“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
Without love all the gifts and powers of the Holy Spirit are meaningless and worthless. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (I Corinthians 13:1). Paul says that there are those who place a heavy emphasis on speaking in tongues, and who look at that gift as the primary evidence of the infilling or baptism of the Spirit. But if those same people don’t have love, speaking in tongues is no more meaningful than a noise made by hitting a cymbal or triangle. It’s just a noise. It’s not proof or evidence of anything. It may be held up as a primary evidence of the presence of the Spirit, but it doesn’t evidence anything if there’s no love. It’s the same as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. It’s just a noise, but not real proof.
All our doctrinal orthodoxy and understanding of the Scriptures are of no value without love. Though I understand the great mysteries, things like the mystery of the Godhead, the sovereignty of God, or the responsibility of man, if I don’t have love, they’re worthless. If I’m just getting in people’s faces and working to make them see and believe my side, my doctrinal purity profits me nothing. It’s all worthless without love.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more important that I have the right attitude than that I have the right answers. If my answers are wrong, God can change them in a moment by the revelation of His truth. But often times it takes a whole lifetime to change an attitude. Better that we have the right attitude and the wrong answers, than the right answers and the wrong attitude. Remember that the next time you get into an argument with someone over some doctrinal position or issue.
God’s supreme desire for us is that we experience His love and then share that love with others. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34). That’s a big order. He then said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21). John said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:20). And he questions, “How dwelleth the love of God in him?” (I John 3:17).
John speaks quite a bit about keeping God’s commandments in his first epistle. But what is the commandment that we have heard of Him? It’s that we should love one another.
As we minister to a fellowship or a group, whether it’s a home Bible study or a church of ten thousand people, we need to make certain that one of our major themes is love. That love needs to be demonstrated by our own actions, attitudes, and life. May everyone see the love of Christ manifested in us. As Paul said to Timothy. “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (I Timothy 4:12). Constantly seek to be understanding and compassionate, seeing people in and through the compassion of Jesus Christ.
I’ve found that the key to compassion is understanding. Ezekiel once said, “I sat where they sat,” (Ezekiel 3:15). I believe that’s a very good thing to try to do, at least in your own mind. Put yourself in the other man’s shoes. Put yourself in his life situation. Sit where he’s sitting. See it from his side. We’re always seeing things only from our side, but try and look at it from his side.
Sometimes there are people who irritate us because of their mannerisms or because of certain characteristics that are distasteful to us. I heard Dr. James Dobson once say that there was a fellow in school that he absolutely hated, and that this guy also hated him. All through school they just couldn’t stand each other. Some time later Dr. Dobson met the fellow at a convention, and he knew he was going to have to face him. So, he wrote down the things that irritated him and that he disliked about the guy. Then when he met the guy he said, “You know I have to confess to you that all through school I hated you, and these are the reasons why.” Then he started reading off all the reasons why he hated the guy. The fellow responded by saying, “Well, I hated you, too, and for the very same reasons!” Dr. Dobson said that he looked at his reasons again and realized he was looking in a mirror. I find this to be very true, and yet quite amusing.
Those traits we dislike about ourselves are the same ones that we absolutely abhor in others. We’ve come to tolerate and live with them in ourselves, but when we see them in others, we can’t stand them. They’re irritating and they upset us. Understanding is such an important component of compassion.
For years I would spend my vacations directing youth camps. It’s one of my favorite experiences in life. They were the most glorious times I could ever hope for. My family would go, too, and they would have the opportunity of being able to enjoy the glorious countryside. Kay used to say, “But, honey, you didn’t get a vacation.” And I would say, “Oh, yes I did.”
Now in directing youth camps you’ll find there are those irritable little guys that if you say, “Sit down,” they will stand up. If you say, “Stand up,” they’ll stay seated. If you say, “Now we don’t throw rocks at trees. It can nick the bark, and the beetles can get in, so we don’t throw rocks at trees,” you’ll invariably catch these types throwing rocks at trees. They are always in rebellion. I have had counselors come to me and say, “Chuck, you better move this kid to another counselor because I won’t be responsible for what I do to him. I am going to kill him. I can’t stand him.”
