I believe one of God’s greatest gifts of mercy to His Church is His faithful ministers who lovingly reprove us of our sins. I know that as a loving shepherd, I must be careful of my tone, but I can’t apologize for preaching convicting truth. What happens to the Church when pastors no longer point people to their iniquities? Consider where King David would have ended up if he had not had Nathan to show him his wickedness (see 2 Samuel 12).
You have to understand, Nathan had seen David fly off the handle often so he was well aware that the powerful king could have slain him at any time.
Nathan could have said, “I’ll just be a friend to David. I’ll pray for him and be there when he needs me but I have to trust the Holy Spirit to convict him.” What would have happened then?
I believe that without Nathan’s convicting word, David would have fallen under the worst judgment known to humankind—the judgment of having God turn you over to your sin, to stop all of the Holy Spirit’s dealings in your life. Yet, that’s exactly what is happening to many Christians today. They choose to listen only to soft, flesh-assuring preaching. Where there is no convicting word, there can be no godly sorrow over sin. Where there is no godly sorrow for sin, there can be no repentance. And where there is no repentance, there is only hardness of heart.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner. . . . For godly sorrow worketh repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:9–10). Paul said his outcry against the Corinthians’ sin produced a godly sorrow in them that led to repentance. In turn, that produced in them a hatred for sin, a holy fear of God, and a desire to live upright. Yet this never would have happened if he had not preached a sharp, piercing, convicting word.
The reason Paul spoke so strongly to the Corinthians was, “That our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you” (7:12). In other words: “I wasn’t trying to unnerve you or condemn you. I exposed your sin so that you would see how much I love and care for you. When the Holy Ghost knocks on your heart, sometimes it sounds like harsh pounding. But it’s actually God showing you His tender love.”
Until the past few years, separation was a defining characteristic of Christ’s Church. Being set apart was a clear command from God’s Word and a part of every Christian’s calling. But today there seems to be very little distinction between the Church and the world. This is tragic, because God has set His people apart for His kingdom purposes—to be instruments of change with the very aim of making a difference in the world.
A lot of churches today seek to appease the world. They compromise Christ’s gospel and, as a result, a lot of Christians allow themselves to conform to the world’s values rather than to those of Jesus.
This can’t make God happy. When the lost souls of this world face serious life crises and are confused, with no source of hope, the Church is meant to embody the difference they are looking for. Our lives are to be distinguished by hope, joy, peace, love, and giving. But a lot of followers today have erased those distinctions by creeping toward a line of compromise—and even crossing it at times. As a result, the lost and hurting see Christians’ lives as no different from their own.
Jesus addressed this when He said to His disciples, in essence, “The world sees Me one way, but I have revealed Myself to you in full. You’ve seen that the peace I offer isn’t received by the world. I’ve demonstrated to you the values of My kingdom—how to live, believe, walk and serve the Father. Those values are in stark contrast to the world’s and you are to live out My kingdom values. If Satan has no part in Me, he can have no part in your lives, either” (see John 14:27).
When God speaks of separating from the world, He doesn’t mean removing ourselves from it. The separation He desires takes place in the heart. It is reflected in our desires, our choices, our lifestyles. For an older generation of Christians, being separate meant not drinking, smoking or partying. Those are outward things, but God is addressing much more. He’s asking, “Is your heart still linked to the world in a way that excludes Me? Do you draw peace and self-worth from what the world says about you or from how I see you?”
Among the mighty warriors I have had the privilege of knowing, I count Delores Bonner, an African-American woman who lives alone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods. She has been a medical technician at Maimonides Hospital for more than thirty years. Carol and I met her one year at Christmastime while we were bringing gifts to some poor children in our congregation.
Delores had a full apartment that day—but these children were not hers. She had brought them from a nearby shelter to meet us. Their natural mother was too consumed with her own problems to be present even for an occasion such as this.
“How did you come to meet these children?” I asked.
She modestly mumbled something that didn’t really answer my question. Only from others did I learn that right after her conversion in a prayer meeting at the church in 1982, she became concerned for children in the streets and in the crack houses. God touched her heart, and she started bringing the children to Sunday school. At first she packed them into taxis; later on someone heard what she was doing and bought her a car. Today she has a van so she can transport more children and teenagers to hear the gospel.
