What do You Love?

Ephesians 4:11(NKJV) 11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

In Ephesians chapter 4 the Lord reveals to us that he has given gifts to all men. Five of these gifts are listed in verse 11. Their particular function in the Body of Christ is to bring the rest of the gifts, or members, to maturity so they can take their place in the body. This will result in the whole body becoming mature and capable of occupying the earth in the spirit until Jesus comes.

These gifts represent five categories of people who are called to fulltime ministry in the church. However, there are other people in the church who are not called in the same sense as the “fivefold” ministry. These people serve in the local church as time allows. They may teach Sunday school, work in a food pantry or clean the church building but they serve in some capacity. The five gifts mentioned above also represent five categories of ministry into which the members of the congregation will fall. They may not be a prophet, but the nature of their ministry to the church will be prophetic. It will flow from that perspective and have a similar affect as that of the prophet. This is true for all five.

It is important to understand these five gifts so that those who are called to be these things can find that out. It is also important so that the rest of the congregation can understand how they fit and why they see things and react to things the way they do. The more we understand one another the easier it is for us to function together as one body.

We have studied these gifts from two perspectives. Today I want to look at what they love. I find this perspective to be the most revealing.

We will start with the pastor. I prefer the word shepherd because we have come to use the word pastor to refer to whoever is leading the local church. The Greek word in Ephesians 4 carries with it the idea of a shepherd. The shepherd is the one who directly cares for the sheep. The shepherd loves the sheep. He loves people, but not just any people. He loves the flock he cares for. He will protect them, feed them and nurture them. He is focused on their wellbeing and sensitive to every need.

Jesus said the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. As the chief shepherd, Jesus laid down his life by dying on the cross. The fivefold shepherd would physically die for his flock if that were what was necessary, however, he does die in a very different way. He lays down his life, his cares and his trials, to take up those of the flock. He sacrifices his time and energy to see to it that his sheep are cared for to the best of his ability. He will fight any “wolf” that tries to take one of his sheep. He knows he must give account before God for each of the sheep in his care.

The teacher is very different. Where the shepherd loves the people of his flock above all else, the teacher loves the Word of God above all else. He would rather spend time in study than in fellowship. All of these gifts must love the people of God, but they all manifest that love in a different way. The teacher manifests it by committing himself to being sure that what he brings to the people is present revelation from the Word. His greatest joy is to see a believer walk in the truth that God is using him to convey.

The next gift is that of the evangelist. It is not hard to guess who or what the evangelist loves. He loves the lost. I would also add that he loves the Gospel. Paul said the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The evangelist is consumed with the thought that every person must hear the gospel so they can receive eternal life. He cannot bear to see one soul slip into an eternity without God. He loves those who do not know Jesus as their savior. He weeps for their lost condition. This can make it seem that he does not care for the church, but his love for the church is

The prophet loves God above all else. Every believer should love God, but the prophet’s love for God is in another dimension. The whole purpose for the prophet’s existence in the church is to give correction and direction. The nature of the prophetic gift is to communicate the specific will of God for a specific people at a specific time. For the prophet to do this, he must know what that is. He must spend time with God. He must be focused on God’s voice and his will above all else.

To the prophet, people are often a distraction to hearing what God has to say. He does not want to be hear people’s opinions or even hear about their needs. If he is going to minister to a person’s need he must do so because the Lord has revealed that need to him. If that is not the case, he feels out of place. He feels compromised. He does not know if he is simply responding to you or to the direction of the Lord. There is nothing wrong with seeing a person has a need and responding to it. For the Prophet, however, this goes against his mandate and his nature. He loves God and what he does must be in response to God’s direction above all else.

The last of the five is the apostle. This gift is often misunderstood. I remember when the first prophetic confirmation came to my life that this was the primary calling. The next thing I was told was that I would be out in the jungles of Africa in a 4-wheel drive truck planting churches. I have been to Africa many times, but I have planted only three churches and all of them in the US. To most people an apostle is someone who plants churches. However, an apostle plants churches as a result of what he is. He is not an apostle because he plants churches.

What does the apostle really love? It is a little more difficult to discern what he loves because he easily touches the other four. There are times when the focus of his love may be on any one of the above. The apostle loves foundation. He wants to make sure things are established according to the right biblical order. He loves other ministry gifts. The word translated “apostle” comes from a word that means general. He cares for those who care for others. He wants to teach those who are called to the fivefold ministry how to function with character and integrity.

