Problematic Stones

hazy-water

Stones can be many things — colorful, hard, rugged, polished, precious, and numerous other qualities that makes them all unique and different. We’ve been studying about how stones are used in the Bible and about how Christ is the cornerstone upon which we build our lives and our faith. We went on then to study about our roles as living stones that build up our Savior’s church, as referenced in I Peter 2, and how the living water of Christ’s love smooths us out and forms us in His way.

To conclude this series, we’re going to look at how to avoid becoming dead stones. We know what it means to be living stones, but how can we begin to erode and crumble under the weight of this world? Are we being the smooth stones that Christ’s love shapes, or are we retaining sharp edges that can harm our fellow Christians?

Living Under a Rock

Have you ever used the expression, “What rock have you been under?” It usually refers to someone who seems out of touch in some important way. Moreover, what are we allowing to grow up under us as stones? Have we become a haven for negativity and harmfulness because we have grown stagnant in our spiritual development.

There are many forms a stone can take. I Peter 2:8 refers to Christ’s rejection being a stone of stumbling, but we can become stumbling stones for other reasons. Consider Romans 14 where Paul speaks about being stumbling blocks because we are holding each other to standards other than God’s. Instead of promoting peace, we create conflict and cause others to trip and fall.

Unmovable Stones

We can furthermore allow ourselves to stumble over the truth of Christ’s word. It might contradict our traditions. Christ’s word might simply say what we don’t want it to say. In that case, we become unmovable stones. It is a good thing to stand firm in the rock of Christ’s word, but we must beware of becoming so rooted in our own opinions and traditions that we don’t allow God’s word to move us. This kind of stone is also inactive. It’s there, but it’s not doing anything useful.

Jesus speaks of stony ground in the parable of the sower. We should be building up, but, if we’re just sitting in the ground, we are creating an area where nothing can grow. This sort of inactivity not only fails to support the church, but it actively hurts growth and development. We are called to encourage each other in unity, as living and active stones, to better build up the fellowship of Christ.

Sharp Stones

Some stones are harmful. They are sharp and abrasive. They are oddly shaped, and a stonemason will use a chisel to carve that stone into a useful shape. Likewise, our Lord should be reshaping and changing us so we can better fit together. We lose our hurtful qualities. We lose our abrasiveness and rough edges so we can better form His church.

As living stones, we have to be able to fit together. We come from various backgrounds and will all have various opinions on a number of topics. We will have different characteristics, and different ways of communicating. Putting that many people together will invariably cause problems, but we can fit together better if we allow God to reshape us and allow His unity to hold us together.

Stones and Death

Stones have also been used to seal tombs, as Christ’s was after the crucifixion. Stones seal away the dead. These stones live in the past, and we can’t be the type of stone that seals away life in favor of preserving  the past. This might look like traditionalism or defeatism. We have to be the type of stones that open up to life rather than preserve what is past.

Alternatively, stones can cause death. David used a stone to bring down Goliath. Stones were common tools of execution in ancient cultures. as in Deuteronomy 21 and 22.  We see this form of execution actually happen to Stephen in Acts 7:59. We can be stones that God uses to defeat Satan, or we can allow ourselves to be used to harm other Christians. Our words can be stones that harm others, or they can use words that build each other up. The type of stones you and I allow ourselves to be will inform how we let ourselves be used.

Reshaped Stones

God wants us to be living stones, entirely and completely submerged in His reshaping love and forgiveness. He wants to mold us into something better and more useful to His ministry. But it begins with you and I deciding to enter into that flood. It begins with totally giving ourselves over to Him so that we can each be what He would have us to be. His invitation is to come to the eternal fountain that will wash us and make us new stones, ready to be built into His kingdom.

lesson by Dawson Guyer

A Consistent Influence

water droplet

We’ve been looking closely at the influences we have in our lives, both from and on others. We’ve looked at influence in the workplace and everyday lives, the influences we have and receive at home, and we’ve looked at our spiritual families and the way we impact them. As we wrap up, we’re going to look at the hope we demonstrate in our lives and how that impacts the influence we give and receive.

I Thessalonians 1 opens this letter with Paul praising the positive and hopeful influence that congregation had on others. Think of the encouragement this opening would be to those in Thessalonica, how they would continue their faith, hope, and love because they knew those qualities were positively impacting others around them. Paul encouraged this congregation with their own encouragement.

