Militant Discipleship (2)

D.  They believed that the message of the gospel was not just another religious philosophy of men.

In the 1930s, H. W. Tilman rode a bicycle alone across the middle of Africa from Mombasa, Kenya to the west coast. He encountered several people along the way and had many fantastic experiences with people in the 42-day trek. In 1938 he published a book on the adventure that was entitled, Snow On The Equator, which book we have in our library and have read twice.

When riding through the French regions of the Congo, Tilman spent one night with a radically committed missionary couple, a Norwegian with a Swiss wife. Tilman related that the couple received him with great hospitality for the one evening he spent with them. He also wrote that at the time of his visit the wife was holding their very frail-looking child. When he asked about the child, the couple told him that they had buried four of their other children “out back.”

As part of the Basel Missions of Africa, this couple was totally dedicated to the message that they were bringing to Africa.   They knew their message would change Africa. And it did. Africa is a better place today because thousands of dedicated missionaries as this buried their children and loved ones “out back.”   Their commitment to get the job done changed the entire continent of Africa. Some might question such commitment today. But the missionary Paul would answer,

What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem [and in Africa] for the name of the Lord Jesus (At 21:13).

Paul once walked into Athens with the message of the gospel on his heart. At least this is what the Athenian philosophers perceived, for they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is about which you speak? For you bring certain strange things to our ears.   Therefore, we want to know what these things mean” (At 17:19,20). The Athenians “spent their time in nothing else than to tell or to hear some new thing” (At 17:21). And what Paul was speaking was something they had never before heard.   It was new, and to them, it was strange.

If the center of philosophy of the world at the time was Athens, then the world had never before heard something as the message of the gospel. The early disciples believed that the gospel was the sole medium unto salvation (Rm 1:16).   And because it was something that they had received directly from God through Jesus, they would never compare it with any philosophy of this world. There were no philosophies or religious systems of either thought or works that could be substituted for the gospel. Because the early disciples were totally convinced that the gospel was God’s power unto salvation, they were totally convicted to preach it to every creature on earth. And for this reason, they had a great number of conversions because of the greatness of their conviction in the saving message of the gospel. They too were willing to bury their children “out back” in foreign soil.

E.  They preached the gospel everywhere.

Acts 5:42 explains the daily schedule of the early disciples in fulfilling the requirements of their job description: “And daily in the temple and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”   Acts 8:4 explains the territory into which they journeyed in order to preach that Jesus was the Christ: “Those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.” And Acts 8:12 explains the results of their preaching: “When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

We would certainly conclude from their evangelistic life-style that the first Christians were excited about preaching Jesus as the Christ because they were excited about the fruit that God produced from their preaching. God could do His job because they did theirs. And because they migrated across the first century world, God was able to increase the body of Christ throughout the world.

F.  They were loyal to one another as the body of Christ.

One of the most important relational concepts concerning the dynamic of the early church was that everyone was on the same page in their objective to be the one organic body of Christ. “Now all who believed were together and had all things in common” (At 2:44).

Peter once addressed a letter to Christians throughout five different provinces of Asia Minor (1 Pt 1:1). In reference to all the Christians in these provinces, he exhorted them to “love the brotherhood” (1 Pt 2:17). The early Christians were loyal to one another in a hostile world that was contrary to what they believed. They encouraged one another by being committed to one another as the one church.

All disciples of Divinity compose the worldwide body of Christ, over which Jesus is the only head and center of reference (Ep 1:22,23). Every Christian has been baptized into this one universal body (1 Co 12:13). Since each member was baptized into the one body, and the body is composed of many members, then each member was baptized into a relationship that demands they all work together as one organic body (See Ep 4:11-16).

The church is the called-out assembly of all those throughout the world who have committed their lives to Christ. In committing their lives to Christ, they have committed themselves to one another. As His body, Jesus has purchased them with His own blood (At 20:28).   And thus, He is the Savior of all those who have been baptized into the one body of members (Ep 5:23). Knowing this truth spurred the early members on to bring as many people as possible into this worldwide community.

The early members of the body knew that there was no salvation outside the body, and thus, they were eager to give everyone an opportunity to be a member of the body that Jesus will save when He comes again.   They believed that every soul was a mission field, and this made every member of the body a missionary. For this reason they were willing to bear their crosses for Christ (Lk 9:23,24). They were willing to die for the One who died for them, and if necessary, to bury their children “out back.”

[Next lecture in series: May 1]

Militant Discipleship (1)

When James said, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works,” he essentially said, “I won’t believe what you believe until I see how committed you are in putting your faith into action” (Js 2:18). “Walk the talk” is more than a cliche when applied to Christianity. In reference to the disciples of Jesus, the commonly used phrase is crucial to identify those who are truly disciples of Divinity.

In today’s political use of the word “militant,” people usually cringe with visions of terrorism, guns and bombs.   But preachers have been using this term for centuries in reference to the diligent actions of the disciples of Christ. And before the preachers, there was the Holy Spirit. We do not, therefore, shy away from using the term, especially since the militancy of the disciple of Divinity is almost the entire opposite of the actions of carnal terrorists who kill innocent people.

Both the carnal terrorist and the disciple of Jesus are moved by intense beliefs. However, the outcome of each is entirely different. One reaches for a gun or bomb, but the other reaches for the word of God in order to better his own life and the lives of others. One strikes fear in the hearts of citizens, but the other generates love. One repels and the other attracts.

The New Testament is loaded with military terms that are used as metaphors to explain the militant zeal of the Christian.   The disciple of Jesus understands that the metaphors are simply figures of speech that are used by the Holy Spirit to ignite our faith into action. The metaphors were never given as a motive to implement a carnal military crusade as was typical of the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. In fact, the metaphorical meaning of the military terms are opposite to someone generating any carnal warfare based on one nation or faith militarily conquering another. On the contrary, the implementation of the mighty force of Christians makes the world a place of peace, not fear.

The dictionary definition of “militant” would be one who seeks to fight for his faith by engaging in war against the enemy.   As a soldier of his commander, the militant maintains a combative character in order to engage the enemy.   He is ready and willing to fight for his faith. In reference to the disciple of Divinity, the militant soldier of the cross seeks to engage the enemy of all unrighteousness. And thus, his life as a disciple is constantly in conflict with the powers of evil. Paul explained:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but powerful through God for the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Co 10:3-5).

Christians “put on the whole armor of God so that” they may be able “to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ep 6:11). They are willing “to fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tm 6:12). And thus, they are willing to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tm 2:3), so at the end of their lives they can say as Paul, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tm 4:7).

The nature of the disciple’s life, therefore, is conducted under the shadow of what Jesus said in Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus used the word “sword” as a metaphor to indicate that those who would become His disciples would suffer persecution because they, with the “sword” of the word of God, would engage the world of unrighteousness.   When the early evangelists went throughout the world preaching the gospel, they taught the new converts “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (At 14:22).   When the sword of the Spirit is swung across the world of evil, tribulation will ensue.

The result of the militancy of the early church was amazing. For two thousand years, preachers and Bible teachers have used the example of the New Testament disciples to illustrate what it means to be a totally committed living sacrifice. While living under harsh oppression, the gospel went forth throughout the Roman Empire.   By A.D. 61,62 Paul could write from a Roman prison that the gospel message “was preached to every creature that is under heaven” (Cl 1:23). The early disciples “turned the world upside down” for Jesus (At 17:6). We today often wonder how they did this, when at first they suffered from the oppression of the Jewish religious establishment, and then by the state opposition of the Roman Empire for over two hundred years. We offer the following reasons for their success:

A.  They exalted the one God.

Christianity was born into a world of idolatry. This idolatry was the religion of most people of the world at the time when the early Christians proclaimed that there was only one true and living God. In fact, it could be stated that only the Jews maintained a belief in only one God. The rest of the world was idolatrous.

At one time on one of his mission journeys, Paul went right into one of the seats of idolatry. He went to Athens, Greece. He encountered there the most rigid idolaters of the day, that is, philosophical idolaters. Nevertheless, these idolaters reasoned that for there to be a true God, then this God must be beyond the comprehension of man. The Greek citizenship believed in many gods, but the Greek philosophers reasoned that there must be out there only one “high” God.

