What Are Your Works Made Of?
It seems that everyone is a Christian nowadays. We all go to church and have Bible verses on our Instagram pages. Christian colleges, blogs, clothing, music, books, and even preachers have gone mainstream. Many women's ministries focus more and more on superficial things and fluff pieces that serve one purpose: to make you feel good with where you are, which is usually smack dab in the middle of a lukewarm Christianity (with an abundance of idle, proud, glutinous, comfortable and lazy living - see Ezekiel 16:49). I know, because I've had those seasons, and I've purposely sought out content that is easy and wouldn't "cost" me anything. Somewhere along the way, the line between the world and Christianity began to blur. At first, preachers spoke out against it all, but then even they decided it was easier to have bigger congregations if they compromised and told the people what the people wanted to hear. So, sin was welcomed into the church and the comforts of this world enveloped us in a lap of luxury. Let me be clear: sinners are always welcome in church, but the church validating sin for the sake of keeping the peace or increasing membership is an entirely different and dangerous thing. You can't have a congregation that sings worship songs with arms raised on Sunday morning but then goes out through those doors to look and live exactly like the world the rest of the week.
The church of God is sanctified. It has been set apart from the world. Wherever it goes, there is light that clearly separates the light from the darkness. There is the power and the work of the Holy Spirit that is undeniable and genuine. It is gold that is not easily moved by social movements or the passage of time.
The other day, I read Ezekiel 16. If you haven't read it recently (or ever!), go read it now. This chapter was written to the people of Israel a couple thousand years ago, but it might as well have been written for me, and you, today.
It is a story of God taking in an abandoned and bloody baby. She grew up to be a beautiful woman because she thrived under the watchful eye of the Lord. When the Lord saw she was ready for love, He adorned her in gold and silver, clothed her, and put a crown on her head; and then, He entered the covenant of marriage with her, making her royal and known by all nations as His beloved.
But the young woman took all the gifts bestowed on her, and she sought other lovers and idols. She traded her royal clothing for favors from foreigners. She took the oil and burned it for other gods. She played the harlot - going as far as paying others to have her - but she was never satisfied.
That's the thing, this world will never satisfy, but it will always promise you more and more. We take what God has given us, and we use it for our own pleasures and to blend in with the world. Christians use the word of God for personal gain and "branding." There are billions of dollars spent on the beauty industry and years of our lives spent with our eyes and ears in entertainment. Talents buried under fear, insecurity, and just an overall preference for personal comfort and the status quo. Lukewarm Christians, "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:4-5).
Why carry a cross and be mocked by your co-workers, neighbors and even other Christians for your old-fashioned views when you can live as you please, blend in with the world, read Christian blogs, check into church once a week and still be called a Christian just the same?
In her book "A Chance to Die," Elisabeth Elliot writes about Amy Carmichael, a missionary to southern India, who vowed at a young age (before she even started her missionary life overseas), to "no longer waste time on things that weren't important in God's eyes. When all things she'd done in her life were were finally judged by God, she wanted them to be found worthwhile. She wanted them to be seen as gold and silver, not hay and stubble."
In 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, Apostle Paul explains this further:
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it...because the fire will test each one's work of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Isn't that fascinating? That there are ministries and works out there by Christians that are not all equal. Some are made of clay and wood - doctrines, teachings, and works that are easily burned and are of no substance, even though they are built with good intentions and on the foundation of Jesus Christ. But when the wind blows, those speakers, writers, and preachers are easily swayed by hardships, social movements, peer pressure, or insatiable hunger for approval, fame, or wealth. They may shine brightly, but they also burn out quickly.
In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. -2 Timothy 2:20-21 (NLT)
Although all these vessels are in the same house and all are used seemingly for the glory of God, the quality of the work is vastly different. One type is cheap and easily burned, while the other is pure, sanctified and not easily moved. Because "the refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold" (Proverbs 27:21) and the genuineness of our faith is tested much like gold is tested by fire (1 Peter 1:7).
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. -Isaiah 48:10
The NKJV version says that "if one cleanses himself from the latter [the vessels of wood and clay], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work." The Greek version of sanctified used here means (1) separation/departure from impure companionship, and (2) the peculiar property of God and entirely devoted to Him.
To become this sanctified instrument used for special purposes, we must separate ourselves not only from the world, but also from the cheap vessels of wood and clay. An example of such people can be found in 1 Timothy 6:4-5 (the ones who are "proud, knowing nothing, but...obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wrangling of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.").
Friends, this world is not your home, so don't make yourselves cozy in it. Don't indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they'll be won over to God's side and be there to join in the celebration when He arrives. -1 Peter 2:11-12 (MSG).
You get to choose whether you're a vessel made of wood/clay or gold/silver/precious stone. If you read these words and are convicted that you're a vessel made of wood or clay, don't lose heart - God, who is the ultimate potter - can mold you into a beautiful gold vessel. It will hurt, and it will quite literally break you. But in the end, the beauty of His work in you will not only leave you in awe, but it will be a source of encouragement for many.
You also choose whether you find encouragement and instruction from a wooden vessel or one that has been refined by fire and made into gold. You choose whether you spend an hour scrolling through social media - an idle pursuit; or whether you spend that hour in the word of God. You bookmark the blogs and websites you read - will it be a Christian blog full of fluff pieces that make you feel comfortable, pretty, and and leaves you unchanged? Or will you read something that is Scripturally sound and convicts you to make a change in your life? My prayer and efforts are that Tirzah will continue to be a gold vessel.
Are you brave enough to step away from the vessels of wood and clay? Are you willing to be sanctified and purified, even if it means going through a spiritual/personal fire to be refined like gold? Is the work you're doing for God - even if it's a secular 9 to 5 job - going to last? Is this a thing that is gold, silver, and precious stones? Or is it wood, hay and straw that will be consumed in the judgment fire to come?