The grandstands are packed. Enthusiasm runs high. The game has been a close, hard-fought battle. Suddenly the home team nearly scores a point and the crowd goes wild with excitement. Everyone is on his feet shouting. But the goal is missed and the anxiety of the moment passes as the crowd settles back in their seats. Let’s back up about 2000 years. The arena is packed with anxious spectators. Enthusiasm runs high as the main event is announced. Several Christians, young and old, wait to be sacrificed to wild beasts. Why this great tragedy? Because Christians are considered enemies of the state and must be eliminated. Terrifying roars are heard as the hunger-crazed lions move into the arena. They momentarily stalk the small band of believers before springing in rage. As the one-sided battle ensues, the sweet sound of praise rises from the midst of the dust as these fervent believers commit their souls to the One for whom they willingly die.
Does this sound familiar? Thank God, no! This kind of persecution is almost unheard of today in most of the world, although there is much violence against Christians in many countries. However certain aspects of this scene parallel some of today’s attitudes and lifestyles. The only difference is that instead of the Christians being in the arena, attacked by beasts and watched by atheists, the majority of Christians are now in the stands. Who then is in the arena? That depends.
LIFE AS A SPECTATOR
All too often our attention is focused on professional athletes, actors, game show hosts and contestants, and many others. Conveniently enough we don’t even have to leave the comfort of our living rooms to enjoy these pastimes anymore – they are beamed right into most homes. How sad our heavenly Father must be to see His “new creations” spending countless hours in the enjoyment of the world’s entertainment – “of the flesh, by the flesh, and for the flesh!”
Sadder still is the condition of the Church in general. It seems to be comprised mostly of spectators, with a small nucleus down there in the “arena.” So many local churches have a handful of workers responsible for almost all the work. Why is this?
Notice these observations about the average spectator:
- He doesn’t profit from the exercise of the game.
- He doesn’t identify with the players, so he is critical of them.
- He wastes a lot of time and accomplishes nothing.
Have you ever witnessed an after-game discussion? It usually involves a few individuals who scrutinize and criticize both the plays and the players. It seems that everybody knows more about the game and how it should have been played than the players themselves!
These same spectator characteristics prevail in the spiritual realm. Those never involved in any kind of service for our Lord seem unchallenged by the needs around them and unmoved to prayerfully seek to meet those needs. Perhaps they leave the work to others whom they think are “much better at it.” But in so doing they forfeit much spiritual growth.
Having no experience in service, they cannot identify with the situations and circumstances, the disappointments and frustrations, the triumphs and ecstasies through which a Christian may pass while actively involved in service. Perhaps that explains why they are quick to criticize and suggest “better” methods or more effective approaches. The end result is that the desires of our Lord are not being fulfilled.
LIFE AS A PARTICIPANT
The highest occupation for the Christian is brought out in 1 Peter 2. Verse 5 says, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Worship is to be offered by each of us as a holy priest, when we are alone as well as with other Christians. It is based simply on our comprehension and appreciation of the worthiness of God. Don’t be satisfied watching someone else enjoy the effects of real worship – enter into it yourself! Hebrews 13:15 says, “Let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”
God’s further purpose for every believer is a lifestyle of activity for Christ’s sake. Notice the metaphors used in 2 Timothy 2: “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus … Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ … And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops” (vv.1,3,5-6).
Does this sound like passivity? Battles are not won, races are not won, and crops are not harvested by watching others work. All these activities require discipline, effort and sweat! Just so in the Christian life. Nothing is accomplished without discipline, effort and spiritual sweat. How does this happen? Let’s talk a bit about good works.
Good works are a vital part of the Christian life: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Christ died that He might have “His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). As Christians we often discount good works since they are not a part of salvation. But they are very much a result of salvation. Good works require active energy and purpose. They are not accomplished by watching those involved, or even by critiquing them.
A brother active in the Lord’s work was criticized for the way he was conducting the work. His reply was, “I like the way I’m doing it better than the way you’re not doing it.” Advice comes easy but help is hard to find. Don’t look around for someone else’s mistakes; make some of your own! Get off the bench and into the game. Get out of the foxhole and into the battle. Get away from the table and out into the fields which are now ready for harvest (Jn. 4:35). WORK – for the Lord’s sake and for your own spiritual profit.
By Tim Van Ryn
* The word “specticism,” coined by the author, means to be afflicted with a spectator mentality; to be non-involved.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org