It was the middle of the 15th century before a person could purchase a copy of a Bible that had been printed instead of transcribed by hand. Reduction in the cost of printing continued to progress until in 1579, a law was created in Scotland that required every household that could afford to do so to purchase a copy of a translation of Scriptures into English called the Geneva Bible.
Jews were still arguing about what to include in the Hebrew version of Scripture in the 1st century, so having a one-volume version of the Old Testament was only possible much later than that. This means that for their first several hundred years of existence, the Church had various scrolls available to a few scholars, and a few letters from their leaders that were copied by hand and circulated among the rest of the leaders.
Having to lean on the leadership of the Holy Spirit made them successful. Now that we have the Scriptures available in hundreds of English versions, we should be even more successful. I have, in my pocket computer (smart phone) 11 English translations, Strong’s concordance and dictionary, Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (a 3″-thick huge cross-reference book), and other dictionaries and commentaries.
The Scriptures can inform us, but they cannot change us. Only the work of the Holy Spirit can transform us into the likeness of Jesus. The Pharisees had the Scriptures available to them memorized. They still could not recognize Jesus apart from the empowerment of the Spirit.
Owning the Scriptures is a gift that has immeasurable value, including the lives of many translators, but it amounts to maps and road signs in contrast to the Holy Spirit being the means of transportation we need to get moving.
Read the maps, and learn how to read the signs on the highways. Then, ask the Holy Spirit where to go and with whom.
In Acts 16:16-34, Luke described a sequence of events that led to a miracle. Paul and Silas were preaching in Philippi. They cast an unclean spirit out of a girl whom it had empowered to predict the future. Her owners drug them to a Roman court in the city. The judges had them stripped, beaten, and jailed with their feet stocked.
Around midnight, while they were praying and singing, their prayers were answered through a very violent earthquake. Earthquakes don’t generally happen to one building at a time. Either the quake was so great that the entire city was shaken to its foundations, as the jail was, or the quake was so focused that only the jail was rattled. Both are impressive miracles.
The doors of the jail were opened and the chains fell off the prisoners. This is strange impact of an earthquake, too. Suddenly, everyone in range of the praying was free, by a violent shaking. The jailer and his family got saved and baptized and served Paul and Silas a midnight meal.
Our God is so much wiser than us, and sees so much farther than us, that when He answers our prayers, we can’t always recognize what He is doing as beneficial. Every step we take and every word we speak should be in response to asking Him, “What are you doing, and how do I cooperate?”
Whether we are sent to be the only messenger Yahweh has yet sent to a group of people so deep in the jungles or mountains that we will never again see anyone who looks like us, or we have an assignment that seems so insignificant that anyone could do it, and probably better than us, we should be fully committed to Him and to the people He has blessed us with the privilege of serving.
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia: during a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity. I testify that, on their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability, they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will. So we urged Titus that, just as he had begun, so he should also complete this grace to you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—excel also in this grace.
(2 Corinthians 8:1-7 Holman Christian Standard Bible®©)
What are you in the earth as a son or daughter of Yahweh to be and do? If you don’t know yet, ask Him. Ask others to pray for you to get this very important revelation.
If you do know, but you are not yet prepared to be able to do it, then get prepared. Does it take a certain skill? Do you need to be in a different place? Ask Him to prepare you and to align you.
If you are ready, be about it! Whatever it is, He is at work in you to want to do it and to be able to do it. You can do anything that He calls you into. “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
(Joshua 1:9 Holman Christian Standard Bible®©)
In families, especially at times when family members worked in family businesses or on farms, as the older children grew, they received increased responsibilities. The new duties were not just related to the business, but to the younger children. They taught them the way to live and work.
Many congregations are so relationship resistant that they are more like orphanages than families. Someone who moves to town and joins a congregation is received like a distant cousin whose parents died and left them needing a place to stay – they aren’t really close family, but we have to put up with them as long as they stay.
God, however, likes to set the solitary in families (Psalm 68:4-6). He sees each believer as a son or daughter, born of His Holy Spirit. I believe that He expects each of us to take some responsibility for the brothers and sisters who are younger than us in Him. We don’t have to have a degree in anything to be a big brother or an older sister to some who need that type of influence.
We all need it, and we all are capable of it if we are bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Encouragement, correction, teaching regarding a certain ministry or a certain discipline, such as prayer or reading and meditation on Scripture – these are powerful influences that we can offer those with less time or experience in being believers.
The more we mature in character and service, the more we are likely to be drawn to a level of service and sacrifice that resembles parenting. Even a 5 year old can be a good influence on the life of a 3 year old, though. Invest in someone!
“The priesthood of all believers” is a phrase that has been used to allow all believers to pray. It is a contradiction to the idea that everyone needs to employ the Heavenly access that only a person has who has been elevated to the earthly status of “priest,” or their prayers will not be heard by God. This implies that everyone but the priests are just peasants in the Kingdom of Heaven.
When the leadership of the Church came to understand what they did of this truth, it expanded the work of the Church in the earth. Sadly, it was not really an advance, just a restoration of something earlier leaders stole from believers they were misleading.
There is more! We all have something important to accomplish in the earth! “The ministry of all believers” is going to be restored to the Church. This is a contradiction to the idea that there is a caste system in the Church – a class of citizens called “clergy” and another peasant class called “laity.” Clergy means “clerk” and laity means “people.”
Every believer has something important to do. It will take a spiritual gift – some manifestation of the Holy Spirit at work in each of us – to accomplish it. Education helps, but education without a spiritual gift is like having deeds or surveys without actually having property.
Paul wrote in his letter to the congregations in Corinth that we call 1 Corinthians, in a section in which he was declaring that all of the ministries of the Church are manifestations of the one Holy Spirit:
Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything. A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial:
(1 Corinthians 12:4-7 Holman Christian Standard Bible®©)
Here is the whole chapter.
When lawyers took over the religious aspects of the nation of Israel, the two major parties were the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They argued about orthodoxy (“right opinion”), and made laws about what could be believed. Since they disagreed about what should be believed, the strongest party always shifted the “truth” toward their opinion.
In Germany, under the leadership of Hitler, many Germans, both military and civilian, gave as their defense argument when the war was over that they were just “following orders.” The Roman Church declared that Martin Luther’s teachings were “unorthodox,” and threw him out of their church and tried to kill him. The Church of England declared that the teachings of John and Charles Wesley about holiness were unorthodox, and refused to let them teach in their buildings. They therefore launched a movement that gave birth to Methodism, the Salvation Army, the Nazarenes, Wesleyans, the Church of God (Anderson), Pentecostal Holiness, Assemblies of God, and many more. Their influence produced leaders in the English government that abolished slavery in that empire.
Jesus was killed by the writers of orthodoxy as a heretic. Your adherence to the opinions of those who declare the statements that are orthodox in the denomination where you serve is not as important as your adherence to the instructions that the Holy Spirit delivers to you. Do not fear making mistakes if you feel that there is more to the life we are called to than the leaders of your denomination think there is. Find the Truth. Surrender to it. Walk in it. Spread it.
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom;
his tongue speaks what is just.
The instruction of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not falter.
(Psalm 37:30-31 Holman Christian Standard Bible®©)
Somewhere between the boldness that is based on our relationship with Jesus and the humility that is based on what that relationship cost Him, we will find all of the grace – the power to live, the power of provision and protection – that we need to successfully be His people in the earth.
Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.
(Hebrews 4:14-16 Holman Christian Standard Bible®©)
But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.
Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.
(James 4:6-10 Holman Christian Standard Bible®©)
Now the end of all things is near; therefore, be clear-headed and disciplined for prayer. Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, his speech should be like the oracles of God; if anyone serves, his service should be from the strength God provides, so that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
(1 Peter 4:7-11 Holman Christian Standard Bible®©)
For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts:
If prophecy, use it according to the standard of faith;
if service, in service; if teaching, in teaching;
if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity;
leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.
(Romans 12:3-8 Holman Christian Standard Bible®©)
If you are a hand, and you feed a mouth, the stomach will distribute the benefit to the whole body, including yourself. Seemingly unrelated benefits will be experienced when we are all doing our parts. I will bless members of the Body I never encounter directly when I do my part.
When we build each other up, especially when we do it directly, we all become capable of accomplishments that we could never do apart from the rest of the Body doing their parts.
I have been directly involved in the process of creating budgets for both ministries of congregations and for entire congregations. The process helps leaders plan for doing work in the future by, as Jesus advised, being sure that if they want to build a tower that they have sufficient resources to finish it.
How much more important it is to examine how much power we have to do work, though! Acts 3:1-10 relates the story of the man who was healed by the name of Jesus at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. Having no money, Peter seems to have advanced to a better level of thinking about how to help people: apply the power of the name of Jesus, and the faith that comes through Him in that name!
Lord, show us how to plan our ministries based on how much power we expect you to extend to us in the coming year…