Mountains have been in the news lately. The new action and adventure film "Everest" has hit the big screen. President Obama set off a controversy over renaming Mount McKinley back to Mount Denali. Several recent "lost in the mountains" disappearances have captured people's imaginations. Some people lost in the mountains have survived while others perished. We continue our series using the imagery of mountains to remind us that some things about our faith are important enough to die to accomplish or defend.
If our churches, and if we as church leaders, don't know the mountains on which we are willing to die and then go and focus on those mountains, we are going to give up our lives, bit-by-bit, for things that don't matter. We will end up sacrificing the mountains of God's glory for the hills of insignificance and for the molehills of personal preference. In my previous post, I emphasized that we have to do three things as church leaders in times of transition, especially the interim times as we search for a preaching minister. We need to:
- Know the doctrinal and missional mountains for which we will die.
- Partner with others who share our mountain commitments.
- Focus on our mountains refusing to make mountains out of molehills.
As one of my partners, Bruce Black, summarized it:
We have to know our main things, find leaders to partner with us in the main thing, and make the main things our main thing!
As churches, we tend to fuss and fight over so many things, how do we know what are our main things?
Great question! Let's ask that question of the New Testament and see what we find?
There are two basic statements that explicitly claim to be most important. The first is Jesus' declaration in the two love commandments:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:28-31).
The second statement claiming essential importance is Paul's declaration to the Corinthians concerning the basics of the gospel:
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also... (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
Let's look at Paul's statement first. Notice several important truths:
- First, Paul went to great lengths to emphasize the importance of what he had taught the Corinthians and how this was essential truth:
- It is the gospel message he had originally "preached to" them.
- The Corinthians "received" this message as authoritative and true.
- These new Corinthian believers had built their lives and taken their "stand" upon this message.
- Faith in this message was the way Corinthians "are saved" if they "hold firmly" to it. Paul had "received" this message as authoritative.
- Paul "had passed on" this message to the Corinthians emphasizing that it was "of first importance"!
- Second, Paul emphasized that this message was rooted in the identity of Jesus as the Messiah (Christ). This message was rooted in the promises of the (Old Testament) Scriptures. This message was a reminder that what Christ did and what the Scriptures promised, was for our good in overcoming sin.
- Third, this message consisted of what I sometimes call COR4 — or the "CORE 4":
- Jesus died for our sins.
- Jesus was buried.
- Jesus was raised from the dead.
- Jesus appeared alive to many after his death.
Clearly, there are other important doctrines. Yet Paul emphasized to the Corinthians that salvation is rooted in these COR4 events. So we, as Jesus' disciples need to be very careful not to add a bunch of "our stuff" — our pet doctrines, our personal preferences, our cherished practices, or our significant elements of distinctiveness — to the core truth necessary to become disciples. Paul warned the Galatians about those who were trying to add more requirements to the gospel:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God's curse!
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:6-10; Colossians 2:16-23).
Those are strong words of warning to anyone who would add to what Paul emphasizes is the core truth for our salvation. So when we fuss and fight, when we divide over things that don't pertain to the COR4 and their connection to Jesus' identity as promised and taught in Scripture, we are in dangerous territory. We are likely fighting over mountains not worth the battle and spiritual casualties.
The identity of Jesus as the Christ, his promised mission defined in the Scriptures, and the COR4 become our hills of significance. Baptism, which is our faith participation in what Paul says is COR4, clearly becomes important. (Notice how Paul spoke about baptism not as symbol, but as participation in the death, burial, resurrection, and appearing of Christ Jesus (Romans 6:3-14; Colossians 2:12; Colossians 3:1-4). Other things, such as the Lord's Supper, where we both remember and proclaim this core gospel (1 Corinthians 11:23-27) as well as participate in and become the body of Christ with those whom we share the supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Also important is living under grace by leaving the slavery of sin and death by the power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus who was raised from the dead are also crucial and vitally connected doctrines to what is COR4 (Romans 6:3-14; Romans 8; Colossians 2:12-23; Colossians 3:1-17; Ephesians 1:17-23).
Paul's message to the Corinthians is our magnetic North Pole. We have a clear force that pulls us together toward what is most important. Paul helps us define what our mountains should be!
Which then brings us to Jesus' two love commands. Jesus was clear that he lived to please his Father and accomplish his work (John 3:16-17; John 4:34; John 5:18-20; John 19:20). In fact, Jesus challenged his first followers (and us) to continue his work by saying, "As the Father has sent me, so I'm sending you" (John 20:21). We are Jesus' incarnation in the world today. We have been sent to accomplish his mission in the world empowered by the Spirit (John 20:22-23). One important way Jesus is to continue to appear in the world as the resurrected Savior is through us, his people. This occurs as we display both in word and deed our love for the Father and our love for our neighbors as Jesus did when he was physically present!
There is no right doctrine when we act in ways that are out of phase with the love for the Father. Truth is lost when the love for others that Jesus demonstrated is abandoned (1 John 3:16-18; 1 John 4:7-18). This kind of love must be even more intensely felt for each other as fellow disciples of Jesus and fellow children in the Father's family:
When he was gone, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
"My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:31-35).
Our mission arises out of our love for God and for our lost neighbors. Knowing these two important mountain top passages helps us know our mission more fully. They help us see the message we are to share and the kind of loving people we are to be.
Unfortunately, many have experienced something very different from living out of these key passages of doctrinal and missional truth. Because we have not identified our most important mountains or because we have refused to live based upon them, we have slain each other on hills of lesser significance and have lost our sense of mission in the world. We have become known for our differences and not our love. We have become known for what we are against rather than who we are for. We have forgotten the mountains worthy of our effort and have slipped into denominational and group preservation. So we come back at the end of this post to where we began.
If our churches, and if we as church leaders, don't know the mountains on which we are willing to die and then go and focus on those mountains, we are going to give up our lives, bit-by-bit, for things that don't matter. We will end up sacrificing the mountains of God's glory for the hills of insignificance and for the molehills of personal preference.
By God's grace and with the help of the Holy Spirit, let's make sure we know which mountains are worth the passion, effort, and sacrifice and which ones are not. Some mountains matter more!
Next week, we will look at how Paul applied these principles to maturing the church in Asia Minor.
The images in this article are, from top title image down in order:
- The mountains overlooking the Dead Sea.
- Mount Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley in Alaska.
- Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
- Mount Hood in Oregon.