When Paul passed through the streets of Athens, he noticed many idols that had been made to honor the different gods of the Greek’s imagination. But when he stood before the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, he said, “… as I passed by and observed your objects of worship, I found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO THE UNKNOWN GOD’” (At 17:23). These Greek philosophers were wise enough to know that if they could figure out the behavior of the gods that men conceived in their own minds, then they certainly could not conceive the “god of gods” through the reasoning of men. Therefore, Paul said to them, “The One whom you worship in ignorance, Him I declare to you” (At 17:23). This statement sparked their interest.

If a disciple of Divinity would be militant for Christ, then there must be no doubt in his mind concerning the existence of the one true and living God (Ep 4:6). This God must be defined by the revelation of His description (the Bible).   Any other source of definition will not do. In order to endure the tribulation that comes with bearing the sword of Christ, one must be totally committed to the one God of heaven. One’s faith in God must be the foundation upon which he or she will stand in the heat of any persecution.

B.  They believed that Jesus was the only Savior.

The early disciples believed that there was eternal salvation only in Jesus Christ. This was an absolute in their thinking. Peter expressed this belief in the following proclamation before some unbelieving religious leaders: “And there is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (At 4:12). In order to be militant for Christ, there can be no compromise in this belief. If Jesus is one of many options, then He is no option at all. The salvation of all men since the cross will be determined by people’s response to the word of Christ (Jn 12:48), for through His word will all men be judged (At 17:30,31).

We live in a world of “acceptable multiple religiosity.” It is the belief of the political liberal to accept all faiths as valid, Christian or non-Christian. This movement is especially true in reference to modern-day democracies around the world. In a democracy, every faith must be respected and accepted, but when approaching God, only the faith that is defined by His word is acceptable to Him.   God is no respecter of persons. “But in every nation he who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (At 10:35). It is the responsibility of every man on earth to find this God whom all men must fear and obey.

God accepts all those who manifest their fear of Him through their work of His righteousness. This means that no man has a right to invent his own righteousness by which he would seek to be acceptable to God. Christians are militant to teach the righteousness of God, for they know that “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24).

C.  They took ownership of their Christ-ordained jobs.

The early disciples received their job description from what Jesus said in Mark 16:15: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” This is exactly what they did. “Therefore, those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (At 8:4).

In order to accomplish their job description, Paul outlined in 1 Corinthians 3:6 what the early disciples did: “I [Paul] have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

  1.  The disciples’ job was to plant. Paul first planted the seed of the kingdom in Corinth (At 18:5,11). His first message wherever he went was to preach the gospel, which thing he did in Corinth and Achaia (1 Co 15:3,4). The result of his preaching the gospel was that men and women were “brought forth through the gospel” (1 Co 4:15).

After the example of the early disciples, it is our job to preach the gospel to the world. It is about this job that the early Christians were concerned, because they knew that no one could be saved without obedience to the gospel of Jesus.   Only He was the way, truth and life (Jn 14:6). They knew that Jesus would eventually come “in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th 1:8).   And if the righteous are scarcely saved through their obedience to the gospel, then there was no hope for those who did not obey the gospel (See 1 Pt 4:18). They believed, therefore, as Paul: “For woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Co 9:16).

Since the early Christians knew that there was salvation by no other means other than through Christ, then their commitment to accomplish their job as disciples was expressed in the words of Paul: So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also who are at Rome” (Rm 1:15).

 2.  The disciples’ job was to water: Apollos encouraged the saints whom Paul had fathered through the preaching of the gospel (At 18:27,28). It was his job as a disciple to build up the body of Christ through teaching (See At 20:28). What was on the mind of every teacher and shepherd of the first century was the thinking of the shepherd who stood up and said before the assembly, “We ain’t what we ought to be, and we ain’t what we’re gonna be, but thank God we ain’t what we used to be.”   In realizing this, Barnabas was the “son of encouragement” in action. He, as well as many others, assumed their job of edifying the body of Christ because they were thankful that they were not what they used to be because of the grace of God.

The ministries of the word of God that Paul mentioned in Ephesians 4:11,12 were for the purpose of edifying the body of Christ.   As newborn babes in Christ (1 Pt 2:2), the early teachers of the body built up the body by teaching the word of God (At 20:32). The early church grew across the Roman Empire because the early disciples assumed their job to build up the body with the word.

 3.  They trusted that God would do His job by giving the increase:   Paul reminded the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3:6 that it was God, not them, who gave the increase. He said this in the context of some who were trying to take credit for the increase of the church throughout Achaia. These presumptuous leaders, who sought to take glory for Paul’s work, needed to be reminded that it was Paul who planted the seed which came forth in their hearts (See 2 Co 10:11-16). It was Apollos who watered the seed. But it was God’s job to give the increase.

Christians must worry about their jobs, not God’s.   Unfortunately, too many Christians do not do their jobs (planting and watering), because they are worried about God doing His job. Therefore, they conclude that they should not do their job because they figure that God will not give an increase to their labors. As disciples of Divinity, we must never forget that we are only the vessels through whom God works to accomplish His job. If there is no planting and watering by the vessels, then God cannot do His job of giving the increase.

Christians should desire to do as Jerry McCaghren once wrote in reference to his ministry in the slums of the inter city:

Some people want to live,

within the sound of church and chapel bell;

I want to run a rescue shop,

Within a yard of hell.

If no one in our area is obeying the gospel, then there is only one reason why they are not. The Christians in the area are not doing their jobs of teaching the gospel and edifying the newborn babes in Christ. We need to have less worry about God doing His job, and more about us not doing ours.

[Next lecture in series: April 30]

Food Discipleship (2)

F.  Carrot disciples:

 Carrots are hard and brittle. Because of their nature, they have little taste. Carrots are usually eaten only when mixed with some other food, or when cooked.

There are disciples like uncooked carrots.   One might say that they have a stilted personality that is hard and crunchy. They may be suffering from a hardened heart because of past experiences.   They are as Pharaoh who hardened his heart against the work of God (See Ex 7:22). Nebuchadnezzar also hardened his heart (Dn 5:20). Those disciples to whom the Hebrew writer was directing his admonition were in danger of hardening their hearts as the rebellious Israelites who came out of Egyptian captivity. The writer admonished, “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hb 3:8). On the contrary, the Hebrew writer exhorted, “Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hb 3:15).

The carrot disciple must allow himself to be cooked in the aroma of Jesus in order to loosen up. Once loosened up, he is palatable. When one finds himself becoming hardened by the circumstances around him, then he needs to be cooked by Christ. He needs to give himself over to God, and allow God to mold him after His holiness (See 1 Pt 5:5,6).

G.  Wild olive disciples:

 The first time we tasted an olive directly picked from the tree was the last time we ate an olive directly from the tree.   It was so bitter that we could not get its remnants out of our mouth fast enough. It is the oleuropein in the olive that is tremendously bitter.   Therefore, the olive must be “cured.”   It must be soaked in brine, salt or lye, with the added flavoring of wine vinegar, before it is transformed into a delightful food to be eaten. Once processed, olives are just great in a host of foods.

There are some bitter olives in the world.   They are as rotten apples, bitter in personality, and just grouchy. They often carry a “chip on their shoulders.” But something great will happen in their lives when they become disciples of Jesus. They can be transformed from a sour and bitter olive into that which is palatable.   When one encounters and obeys the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, he is changed into something that is delightful.   Paul wrote of some of these former bitter olives. After explaining their former toxic character, he reminded them,

Now such were some of you. But you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God (1 Co 6:11).

These former bitter olives, who “once behaved in times past in the lusts of our flesh,” had allowed themselves to be morphed (transformed) by the renewing of their minds (Rm 12:2). Those who have transformed their thinking are no longer wild olive disciples. They focus their minds on those things that are above, and thus they become the living sacrifices that offer up a sweet fragrance of worship to God.

H.  Banana disciples:

One word could be used to describe a banana … pleasing. It is not hard like a carrot.   It is not hot like a radish. It is not bitter like an uncured olive. A banana is simply delightful to eat.

