Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Jeannette Haley

It is interesting how we human beings think. We start out, and may even go through most of our lives assuming that the difficulties and tragedies others face will never happen to us. We are the exception, not the rule. It always happens to “somebody else.” Somebody else disappeared on a mountain, somebody else drowned while rafting, and somebody else got into a car accident. Somebody else was buried in an earthquake; somebody else lost their job, their home, their pets and their lifestyle. Somebody else was falsely accused and sent to prison. Somebody else was robbed, somebody else got cancer, and somebody else was blown up. Why should we worry? Floods, fires, tsunamis, storms, plagues, starvation, and wars—all that bad stuff always happens to “somebody else,” right?

Now we find ourselves launching off into the unknown variables of another new year. Our world has become much more dangerous, and our government has become tyrannical on every level. Evil is exalted as the norm, and often rewarded, while those who fight against it are persecuted, and even prosecuted. Right is condemned as wrong, while wrong is upheld as right. The whole world is spinning out of control. Surely, “somebody else” will step on the scene and stop the madness. After all, it is not my responsibility to do what I can to warn, educate or sacrifice for my country, or is it?

The question is, as Christians do we have the right to adapt the “somebody else” mindset? Where did this self-centered mental state originate? Is it only found among unbelievers, or is it the norm? I hate to say this, but I am old enough to have earned the right to say it. I have sat in churches on and off for most of my 66 years, and the attitude is predominately the same when it comes to “somebody else.” As long as the music suits everybody (whether it is God-honoring or not is beside the point these days), and as long as the preacher isn’t too long-winded, as long as the sermon isn’t convicting, and as long as the social programs are grandiose, then it’s considered a “good church.” As long as “somebody else” oversees evangelizing and such things as world missions with maybe an occasional offering taken, that is usually acceptable. However, the mere mention by some fanatic like me of the congregation’s personal individual responsibility towards those closer to home who are without Christ, the homeless, the widows (that includes single women), and the personal needs among the church members, as well as the community, can suddenly make people squirm. The prevailing attitude is “I’m a flag-waving American and a good Christian. I go to church. I even give the church my tithe. I get involved in church activities sometimes. So, let ‘somebody else’ take care of those things. It’s not my responsibility.”

Try telling that to God on Judgment Day. God is not impressed with our patriotism, or religious habits and activities—what He wants from us is our obedience. This might come as a shock to some, but going to church does not impress God. We go for our sake, not His. Furthermore, fleshly “worship” is a stench to Him. Offerings given in order to sustain the religious kingdoms of men rather than the Kingdom of God merit no eternal reward because they are idolatrous and worldly. Church social activities may be pleasant, but generally lack true fellowship in the spirit, and leave people with a false sense of what real Christianity is. Jesus said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” Matthew 15:8, 9. In other words, it is all vanity.

Jesus told the Church at Ephesus that it had left its first love. He said, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” Revelation 2:4. Churches abound that have lost their first love, or love for Jesus—not the modern Jesus, but God Incarnate. A church becomes idolatrous when the church itself, the pastor and other leaders, doctrines and liturgies, music, and programs take center stage, for the Spirit of God will depart. The sad thing is, few miss His presence, but instead continue to pump time, money and energy into it in a vain effort to revive it. There is much talk about revival, but nobody knows what it is. Louder, upbeat music, equipment that is more modern, better entertainment, great comforts and more fun in order to keep going through the motions, week after week. After all, the show must go on. The tragedy is, without the Spirit, the body is dead, period.

To be honest, what has been a great source of grief to my heart where the church is concerned is the lack of godly love. This lack of true Christian love is like the hollow echoes within a tomb, and manifests itself as a cold mist of indifference. This bone-chilling indifference silently settles over entire congregations, penetrating dulled consciences and unsuspecting hearts, undetected.  No wonder the “first works” are lacking, or are a very rare occurrence. As a whole, we do not even notice that the “first works” are missing until, one day, we find ourselves as a hurting, needy “somebody else” to everybody else. In addition, “everybody else” probably couldn’t care less about you, as a “somebody else.” This ought not to be, but sadly, it is the norm in both the world and the church, which is just one more indication that we are living in the last days.

The first works. What are they? What was so important about them? Perhaps we should blow the dust of the ages off these ancient teachings and revisit them. Ah, there, buried within the forgotten scrolls are clues to these first works. Like the flash of precious nuggets long buried under years of dusty reinterpretation and paraphrasing, their light begins to penetrate the darkness left by generations of indoctrination.  We hold the precious scroll closer. Does it truly hold the key to the lost first works?