He also loves the fundamental principles of the Word of God. He works to make sure that both the leaders and the people are following them. He knows that to follow these basic principles will lead to success. To violate them will invite sin and death. He is ready to discipline those who do violate them.

What one thing does he love above all else? The apostle loves the church. He loves the people, but more than that, he loves the institution of the church. He sees the church for what it can be and should be, the living, vibrant body of Christ that is the only hope for the world. He is consumed by a desire to see the church develop into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Each one of these gifts has strengths and weaknesses. We must make sure that we do not allow the weaknesses to dominate us. We must learn to bring them into balance. Although I have used male pronouns for convenience, these gifts can be either male or female. Most important I believe that you fall into one of these categories.

Read over this week’s blog entries. Get the audio message at www.livingwordgreene.com/media. The title is “The Purpose of the Body of Christ”. (It will be posted soon if it is not already.) The audio recordings are free. This message will help you understand where you fit and why you see things the way you do. We need every joint to supply. Find out what kind of joint you are and start supplying that to your local church this week.

Advertisements

What do you See

Ephesians 4:11(NKJV) 11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

This week we have been looking at the role of what has been called the fivefold ministry in the development of the body of Christ. It is evident that the church must have all of its members functioning in their place and healthy if it is going to occupy the land until Jesus comes. Let me remind you that this term means that the church must rise up to become the dominant spiritual influence in the earth. These five gifts have been given to the church to help bring it to maturity.

As we have examined them this week, we have seen that this list really describes two things. On the one hand, it is speaking of five types of people who occupy offices of ministry. Each one of these offices has a particular function. However, it also describes five dimensions of ministry. I believe every member of the body of Christ will find that they fall into one of these five categories in terms of what type of ministry they bring to the church. They may not occupy the fulltime office of ministry, but they will have the same tendencies, and similar gifts as those who do.

We used evangelism as an example. There are those whose calling is to be an evangelist. They have an anointing from the Lord to reach out to the lost and see them saved. Within the local church, there are people who would not be called evangelists, but they have a sensitivity to the lost. To them witnessing is easy and they seem to win more souls than other members of the body. They fall into this category of the fivefold gifting called evangelism.

Yesterday we began to look characteristics and functions of these five dimensions of ministry. This is important so we can begin to identify where we fit and become comfortable with ourselves and those who fit in one or more of the other of these five dimensions.

The first way we illustrated them is the human hand. The apostle is the thumb because it can touch can touch the other four. The index finger is the prophet because it is used for correction and direction. The middle finger is the evangelist because it has the longest reach and is the first to touch what is in front of us. The ring finger is the shepherd because it is the finger that symbolizes marriage and the shepherd is married to the flock. The pinky is the teacher because it can penetrate deeper into the ear than the other four. This helps us understand each gifts function. Now let us look more at who they really are.

I am going to use male pronouns as I write about these gifts, but that is just for convenience. I believe that both men and women can function in any of these offices. I have known people of both genders that were each of these gifts. However, whether you are male or female, if you are one of these five, you were made that way. If you are called to them in a fulltime capacity, this gift dominates your view of life. If you are called to one of them as a member of the church, this view will be a major influence in your life.

One of the things that can help us understand each of these gifts is how they see people. If we were in a room of 200 people, each of these gifts would see something differently. They do not see this way because of training. They do not see this way because it is their job. If they never entered any kind of ministry, they would still see this way because that is how God created them. These five gifts are not what a person does; they are what a person is.

If the shepherd were to look out over our hypothetical congregation, he would see two hundred people that need a hug. He would see their need for protection, nurture and personal care. He would be concerned about all their problems. He would probably know the names and ages of each of their children. He would tend to feel every one of their hurts and every one of their triumphs. He does not need to cultivate this care for the flock, it is the only way he can see them.

You will notice I did not use the word “pastor” to describe this ministry. There is nothing wrong with that word; however, in our culture we have redefined it to mean the head of the local church. The word translated “pastor” is really the word for shepherd. The shepherd is not necessarily the head of the church. However, he is the one who will be most sensitive to the needs of the congregation and most willing to nurture them. Every local church must have this ministry functioning to be successful.

