Introduction: God Manifested in Human Virtues
Continued from "Outline: The Family God's Unit of Salvation"
[This message was transcribed and edited from a conference given by Chuck Debelak in Detroit, Michigan, in October 2000. Mr. Debelak has not reviewed this document in its edited form.]
I'd like to begin this message with Ephesians 4:1-2, "I beseech you therefore, I, the prisoner in the Lord, to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called." This is a high expectation: to walk worthily of the calling with which we were called. 2 "With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, bearing one another in love." The point I want to make is this: often when we talk about being in spirit, being burning, or serving the Lord, it is mainly in the context of a "meeting" life. We usually attribute the flow of the Spirit and the power of the Spirit to our "meetings." While this often is the case, it is actually a very small part of what it means to be in spirit following the Spirit. The greatest aspect of living, walking and abiding in the Spirit is seen in human virtues.
"Spirituality" versus Virtue
Let's consider the basic premise of the New Testament: God is manifested in the flesh as a man (John 1:1, 14; 1 Tim. 3:15-16). Prior to the Lord Jesus coming as a man, people thought of God as a powerful force, a mighty voice speaking from heaven. But with the coming of Jesus, even as a little baby boy born in a manger, the whole principle in the universe changed! Now God is seen in uplifted, human virtues. Jesus was the complete God, yet the perfect man. He grew as a normal baby boy into a normal human adult. He did not wear a cape like Superman; He was not a magician or thrill-seeker looking to display His powers; in fact, He showed almost nothing special about Himself until He was thirty years old. The Christian faith, therefore, is fundamentally different than every other kind of religion or at least it should be. In every other kind of religion the so-called spiritual people become somewhat strange, peculiar and set apart from the rest. For example, in history, the spiritual people were the ones who left society and put aside good food, good shelter and good bedding to live in monasteries. Even Buddhist monks were considered men of God although they never knew Jesus Christ as their Savior. This kind of religious thought is "in our blood" up through today. We may not believe in monasteries anymore, nor do we honor the practice of asceticism or self-denial by severe treatment of the body, but we do have a lot of concepts as to what is "spiritual." The Catholics have singled out certain people as "saints" whereas the Bible calls all believers in Christ His "saints" (1 Cor. 1:2). Ephesians 4:1-2, shows us that spiritual people are people who are the most human; people who exhibit lowliness, meekness and long-suffering.
Many times we equate gospel preaching, Bible study and a strong prayer life as being "worthy of the Lord" in Ephesians 4:1. We may even rank ourselves and others according to such a standard. We surely are not opposing gospel preaching, Bible study or a strong prayer life, but we need to see these matters in the perspective that Paul wrote about. Paul clearly stated that to "walk worthily of the Lord" equaled living out the human virtues of lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, etc. Yet, it is doubtful that any of us would proclaim, "Brother Chuck, I am walking worthy of the Lord because the last few weeks I have been in lowliness; I have been in meekness; I have been in long-suffering." We may not consider this as spiritual, but as weak, wimpy or uncommitted. This can be seen most practically on the home front. When we talk about husbands loving their wives and wives submitting to their husbands, the key ingredient is human virtues , not who is the boss. Without human virtues generated from our spiritual walk in Christ, our life in Christ is abstract and intangible.
Expressing Human Virtue in Our Spiritual Life
There are countless ways to express our spiritual life through human virtues. Loving our spouse can be expressed in many ways. For instance, sometimes we practice lowliness in order to gain respect from our spouse or others so that we can express the proper leadership with them. For a husband and father to lead the family, he must first learn the lesson of lowliness, allowing the wife the option to lead. To us, this lowliness is not spiritual, yet, this is the real meaning of the human virtue of lowliness.
Meekness is often associated with weakness in our thought. But in practice, meekness is a powerful human virtue that brings peace and stability to situations. For example, rather than informing our wife of a decision we've made on our own, we may ask her, "Honey, is it all right if I invite people over for dinner? Is it okay if I go to see Jack? I may be late." This is meekness. According to the New Testament, this is the reality of being spiritual. We may think that to take a strong, almost defiant stand, is spiritual: "Sorry, Honey, I'm for the Lord's move and I've got to go meet with some brothers! And if you don't like it, tough; I'm following Christ!" But the Lord may lead us in an altogether different way. Sometimes we may tell our wife, "Honey, I want to stay here with you and take care of you first. The brothers can wait." Then our wife would be freed within to let us go meet with the brothers. Other times, we have the sense that the Lord is leading us to go to be with the brothers even if our wife feels we should stay with her. Then, we express the kindness, yet, absoluteness of Christ to cherish her, yet follow the Lord's leading. It is a matter of virtues, not our strong stand. To experience the Lord in loving our wives in virtues is the real spiritual life. However, that is often not our understanding.
Ministering Grace to Others
Our religious history binds us. We still, despite learning from history and pursuing higher truths, consider spiritual people as "different" from us. They are not merely human, but more than human. This kind of concept leads to strange practices or behaviors. One so-called spiritual man sat on top of a pole for nearly forty years! This is peculiar, not true spirituality. In God's economy, we live out Christ through seemingly unimpressive virtues. However, whenever we live out Christ, something of Himself is dispensed into others. When we are led by the Lord to stay home and spend time with our wives in lieu of a meeting, this ministers grace.
The virtue of lowliness ministers grace. In 1 Peter 4 Peter tells us that the very grace we minister to others is the grace that we ourselves have received of the Lord. We need grace from the Lord to be meek, not to fight back or struggle against someone. My refraining from struggling against someone ministers grace just as the casserole, cookies or baby-sitting for a friend is ministering grace. The basis of this grace is the Lord's grace to us, and His leading of us to minister that grace to others. How many times have we inadvertently ignored the Lord's prompting and prodding of us to do a good work for someone else? Saints, we need to learn to follow the Lord's inner leading which more times than not issues in kindness, goodness, meekness, etc. We need our vistas opened regarding all the ways that the Lord desires to move within us in our daily life.
Let me illustrate with an experience of moving back to a locality after having been in California for several years. As a servant of the Lord, I was itching to get "working" for Christ. However, it seemed that everything I did for the first two months was a dead end without the presence of the Lord to lead me. Within a short time, the Lord in His wisdom let me realize that something was not quite right related to my wife. I brought this matter to the Lord and began to have the feeling to rekindle a habit from 25 years earlier: playing tennis in the morning before going anywhere. That was only a temporary thing and I wouldn't even call what we did tennis (maybe 25 years ago it was tennis), but we enjoyed playing together. I felt so joyful that the Lord would lead us in such a practical, human way. This does not mean that when you need a change, you go play tennis, but we must realize that the Lord will lead us in a particular way at a particular time to meet a particular need. Tennis was just the avenue the Lord used at that time, and before long, my wife was more than peaceful for me to labor before the Lord.
God Leads Us in Virtue
Most of the time, the Bible teaches that God leads us in virtue. Galatians 5:22-23 shows us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control. Would we boast that the Lord lead us into goodness? But we'd feel good if others heard we were led to preach the gospel somewhere: "I was on my job, you know, minding my own business, and I asked the Lord if there was anyone there that I could speak to. And the Lord said, `Yes. The guy next to you.' So I got the courage and I went over to Him and I preached, and he got saved!" Everyone declares, "AMEN!" But in reality almost all who said "Amen" are condemned when we give a testimony like that because deep within they are asking themselves why that kind of experience doesn't happen to them. Can we see how our idea of being "led by the Lord" is in contrast to being led by the Lord in reality to live out a virtue that ministers life, that ministers light, and the result is often unknown?
A sister went to a grocery store and saw some mugs on sale. She had a little thought to buy everyone in her office at work a mug just as a gesture of kindness. She picked them up and put them in her shopping cart and then thought, "This is stupid." So she put them back on the shelf. Then she felt again that maybe she should buy them so she picked them up again. Then, "This is stupid," and put them back. Back and forth she struggled until the store announced "just 5 minutes before closing." She just bought the mugs and gave them to her coworkers. Most of them didn't respond, but she could tell from two people that something had taken place. They didn't ask her, "When is your meeting so I can come?" Nor was there a dynamic response like we would expect from "spiritual" labor. But she realized they got ministered to and an attachment got formed between her and them. Why? because she was led by the Lord, and the Lord leads most of the time in human virtues like this.
According to Matthew 5:14-15 the church is a city set on a hill filled with light. The light isn't always so measurable and defined. The light may shine out of the gospel or out of shepherding another or both. We may not know how the Lord will shine through us based on the activity we choose. But we should realize that the virtue that ministers grace and the Spirit to others has an effect on people whether we can see the result or not. So, when we talk about husbands loving their wives and wives submitting to their husbands, most of the Lord's leading will be in these kind of virtuous exercises.
Virtues Brings Forth God's Presence
Unfortunately, we tend to be very narrow in our view when we talk about experiencing the Lord. We often focus entirely on a few verses in the Bible and thereby become limited in our effectiveness with people. However, there are many different ways in our human life, especially in our family life, that the Lord will lead us. Just as the Lord will lead us to be virtuous with our wives, the Lord will also lead us in many virtues with our children. Afterward, we shouldn't expect our kids to come running and say, "Daddy, thank you for what you did. Now I believe in Jesus. Now I will follow the Lord my whole life." It doesn't work that way. But this kind of living creates an atmosphere of God's presence in our family. Whenever we live out Christ's leading by His anointing, by the inner sense of life (1 John 1:20, 27), even if it is merely a human virtue like lowliness or meekness, this brings forth the presence of God.