Squinting through the dimness of unbelief, error and spiritual poverty, the words become clear to our eager eyes. These are our Master’s very words! How could such precious words become lost? His words!—so simple!—yet so profound! “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” Matthew 7:12. The impact is stunning. How could this be? What if every Christian actually lived by these words instead of heaping upon self, and letting “somebody else” take care of what God wanted us to do. Would there be any need for the “somebody else” such as government to step in and pick up where the church has left off? What if the churches had been diligent to do the “first works?” Would America still be strong and free instead of plunging into the dark abyss of communism? The implications are staggering! Instead of giving of ourselves sacrificially, we are about to reap the consequences and be sacrificed to the beast of big government. The course is set, there is no turning back. God have mercy upon us.

Nevertheless, there must be more to the first works. Somewhere within the forsaken scroll there must be another clue. There must be something about us building a bigger church, about us becoming famous, about usdeveloping as a sanctimonious “Christian culture” within the culture. There must be something about us being served by “somebody else.”

Suddenly, a flicker of light sparkles from the dusty pages. There! Another nugget, a gem from the past. Quick! Read it before it becomes lost to view. More precious words from God Incarnate! He said, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” Tears sting our eyes as His words pierce our hearts with conviction. Our mind is racing, “How can we do the first works if we are disobedient, therefore not abiding in His love?” We want to run, to hide, to weep. Nevertheless, we are strangely compelled to keep reading, drawn by the power of His words. “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” Joy? Isn’t joy a word we see on Christmas cards? Joy? Who has joy in this day and age? Another three-letter word flashes across the screen of our mind and somehow we find ourselves in our church, seeing but being unseen. The three-letter word is everywhere, bouncing crazily from person to person, zipping through the sanctuary, gyrating on the podium, swinging dizzily through the musical instruments. We watch aghast as it makes its way into the youth room where its mocking laughter sickens us. It finally lands in the foyer where it rocks back and forth like a drugged rock star. Suddenly, “FUN” is not so funny. It has replaced true joy.

We are suddenly whisked back to the dusty scroll with that contains the words of the great I AM. “This is my commandment,…” We chuckle with glee. “At last. A commandment. This is more our style. Something we can be legalistic and judgmental about.” We peer closer. His words pierce our hearts as only a two-edged sword can.“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

“But, what about religion? You know, there just has to be something about religion and the first works. After all, we’re educated theologians. We have spent years in study, earned our degrees, been awarded our titles . . .” As if in answer to our less-than-godly attitude, we find our eyes glued to James 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” “Oh oh!” We cry. “That means I have to change my way of thinking. It’s not up to ‘somebody else,’ it’s up to me!” Our eyes fall upon another gem, a clue to the first works, and we read: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” The realization that our sins of omission, or failure to do what is right, even in the smallest sense, are producing a weight too great to bear. We feel our heart sinking, deeper, and deeper and cry out, “God, forgive me, a sinner!”

At last, it begins to dawn on our restless souls that the first works were not about an outward show, but an inward transformation that resulted in doing the works of Christ, not works to be seen of others, but to be offered as sacrifices to God for His glory alone. Suddenly, the ancient scrolls began to sparkle with a thousand, no, thousands of beams of light. We hear someone read to us from 1 John 3:16-18, words that sound vaguely familiar, but which we have conveniently forgotten because to obey means sacrifice… “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” Our hearts melt, our knees buckle, tears fill our eyes. It’s time to repent.

Do you see that in order to do the first works, we must love Jesus with all of our hearts? We must cherish and guard our first love. It is impossible to please Him, to live for Him, to obey Him, if we leave our first love. To love Him above all else means that His love will flow, not only to us, but through us. To love Jesus means that we have exchanged our life for His. We no longer belong to ourselves. Our life is not our own, but His. “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” Galatians 2:20. Yes, Jesus gave Himself for you and me. He could not leave it up to “somebody else” for nobody else could take His place. If Jesus had left our redemption up to “somebody else,” we would be forever lost in our sins, separated from God, without hope or life. He gave himself as the ultimate sacrifice for us, so that we can give our lives as a living sacrifice for Him.

Dear Reader, have you left your first love? Are you struggling to serve God in your own power? Are you withdrawing from whatever the Lord has put in your path that you have the means to help, such as the needs of others around you, however great or small, because your heart is telling you that “somebody else” can take care of it? If so, will you turn around and come back, right now, to the only true source of love and life and power? After all, He is waiting for you with wide-open arms.