by Mike Ratliff
For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:9-15 ESV)
There is a blog devoted to atheism that has linked to a post I did the other day about homosexuality being a sin. The fellow that runs that blog is attempting to show that my refusal to dialogue with him about the issue shows that Christians cannot debate them because our cause is empty. The problem is that he does not really want to debate, he wants to dialogue. These are two different things. John Ashbrook said it well, “A debate is a conflict which clarifies a position. A dialogue is a conversation which compromises a position.” 1 I did attempt to debate the man, but when he kept going back to a position that I addressed completely as if I had not done so, I ended it. You see he wanted to “dialogue” with me not “debate” me. Why? It was an attempt to compromise the position I took in that piece. I honestly do not enjoy conflict, but God uses it to clarify the truth. We err if we attempt to find peace with those in conflict with God’s truth by compromising, which is the point of dialogue. Instead, we debate until it becomes apparent that we are casting pearls before swine and that which is holy to dogs. At that point, we must be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves as we end it.
That being said, I need to confess to one and all that I have had a pretty rough time since before Easter. My mother had a heart attack and my father, who has Alzheimer’s, had to be put in a locked down assisted living center. Since then my mother has also suffered a stroke. I attended our church the Sunday before Easter. I went to church with my parents on Easter Sunday and all of this began just three days later. Since then, I have been able to attend church just twice. It seems like I have been traveling somewhere nearly every weekend. Through all of this, I have been dealing with some topics on Possessing the Treasure that are considered to be very controversial. The spiritual attacks have been nearly constant since all this began. Last evening I did not write anything. I just could not do it. I felt like a total failure. I was very discouraged by the many attacks from those who seemed bent on gnawing away at this ministry like a swarm of termites. I saw myself as a worthless servant who just needed to abandon this ministry as I simply faded away into the background. Let others who are more capable take up the fight! I reached bottom. I was ready to throw in the towel. Then I read this devotional.
“Continue in the faith.”-Acts 14:22
Perseverance is the badge of true saints. The Christian life is not a beginning only in the ways of God, but also a continuance in the same as long as life lasts. It is with a Christian as it was with the great Napoleon: he said, “Conquest has made me what I am, and conquest must maintain me.” So, under God, dear brother in the Lord, conquest has made you what you are, and conquest must sustain you. Your motto must be, “Excelsior.” He only is a true conqueror, and shall be crowned at the last, who continueth till war’s trumpet is blown no more. Perseverance is, therefore, the target of all our spiritual enemies. The world does not object to your being a Christian for a time, if she can but tempt you to cease your pilgrimage, and settle down to buy and sell with her in Vanity Fair. The flesh will seek to ensnare you, and to prevent your pressing on to glory. “It is weary work being a pilgrim; come, give it up. Am I always to be mortified? Am I never to be indulged? Give me at least a furlough from this constant warfare.” Satan will make many a fierce attack on your perseverance; it will be the mark for all his arrows. He will strive to hinder you in service: he will insinuate that you are doing no good; and that you want rest. He will endeavour to make you weary of suffering, he will whisper, “Curse God, and die.” Or he will attack your steadfastness: “What is the good of being so zealous? Be quiet like the rest; sleep as do others, and let your lamp go out as the other virgins do.” Or he will assail your doctrinal sentiments: “Why do you hold to these denominational creeds? Sensible men are getting more liberal; they are removing the old landmarks: fall in with the times.” Wear your shield, Christian, therefore, close upon your armour, and cry mightily unto God, that by His Spirit you may endure to the end. – C.H. Spurgeon (emphasis mine)
It was as if the chains forged by Giant Despair that had been cast around my heart holding me in the filthy dungeon of Doubting Castle were broken to dust. This also seemed to cast off the mist that was blocking my discernment. I realized that I had succumbed to a spiritual onslaught designed to discourage me and drive a wedge between my Lord and me by thwarting our fellowship. Being separate from the saints at Church this long has taken its own toll. We are encouraged and commanded to not forsake the gathering of the saints. I used to think that this was for religious purposes, however, it is for our benefit. It is such a wonderful thing to fellowship with God’s people in that loving environment and then feed on God’s Word as it is broken and fed to us by a godly Pastor.