People like to hang around a banana disciple.   They are not afraid of something being said that will offend. They are not afraid of offensive words that either embarrass or hurt. This is the disciple who always speaks with grace (Cl 4:6). The reason for this mellow and appealing personality is that the banana disciple has given heed to Paul’s words in Colossians 3:12,13:

Therefore, put on as the elect of God, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another and forgiving one another. If anyone has a complaint against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also should you.

We all come to Christ as wild olives. We are often bitter, being embittered by the world. But the beautiful aroma that comes from the Son of God will mellow us in Christ. We will be transformed into the living image of Jesus.   Our personality changes because our character is changed as the word of Christ richly dwells in us (Cl 3:16).

 I.  Mango disciples:

Many people in cold climates have not had the privilege of tasting a mango. They have missed out on a little bit of heaven on earth. All we have to say about mango discipleship is that this is what we would be. If you have eaten a mango, you will understand that our characters should be as mangos. Yummy!

Sometimes we use a particular fruit or vegetable in one phrase to explain the character or personality of different people.   Ever hear this: “He’s a rotten apple”?   Or maybe on the positive side, “She’s a peach.” And then there are those who are simply “sour grapes.” Or simply, “He’s fruity,” or just “full of beans,” or “nuts.”

The objective of every disciple of Divinity is to allow his or her personality and character to be transformed into the aroma of Christ. This is a lifetime project.   It is spiritual growth that takes place over years of constant struggle. We thus study continually the behavior of Jesus in order to be as He is.   By being as Him, we draw others closer to Him. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Only let your behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Ph 1:27). And when our behavior is worthy of the gospel, it is then that the words of Paul are understood in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ.”

[Next lecture in series: April 29]

Food Discipleship (1)

Different fruits and vegetables affect different people in different ways, depending on their tastes. And so it is with our personality and character. How we portray Christ to others often depends on the tastes of those in whose presence we are. And for this reason, it is important for every Christian to fine tune his personality and character in order to manifest, as Paul said, “the aroma of His knowledge through us in every place” (2 Co 2:14).

Our influence on others is as Paul continued in his letter to the Christians in Achaia, “To the one we are the aroma from death to death, and to the other the aroma from life to life” (2 Co 2:15).   We thus work on how we present ourselves to others for a very important purpose: “For we are to God a sweet fragrance of Christ, in those who are being saved and in those who are perishing” (2 Co 2:16). It is our goal to present to others the sweet fragrance of Christ in order that others be attracted to Christ, and thus, come to life.

One of the purposes for our close relationship with one another in Christ is that we are offered the opportunity to check one another’s personality and character. The closer we become, the more our personalities are identified by one another. Assets are discovered, and detriments are discouraged. As disciples of Divinity we are relational in order that we can fine tune our personalities and characters for a better presentation of the radiant aroma of Christ to the world.

In our travels around the world, we have encountered hundreds of fruits and vegetables that often identify the personality and character of Christians. In a metaphorical application, some of the following fruits and vegetables may not be fully understood by every reader, simply because a particular reader may not have eaten the fruit or vegetable.   Nevertheless, in the definition of the tastes of the selected fruit or vegetable, we hope to describe metaphorically a particular personality or character that we may have encountered or portray ourselves.

A.  Breadfruit disciples:

Breadfruit is a fruit that originated in the South Pacific. Once discovered as a fruit that could be eaten, the tree was planted in many places of the world in order to provide food for slaves. When we were in the West Indies we ate breadfruit. When eaten straight from the tree, this fruit is so bland that it needs a great deal of help to be pleasing to the tastes. It is thus cooked in every possible way in order to make it palatable. It is simply a bland fruit that always needs help in order to make it acceptable.

There are some very bland disciples who need a lot of help with their personality. These are disciples who need to heed the words of the Holy Spirit: “Awake you who sleep and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ep 5:14).

There may be some who are bland simply because they have grown disheartened. These disciples need to listen to the Hebrew writer when he spoke in reference to the hardships of Jesus: “For consider Him who endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you not grow weary and faint in your minds (Hb 12:3). And, “My son, do not despise the disciplining of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked by Him (Hb 12:5).

If one feels that he needs help in order not to become weary and faint, then it may be that he has become dull of hearing the exhorting word of God that is able to build us up (At 20:32; Hb 5:11).   If the word of God is able to build up our faith—and it is—then when our faith is not being built up, we must assume that we are not into the word as we should be (See Rm 10:17).

A good point to remember is what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” If one’s life is bland because he or she has become weary and fainthearted, then it is time to wake up and smell the coffee. All disciples go through times when life seems bland. It is not wrong to sometimes be down, but it is wrong to stay down. If we stay down, then one is not allowing Christ to strengthen him. The problem is not in what causes us to be bland, but our rejection of that which is able to build us up. When one becomes excited about the seed of the kingdom, the result is that he becomes excited about the spiritual needs of others. And when one is excited about the needs of others, he will become more excited about the Seed. Seed and need build one up in spiritual strength (See At 20:32).

B.  Squash disciples:

There are numerous types of squash throughout the world. But there is one thing that is common with every squash in reference to being used as a food. Once cooked, every squash is squashed. The name of the food is appropriate. Squash is made to be squashed as a food, and thus in being squashed, it loses its identity. Unless one has identified the food before it was smashed into an eatable food, one would not know if it were squash, a pumpkin, a potato, or some root.

Some Christians lose their identity when “squashed” by the heat of persecution, or simply by a trying situation in which they find themselves. Such was the case with the disciples to whom the Hebrew writer gave instructions to stand strong in Christ. He wrote the following to these disciples who were on the verge of apostasy:

For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and brings forth herbs useful for those by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God (Hb 6:7).

The point: We receive God’s blessing when we faithfully produce. However, there was a problem with these disciples. The recipients of this exhortation, who were being intimidated to return to the Sinai law, were in the process of losing their identity as Christians, and thus, their salvational blessing from God.

The writer continued, “But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (Hb 6:8). If these Christians were “squashed” by the “thorns and thistles” into apostasy, then they would eventually be burned. Therefore, they must “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hb 6:12). In other words, without faithfulness, there is no blessing of the promises.

This is critical in reference to our salvation, “for if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hb 10:26). Squash disciples, therefore, must be cautioned about losing their identity as Christians, and thus, their inheritance of the promises. They must not allow the world in which they live to weaken their identity as disciples of Divinity, and thus, rob them of their salvation.

One can lose his identity as a Christian if he follows after any faith that is not identified as true by the will of God (See Mt 7:21). One can lose his identity as a Christian if he becomes a friend of the world (Js 4:4). If one is squashed into the image of the world, then certainly he has lost his discipleship of Divinity, and subsequently, his eternal salvation.

C.  Radish disciples:

 The first bite of a radish is hot. It looks good on the outside because it is red.   But when eaten, it is often too hot for some people to be eaten alone. It must be mixed with another food, possibly in a salad.

Some disciples are like this in their personality.   They have a hot temper. They forget that their hot temper is too close to danger. But someone advised, “If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.”   One hot word will often cool a relationship.

The radish disciple is in need of patience.   Solomon would admonish him with the words, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who controls his spirit than he who takes a city” (Pv 16:32). “Therefore, my beloved brethren,” James exhorted, “let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (Js 1:19).

Radish disciples have one of the most difficult personalities to overcome. It is hard to overcome because they have usually been this way from their youth.   Others have allowed them to get away with their outburst of anger. And now in an age of social media, their hot temper shows up as “online bullying.”   They are very critical, and subsequently, they make heated remarks in response to something they read on someone’s timeline.

Hot tempered people are known for speaking (writing) before they think. They will make their critical statements on social media because they know that no one will be able to give them a face-to-face response with which they must deal personally. They become social media trolls who are in search of some innocent victim to vent their “radish personality.”

These are those disciples who have lost their aroma of Christ, and thus, people do not desire to be around them, lest something is said that sets them off. They are opinionated to the point that others are in fear of voicing their own opinions, lest the discussion digresses into debate. These are those disciples who need to heed the Holy Spirit’s advice to “let you speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” (Cl 4:6).

A wise writer once wrote the following short story of a radish disciple:

Once upon a time there was a fellow who got very angry at something that was done to him in the church. So he said, “I’ll never go back to that church again. I’ll die and go to hell first.”   And so he did.

