The Gospel and Guys Like Me

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

It is far too common among guys like me to think that a simple dispensing of tee truth from Scripture will correct the ways of another brother or sister.

By "guys like me" I mean men whose personality, wiring and personal inclinations lean toward, if not wholly fal upon matters of an intellectual nature. In other words, guys like me tend to love theology in a way that focuses upon the details, the exegesis, the debate, the problem-solving, and the academic exercises associated with all of that.

By "a simple dispensing of the truth from Scripture," I mean simply telling someone else what the Bible says - e.g. preaching, teaching, instructing, counseling, etc. Much expository preaching and teaching is like this. Most forms of biblical counseling center on this method as well. Both point out what a person is doing wrong, show what the Bible says about it, and then send folks on their way with something to do. If it's preaching, then go home, read your notes again and pray about it. If it's counseling, then go home, do your homework and come back next week.

But after guys like me have done things like this, why do guys like me sit back and wonder why those to whom we dispense the truth do not change as quickly as we would like, or perhaps not at all? When our people change too slowly or don't change at all, guys like me tend to get frustrated with their flocks, wondering what's wrong with them! Aren't they getting it? Are they even listening while I'm in truth-dispensing mode?

What guys like me do in response is repeat the mantra that all God expects from us is to dispense that truth and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. The H.S. konws us best and He knows what we need the most, so we must leave things like 'application' to Him. I've even seen a statement to such an effect boldly written at the bottom of one church bulletin, as if a preface for the listener to prepare himself for what he or she will not get in the sermon the are about to hear. That's a cryin' shame for guys like me.

There are two problems with this. The first is that such an approach to dispensing the truth cannot be truly understood as helping someone. I think of how I have felt with some doctors before. They come in, listen to my chest, tell me to breath, poke a popsicle stick down my throat, look up my nose and in my eyes, ask me what hurts, and then hand me a prescription with illegible writing. What a great friendship! That's what most preaching and counseling is like, as I have experienced it (and I've had a lot of exposure to both, believe me).

For guys like me, pastor-type guys, it seems to me to be a cop-out to say that my only job is dispensing the truth but not applying it to people's lives. It is a cop-out because if I'm already wired that way, then I don't have to lift a finger to change or spend a moment's time to 'rewire' myself...and I can put God's stamp of approval on it all! After all, He did call me to preach and teach and disciple. I am a spiritual doctor, called to restore the brokenhearted, mend broken lives, heal the sick, etc. But do I have to act like a medical doctor at an ordinary office visit? This view seems to justify my refusal to accept the obligation of change. Why?

Because second, God is interested in changing me and not in just using me. Guys like me can get caught up, awful quick, in how God wants to use us. We often forget that God also wants to change us. Oh, we would never say such a thing! But we act like it all the time. And that brings me to the crux of the issue.

The point at which God's using me intersects with God's changing me is called partnership. Another word for it is 'relationship.' Consider on the one hand, that if I don't have it with the one to whom I am dispensing truth, then I shouldn't expect that truth to have as great an impact as I want. In other words, without relationships, then I should not expect that God will use me as much as I wish.

On the other hand, if I don't have it with the one God is using in my life to change me, then I'll just stay stuck in my life, and the work of me becoming conformed to the image of Jesus Christ will be greatly retarded. In other words, without relationships, I should not expect that God will change me as much as I need or want.

These relationships are the very intersections of sanctfication. God is not ony interested in using me, but He has equal interest in changing me. Indeed, if He does not change me, He can only use me in extremely limited ways. He has ordained relationships with fellow believers as the roads for using me and changing me. And the gospel not only makes this possible, but the gospel demands these things.

Philippians is a great book to make this point. The Philippians were used by God (cf. 4:15-16) because God used Paul to change them. They were partners in the gospel from day one (1:5). The gospel was the message that inseparably united those who believed it. In short, the gospel's effect on those who believe it is such that each believer lives and breathes as if they cannot exist without other believers. The blood of Jesus has united them and they are indivisible from each other. That means every believer needs other believers.

The Philippians, it seems, were among the few churches who grasped this fact so well (they were the only church to whom Paul ever referred to as 'having always obeyed' in 2:12). That's why the opening verses of chapter two are about their unitedness in mind, love and heart. They were a church mightily used by God because they bowed their hearts and minds to the truth that Paul - their fellow partner - was dispensing. They would not have had such an effect on the world around them if it were not for their willingness to meet regularly at the intersection of Usefulness Avenue and Change Street.

But it wasn't as though Paul himself didn't need the Philippians. It is easy to get that impression sometimes when reading Paul. No, God used the Philippians to change Paul, because it was through them that God encouraged Paul, giving him the grace he needed to keep on keeping on, especially since he was in prison while writing to them! In verse 8, Paul's affection is noticeably increased. In verses 9-11 Paul's prayer life continues faithfully. And regarding the effect his imprisonment was having on others, we find that God was using other believers outside prison to develop his view of the spread of the gospel (vv. 12-18).

Partnership in the gospel is God using me to change others and God using others to change me. If I drive right through the traffic-light of that intersection, with my eyes locked ahead on my road, the path God is taking me down and the way in which God is using me, then I end up having to weave around other drivers whom God has put in the cross-section of life to change me.

Guys like me should pay more attention to the traffic lights, speed bumps, stop signs, and driving signs. It all means we are coming to an intersection. And every time we come, guys like me act as if every intersection awaits us with a green light! But God wants guys like me to stop at those intersections, develop friendships with the other drivers, stop on the corner and have a picnic lunch together, pull into Starbucks and encourage each other. God may even want guys like me to take a right or left hand turn into someone else's life rather than continue plowing on ahead!

The point is that unless guys like me acknowledge that such intersections do exist and that those intersections are for us as well as for everyone else, then the truth we seek to dispense in preaching, teaching and counseling will fall on either deaf ears or ears that are hard of hearing. They are hard of hearing because they don't know us very well, or else not at all. They only see us as we are driving past them at the intersections of Sunday morning, Wednesday night or some other church function.

If guys like me do not cherish and develop relationships, then true partnership will not exist with any fullness, warmth and genuineness. And if that's true, then I can't hope to be used by God very much as a preacher, teacher and counselor. The partnership aspect of relationship is what seems to develop the atmosphere of that relationship to the point where guys like me can and will dispense the truth with more warm and accurate application. And we will be able to do this because it will naturally flow from our relationships, our partnership and our real, deep and genuine love and affection for other believers. Without this, such ministries as preaching, teaching and counseling will continue to languish in effectively unchanged lives, marriages and homes.

Guys like me, listen up! You need others just as much as you think they need you! We are shepherd and sheep at the same time. We function in both capacities at all times. Remembering that will help us look for and make more opportunities to actually get to know our partners in ministry. Let's work hard to develop in our own lives the realization of this truth, and then work hard to develop the atmosphere in our churches of a small-business partnership rather than the corporate-structured atmosphere of cut and dry work relationships rather than friendships. Church members are not cubemates, and pastors are not supervisors sitting in their one-way glassed offices. We are a tug-o-war team, working hard to pull down strongholds by praying together and encouraging together and heaving and ho'ing together. The gospel of Christ created this for us and demands this of us. I want guys like me to repent with me on this.

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