Rethink: The Power of Words

In this series, we will take a closer look at sayings and doctrines that are common place in streams of the church and talk about the truth and error of these sayings and doctrines.

The issue.

I’ve noticed a troubling trend among some charismatic Christians. There has been more and more talk about the power of our words and how they affect our situations. Usually it occurs in sermons where the people are encouraged to speak positive words into the air about their lives and situations. They are also told that much of what ails them (whether physically, financially, emotionally, etc) is coming from the negative words that they are speaking over their lives. The preacher will say “The reason you are sick is because you keep claiming you are sick instead of saying that you’re healed” or “Wake up and speak to the airways that you are blessed and all your bills will be paid.”

Why does this matter?

The verse used most often when people talk about the power of words is:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21 ESV)

Many have taken this scripture and used it exclusively to make a theology that states our circumstances are created by what our mouth speaks. The problem is that the Bible never mentions this. The closest we get to the power of words again is in the book of  James.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:1-12 ESV)

James talks about our words as righteousness or sin, not life-altering positive or negative powers.

Now the Bible does mention people speaking to themselves and stirring themselves up to hope and believe. David is a great example of this.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (Psalm 42:5-6 ESV)

Did you catch what David did though? Yes he talked to himself, but He used memories of what God had done to change his mood.

Still, changing moods (going from anxiousness to hope, or sorrow to joy) is one thing. Believing your words can change your physical circumstances or can bring in extra finances is another. In fact, it’s unbiblical.

I stumbled on this tweet the other day and thought it summed up this point well. Nowhere in scripture is a person reprimanded for a sickness simply for “not speaking healing over their life”. What most people forget about healing is that we don’t heal anyone. God does and He needs nothing to do it. While faith is usually present where there is healing, it is still something that God does according to His sovereign will. Our words have little if nothing to do with it.

My biggest problem with the power of words thinking is that it is rooted is a few horrible things. First, it is rooted in Word of Faith theology that claims that we have whatever we ask and so if something is not what we like, we have the power to change it. This is prosperity gospel at its core and goes against the sovereign nature of God, the depravity of man, and God’s way of bringing maturity through suffering.

UnknownPower of words thinking also has deep roots into the same philosophy as the book “The Secret.” Here is a quote from this book:

“As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the universe and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to the source. And that source is you.”

Christianity Today has a great review of it.

This book and its thinking as been held high by people like Oprah and sadly the same kind of thinking has kept into many Christian’s theology.

Now I believe in faith. I believe in healing and I also believe in reminding ourselves that God is faithful to provide and that He wants to heal (and purchased our healing). I also admit that,particularly with emotional states, there is scientific data regarding the placebo effect, that what we believe can help us feel better, especially for issues and pains that are mainly mental. Most of what I’m speaking against though falls under “hyper-faith”, the belief that anything we see as negative is not God’s will and therefore can be changed if we have enough faith and do the right things (ex. if we pray enough, give enough, serve enough, obey enough, etc).

But remember what Jesus said:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV)

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25-27 ESV)

Little branches, I encourage all of us when I say: stop being anxious. Stop worrying whether your bills will get paid because you didn’t speak enough positive words over your life. Stop feeling the shame about your child because you did declare “you’re an overcomer” over their life everyday. Our anxiousness, worry, and negative words can only produce one thing: sin. Quit reading books that focus on the power of what we can do for ourselves through our words. Let us stop all the self-talk and using the power of suggestion on ourselves and start looking to our Father who knows what we need and is good to give them as they line up with His will.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19 ESV)

How To Help A Family Who Lost Someone

This past December, my mom died. I had the honor of doing her eulogy. The weeks and months that have followed since then have been a mix of heartbrokenness and yet of sameness. The lost of my mother still pains me and I remember her often, but I have not been left immobilized by it. While life is certainly different, our routines continue and life moves us on.

During this season, my friends and church family have been amazing supports. They have served and encouraged us more than I could of ever dreamed. They have cried with us and also have caused us to laugh. I could not think of better people (or pastors) than the ones at First Assembly DeLand.

As I was meditating on how blessed I have been to have such a strong church around me, I realized that there isn’t a guide or any helpful hints for people to help a family/friend through the loss of a loved one. I have read plenty of articles solacing the griever, but none about how others can help (and not hurt or frustrate) the grieving party. I thought that I would write this for people who will need it in the future. I am glad to say that for the most part (99%), my church was spectacular and nothing in this post is directed at them. It is written to help people understand how to best comfort friends and church family who are grieving due to a death.