This is only part of Delores’ story. On Sundays between services, she oversees the crew that cleans the sanctuary so it will be ready for the next crowd. On Saturdays she goes out with the evangelism teams, knocking on doors in the housing projects to share God’s love. On weekdays I find her on her knees upstairs with the Prayer Band, taking a shift to intercede for people’s needs. She did the same thing on a ministry trip to Peru, where she joined others in calling out to God on my behalf as I preached in an outdoor meeting.
Delores is a woman of quiet determination, the kind shown in 1 Chronicles 12:18, where it says, “The Spirit came upon Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said: ‘We are yours, O David! We are with you, O son of Jesse! Success, success [peace and prosperity] to you, and success to those who help you, for your God will help you.’” Once again, the merging of divine and human effort is clearly shown.
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn and longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson, Cymbala is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.
You remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They were believers who dropped dead in the church because they misrepresented who Jesus was. They lied to Peter about the amount they received for the land they sold, but Peter told them they had lied to the Holy Ghost. Indeed, if a Christian lies to any man, it's as if that person has lied to God (see Acts 5:1-11).
What exactly was this couple’s lie? It was their misappropriation of money designated for the poor. They must have testified to the buyer, “Everything you pay us is for the cause of Christ. It all goes to widows and the poor.” But they kept back a portion of the money for themselves.
The message behind the story of Ananias and Sapphira is that you do not touch what belongs to the poor and needy. God won’t stand by and see His Son misrepresented to the world by those who call themselves by His name.
I ask you, how did the Holy Spirit bring about this sudden change of heart in those newly baptized believers in Jerusalem? Their transformation was an incredible miracle. The answer is that these Christians were the children of Malachi’s prophecy. Malachi is the last prophet we hear from in the Old Testament. God spoke through him, saying, “I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless” (Malachi 3:5).
Now fast-forward in time to the church in Jerusalem. These believers were going from house to house in fellowship. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). What was the apostles’ doctrine mentioned here? It was the very words of Christ. Jesus had instructed His disciples, “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
Jesus’ words were quickened in their hearts, and they knew they could never live the same way again. Suddenly, they saw how serious this matter of representing Jesus truly was. It drove them into their houses to find everything they didn’t need, and then they took those goods to the streets to sell. Simply put, Christ’s Word in Matthew 25 gave these believers a new attitude of love and concern for the poor.
We’re told that Christ is the light of the world “that all men through him might believe” (John 1:7). Yet, we then read, “The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. . . . He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (1:5, 11).
Unbelief has always grieved the heart of Jesus. When our Lord came to earth in the flesh, He brought incredible light into the world. And that light was meant to open the eyes of men. Yet, in spite of Jesus’ amazing show of light, Scripture speaks of incredible examples of unbelief in the very face of such light.
Perhaps no other chapter in the Bible contains as much proof of Jesus’ deity as we see in John 12. We see a man who had been raised from the dead by Jesus’ command. We see the visual fulfillment of a centuries-old prophecy known to every Israelite. And we hear a literal voice speaking from heaven.
Even after witnessing these wonders, the people had the audacity to question Jesus. “The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up?” (12:34). They were saying, “You claim You’re going to be crucified. But we know the true Messiah is going to live forever.”
Then the people asked a question that absolutely stunned Jesus: “Who is this Son of man?” (12:34). Christ must have been incredulous at their blindness. In fact, He didn’t even attempt to answer the question. Instead, He warned, “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you. . . . While ye have light, believe in the light” (12:35-36).
The light had shone into their darkness but their darkened minds didn’t comprehend it (see 1:12). The Greek word for comprehend means “to seize it, to lay hold of it, to possess the truth, producing life and power.” These people had been given a life-changing truth but they didn’t seize it or lay hold of it. They didn’t understand the truth of Christ, because they did not seek to possess it.
“These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them” (12:36). In this one verse, we find God’s attitude toward unbelief. Indeed, from cover to cover in the Bible, God never has sympathy or pity for unbelief. And the same is true in this scene. Jesus simply walked away from the unbelieving crowds. As a result, those people would leave Jerusalem in darkness because they didn’t walk in the light they’d been given.