The only road to spiritual heights is to first recognize our spiritual low. And in order to do this, we sometimes must go to a solitude place on a mountain or desert where we can be alone with God. We once had to make a very important decision concerning a major worldwide ministry. So we packed up our tent and headed for the Namibian desert. We stayed there for several days in prayer until a decision was made. There is something about places of solitude that help us reflect on ourselves and our abilities to do our ministry for God. We seek to grow spiritually. But we too often stumble over all the activities of the world that surround us. An activity-oriented life is not conducive to personal reflection.
One time during His ministry, Jesus took a multitude of people to a mountain. In the solitude of the environment, He delivered what is commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. It was Jesus’ road map to spiritual growth. Unless we follow this map, we will never get to where we should be in our spiritual relationship with Him. Therefore, we must progress with Jesus as He takes us on an adventure of growing in the grace and knowledge of Him (2 Pt 3:18). He explains in Matthew 5:3-12 how to make this journey to the mountain peaks of spirituality in order to discover an intimate relationship with Him.
I. Spiritual poverty puts us on the road to spiritual growth.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3).
The first step to spiritual growth is to recognize how far we are away from our desired destination. Recognition of our spiritual poverty initiates our spiritual journey toward Jesus. In order to go down this road, we cannot come to Jesus with a notebook of good deeds. We cannot, as the rich young ruler, approach Jesus with a completed checklist of all the laws of God that we have kept (Mk 10:17-31). This is the reason why so many sit Sunday after Sunday in a legal assembly, but feel empty. They know something is wrong with their legal approach to worship, but they do not know what is wrong. We cannot begin our journey toward Jesus by checking off legal ceremonies of worship.
The rich young ruler came to Jesus with a checklist. He subsequently walked away from Jesus sad, as many walk away from legal assemblies that are intended to bring one closer to Jesus. We simply must never forget that law can take one only so far down the road of spiritual growth. If we seek to be as close as possible to Jesus in this life, we must realize how far meritorious law-keeping keeps us away from being where we so earnestly desire. When we realize we are lawbreakers, then, we will begin to experience that about which John was seeking to convey in the statement, “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3). They are not burdensome when we understand that our obedience is not meritorious, but in appreciation of God’s grace (See 1 Co 15:10).
We can dutifully keep all the commandments, but still we must be on our knees confessing that “we are unprofitable bondservants …” (Lk 17:10). After all the good deeds fail to bring atonement, and after all the law-keeping fails to bring the satisfaction of justification, we must ask Jesus the same question His disciples asked Him: “Who then can be saved?” (Mk 10:26). There is only one answer to this question. “With men it is impossible, but not with God” (Mk 10:27). With our performance of law, no one can be saved before God (Gl 2:16). With no amount of good deeds can one atone for his own sins (Rm 11:6). We simply cannot demand a spiritual relationship with God on the basis of meritorious law-keeping. And we cannot arbitrate with God with our notebook of good deeds. Mourning over sin in the pits of our own spiritual insufficiency leads to the discovery of grace. It is with this discovery that we begin our journey into the arms of God.
When we recognize and confess our spiritual poverty, then we are on our way. When we confess that our legal performance of law is flawed, then we start to reach out for grace. This is hard because we are so self-sufficient. Declaring spiritual bankruptcy is humbling, for we want to take pride in our good deeds and performance of law. Our arrogance pushes us to trust in our own abilities. Our culture teaches us to be winners in all things. But when we start our journey to spiritual growth, we must confess that we are spiritual losers.
In our present social-media generation, we have taken so many “selfies” (pictures of ourselves) that we have convinced ourselves that we ourselves are important to God. We conclude that since we are the stars of our own little Facebook worlds, then certainly God needs us. He needs our glory in order to add to His. When He sees our shelves loaded with awards and trophies, surely, we conclude, God would accept us on the basis of how important we are. But when it comes to running the spiritual race for the prize, this is one time when we will always come in last at the finish line. We must come to the point in our lives when we wreck our lives into the wall of pride and pomp in order that we begin to understand that the objective of our desire in the realm of spirituality is a God thing, not an accomplishment of man.
