Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: Trial by Fire (Division)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Trial by Fire (Division)

Why We Are Failing the Great Commission
Chapter Twenty-four
Trial by Fire 

          Truth is the truth.  Truth is reality.  Truth is facts.  Truth is black and white; right and wrong.  Truth is the kind of light that casts no shadows.  Truth exposes anything and everything of contradiction.  Truth has no preferences or prejudices.  Truth is what truth is.  Truth is an unbending “rod of iron.”  Truth is impersonal.  Truth is accurately judgmental without any bias.  Truth has no concern about feelings.  Truth just tells it like it is.  Truth is often cutting and hurtful because truth must be honest, or it ceases to be truth. 

For this very reason, God commands believers to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).  When asked, “does this dress make me look fat,” truth answers, “you are what you are.”  Love’s answer says, “You are beautiful in ways far beyond the dress you wear.”  Love sees beyond the truth without distorting the truth or misrepresenting the truth.  Love sees other truths that comfort without lies or corruption of the truth.  Love can see qualities with compassion and can communicate truth with concern about how that truth touches a person’s feelings and emotions.  Love knows that truth often hurts, but love wants to soften those hurts with an embrace or a smile of acceptance and understanding.  Truth can be a slap in the face.  Love seeks to make truth a gentle, healing, soothing caress that can be received with a sigh of relief. 

Most people despise the tensions that accompany disagreements about truth.  That is normal.  Other people relish in confrontations and emotional drama.  They cultivate such nonsense at every opportunity.  They seek this type of drama on television and in the movies they watch.  They enjoy it and are entertained by it.  This is abnormal. 

          Living righteously amid the curse of sin and interacting with sinful people can be, and often is, extremely difficult, even painful.  The pain of living righteously is increased exponentially when you love others and you know the only solution to the pains in which they live is about getting them to accept the very truths they have already rejected.  It is painful to see such people spiritually decimated by life choices that emaciate them.  They have closed their eyes from seeing the truth of the choices that cause their pains.  They have stopped their ears from hearing the Words of life.  Such a scenario is described by God with the words “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Matthew 3:3).  None the less, the “voice” must “cry” for there is no hope apart from the truth getting to their hearts.  

          The “fire” of God’s judgment has already been “kindled.”  The only remedy to stop that “fire” are the tears of genuine repentance of sin and doctrinal lies.  Then a person can step into the middle of God’s “fire” of judgment knowing he will be purged of his sin and find relief from his self-inflicted pains of sinful life choices. 

49 I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? 50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! 51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: 52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. 53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 54 And he said also to the people, When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. 55 And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. 56 Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time? 57 Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? 58 When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison. 59 I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite(Luke 12:49-59).

          As God allows a local church to be tested by stress and by the conflict of division, He is trying the hearts of those who profess to love Him and who profess to be disciples of Jesus.  One of the ways God tests our love for Him is by how we deal with one another.  Two spiritual qualities are being tested: TRUTH and LOVE.

          Truth, by itself, could care less about a person’s feelings or what another person thinks about it.  Truth is impersonal.  Truth is just truth.  Truth is just harsh reality.  However, when we think of Biblical truth, this kind of truth is intended to be accompanied with certain character traits called the communicable attributes of God.  A few of these communicable attributes are described with such words as love, compassion, mercy, and grace.  Although Biblical truth will never compromise itself or bend in contortion to accommodate sinful practices or desire, Biblical truth understands the sinner’s propensity for sin.  Although Biblical truth will never be complicit with sin, love will be patient and walk sinners out of the darkness of lusts and away from the destructive evils of sin and selfishness.  The great dilemma is ignorant people do not understand the danger of living in false doctrines.

33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:33-35).

          Discipleship is teaching the truths Jesus taught.  Discipleship is teaching sinners to live righteousnessly by learning to yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit Who will then enable those yielded sinners to live as righteously as Jesus taught.  Discipleship is spiritual surgery and it is ALWAYS done without anesthetics.  Therefore, discipleship requires a person to be careful and loving.  Discipleship is time consuming, tedious, painful, and stressful.  Discipleship is taking pigs and getting their natures changed through conversion/regeneration, and THEN teaching those converted pigs to appreciate the difference between “pearls” of truth and wallowing in their own filthy mire. 

