News and Views
Balance For Disciples
The Bible is a big book that introduces us to God who is so great that we humans will continue to learn to know Him better through all eternity without ever having complete knowledge and understanding of Him. Some of His directions seem paradoxical to us, as when Jesus, talking about priorities, says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt.10:39 NIV), or when, talking about leadership, says, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt. 23:11-12 NIV). However, human language simply does not have an extensive or adequate spiritual vocabulary, so we struggle to understand what the comparisons, the similes and metaphors and parables really mean. We also struggle with knowing which directives apply literally and universally, or which are an expression of a basic principle in the culture of that time and how to apply that principle today. Therefore, it is not surprising or unusual to see someone, or, worse, a leader, grasp a key principle and run with it out of all proportion as though it were the whole Gospel. Indeed, there are several areas in which we all need to take care in order to maintain balance.
Today, the Bible is becoming a much less read book, even among Christians who claim to consider it the inspired Word of God that is foundational to Christian belief and life. Therefore, in each area of potential imbalance, in our time an important key to restoring and maintaining balance is to dust off and read the Bible and do as it says. It is easy today to look around and observe individuals, groups, and even churches who have swung out of balance because they are no longer people of the Book.
One area of potential imbalance is in the understanding and practice of obedience and love. Yes, we can and must express love for God through obedience, but if we overemphasize obedience, we can find ourselves so wrapped up in obeying every minute precept in the Law and in our church and family tradition that we risk becoming self-righteous, legalistic, and judgemental, like the Pharisees whom Jesus verbally chastised in Matthew 23. On the other hand, if we overemphasize love, we risk falling into the emotional and sentimentalized ideas of love common in popular culture, and may find ourselves condoning behaviours that are specifically forbidden by God. Searching the whole of Scripture for understanding of God’s way provides a foundation for balance in obeying as an expression of love, and loving as an act of obedience.
Another area of potential imbalance is in understanding the proper relationship between right belief and personal experience of God. Excess emphasis on right belief can lead us into the same traps as excess emphasis on obedience: the risks of self-righteousness, legalism, and judging, as well as a cold, emotionless religiosity. On the other hand, excess emphasis on experience runs other risks. God knows us best, and will give us the experiences of His presence which He knows is best for us. If we demand and/or expect experiences He knows are not best for us, we may be disappointed or disillusioned, or worse. Experiences also include the “gifts of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5:22-23. If we seek the gifts more than we seek God, the Giver, we risk getting imitation gifts from the wrong giver, from our spiritual enemy. Again, as we search the Scriptures seeking to know God and align our will with His, we will receive the experiences He knows are best for us, ranging from joy and delight in His Word, a sense of His presence, answers to prayer, strength and wisdom, comfort and peace as we need them, and perhaps “gifts of the Spirit” as He knows is best for building us and His Body.
The third area of potential imbalance is in Bible reading and study, and prayer. It is possible to so enjoy time in the Bible that it becomes an intellectual pursuit devoid of spiritual communion with God. More frequently, I hear of people saying that they pray every day, but don’t touch their Bibles. Prayer that is not grounded in God’s Word risks becoming very self-centred, distorted, and even influenced by our enemy. The Bible tells us to pray at all times, and this can be accomplished if we realize that God knows our every thought and ask Him to think along with us and guide our thoughts toward His will. Again, balance includes two sides; God speaking to us in Scripture and us speaking to God.
Put it all together in balance with the right heart attitudes, and we will be on the way to becoming, and making, disciples who obey the command, “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44-45 NIV)
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