Work

The Vine

“We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).

It is perhaps one of the greatest of the divine mysteries: God has summoned us sinful, weak humans to participate in His work and to advance His purposes.

The Bible makes known the great things which God has done in order to save us and to advance His purposes in His creation. He created the universe and all that is in it (Genesis 1:1-2:4); He sent His Son to live, die, and be raised again in power so that we could be delivered from our sins and overcome death (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 1 John 4:7-11). The pages of Scripture abundantly attest to God’s love and covenant loyalty powerfully demonstrated by His power.

Meanwhile God has expected people to labor for His purposes. God had a particular type of tent, the Tabernacle, where He intended to manifest His presence to Israel; He even had plans for it, and yet He expected the Israelites to build that Tabernacle themselves, and that according to the pattern He would show them (Exodus 25:9). In Christ God has maintained His power for salvation in the message of the Gospel (Romans 1:16); in Acts there are examples of the great efforts made by the Holy Spirit and angels so that people could hear, believe, and obey the Gospel, and yet it was to be preached by God’s people, not by the Holy Spirit or the angels directly (e.g. Acts 10:1-47).

Teachings of Jesus 30 of 40. parable of the talents. Jan Luyken etching. Bowyer Bible

Jesus explains the importance of work in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. He envisions the time between His ascension and before His return in terms of servants given differing amounts of talents, a very large sum of money; they are expected to go and make more money by trading them (Matthew 25:14-18). Jesus’ returned is envisioned in terms of settling accounts with these servants (Matthew 25:19). In this story the one given five talents makes five more talents, and the one who was given two made two more, and they both were welcomed into the joy of their master (Matthew 25:16-17, 20-23). A third servant was given one talent, but he buried it in fear; the master was angry with this servant for his lack of effort, and he is cast out into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:18, 24-30).

The message of the parable might be jarring but it is evident: the followers of Jesus are expected to work to advance Jesus’ purposes until He returns. While everyone has equal value in God’s sight, not everyone is equally talented; how many abilities one has is not a basis of boasting but a stewardship of responsibility. Each is to use the abilities (or talents; the word derives from the form of money in the parable and on the basis of the parable) God has given him or her to serve (1 Peter 4:10-11). One with few talents need not despair when seeing another with more talents; one with many talents has no right to slack off because others have fewer talents. Our reward comes from how effectively we have used those talents for God’s purposes. If we bring others to Jesus, well and good; if we “obtain interest” by growing and exercising in our own faith, that is also sufficient (2 Peter 3:18). But any servant of Jesus who does nothing with his talents out of fear or insolence will be cast into the outer darkness, another way of speaking about hell!

Serving the Lord Jesus, therefore, is not to be taken lightly. What Jesus has said in Matthew 25:14-30 may not sit well with some of the doctrinal positions of man but makes complete sense when we understand the true nature of faith. Those who believe in Jesus are not merely to accept the reality of His existence, but to believe that He is Lord and Christ (John 3:16, Acts 2:36). If He is Lord, we are not; we cannot continue to walk in our ways and really believe that Jesus is Lord. To believe that Jesus is Lord demands that we put our trust in Him, and the only way our trust can be manifest is in what we do. So it is that Jesus considers believing in Him the work of God which He would have us to do (John 6:29): faith without works is dead, for faith must be manifest in how we think, feel, and act (James 2:14-26). One who claims to believe that Jesus is the Christ of God, the Lord, but does not get busy in His Kingdom is not really trusting Jesus, not really seeking His purposes, and without repentance will be cast into the outer darkness as an unprofitable servant!

God does not want us to be cast out; He wants us to serve Him as His children and servants of the Lord, and if we do so, we will obtain the same rest as He enjoyed once He created the world (Hebrews 4:1-11). God is Sovereign, omnipotent, sufficient to do all things, and yet in His purposes He has given it to us to work in His Kingdom, entrusted us with the Gospel of His Son, the message of salvation, and expects us to grow in His grace and knowledge through actively serving and obeying Him. May we participate in God’s work so as to participate in His rest to His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Love

The Vine

“Love is all you need.” So spoke some of the “prophets” of our day, and they were right. We could be very wealthy, but if we were not loved by anyone, we would feel hollow and empty. But if we love and are loved, even if we have very few earthly possessions to our name, we can be happy and content. In fact, long ago, a man named Paul said something quite similar:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV).

