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The Christadelphian | May 2016

In the magazine this month:

A sample article from this edition:

What is our vision?

Scripture tells us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish …”

Modern leadership courses often ask, “What is our vision? Where do we want to be in five or ten years’ time?” One leadership course I attended recently even included the concept of “active daydreaming” to help me see my vision, and “Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?” is a common question at job interviews. Although the concept of a vision may sound modern, it is found throughout scripture both in the context of the future kingdom of God itself and our way to get there. A vision is so important that “without a vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). Our Lord Jesus gave us a whole book of visions in Revelation as well as several parables and sayings about his return that use visual imagery.

Creating your vision

By piecing together passages of scripture concerning the kingdom of God, we can build up our own mental vision of the kingdom. From Isaiah 11 we can imagine peace with children playing outside, wild animals, natural predators at peace with their usual prey, and no harm or destruction from humans. We can imagine a righteous ruler, who judges between us with fairness instead of the corruption we see around us today. Continue our vision from Joel 3, where we read of mountains dripping with wine, lush hills flowing with milk and honey, and fountains of water from the house of the Lord. Picture yourself in the vision itself rather than as an outside observer. Thinking internally, from 1 Corinthians 15 we can imagine being incorruptible, healed of our various medical complaints, fit and free from all health concerns. Imagine immortality and no more death in the kingdom. Envisage yourself feeling clean with newly washed white robes having access to the tree of life, and imagine every tear wiped away by God (Revelation 21, 22). Sense being free of sadness and worry, having a feeling of joy. Visualise being present in the holy city of Jerusalem, a city having been brought down from heaven in which there is no night as light is provided by God Himself.

In one short paragraph, I have provided an outline vision of the future. There are plenty more passages of scripture that you can add to build up your own vision, making it personal to you. Your vision can be extended in many directions, such as seeing our Lord Jesus, interacting with fellow saints, serving God, joining in activities, and adding your thoughts and feelings.

Our vision, though, should also include our spiritual development – the character we want to have in the kingdom. Ultimately our vision should be to manifest the glory of God and be able to rejoice in that glory. Peter compares tried faith to gold refined by fire (1 Peter 1:7), and our Lord Jesus counsels us to buy from him gold refined by fire (Revelation 3:18). So when we picture ourselves in the kingdom, it is important that we look inside at the character we want to develop as well as the peace and prosperity outside. Our inner vision is more important than the outer one if we are to be in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Realising your vision

In Romans 5:3-5 we see a progression in our path to the state of rejoicing in the glory of God. The first step is suffering (“tribulations” in the KJV; Greek, thlipsis) which leads to endurance. Endurance leads to character, which leads to hope, which leads to rejoicing.

Suffering in the sense of physical violence is something that we rarely face, but physical beatings and attacks were a constant danger for early followers of Christ. The Roman world was a severe test of faith. However, the Greek, thlipsis, carries the meaning of pressure or constriction, like a narrow place that hems us in and gives a feeling of being unable to escape. It means anything that we suffer for the sake of Christ. Tribulations can come in many guises, such as personal illness, unemployment, a difficult work colleague or neighbour, ecclesial disagreements, financial worries or the death of someone close to us.

Endurance (“patience” in the KJV) means literally to remain under, that is to stay the course on our way to the kingdom. Overcoming one tribulation is not enough if we then give in to the next one. Rather, our objective should be to develop a more resilient character, so that we are better able to handle the next trial. Endurance is a characteristic that must be part of our vision. While speaking of the time of his return, our Lord Jesus said, “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19, ESV). Our Lord praised the ecclesias at Ephesus, Thyatira and Philadelphia for their “patient endurance”, and the Apostle Paul pleads in his letter to the Hebrews, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1, ESV). Endurance is therefore an essential characteristic for us to develop to realise our vision.

Character (Greek, dokime) carries the meaning of ‘tested and true’, like a reliable brand or certificate of product quality. So by overcoming our trials and staying the course, we develop a character that is tested and true. Such a character leads to hope, which in Greek is elpis, used by Brother Thomas in the title, Elpis Israel. It means anticipating what is sure, namely a confident expectation of the return of our Lord Jesus and the coming kingdom of God. In this we can rejoice because we know what is to come. This is the hope we are aiming to develop.