          As any skilled tradesmen knows, there are many tools in his toolbox and the chosen tool must fit the occasion.  Before choosing a tool, he must remember he is working on a human soul with real feelings, mistrusts, and trepidations.  There is a time to use the sledgehammer.  There is a time to use the finish hammer.  There is time to use the chain saw and there is time to us the finish saw.  There is time to use a bone saw and there is time to use the surgeon’s scalpel.   

          A disciple maker can only lead people in doing what is right.  He cannot do right for them.  In the stress of trials and the struggle to establish truth in the lives of sinners, the whole of a local church is being tested.  The pastor is being tested as to his faithfulness and loyalty to God and His truths.  The congregation is being tested as to their faithfulness and loyalty to God and His truths.  The easy thing for anyone to do is walk away from the stress of it all and the tensions created by willful, sinful people.  Walking away and abandoning ministry is always the wrong thing to do. 

          Truth always establishes what is righteous (right in the eyes of God).  Stop to think about various divisions that exist between people.  What is the central factor in almost every division you can think of?  The central factor in almost every division is the age-old question: What is truth?  Truth establishes what is right (righteousness) and who is right.  That is what division is usually over.  Truth also establishes what is wrong (sin) and who is wrong.  However, truth coupled with love is never willing to leave it at that.  Truth coupled with love continues to pray and plead even when truth is resisted and/or rejected.  Truth coupled with love DOES NOT GIVE UP!

          Anything that is not morally right is morally wrong and anything that is morally wrong is sin.  Sin needs to be dealt with as sin.  Compromise with sin and sin will absorb you into itself, because compromising truth is sin.  It takes courage to take a stand for what is right and to do what is right.  Division will often result even when righteousness prevails, if the parties involved cannot agree to do what is right.  This is the way it should be.  In fact, the Scriptures command this.  It is called the doctrine of separation.  When one believer refuses to do what is right, we are commanded to separate from him and to separate him from our partnership in “the work of the ministry.” “Can two walk together except they be agreed” (Amos 3:3)?  This defines the test of faithfulness and loyalty to truth.  It is not a multiple-choice test.  It is a true or false test.

“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17).

3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; 4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, 5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (I Timothy 6:3-5).

8 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: 9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) 10 Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. 12 For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.13 But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light {brought into the open}: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light” (Ephesians 5:8-13).

6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. 7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. . . 14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (II Thessalonians 3:6-9 and 14-15).

The Corinthian church is the first recorded example of trial by fire (division).  Like a parent with an unruly, rebellious child, most local churches (people) are embarrassed by division and strife.  The fact is that every baby requires the parenting that teaches personal disciplines.  Why are we astonished by sinners sinning and living carnally when they have never been “born again” and discipled (taught personal, spiritual disciplines).  When a child exposes character flaws, parents are gifted by God and opportunity to correct those character flaws through teaching and discipline.  THIS IS HOW IT IS SUPPOSED TO WORK! When the child we love is unruly and rebellious, we do not just abandon that child and go get another.  Instead, we patiently, lovingly, compassionately, and tenderly confront the little monster and try to make the necessary corrections in both attitudes and actions.  Changing attitudes is ALWAYS the most demanding and difficult.  Changing attitudes is about changing WANT TO. 

1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ {when immaturity and infantile practices are manifested in a person’s life, such a person exposes himself/herself as a ‘babe’}. 2 I have fed you with milk {know when milk is needed}, and not with meat {know when meet is needed}: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions {manifestations of spiritual immaturity and infantility having NOTHING to do with a person’s physical age}, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? 4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. 8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. 9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (I Corinthians 3:1-15).

