By Roland W. Keith
It’s that time of year again. When one year ends and another begins, and in this case when one decade ends and another begins as well. It is that time when we look back at the past year with its accomplishments and failures, joys and tragedies, and look forward to the new year with anticipation, and make out our annual list of new year resolutions (which often looks a lot like last year’s). This year for the Christian I advise wadding up that list and doing something different. Consider the following list of practical things we can all focus on:
1. Love the Lord your God. And your neighbor, too (Matthew 22:37-39).
We know we are keeping the first commandment when we are diligently seeking to keep the Lord’s commandments (John 14:15). We know we are keeping the second commandment when we heed Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:4-7). When we are patient and kind and learn to bear with others, we know we are making progress. And, let us not forget to show particular regard for our brothers and sisters in Christ (John 13:34-35; Galatians 6:10).
2. Evangelize the world.
That sounds like a big goal to consider practical, but it’s not. All we have to do is our part. Jesus told His apostles to “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 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16). Paul looked at the missionary effort of his day and asked, “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 10:14-15). The fact is we are not all called to be missionaries, but we are called to support their efforts (I Corinthians 9:11-14; II Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:14-18; Titus 3:13). Moreover, while we may not be called to go into a foreign land, we should be involved in local efforts to spread God’s word beyond the walls of our place of worship, as Peter wrote, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” I Peter 3:15).
3. Show mercy to others, even as you are receiving mercy from God.
As Jude wrote: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:20-23).
4. Strive for peace and unity.
We are to live at peace with all men if at all possible (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14). Knowing the nature of the world this means that we must take the lead in this endeavor. However, it does not mean that we should let the world run roughshod over us, just that we must make every effort to be at peace. Within the church it is a different matter. As Paul wrote, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33). According to Paul we must pursue the peace that leads us to mutual strengthening and uplifting (Romans 14:19), which cannot occur if we simply agree to disagree and go our separate ways. There is no unity in a house divided, even if the division is agreed upon (Mark 3:24). Under such circumstances while a remnant of the faithful may survive, many will be lost because they chose separation over a willingness and dedication to finding the common ground of truth. There is no such thing as our truth and their truth when it come to the truth of God. We must be one, therefore I encourage all to heed the words of Paul: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
5. Discipline and restore the wayward.
No one wants to see a fellow church member disciplined or disfellowshipped. We want to restore such a person, as Paul told the Galatians: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Yet it is sometimes necessary to discipline someone hoping it will bear fruit in a change of behavior (Hebrews 12:11). It is a sad fact that the gentle touch doesn’t work with everyone. In fact, some see such an approach as a sign of weakness or something to be taken advantage of. Paul’s direction in such a case? “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11; see also II Thessalonians 3:6; I Timothy 1:20).
6. Comfort one another.
No one goes through life without getting knocked about a bit. Some of us more than others. And, sometimes it is easier for those who have suffered much in their own lives to have empathy for another person who is going through a difficult time. However, we should all look out for one another. Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
7. Support one another.
Supporting others goes hand-in-hand with comforting them. We can give support not just during times of suffering, but really all the time. Whether it is the big stuff like helping someone who is carrying one of life’s heavy burdens (Galatians 6:2), or just helping a friend move; every little bit helps. Do you encourage the new convert or anyone struggling to understand a scripture? Take a minute to discuss it with them (I Thessalonians 5:11; Romans 14:1). Even a small gesture can help build another up (Romans 15:2). For those of us who are strong in the faith it is our responsibility to be there for others; not everything can be left to our elders or the preacher. As Paul counselled, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1).
8. We should respect each other, especially those who work among us.
We should give respect to whom it is due (Romans 13:7; I Peter 2:18). This may not always be an easy thing to do, but part of a Christian’s responsibility is to obey those in authority over us, not necessarily to please man, but to please God (Colossians 3:22-25). However, for those who labor among us in the church our respect should be flavored with true esteem as Paul explained, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (I Thessalonians 5:12-15).
9. Hold firm to what God has given us.
For the Christian to hold firm means not simply to cling to something in desperation, but to gain such confidence in it as to master it and wield it in a productive manner, as Paul told Titus: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
10. We must prepare ourselves to persevere.
In His life Jesus endured much from the world, yet without sinning, and it is He Who is our example (Hebrews 12:3; Luke 18:1). When we follow in His footsteps we will not only grow in faith but begin to add the other Christian virtues to it (II Peter 1:5-8), which will make us strong and effective members of His kingdom. Such perseverance sustains us as we strive toward our ultimate goal, and enables us to draw others with us, as Paul wrote, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10; Luke 21:19).
In the end there are many practical steps we can take to make the new year a success. With that in mind I will leave you with a couple of Paul’s to-do lists for the Christian: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21). And, finally: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:16-22).
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.