This post is inspired by the fact that many lament over the state of Christian public discourse. Specifically as it pertains to the conversation on Social Justice.
“Brothers, join in imitating me and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Philippians 3:17
Why would Paul tell people to “imitate [him]” as well as command them to “keep your eyes on those who walk according to [his] example”?
Isn’t that prideful? Shouldn’t he just say to imitate Christ?
Obviously not, as an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul was commissioned by Christ to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. In leading this ministry of reconciliation. He labored hard for the Gospel. He was unashamed of his work and called others to follow him. He knew the importance of living a life worthy of imitation.
While bringing the Gospel message to the Gentiles, he met along the way a variety of opponents. How should the churches he wrote to handle these opponents? Furthermore, should his example of how he opposed those against the Lord be followed?
That was much of what Paul set out to do. He sought to give sound instruction and admonitions of the danger of believing lies that contradicted the Gospel.
Some of these opponents were Pagans and so it was obvious they were false in their worldview. But even worse and more deceitful were those he spent most of his time opposing–false teachers within the church.
Many have commented on social media that they are disturbed to see the way the church is handling strong disagreements online. But when danger has arisen in the church, it rarely has ever been a private issue. Why do some want to avoid the controversy now? We are too nice and not bold enough.
Dangers Within The Church
It comes to no surprise that within the church many would rise up to seek to lead it astray. Did not our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ say this himself in the parable of the wheat and the weeds?
Jesus said in the 13th chapter Matthew’s Gospel:
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
A weed in this passage is literally a “darnel,” it is a wheat-like weed. The weed looks just like the wheat but it isn’t. The danger of weeds that look like wheat is that it can take a lot of work to sift them out. Here in the parable the charge to the laborers is to not do so, but also in light of Paul’s example he seems to point out “the tares”. Paul has no qualms saying that his opposition isn’t good.
He even does so publicly–by writing letters to entire church bodies.
Addressing this parable contextually is another post for another time. But one thing to take away is that the darnel and the wheat look awfully a lot alike until closer examination.
We must be diligent to know the dangers that come toward our flock. Paul was unashamed to do so and time permits me covering all his letters. To name a few–take a look below concerning Paul and his opposition in the list below.
Outline of some of Paul’s letters and opponents:
- Galatians – The Judaizers, justification by means of the works of the law.
- Colossians – Proto-Gnostics/Jewish/syncretistic folk religion mixing with the gospel
- Philippians – Pagan Persecutors and possibly Judaizers.
- Ephesians – Proto-Gnostics
- Acts – Alexander the Coppersmith, Festus, Agrippa, Jewish leaders, Pagan worshippers, etc.
(I could go on but I’ll refrain for the sake of time).
The point being, the greatest dangers that come against the church are not from outside of the church, but from within it. False teaching always comes and seeks to lead the people of God astray.
Paul never minces words with those who syncretize other ideas into the gospel and thus create a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-10). He is direct and forthright about the dangers of straying from the gospel.
When I think of the state of the church in America today, there is definitely a reason for concern. I want to help bring awareness to these dangers. Not because of outrage culture and a desire to be a part of it (by no means!); rather so many souls are at stake when it comes to believing unsound doctrine.
Not only is there a danger of false teachers arising within the church. There is also a danger for brothers in the faith to stray toward doctrines that bring disunity to the body. We see this clearly laid out in Galatians 2 when Paul opposes Peter to his face. Notice it is not privately over a Direct Message or Cell Phone call, it is in front of everyone where the sin took place.
Don’t get me wrong, there is DEFINITELY a time and circumstance where there should be private confrontation (Matthew 18), but in this instance, an apostle was publicly erring in his doctrine, which was going to create a massive divide in the church over ethnic & religious issues–Jews and Gentiles.
Paul rightly is outspoken on this, he gives us an example to imitate. We as the church must do our due diligence and with great courage, “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourselves and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).
Paul gives so many admonitions in Scripture regarding what is taught and the necessity that it is sound:
the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,
Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,
[ Teach Sound Doctrine ] But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.
There’s much more Scripture where it is implied by means of other commands as well.
If we don’t take our responsibility seriously as believers, there is a great possibility we could see great harm come to the name of Christ for the sake of these idols. These idols specifically attack the idea of the sufficiency of Scripture.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
What idols am I referring to in modern day America? I’ll name 5 in particular.
- The Charismatic Movement.
- The Egalitarian Movement
- The “Gay Christian” Movement
- The Social Justice/Gospel Movement
- The Psychotherapy Movement.
All of these in one way, shape, or form–really do attack the sufficiency of Scripture. The teaching that believes that God’s word is truly enough. Look at some verses that support Scriptures sufficiency:
2 Tim. 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Peter 1:3-10 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:20-21 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
To some of you who are on the fence about this kind of stuff, the kind of person that can’t stand any form of confrontation or controversy. Hear it from me–I don’t want to be argumentative or a polemicist. We live in a sad and hard world as it is! Why take on the burden of wanting to fight with people? I don’t want to fight people (Eph. 6:10-18), but I do want to be like Jude who “found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jd. 3b).
I want what Jesus wants. People who are whole. People who experience shalom. People who know that God has spoken to them in His Word. People who are protected from that which aims to destroy. If these things were happening privately then we could deal with it privately. But for those who look at Social Media as a place merely where people bicker at each other do not understand that this form of communication has such power in our culture. Anyone can say anything at any time for everyone to see! This should be a space Christians take complete advantage of.
We must be faithful with the opportunities before us and take them. Be faithful. Be encouraged by Paul’s words in the book of Acts, and notice the great responsibility the Christian leader has and the believer. Christ obtained the flock with his own blood. We must be careful with what we take in and with what our congregations take in.
Paul’s faithfulness in the ministry as seen here:
24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 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. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 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. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
May we have a ministry and testimony like this text gives us of Paul. Let us imitate him as he imitated Christ. Let us not mince words, we must tell the truth. Offer the plea for salvation and repentance. Acknowledge we all have a need for a Savior, especially those captive to false teaching, do so with grace and conviction of truth. We must contend for the faith both privately and publicly.
If you were encouraged by this post and challenged. Let me encourage you, be outspoken. Don’t shy away from telling the truth and doing so with grace.
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil–God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer