By Roland W. Keith
Nearly two thousand years ago eleven men gathered on a mountain in Galilee to meet with their Master. It was on that mountaintop that Jesus gave His appointed apostles what is known as the Great Commission, telling them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). This occasion was recorded in the gospel accounts of both Matthew and Mark, not merely as an historical event passed on in posterity, but as a living command. Christ promised to be with those fulfilling His directive “to the end of the age,” however, the men He spoke to on that day have all passed on, yet the end of the age has not arrived. So, to whom does Christ’s promise extend beyond those faithful disciples who watched Him ascend from this earth on that day?
In his letter to the Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote, “For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" (Romans 10:3-15). The responsibility to further the gospel of Jesus Christ has been passed on, from one generation of Christians to the next, and will continue to be forwarded until the day the Lord returns to this earth. Each of us has inherited the duty of fulfilling the mandate handed down by the Lord before His ascension. Whether we stand before crowds in a pulpit, or study one-on-one with a friend, or act in a supporting role we are all accountable for taking the Lord’s message of salvation “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47).
As Paul proclaimed in his letter to Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). It was Paul’s goal to be a part of the great work to proclaim God’s word to “all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). The funny thing about spreading God’s word to all creation is that it is an unending battle. As one generation passes from the earth a new one is born that knows not the Lord. The work continues and must continue until time in this universe is no more. The question then becomes “How do we further the gospel and the continuing works of our Lord?” Today we will consider four ways.
The first is through fellowship. The spreading of the gospel is a partnership between individuals and congregations within the body of Christ, as Paul told the church in Philippi, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6; see also 4:15-16). The work of these faithful Christians in helping to evangelize the world has been memorialized in scripture as an example to the church in all ages. Whether it is in sending missionaries forward across the globe with funding, by providing Bibles and other teaching supplies, or by participating in local evangelization teams we all have a vital role to play in God’s plan of salvation. We just need to answer the call. Those who refuse to do their part or use the occasion to deceive others with claims other than the words of Christ are not worthy or our fellowship and will face a day of reckoning (II John 1:7-9; II Thessalonians 2:3-10).
To succeed God intended us to band together as one body to do His work (Ephesians 4:4-16; Romans 12:4-8; I Corinthians 12:12-31). However, to be successful in God’s eyes we must go beyond mere effort to an obedient and faithful adherence to God’s will in all matters (Colossians 1:18-23). Which brings us to our second point— we must further God’s word even when others oppose it. Paul regarded his imprisonment as an opportunity rather than a hindrance, writing to the church in Philippi: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14; see also Acts 16 &17). For him opposition was not only a chance to proclaim the truth, but to set an example for others laboring with him (II Timothy 3:10-12).
Luke’s historical account of the early church is replete with examples set by Paul and others in how to deal with adversity for the sake of Christ. When Peter and John were brought before the council and charged not to teach in the name of Jesus, they responded by answering, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-21). A similar instance occurred later that apparently involved all the apostles. Once again when charged not to proclaim the gospel their response was the same: they must obey God. After conferring among themselves Luke records that the council reconvened, “and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:40-42).
To weather all such opposition from the world Paul warned that we must prepare ourselves (Ephesians 6:10-18; II Timothy 2:15; Titus 2:9-12). It is through preparation that we are able to achieve competence in any endeavor in life, including our service to God. By becoming a knowledgeable and competent worker we can further God’s work in a third way— by demonstration or example. Knowledge and experience lead to the type of strength and confidence that others will look to for guidance.
Paul followed the example of Christ and often referred to our Savior and himself, along with his co-workers imitation of Christ as examples for the church to follow, calling upon his readers to set that same pattern for others. In his first letter to the Thessalonians he wrote, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1:6-7). He encouraged those in Philippi to imitate him and in turn to keep an eye on those who walked according to that example (Philippians 3:15-17). He implored the same group to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27-28).
Finally, we further the gospel by proclamation. Simply put— we tell others about Jesus. In First Corinthians we read, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1:21-24). We do not need a 160 IQ or a powerful voice or eloquent vocabulary to tell others the gospel. It doesn’t matter if we are nervous or afraid. All we have to do is trust that Jesus is with us in His word, and to proclaim that word in His name. God will take care of the rest (I Corinthians 2:1-5). Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
We do not need to, nor can we, compel others to believe the word of God. That’s not our responsibility. Our job is it to tell them the truth about Jesus and God’s wonderful plan. God gives the increase. As Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The power is not in us, it’s in the gospel. That is not to diminish our role as God’s servants. We have been entrusted with the gospel (I Thessalonians 2:4). But, as faithful members of His kingdom we seek only to do our part, trusting in Him. As Paul wrote, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself… it is the Lord who judges me.” (I Corinthians 4:1-4).
In the end we cannot always know who has truly been touched by the word through our efforts, nor is it important to know. God only asks that we go into the vineyard and work as honest and faithful servants. If we do that we do not need to look back at the “successes” or “failures.” They were never ours to begin with. Not if we have given our best. If we have done that we can have confidence in how the Lord will judge us.