When we recognize our spiritual poverty, and our inability to bring ourselves into the presence of God on the foundation of our performance of law or good deeds, then we start reaching out to God. It is then that we will come into the realm of His blessing. It is then that we will possess the kingdom reign of Jesus as He begins to reign in our hearts. His word will begin to be done on earth in our hearts as it is done in heaven (Mt 6:10).
We admire the great ministry of the apostle Paul. It was a ministry upon which the salvation of millions of souls will be in heaven. Not a week goes by that we do not read his Spirit-inspired writings. If one could successfully plead his case before God on the basis of meritorious works, then certainly Paul would have been a winner. But in all his works of ministry, he is the one the Holy Spirit chose to write the oracles of Galatians and Romans, which oracles proclaim the futility of doing good in order to save ourselves. As Paul’s own “works world” came crashing down after the Damascus road experience, he realized that only grace could put the pieces of his life together again.
Before the ink dried on the first seven chapters of Romans, Paul was about to inscribe the greatest literature ever written on the subject of grace. After proclaiming the insufficiently of our efforts to save ourselves according to law, he concluded chapter 7 with the outcry, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rm 7:24). Unless we come to this point in our lives, our spiritual growth will always be on a plateau of frustration.
No matter how important we may think we are in reference to kingdom business, no matter how puffed up we make our selves through the wearing of robes and gowns to set ourselves above the people, no matter how many degrees we have on our office walls, no matter how many titles we pronounce upon ourselves, no matter how many selfies we take of ourselves, each one of us must fall on our faces before God and cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?”
II. Spiritual poverty produces mourning.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4).
As Paul, who was in the midst of having revealed to him the climax of grace in Romans, we too must confess before God and mourn over our spiritual poverty (Rm 7:24). We must be brought to spiritual agony, tormented by our own insufficiency. It is only then that we can cry out as Paul, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rm 7:25). If we never humble ourselves before God and confess our spiritual poverty, then we will never begin the road to mourning over that which we cannot do in reference to drawing near to God. The mourning must begin before the comforting is given.
The road to closeness with God is covered with our tears. We mourn in frustration when we realize that we cannot dig ourselves out of our spiritual hole. We have seen light at the top of our pit of sin, but we have frustrated ourselves in trying to scale the slippery walls that are covered with our sins. So in our frustration, we cry out to Jesus to come for us.
Friends can never get us out of our dungeon of sin and into the presence of God. Worldly activities will never make the mournful sinner forget that he is so far away from God, that there is no human way to make our way closer to Him. We are so far down, only He can come and lift us up. The Corinthians were brought to this low by the judgmental words of the Spirit (1 Co 5:1,2). They were allowing sinful behavior to continue in their fellowship. However, they were obedient to the Spirit’s call for repentance, and thus, they repented. The sinful man in their midst also repented. After everyone’s repentance, the Spirit wrote, “For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation that is not to be regretted. But the sorrow of the world brings forth death” (2 Co 7:9).
If we mourn after the pronouncements of God, then there is salvation. But if we continue to satisfy spiritual poverty through worldly means, then there is only frustration. When we begin to sink into the stormy sea of life, as Peter in a tempestuous sea, the only recourse is, “Lord, save me!” (Mt 14:30). And when the Lord extends His hand to save us and keep us from drowning in sin and self-pity, it is not for a handshake. We grasp and cling to His hand. We never want to let go. We are never on our way to spiritual recovery until in desperation we can make the same outcry as Peter as he grasped for the saving hand of Jesus.
Our mourning over our lack of spirituality is the beginning to our spiritual recovery. Our mourning can never start too soon, for we never know when it will be too late. Does this mourning over our spiritual poverty ever end? Paul would answer, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Co 9:27). If mourning ends, we do as John wrote, we “commit sin unto death” (1 Jn 5:16). We are doomed.
