Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Discipleship Considered 5 (Continued)

Discipleship Considered (Continued)

We have been considering those qualities which should mark out the disciple of Christ. The next pair is 'leadership and character'.

Leadership and Character

To be of good character is especially important to those that seek to lead. Paul emphasised this to Timothy.

"An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach." (1 Tim. 3.2-10)

While these qualifications are part of the C.V. of a Christian leader, many of them are also expected of the rank and file. We are all to "walk worthy" of the Lord and our calling as demanded by the following Scriptures.

"Walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph.4.1-3)

"Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." (Col.1.10-12)

"Walk worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." (1 Thes.2.12)

Is this 'Mission Impossible'

You might say 'all this is too high for me, I cannot attain it'. Very true - but God does not exempt you from trying. You might also say, 'I am not equipped to do this'. Again, very true, but God is prepared to equip you. You too can come to the place where you will say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". (Phil.4.13)

Consider one of the great advantages of the Christian life - that the life that pleases God has been lived, observed and recorded that we have a pattern placed before us. Jesus said we are to follow His example, indeed Paul said, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ". (1 Cor.11.1) We should have the same integrity, honesty, energy, generosity and compassion as Christ.

In seeking to emphasise the value of good character, I have been suggesting that if we want to make a difference for Jesus, then we must first seek to make sure that our secret Christian life is healthy, balanced and vigourous. Hudson Taylor was in the company of a new young missionary to China. They were sharing a simple meal together. Hudson Taylor asked for a glass of water, and the young man poured the water but did not completely fill the glass. The young man was asked to fill the glass to the brim, which he did. Then he was asked to knock it. Of course, water spilled on to the table. The aged missionary said, 'Remember, when you receive a knock, what is inside will come out'.

We must ensure that what is inside us is the Spirit of Christ. It is those who know private victories who will be the ones to make a mark for Christ. In this matter of working from the inside out we have the Scriptural exhortation, "examine yourselves". Inasmuch as we are self-aware, we are the only ones who really know what kind of spiritual condition we are in.

Next time: A thought or two on 'Motivation'.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Discipleship Considered

Characteristics of a Disciple

In our last blog we began to look at those qualities that should identify a disciple of Christ. We began with 'Love and Compassion'. Next we consider 'Honesty and Integrity'.

Honesty and Integrity

The Bible says that Jesus is the 'Truth' and the Devil is the 'Father of Lies'. This should be enough for us to make every effort to live lives dedicated to honesty and integrity . But while it is important to tell the truth, that is, we must say exactly what we mean and mean what we say; with every word perfectly expressing what is in our mind and bearing the meaning we wish to convey; it is equally as important to live lives that are true. We should not seek to put on an act - to pretend we are different to who we really are. Hypocrisy was condemned by the Saviour in the fiercest terms and we must avoid it at all costs.

Goodness, Kindness and Generosity

God's glory is tied up with His Name and His goodness. When Moses asked to see the glory of the Lord, God first proclaimed what the Rabbis came to call the 'Thirteen Attributes of Mercy'. "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exod. 34.6,7) For those that are interested, the thirteen attributes of mercy rest on the Hebrew text. They are as follows:

1. Adonai - compassion before man sins.

2. Adonai - compassion after man has sinned.

3. El - mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need.

4. Rachum - merciful, that mankind may not be distressed.

5. Chanun -gracious if mankind is already in distress.

6. Erech appayim - slow to anger.

7. Rav chesed - plenteous in mercy.

8. Emet - truth.

9. Notzer chesed laalafim - keeping mercy unto thousands.

10. Noseh avon - forgiving iniquity.

11. Noseh peshah - forgiving transgression.

12. Noseh chatah - forgiving sin.

13. Venakeh - and pardoning.

Only after the thirteen attributes of mercy does He mention the attribute of justice, "by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation" (Exod.34.7) In His relationship with humankind, God must exercise righteous judgement, but He delights in showing mercy. In these verses, His magnanimous qualities are emphasised over His judgemental actions. He demonstrated this priority one and for all by sending the Messiah, His own Son, to take the judgement called for by His own righteousness, and to provide mercy for all who would receive it. Jesus demonstrated the goodness of God in all that He did. Not only did He counsel His disciples to do good to both friend and enemy, but He Himself also went about doing good, indeed, He incorporated the word 'good' into one of His titles, "the good Shepherd".