          We know the context of this text is an actual example of what Christ said in Luke 12:49-53.  Trials by “fire” will continue until refining and purification takes place.  (Purification is defined by what is left after the “fire.”)  Although trials by fire are usually painful, they are also necessary to the purging/purification process of a local church.  Since God’s purpose is purification and refining, He will continue to repeat whatever needs to be done to get purification and refining accomplished.  Some people will resist discipleship and being established in spiritual doctrines and disciplines.  Although God is patient and merciful with such people, as should be every disciple maker, He must keep His local churches pure of false doctrine and sinful carnality. 

          I have watched many local churches go through trial by fire, pastor after pastor, split after split, until the church either is willing to do what is right or it burns out in a smoldering heap of ashes of wood, hay and stubble.  According to I Corinthians 3:13, the focus of God’s trying of a local church, or His trying of the lives of individual Christians, is to test quality, not quantity (“what sort it is”).

What was going on at Corinth that necessitated God’s trial by fire for purification and refining?  Carnality in every shape, style, and color was going on.  They were bragging about who baptized them (I Corinthians 1:10-17).  They were a bunch of intellectual idiots who gloried in their humanistic wisdom before men (I Corinthians 1:20-31).  They criticized and challenged Pastoral authority and refused accountability (I Corinthians 4:9-21).  Many were indifferent to personal holiness, were tolerant of sin in their own lives, and in the lives of others, and were unwilling to practice church discipline (I Corinthians 5:1-13). 

          They were suing each other in public courts and bringing reproach on the Name of Christ rather than settling the matter in the church.  The church had become a social club and the meetings became an excuse for fellowship (I Corinthians 11:1-34).  To top it all off, there was a group of spiritual elitists who were pretending to have spiritual gifts they did not possess to gain influence in the church.  The result of all this selfish carnality was “envy, strife, and divisions.”

          The truth here is simple.  Any division/purging that is not the result of major, fundamental doctrinal differences is always the result of carnality.  The solution to the division is equally simple.  Declare war on carnality.  Deal with the carnality according to the Matthew 18 principle until the carnality is gone.

The Church must centrifugate on Jesus Christ, getting people saved, and preparing saved people to live for Christ (I Corinthians 3: 10-11).  If a church is ever going to continue in the future to be what it was in its inception, it necessitates that each succeeding generation maintain its focus on keeping Jesus Christ at its center. 

1. This means reaching souls, not gathering crowds.
2. This means making disciples, not making friends with the world.
3. This means being separate from worldliness (being holy) and unto God (sanctified). 

          Everything built upon the foundation of the doctrine of Christ must center on Jesus Christ, not men.  When bringing glory to Christ is not the goal of everything done by every person in a local church, someone just laid a brick of flesh (‘wood, hay, and stubble”).  People looking for personal glory do not build solid local churches.  Only people whose sole desire in life is to glorify their Lord Jesus Christ build solid local churches.  Standing for truth demands that we stand against doctrinal error.  Standing for truth with cost us friendships.  However, the discipled believer understands one central, overwhelming truth; “Ye {spiritual} adulterers and {spiritual} adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Although the “fire” of I Corinthians 3:13 primarily refers to the Judgment Seat of Christ, God will regularly test every local Church by fire (“Every man’s work shall be made manifest” (I Corinthians 3:13).

“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts” (I Corinthians 4:5).

          When a local church is made up of spiritual people who have learned to do what is right, a trial by fire (division) will be quickly dealt with and will pass off the scene (pretty much) unnoticed by most people.  That church will be purified.  However, when trial by fire comes to a church made of people living in the flesh, it will spread because those people will be unwilling to confront it and put out the “fire.”  (They usually just want to manage it.)  This church will be consumed by degrees until people learn (or are willing) to confront sin and discipline sinners.

          What is your part in insuring that your local church is purified and refined rather than burned to a heap of ashes? 

1. Work hard at staying Christ centered, rather than man centered. 
2. Do what is right regardless of what it costs you personally.
3. Ask yourself one simple question.  What does God’s Word tell me to do?  Then do that!

Anonymous comments will not be allowed. 
Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at: http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/ 
Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist. 
He has served the Lord for over 50 years.

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