If the teacher stood in front of our 200 people, he would see 200 empty heads to fill. To the teacher, every person is a potential student. Every need in their lives is simply a lack of understanding of the Word of God. He is energized by the classroom. The most exciting thing in his life is when someone really catches hold of the revelation God is communicating through him. Once a person’s head is just as full as the teacher’s he will tend to lose interest in that person. He must find more empty heads or learn something new to put into the heads he has. The church must have this gift functioning if it is ever going to come to maturity.

The evangelist looks out and does not see 200 people at all. He will zero in on the 10 people in the congregation who are not yet saved. The other 190 people will completely disappear for him. They are not really important to him, because they are secure in the hands of the Lord. However, he will be drawn to those 10 like a moth to a flame.

It is interesting that evangelists and shepherd often have a difficult time getting along. The shepherd thinks the evangelist is insensitive because he does not see all the needs of those who are part of the body. He does not seem to care about them at all. However, the evangelist thinks the shepherd is backslidden because he does not care enough about the lost. Just as the shepherd ministry is necessary for the church to feel secure, the evangelistic ministry is necessary if the church is going to grow numerically.

The prophet sees 200 people that need direction or correction. The prophet’s ministry can sometimes be perceived as harsh. It will very often focus on things that are wrong, so it can seem condemning. If it is functioning correctly, it will not produce condemnation but it will produce conviction. We need this gift functioning in the church to help us stay on the God wants us to take. The prophetic ministry also helps to keep us pure in our Christian walk.

Finally the apostle will see the twenty people that are called to leadership. It is that 20 that can help him lay the foundation of the Christian walk in the rest of the congregation. It is that 20 that he can train up to help the church become fully functional and healthy. He will tend to give his time to them before the rest of the congregation. He will be concerned with how to bring them into maturity and launch them into their gifts and callings.

Not all local churches have an individual in all five of these offices. However, every local church has people who will see others, and therefore life, in the way one of these five do. These people can help provide that kind of ministry to the local church. How do you see those around you? Your “vision” may not yet be fully developed, but can you identify some tendencies? Tomorrow we will look at the most revealing way to identify each of the five; what they love.

Five Dimensions of Ministry

Ephesians 4:11-13(NKJV) 11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

Yesterday we looked at this scripture from the perspective that these five ministries were given to the church to bring the other members of the Body of Christ to the place where they can fulfill their purpose. The goal is that the whole body functions to do the work of ministry both to the world and to itself. This will enable the Church to “occupy until he comes.”

Today I want to begin to define these ministries so that we may better understand them. Before I do that, however, I want to point out another side to this list. We usually see them only in light of the people who occupy the five offices named here. If we understand verse 12 to mean that it is the saints who do the work of the ministry, we must conclude that these five offices exist so that God can get to the rest of the members of the church. The fivefold ministry is just a means to an end. The end is a healthy thriving body where each member is fully functional.

These five gifts to the church are not just five groups of people. I believe they also represent five dimensions of ministry. These five ministry dimensions encompass every kind of ministry that is available through the church. Jesus was all five of these things; therefore, he could meet any need. No individual member of the Body of Christ has all of these dimensions working in his or her life; however, the church as a whole should manifest the “fullness of God.” (Eph 3:14-19)

Each one of these five gifts have particular characteristics that enable them to provide their unique perspective to the church. As we look at these characteristics, we will study them from the perspective of the individuals who function in each of the offices. However, I believe that each of us have a sensitivity in one or more of these areas. In other words, the evangelist will display certain characteristics that will enable him to carry out his calling. There are those in the congregation who are not called to a full time ministry, but they have the same characteristics as the fivefold evangelist. They do not have the same degree of anointing but they have the same calling. They will not evangelize full time, but their place in the body will fit within the dimension of evangelism.

I believe this is true of each of these five ministries. Some people in each church will have the similar characteristics as those who are called to these ministries on a full time basis. They may find that they will function in a support role for one of the five. They may do the same work but on a different level than the one who stands in the office. The office itself usually carries more authority, but everyone in the church that has these characteristics will function somehow in that dimension of ministry.

Why is this important? It is important because we cannot be effective if we do not know what we are supposed to be. As we study these ministries, we will see that each one of these five have different ways to look at the world and the church. We need all of these perspectives if we are going to be complete. We need to understand why certain people see things differently than we do and come to the realization that both views are valid. We need one another. We also need to understand that we do not have to see things like everyone else. We are not wrong if we see through different glasses than someone else. We are meant to complement one another so the church can manifest the fullness of Jesus.