The Hebrew word for the goodness of God is 'chesed'. It covers all His acts of generosity and benevolence and is sometimes translated 'loving kindness'. God's 'chesed' also includes all His acts of mercy, grace and forgiveness (see how often it appears in the thirteen attributes of mercy). It encompasses His longsuffering and patience; and is the template for the attitude and actions of the disciple of Christ who should, in his dealings with others, also demonstrate grace and generosity.
Leadership and Character next time

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Discipleship Considered 5 (Continued)

Discipleship Considered

The Character of the Disciples

Love and Compassion

Last time we considered that the disciple needed to begin to be conformed to the image of the Saviour. This means taking on board those qualities that He displayed as well as displaying the family likeness. The first was love and compassion.

When Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?", He replied,'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matt.22.36-40). As Paul taught, without love we are nothing. Jesus said that love was the hallmark of discipleship. "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13.35). Love is not an option, it is a command. "This is My commandment, that you love one another" (John 15.12). Moreover, the love we show one another must be of the highest quality. "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15.12).

Love is often expressed as compassion. Compassion has been expressed as 'that aspect of the love of God which seems to be born out of His consideration of our pitiable condition'. Our misery moves our God to compassion, hence the frequent expression as Christ meets misery, "He was moved with compassion" (Matt. 9.36; 14.14; Mark 1.41; 6.34) (see also Matt. 15.32; 20.34; Mark 5.19; 8.2; Luke 7.13). In these instances when Jesus was moved with compassion, He expressed His love in a practical manner; for example, "when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick" (Matt.14.14).

At another time His compassion triggered a mighty miracle, the feeding of the multitude. He said, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way" (Matt.15.32). Then there were the two blind men, "Jesus had c ompassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him" (Matt. 20.34). These are just a few examples taken from a life of good works that were motivated by compassion and love.

The word 'compassion' comes from the Latin 'com' (with) plus the verb 'pati' (to suffer). Compassion, at its root means 'to suffer with', which suggests that the incarnation itself was one of the greatest acts of compassion where the God of heaven took upon Himself a human frame to identify Himself with suffering humanity. However we look at it, we too must reflect His love and compassion in all that we do.

Next time: 'Honesty and Integrity' and 'Goodness, Kindness and Generosity'.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Discipleship Considered 5 (Cont)

Discipleship Considered 5 (Continued)

The Character of the Disciple

We have referred to the 'Sermon on the Mount' on several occasions. It begins with a list of eight kinds of people whose inward attitude leads to blessing.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5.3-10)

Apart from the last two, the 'peacemakers' and the 'persecuted'; they are all to do with inner qualities' and even the last two are consequences of an internal righteous disposition. And it is not as if the sermon is only interested in the inner man, actions are also under scrutiny - what may be called 'good works', such as giving to charity (i.e. almsgiving). However, the indication is that they will only bring long-lasting benefit to the 'doer' if he/she does them from the right motive. If they are performed as an act of worship to God, then it will be the equivalent of laying up treasure in heaven. Otherwise they are only of transient and passing value.

Why is character so important?

Character is important because Christians should reflect the qualities of the God that saved them, for the ultimate objective of God is that we should be conformed to the image of His Son. This goal of being like God is more substantial than many imagine. The God we serve is Himself a 'Serving God' as Jesus indicated when He said, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matt 20.28; Mark 10.45). Here then is an excellent stencil to use for the plan of our Christian life.

So which qualities of the Saviour should we emulate?