Mourning over sin is a demeanor of discipleship life. It is not a onetime recognition of sinfulness, and then immersion in water to wash away sin (At 22:16). In order to fully appreciate the comfort of the grace of God, we continue to be mournful over our own inadequate selves. It was for this reason that Paul continued to manifest his appreciation for the grace of God by the obedient behavior of his life. He wrote, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Co 15:10). Sins are washed away in baptism (At 22:16). But unless we walk in the light of Jesus’ word, we will not have the benefit of His continual cleansing of our sins (1 Jn 1:7). It is for this reason, that we are comforted throughout our Christian lives because of our realization that by grace we are continually cleansed of our stumbles (Ep 2:8; 1 Jn 1:7).
A tragedy in life may spark our mourning and repentance. But after that initial tragedy when we promised to commit ourselves to Jesus, there need be no continuing tragedies to keep us on the spiritual growth road. If it takes another tragedy to get us back on the road to recovery, then the first may be questionable. Once Jesus knocked Paul off a horse on his way to Damascus, that was it for the rest of his life (See At 9:1-19). He never turned back. He remembered what Jesus said, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62). We are sure that Peter never again wanted to hear the sound of a rooster crow. And Paul, probably with some apprehension he mounted horses the rest of his life.
III. Mourning produces meekness.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5).
When we recognize our spiritual poverty, we are driven to mourn over our inability to perform that which would atone for our sins. In true mourning, somehow arrogance and pride are all swept away. The selfies on our facebook page seem to vanish. We realize that we are simply clods of dirt in which God has temporarily invested a spirit. When we join with others who are like-minded, there is no competition for who would be first. We have begun to discover the mind of Christ, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Ph 2:7). It is a marvelous discovery. It is a discovery that is life changing. When we are brought to meekness, we begin to understand the purpose for our existence. We understand that we were created by Him and for Him (Cl 1:16).
Meekness is not synonymous with frailty. It is power under control. Moses was acclaimed by God to be a meek man. “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men who were on the face of the earth” (Nm 12:3). Notice how the Holy Spirit wanted this great leader of a nation to be identified for posterity. In order to be “above,” one has to go below. If we would pride ourselves with our own abilities to be “above” our fellow man, then we are following the ways of the world. If we entitle ourselves to be above other disciples, then we are seeking glory, not meekness. But if through meekness, others set us above, then we are on our way to spiritual greatness. Therefore, we will not seek the “chief seats” (Mt 23:6).
Meekness helps us understand the nature of the leaders whom Jesus would have among us. In response to James and John, and the other disciples who sought to compete for prominent positions after a worldly manner in order to exercise power, Jesus said, “And whoever of you desires to be first will be the bondservant of all” (Mk 10:44). As Moses, leadership among God’s people is through meekness. “But whoever desires to be great among you will be your servant” (Mk 10:43). This is not the world speaking. This is the One who said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). The leader who seeks to lead through the delegation of responsibilities to others must caution himself if he is doing such in order to be served, or to make sure that the needs of others are being serviced.
The meek will inherit the earth simply because the earth will seek to follow them. It is only natural for men to follow the one who has the dirtiest towel (See Jn 13:1-20). When we meekly wash the feet of others through loving service, we seek to follow the God of the towel. And in so following this God, others follow our towel. The earth belongs to those who have made themselves the meek servants of the world. When the meek dedicate “themselves to the ministry of the saints,” the saints humbly submit to their service (1 Co 16:15,16). We are led by the meek, because it is they who service our needs.
