We’re in difficult days, and I think they will get more difficult.
In times like these, recalling God’s promises and leaning on His character and His abundance becomes critical. All of us are needy, and that will not change until the Lord returns.
Yesterday, I got in a bit of a back and forth elsewhere over the issue of God’s promises and fulfillment. God’s promises to us are true, BUT it seems to me that all are based on conditions that demand something of us. The usual conditions are faithfulness and holiness.
A perfect example:
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
—2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV
The promise is that God will forgive sins and heal the land. The condition is that people embrace humility, prayer, and seeking God.
That kind of promise and condition duo runs through all of Scripture.
What if the condition isn’t quite as clear? Let’s work back from promises to conditions.
Another famous verse:
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
—Luke 12:27-31 ESV
We’re not to worry about the things we need in life because God will supply them. We just have to seek His Kingdom. (OK, so that condition is open to interpretation at this point in the passage. Let’s move on.)
Note the verses that immediately follow:
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.
—Luke 12:33-36 ESV
That asks a lot more. If we are not to worry about the things we need from day to day, are we selling our possessions and giving them to the poor? Are we dressed and ready for action?
It gets even trickier when we examine how the Holy Spirit led the early Church to react to words like the ones above in a practical expression:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:44-47 ESV
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
—Acts 4:34-35 ESV
How were the basic needs of the young Church and its new believers met? Those same basic needs mentioned by Jesus in Luke 12:27-31?
The Church did something about the Lord’s promise to ensure its practical fulfillment.
I’ll add one more:
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4:19 ESV
A great promise and one many Christians rightfully hold onto.
But…what precedes that precious promise? Here are the verses we neglect to consider:
And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
—Philippians 4:15-18 ESV
Paul’s abundance that supplied his need came from a church people who were obedient to the Lord and gifted Paul with what he needed.
Time and again, a promise asks something of the Church.
For this reason, I don’t believe it is reasonable to stand on promises that we as a Church are not willing to address in a practical way.
Paul writes earlier that the Gospel will not go out to the world unless we believers take it out. We cannot assume it will go out if we do not act.
If the Church does not assume some level of responsibility for enacting the promises of God through its faithfulness to Him and what He demands of us, I think it is misguided to hold onto those promises and think they will come to pass by some other means. It concerns me greatly that so many Christians think that these things will happen as if by magic, and they cling to that belief without giving any consideration as to what is asked of them to make that “magic” happen in their lives and the lives of others.
If the Church is not attuned to the need and is not working to meet it, should we assume that God will circumvent the system He established to meet that need apart from the Church?
You know what I think. What do you think? And why?
13 thoughts on “God’s Promises and Their Fulfillment: How Much Is the Church’s Responsibility?”
I agree with you 100%.
I think you could lean too far in the other direction, too, which could negate faith, obviate prayer, etc. The best example I can think of involves another matter in the Church: missions.
“Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2 KJV).
Most of the time, when I hear this preached, I also hear the preacher say, “And when you pray, be ready to be the answer to that prayer.” Then why pray at all? Why not just go yourself? That seems to be the unspoken attitude sometimes: that prayer is perfunctory at best. The Scriptures already command you to go to the mission field. What are you waiting for? Get to it.
Probably one of the more provocative views a pastor expressed about what you mention was this: that, according to what he read in the Bible, our charity should provide food and clothing. Anything beyond that is gravy. And think about it: many passages dealing with everyday needs touch on food and clothing.
Do I have to provide you with a house, a car, an education, and a job? For the chronically ill and disabled, I already came to a conclusion of what the Church’s response could be: that we would provide food and shelter while praying for the person’s healing, but we will not empty the Church’s coffers to pay for expensive medical procedures that may not work.
If you don’t agree with me, then let me ask you this. Despite the church at Philippi providing for Paul’s needs, Paul had, most of the time, a fairly wretched standard of living, compared to what we might consider necessary, and even compared to the standards at that time. But he got by and ministered effectively. Should he have had a higher standard of living, footed by the Church?
