to stroke their narcissism. Other pursued affirmation, and I determined not to falsely feed into their insecurities. This happened with every conversation. The social time at this conference drained me.

No one was content with the size of their church. Everyone wanted to lead a big (or bigger) congregation—or at least head a fast-growing church. It seemed these pastors’ esteem or paycheck was at stake. This doesn’t seem God-honoring.

Though businesses talk about rightsizing and downsizing, I never hear of churches thinking that way. And while businesses often divest themselves of assets and product lines that don’t align with their goals, and thereby lose customers in the process, churches seldom do. Though we shouldn’t run a church like a business, perhaps this is one lesson we should learn from corporate America.

Instead of pursuing church growth strategies, maybe we should look for ways to shrink our churches. Might we experience greater spiritual success if our gatherings were smaller?

Here are some ways to shrink our churches:

Think Small: Large churches, as well as some medium-sized churches, struggle in helping people form connections and build community. This is the impetus behind the small group concept. What a large Sunday gathering can’t provide to attendees, small groups can—assuming they’re run right. But a small church doesn’t need small groups because their small size facilitates connections and community.

Jesus focused on twelve people and gave special attention to three. His actions should guide our desire to think small and to then act that way.

Have an External Focus: Most churches have an inward focus. They give their attention to the needs (demands) of their members to the exclusion of their surrounding community. At best a church may allocate 10 percent of its budget and time to people outside their group. What if we made it 100 percent?

Eliminate Paid Staff: A church with a payroll has skewed perceptions and priorities. Members insist on being served and employees react to keep their paychecks coming. What would a church look like with no paid staff? It would be simpler for sure. More people would be involved. And it would be smaller. This would be a good thing.A small church doesn’t need a building. Click To Tweet

Sell Your Building: Owning a facility is a burden. It costs money, demands time, and sucks the attention away from people. People matter; a building doesn’t. So go ahead and sell it. It will free you. Besides, a small church doesn’t need a building anyway.

Send People Away: When a congregation grows too large, get rid of some of the people. But first empower them. Equip them to go out and start something new: a house church, a community outreach, or a service endeavor. Send them out and don’t expect them to come back. That will keep your church small and advance God’s kingdom, too.

Pursue Spiritual Depth: Many have said that most churches are a mile wide and an inch deep. They have no spiritual depth. They perpetuate a superficial community, functioning as little more than a Christian social club. Instead, seek spiritual intensity over trivial pleasantries. This will push away the noncommitted consumers and feed those with a true spiritual hunger.

Stop Counting: In the spiritual realm, numbers don’t really matter. So stop tracking them. Don’t fixate on attendance and offering. Forget quantity. Dump the bigger-is-better mentality. Instead, think less is more. Because it is.

This vision to shrink our church is not hyperbole. These recommendations are a serious challenge and aren’t intended as an intellectually provocative treatise.

Yes, this is counter cultural to our celebration of size. This turns conventional thinking upside down. It will be difficult to pursue and offend many in the process. They’ll reject us and retreat to church as usual.

Does this sound familiar?

Jesus was counter cultural and eschewed conventional wisdom. His way was difficult, but only because it was so different. He offended many with what he said and did. They rejected him and returned to their religious status quo.

Don’t expect many followers if you shrink your church and pursue a small church mindset. That’s okay because smaller is the goal.

The Bible Provides Direction for Our Life

Read the Holy Scriptures as a guidebook more so than a rulebook

The Bible Provides Direction for Our LifeThough some people read the Bible out of a sense of obligation—and granted, sometimes we have seasons where we just need to push through—others read its words to inform their daily living, among other things.

Yet, we must exercise care in how we apply God’s Word to our lives.

Enjoy the Narrative: As we read the Bible, we are best to read it as narrative rather than a book of rules. Granted, the Law of Moses is prominent in four of the Bible’s first five books, yet we don’t follow the Law’s 613 commands anymore. As a narrative we may see the Old Testament Law as a modern-day principle to live set apart from the world and to worship God as holy.

In reading the Bible as narrative we can revel in the story of the historical records, ponder the message of the prophets, contemplate the meaning of the poetry, consider the application of the epistles (letters), and marvel in awe at the end times passages.

Consider the Context: We would be in error to pull the words of the Bible out of their historical setting and apply them literally to our modern-day situation. This is most apparent when considering the instructions in the New Testament’s various letters. Each one was intended for a certain group of people to address specific issues. If we take these targeted instructions and turn them into generalized commands, we misapply the scriptures. Plus, we will find conflict, for what Paul tells one group to do for their certain situation sometimes goes against what he tells another group to do for theirs.

Only when we consider the context of each passage can we rightly discern the truth as it relates to us today. Just because someone in the Bible did something, doesn’t mean we should do likewise. Just because a command is given to one person doesn’t mean it applies to us. Context is crucial.

Embrace the Genres: The Bible is a compilation of works by different authors, writing distinct types of literature. As such, the Bible includes biographies of Jesus, the early history of his church, a collection of letters (which address questions and problems we can only guess at), future-focused allusions, sagas of epic proportions, poetry of wisdom and poetry of prayer, and warnings from the prophets.

Each one carries a different intent, which we need to treat as such as we read. Just as it would be unwise to turn one of David’s prayer laments into a command for action, it would be likewise foolish to take what God said to one person in an history passage and apply it to us today.

For example, when Abraham’s two wives and their two sons have conflict, God ultimately tells Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away (Genesis 21:10-12). But this is merely a history of what happened, not a rule for us to follow when our family members clash.Just because the Bible describes something occurred, doesn’t mean we should do the same. Click To Tweet

Apply the Examples with Care: Scholars make a smart distinction between descriptive passages and proscriptive passages. That is, the portions of the Bible that tell us what happened do not equate with the texts that tell us what to do. Just because the Bible describes something occurred, doesn’t mean we should do the same. Though the Bible tells about spitting on people, pulling out their beards, ostracizing them, and killing them, we shouldn’t.

For example, consider the description of what Nehemiah did to men who disobeyed: “I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair (Nehemiah 13:25, NIV). We would be wrong to assume this is how we should treat people in our churches when they do wrong.

Employ Prayer: We need to read the Bible through the lens of prayer, seeking God’s Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts, direct our contemplations, and inspire our conclusions. Without Holy Spirit assistance, the words of the Bible become little more than words and our reading has limited merit.

As we read the Bible, we plant seeds in our mind, but God makes these kernels of truth grow. We see this principle of God as the source of growth in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7.

Though the Bible can provide direction for our lives, we need to be wise in how we apply it.

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