D.  Grapefruit disciples:

 Ever just take a big bite of a grapefruit?   It makes one cringe.

Some personalities are like this. When encountered, they make one cringe. Not only do grapefruit personalities cause others to cringe, they sometimes cringe themselves at the word of God when they learn something in their Bibles that conflicts with their behavior.   Therefore, one must be very cautious around a grapefruit disciple, because if something is said or read that sets him off, then he brings tension into the discussion.

  1. Cringed by harsh words: Grapefruit people react with caustic statements, wherein the audience becomes shocked, stunned and quiet. The sad thing about the grapefruit disciple is that one day he eventually wakes up and finds himself alone. People are too frightened about even calling him on the telephone. His personality does not encourage people to gather around him for encouragement. By his speech he repels people. We might say that he is opposite to the personality of Barnabas who was the “son of encouragement” (At 4:36).
  1. Cringed by the word: Jeremiah once wrote a message from God to King Jehoiakim. The message was written on a scroll and read before the king. But when Jehoiakim heard the message, he reacted:

So it came to pass when Jehudi had read three or four columns, he [the king] cut it with a penknife and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the scroll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth” (Jr 36:23).

Sometimes, grapefruit disciples are cringed by the word of God, and thus, react to the word in a similar manner as Jehoiakim. The Holy Spirit would say to those who negatively react to God’s word, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th 5:19). “Do not despise prophecies” (1 Th 5:20).

If they continue on their course of life, grapefruit disciples eventually lose their identity as disciples of Divinity.   They do so because they reject that which identifies one as a disciple. If the word of God is rejected, then that which is God’s instructional manual for discipleship can no longer be the guide of the one who poses to be following God. The disciple who despises the word of God, either through lack of study, or just plain rejection of the word, becomes a religionist. He becomes a wolf among the disciples because he does not know the word of God. It would be this person about whom Jesus was possibly thinking when He made the statement: “… because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth” (Rv 3:16).

E.  Onion disciples:

The response of others when they come into contact with the personality of this disciple is obvious. The onion disciple makes you want to cry. This is the pessimist with pains, and to be sure, he will explain every pain in his life, whether in body or in his relationships with others. This disciple is as someone said of him: “The guy who feels bad when he feels good because he is afraid he will feel worse when he gets to feeling better.”

The onion disciple thinks that every day is “National Frown Day,” and thus he brings a dark cloud of sadness to those he encounters throughout the day. He is like the boy who was given grapes, but complained when he found that they had seeds.

In a hospital there were two patients lying in recovery from their illnesses. When one of the patients was asked how he was feeling, he responded, “I am better today.” When the other patient was asked how he felt, he responded, “I was worse yesterday.” Our personality is portrayed to others in how we respond to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Our personality can be identified by how we would respond to rain.   One person might respond, “This rain will make mud.” The other would say, “This rain will cause the crops to grow.” Our personality is sometimes revealed by what two men said when looking at a bush. One said, “This bush has thorns.” The other said, “This bush has a rose.” Our personality will determine the quality of our relationships with others.

Paul would say to the onion disciple, “Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say, rejoice!” (Ph 4:4). We must not allow ourselves to respond in a negative manner to the environment in which we live. One person may be stung by a bee, but still call it a honey bee. But the onion disciple would call the bee a stinging bee.   A disciple who is rejoicing always in the Lord will always say, “I am glad that I get to live for Jesus.” But the onion disciple is pessimistic. He would say, “I’m sorry that I must die.”   Pessimism may creep out of us when we react to our environment. We might say, “I am glad that my social environment is not worse.” But then we might say, “I’m sorry that it is no better.”

The personality of the onion disciple is that his discipleship is mixed with too much negativism, whereas the life of the rejoicing disciple is mixed with just a little sadness that comes his way.   Nevertheless, he continues to rejoice in the Lord. He has the personality about which James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the trying of your faith produces patience” (Js 1:2,3).


[Next lecture in series: April 28]

Example Discipleship (2)

C.  Barnabas was a good disciple.

We find the following statement most incredible in reference to God commending a man. It is a statement of the Holy Spirit in reference to the character of Barnabas: “For he [Barnabas] was a good man (At 11:24). This is God making a statement concerning the character of one of His precious children.

If the Holy Spirit referred to Barnabas as “a good man,” then certainly we would want to know what was necessary in order that we too be considered good by God. We would certainly say that Barnabas was considered good by God because of feeling the needs of others, for he gave his possessions (At 4:37). He was one who perceived the heart of God to preach the gospel to the world, for he both gave to missions, and then he gave himself as a missionary (At 13,14; see 3 Jn 5-8). And he was right in his faith, for he, being a Levite, believed and obeyed the gospel. In one’s life as a disciple, he or she is either portraying Christ or betraying Christ.   Barnabas was a shining example of what the Holy Spirit would declare to us as one who portrayed Christ. Because he portrayed Christ, he was a good man.

If one were carrying a bucket of water from the well to his house, and was accidentally bumped by his neighbor, he would spill only what was in the bucket, that is, water. Life is full of bumps. We are often bumped daily as we walk along life’s journey. It seems that in Barnabas’ case, he spilled only goodness. And because he spilled only that which was good, the Holy Spirit identified him as a good man. If we are filled with the Spirit, then we will be considered by God to be good, and thus, spill only good when we are bumped.

D.  Barnabas was a man full of the Holy Spirit.

Most people today misunderstand what being “full of the Holy Spirit” means. It helps to understand being full of the Spirit by reasoning what it cannot be.   Reference cannot be to degrees by which the Spirit dwells within the Christian, for we all have Him the same.   The Holy Spirit does not present the opportunity for any disciple to glory in reference to how much the Spirit works in his life, for the Spirit does not work to give one the opportunity to glory in himself. Being filled with the Spirit cannot refer to one’s gifts being marginalized, or overpowered by His influence. If this were the case, then the Spirit would become a respecter of persons in that He would enhance one person’s gifts, but ignore another’s. Being filled with the Spirit cannot refer to one being more “spiritual” than any other disciple. Again, this would be saying that the Spirit shows respect of persons. We would wonder why He would empower one disciple and ignore another. And if one disciple claimed to be especially empowered directly by the Holy Spirit, then a fellow disciple would feel that he was marginalized by the Spirit because he was neglected or overlooked by the Spirit.

Understanding “being filled with the Spirit” as it is used in several New Testament contexts might help. John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb (Lk 1:15). This certainly had no reference to baby John speaking in tongues, preaching marvelous lessons, being spiritually minded, or giving spiritual counsel. We can only assume from this statement that as a babe, John was a good infant. There was something about his demeanor, even as a babe, that signaled to everyone that there was something special about this child. And certainly, when he was able to speak, things started to happen in his life.

Those who were filled with the Spirit conducted their lives with sobriety. The demeanor of their behavior commanded the attention of others. In this way, they were led by the Spirit, for they followed a course of ministry to be useful to the Holy Spirit to both live and speak the word of God.

Any who would be filled with the Spirit would speak out for God. They would not be timid. Elizabeth, John’s mother, “as filled with the Holy Spirit. And she spoke out …” (Lk 1:41,42). “Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit. And he prophesied …” (Lk 1:67). “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them …” (At 4:8). “Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And they spoke the word of God with boldness” (At 4:31). “Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, … said …” (At 13:9).   Get the point? Barnabas was filled with the Spirit, and thus used his gift of encouragement to speak forth the word of God to the people. He was an encouraging person, both in the demeanor of his life and by the words he spoke.

The behavior of Barnabas identified him as a Spirit-filled person. It was as Paul later wrote to the Ephesians: “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit (Ep 5:18).   Being drunk will lead one to do all sorts of senseless things. According to Paul’s statement to the Ephesians, when one is emotionally behaving senselessly, he is not filled with the Spirit. Losing control of one’s emotions is like being drunk. But the opposite is true for those who are filled with the Spirit.

When a disciple behaves soberly, it is then that his behavior reveals that the Spirit is directing him through his obedience to the word of God. Those religionists who writhe on the ground in senseless nonsense are as those who are as one drunk with wine. They are not filled with the Spirit because they are emotionally out of control.   Because of his sober behavior, on the other hand, people could see that Barnabas was a man filled with the Spirit.   And because his demeanor was under control, people listened when he spoke.