His love and compassion.
His honesty and integrity.
His goodness, kindness and generosity.
His whole-hearted commitment to the will of God.
His willingness to work with others.
His fierce loyalty to His disciples.
His energy and stamina.
His perseverance.

Being conformed to the image of the Saviour does not mean that our individuality is to be eroded or eliminated. Rather it is a co-operative effort with the Holy Spirit directed to lifting our personality and character to a higher level. As we go on with God an improvement should be seen in our carriage, demeanour and mind-set, reflecting the qualities of the Christ we serve. After all, a believer is a member of God's family and is expected to display the family likeness, that is, the likeness of Christ. He is our elder brother, as well as our Saviour and Master.

Next time we shall look at these qualities in a little more detail.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Discipleship Considered 5

Discipleship Considered

A Disciple will be a Person of Character

For those that have decided to pursue the path of discipleship, perhaps the next area to scrutinise is Christian character. Why? Because God is not only interested in what we do, but also who we are. Since what we do is a result of what we are, it is necessary to ensure that the foundation is right, that is - our actions come from the right motives. He will always be interested in the process as well as the product - for only the right process can produce our maturity in Christ, which is His chief concern. Jesus said that the issues of life proceed out of the heart. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. We must work from the inside out.

The conflict between the Saviour and the Pharisees revolved around this issue. Jesus clearly identified the difference between the righteousness acceptable to God and the righteousness which the Pharisees were promoting. He said, "I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt.5.20).

Their problem was that they paid almost exclusive attention to what was visible ("that they may be seen by men" (Matt.6.5)) - they tried to get the external right without the internal being sound. They had re-examined the Torah and extracted a binding set of rules which prioritised what a person should do, over what a person should believe. They taught that the Law was satisfied, even if the obedience was mechanical. The difference between the teaching of the Rabbis and the teaching of Christ is that Rabbinism, in practice, defined righteousness in terms of right conduct, while Christ defined righteousness in terms of right belief, in the knowledge that conduct arises out of belief.

The Pharisees determined that if there was a prohibition in the Law it was only transgressed when the act was committed. Jesus, in contrast, said the sin was committed when the act was planned. There are several instances of the differences in the Sermon on the Mount. For example, the Pharisees judged that the seventh law in the Decalogue, "you shall not commit adultery" was only broken when the act was committed, but Jesus said, "whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt.5.28). What He was saying is that adultery is pre-meditated and the sin was committed when the heart conceived the plan.

The reason He branded the Pharisees 'hypocrites' was because their actions were so much outward dressing. He described them as "white-washed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness" (Matt.23.27) It has been well said, 'If the water in the well is polluted, it cannot be cured by painting the pump'. The Pharisees were constantly engaged in 'painting the pump'. But it is the hidden - the inward - the character - that is important. Thoreaux said, 'For every thousand hacking at the leaves of sin, there is only one hacking at the root'. The Pharisees were concerned with the leaves, Jesus was concerned with the root. Indeed, He indicated that if the root is rotten the fruit will be bad (see Matt.7.17-20).

Next time: Good Character is the Secret of Blessing

Monday, February 1, 2010

Discipleship Considered 4 (Last)

Discipleship Considered (Continued)

Disciples with Gift and Guidance will also need Grace

Ideally , in the Lord's work there is no competition and no jealousy. If someone else is being used to bring souls to Jesus we should say, 'Praise the Lord'. If a neighbouring Church is prospering we should say 'Hallelujah'. Let us have an abundance mentality. There is plenty of work to go around and plenty of blessings available from heaven. We are not diminished by the prosperity of others - we are benefited because the body of Christ benefits.

In the early Church there were those that preached a gospel to oppose the gospel that Paul declared, seeking to diminish his ministry. His attitude was one of grace - he said, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice." (Phil.1.18)

Let us make sure that in all things, in all situations, and in all relationships - both with our fellow workers and other Christians - we always season our words and actions with grace and love.