Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. - 1 Corinthians 7:17
Do you trust God at his word? Do you willingly obey him?
In 2 Kings chapter five we read about a man named Naaman. Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Syria. He was a great man who was highly favored “because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor,” (5:1). But Naaman had a major problem, he was a leper.
Naaman’s wife had a servant girl captured from Israel. This bold young girl told her mistress about the great prophet, Elisha, in Samaria. She thought this prophet would be able to cure the master of his leprosy. From the servant girl, to her mistress, to her husband, to the king of Syria the message went. Permission was given and Naaman, along with his entourage, traveled to see the powerful prophet of God. Naaman’s party came with their horses and chariots and arrived at Elisha's door, loaded with fine gifts to give.
However, Elisha did not come to the door, he didn’t even show himself. Instead, he sent a message via a servant telling Naaman to,”Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” (5:10). Naaman was not happy with this. In fact, he was furious and went away in anger saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” (5:11-13). Naaman then “turned and went away in a rage.” (5:12).
Do you rage against what God’s Word says to you in the areas of singleness or marriage? Our calling from God is NOT optional. When God tells us in his word that things are to be done a certain way, that is a direct command upon our lives, not a suggestion. The frameworks of singleness and marriage were designed by God’s own holy hands.
For singles, understand that being single is not less than ideal. Strike it from your thinking and don’t insult God that way. Read 1 Corinthians 7. In it Paul says that singleness is a gift (v. 7) and even preferable over marriage since marriage comes with “worldly troubles” (v.28) and “anxieties” (v. 32). As a single person, you can “secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” (v. 35). Very little can hinder you from a life dedicated to the Lord and good works. It is as if God is reserving you for himself! There will be struggles against loneliness but in this area God will also show himself faithful as your husband.
For those married, it is God’s will that you stay married despite the worldly troubles and anxieties mentioned above. If you have been married for any length of time, you know Paul was not wrong. Yet marriage is also a divine assignment from God. It is a gift, but not a gift to be spent upon yourself. God wants marriage to display his godly attributes of relationship and grace. “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (Eph. 5:24-25). This is a huge and difficult calling, requiring much humility. Yet when done “as to the Lord” it is a beautiful reflection of Christ. In this we can excel where Eve failed, we can honor God by respecting and helping our husbands.
“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” (1 Cor. 7:17). In our callings from the Lord, let us not be like Naaman and rage against the command given for our own good. Let us not think that surely God should order our lives differently and more in line with our preferences. Never forget that he is God and you are not. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:9).
What happened to angry, leprous Naaman? Swayed by yet other bold servants he did go and wash in the dirty Jordan. “He went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (5:14). After this he served the One True God of Israel.
Ladies, God speaks, will we not listen and obey? His message to us in singleness and marriage is loud and clear in the Bible. Is our assignment fantastic or beautiful? We may not think so now, but there will come a time when it is no longer just a message in front of us, but our Creator himself. Then we will long with everything within us that we had been obedient to the fullest. Feel that longing now. Yearn to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt. 25:23). Then the door will be opened wide to us and the words “fantastic” and “beautiful” will not even come close to what we feel. Women, serve God in your divinely assigned role. It is good.
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Acts 20:28
These days church attenders are infected with a virus of conditional loyalty that has produced an army of church hitchhikers...“You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees. You grapple with the issues, teach and entertain the children, and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out. My thumb is always out for a better ride.” - Barbara Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Woman, chapter 10, page 119.
Sadly, I think Hughes is dead on for many self-labeled Christians today. Loyalty to a body of believers is severely lacking. This isn’t just about official church membership, but committed, regular attendance to a gathering of believers. There are too many of us looking for an easy ride for as long as it suits us. When we start to feel confined, awkward, judged, bored or convicted out pops the thumb, time to move on.
With the rise of self-centered life styles where individualism reigns and in a culture that continues to bristle against authority, it is no wonder there is such sparse church attendance. According to a study done by Barna Group Inc. released September 2016, 73% of Americans would label themselves a Christian, yet only 31% report attending at least one church service per month (full report here). Even though I don’t think these numbers reflect the true heart of those surveyed, I do find it interesting that we have so many saying “yes” to being a Christian and “no” to the church.
Regardless of numbers or personal attitudes, what we need to be looking at is God’s opinion of his Church. Is the church where he wants us? Or is this just another human institution used to bring about order and subservience? When I use the word “church” from here on out, I am referring to God’s called out assembly of believers, the true Bible-following gatherings of his people. There are many false churches teaching false doctrines in this world, this does not apply to them. Ephesians 5:25 tells us that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Acts 20:28 tells elders “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” God cherished his church enough to send his son to spill his blood for it. Do we dare act as if it an insignificant matter?