IV. Meekness produces hunger.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled” (Mt 5:6).
There is no desire to be filled, unless one realizes that he is spiritually empty. One does not recognize his spiritual emptiness unless he is meek of heart, and thus, is willing to accept spiritual filling from God. We cannot be filled with the Spirit if we are full of ourselves. One does not become meek of heart, until he mourns over his spiritual ineptitude and emptiness. And one does not mourn over his spiritual ineptitude until he confesses his spiritual poverty. It is then that we seek to fill the void of our emptiness with the word of God. Those who are not students of the Bible have a pseudo spirituality that is either controlled by another or sustained by self. The only thing that truly fills the emptiness of our soul is word from Him with whom we seek an eternal relationship. All other “fillings” only result in spiritualism. And when we are spiritualistic, we never know if we are right with our Creator.
The truly meek seek divine guidance. They hunger for the Bread of Life. Jesus fills our hunger. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never hunger. And He who believes in Me will never thirst” (Jn 6:35). The spiritually poor will find no real fulfillment until they find that which is above themselves. No amount of the world’s possessions can satisfy the inner yearnings of the one who seeks spiritual justification before His Creator. It is the way God made us. Men as C. S. Lewis, who wrote Mere Christianity, simply reasoned themselves out of atheism because they realized that there was fulfillment for their spiritual poverty only in faith. Paul wrote,
For the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and divinity, so that they are without excuse (Rm 1:20).
If one would answer the natural call of the soul for his Creator, then he will find his way to God. God left enough evidence in creation to trigger one’s search for Him. Paul simply said that there is enough witness of God in that which has been created to direct one to begin his search in the direction of God. In 1976, Dr. Thomas B. Warren had a public discussion in Denton, Texas, with the world renowned atheist, Dr. Antony G. N. Flew. Flew argued his case the best one could in denying that intelligence permeated the universe, and thus was the origin of all life. Warren argued that it is more reasonable to believe on the basis that intelligence and design cannot be denied. Since that public forum decades ago, which drew up to five thousand people together to hear two respected philosophers debate the existence of God, Flew, in his recent conclusions concerning the intelligence embedded in the DNA of every cell, has reasoned that the existence of life cannot be accounted for on a naturalistic basis. And so, he has made his first steps toward belief. He has at least admitted that something was there, and here to create the intelligence that is embedded in the DNA of every cell. Do we see some “hungering” and “thirsting” from Dr. Flew in his old age?
“Hungering” and “thirsting” is an admission that we lack something in our inner soul. If we would relinquish to the “hungering” and “thirsting,” then we will find our way out of intellectual and emotional darkness into which we have so often entombed ourselves. We will find our way to the Bread of Life. And if we eat of the Bread, we will never hunger again.
One of the greatest illustrations of the yearning for spirituality in modern times took place after the Cultural Revolution of China. The Cultural Revolution was initiated by Chairman Mao Zedong of the Communist Party. It was launched in May 1966, and continued until its final demise in 1976. It was a movement to eradicate any form of capitalism and religion from society in order to establish the true Maoist policies of communism. A few years later in 1981, the Communist Party announced that it had eradicated the failed movement of Mao, declaring that the movement was …
… responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic (11th Central Committee of the Communist Part of China, June 27, 1981).
And today there is no stopping of the revival of faith throughout China. It is a natural phenomenon of the swing of the spiritual pendulum of oppression to the free-will of the people to seek faith. As a result, faith is spreading like wild fire throughout the nation. The Cultural Revolution failed because it was a movement against the innate nature of man that was embedded by God in every soul since creation. When men strip themselves of pride and power, and are subsequently humbled to their knees, it is only then that the inner self is discovered. It is then that the journey begins to develop a spiritual giant. Oppressive governments may suppress this inner desire. But once the oppression is removed, society seeks to spiritually heal itself. As spiritual healing in society reacts to an oppressive past, society as a whole is on its way to making up for lost time.