Faith, Hope, and Love

A work of faith, a labor of love, and the patience of hope — these qualities are so powerful, and they will help us grow relationships and attitudes that will increase the positive influences in our lives. We share God’s word with others because we love His word and we love those around us. It is a labor of love, and that love makes all the difference between bringing others closer to Christ or pushing them away.

Yes, there were times when Paul would warn and even condemn, but these times were motivated by love and based on a close relationship where that love was never under question, even if it had to be tough love. We all know that love sometimes requires difficult conversations, but those conversations are easier when we all know we are putting each other first, when we are putting hope first, when we are focusing on faith before ourselves.

Give Hope

Later in the book, Paul talks about what a great encouragement the Christians in Thessalonica have been to him, and the application for us is this: are we living in such a way that we increase hope or remove hope? In I Peter 2:11–12, Peter reminds us to stay away from world-centered passions but rather remain focused on above, helping others see Christ’s hope in each of us.

What does this look like? Do my actions, my words, my conduct, and my behavior on social media reflect spiritual hope? How do I behave around my spiritual family or my physical family? A life of hope does not get bogged down in the problems of this world. A life of hope trusts God and finds peace in Him regardless of other storms. A life of hope gets up after a fall and propels me to labor in love, to live in hope, and to patiently work with others in life that glorifies our Lord and Savior.

lesson by Donn Koonce

Influence in Our Church Family

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Influences can be good or bad, and we need to make a concerted effort to surround ourselves with good influences while also being a godly influence for others. At work, at school, among our families — our conduct informs the type of impact we’ll have on those around us. This is no different when we’re with our spiritual family.

Whether we intend to or not, we influence and are influenced by people whenever we’re around others. We are always being an example and seeing examples, and negativity can be very contagious. A negative influence spreads quickly, and we can find ourselves succumbing to negativity all too easily. When this happens in our church family, things can begin to fall apart.

Godly Influences in the Early Church

Barnabas in Acts 9 is a great example of a positive influence in the early church. They even call him by the name of Barnabas as a direct result of how encouraging he is. When Paul converts to Christ, Barnabas is one of the first Christians to accept Paul, take the new convert under his wing, and try to help others accept him. He helped make sure Paul had a place in Christ’s family at a very delicate time in Paul’s relationship with the church.

Paul then becomes a large positive influence on the church. He helps set up numerous congregations and works to make sure they are well-founded. Paul took time to mentor a young man named Timothy who would later become another strong force of good in Christ’s church. Both Paul and Barnabas were able to be such great influences because the time they took to build relationships and forge bonds between themselves and others.

Relationships and Influence in the Church

The right words and attitudes can make a bad situation better, but the opposite is also true. The church’s worst enemy is not what’s outside our walls. Rather it can be the lack of love and positive attitudes inside. It’s a lack of relationship-building and care for others. We can’t encourage each other without love and good relationships. We also can’t correct error without having a positive loving relationship first. Our love for each other and our love for God has to be evident for growth to occur.

We should be loving God with all of our heart, mind, and soul. When we have that relationship, then we will be putting other positive relationships in place. This is especially true among our brothers and sisters in Christ. This also means our brothers and sisters see the same conduct outside the assembly that they see at worship and in Bible classes. Our words and actions must agree.

Godly Influences Outside of Worship

Our church family and God’s work should be important in our everyday life. Hebrews 6 tells us God rewards those who diligently seek Him, and this is a faith that comes into every part of our lives. We spend time seeking after God; we dedicate time to build up fellow Christians; we make our faith center to every aspect of our lives.

Paul and Barnabas gave up time to dedicate themselves to encourage other Christians. We can get ourselves so busy with work, with extracurriculars, with school, and with hobbies that we may squeeze out any time we should have to encourage our fellow Christians. What kind of influence can we be if we are not allowing time to study, to pray, or to encourage. Ephesians 4:2 tells us to work with each other in love and gentleness. This takes time. It’s a commitment.

What Does This Look Like?

  • Bring a good attitude to worship.
  • Put God and church first on your schedule.
  • Prioritize church gatherings and activities.
  • Show support to those taking responsibilities.
  • Avoid criticism and complaints.
  • Take time to help those in need of support and encouragement.

We have been so blessed by God, and we should be focusing on those blessings every day. We should be bringing love and a positive attitude to our church family, and we should express enthusiasm and excitement for the work of our congregation. We should be living graciously and gratefully toward each other, doing all that we do for the Lord. There’s more than enough negative influence in this world. Let’s help build each other up to be the closest and most encouraging church family we can be.

lesson by Mark Ritter