Note: I am a ministry leader in my church, so much of what I write will have that in mind. Some of the things I will address are not so much personal help, but ministry help.

Paint a bigger picture of heaven.

In scripture we are told that our hope in this life is our home/life in the next. The apostles continually focus the Christian’s gaze to the glories that await us after this life. The problem lies when our view of the afterlife gets dumbed down to a heavenly playground where our loved ones are just chatting waiting for us. That doesn’t produce hope. That doesn’t satisfy our hearts that our loved ones are better than we can imagine. Neither do unbiblical, error-filled comments about loved ones turning into angels. Let me state this clearly: no human has become an angel after death. None. Not one. Though the comments may be mentioned as a sincere sort of comfort, they truly offer none.

Instead of focusing on the angels, or mansions, or gold in heaven, focus on Jesus. Focus on that their loved one is now completely satisfied worshiping their heart’s Desire. Focus on that their earthly struggle is over and that they are now pain-free, sin-free, depression-free, never more to hurt and never more to die. Talk about the joy they must be experiencing because of the beauty and goodness of God. That’s how the Bible talks about heaven, and that’s how it gives us hope.

Keep your grieving in check.

When my mom passed, there were one or two people who made a scene at her funeral. In truth, these people barely knew my mom. My thoughts about them were “I’m not grieving that bad, and she’s my mother.”

I understand that people all grieve differently and they are entitled to that. However, do it “in secret” (Matthew 6) and not in front of the family. Do you best to hold it together when you are with them. If the family is comforting you instead of you comforting them, then maybe there is an issue there.

Note: I understand that there are some cases where the family is estranged from the deceased and there are friends that were truly closer to the deceased than the family. I still repeat, keep your grieving in check. You may have lost a friend, but they have lost a blood member of their family and even if they are estranged, death has a way of bringing clarity to past issues.

Put a pause on your personal issues.

Much like the last point, the best way to comfort and help a family that is grieving is to not draw attention to you. Blessings and cursings can’t come from the same mouth. You can’t tell the family all about the positive and life-changing impact the deceased has had on your life and then the next day go all Jerry Springer on Facebook. That doesn’t encourage the family. If you are going to come forth as a testimony to their legacy, then make sure that you don’t act out during that time. Keep your issues in check. I understand that we all sin, but we can help and honor the grieving family by making right choices that show the positive impact that the deceased loved one has had on our life.

Also on a ministry side, be discerning. I understand that there can be “dark nights of the soul” and times of severe struggle in a Christian’s life as the Lord is refining them by separating the dross from the gold by using intense trials. I also understand that those times can’t be planned. However, I know that there is grace in those times to not be burdensome to another who is grieving. I know, personally, as a leader that the last thing I want to deal with is strife or bitterness in my ministry team while I’m grieving. In the midst of our personal issues and sin, press to get along and apply grace to overcome them instead of being a burden.

Do your job.

This one is almost solely a ministry-focused point. I have people often say that good leadership is when things don’t require you to be around in order to keep going. I agree with this. However, due to choice and our personal issues, the flow of ministry can start breaking down if people aren’t doing their job.

I had many people, particularly in our worship team, ask me if there was anything they could do to help out me and my family during our grieving. My mom’s death fell two weeks before Christmas and 10 days before our department’s Christmas production. What I wanted to tell everyone was that the best way you can help me, as a leader, is to simply do your job. Show up at practice. Be prepared. Have a good attitude. Be in unity with everyone else on the team. These things may not seem like much, but they kept me from dealing with issues and problems and instead allowed to process my mom’s death (and continue writing her eulogy).

Help with the basics.

That said, helping with the basics is a great way to practically help and bring comfort to the family. Offer to wash and fold their laundry. Offer to help clean and organize their house. If they have kids, offer to babysit during the day so that they can help plan the funeral, or offer to babysit a night or two so that they can get out of town to breathe. Many of my co-workers started a PTO donation. This was a big help for my wife and me. Yet, the best practical thing you can do is arrange meals for the family. Our family was a wreck before and after mom passed and not having to spend 1-2 hours each night preparing food was a blessing. We found the site “Take Them A Meal” to be quite helpful. It allows the family to give instructions and give directions without having to focus on organizing it. We were able to view a list and knew who was bringing dinner and what they were bringing. I can’t express how big of a blessing that was.

