Chapter 10: The B-Team (Believers)And the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth. Deuteronomy 14:2Opening prayer: Lord, I'm sure of my faith in You, but some of my brothers and sisters in the Church really look funny to me. Please open my heart to Your plan, and give me discernment of how this all fits together to your glory, I pray.
God's Peculiar People
One of the rudest shocks of the Christian life is discovering that you're surrounded by what God calls "peculiar people." Worse yet, they're just like you.
These people are your teammates. Welcome to the B-Team.
Years ago, Dr. J. Vernon McGee said that new believers find two things especially hard to accept: God's program, and God's people. He was right on target. God's program is so peculiar that much of it looks backwards to us. And we believers are a pretty odd-looking bunch. The strangest part is that the two concepts are interrelated.
The Apostle Paul was quite blunt about this in First Corinthians 1, verses 25-29:25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world, that He might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that He might put to shame the things that are strong; 28 and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that He might bring to nought the things that are: 29 that no flesh should glory before God.
Did you grasp that? God chose you because you were weak or foolish or both. That way, everybody will know that any good work coming from you can only be because of God's life-changing power.
God knows that our human nature is prideful and selfish. He wants to do mighty works through us, but He will not share His glory with anybody else. So He chooses notorious fools and weaklings like me to teach other fools like you. We're quite a match, don't you think?
This is backwards from the way we chose up teams for sandlot baseball or flag football when we were kids. The captains of the two teams would take turns selecting the biggest, strongest available players. For a one-hour game, no player was chosen for his long-term developmental potential.
God has a better idea, because He has an eternal perspective. His plan is to give us a supernatural heart transplant, and a new nature that can live forever in the presence of our holy, almighty God. He does this to shame the prideful folks who are so content with their fleshly looks and abilities right now.
We see this principle expressed in the Old Testament in Psalm 8, verse 2:2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger. (NKJV)
Have you seen a newborn baby lately? My first grandchild was a few days old when I first held her. At that time, she had not yet acquired any strength or agility. She relied on her parents and grandparents for everything.
God wants us to approach Him the same way, weak and dependent upon Him. He wants us to trust Him to provide strength, guidance and protection. That way, when we find joy in times of trouble, or operate powerfully in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the power is conspicuously from Him and not of ourselves.
Gifts in Perspective: God's Plan
As we said in an earlier chapter, God gives us the gifts of the Holy Spirit to build up His Church, the body of Jesus Christ. The gifts may seem odd from a human standpoint, but God has a Plan. In 1 Corinthians 12, verses 11-14 we read His Plan:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free - and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many. (NKJV)
You're probably smarter than me, so maybe you understand these verses perfectly. But the more I study them, the crazier they look.
Yes, I understand that the gifts are personally distributed by the Holy Spirit. I can even understand that He gives us gifts individually, according to His own plan. But how can these individual gifts - operating through rebellious, self-centered vessels like us - possibly make us into something resembling a unified body? How can this body, consisting of such flawed individuals, ever live up to the title of the "body of Christ?"
Please don't take this lightly. I'm a life-long student of human nature and group behavior. I've read hundreds of books, looking for answers about why people act the way they do. The more I learn about human nature, the less I trust it.
Isn't human nature grand and noble?
Not so you'd notice. We're selfish. We're weak. We cave in to temptation. We quit under pressure. We quit even before the pressure begins. We're always looking for the easy way, the convenient way. We intuitively resist the activities that will strengthen us. We eat the foods that destroy our health. We'll willingly risk a lifetime of suffering and side effects in hopes of enjoying a few moments of illicit worldly pleasure.
Would you trust the eternal future of the human race - to humans?
God did - but He didn't trust our future to human nature. He entrusts our future in the operation of His Holy Spirit through the agency of human believers.
Amazingly, His plan works. At times, some of us get it right. At times, enough of us in a particular group submit our rebellious hearts to the leading of the Holy Spirit. At times, collectively, we resemble the body of Christ. At times, unbelievers come into our assemblies and sense the presence of the Lord and surrender their hearts to Jesus. At times, we minister to each other. At times, the Holy Spirit works healings and prophecies and words of wisdom through these mortal bodies of ours. It's a miracle.
Gift Ministries: The Body In Action
So how does all this work? We've read lots of Scripture about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And we've read lots about how each of us function as parts of the body of Christ. But how does all this look in real life? How do the gifts work to knit us together as a functioning entity?
Verses 27-28 of 1 Corinthians 12 give us insight into this mystery:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. (NKJV)
In the first part of this chapter, Paul described gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to individuals. Now these verses explain that God gives us individuals with these gifts to minister within the church. Let's discuss these briefly.