Regarding the Great Commission: It has been “less than ideally” translated for centuries because Wycliff established a “less than ideal” translation and no one has had the guts to tinker with it. The actual Greek is a participle phrase that instead of being a direct command (“Go!”) is more of a lifestyle statement. The better translation is “As you go…” or “While you are going…,” which makes evangelism what you do as part of everything else.
I think we have to be prepared to do the things God says to do. Certain things I don’t need to pray about, such as to know whether to be kind to the cashier at the grocery store or not. Obviously, I should be kind because God already told me so in the Word. But prayer is needed in many cases and especially those where the believer must decide between options, needs empowerment, or needs deeper intimacy with the Father.
*** The better translation is “As you go…” or “While you are going…,” which makes evangelism what you do as part of everything else.***
This is how I always understood it. That as I lived my life before God, this became the evangelism to those who witnessed.
To provide a pertinent example from my own life, my mother volunteers at the local food bank. She delivers bags of food to one of the schools in the area. The school distributes these bags to children from poor households.
I never wanted to get involved with the food bank, mainly because I saw it for what it was: busywork. Whenever I would think about “getting involved with the community” as some manifestation of “taking the Gospel to the streets” or some such, things like the food bank, Habitat for Humanity, or something like that would come to mind because that is what I always hear about. Plus it is easy enough to get involved. You just sign up, and away you go.
But are you preaching the Gospel to the people who receive the food from the food bank or the house from Habitat for Humanity? No.
My mother “volunteered” me at the food bank. She wanted me to “check out what they do there,” but really, she just wanted a helping hand when she goes out to deliver the bags of food. This often means now that I go out alone on the runs, like yesterday, when she had a doctor’s appointment.
When she quits the food bank or can no longer do it, I’ll quit, too. Why? Because I literally have zero interaction with the children who receive the food. And although many Christians work at the food bank, it is not a Christian organization, and it does not propagate the Gospel in any way. For all the children know, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy are dropping bags of goodies by the school. Magic, like you say.
Mr. Poet, what if your mother is the means God uses to make sure children He cares about have something to eat?
I think we make it all too complicated. We need to seek God, obey Him, and love our neighbors. By the time we are done doing that, I suspect it’s bedtime. It IS about evangelism, but it’s REALLY about the Kingdom of God. He’s the King, we are his subjects, and we just need to start acting like it. I can worry about what “they” do all day long but am I figuring out what I need to do? That is where I am at right now-where does it all pan out in MY life.
Bah! Humbug. >:(
But seriously, the only example of which I can think, in which a person ministered to another without that person’s knowledge, would be the Samaritan to the person he found on the side of the road. I think that man was out of it. Even so, that man, unless he was irrevocably comatose, would have been well enough to relate with the Samaritan by the time the Samaritan returned to pay his tab to the innkeeper.
Otherwise, every other example of which I can think from the Gospels involve someone interacting with someone else: the friend who needs loaves in the middle of the night; the Prodigal Son; doing unto the least of these (and, really, which of those actions involves doing something for that person without actually visiting that person?); the cup of cold water; Lazarus and the rich man…
…speaking of which, would the rich man have done well if he had thrown a bag of food over the wall to Lazarus? If he had built the man a little house on the other side of town, had his sores taken care of, and sent him regular shipments of food, but never met with or fellowshipped with Lazarus…? Well, to me, that would seem lacking, almost as heartless as letting him die at his gate.
After all: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not [love], it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3 KJV).
Hi Mr. Edelun,
I think there is a problem with the church. The church is its’ people. Today in our culture, we refer to the church as the leadership and the building. Even though we say we understand that the people are indeed the church or the body of Jesus Christ.
Leadership has largely become corrupt, following the ways of the world and not the way of truth. This is my thought anyway. As believers I think that we need to get free of this kind of leadership governing us and teaching us.
I believe if we get true leaders in our churches the promises will be forthcoming, because the saints will be taught truth and provided with godly examples of what this truth looks like, sounds like, feels like and acts like.
I know that we can’t blanket every church with error. There are some good leadership out there. But its not heard well in our countries of Canada and the USA. I have no idea where this good leadership is. I have not encountered it in my area of Canada.
Good leadership exists, Linda. But you are right; it is hard to find.
Wouldn’t a good shepherd find the sheep? Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. 🙂