Don’t ask many questions. Give encouragements instead.

Finally, give encouragements more than you ask questions. Don’t ask a family member whose loved one just died “how are you doing?”. Rather, encourage them. Share funny stories and good memories about the loved one. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Remember with them. Remind the family of the loved one’s legacy, of how much they loved each member of the family, of the impact they made in other’s lives. This will not just help them at that moment, but months and years down the road.

Why We Fast

In the past I’ve written articles on how to better fast and how to end a fast, but I have never talked about why we fast. I know from personal experience that I can be fasting and not know why. I can be focusing on all the wrong things instead of what fasting is truly accomplishing.

I should start by saying: fasting earns us nothing.

We don’t fast to get more favor from the Lord or to be “more pleasing” to Him. We can’t do anything that would add to what Jesus did on the cross. Our righteousness, goodness, and deservedness starts and ends at the cross. God doesn’t listen to our prayers more just because we’re fasting. We don’t get any access to God while fasting that we wouldn’t of had without it. We need to shake free from asceticism, the belief that we can reach a higher spiritual level by our works, and rest in the finished work of the cross.

I should also say: fasting informs God of nothing.

Often over-zealous Christians believe that fasting shows God the urgency of a situation they’re praying for. They believe if they toil for hours in prayer and fasting God will hear their request and answer. But those people often forget that He’s God. He knows everything. No one can tell Him something that He doesn’t already know. Unlike us, He realizes the importance (or lack thereof) of every situation. He knew about every circumstance before time began, and He knew His response to each and every prayer before any circumstance came to pass or before any prayer was prayed.

So we then do we fast? We fast for us.

When I say that we fast “for us”, I do not mean to say that we are the end to which we are fasting. Rather, we fast because we are constantly trying to substitute ourselves for God as the true end. We fast because our flesh hates God and wants nothing to do with Him. We fast because our desires are not for Him. We fast to create hunger for God by intentional weakness. The weaker our flesh and its desires become, the greater our spirit (and His Spirit’s influence) starts ruling our lives.

In past fasts, I’ve looked for one thing that I could give up, whether media, food, etc. I’ve treated fasting like I was offering a great sacrifice to God. In hindsight, I was looking for the very least I could do. The point of fasting is about becoming as weak as you can be. Again, it’s intentional weakness. I tell people that if your flesh isn’t terribly uncomfortable, agonizingly so, you’re not fasting right. I’m not talking about food either. It’s amazing how I can go without food for a week but I can’t go without reading the news for a day; that to leave my iPhone off all day is such a struggle and that my flesh longs for it. My flesh agonizes without it.

We often substitute what we are fasting with something else. I may fast lunch but I replace that time I’m eating with surfing the internet instead. I should be using the time I would normally eat lunch with to spend time with God. That’s how fasting is supposed to work. We strip (aka “fast”) all the meaningless things we can, making our flesh intentionally weak, so that we can draw near to God. 

I remember one day when God said, “Crumbs.” I asked “What are crumbs? What do you mean?” He responded, “Crumbs are all the little things in your life you eat that fill you up so that you’re not hungry for Me. You snack all day on crumbs so you never come to the feast I’ve prepared for you.”

Our lives are full of trivial things. We spend so much time on our phones, checking our social networks, watching the news, surfing the internet, and goofing off. While these things aren’t evil, they are crumbs that tend to feed our flesh and strengthen it to the point that we don’t desire God. There’s a feast of glory that God has prepared for us. Yet we rather eat the crumbs of our flesh and maybe a little food that comes from the table when we hear a sermon, but we never take a seat at the table. We never feast on God when we’re alone.

There is a feast in the Bible. Let us fast so we may partake at the table.

Why I Teach On Somber Biblical Topics

If you know me at all, you know that I have a tendency to teach and speak on more somber biblical topics, such as hell, depravity, persecution, trials, sovereignty, election, etc. It’s not that I focus solely on these things but rather I don’t shy away from them. The high school Sunday School class I teach (which I see as a huge honor) know quite well this fact. We have discussed many tough issues and biblical stances.