Paul understood how love was more important than anything else. No amount of wisdom, understanding, or power would have any value if he did not have love.

We can understand life in terms of the pursuit of love and being loved. From the womb we want to be loved by our parents. We grow up and look for that special someone who will love us unconditionally as we love them. We want to be surrounded by people who care about us and for whom we care deeply as well.

But if love is so fundamental and basic to our existence, why do we struggle to love and be loved like we should? Why is there so little love around? Part of our problem is how we understand what love is. In the Bible, Paul provides an excellent definition of what love really involves:

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. Love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV).

As we know from experience, receiving true love is a beautiful and wonderful thing. We like it when people are patient with us and kind toward us. Yet we often find it difficult to express to others those same benefits, especially when we do not like them very much.

Such is why true love is not an emotion or a feeling. Love is a decision impacting the way we think, feel, and act. Feelings come and go; love endures all things. Emotions can sway back and forth, up and down, hot and cold; love is not irritable or resentful. Love springs forth from the active decision to love.

But if we are to love, we cannot insist on our own way or desire. True love involves seeking the best interest of the one we love even if it costs us greatly. Love, therefore, must be sacrificial: we must suffer loss for the one whom we love. It might be our time, energy, devotion, care, resources, or a number of other things. Love can never truly be about us; it must be about the ones we love.

And yet even if love is about the best interest of the one loved, such love cannot compel or coerce. We might think we know the best interest of the ones we love, but they may not see it that way. Love is not rude or arrogant; we cannot truly love while forcing people to act as we think they should. This does not mean that love comes without any standards; love rejoices with the truth, and cannot rejoice at wrongdoing. Love cannot compel or coerce, but love cannot enable bad thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors, either.

To love is to hope and trust: we seek the best interest of others, and in so doing hope that others will seek our best interest as well. True, self-sacrificial love is difficult enough to provide to others when we exist within a loving and caring environment; it is far more difficult when we do not feel loved in return. Nevertheless, love cannot force, since it does not insist on its own way. We must have confidence in love as the best way forward even though we will assuredly experience rejection and pain because we have dared to love. We must cherish our confidence that it is better to love others with the hope of being loved, risking the rejection or pain that comes along with it, than it is to be unloving and to miss out on the greatest blessings of life we find in love.

We humans easily slip into selfishness, inertia, and fear. We think it easier to just take care of ourselves. Despite good intentions toward others, we do not actually put the effort into seeking their best interest. We are afraid of investing our energies and resources into other people because we are not guaranteed good will and similar benefits in return.

But is such a life really worth living? What would our lives be like if no one had ever loved us? What if no one invested their energies or resources into us? We would not be here; we would have starved as infants!

But why is love so important? We are made to love and for love because the God who made us is love (1 John 4:8). God created all things and cares for all things because He loves them (1 John 4:7). No one has ever deserved or earned God’s love; God freely loves us despite our rebellion against Him and His purposes (Romans 5:6-11, 8:7-8). As God, He has control over all things, and can do as He wishes; He has no need for mankind, and yet He loves us and cares for us, seeking our best interest, willing to give of His Son for our sins (Romans 5:6-11, 8:31-32)! God has made it clear in Scripture what is our best interest–to follow the way of truth versus the ways of unrighteousness– and we will all be held accountable for our thoughts, words, and deeds one day (cf. Acts 17:30-31, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Yet God has never forced anyone to serve Him or seek after His purposes.

What shall we do? Will we put our trust in God and the power of His love, or will we shrink back in our fears? Are we bold enough to hope in the redeeming power of love to heal our own brokenness and the brokenness of others? God has loved us, having made us in love and to love. We do well to love God and love others in return, even if they do not love us, trusting that the way of love is always better than the way of indifference, selfishness, and fear. Join us at The Word Bible Study as we seek to learn more about God’s love and how we can best love one another, and let us work together to praise God for His love!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.

Hope

The Vine

For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it (Romans 8:24-25).

We all know how life can get ugly. People hurt each other. People even hurt themselves. People get sick. Natural disasters happen. As much as we try to forget it, we all know we and everyone we love will die.

What would we do if we focused on all the negativity in life? How motivated would we be to do much of anything? Since life is filled with these nasty and cruel realities, why do we bother trudging through it?

Focusing on the horrors, evil, and tragedies of life is depressing. But hope makes life worth living.