By Roland W. Keith
Not every business leader, not every politician, not every military commander has come up “through the ranks,” during times of trial. Some ascend to the top of their respective fields without learning all the lessons necessary to fully appreciate the responsibilities, power and sacrifice that constitute true leadership. Not all learn what most of the great leaders throughout history understood— that leadership of the highest order goes hand-in-hand with personal sacrifice and service. Examples of truly great leadership are often studies of remarkable perseverance, humbling trials, and personal loss— all in service to some greater good to which the individual has dedicated himself. The central figure in the Judeo-Christian history of God and His relationship to man is one well acquainted with the duel role of the servant- leader.
In the very first verse of his gospel account Mark tells us that it is “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Later the Son would be acknowledged as the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (I Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14). He is the natural ruler of the kingdoms of the world and the spiritual realm of man. Yet, how did this King describe Himself? Of Himself, He said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). A Heavenly King who would sacrifice His own Son, and a Son who would submit Himself in sacrifice to establish a kingdom for the redemption of man, as proclaimed in John 3:14-17, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
Christ established His kingdom by doing for man what the Law of Moses could not do (Hebrews 10: 1-4), provide a once and forever solution to the divine requirement for justice. The claims and promises Jesus made were both proven and guaranteed when He rose from the grave, providing us with a full assurance that the man who sacrificed everything for us is indeed the long awaited Messiah who can lead us into the eternal promised land if we will put our faith in Him (Hebrews 10: 19-23). Many of the Jews in His own day rejected Jesus because He did not meet their vision of a deliverer and King. They did not understand the prophetic words of Isaiah (Isaiah 53:1-12), who revealed their future King as a man Who would establish a kingdom by serving those He would lead through personal sacrifice, including the ultimate immolation in human terms. He died as an innocent man in order to pay the penalty for the guilty. As Isaiah said He was crushed for our iniquities, and yet, “it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the righteous one, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (53:10-12).
From His place on the cross Jesus could already see His eternal offspring— the millions, the billions of souls who would be reborn into His kingdom and accounted as righteous. The will of the LORD has indeed prospered in His hands since that day. Jesus gave us an example and a path to follow as Paul noted when he wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:3-5).
If we follow His lead and obey His commands, He will grant to us all the promises that await the citizens of His kingdom (II Peter 1:3-4). There is, however, a warning for those who might seek dual citizenship with the kingdom of God and the world: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (II Peter 2:20-21). If we accept Christ as King, we must be loyal to Him and His kingdom.
Jesus has been described as the suffering servant; a description supported by Isaiah. But He was not alone; there are many noted in the Bible who served the Lord and suffered for their efforts. Most of them came from the three classes of people who were anointed by the Lord for their work: prophets, priests, and kings. It turns out that our Savior is all three.
According to Paul, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through Whom also He created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The apostle also encouraged his readers to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard” (Hebrews 2:1-3). As a prophet Jesus declared the will of God, and it is in our own best interest to heed that call.
In addition to being a prophet Jesus has been appointed as the eternal, perfect high priest, according to Hebrews 2:23-28, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but He holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” Jesus is the only high priest seated at the right hand of God, exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26; 8:1).
A Prophet. A Priest. And, a King. In his first letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will display at the proper time— He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (6:14-16). As a king Christ is due the allegiance of all who seek a place in His kingdom. As the Prophet, Priest and King of the Most High God Jesus has, in a very literal sense become all things to all men. There is no other we can turn to for guidance, forgiveness, for truth, or for salvation. This is because Jesus is also God’s appointed Savior, the Redeemer of mankind. And, He is one other thing.
He is the only Son of God (John 3:16; Mark 1:1). As a Son He was obedient to His Father and humbled Himself to become a man. As a man He learned obedience through suffering. And, through perfect submission He became the source of salvation for all who will in turn and humble themselves before Him (Hebrews 5:8-9). The scriptures tell us that the LORD was pleased with His Son and raised Him up above all others who had been sent before Him, making Him the final word in His revelations to man (Mark 1:9-11; 9:2-7).
Jesus once asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16). It is this confession, or more accurately the truth of Peter’s confession, that Christianity is founded upon (Matthew 16:18), as Paul confirmed when he wrote, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:11). On another occasion Paul would note that the prophets and apostles were a part of that foundation, but the chief cornerstone, the true foundation that everything else is built around is Christ, with each Christian being a part of the structure as a whole (Ephesians 2:19-22).
It is an amazing thing to consider that the Prince of Heaven would take on the likeness of man (Philippians 2:5-8), and come to this earth as a servant in order to give His life as a ransom for someone like me.