But why do I do this? Why don’t I just focus on the happier and “more positive” parts of scripture? As I was reading Acts, I found the perfect statement by Paul:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:26-32 ESV)

The reason I don’t shy away from teaching more somber biblical topics is because Paul tells us: wolves are coming. These wolves will deceive the sheep, not using the positive easy things that are often taught, but they will twist some doctrines and destroy the flock. How can they twist these doctrines? They twist them because they are not often laid out clearly and taught. That’s why Paul says “I declared to you the whole counsel of God.”

I mentioned in another post about the wedge how deception would come in five areas. I could call these issues the “gateway deceptions”. Few would be deceived by someone preaching against the Trinity since that is often taught. However they will and are being deceived about how the Lord sees homosexuality and universalism (to name a couple). It is for this reason that I desire to set myself like Paul and “admonish every one with tears”, “not ceasing day or night”. I often tell the students I teach that my goal isn’t to particulary help them with their life now (though I hope I do), but rather to prepare them for college (where most teenage Christians fall away) and for the next 30 years (where life could kill the heart’s desire for Jesus) where/when they will face possible diseases, hard financial times, death, and other difficult challenges. I want see them prepared to handle anything they face. I don’t want to see their faith shaken, simply because I candy-coated the Bible on what it says. This does not mean I need to be depressing (that doesn’t glorify Jesus and the Bible). It means that I approach these subjects with hope, compassion, and even joy (for every biblical topic helps us know Jesus more).

For Or Against

In the last few years, I have heard the above quote many times. There is a thinking being accepted by many people, believers and non-believers alike, that Christians ought not to speak about what they are against but rather what they are for.

Now to be fair, I do believe that we (Christians) have done a poor job in talking about sin without the hope of the gospel. We have focused so much on the consequences of the sin that we have forgotten Christ’s call for the sinner. We, especially in the Bible Belt, have frequently made derogatory remarks against the people whose sins we know are wrong. Jesus rarely even did that. I say rarely because He did call people names (“white-washed tombs”, “dogs”, “wicked and evil generation”, etc). In fact, in all the instances where He did make derogatory remarks against a person or a people group, there was almost always arrogance in play. Jesus treated the woman caught in adultery with honor and compassion, yet treated the prideful Pharisees (who were just as lost as the woman caught in adultery) with contempt. Yet, for the most part, Jesus responded with kindness to sinners He preached to; so much so that He was called a “friend of sinners.”

The problem arises when we think that the Bible or Jesus doesn’t speak against things. Let me be clear, although Jesus was a friend of sinners and the Bible gives sinners the great hope of the gospel, both it and He speak often about things that the Godhead are against. Here are a few examples:

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment. (Jude 7)

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people-none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 ESV)

People in the post-modern age don’t like hearing negative things (“against”). They rather hear what positive things (“for”). We hear our leaders and politicians turning phrases, trying to put a positive spin on something they are attacking (“I’m not for killing babies, I’m pro-choice”). But they forget the term “apophatic theology”, which is the method of describing God by what He is not. Sometimes we can better understand a position or theology by finding out what it is not. For example, while we know what the fruit of the Spirit are, we know them better because Paul contrasted them with the fruit of the flesh.

I say all of this to encourage us, not to forget the love and compassion of Jesus or the hope of the gospel for sinners, but also to “not shrink from declaring to [people] the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 ESV). It is not our job to make the gospel more palatable by stripping it of what God is against. It’s our duty and delight to preach the God who is full of fury and love, a furious love that destroys anything that would try to hinder it.

Six Things My Pastor Taught Me

This post could also be called “Six Reasons Why I Love My Pastor.” My senior pastor is an amazing man of God and I have learned countless things from him while under his leadership. This post contains just six of them, in no particular order.

Love, eat, breathe, bleed, use, memorize, respect, and preach the Word.

It is often said that our pastor bleeds scripture. He spent a good deal of his Christian life memorizing scripture (with references) so he often quotes scripture throughout his sermons and counseling. He not only reads and memorizes the Word, he gives it preeminence. In a day where the Bible is left up to personal opinion, it has been life-saving to have a pastor who prioritizes the Bible in his ministry. He doesn’t just talk about how important the Bible is, He shows us how important it is by example. The Bible is our life-blood and he treats it accordingly. I remember the day I heard a prophecy that included the words “this church will be safe in the coming storms because my messenger holds fast to My Word.” I thank God every time I remember that prophecy.

Authority comes from being under authority.