If we stop and think about it for a moment, we can see how hope is the great motivator of our existence. We grow up in hope of a good, successful life. We go to school in hope of getting and maintaining a good job. We try to find that special someone, hoping to obtain a life-long partner and companion. We have children in hope of providing for them, doing what we can so that they can enjoy a better life than we do. When we are in the midst of trial or suffering, we hope for the day when we will overcome and feel good again. In bad times, we hope for good times; in good times, we hope it continues.

Hope is a powerful source of encouragement. It is easy to try to “sell” people on hope and get them to believe that some person, product, or idea will provide a better quality of life. But can those people, products, or ideas really satisfy as advertised? Politicians promise hope and do not provide much in return. Youthful hopes for a good life and a good world are often quickly dashed by the cold hand of reality with its suffering and pain. Ultimately, and sadly, all hope in this world is extinguished on the day of death. The world continues in its futility and decay.

If our hope is entirely based in this world, our hope will be frustrated. If there is nothing to life beyond this earthly existence, we are in for great disappointment. Our lives will never satisfy our hopes for them. No matter how good we have it, we will suffer the effects of pain, misery, sin, and death, and we will stare into the darkness. What can sustain us on that day? If we hope in this life alone, we will be struck by the meaninglessness of it all, and risk permanent disenchantment with life. As a wise man put it long ago, all is absurd; in this world, life is like a mist that vanishes quickly.

But what if there is more to living than this existence? What if we receive a glimpse into another world in which there is no pain and suffering, and we can live the way we were always intended to live? What if there is another life beyond what we experience now?

This is the hope Jesus extends to mankind. Jesus of Nazareth lived as a man on the earth around two thousand years ago, taught and did a lot of good things, but was executed as a common criminal on a Roman cross unjustly (cf. Acts 10:38-39). A lot of people placed their hope in Him; when He died, their hopes seemed frustrated (Luke 24:19-21). If this were the end of the story, there would be no need to tell it: the world is filled with stories of hopes dashed and expectations crushed by the cruel hand of death.

But Jesus’ story does not end there, for on the third day after His death, He did what no man had ever done or has done since: He was raised from the dead with power, never to die again (1 Corinthians 15:4-11). He is still alive and ruling from Heaven (Matthew 28:18).

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything! If Jesus could die physically and then be raised from the dead, this means there is a life to come after this life. If Jesus was raised from the dead, we also can look forward to a day when we will rise from the dead (Romans 8:22-23). This is the hope Jesus provides for the world: a day is coming when we will no longer be subject to death and decay. A day is coming when we will be able to be victorious over pain, suffering, misery, and death through Jesus (Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:12-58)!

This hope does not mean we give up on this life; far from it! Jesus’ first followers showed how His resurrection is the guarantee of a day of Judgment: we will all stand before Jesus and have to give an account for our lives on earth (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5-11). Jesus does not expect us to wait for the new life to follow His ways; He expects all of us to believe in Him and follow His ways now, becoming like Him now, living as new creatures now: in short, we must build a relationship with God through Jesus now to experience it fully in the next life (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

Hoping in this world only will never satisfy; we will always be let down, frustrated, and in despair. Yet, through Jesus’ resurrection, we can nurture the hope of a world without pain, without misery, without suffering, with joy and glory beyond understanding. We can live the way we were always meant to live. You probably already know how it feels when hope is crushed; if you haven’t yet, that day will come soon. But here is a hope which can sustain us through the pain, misery, frustration, and futility of this life, since it extends out the promise of the life to come. Let us share in this hope together until we arrive at the day when we will no longer need to hope, in the presence of God forever in the resurrection of life!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.

Why Are We Here?

The Vine

Why Are We Here?

I know–it’s a hard question, and it requires a lot of thought. We’re busy with school, with work, and with life in general, and it’s hard to find time to think about a question like this.

But let’s think about it for a moment. Why are we in school? Why do we work? Where do we see ourselves heading in life? Why do we bother with any of this at all?

Then again, why do we ask these questions? Why do we think we should have purpose or direction in life? Some people think life really has no purpose: we live, we take up space, we give birth to more people, we die, and that’s all there is to it. After all, if we are really just advanced animals and all there is to life is what we can hear, see, smell, taste, and touch, what purpose would life have beyond taking care of the necessities of life and reproduction?

