The testing of your faith

Still on the subject of faith, we come to the next passage in Mark's Gospel.

Then Jesus went round teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.

These were his instructions: 'Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.'

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mar 6:6b–13)

Matthew tells us that they also raised the dead (Mat 10:5–10).

The need for apostles today

We're not told when these ministry trips took place—perhaps a year or more after our Lord had called the Twelve to follow him. At some point prior to this he'd taken them aside and appointed them as apostles (Mar 3:13–19).

While they'd been with him they'd seen him heal the sick, drive out demons and raise the dead; now it was time for them to do the same. The word 'apostle', in Greek, is apostolos, which means a messenger, a representative, an envoy. It comes from a word meaning to send out. Jesus sent these men out, as his representatives, to do the same things he'd been doing.

Some Christians believe that apostolic ministries ceased after the first century AD. They believe that once the Church was established and the canon of Scripture complete, there was no more need for them. But that opinion is not in line with New Testament teaching.

Eph 4:11–13 tells us that Jesus has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to his Church to build it up until we all reach unity in the faith and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.

Has the Church reached unity in the faith? Have we all become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ? I don't think so.

I don't believe that task will be complete until just before our Lord returns. Jesus will return for a bride that has made herself ready for him (Rev 19:7): a radiant Church without stain or wrinkle or blemish, but holy and blameless (Eph 5:25–27).

There is a lot of refining to be done before that day; and the Church still needs apostles and prophets to perform their work as much as it needs evangelists, pastors and teachers.

One of the main tasks of an apostle is to plant churches. Because of that, many view the work of missionaries as apostolic in nature. That may be true, but it doesn't mean that all missionaries are apostles.

Paul wrote:

The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance (2Co 12:12).

Signs, wonders and miracles mark a true apostle of God. A New Testament apostle will have the ability to perform such acts of power, even as our Lord's apostles were equipped to do the same.

First of all apostles

The Bible lists the apostolic ministry as first among all ministries.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing… (1Co 12:27–28a)

God has appointed in the Church first apostles and second prophets. That's not surprising when we consider that the Church is built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:19–20).

You'll also note that in the above list workers of miracles and those having gifts of healing are listed separately from apostles, even though apostles can perform miracles and heal the sick.

The reason for that is because the working of miracles and healing the sick are spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit can give to anyone in the Church (1Co 12:7–11), but having those gifts does not make the person an apostle.

As only a few are called to this important ministry, what can the rest of us learn from this passage? I believe there are three things we can learn in respect to righteousness, encouragement and faith.

Judas loved money

First we must realize that Judas Iscariot was among the Twelve Jesus sent out. He'd been called to follow the Lord and had been chosen as an apostle. Consequently he preached the gospel, raised the dead, healed the sick and drove out demons—all by the power of the Spirit—and yet he went to hell (Act 1:24–25). Why was that? It was because he loved money.

Judas was a thief who used to help himself to what was put into the money bag (Joh 12:4–6) and, in the end, he betrayed Jesus for thirty silver coins (Mat 26:14–16).

So we can see why Jesus said that a person cannot serve both God and money (Mat 6:24) and why Paul said that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1Ti 6:10a). He adds that some people, eager for money, had wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1Ti 6:10b).

What can we learn from this? Simply that preaching the gospel, healing the sick, driving out demons and raising the dead does not guarantee a person will go to heaven (Mat 7:21–23): living a righteous life, however, does (Mat 25:46).

The Bible tells us to make our calling and election sure (Greek: fixed, firm, sure, certain; that upon which one may build, rely or trust, 2Pe 1:10a). That is something we have to do. The Holy Spirit will help us in that task, but it's our responsibility; and we do it by living the life God has called us to live (2Pe 1:3–11).

Elijah needed encouragement

Secondly, we can see from this passage that Jesus sent his apostles out in twos. He did the same with the Seventy-Two (Luk 10:1–4). I believe that was for encouragement rather than safety reasons.

Satan is a discourager—he tries to discourage the Church—whereas the Holy Spirit is an encourager (Act 9:31). One of the prime weapons Satan uses against the Church is discouragement. If he can discourage us in our walk with the Lord, we may withdraw from the battle and give up the fight. We can see that clearly in the life of Elijah.

Elijah was a spiritual giant in his day. Single-handedly he took on four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel and defeated them (1Ki 18:15–40), but one threat from Jezebel sent him fleeing into the desert.

That arrow from Satan had a devastating effect. He said, 'I've had enough, Lord. Take my life; I'm no better than my ancestors (1Ki 19:4b).' He also said, 'The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too (1Ki 19:10).' Elijah was very discouraged.

What was the Lord's answer to his prayer? He told him to anoint Elisha son of Shaphat as the prophet to succeed him (1Ki 19:15–16). That wasn't the end of his ministry, but from then on Elisha became his attendant (1Ki 19:19–21), which meant he had a companion.

Ecc 4:9–10 says:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

That was certainly true with Elijah. Elijah was a man who depended totally on God. He'd spent a period of time alone with the Lord in the Kerith Ravine being fed by ravens (1Ki 17:1–6) and yet, when he was engaged in spiritual warfare, he needed the encouragement of others to remain strong.