The fountain of faith from which we must drink in order to reach mountain peaks of spiritually can come only from one source. “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rm 10:17). When speaking of spiritual growth, one thing is certain: Satan will seek to detour those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. One thing distinguishes true spiritual growth from spiritism. This faith originates from the word of God. If one seeks to grow spiritually outside the guiding principles of the word of God, then he will end up only religious, or worse, only “spiritual.” When we see people who are obsessed over Bible study, then we see people who are seeking to be more than simply religious. We see people who are searching for their Creator. Those who seek the creation only will end up with a religion they have created after their own desires. Those who seek the righteousness of God, end up with a faith that is based on the word of God.
The first stumbling block over which people usually fall on their quest for spiritual growth is to fall for the spiritual placebos of Satan. These detours come in many forms. Some have assumed that spiritual growth comes from a more organized religiosity. So creeds and catechism are written in order supposedly produce spirituality by making sure that the orders of “the church” are ritualistically obeyed. But such legal ordinances fail. They fail because it is the nature of ritual and order to stymie spiritual growth. If spiritual growth must be accomplished on the foundation of organized religiosity, then we will never reach our quest because we will always know that we are trying to orchestrate our own spiritual road maps to God.
Organized religion is burdened with an inherent system of death. The adherents know that the organization is man-made. They realize that their obedience to rituals is a meritorious effort that is based on their abilities to live up to their creeds. And if they have studied their Bibles enough to know that we are saved by grace, then they have also come to the conclusion that legal performances of man-made rituals and traditions will never atone for the sins over which we mourn. We must remember that the more ecclesiastically organized we become, the less spiritual we are. Ecclesiastical orders are an outward pretense to spirituality. This is true because we become so worried about keeping the ecclesiastical rites of our organization that we forget our spiritual well-being. At the end of the day, our spiritual growth is not based on inventing more orders of worship in order to become more spiritual. After we make our way through all the quagmire of religious orders, all that is necessary for spiritual sustenance is a little wine, a little bread and a book.
If we are to reach the spiritual heights to which we so earnestly desire, then only God can take us there. And the only way He can take us there is through His word. We must confess that the greatest spiritual ecstacy that came over us was when we spent ten hours a day deep in study of the word of God in order to write a commentary on the entire Old Testament. There is no word from the dictionary to which we could resort to explain the surreal emotional state of connection one has with God than when one is totally immersed in a study of word of God. It is a feeling as if the world can simply pass by without notice. Social perils and international conflicts find no consideration in a mind that is whisked away into total communion with God. Our feeling was celebrated with the final period at the end of the last sentence. After that period was made, there was an inner urge to start it all over again. We long for that emotional environment, that suspended mind that was lifted above the affairs of this world and into the realm of a relationship with God that only His word can produce. We continue to hunger and thirst. We continue to involve our being in the ocean of His revelation.
You can go there too through the memorization of the Scriptures. We seem to have forsaken a culture that thrived on memorizing the word of God. For one example of the past, Fanny Crosby wrote almost 9,000 spiritual songs during her lifetime. By the time she was twelve years old, she had memorized the Bible books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. She once wrote, “The Bible verses were like friends that cheered me up whenever I felt sad about not going to school.” And why could she not go to school? Six weeks after she was born, she was blinded because of medical malpractice. Since the time of her life in the nineteenth century, over 100,000,000 copies of her spiritual songs have been printed and sung worldwide. Many have been translated into hundreds of languages. Remember the following songs?
All the Way My Savior Leads Me
Close to Thee
I Am Thine Oh Lord
Rescue the Perishing
Tell Me the Story of Jesus
To God be the Glory
They were all written by a totally blind person who loved her Bible. Yes, we have fallen. We have fallen from an era when the word of God was most precious to our hearts. We feel it is time to call for a restoration to that which can satisfy our spiritual hungering and thirsting.