Let me also say that each one of these five gifts come with both strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the person who occupies office of prophet can often be moody and critical. The nature of the office can tend to cause this. That does not mean a person can justify being moody and critical because they are a prophet or have the prophetic sensitivity to ministry. We need to understand the weaknesses and work to balance them not justify them.

Let us begin looking at these offices. We will start today with one way of seeing them and tomorrow we will look at two others. The first illustration to help us understand these five dimensions of ministry is the human hand. The hand is one of the things that separate humanity from every other creature on earth. In describing the fivefold ministry, each one of the fingers represents one of the ministry dimensions.

The first one is the apostle. The thumb represents the apostle. The thumb is a very important finger. The thumb enables the human had to do things that no other appendage in the animal kingdom can do. What makes it so special? The answer is that it can touch the other four fingers. The apostle is a foundational gift, therefore it can touch all of the other four gifts when needed. It will not be as good a pastor as the true fivefold shepherd, but it can do it when necessary.

The apostle lays foundation in the church. That is why he or she is associated with planting churches. They can do many things, but the result will always affect the foundation. In the church, the apostle will always look at the condition of people’s foundations and make corrections as necessary. This requires the ability to affect that foundation in many ways so he is equipped to touch whatever area will help fix that foundation. He is also a governmental gift so he can direct the others to what needs to be strengthened.

The next finger is the pointer finger. With this finger, we may point the way to find something. We give directions. We also point our finger at someone when we are correcting them. Every child has seen that finger! This finger represents the Prophet. They are in the body to give both direction and correction.

The next finger is the middle finger. This finger reaches farther than the rest and, if the hand is held out in a certain way, will be the first to touch anything in front of us. This finger is the evangelist. The evangelist has the longest reach and is the first to touch people for the Kingdom of God.

The next finger is the ring finger. In our culture, a ring on this finger represents marriage. This finger is the pastor or more correctly the shepherd. This ministry is married to the flock. Others may come and go, but the shepherd remains with the sheep.

Finally is the pinky finger. It is the smallest finger. Hold it up to your ear and put it into your ear. You will find it penetrates farther than any of the other fingers. This is the teacher. The teacher has the ability to cause truth to penetrate deeper into the persons heart than any of the others.

This is a simple way to understand these gifts, but it helps us see their function. Tomorrow we will look at what these gifts see and what they love. As we do, you will see yourself in one or more of them. This will help you identify how and where you can function best in the body. Pray for revelation and then pray that God will help you find that place.

Equipping the Saints

Ephesians 4:11-14(NKJV) 11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

Yesterday we talked about the importance of every believer if the church is going to accomplish the mandate placed upon it in 2012. We need every joint to supply what God has designed it to supply. For this to happen, every joint must be healthy. Each one of us must learn to possess the land of promises God has made available. We must drive out the enemies that hinder us and occupy this land until Jesus comes.

When each member of the body does this, the body will be able to rise up and take the place Jesus intends it to have in the earth. As one body, we will possess the earth for the Lord. We will drive out the enemies of righteousness and occupy this land until the Lord comes. In reality, what the church must do is become the dominant spiritual influence in the earth. We are not talking about a physical conquest, but a spiritual one that will culminate with the physical return of Jesus to the earth.

What is the vehicle that God has placed in the church to enable each member to supply what God created him or her to contribute? In today’s verse, we see the answer to that question. God gave five gifts to the body for equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry, which will result in the edification or building up of the body of Christ.

There is another interpretation of this verse that might be more traditional. In that interpretation, these five gifts or ministries are given to equip the saints, to do the work of the ministry and to edify the body of Christ. This interpretation supports the idea that there is a professional “ministry class” in the body of Christ and a non-professional laity. The ministry exists to “do” Christianity to the laity. I grew up catholic. In that system, we called certain rites with the church “sacraments.” The priesthood is a professional class within the church who minister those sacraments to the rest of the catholic world.

The implication is that there are certain people who are more holy or spiritual than the rest. They must maintain a level of commitment that people in general are not capable of maintaining. The majority of people are not required to live with Jesus at the center of their lives. That is left to the clergy. The rank and file Christian is simply required to do the best they can. It is understood that their secular life will take a far greater place than their religious life. Therefore, it is necessary to have professionals fill in what the individual lacks. This is not what the Bible teaches about the church.