So I would say, “Send him to me.” Of course, they’d grab the kid by the nape of the neck and march him in and say, “This is the one I was telling you about.” I would sit him down and give him one of my smiles, and I’d say, “What do you want to drink, coke, seven-up, orange soda, or what?” I would go over to the snack shop and get him a drink and his favorite candy bar. When he’s first sitting there, he’s in rebellion thinking he isn’t going to tell me anything. So I start breaking down his defenses. It’s amazing how a candy bar and the sugar in his system will break down his defenses. I start to break down that wall that he has built up and I begin to show interest in him. The dialogue usually went a little bit like this:
“Well, where are you from?”
“Where is Black Canyon? Is that by the Verde River?”
“Great. Are you in school?”
“Well, tell me a little bit about your family. Where is your dad?”
“I don’t have a dad.”
“Oh, what happened?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never had a dad.”
“Hmm, that must be hard.”
As you begin to dig, you find out that his mom works in a bar and has a different man home every night, and the kid is left on his own. The men that come home are not friendly to him, and he’s learned to just stay out of the way. His mom really isn’t interested in him, either. As the story begins to unfold, your heart just goes out in compassion. This poor little kid doesn’t have a chance. He’s built up all of this resentment and all of this hatred against the world that he has to live in. He’s learned to build up these walls. He doesn’t dare let anybody get close to him. He has to protect himself. He’s the only one looking out for himself. Now you have understanding. You realize why he’s responding and reacting the way he is.
Then I would go back to the counselor, sit down with him, and share what’s going on in this little kid’s life. I wanted to give the counselor an understanding so that he’d have compassion. I would often advise the counselor to make him his helper and keep the boy close to him, to give him some responsibilities and show him loads of attention, and to give him a lot of support. It’s amazing the changes that can develop in just a week’s time with compassion.
As a pastor, you’re going to have people in your congregation that you’ll feel the same way about. You’d like to kill them. But you need to have understanding. Get to know them. Get to understand where the thorn is, what’s irritating them. If you seek to understand them, then as you have compassion, you can truly minister to them. You can’t truly minister to anyone you don’t feel compassion toward. How many times do you read in the Scriptures, “And Jesus was moved with compassion,” when He saw the needs of the people? He understood the need. He didn’t need someone to testify to Him because He knew what was in man. It was because He had compassion. So, seek to understand.
Jesus said to His disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain:” (John 15:16). The fruit of the Spirit is love. He has chosen you to bring forth this fruit. In John 13:34, right after He told the disciples to love one another even as He has loved us, He goes on to say, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.” (John 15:8-9). So we can vividly see the supremacy of love.
11. Striking The Balance
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
II Timothy 2:15
An important characteristic of Calvary Chapel Fellowships is our desire not to divide God’s people over non-essential issues. This is not to say that we do not have strong convictions. When the Bible speaks clearly, we must as well. But on other issues we try to recognize the Scriptural validity of both sides of a debate and avoid excluding or favoring those in one camp over the other.
An example of this kind of inclusiveness is found in our approach to the debatable issue concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We don’t take a typical Pentecostal view, nor do we take a typical Baptist view. The minute you set your position one way or the other, you’ve lost half of your congregation. Why would you want to lose half your congregation? Our desire is to be able to minister to as broad a group of people as possible. The minute we start taking hard-line positions on any of the non-foundational controversial issues, we alienate part of the people. In the essential doctrines of the faith, we must take a firm stand. But in the non-essential areas, we accept that people may have differing views, and we accept these in the spirit of grace. It’s important to recognize that we can agree to disagree and still maintain a spirit of unity and love.
We do believe in the validity of the gifts of the Spirit, and that these gifts can be expressed today. But we don’t believe in excesses that so often accompany a freedom in the use of the gifts of the Spirit. So we avoid the controversy.
If people want to speak in tongues, we encourage them to do so in a private devotional setting to assist in communicating their love, their praises, and their prayers to God. We look to I Corinthians 14 as our biblical example. We don’t insist that a person speak in tongues as the primary evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We believe that there are other evidences that are more credible than speaking in tongues. As Paul said, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (I Corinthians 13:1). We don’t emphasize tongues as the primary manifestation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but we look for love as the fruit of the Spirit. I believe that we can stand on a solid Scriptural basis doing that and, at the same time, encourage people to receive the gifts of tongues.