V. Hungering and thirsting produces mercy.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).
It is at this stage in one’s adventure in spiritual growth that self-realization changes one’s spirit. This is the point in our journey where we encounter the signpost that reads, “Life Change Ahead.” We begin to understand what James wrote: “For judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (Js 2:13). Those who realize that God has poured out His mercy on them, reciprocate with mercy toward others. This is the “stone-dropping” moment of spiritual growth. The judgmental crowd that surrounded a woman caught in the very act of adultery sought to trap Jesus with the question, “Now in the law, Moses commanded us that such a person should be stoned. But what do You say?” (Jn 8:5).
It was now time for reflection. Those who hunger and thirst after the word of God start looking in the mirror of the word of God. They look into the mirror of the word and see themselves (Js 1:23). Those who are not mourning over their sins, do not like what they see, and thus, they turn away (Js 1:24). But those who are remorseful over what they see, are changed forever. They are blessed in their change.
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues to abide in it, not being a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in his deed (Js 1:25).
In the case of the those with stones in their hands, ready to cast them on the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). We can hear the stones drop with a thud to the ground as one-by-one the judges realized that they too were sinners.
But the unforgiving servant in a parable of Jesus was self-righteous and unforgiving (Mt 18:21-35). Once he had been forgiven a tremendous debt, he went out and found someone who owed him a trivial amount of money. He demanded, “Pay me what you owe” (Mt 18:28). The forgiven are often unforgiving. But the appreciative and mournful soul who has been forgiven so much, is always willing to pass on mercy to others.
God’s mercy and forgiveness in our lives obligates us. We are obligated to be merciful to others. Jesus taught the disciples to pray: “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12). It is for this reason that spiritual giants continue to grow. They realize that God’s mercy on them is contingent on their mercy that they extend toward others. By our mercy we extend to others we obtain the mercy of God. It is because His mercy is conditional that we are encouraged to remain on the road to mercy.
VI. Mercy produces purity in heart.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Mt 5:8).
The merciful person starts to understand His creator who has extended mercy toward him. It is the same as having a loving spirit. “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). Therefore, “he who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). The loving person can “see” God, because he understands the nature of the God of love. Righteousness, faith, love and peace are to be characteristics of “those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tm 2:22). And thus, “to the pure all things are pure” (Ti 1:15). Paul reminded Titus, “But to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure” (Ti 1:15). But those who are of a pure heart can understand (“see”) God. They can see God because they are living the nature of God. And unless one lives mercy, he cannot understand the God of mercy.
The unbelieving and defiled do not understand who God is, for they create a god after their own unforgiving nature. Such was the spiritual problem of the scribes and Pharisees.
Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs and indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but within are full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness (Mt 23:27).
We place flowers on the coffin of the dead. In a similar way we often dress up in our “Sunday best,” but inwardly we are spiritually dead. Exterior beauty is no solution for interior death. But when one behaves mercifully toward others, then he begins his inward cleansing. It is then that he realizes that “the purpose of the commandment is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience and a sincere faith …” (1 Tm 1:5).
VII. Purity of heart produces peacemakers.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Mt 5:9).
The Hebrew writer explains, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man will see the Lord” (Hb 12:14). Those who are of a pure heart understand the nature of God, and thus, they seek to establish peace among men as God brought peace between Himself and man through Jesus Christ. “For He [Jesus] is our peace, who has made both one …” (Ep 2:14). Jesus not only brought peace between God and man, He also brought peace between all men. He “has broken down the middle wall of separation” between men, specifically between those who are of different cultures (Ep 2:14). If we would be a disciple of Jesus, therefore, we will be peacemakers, for such was the ministry of Jesus. Such was the ministry of God to man through Jesus.
Those who are characterized by the heart of God are peacemakers after the nature of their Father. Those who go forth to represent God, have shod their “feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ep 6:15). The peace was characteristic of the early disciples as they went forth to preach the gospel of peace between God and man. Their nature of peace even became their common greeting with one another. It was as Paul when he addressed the disciples in his letters: “Grace to you and peace from God …” (Ph 1:2; see 1 Co 1:3; 2 Co 1:2; Gl 1:3; Ep 1:2). The early Christians went forth as peacemakers because they represented the God of peace (Ph 4:9). They were thus the children of the God of peace they proclaimed to the world.