 E.  Barnabas was a man full of faith.


The Holy Spirit tagged Barnabas as a man “who was full … of faith” (At 11:24).

  1. He had faith in the mission of Jesus: The extent of his faith was revealed through the contribution he made to the mission of preaching the gospel to the world. The text reads, “… having land, sold it …” (At 4:37). The indication is that he sold all his land. He did not sell some of his land, and deceptively hold back some as Ananias and Sapphira did in reference to the sale of their possessions (At 5:1-11).   But as a land owner, he sold all of that which many considered to be the one possession that is most difficult to release … land!

The extent of Barnabas’ faith was not revealed in what he gave, but in how much he kept back for himself. He sold it all and kept back nothing for himself.   It was as someone said, “Generosity is not a sum in addition. It is a sum in subtraction.” And the sum in subtraction in reference to the contribution of Barnabas’ land was 100%.   He believed that the land belonged to God. Whether he had personal control over his land, or the church to which he contributed the proceeds of the sale, he believed that his possessions always belonged to God.

 2.  He had faith in people: Barnabas also had faith in people. Something happened in the early life of Barnabas as a disciple that manifested his faith in people. After his conversion in Acts 9, Saul (Paul) eventually returned to Jerusalem. However, it seems that the fear of him as a persecutor of the church continued to prevail among the saints in the city. Luke recorded, “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him (At 9:26).

Having faith in people is sometimes difficult, especially if a particular person has been one’s enemy. Of all the saints in Jerusalem who knew that Saul formerly persecuted the church, it seems that Barnabas stood alone and above the crowd.   Luke continued to record of this event, But Barnabas took him [Saul] and brought him to the apostles” (At 9:27). This is the epitome of a disciple of Divinity. The following is the example of what Divinity did for us:

For when we were still without strength, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rm 5:6-8).

And such was the example Barnabas followed in reference to loving one who was once his enemy in the faith. His faith in people illustrated his faith in God, for by his faith in God he was able to overlook the wrongs of one who was once his enemy.

The faith of Barnabas moved him to be patient with people. Many years later, when he and Paul were going on Paul’s second mission journey, Barnabas wanted to take with them his cousin John Mark. But on the first journey, Mark had departed from Barnabas and Paul (At 13:13).

Paul knew that they were again going into hostile territory on the second journey, and thus thought it not wise to take Mark (Acts 15:36-41). An argument ensued and Barnabas ended up patiently taking Mark with him back to familiar territory where they had previously visited.

Barnabas’ faith in Mark eventually paid off, for at the end of Paul’s life, and while in prison, Paul called for Mark to bravely come to what would be the future seat of persecution (Rome) (2 Tm 4:11). Paul needed Mark for ministry in Rome.

Barnabas seems to have always recognized something good in people. Because he always looked for the best in people, he treated people accordingly.   And for this reason he reassured everyone he met that he considered them for the good they were and not for the wrongs of their past. Barnabas made a decision to always remember the good about the past, and thus he sweetened the present through his sweet memories of the past. Maybe we should have more sessions with one another wherein we say in one another’s presence all the good that we know about one another.

When we think about Barnabas, we think of a disciple who sought to emulate in his life the character and actions of the God who loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son (Jn 3:16). Barnabas would take the side of the downcast in order to draw from within them their greatness which they could use for the glory of God. We remember what John exhorted Gaius to do: “Imitate that which is good” (3 Jn 11). And Barnabas is a good disciple we should imitate.

[Next lectures in series: April 27]

Example Discipleship (1)

The historical sections of the New Testament focus mostly on how people responded to the person and mission of Jesus Christ.   It is not that we bind as law the examples of their obedient responses to the law of God. If we would do this, then it would be justification for us doing the same in reference to binding our own example of obedience on others.   And if we did this, we would bring into bondage those who would admire our example. We would thus minimize obedience to the law of God. Those who followed our examples would be encouraged to ignore God’s law in order to keep our traditions, and thus, they would give up their own freedom in Christ (See Mk 7:1-9; Gl 5:1). It is the binding law of God that must be obeyed. The New Testament is filled with examples of how people obediently responded to the will of God.

In recording the obedient example of the early disciples, the Holy Spirit is trying to encourage and challenge us.   We read the examples of the first century heroes of faith as illustrations, or challenges to better our own discipleship. When we see the effect that Jesus had on their lives, we are challenged to be transformed into a better living sacrifice that is offered to God. If the early disciples responded in such a marvelous manner to the resurrected Son of God, then we also can do the same.

What is very encouraging is the extent, or extremity, to which the early saints committed themselves to live a totally sacrificed life in daily worship of the One who released them from the burden of their sins. Barnabas was one of these disciples. A definitive statement of his character and “spiritual worship” was written of him by the Holy Spirit:

Then news of these things came to the ears of the church that was in Jerusalem. And they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Now when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad. And he encouraged them all that with purpose of heart that they remain faithful to the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And many people were added to the Lord (At 11:22-24).

Every disciple of Divinity would desire that such be said of them in their ministry for the Lord. Before the announcement that Jesus was the Christ and Son of God on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30, and before he obeyed the gospel in response to this truth, Barnabas was an ordinary man just like the rest of us.   His original name was Joseph, but he was later named “Barnabas” by the apostles (At 4:36). He was the cousin of John Mark (Cl 4:10). He was a Levite from Cyprus, and a former owner of land (See At 4:36,37).

It was not that Barnabas was a unique person.   He simply responded uniquely to the person of Jesus in order to be a dedicated disciple. Because the Holy Spirit wanted all of us to recognize the totally committed response of Barnabas to the gospel, He recorded in Holy Scripture the example of his life.   Since we have a New Testament record of Barnabas’ living sacrifice, the Holy Spirit is asking us to be encouraged by what we see in Barnabas.

A.  Barnabas was an evangelistic disciple.

Barnabas “… having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (At 4:37). The historical context of this contribution is what made Barnabas’ action of giving so thrilling in reference to world evangelism.

Jewish and proselyte visitors came from throughout the world to be at one or more of the annual Pentecost celebrations in Jerusalem (See At 2:5-12). They came with money and supplies for the fifty-day celebration. But when the visitors arrived on the A.D. 30 Pentecost, God had a surprise for them.

On the A.D. 30 Pentecost, there were about 3,000 people baptized in response to the announcement of the resurrection and reigning Jesus, whom the apostles declared to be the Messiah (Christ) and Son of God (At 2:29-38,41). At the following Pentecost a year later in A.D. 31, we would expect that the crowd was even greater, for Isaiah, 600 years before, had prophesied that the word of God would go from Jerusalem (Is 2:1-4). Once the word (gospel) was initially announced at the A.D. 30 Pentecost, it motivated the first respondents to broadcast the good news to synagogues throughout the Roman Empire. One can only imagine the multitude of people who went forth into all the known world with the news of the resurrected Jesus in their hearts.   They went forth to announce to the world the good news that the apostles had declared in the streets of Jerusalem.

Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were the “Bibles” who declared the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the Messiah, as well as God’s instructions for those who were now His new creation in Christ (See Jn 14:26; 16:13). The apostles thus stayed in Jerusalem for as long as fifteen years in order to greet Jews who continued annually to come to the Pentecost feasts. It was a “lectureship” for the returning Jewish saints, but an opportunity to evangelistically reach out to those Jews, who for the first time, would encounter Jesus through the apostles’ teaching.

The need for support for these visitors who came from all parts of the world, became critical for the local disciples.   The local disciples knew that the visitors needed to continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” (At 2:42). Because everyone knew that the gospel must be preached to every creature of the world (Mk 16:15), the local Christians partnered financially with the visitors in order to keep the visitors at the apostles’ feet to be taught for as long as possible. When these disciples returned home throughout the world, they would preach Jesus in their synagogues and communities.

For this reason, the local Christians responded to the financial needs of the day. “Great grace was upon them all” (At 4:33). Therefore, there was no one “among them [the visitors], who lacked, for as many [local disciples] as were owners of land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds and the things that were sold” (At 4:34). And Barnabas was right in there among those who sold their possessions. “Barnabas … having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (At 4:36,37). Barnabas, too, believed the prophecies and mandate of Jesus that the gospel must be preached to all the world.