When this sort of thing happens to us, we must do a spiritual inventory as we come out of the dungeon. This examination reveals to us whether we have been building on the foundation that was laid in Christ, which is the Church, with gold, silver, precious stones, which represent faithful ministry. If so, we are being used by our Lord as He builds His Church. Then we can look at the oppression of the enemy as something God has allowed in us in order to try us in the fire. The fire is, of course, God’s discerning judgment. As we are tested, it may appear that we have been cast aside or forgotten by God because of some fault found in our ministry or us. But it is through the trial or test that we learn that any building we have done that is of the gold, silver, precious stone quality are the product of us working within the Grace of God as we abide in our Lord, not by our own abilities. The gold, silver, and precious stones can take the fire of God’s discerning judgment.
On the other hand, the test may reveal to us that we have been building upon this foundation with wood, hay, and straw, which are inferior or worthless things that cannot stand the test of judgment fire. These would include ministering with wrong motives such as attempting to do it for self-aggrandizement or to build up self-worth. If the focus of our work is anything but the glory of God and the edification of the Saints then all we are doing is building with wood, hay, and straw. Also, if we are using corrupt tools such as man-focused doctrines and methods or we are compromising God’s truth in order to preserve a false peace with the world or heretics or apostates then we are only building a very flammable façade. When God’s discerning judgment tries those who are doing this then all will be burned up.
One worthless thing that many are falling for today is something called spiritual formation. This is a product of the emerging church. It utilizes certified Spiritual Directors whose “ministry” is to teach their “flocks” the various ways and means to get closer to God and to emulate Him. The Spiritual Directors teach that there are certain practices that their people can do in order to be more like Jesus. These are things such mystical rituals that teach those in them how to find God within. Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is not necessary or a prerequisite. Contemplative prayer is part of this. In a DVD called Be Still, which promotes contemplative prayer, Richard Foster has said that contemplative prayer is for anyone and that by practicing it, one becomes “a portable sanctuary” for “the presence of God.”
I read an article today about a pastor who was trying to tell his congregation that Paul was teaching spiritual formation in Galatians 4:8-20, especially v19. Here are vv18-20.
It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (Galatians 4:18-20 ESV)
What does it mean that Paul was in anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in the Galatians? Is this spiritual formation? No, this is not a mystical thing that will bring the Galatians to the point of finding god within. This is talking about their spiritual maturity unto Chirstlikeness. The Greek word used here for “formed” is μορφόω or morphoō. This verb is in aorist tense, subjunctive mood, and passive voice. All that means is that the action of the verb is done to the subject of the sentence. That would be the Galatians. Morphoō means, “to form or fashion. When used in this context in Sacred Scripture, it always refers to the young or immature Christian maturing.” We see this clearly in the context of the passage, the chapter, and the book of Galatians itself. That was Paul’s concern for them. False prophets were overtaking them and if they had been more mature in Christ, they would not have succumbed to them.
When we dig into God’s Word like this to discern the truth and then share that with the Church for their edification, we are building upon the foundation with gold, silver, and precious stones. However, those who twist scripture in order to support mysticism and very dangerous things such as spiritual formation and contemplative prayer, they are building with worthless things such as wood, hay, and straw.
The spiritual battle I just came through became very intense as I began my study into learning Koine Greek better. I can handle Greek word studies pretty well and I understand the grammar and I have some excellent study tools that enable me to do this, but I do not speak Greek. I can read much of it, but not as well as I would like. Therefore, I am studying it from a beginning level just like someone would do to learn English as a second language. When I made that commitment, the attacks from our enemy became very severe. I have prayed about this and I have asked God if I should continue. The answer is that I must do so, however, the battle to learn it will be just that for our enemy does not want us to know God’s Word well. Please pray that I will be able to become as proficient in Greek as God wants me to be for His glory alone.
I pray also that all reading this will examine themselves to see with what building materials they are using in their ministry unto the Church. All of us are building on the foundation in one-way or another. I most certainly do not want what I build to be burned away by God’s discerning judgment.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1The New Neutralism II, John E Ashbrook (Here I Stand Books, 1992), p. 7.)