If we look at yesterday’s scripture, we find that the goal is for every joint to supply. Although we might say that what the ministry “joint” supplies is spirituality that idea cannot be supported by the New Testament. Particularly in the early days of the church, every believer was under threat and every believer had to be willing to give all for Christ. It is clear in the teachings of every New Testament writer that all believers are called to holiness, righteousness and service.

If we take the first interpretation to this verse, than we can see the real purpose of what we will call the five fold ministry gifts to the body of Christ. Their job is to minister to the church in such a way as to release in each believer the gift that God has invested in them. The result being that every part of the body will provide what it was designed to and the whole body will grow up into a “perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

In traditional denominational Christianity the pastor is hired to “do the work of the ministry and build up the church.” I was not hired to pastor my church. I started the church 25 years ago. God sent me to the town where I now live to do a job. That job was not to oversee a church. Before I moved to my town, the Lord used a powerful man of God to speak into my life. He confirmed something that I had seen in my own heart.

He did not know me at all. Towards the end of the service, he pointed to me and under the unction of the Holy Ghost said, “Son I have called you to much more than a work. I have called you to build a fountain of life and people will come to drink of the waters of this fountain.”

That is exactly what I had seen. As I prayed about the local church, I did not see a “one man show” where I was the “man of the hour of faith and power.” I saw a fountain from which flowed every kind of ministry possible. This ministry was not just from my gift, but it was from the multiplied gifts of the people God would draw to the fountain. They became both the inflow and the outflow of the life of God. My job was not to be that fountain, it was to create the fountain and equip it to touch the world around it.

I believe this is a picture of what the church in general and local church in particular was meant to be. I believe that is what Ephesians chapter 4 is describing. God gave the five fold ministry to the church to perfect the saints so they could take their part in the work of the ministry which will result in the building up of the church both spiritually and numerically. I was not hired to do the work of the ministry in my town. I was placed there by God to direct the construction of a fountain. God provides the water and we become the channels through which the water flows to the community.

What are these 5 gifts. Ephesians 4:11 lists them as the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor and the teacher. Verse 7 says God gave gifts to all men. Five of those gifts are listed here and their function is explained in the rest of this section of scripture.

Tomorrow we will begin to look at them more closely. For today, remember that these five are not the only gifts. Whether or not you full one of these offices, you are a gift to the church and to the world. As you grow in Christ, you will become a channel for the water of the Life of God to the world. Without you, we cannot fulfill our destiny. With every joint supplying what God intends, we cannot fail to fulfill our destiny.

Every Joint Must Supply

Ephesians 4:16(NKJV) 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

There are two distinct dimensions to the thought that the church must possess the land, drive out the enemies that oppose that possession and occupy the land until Jesus comes. On the one hand, this is a picture of the individual believer possessing what the promises of God say belongs to him. 2 Peter 1:4 tells us that God has given us “exceedingly great and precious promises” by which we can partake of his divine nature. Jesus died to provide these promises for us. We must possess them by faith. We must drive out every enemy that hinders our faith and we must be prepared to walk in the reality of those promises until Jesus comes again.

This is true because the Father God loves his children and wants them to have everything that salvation through Christ offers. However, it is also true because of the second dimension of this idea. It is the will of God that the church rise up and possess the world for Jesus. It is the will of God that we drive out every enemy that keeps us from that goal and it is the will of God that we maintain that position until the Lord returns.

This second dimension is not something we can do as individuals. This can only be accomplished as the body of Christ. It is the will of God that the church becomes the dominant spiritual force in the world today. For the church to do this, as many members of the Body as possible must be strong, healthy and functioning in their place. We become a strong force corporately by being strong individually.

It is important to understand that we are talking about the spirit, not the flesh. Islam, for instance, teaches much the same thing except that they believe this is to happen in the natural. Jihad, or holy war, is a counterfeit of the Great Commission given by Jesus when he ascended to heaven. We are called to preach the Gospel. We are given signs and wonders through the anointing of the Holy Spirit as our weapons to accomplish this. Our goal is that the “knowledge of the glory of the Lord cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14)

Islam, in its most fundamental form, believes that their commission is to conquer the physical earth and institute their interpretation of the will and law of God through that conquest. Both religions have the same goal, one by the influence of the Holy Spirit and the Love of God and one by war if necessary. Which one is more like the true God?