The term "apostles" is usually reserved for the disciples personally chosen by our Lord during His earthly ministry (the original 12, less Judas) plus Paul/Saul of Tarsus. In Scripture, we have no record of disciples being ordained as apostles.
The Greek word apostellos, translated "apostle," means "one sent forth." It implies a sender, a message and a specific mission to accomplish. In addition to the 12 men mentioned above, other individuals are described as apostles:
- In Acts 14:14, Paul and Barnabus are described as apostles.
- In Romans 16:7, two men - Andronicus and Junia - are described as "outstanding among the apostles..."
- In Galatians 1:19, Paul says he "...saw none of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother."
- In Hebrews 3:1, Jesus is described as "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession." In this context, Jesus was the first Apostle: He was sent forth by the Father to personally bring the precious message of redemption to fallen mankind.
In my personal opinion, the Lord still anoints and sends apostles to the church today. We certainly still have need of them. These men do the same tasks that the original 11 Apostles did immediately after Pentecost. They preach, they teach, they plant churches. They disciple others to carry the Gospel message and plant other churches.
Apostles are more than just successful pastors and teachers. They are more than just evangelists. They carry the seeds of planting entire church bodies. They demonstrate a hundred-fold or a thousand-fold fruitfulness in training other men and women to reach their full ministry potential.
Apostles may operate in all the gifts of the Spirit. As one pastor described it: "I look inside myself and don't see any gifts. But the Holy Spirit lives inside me, and He has all the gifts."
God gives prophets to the Church to serve as evangelists, pastors and counselors. In ministry context, we say these individuals function in the office of the prophet. They speak forth God's Word with clarity and consistency, to edify the individual members of the body of Christ.
Of course, men and women may operate in the gift of prophecy outside the formal context of ordained ministry, as we discussed earlier. In all cases, the Holy Spirit speaks through submitted vessels to build up all the members of the body.
The third gift ministry is teaching. Teachers make Scriptures come alive in the minds and hearts of individual believers. Teachers are not evangelists, nor do they generally function as prophets to the assembled congregation.
Some evangelists, pastors and prophets are also gifted as teachers. However, their ministry is to the congregation at large. Teachers are entrusted with the responsibility of working with believers individually and in small groups. A few teachers, like Chuck Missler, have become so popular that large groups gather whenever they speak. Nevertheless, all true teachers live for the opportunity of making God's Word real for people, and delight to share with individuals and small groups where they can directly interact with their students.
"...after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues."
Apostles, prophets and teachers are the three most-visible gift ministries. Then come these five: miracles, healings, helps, administrations and tongues. Like the first three, their operation is essential to the healthy functioning of the body.
- Miracles and healings, as discussed earlier, are a direct result of a believer's personal prayer life. If we are really praying in the Spirit, we are in two-way communication with God. If we actively listen to God, He will reveal His will for miracles and healings. If we act in faith according to His will, God will perform miracles and healings.
- Helps and administrations are very dear to the heart of God, because they involve giving. Helps is easy to understand. A Spirit-filled believer is always ready to sacrificially help another person. The gift of administrations is something quite different and special. It involves planning, organizing and carrying out church programs. Some is done by pastors and church administrators. Some is done by volunteers. Unlike worldly administration, God's work cannot be done with fleshly talents. God's administration is always an act of faith, performed at the direction of the Holy Spirit.
- The gift of tongues is valuable for building up individual believers and sometimes helpful in group settings. In prayer meetings that are primarily "believers-only" gatherings, praying in tongues can be helpful. In such cases, the Holy Spirit can speak praise and worship through us, to help tune our hearts to His goals for the group. As we'll see in another chapter, our prayer language is not a suitable vehicle for delivering prophetic messages to a group.
Let's read verses 29 and 30:29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (NKJV)
The answer to these questions is self-evident. God gives gifts to whomever He pleases, for whatever reasons make sense to Him.
Pray earnestly to the Father to give you wisdom and courage regarding the gifts He gives you through His Holy Spirit. God wants you to be a healthy, contributing member of the church, the Body of Christ.
A Problem: Cancerous Christians
One of the church's biggest problem isn't the nonbelievers or attacks from outside. The biggest hindrance to church health is cancer within the body.
Chemically, there is very little difference between a cancer cell and a normal, healthy cell in your body. The primary difference is behavioral. The normal cell contributes to (and will sacrifice itself for) the survival of the body. The cancer cell is purely self-centered. The cancer cell will destroy other body parts in order to grow itself.
Likewise, a Cancerous Christian looks very much like any other. He or she may be a benign tumor, just taking up space. He or she may also be very active, attending services, singing songs, attending potlucks, reading books. Some Cancerous Christians actively seek, receive and visibly practice the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Cancerous Christian often attends seminary and enters the ministry as a "career."