As Paul explained, you may use it for your personal prayer life and for your devotional life, singing unto the Lord. “For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?” (I Corinthians 14:14-16). If you’re in a public assembly with no interpreter present, and someone is speaking in tongues, how is a person sitting in the seat of the unlearned going to understand? You might well be praising God, but the other people aren’t edified. We need to do all things decently and in order. In this area, we don’t fit in the Pentecostal category, nor do we fit in the cessionist category that would deny any valid experience of the sign gifts of the Holy Spirit today.
Another example of maintaining a balance on debatable issues is our approach to Calvinism. This is an area that people get very emotional about. We’re neither ‘Five Point Calvinists’, nor are we Arminian. We do believe in the security of the believer. We don’t believe that you can lose your salvation because you lost your temper or told a lie and, as a result, need to go forward next Sunday night to repent and get resaved.
We believe in the security of the believer but we also believe in the ‘perseverance of the saints.’ We don’t believe that because you are a saint you will necessarily persevere, but that you need to persevere because you’re a saint. Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;” (John 8:31), and “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:6-7). Jesus Himself is the One that brought up the possibility of a person not abiding in Him. So we seek to take a balanced position rather than getting on one side and pressing the ‘Five Points of Calvinism.’ When you take hard stands on these non-foundational issues, you’ll just empty your church of all of those who have Methodist, Nazarene, and other Arminian-infiuenced backgrounds. Why would you want to do that?
The eternal security of the believer is a debatable issue at best. There are Scriptures on both sides. You have John 3:16. What does “Whosoever believeth in Him” mean? Does that mean that anybody can be saved? It appears to me to mean that, and so we don’t take the hard-line Calvinistic position of limited atonement that says Jesus didn’t die for everybody, only those who would believe in Him. We do not accept that believing in Him has nothing to do with human responsibility, but is totally the sovereign choice of God. This position states that God has ordained some to be saved and some to be lost. If God has ordained you to be lost, tough luck, buddy. There’s nothing we can do. This is a denial of the free moral agency. Instead, we believe that God has given us the capacity of choice. The reason He gave us a capacity of choice is so that the love we express toward Him might be meaningful and real. That’s the balanced position that we take.
There are people who are always trying to pigeon-hole Calvary Chapel. Do you believe in eternal security? I say, “Yes, of course I believe in eternal security. As long as I abide in Christ, I’m eternally secure.” Now, dispute that. If you don’t abide in Christ, are you secure? Can you have security outside of Jesus Christ? I don’t know of any security outside of Jesus Christ. But I believe as long as I abide in Him, He’s going to keep me from falling, He’s going to present me faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. And no man can pluck me out of His hand. I believe that, and I experience God’s security.
So often these issues come down to a matter of semantics. People end up dividing over the interpretation of a few words. We had a staff member here at Calvary who was very much committed to support groups. During his time with us he led many to faith in Christ. Unfortunately, we had a parting of the ways that left this man so bitter that he now belongs to a group called “Fundamentalists Anonymous.” He is now actively encouraging people to abandon a biblically based faith in Jesus Christ.
Is he saved? In reality, he’s an enemy of Christ. If I were an Arminian, I’d say he’s backslidden. If I were describing him from a Calvinist position, I would say he was never saved. Now we’re both describing the same man, but the terms by which we describe him create the division.
We recognize this fact. The man has turned his back on Jesus Christ. It’s obvious. Is he backslidden, or was he ever saved? The problem is if I say he was never saved, then where’s my security? How do I know I’m saved? He had the earmarks of being saved. He had a desire to serve the Lord. He was seeking to lead others to Jesus Christ. I desire to serve the Lord and I desire to lead others to Jesus Christ. So maybe I’m not saved. Now, that isn’t security to me.
So, you see, it’s a matter of semantics. How can we describe what we observe in a person’s relationship with the Lord? The whole division is over whether I describe him as backslidden, or whether I just say he was never saved. If we divide, we naturally create a division. We drive half the people out of the church because I’m going to say he’s backslidden and the next guy is going to say he was never saved. When we allow this kind of debate we divide the church.