In today’s scripture, we read that the body is held together by what every joint supplies. It will grow and be edified as each joint or member functions in its place. This is the only way that we can accomplish what Jesus has called us to do. We need every joint, every member, of the body supplying what it was designed to supply. When a local body is lacking joints, it cannot fulfill its calling to the community.

In Paul’s great teaching on the body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12 we read this;

1 Corinthians 12:21(NKJV) 21And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

The head of our body is Jesus Christ. I find it interesting that Paul says specifically that the head cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” Paul is speaking of the physical human body at this point, but I believe his analogy must hold. Jesus needs every member of his body. Every member is important to him, both because he loves his body and because he needs his body in order for his influence to dominate the earth in the realm of the spirit.

You may not know exactly what part of the body you are. You may wonder, “How can I fulfill my calling if I don’t know what it is?” The hand does not know it is a hand. It simply does what hands do. The best way for you to find out what part of the body you are is to be involved and start doing whatever you find to do. You will discover that some things are easy for you and some things are hard. You will find that some things fit you and some things are impossible for you. Eventually you will come to an understanding of what your place in the body is and you will function there.

The one way you will never know your place is to sit back and wait for a voice from heaven or the word of a prophet to tell you what you are supposed to do. In our study of occupying, we found that the Greek word means to “do business.” I am convinced that if we “do the business” of the kingdom we will eventually find our place. However, if we wait to find our place before we do Kingdom business, we will likely spend our whole life looking and never find it.

Another thing that is necessary for an individual to find his or her place is that they be a part of a local expression of the body of Christ. I have said this before, but it bears repeating. My foot is part of universal humanity, but it can only be a foot on my body. It cannot be a foot separate from my body and it cannot be a foot on another body. A body needs two feet not three. If my foot tries to find its place in another body, it will cause problems there because that body has enough feet. I will be hindered because my body is lacking a foot that belongs to it.

In the same way, we are all part of the universal body of Christ. When I stand in a church in another part of the world I see people who may have different color skin and speak a different language, but I know we are part of the same body of Christ. I can feel the connection between us. However, for me to take my place I must find what local body I am a part of and function there. Although some members have a ministry to the “larger body of Christ”, I believe that every member needs to be a part of a local body in order to supply what that church needs it to be.

I am the pastor of my church so that is how I serve the local body. However, even when I travel to foreign lands and teach pastors and leaders the word of God, I am going as an extension of the local body that is my home. Even by going, I fulfill a part of that body. Most Christians are not called to travel. They are called to a community. They are called to bring the Gospel to that community. They are called to be a functioning member of the local body of Christ in that community. They must be knit to that body and supply what their Joint must supply for the Kingdom of God to grow in that community.

Find your place in the body. Find a local church that you can call home. Get into that church and function in whatever capacity that you can until you find out what part you are. When you find that place, occupy it until Jesus comes.

The Older Brother in the Story

Luke 15:25-28(NKJV) 25“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ 28“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.

This week we have spent our time together talking about the need to preach the gospel to the lost. Our mandate for 2012 is to possess our promised land, drive out our enemies and occupy that land until the Lord comes. Occupying must include winning the lost. The whole purpose for the church in the earth is to make disciples of all nations. The first step to discipleship is to win the lost. To win the lost the gospel must be preached.

To illustrate how important this is to Jesus we looked at his instructions concerning fishing in Luke chapter 5. We then moved to Luke 15 and found that the Pharisees did not understand why Jesus would associate with sinners. In a series of parables, Jesus lets the Pharisees know that all of heaven rejoices when one sinner repents. It is not that God loves the sinner more than the righteous. It is that the righteous are already in his family and the sinner is not. God sees every human being as his child. When a child is lost, a parent will do anything to get that child back. He loves the children that remain just as much, but the lost child receives a different focus because he is lost.

Yesterday we looked at the last parable in Luke 15, the story of the prodigal son. The younger son demanded his inheritance from his father. This required that his father retire and distribute his whole life’s work to his two sons. The younger son left home for a life of sin. He used up his inheritance and found himself in difficult circumstances. After realizing how wrong he has been, he determines to return to his father as a servant instead of a son. The father, however, will not hear of this. He receives the son back as his son. He restores his righteousness, his sonship and his authority in the kingdom.