Romans 5 is by no means the only passage of scripture dealing with character development. The Apostle Peter was an expert on this, having progressed from the disciple famous for denying Jesus thrice to the rock who preached the name of Christ without fear and gave his life for preaching the Gospel. In his second letter, Peter explains how to progress to self-sacrificial love (agape). The process is one of character addition starting with faith, then adding virtue (moral excellence), then knowledge, self-control, endurance (steadfastness), piety (devotion to God), brotherly affection (philadelphia) and finally love (agape). Although the two lists are different, there are links between them. Peter already made the connection between suffering and faith in his first letter, where he compares tried faith to purified gold (1 Peter 1:7). Endurance is the same word as is used in Romans. So we can see from these two lists that faith and suffering both lead to endurance, which we can develop into both love and hope. Paul links faith, hope and love together:

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

It is apt that the context of this verse is character development from the child to the adult in Christ. So combining these two lists gives us two pathways to realising our vision of the kingdom.

There are plenty of other passages of scripture that we can use to help us realise our vision. In Galatians 5 we are told the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; and Paul gives Timothy a list of characteristics to develop in his letter (1 Timothy 6:11). These are similar characteristics to those on our first two lists.

We have been given examples of men of faith who can help us realise our vision. The most famous example of character development by suffering is that of Job. He lost his wealth, his children and his own health. Job refused to curse God despite his losses, but he had to learn the valuable lesson that God knows what is best. Our task is to examine ourselves to see where our characters are now, and where we need to develop.

Identifying your motivators and obstacles

On my course I was asked to write a list of my motivators and obstacles. Our vision of the kingdom should be an extremely strong motivator for us; we should literally be looking forward to the “good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), but it is important to keep our vision with us. It is an interesting exercise to write down your reasons for wanting to be in the kingdom. The answer may be obvious, but committing it to paper makes our motives stronger, and by recognising our inner motives we can better harness them to live as disciples of Christ.

Obstacles are personal; we all have our own. Our Lord Jesus was blunt when it came to handling obstacles, “If your eye offends you, pluck it out” (Matthew 18:9). His reasoning is clear: nothing is more important than being present in the kingdom of God. So any obstacle that we have to achieving our vision, we must eliminate from our lives. On my course I was asked, ‘What am I prepared to give up to achieve my vision?’ If I am not prepared to make sufficient sacrifices, then I need to make my leadership vision less ambitious. But when it comes to God’s kingdom we should never compromise. The answer to the question is that we must be prepared to give up whatever obstacles are preventing us from reaching the kingdom. Jesus tells us, “You cannot serve two masters”.

John was one of the two disciples who came to Jesus wanting to be first – to sit by the side of Jesus in the kingdom. Yet when we read the letters of John written later in his life, we see an apostle free of selfish ambition and full of self-sacrificial love for his brothers and sisters in Christ. John’s obstacle was ambition, but he gave it up completely for Christ. In order to overcome our obstacles, we need to identify them, write them down, and cast them aside.

The means and the end

In leadership training the end result is far more important than the way it is achieved, but in God’s sight it is the effort we make on the Way that is the most important. Jesus emphasised this in his parable of the talents. We are all given different talents, and we are commanded to make use of them as we are able. It was the lazy servant, burying his talent in the ground, who was condemned (Matthew 25). The servants who grew in the Truth were praised by our Lord Jesus. The point for us is that we must use our vision to motivate our own spiritual growth, because it is for that growth we shall be rewarded.

Reminders of the way

Some find daily or weekly reminders in the form of symbols, post-it notes or keeping a diary to be helpful. How we keep sight of our vision is largely a matter of personal preference, but daily reading from the word of God and prayers are surely our best reminders. Also, let us discuss our vision with each other, so that we have a shared vision, since by sharing we can encourage one another.

Of course, our Lord Jesus left us with a weekly reminder of our vision in the bread and wine. They are not just symbols of our Lord’s sacrifice; they are symbols of the hope of the resurrection and kingdom to come. Next time we partake of these emblems, let us remind ourselves of our vision of the kingdom and why our Lord Jesus gave his body and blood for our salvation. It is a time to examine ourselves to determine where we are on our way. What obstacles do we need to put away, and what positive steps do we need to take to develop ourselves? This weekly reminder is essential to ensure that we do not lose sight of our vision.

Philip Jones

 

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