In many ways to reject the true assembly of believers is to reject Christ himself. Ephesians 2:20-21: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” What an awesome picture of the church. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of supreme importance in this household of faith. We are members and together he builds us into a holy temple for his glory.
God loaded the Bible with metaphors for his church to help us understand it better: a family, a body, a household, a kingdom, a temple, a bride, a building, a flock. What do all of these have in common? Unity, a oneness, togetherness, cohesion. Many parts brought together under one ultimate authority: Christ himself- who acts as the Leader, the Head, the Father, the King, the High Priest, the Groom, the Cornerstone, and the Shepherd. Do you think God wants us to pay attention to all this? Most certainly. Do you think you will fare well as a rebel Christian, keeping your distance from “organized religion”? Living as a maverick sheep? Fat chance, lamb chop.
Not being devoted to fellowship with other believers is akin to not being devoted to Christ (very few exceptions to this). If you are a family, together is where you will be. If you are part of a kingdom, united in battle is where you will stand. Be there. Not devoted to a building or a religion, but being devoted to one another through Christ your common Savior. “Together” is the location that God has ordained that biblical good happens: teaching of doctrine, sanctification, worship, encouragement, corporate prayer, correction, opportunity for good works, a stirring up of our faith. In turn all of this fans the flames of the gospel in our hearts growing us and expanding his Kingdom.
Women, if we are seeking to discipline ourselves in godliness we cannot neglect regular fellowship with other believers. We need to come together as the church of God. In this we are like Christ who devoted his whole body in sacrifice for his people.
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” - Hebrews 12:1
To be human is to endure. To be Christian is to endure with hope, purpose and victory. God calls his followers to persevere. That is to walk forward in faith, trusting God even when trials and sufferings come. We are to “run WITH ENDURANCE the race that is set before us” Hebrews 12:1, (emphasis mine). Perseverance is a godly muscle that we can flex and strengthen. Let’s do that today.
Today’s blog coordinates with chapter 9 out of Barbara Hughes’ book, Disciplines of a Godly Woman.
First, to be clear, when we persevere, we are not earning righteousness. We do not suffer as a way of earning our way into Heaven. The work of Christ alone does that. However, our trials do something wonderful in our lives. They mature us. They grow us up in the Lord and make us more “worthy of our salvation” (Phil. 1:27). In short, they make us more like Jesus, our suffering Savior (Isaiah 53).
James tells us that this sanctifying work should bring us joy because this “testing of [our] faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that [we] may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:3-4. God is helping us to become perfectly steadfast in him, that means we will be unwavering. What an awesome condition - to be so strong in the Lord that no storm can bend us. Whether that is a tsunami of sudden tragedy or the squalls of daily motherhood. God is using the weathering of life to make us beautiful. He is turning us into a vessel for noble use, his use.
This brings us to the primary reason we are to endure - for the spread of the gospel message. When you persevere through trials with hope and joy it shouts an amazing message to the world. That message is - Jesus is worth it! Your display of peace and grace while surrounded by turmoil shines the light of Jesus into a dark world. You become a beacon pointing to hope and life beyond what the world can offer. In the words of Jesus, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” John 14:31.
Finally, God calls us to persevere in life because through difficult times, we grow closer to him. In the midst of adversity, our faith grows. We learn to trust God to be God. We find that he really is all he says he is. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Psalm 119:71. God will graciously strip away all else in our lives to teach us to depend on him. He leads us to discover the earth shaking reality that Jesus is our everything.
We now know why we are to persevere, but how are we persevere? The answer is through Christ. To live in hope and not fear, we must first be born again and know Jesus as our savior. Then we must understand that he does the holding and keeping. We are called to persevere, but God causes us to persevere. We are not strong enough in our own flesh to deal with all that life throws at us. Jesus is. When you want to crumble and give up, remember Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” Hebrews 12:2. Jesus endured and his Spirit within you will help you endure too. There is joy ahead.
We are to “consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18. As Christians we are “living forward” with joyful anticipation. We don’t dwell on our earthly situation but on our eternal one. All we need to know is found in the Bible. God had a book written for us so that we could know his plan, his purpose and our future. He is a good, good God. Read it and know.
Women, it takes courage and discipline to glorify God in the midst of challenges. Whether that is in the tedious toil of everyday life or in the face of life-altering tragedy. Run your God-given race with joyful endurance. Christ is worth it.