Paul needed encouragement

The same was true with the apostle Paul. Paul was perhaps the greatest Christian who has ever lived. The man was totally fearless. He received many threats against his life; he was imprisoned frequently; stoned almost to the point of death; flogged five times and beaten with rods on three occasions. He said he was ready to die for Christ, and he meant it.

And yet, on his missionary journeys, he didn't travel alone. His first companion was Barnabas, whose name means Son of Encouragement. Even Paul needed to be encouraged.

The Holy Spirit is the great encourager and is the source of all spiritual encouragement. He ministers to our spirit and encourages us directly in many ways, but he also encourages us through the ministry of others (Rom 12:6a,8a).

Encourage one another

Heb 10:25 says:

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

What Day is the writer referring to? He's referring to the Day of the Lord: the Day when Jesus will return for his Church.

Why do Christians meet together? The reasons are many, but it's usually because of what we gain from it ourselves:

All these are good and valid reasons for meeting together, but they're not the prime reason given in Scripture. The prime reason is so we can encourage one another and spur one another on towards love and good deeds (Heb 10:24). We are told not to stop doing that, but to do it all the more as we see the Lord's return approaching.

Remember that when you're tempted to skip a meeting. You may not need the blessing yourself, but others will need you to encourage them: that is one of our duties in Christ.

Trials and testings

The final thing we notice from our text is that the Twelve were told not to take anything with them: no food, no bag, no money, no extra tunic. They were to rely on God for everything, even to finding a bed for the night.

That would have severely tested their faith. But contrast that with the instructions Jesus gave them in Luk 22:35–38. What can we deduce from this? The lesson is that God will test our faith at various times in our lives, but sometimes more severely than others.

Every Christian lives by faith from the moment they are born again (Gal 2:20b): not just faith for salvation, but faith for the provision of every need—physical as well as spiritual (Mat 6:31–34). We may think it's our job that provides us with our livelihood, but it's the Lord who opens doors for employment and gives us the ability and the strength to work.

If we doubt that he may prove it to us one day, and then we'll acknowledge that we depend upon him for everything. Jesus said, '…apart from me you can do nothing (Joh 15:5b).' That is true physically as well as spiritually.

Even with those who've enjoyed a relatively easy life on earth—successful career, happy marriage, good health—the Lord will still find ways to test their faith. Why is that?

That you may be mature

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (Jam 1:2–4)

Do we want to be mature and complete as Christians? Then we need to go through trials and testings of many kinds. Consider Job: a righteous man who enjoyed the blessing of God and the protection of God (Job 1:8–11). Then suddenly, without warning, all hell seemed to break loose against him.

What had he done to deserve it? Nothing. So why did it happen? God allowed it to happen to bring him to maturity.

James wrote:

As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (Jam 5:11)

Perseverance is continuing on despite obstacles. Perseverance must finish its work in our lives if we're to be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

I ask you: What price spiritual maturity? Trials are not easy; if they were easy they wouldn't be trials. No one looks for trials—they can be painful and difficult—but, when they come, we're to regard them with joy because of the work they are doing in us.

Paul wrote:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2Co 4:17)

Light and momentary troubles? There was no one in the New Testament who suffered more for his faith than Paul. If Paul regarded what he went through for Christ as 'light and momentary troubles', then so should we.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28 NIV Alternative Translation)

If you are a blood-bought child of God, then everything God allows to happen in your life is for your good—even the trials and the difficulties. Satan had to get God's permission before he could do anything to Job (Job 1:6–12; Job 2:1–7); the same is true for us.

Every trial, every problem that we face, every difficulty that comes our way, is an opportunity for us to grow in Christ. Just as a muscle only strengthens when we exercise it, so faith only grows when we use it.

Faith of greater worth than gold

Our faith is more precious to God than we realize.

Peter wrote:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1Pe 1:6–7)

Do we want a faith that is genuine and will result in praise, glory and honour when our Lord is revealed? Then we must go through trials and testings of many kinds. As the heat of a furnace brings the dross to the surface so the refiner can remove it, so the heat of a trial brings our imperfections to the surface so God can remove them.

Mal 3:3 describes God as a refiner and a purifier of silver. Jesus is coming back for a Church that has been refined, purified and made ready for him. Trials and testings are a necessary part of that refining process.

Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. (Ecc 7:13–14)

God is sovereign over the affairs of men and every Christian needs trials in order to grow. The strongest trees are those that have been exposed to the winds and the storms. In order to survive, they've had to put their roots down deep into the soil. The same is true for us.

Every trial we face brings us closer to God. We're forced to put our roots down deeper into him (Col 2:6–7). Any confidence we had in ourselves is soon gone. We end up saying, 'Lord, I couldn't have done that by myself; it's no longer I who lives, but Christ who is living in me (Gal 2:20a).'

And that is what God wants to hear: he wants us to depend on him for everything. When he sees in us what he wants to see there will be no more need for trials.

Michael Graham
May 2008

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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