Since Jesus’ prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem would in the near future take away all the possessions of the Judean Christians, and depopulate Judea of Jewish residents, the local disciples believed Jesus, and subsequently they disinvested in Palestine (See Mt 24).   Barnabas as well, believed Jesus and sold out. He joined with the other disciples in putting his money into world evangelism.

This is just a small window into the heart of a true disciple of Divinity. In reference to finances, Barnabas had his priorities in order concerning what was most important in reference to preaching the gospel to the world. The following words of Jesus continued to ring in his ears: “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt 6:24). Barnabas chose to serve God. He knew that it was better to die poor, than to leave an inheritance that could be wasted away by heirs who loved wealth.

Barnabas was a disciple who understood the continued work of the One of whom he claimed to be a disciple. Throughout his life as a disciple, he not only gave to support the preaching of the gospel, but he also personally did the work by going with Paul on Paul’s first mission journey (At 13, 14). True disciples of Divinity both support missions, and sometimes, they are missionaries themselves. If they cannot go to other fields, they make sure that someone does (See Rm 10:14,15; 3 Jn 5-8).

 B.  Barnabas was an exhorting disciple.

Because Joseph was gifted with the personality and ability to encourage people, the apostles changed his name. They changed it to “Barnabas,” which name means “The Son of Encouragement” (At 4:36). This makes one think. If we were in contact with the apostles, and they really knew who we were, then what name would they give us? Would our new name be “The Son of Joy.” Or possibly, it might be “The Son of Optimism,” Or maybe it would be, “The Son of Despair,” or, “The Son of Discouragement,” or even, “The Son of Lazy.” If our name were changed by our friends, then what name would they give us?

Barnabas had the gift of encouraging others because he was an encouraging personality. The room became brighter when he entered. Because Barnabas had the spirit of encouragement, God could use him for unique ministries. For example, when the disciples in Judea heard that there were new disciples in Antioch, they sent Barnabas off to Antioch (At 11:22). And when Barnabas arrived, he encouraged them all that with purpose of heart that they remain faithful to the Lord” (At 11:23).

When in a mission area where boldness was needed to preach the gospel to unbelievers, Barnabas was there. And when many believed what Barnabas and Paul taught, the two speakers “persuaded them to continue in the grace of God” (At 13:43). But when the opposition saw that the people were giving heed to what Barnabas and Paul were preaching, the two evangelists “grew bold (At 13:46). On their return to cities to which they had first preached the gospel, Barnabas and Paul “taught many … confirming the souls of the disciples and exhorting them to continue in the faith” (At 14:21,22).

Barnabas was one who certainly implemented in his life the mandate of the Hebrew writer: “But exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hb 3:13).   Barnabas was one with all those saints who were for encouraging one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching” (Hb 10:25).

One of the tasks of a good evangelist is to encourage the disciples wherever they are encountered. When Paul and Silas left Philippi, “they encouraged” the brethren (At 16:40). Aquila and Priscilla encouraged Apollos to continue on in his personal mission to Corinth (At 18:27; see 1 Co 16:12). Even when Paul was in the midst of a storm at sea, he encouraged everyone who was on board the doomed vessel by revealing to them that they would all survive (At 27:33).

One of the signals of true discipleship is manifested in how we affect people in a positive manner. And there is no greater gift in human relationships than to be one who brings encouragement to the disheartened.

Christianity is about mutual encouragement. Paul wanted to visit the disciples in Rome, so that, he wrote, he might be “encouraged together with them (Rm 1:12; compare Rm 15:4,5; Ph 2:1). As a Christian, Barnabas realized his responsibility to always encourage those in whose company he was at any particular time.

[Next lecture in series: April 26]




The Tater Family (3)

E.  Medi Tater

 Medi Tater is the family member about whom Paul thought when he wrote the words, Awake you who sleep and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ep 5:14).   Medi Tater spends a lot of time in meditating, but little time in getting the job done. He is inactive. He is slow. He is a dormant deadbeat in the work of the Lord. He is the member who must realize that we should make “the most of the time because the days are evil” (Ep 5:16). He is the one about whom also James wrote, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Js 1:22). Medi Tater will be there faithfully every Sunday. However, when the “closing prayer” is uttered, the rest of the members must not expect any work from him throughout the week.

Sometimes a group of members will convince themselves that a “Sunday Morning Christianity” is all that is needed to get one through the pearly gates. They have deceived themselves into believing that faith without works will enable one to slide through the judgment into what is God’s final rest. They have forgotten, however, that heaven is a rest (Hb 4). But in order to enjoy the rest of heaven, one must have worked diligently to deserve the rest.

The character of Medi Tater often shows up in his work, if indeed he is energized to leave the security of his own father and mother in order to work to support himself. Christianity is about “earning one’s keep.” Paul explained his behavior as a disciple when he was with the Thessalonians. “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we did not behave ourselves disorderly among you” (2 Th 3:7). The word “disorderly” is a military term. It was used in the military of the day in reference to one walking out of step with the rest of the soldiers.

In Paul’s use of the word, therefore, there is an “orderly” walk in reference to discipleship. And in the context of 2 Thessalonians 3, the orderly walk refers to working for one’s own sustenance. Paul continued, “… nor did we eat any man’s bread without paying for it” (2 Th 3:8). Paul did not freeload off the people. In this case, he felt no entitlement in reference to preaching the gospel to unbelievers. He reminded the Thessalonians, “But we worked with labor and hardship night and day so that we might not be a [financial] burden to any of you” (2 Th 3:8). (A lot of preachers need to read this statement again.)

Indeed, Paul did have the right to receive support from believers for teaching (1 Co 9:14; Gl 6:6). But he reminded the Thessalonians that when they were unbelievers, he preached the gospel to them without asking for a contribution. He did this in order to leave them an example of working with their own hands to support themselves. And when they were obedient to the gospel, and thus became members of the body, his mandate was that these disciples “with quietness they work and eat their own bread (2 Th 3:12). And if they did not work, then the working disciples must change their relation with all those who were friends of Medi Tater: “And if anyone does not obey our word in this letter, note that man and have no company with him so that he may be ashamed (2 Th 3:14).

Therefore, “if anyone is not willing to work, neither let him eat” (2 Th 3:10). Discipleship is about being busy in providing for one’s own needs. In providing for one’s own needs, and he then has the opportunity to help provide for the needs of others until they are trained to provide for their own needs (See At 20:34,35; Ep 4:28). The conclusion to New Testament instructions for Medi Tater is that if he does not get to work to provide for his own needs, then he is to be disfellowshipped from the body of disciples (2 Th 3:6). He is walking dysfunctionally in reference to discipleship.

F.  Hesa Tater:

Hesa Tater suffers from apprehension. His problem is that he is so afraid of making a mistake, he ends up doing nothing lest he make a mistake.   He has no dreams, for he allows all his fears of making a mistake to discourage him and others from launching out.   He is the one during the meeting of the saints to plan work who always says, “Let me play the devil’s advocate.”   And truly he does in reality function as the devil by posing all sorts of obstacles in the minds of others that certain things cannot be done. His negative attitude during work meetings is often that work never gets done.

After the resurrection of Jesus, and while the disciples were on the sea of Galilee, Jesus appeared to them on the beach (See Jn 21:1-14). They had fished all night and accomplished nothing. Then one of the disciples looked up in the early morning hours and recognized Jesus at a distance standing on the beach beside some fish He was cooking. The disciple yelled out, “It’s the Lord!”   Upon hearing these words, Peter threw himself into the water and headed for Jesus.

We would do well to repeat to ourselves the words “It’s the Lord” so many times that our ears ring with a desire to throw ourselves into His work. If we sit around apprehensive as Hesa Tater, opportunities will pass us by.

When we worked in the West Indies in the early 70s, one could freely walk down any mountain path and up to any house. He could ask if the occupants would like to study the Bible. The residents of nine out of ten houses in those days would cordially invite a stranger in to study the Bible. Those days are past. It is now that the occupants of nine out of ten houses will shut their doors to a study of the Bible. An opportunity passed by where there were few laborers to reap the receptivity of the day. There were too many Hesa Taters sitting on mission committees who hesitated to send laborers to those who were hungering and thirsting after the word of God.