Does that answer satisfy you? I hope not! What a depressing and sad world it would be if life really had no purpose! Deep down, most of us believe (and hope) that we are here for a reason.

If there is a reason for living and if our lives are to have some purpose, who came up with that reason and purpose? How can we discover that reason and purpose?

The fact that we can even think of these questions shows that there is something different about humanity. We do not see lizards or mosquitoes asking these questions or wondering why they are here. Humans have the ability to reason, and that is what makes us different. This means that we know that we exist, that there was a time before we physically existed, and that we are going to die. We are able to understand cause and effect and think in other advanced ways. Why do we have this ability, unlike other animals, and who set all of this up this way?

The Bible can provide some direction for us. The Bible claims to be the message from the God who created the heavens and the earth to humans. This message describes how God made humans in His own image–a spiritual being with a soul and the opportunity to live a full and meaningful life. The way God works can be seen in His creation which we enjoy, and God made all men from one man and so designed them that they might seek to learn more about Him.

Have you ever wondered if there was more to life than what we can see and feel? Have you ever had an experience you could not explain, but one that pointed to some kind of reality beyond our own? These types of things happen because there is more to this life than the physical realm and there is a spiritual realm beyond our perception.

The Bible talks about God and how He created mankind so that they could seek Him, but this still does not tell us why we’re here and where we’re going in life.

The Bible shows us that God created man as He did in order to interact with him–basically, God wanted a relationship with people! The Bible says that God is love. The Bible also shows us that God is Three Persons as One in relationship– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in perfect relationship, and in the same way God wants to have a perfect, loving relationship with us! After He created people, He constantly spoke with them, hoping that they would listen to Him and do what He said so that they could enjoy that loving relationship.

But God does not force anyone to follow Him– people can choose to follow God or to go in a different path. Sadly, because people have gone in that different path, God’s great creation has been damaged by rebellion and sin. God did not intend for us to be sick, to suffer, or to die. All of those things happen because we have many times chosen to do what God does not want us to do. When we don’t do what God wants us to do, or we do what God doesn’t want us to do, those sins separate us from God. It keeps us from having that relationship God wants to have with us. As long as we remain out of that relationship with God, we are dead spiritually and risk being separated from God, the Source of life, forever! And the worst thing about it is that we cannot do anything about it by ourselves, since all the times we are doing what God wants us to do cannot undo the bad things we have done!

We are in a sad state! We are alone, without God, and without hope in the world! It’s little wonder that we are often so sad, lonely, and depressed!

But remember how God is love? Even though we have done bad things, God still wants to have a relationship with us. But all the evil in the world–sin, suffering, and death–had to be dealt with first. God did that by sending the Son into the world. He experienced suffering and death for sin even though He did nothing wrong, and in so doing He defeated sin and death. On the third day after He died God raised Him from the dead, and He lives to this very day. He returned to Heaven– that spiritual dimension beyond what we can see– and from there rules heaven and earth.

The Son–Jesus–did what we could not do when He died for our sins. We now can have that relationship with God by placing our trust in Jesus, declaring that He is Lord, by changing our thoughts and ways–trying to do what God says to do–and by being immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins in the name of Jesus Christ. Then we can begin to become the people God wants us to be–like Jesus His Son, doing good for people, doing what God wants us to do.

When we have that relationship with God, we will never have to feel alone again. God will be with us even when things do not seem to be going well for us in life. We can trust that our lives have purpose and meaning, because we know who we are and we have hope regarding where we are going.

Where are we going? God has promised in the Bible that a day of judgment is coming. If we have a restored relationship with God, we will share in the same resurrection that Jesus experienced and we will live with God forever, experiencing peace and joy beyond imagination. But if we do not have a restored relationship with God, we will be cut off from Him forever and will suffer greatly!

The members of the Venice church of Christ hope that you want to have a relationship with God your Creator. We hope that you want to learn how to do what God wants you to do, because that’s what we want to do. We want you to enjoy that relationship with God but also to have a relationship with us as we all try to do what God wants us to do. If you would like to talk more about God and His purpose for you, please call us at 310.351.1199 or contact us here; we also invite you to visit with us at our assemblies and Bible studies. Thanks for reading this material, and we hope to hear from you soon!

The Vine

The Vine is designed to strengthen and build you up spiritually, giving you something to think about and apply to your life and your relationship with God and others. It is a publication of the Venice church of Christ, published monthly while school is in session.