The spiritual giants among us will be identified by their desire to bring peace, not contention and argument. While some reveal their immaturity through contention, those who began their spiritual journey to become peacemakers are revealed in times of conflict. When Paul wrote to Titus, he encouraged him to maintain his spirit of peace. When there were controversies concerning matters of opinion, Paul instructed that Titus should function as a peacemaker by not involving himself in meetings that produce contention.
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and contentions and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned (Ti 3:9-11).
The peacemaker maintains peace by not showing up at the meetings that concern discussions over “unprofitable and worthless” controversies. He does not show up because such meetings generate more strife. “Avoid foolish and unlearned questions,” Paul wrote to Timothy, “knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tm 2:23). Sometimes peacemaking involves avoiding foolish meetings that are conducted over matters of nonsense. If one would judge a meeting to be over a matter of unprofitable and worthless discussions, then he would violate Paul’s instructions to avoid foolish controversies if he attended such a meeting. Those who would call such meetings are factious, perverted and sinning. They are self-condemned.
It is certain that when one has spiritually grown to be a peacemaker, he will be condemned by the contentious for not showing up at controversial meetings that are conducted by those who are sinning. Nevertheless, the peacemaker must remember that …
… the servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves, if God perhaps will grant them repentance leading to a full knowledge of the truth (2 Tm 2:24,25).
VIII. Peacemaking produces persecution.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Mt 5:10). “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you for My sake” (Mt 5:11).
The persecution of the peacemaker will come from two sources:
A. Persecution comes from the world: Jesus forewarned His disciples, “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:20). “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). Jesus explained that because they did not conform to the ways of the world, then the world would pour out persecution upon them. “Because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:19).
B. Persecution comes from the perverted: We must not conclude that the persecution of spiritual giants will only come from those who are worldly. The misguided religious leaders of Jesus’ day nailed Him to the cross. They were those who cried out to a Roman leader of the world, “Crucify Him. Crucify Him” (Lk 23:21).
Both Timothy and Titus were certainly persecuted when they did not show up at the meeting of those who sought to debate the meaningless issues of the perverted. Perverted debaters will most certainly slander their opponents when their calls for senseless controversies are not answered. When Timothy and Titus did not show up at the meetings over contentions and controversies, then certainly they were slandered because they followed the instructions of the Holy Spirit not to become involved in meaningless debates.
Spiritual giants must always keep in mind that those who call for meetings over senseless controversies, become arrogant when their pleas to debate are not heeded. They manifest their arrogance because they seek to impose their opinions on others through intimidation, or pronouncements that one is “dividing the church.” And since the sincere do not want to “divide the church,” they will often succumb to the proclamations of the perverted who are sinning and self-condemned. They will inadvertently allow the opinions of the arrogant to become law for the intimidated. The intimidated will often allow such by forsaking their freedom in Christ in order to please the opinionated person who seeks to either bind or loose his opinions. Those who spiritually grow in Christ, must expect the wicked tactics of the self-condemned to be launched against them.
When one’s journey of mourning has taken him from hopelessness in sin to the mountain peak of willingly being silent in times of persecution, then certainly he has reached the spiritual caliber of being able to kneel down, as Stephen, and say to his persecutors, “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge” (At 7:60). It is then that we become “the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13). We are then “the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). Jesus would conclude, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).
We conclude, therefore, that Jesus’ reference to “good works” in this statement is more than a reference to good behavior as a disciple. He was speaking of a demeanor of life. When the world observes the behavior of spiritual giants, they give glory to God who is the cause of our good life. True spirituality, therefore, will always bring glory to God, and not to ourselves. We must not, therefore, hide our spiritual behavior from those of the world. The world must know that there are spiritual giants in the land.
[Next lecture: April 24th]