That’s why I don’t take a dogmatic position on this because I believe that the Scripture teaches both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. If you take either of these positions to an extreme, to the denying of the other, then you’ve got a real problem because the Scriptures teach both. But then you might ask, How can we reconcile them?” I don’t. I don’t have to. God didn’t ask me to. God just asked me to believe. When I come across a person living in fornication, in adultery, or walking after the flesh and he says, “Don’t worry about me, man! I accepted Christ at a Billy Graham crusade when I was a kid.” Yet the person is a drunkard and fornicator. But he says, “Once I’ve been saved I’m always saved! So don’t worry about me.” Believe me, I’m going to rattle that guy’s cage as best I can. I’m going to take him to Galatians 5 where the Bible talks about the works of the flesh. At the end of that listing the Bible declares, “As I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:21). I’ll take him to Corinthians and to Ephesians. I’ll show him where those who are living after the flesh and devoted to living after the fallen nature’s desires, are not going to inherit the kingdom of God.
Yet, on the other hand, if I’m speaking to saints with an oversensitive conscience who, every time they mess up and do something wrong, feel that they’ve lost their salvation, I’m going to take them to the Scriptures that give us the assurance of God’s love. I’ll show them how Christ is holding them and that no man can pluck them out of the Father’s hand. I’m going to take them to the passages that will give them assurance.
So the position I take on the issue all depends on the condition of the person I’m talking to. I can take either side and argue it ad infinitum. I can trade Scriptures with people on both sides of the issue. I can let you choose what side you want, and I’ll take the other side. I can produce as many Scriptures and make as good an argument as you can.
So the very fact that it is an argumentative issue demonstrates that there are two sides. If there was a clear definitive teaching, then there would be no argument. If we didn’t have Scriptures that declare, “Come! And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely,” (Revelation 22:17), then you’d have no argument. But the fact is that there is the clear teaching of choice given to us by God. He expects us to make that choice. “Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” (Joshua 24:15). “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” (I Kings 18:21). But yet Jesus said to His disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain:” (John 15:16). There are two sides to this issue, and it’s important that we not get caught in a hard-line position on one side to the exclusion of the other, because then you’ve effectively divided your congregation.
I, like every other student in Bible college, wrestled with this issue. I was reading Arthur W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God. I got so confused because Pink states that man has no choice in the issue of salvation. It is all up to God. There’s no human responsibility. As I was reading the book, I got so confused that I finally stood up, took the paperback, and threw it across the room. I felt like Martin Luther throwing an ink well at the devil. I said, “God, I can’t understand it.” I was frustrated mentally. It was then that the Lord spoke to my heart and said, “I didn’t ask you to understand it, I only asked you to believe My Word.”
I rested from that point on. I still cannot in my mind rationalize the two positions. I can’t bring the two together, which is the problem that we so often have. It’s like a railroad track. The two rails are running parallel and if they come together you’re in trouble. So I believe them both, even though I’m not able to reconcile them in my mind. But I don’t have to anymore. I can be satisfied just to believe them without having to reduce them to the narrow limits of my intellect.
Trying to bring God within the confines of my intellect is a real lesson in frustration. Try to understand eternity! Try to understand infinity! Try to understand the limitlessness of space! Try to imagine where the edge of space is. How far do you have to go out before you see the sign that says, “Dead end. No exit. Nothing beyond this point”? We need to recognize that God is greater than what can be confined or understood in our mind. He said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Now if God says that His ways are beyond our finding out, then it’s an exercise in futility to try to find out. It’s beyond our finding out.
We need to just accept the limitlessness of God. When I come to these crisis points now, those places where my intellect starts to hit a dead end, I simply stand there and worship the God Who is so awesome that I can’t reduce Him to my understanding.
As you begin to minister, as you go through the Word, you will come across those Scriptures that speak of the sovereignty of God. When you do, teach it. When you come across those Scriptures that teach the responsibility of man, then teach that. In this way, you can be sure that the people are getting a well-balanced spiritual diet.