But the Cancerous Christian is primarily concerned with his or her personal "growth." The Cancerous Christian wants a platform to exercise his/her gifts. Cancerous Christians are ambitious, and often seek leadership positions and public recognition for their works. They start TV ministries. They collect money. They even create "prosperity gospel" messages to justify their lavish lifestyles.
These people are visible cancers, disfiguring the body of Christ. These are the hypocrites that our unsaved friends despise.
Cancerous Christians don't look or act much like Jesus.
The Cure for Cancer: Abiding in Jesus
God calls us to serve like Jesus. God calls us to arise up early, before sunrise, to seek His face and learn how we can serve Him each day. God calls us to repent of our selfish, self-centered, cancerous behavior.
God calls us to become servants, making the love of Jesus real for every person we meet. Every person is important in God's eyes. But we must become especially conscious of the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Their spiritual health is important to us, even if the connection isn't obvious.
Why? Verses 15-19 of 1 Corinthians 12 give insight:15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? (NKJV)
The Church, the body of Christ, has a lot of diversity. In fact, there's often more diversity than we're comfortable with.
Admit it: you and I are really invested in being just exactly who we are. So if we've dedicated a lifetime to being ears, the feet will probably look very odd to us.
Verses 20-26 of 1 Corinthians 12 echo our earlier discussion of healthy believers vs. Cancerous Christians:20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And 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." 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (NKJV)
Verses 23-24 are pretty subtle. Paul is talking about our internal organs and private parts. These "less honorable" or "unpresentable" parts are adorned with clothing ("...on these we bestow greater honor...").
Remember: the body of Christ is very complex and very diverse. It is a supernatural, spiritual entity. We can't begin to understand how our Lord operates through all of us to carry out His program. Yet somehow He makes everything work.
Go to Church
Now you understand that you are part of this B-Team. Now you realize that "B" stands for "Body" - the body of Christ. You are an integral part of this body, and your personal health depends on your relationship with the other body parts.
You can't do this from a distance, by mail or TV. You must get as involved as you can, for your particular situation. If you can walk and drive, you should get yourself to a Bible-believing church at least once per week. To get the most from your relationship, you should also become involved in a home fellowship group, if your church offers them.
Our need for fellowship is another backwards truth. Our faith in Jesus gives us individual access to the throne room of God, but we can't attain God's best apart from our relationship to other believers.
The epistle to the Hebrews gives an elegantly simple summary of this backwards truth, in chapter 10 verses 19-25:19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way which He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (MKJV)
Brothers and sisters, "the Day" is certainly drawing near. We must be increasingly diligent to meet together in regular fellowship with each other.
My Own Way…
People frequently tell me they can worship God their own way, without going to weekly church services. They have had bad experiences in local churches. Many times, the devil has attacked them through wolves in sheep's clothing.
Others might have come to the Lord by watching a TV pastor or listening to a Christian radio program. These have no experience in local churches, except perhaps in the lifeless church their parents attended.
To both of these, Jesus has a simple call: "Follow Me." Keep your eyes on Jesus and follow Him. Today, Jesus walks this earth in a composite body, made up of body parts that are individually weak.
Earnestly look for a local church that is teaching the Bible and where people are seeking the Lord with all their hearts.
If all the local churches within an hour's driving range are weak, then you still must be faithful. Let the Lord lead you to one church, and let Him work change through you as He works changes in you.
Remember that the "through you" changes must be done through the authority structure of the local church body. Even if you are more gifted and dynamic than the church leaders, you must respect the fact that God Himself has put those leaders in place for a season and for a reason. You must be like the Roman Centurion in Matthew chapter 8 verse 9 who told Jesus:9 "For I am a man 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 slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." (MKJV)
The Roman soldier perfectly understood the concept of authority. He exercised great authority towards others under him because he willingly submitted to the authority of others over him.
The pastor in a church has authority because he submits to the authority of God, through the leading of the Holy Spirit. You will have authority in that local congregation only to the extent that you submit to the authority of the pastors and leaders over you. God Himself put those leaders in those positions. Each pastor or leader must answer to God for his or her faithfulness in that role.
This is yet another backwards truth. Your Gifts of the Holy Spirit come directly from God. However your authority in a local church comes through that congregation's leadership, not directly from God.
You might have a direct vision or dream from God that He wants you to help that church experience revival. But you must seek the Lord's guidance for working within the church's authority structure, to build up the whole body of Christ. Otherwise you will become a troublesome cancer, and your "growth" will harm those around you.
God's Peculiar People
We began this chapter with a quote from Deuteronomy chapter 14, verse 2: And the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.