This story says much more about the father than the son. Jesus wants us to know that the heavenly father is not looking for ways to keep people out of his family. He sent Jesus that the world might be reconciled to him. Our Heavenly Father is like the father in this story. He will not follow us into sin, but he is always there when we repent. He is ready to receive us home.

We know about the prodigal younger son. We know about the wonderful father in this story. What do we know about the other brother, the older brother? This man has been faithful to his father through the whole story. He did not ask for his inheritance. When his father chose to honor his brother and liquidate his resources, the older brother stayed with the family business. He probably hard to work harder since his brother was no longer there to do his share.

While the younger brother was off squandering his father’s money, the older brother took care of their father as well as the business. He was faithful, honest and hard working the whole time. Now he hears a commotion and asks the reason for the noise. He is told that his brother is back and his father is throwing a party for him. “Your father has killed the fatted calf because your brother is home.”

The killing of the fatted calf involved a major celebration. The whole town was invited. I am sure many of these people knew of the younger brothers indiscretions. He had compromised the family reputation. They also knew that the older brother had stayed behind and taken care of business instead of “sowing wild oats” as his brother had.

The older brother is angered and humiliated. He refuses to come to the celebration. This was first time in this story that the older brother dishonors his father, but that is what he is doing. The father comes to him in the field. I want you to note something here. He did not go to the prodigal in the pigpen. The prodigal had to come to him. However, he does go to the faithful brother.

The older brother complains that the father has never offered anything to him and his friends for a celebration, but now he gives the best for this young, ungrateful man. He is hurt and humiliated in his own eyes. The father’s answer to him is very important.

Luke 15:31-32(NKJV) 31“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”

The father points out to the older son that everything the father has belongs to him. The wealth had been distributed. The father had given out the inheritance. The younger son has squandered his. He was restored to position in the family, but the wealth that was left belonged to the older brother. That was the law.

Since this was the case, the older brother could have killed the fatted calf anytime he wanted to. In fact, part of the problem may have been that the calf actually belonged to the older brother. He would not withhold it from his father, but technically, it was his.

We can learn so much from the older brother. We need to make sure that we do not have this same attitude towards new people in the church. We need to understand that our faithful service to God comes with eternal rewards that cannot be matched with recognition in this life. However, in the context of this story there is a more important lesson.

The rest of what the father says is significant. He points out that the older brother is there always, but the younger brother was dead to them. He is now alive and returned to their home. The father tells the older brother, “It is right for us to celebrate.”

Why should we preach to the lost? Why should we go out of our way to bring them in? Does God love the lost more than those who are faithful? No, he does not. He went out to the older brother in the field. He loved him and appreciated his faithfulness. However, he also loves the younger brother. The older brother should love him as well, but even if he did not, he should rejoice because of the joy his brother’s return brought to the father.

We need to reach out to the lost for two reasons. First, they are our brothers and sisters in humanity. They were created by the father just as we were. They may not be part of the family yet, but the father sees them as his children nonetheless. If we love the father, we must love his lost children. God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son to save them. We must remember that once we were part of the world Jesus came to save.

Romans 8:29 calls Jesus the firstborn among many brethren. I thank God that this “older brother” chose to leave heaven and pursue you and me even though we neither knew nor loved the Father. The Father’s love moved him to follow us all the way to the cross. If you are a Christian today, you are the older brother. Should we not do the same for the world that Jesus did for us?

Jesus left the comfort of heaven to become flesh to save us. We may need to leave the comfort of our homes to bring salvation to them. Jesus suffered the cross to pay for our sins and purchase our salvation. We may have to endure embarrassment or even persecution to bring this salvation to our prodigal brothers and sisters. However, if that is what the Father desires, we should rejoice at the opportunity. When they find their way home to the local church where we faithfully serve, we should rejoice with the Father and with the angels. For our brothers and sisters who were once dead are now alive!

The Lost Son

Luke 15:11-12(NKJV) 11Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.

Luke 15:20(NKJV) 20“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

Yesterday we looked at two parables in Luke 15 about lost things that were found. Jesus was responding to the Pharisees criticism that he ate with sinners. He wanted them to know that God sees all people as his lost children. In both stories he tells them that there is more joy in heaven over one lost person who repents than over many who do not need to repent. This does not mean he loves them more. It means that he does not want to lose anyone.

In the next parable, Jesus is going to be even more direct in his rebuke of the Pharisees. This is one of the most famous parables in the bible. It is often called the story of the prodigal son, but it is not really a story about the young son who left home. It is really a story about the father of these two boys.