By Roland W. Keith
In today’s study we are going to examine five elements of spiritual growth, all of which in many ways begin and end with knowing and understanding the word of God. Jesus said, “It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Bread may sustain the body, but it is the word of God that edifies the Spirit within us. The Savior had much to say about the word of God and its power. It is the word that delivers us from eternal death into everlasting life with God (John 5:24). Moreover, He equated His true family with those who hear and keep the word and are thereby blessed by His Father (Luke 8:21; Luke 11:28), offering a stern warning to those who would reject Him: “The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48).
Peter wrote of the need to grow in the “grace and Knowledge” of Christ (II Peter 3:18). Unfortunately, many people in Christendom today are easily led astray because they trust in their teachers without understanding the need for diligence on their own part (Acts 17:11). It is our responsibility to safeguard our own salvation and to look out for one another (Philippians 2:12; John 13:14, 34-35; Romans 12:10; 15:14; I Corinthians 12:25). In his second letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (3:16-17). We cannot be spiritually complete without an intimate knowledge of God’s will for our lives; a knowledge we cannot truly gain until we have studied and learned to comprehend God’s word for ourselves.
Once we have gained a true understanding of God’s will through a thorough study of His word we must add action to that knowledge, as James wrote: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:21-25). Knowing something is not the same as doing something. Christians are to be men and women of action, not simply breathing repositories of data.
How long have you been a Christian? How involved are you in the Lord’s work? Growth is the natural result of birth. From the time of our conception our bodies are growing, but when we are born into the world our maturation process requires us to be aware of the creation around us and to learn with all our senses. If that natural progression is stunted or we are somehow deprived of it, we cannot function properly in the world. Such individuals often die at a very young age; others remain childlike throughout their lives, requiring constant care. For the newborn Christian there is also a natural progression toward spiritual maturity. There comes a time when we should become mature, independently confident servants of the Lord, able to distinguish good from evil, thoroughly equipped to handle all challenges to the truth (Hebrews 5:12-14; II Timothy 2:15; 3:17; Ephesians 4:16).
When we grow to maturity in the word that process leads us to the development of what can be described as Christian values or characteristics, such as Peter wrote about: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (II Peter 1:5-9).
True Christian maturity also produces tangible activity on our part, as Paul explained to Timothy: “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (II Timothy 2:21). As Christians one of our goals is to make ourselves ready to serve the Lord, to become “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). God uses His word to craft us into what we should be— productive members of the body of Christ who desire to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). In Titus we find this admonishment: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). When we are doing the Lord’s work our efforts are beyond reproach. In fact, when we are following God’s plan all that we do will be profitable for those we are working with, as well as for ourselves. Whether we are studying God’s word with an interested party or doing works of benevolence our efforts will not return to us empty (Titus 3:8, 14), as Paul told the Corinthians: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58).
The Christian who is growing will also find himself increasingly taking advantage of his right to communicate with his God. The Bible makes it clear that our Heavenly Father hears, and answers, our prayers giving us the things we ask for— if those things are in accordance with His will (Mark 11:24; I John 5:14). Although some today teach that God wants us to be rich, or have whatever we desire, that is not a Biblical teaching, as James made clear when he wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). Prayer is not a candy machine that dispenses whatever we want. It is, instead, an avenue to take our needs and concerns to the Lord, to pray for others, to praise or thank the LORD, and to ask for what we are lacking as Christians among other things. James provides a good example of what we might pray for, writing, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:5-6; see also Matthew 5:44; Mark 14:38; Luke 6:28; 10:2; Colossians 1:9).
Finally, the mature Christian understands the value of worship. She understands that we worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24), that it is essential for us to meet together and not neglect one another, nor the Lord (Hebrews 10:25; Ephesians 5:19), and that when we are gathered together in His name He is there among us (Matthew 18:20). Our growth as Christians is largely our own responsibility (Philippians 2:12). Though we have overseers appointed over us to see to our welfare (Titus 1:5-9; I Timothy 3:1-7; Acts 20:28), they do not have the power of compulsion. Even God does not compel us against our will. We are free to choose the Christian life and we are free to reject it; we are also free to walk away from what we had once embraced, a sad state that Paul described with the following words: “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
To avoid such a state as Paul detailed to the Hebrews it is of the greatest benefit to develop and exercise all the elements of spiritual growth as outlined in the scriptures. Jesus once asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). There is no loss we can suffer greater than the loss of our own soul. Many people joke about it in an off-hand, glib manner. That is because they do not truly understand what that loss entails, or they simply do not want to think about it. For the Christian it is a different story. We do know what awaits those who walk away from God. Therefore, we are without excuse. God is here to help us every step of the way, He has in fact already given all He can to save us, beyond measure (John 3:16; Ephesians 3:20-21). But in the end the chose is ours. We are responsible for our own spiritual growth and welfare. On the day of judgment, we will stand alone before the throne of God— unless we have an advocate to call upon. On that day if we remain faithful, we will be able to call upon the name of Jesus and have Him come to our defense to receive our final verdict: “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” (Matthew 25:23).
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.