One of my pastor’s favorite scriptures is Luke 7:3-9:

When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Our pastor often says that the centurion understood authority (and therefore Jesus’ authority) because he was under authority himself. Our pastor loves order. Coming from the military and business community, he saw how groups thrived when there was a clear leadership structure. It’s not about titles or positions, but rather doing things in decency and in order. I’m grateful for this order. I know people who have declined to be under authority and it directly impacts how much fruit their lives bear. Personally, I can be quite blind and foolish. I’m glad to be under leaders who can both encourage and correct me. In fact, the more I submit to them, the more I find myself in a place of (humble) authority.

God loves people (both the lost and saved) so make every effort to love them too.

My pastor will run his life ragged loving and reaching people. You can tell that he has the passion of a missionary or evangelist. His greatest passion is to see souls saved. He wants every person that he crosses paths with to feel loved and cared for. He is remarkably unselfish when it comes to this. I often wonder when he has free time. He is constantly visiting people at the hospitals, meeting with people for a cup of coffee, etc. Watching him love people has taught me that they are worth loving because God loves them.

Ministry is a hard, suffering call from God.

This may be a weird point to some. Recently in America, church ministry (particularly pastoring) has been cast as easy and fun. It mainly comes from high-production, hyped ministries who sound like they live on a mountain top all their life. But that’s not how the New Testament describes Paul’s, Peter’s, John’s (etc) life. Paul often said he was “sorrowful, yet rejoicing”. My pastor doesn’t put on a mask, trying to show that the ministry is easy. Rather, he is vulnerable enough to show us how hard it can be. God spoke to Ananias about Paul in Acts 9:16, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  As a leader and as someone feeling called to bi-vocational ministry, this is a gift. I am grateful to see the true life of a minister lived out in front of me, with all of its trials, pains, joys, struggles, frustrations, hopes, plans, ideas, and passions.

Legacy and your tenure in God matter.

My pastor often says that “God is looking for great finishers.” In America, we often esteem those who are popular or are doing extraordinary/miraculous things. We tend to ignore ministers who have served faithfully for decades and have an extended legacy. We tend to praise the short-term success of people rather than cherish the long-term sowing and reaping of a minister’s faithfulness. I look at my pastor and his (biological and spiritual) children and pray that I can live my life in such a way that my life bears fruit like his.  I want to see my marriage lasting passionately for decades, being an example to others. I want to see my children seek God. I want those around me to be stirred to everlasting love for God. I want my life to impact others. These things matters and I learned that fact by watching my pastor.

Moral excellence in ministry.

There is not a month (many times a week) that goes by that I don’t hear of a well-known minister falling into sexual sin. Both my senior pastor and his staff have shown that God is faithful to keep us holy if we are willing to be severely aggressive about not tolerating even a hint of sexual immorality in our lives. The integrity of the church staff is mind-boggling to me. I am humbled to be under authority of these ministers of God.

Christians Persecuting Jesus

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:1-5 ESV)

In the above passage, Jesus tells us that when people persecute believers, they are persecuting Him. We often use this scripture to comfort persecuted Christians in third-world countries. However, I recently read it and thought of something else we can use this scripture for.

“Christians: ditto.”

We naturally tend to apply this scripture to atheists, Muslims, and other religious persecutors, but we forget about another great persecutor of the church: us. I think of how many of Paul’s letters pleaded with the church to stop fighting with each other. Let me just list a few of the scriptures about it.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20 ESV)

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:13-16 ESV)

But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (Jude 1:10-16 ESV)

Ouch. All of these scriptures were written because of real issues happening in the church. They aren’t answers for hypothetical situations. I find it sobering yet helpful that the early church was struggling with unity back then. It speaks on how hard it is to obtain true unity yet how much grace there is for us to have it (mostly because Christ desires it so much per John 17).

Paul, while talking about marriage, gives us a beautiful encouragement for Christian unity:

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body….This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32 ESV)

By the ways we treat other Christians, we can either show our love for the body or our hate for it. Every time we mock or mistreat another believer, we are mistreating our own body. However, we are doing more than that, because we are the body of Christ! We are not just persecuting each other, we are persecuting Him. This is a helpful reminder for me to watch what I say and do to other believers, for one day Jesus will judge how we treated “His brothers” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus takes how we treat His family and His body very seriously.

If we are not careful, we (believers) can find ourselves persecuting Jesus just like the world does.