So far, we have had good-natured fun with the phrase "peculiar people," as God's people are called in the quaint language of the King James Version. To the modern reader, peculiar means odd, eccentric or otherwise deviant from the norm. To a great extent, the backwards nature of the Christian walk does make us look odd and eccentric to people outside the church.
However, we must not ignore what God intended here. Peculiar translates the Hebrew word segullah meaning treasured or stored up in a secure place.
To put this in perspective, let's review some of the Scriptures that refer to God's peculiar people. The first occurrence is Exodus chapter 19:4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself. 5 Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine: 6 And ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.
The Lord rescued the people of Israel from Egypt in a dramatic fashion. Likewise He rescued you and me, and paid for our redemption with the life of His only Son, Jesus. This makes you a very important person in God's eyes.
Did you notice all the personal pronouns referring to God in these three verses? You can count eight occurrences of "I, Me, My, Myself and Mine." Take a hint. God takes a very personal interest in you.
God views you as a special treasure. He has prepared a place in heaven to be your permanent home, so you may live forever near Him. He loves you, and wants you to abide in Him ("…obey My voice…"). Your transformed life is proof of His love and faithfulness toward those who follow Jesus.
In Deuteronomy chapter 26, we see that God expects us to study and keep His commandments as part of a two-way pledge:16 This day the LORD thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. 17 Thou hast avouched the LORD this day to be thy God, and to walk in His ways, and to keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His judgments, and to hearken unto His voice: 18 And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be His peculiar people, as He hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all His commandments; 19 And to make thee high above all nations which He hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as He hath spoken.
When we avouch (pledge) to the Lord to follow Jesus, God avouches (pledges) to us that He will be faithful to love and cherish us as His peculiar (treasured) people. If we follow Him faithfully, abiding in Him and holding nothing back, He will open His arms wide to us.
In the New Testament, "peculiar" translates a Greek phrase laos peripoiesis that literally means "for His own possession." We find this phrase in two places, the first being in Paul's letter to Titus, chapter 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
Notice the context. Paul is writing that God's people should live differently than folks whose lives have not been touched by Jesus. His Holy Spirit can change our hearts to desire what God desires. God can give us victory over the cravings that formerly ruled our lives. He can also give us victory over selfishness, as we shall see.
The second appearance of this phrase can be found in Peter's first letter, chapter 2, verses 4-9:4 For having been drawn to Him, a living Stone, indeed rejected by men, but elect, precious with God; 5 you also as living stones are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Therefore also it is contained in the Scripture: "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner Stone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him shall never be ashamed." 7 Therefore to you who believe is the honor. But to those who are disobedient, He is the Stone which the builders rejected; this One came to be the Head of the corner, 8 and a Stone-of-stumbling and a Rock-of-offense to those disobeying, who stumble at the Word, to which they also were appointed. 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for possession, so that you might speak of the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (MKJV)
God calls us to come out of our former darkness and come to Jesus, the Light of the world. He should be our Head. We should seek to please Him in all we do. Our lives should be transformed by His Holy Spirit.
As individuals we must abide in Jesus with all our heart and strength. Then, as fully functional members of His body, we will love each other and give ourselves sacrificially to build up each other.
As individuals, we sometimes look peculiar to our family and friends who don't know Jesus. Nevertheless, our Father in Heaven views us as His peculiar treasure, and loves us with a love beyond measure.
In Jesus' day, the religious leaders enjoyed arguing about the Law. They frequently debated which commandment of the Law was greatest. When one of the rabbis asked Jesus for His opinion, His answer, recorded in Matthew chapter 22, caught everybody by surprise:37 Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
Did you know that the two commandments are intertwined? It's true. If you spend quality time abiding in Jesus, it will change your heart. Your changed heart will be able to see your neighbors as God sees them. Your changed heart will inevitably love the unlovely people, because God loves them.
Your human heart cannot do this. A reporter once spent the day following Mother Theresa through the streets, amazed at her compassion for the sick and dying. "I wouldn't do that for a million dollars!" said the reporter. Mother Theresa replied, "Neither would I."
You cannot consciously develop compassion for your neighbors. Love, as we saw in an earlier chapter, is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can produce selfless love in your heart. If you are abiding in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will develop His love in you without your conscious effort.
Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart? Are you abiding daily in His presence? Are you letting Him change you into His image? If so, then God's people will be a special treasured possession to you. If not, they will just look peculiar.Closing Prayer: Lord, Your love and power are too amazing to understand. I don't understand why you chose to make me a part of Your body here on earth, but I'm grateful. Thank you for choosing me to be your peculiar treasure. Show me how to minister to my brothers and sisters in Christ, that You may be glorified in all we do. Amen.