G.  Speck Tater:

 The twin brother of Hesa Tater is Speck Tater. We all know the behavior of Speck Tater. He is willing to be a spectator of other people’s work, but he or she sits idly by, often taking glory for the work of other disciples. There were some Speck Tater members in Corinth, for Paul rebuked them with the words in reference to his own labors, “We are not boasting of things beyond our measure, that is, of other man’s labors” (2 Co 10:15).

Speck Tater is willing to allow others to build the church while he sits and watches. When the work is done, he will take credit for the work with the actual workers who accomplished the work.

One of the fatal theologies of Speck Tater is the erroneous belief that his discipleship is determined by his spectator attendance at the assemblies of the saints. Or, he may believe that he is someone important if he attends important meetings and lectureships of the leaders of the saints, but does nothing at home to build the body.

 Speck Tater fails to understand that attendance does not define discipleship. Attendance at meetings of the disciples reflects love, but it does not determine the participation in the work of all those who attend. There were many brothers of Speck Tater in the early church. They first developed a “faith only” theology in order to pacify their laziness.   James rebuked these spectators by revealing that their “faith only” was actually a dead faith (See Js 2:14-26).

The problem seemed to go beyond the theology of “faith only” to the point that Speck Tator did not show up at the assemblies of the saints. He did not because doing so meant that he would be intimidated into going to work.   So the Hebrew writer answered Speck Tater with the statement, “Let us consider one another to stir up love and good works (Hb 10:24). Speck Tater is not considerate of his brothers and sisters in Christ. He does not desire to be in any assembly wherein love and good works are encouraged. In such meetings, he would be the brother who would be encouraged to get to work. Because he developed the habit of not showing up, the Hebrew writer was more direct: “… not forsaking the assembly of ourselves together, as is the habit of some …” (Hb 10:25).

Because he is inconsiderate of other disciples, Speck Tater developed a bad habit. He would not show up at any assembly where love and good works were encouraged. He stayed away, and thus denied his discipleship of Divinity. No disciple can consider himself or herself a disciple of Divinity if he or she stays away from the family of disciples who would encourage them to love others, as well as become involved in the function of the body.

H.  Rot Tater:

 There is no English word on which we can make a play to describe Rot Tater. The character of Rot Tater simply comes from the old proverbial statement, “He is a rotten potato,” meaning that in the potato sack, one potato is rotten, and thus, should be discarded. And so should Rot Tater.

 Rot Tater could be the traditional disciple who seeks to legally bind behavior and beliefs where God has not bound (See Rm 16:17). Or, he could be the lazy disciple about whom Paul spoke in the context of 2 Thessalonians 3. And then, he could be following his sister Miss Fit. What we would say to Rot Tater are the words that Paul wrote to a few Rot Taters in Colossians 3:12,13:

… put on as the elect of God, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another and forgiving one another. If anyone has a complaint against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also should you.

After repeating these words many times in his mind, Rot Tator should pray, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12).

I.  Sweet Tater:

 Sister Sweet Tater is the example for us all.   She has followed the example of the early evangelists about whom Paul wrote to the Thessalonian disciples: “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse tenderly cares for her own children (1 Th 2:7). She is the sister who has “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Cl 3:12). Her character is as some poet once wrote:

Just a friendly word or two,

Or a sympathetic smile;

And glad courage comes anew,

Shortening the weary mile.

Just to know that others care,

If we fail or if we fall;

And the ills that brought despair,

Will soon matter nothing at all.








The Tater Family (2)

B.  Imi Tater:

 Now we must give credit to Imi Tater.   She can imitate that which is good.   Paul wrote, Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Co 11:1). The shepherds of the flock must leave an example for the sheep to imitate (1 Pt 5:3). By imitating that which is good, Imi Tater is giving heed to the instructions that Paul gave to Timothy: “But you, O man of God … follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Tm 6:11).

Unfortunately, Imi Tater also has a tendency to follow the crowd. She likes to “get on the bandwagon” and enjoy the company of those who may be going in the wrong direction. The problem with “bandwagons” is that the people on these wagons are often out of tune with the instructions of God.

The crowd is allowed to determine what is culturally correct on the bandwagon, and thus what is supposedly religiously correct.   For this reason, the idiomatic expression “bandwagon” is used more in a negative sense than in a positive manner.   Imi Tater is on that wagon in order to follow the bad example of others simply because everyone is there, and she does not want to be left out.

 Imi Tater has a problem with standing alone upon God’s “bandwagon” of truth and integrity.   Because of her weak character, therefore, she yields her behavior to the social pressures that are contrary to the will of God.

C.  Common Tater:

 Common Tater has the problem of wanting to comment on everything. He thinks he knows it all. He is the friend of too many of the sisters who were mentioned in the previous chapter.

One might say that Common Tater is a walking radio broadcast about all the affairs of the body of Christ. He is like the crows that were once flying off the pump handle of a local farm water pump. As the farmer sat quietly, he noticed several crows perched on the handle of his well pump. As each crow launched into flight, he also noticed that a crow would give out a loud squawk. Common Tater squawks about everything. He has a comment to make about more things than he knows. He is as someone stated, “It is better to let people think you are a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.”

 Common Tater should heed the advice of Paul: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt” (Cl 4:6). And he should listen to James: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Js 1:19). So we ask when Common Tater should speak, and about what he should speak? Peter would reply,

But sanctify Christ as Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear (1 Pt 3:15).

D.  Irra & Aggie Tater:

 These two sisters are twins. And in being twins, their dysfunctional behavior in the family continually causes stress among the members. They are constantly stirring up feelings. They do not speak with speech that is seasoned with salt, but with speech that is seasoned with pepper. Where there are no problems, they have a talent to generate problems and tension. They wander about “from house to house,” being “gossips and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Tm 5:13).

Solomon warned about these two sisters: “He who goes about as a gossip reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with him who flatters with his lips” (Pv 20:19). Irra and Aggie have forgotten the exhortation of Solomon: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit (Pv 18:21). They have forgotten that one will give account of every idle word they have spoken (Mt 12:36), “for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Mt 12:37).

James had Irra and Aggie Tater in mind when he wrote the context of James 3:2-12. In this context there were some stern warnings concerning one’s use of his or her mouth. Primarily, the exhortation of verse 8 is pertinent to the behavior of Irra and Aggie: “But no one can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil full of deadly poison.”   Those who do not realize this truth are the ones who often misuse their tongues.

[Next lectures of series: April 23]



The Tater Family (1)

Leaders of the Lord’s people have throughout the years been very positive about encouraging members of the body to function in a manner that benefits the whole body. Books abound around the world that focus on positive discipleship.   The books have flourished so abundantly, however, that we often forget that the epistles of the New Testament were written to correct dysfunctions in the body. Sometime “feel good” books are written with a total disregard for the Holy Spirit’s instructions on how to correct dysfunctional discipleship.

It is great to think positive about the whole of discipleship, but in order to so think, we must identify and correct dysfunctional behavior that hinders the growth of the body. One of the means by which preachers and Bible teachers have done this throughout the years is to use words of the English language on which a reminder can be tagged to illustrate good and bad characteristics of discipleship.

We preached almost a half century ago a lesson on the “Tater” family. If one would go to the Internet, he will discover many preachers who have used this play on words of the English language in order to identify and correct relational dysfunctions in discipleship. We have done the same.

God revealed to Isaiah in reference to the reconstruction of the Israel, “And one will say, ‘Built up! Build up! Prepare the way. Remove every obstacle out of the way of My people” (Is 57:14). In order to build again, every obstacle must be identified and removed from a building site. Our application of character obstacles that are presented here, therefore, are done so in order to build up the body of Christ. It is as Paul instructed in the context of Ephesians 4. Ministries of the word of God (apostles, prophets, evangelists and shepherd/teachers), were designated in the early church in order that the members not be as “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching” (Ep 4:11,14).

The body of Christ is about relationships, but we must never forget that these relationships are based first on a common belief in and obedience to the truth of the gospel (See Gl 2:5; 1 Jn 1:3).   Since the body of Christ is about relationships that are based on a common obedience to the truth of the gospel, then there are certain personality obstacles that must be corrected in order to construct healthy relationships that identify the loving nature of the disciples of Divinity (See Jn 13:34,35).