As we begin the story, Jesus tells us there was a man who had two sons. The older boy was faithful and hard working. However, the younger son decided he no longer wanted to work the land with his family. He went to his father and said, “I want my inheritance now.” In Jesus’ parable, the father chooses to give in. There are some things we need to understand about the son’s request.

In bible days, the father could not just figure what he was worth at the moment and give the younger son his share. The older son would get a double portion or two thirds of the estate. The younger would get one third. The only way the father could do this is to execute his will as if he died. If the father complied with the younger son’s request, the father would no longer be involved in his own business. He would have to give up all that he had. He would be cared for, of course, but he would own nothing. This is why the bible uses the term “living” to describe what the father divided to his sons. The Greek word actually means “life.” He divided his life between them.

The older son stayed home and continued to run the family business. The younger son went in search of adventure. The bible says that he squandered his father’s “life” in what the King James Bible calls “riotous” living. Webster defines this word as; given to or marked by unrestrained revelry; loose; wanton: boisterous or uproarious. In other words, he partied as long and as hard as he could.

I am always taken by the severity of what this son did. He used up one third of all his father had accumulated in his whole life. All of his father’s hard work and creativity was gone in a very short time. The son “joins himself” to a citizen of the country he was in. This term “joins himself” is interesting. One translation says he persuaded the man to hire him, but he was not being paid. He was starving. The Greek word actually means to stick like glue. The picture I get is that he has latched onto this man in hopes that he would get something from him. This man sends him to the fields to feed the pigs. This is more than humiliating for a Jew. Pigs are unclean. By doing this, he is separated from his identity. The bible says he comes to his senses. Finally!

The young man realizes that it is better to be servant in the father’s house than to be “his own man” in a pig pen. He decides to go home and beg his father to hire him as a servant. He rehearses a speech. He will tell his father how he does not deserve to be called his son anymore, but would his father receive him as a hired servant. He will work hard if only he could have enough to eat.

The scene shifts in Jesus’ parable. We see the father back home. What is the father doing? I am not sure since he was virtually retired, but we do know that he saw the son coming from a long way off. Could it be that the father was watching for his son’s return? At any rate, he runs to meet the son as he is coming down the road. The son begins to give his speech, but the father does not let him finish. He falls on him and kisses him welcoming him home.

The father gives the son three things that have great significance. He gives him a robe. This is a robe of righteousness or right standing. The father is saying to the son, “You have been forgiven. You are restored to your status as my son.” He also gives him sandals. Only slaves went barefoot. He was saying to the son, “You are not a slave here. You are my son.” Finally, he gave him a ring. This was not just a piece of jewelry. It was a signet ring. It had the father’s seal on it. This seal was the father’s authority. With this ring, the son could do business in the family name. He was saying to the son, “You are restored to the authority of the family name.”

Think of this father. The son has done nothing to deserve this treatment. He has squandered the father’s life’s work. He has lived in a sinful manner. He has been rebellious and foolish. Yet the father does not berate him. The father does not reject him. The father does not make him earn his way back. There will be consequences. The son has no inheritance. He can rebuild his own life with the father’s authority, but he will have to do it on his own ability. However, those consequences do not extend to his relationship with the father. That is completely restored at the moment of his repentance.

I deal with many people who have had bad “father” experiences. Sometimes it is the parents fault and sometimes it is the Childs. Either way, when a bad seed is sown in a person’s heart where “father” is concerned it makes for a very difficult life. God is a father. If he is not that to you, you will never fully understand him. You will never be able to walk out your Christianity effectively. However, this story tells us what kind of Father he really is.

No matter how far from Him you stray, he will receive you back. No matter what sin you commit, he will restore you if you really repent. There may be consequences you have to face, but those consequences will not include the Father’s rejection. He will teach you. He will chasten you when necessary. He will do everything in his power to help you overcome. He will put a robe of righteous on your shoulders. He will put sandals of son ship on your feet and a ring of authority on your finger.

One thing he will not do is follow you into sin. If you choose to go there, he will let you. He will be waiting when you are ready to return, but he will not go after you. You must repent and come back to him. (1 John 1:9)

Think about this wonderful Father today. Read this story again and picture the action as it takes place. It will help you understand the God you serve.

But what about the older brother?