Belief in and obedience to a common truth is necessary. However, our initial obedience to the gospel does not iron out our behavioral dysfunctions that we often harbored while we struggle to live as a living sacrifice. Correcting behavioral dysfunctions is a lifetime project.   Therefore, we must be cautious not to allow such dysfunctions to remain unchallenged in the body of Christ, and thus hinder the growth of the body. So here, with a play on the word “potato,” we introduce to you the “Tater” family, using the colloquial word “tater” that is often used in America to refer to potatoes. These members are those who pose different challenges to the organic function of the body of Christ.

A.  Dick Tater:

Dick Tater is autocratic and controlling. He seeks to be the boss, and thus, enjoys telling everyone what to do instead of showing them through the example of his own behavior. In the early church, the behavior of Diotrephes illustrates the autocratic behavior of Dick Tater. Diotrephes loved to be first among the disciples (3 Jn 9). And because he loved to be preeminent, his behavior was contrary to Christian leadership principles. He went so far in this dysfunctional behavior, that when he could not get his way among the members, he threatened to excommunicate those who would not submit to his control (3 Jn 10).

 Dick Tater’s scheme to gain and maintain dictatorial control over the members must be clarified because some leaders are unaware of their autocratic behavior. Dick Tater accomplished his preeminent scheme through many means. He possibly announces to the members that “God told Him” through special means what to say or do. Or, he may have announced to the church, “I had a dream.” Or because of his position among the politicians of the land, he possibly felt that he should be held in high esteem among those of the church.   And then there is his smooth and fair speech by which he beguiles the hearts of the innocent (See Rm 16:18).   He is a good speaker, and thus, through charming words he holds captive those who succumb to his charismatic persuasion (See 2 Tm 4:3). Or, it may be through his success in the business world that he feels that he has a financial advantage over the whole of the members. He might use his money to determine the direction of the works of the church.

The behavior of Dick Tater is certainly contrary to one very specific mandate of Jesus concerning Christian leadership. It is a mandate that is crystal clear, but often so clearly violated by those who consider themselves leaders:

You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them. And their great ones exercise authority over them. But it will not be so among you (Mk 10:42,43).

Dick Tater should have these words written on a piece of paper and tagged on his refrigerator. This is a mandate that should be engraved on his mind.   Dick Tater and all such leaders, should not be functioning among the disciples of Divinity.

[Next lectures of series: April 121]

Disturbing Disciples (3)

F.  Miss Conclusion:

 The problem with Miss Conclusion is that she does not get all the facts before she makes a decision. Or, she speaks before she understands all the events and facts that surround that about which she speaks. Then again, because she is too much a friend of Miss Disposition, she takes everything wrong.

This was the problem with some of the Christians in Rome. Some believed an erroneous doctrinal/behavioral theology concerning grace. Paul repeated in question what they had erroneously concluded: “Will we continue in sin so that grace may abound” (Rm 6:1).   Some had concluded that if we are saved by grace alone, then we can sin in order that grace may abound in our lives.   They came to the wrong conclusion.

Paul explained throughout the book of Romans that grace is not a license to sin. There were some in the early church who turned “the grace of God into licentiousness” by thinking, and thus behaving, contrary to the word of God (Jd 4). They concluded that since they could not fall from the grace of God, then they could sin without endangering their eternal destiny. Some today continue with this erroneous conclusion by teaching that if the Christian has been predestined to eternal life, then no sin can detour him from this destination.

But this was not the conclusion about which Peter wrote. He wrote that if we “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord,” and we are “again entangled in them and overcome,” then we are as the dog who “returns to his own vomit” (2 Pt 2:20-22). The Hebrew writer was also specific: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift … if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance (Hb 6:4-6).

They were able to fall away because they were first “OK” through their obedience to the gospel. However, they were not once saved, and then in a state where it was impossible for them to lose their salvation. There is no teaching in the New Testament that teaches that once one is saved, he is always saved. If one believes such a doctrine, then he has listened to Miss Advise and fallen into the company of Miss Conclusion.

G.  Miss Fit:

 Paul identified Miss Fit among the disciples with whom Timothy was associated. These disciples, “having swerved, have turned aside to meaningless discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say, nor what they affirm (1 Tm 1:6,7).

Dictionaries define a “misfit” to be a person who is not suited to the position in which he or she is. These teachers about whom Paul wrote were not fit to be teachers because they did not know the law of God.

In order to guard against “misfit” teachers, James cautioned, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we will receive the stricter judgment” (Js 3:1). Miss Fit should have listened to this advice.   She was not qualified for the position in which she desired to be.

 Miss Fit should heed the exhortation that Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Only let your behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Ph 1:27). If we say that we are disciples of Jesus, then our behavior should fit the identity of discipleship. This was the principle about which Jesus spoke in John 13:35: “By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Miss Fit will not fit in as a disciple if she does not learn to love the brotherhood (1 Pt 2:17). If one would seek to live the sacrificial life of a disciple, then he or she must read and follow the Rule Book on what is required to fit in as a disciple of Divinity.

H.  Miss Cellaneous:

Miss Cellaneous is a many-sided person. One might say that she is a little schizophrenic. We never know who she is going to be on any particular occasion. There is little consistency in her personality. She allows her environment to affect her personality.

Unfortunately, people usually do not put much trust in Miss Cellaneous. She is so moody that they never know when she will be in a mood for suggestions or help.

If Miss Cellaneous is to be a consistent disciple of Divinity, then she must pattern her behavior after the unchangeable God of whom she claims to be a disciple. The Hebrew writer addressed this point because there was a great deal of Miss Cellaneous’ influence among the disciples to whom he wrote.   His readers were thinking about returning to the Levitical priesthood of the Sinai law. But the writer reminded them of the God to whom they had given allegiance through Jesus Christ: “Therefore, God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of promise the unchangeableness of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath” (Hb 6:17).

If the God of our promises does not change in the promises He makes to us, then we have no right to be undependable in our commitment to Him. God does not change His promises, nor does He fall short in fulfilling His promises.   He does not because of “two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie” (Hb 6:18).   For this reason we “have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us” (Hb 6:18).

We can trust in God because He does not change.   Spiritually stable people can be trusted. Because Miss Cellaneous lacks stability in her personality, people have a difficult time trusting what she says.

The personality problem of Miss Cellaneous is also that she often catches herself in a lie. She says she will do something, but contrary to the character of God, she changes her mind, or worse, she forgets that she made a commitment.

Our advice to Miss Cellaneous is to hold fast the pattern of sound words that you have heard” (2 Tm 1:13).   Hold consistently to the word of God, and in doing this, one will find consistency in his or her life.   Establishing one’s life on the unchanging word of God adds stability to one’s life.

I.  Miss Lead:

 Paul spoke of Miss Lead in a warning to Timothy: “For of these are those who creep into houses and lead captive gullible women weighed down with sins, led away with various lusts” (2 Tm 3:6).   This would be those of the Sea Beast in Revelation who led people away from the Lord. John also warned those who are of the work of the Sea Beast to lead people away from God. They must remember, “He who leads into captivity will go into captivity” (Rv 13:10). Every disciple, therefore, should utter the following plea in prayer to God, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt 6:13).

 Miss Lead always represents the way that is broad “that leads to destruction” (Mt 7:13). Miss Lead is one of the “blind leaders of the blind” (Mt 15:14). If one would guard himself or herself against such blind leadership, then one must be on guard with the word of God lest one be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of teaching” (Ep 4:14). Miss Lead is a blind leader. “And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch” (Mt 15:14).

If a religious leader is ignorant of the word of God, then he or she is a blind leader. If one is led by a blind leader, then he or she is a blind follower.   Both will end up in the ditch of destruction. It is for this reason that the disciples of Divinity are avid students of the One who has the words of life.   We therefore take seriously the following words of our Lord Jesus Christ that should be heeded by Miss Lead.

He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has one who judges him. The word that I have spoken, the same will judge him in the last day (Jn 12:48).

[Next lectures of series: April 19]