God’s Tumbler

Written by: George J. Elling

Did you ever wonder why the various people in your life are there? First there is family. They are there because of biological relationships and marriages. Then there are friends which we “pick” to be there. As the old saying goes, “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.”

Next are people with whom we choose to have a professional relationship with, like doctors, dentists, auto mechanics, lawyers, etc. Then there are co-workers, bosses, employees, managers, business associates, etc. Some of us have teammates from a sports league or fellow volunteers from a charity we engage with. We may have fellow worshipers from a church or synagogue we go to. And, of course, there are those who are our neighbors and other people that don’t fit into one of the above categories.

We all interact with quite a few people in the course of a week. But, why are these particular people in our lives? Is there something deeper about why certain people are the people we interact with in a given week? Does it go beyond happenstance or “our choices?”

A tumbler is a barrel or a drum in which you place stones, or parts, along with some grit in order to polish them. Round and round the drum turns. The items inside are forced into each other, interacting with some friction, enhanced by the grit, to wear down the rough edges of the objects in order to achieve a smooth and polished result.

We, and the people in our lives, can be like the items in a tumbler. We are all going round and round, being forced to interact with each other, sometimes easily, and sometimes with a great deal of friction.

It is easy to simply view people in your life in terms of what they can do for you; a utilitarian view. You can also view people in terms of mission or ministry. These are people whom we are to “love on” and help. But, what if God has this particular set of people in your life to help shape and polish you as well as for you to help shape and polish them? What if you are in God’s tumbler?

This, of course, is not the only reason God allows, or places, people into your life. There are the practical and missional purposes as well. But, I think it is valid to consider how God is “polishing” your life when bumping up against others, especially when there is a bit of friction. We grow through struggle. This was true also of Jesus’ life. The Bible says;

“Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.”
Hebrews 5:8

Jesus came in contact with all sorts of people during his life on earth. While he healed, helped, and discipled many, he also clashed with many. Some helped his mission, some ignored him. Some tried to control him, and some betrayed him. Through it all, the man, Jesus, learned experiential obedience to the Father and was made perfect, or mature. As a result, he became the man God the Father intended him to be.

After describing the work of ministers (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers), Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus:

15 “…But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Ephesians 4:15-16

Notice in this passage the special work of each of the various parts of the body of Christ (not just the professional ministers) and that they contribute to your becoming the man or woman God intends you to become. Not a generic man or woman, but a particular you, a part of the body of Christ who measures up to the standard and stature exemplified by Christ.

But how does this happen? Well, for example:

From the irritating, we learn patience and to appreciate calmness.

From those who persecute us, we learn endurance and to appreciate peace and security.

From the educated, we learn knowledge and to appreciate how much there is to know.

From the lovely, we learn beauty and to appreciate beauty.

From the helpless, we learn to give and to appreciate how God reaches out to us.

From the lonely, we learn to be a friend and appreciate God’s presence with us.

From the dysfunctional, we learn to bring and appreciate order.

From the poor, we learn to give and appreciate what God has given us.

From the ones who truly love us, we learn what true love is and gain a desire to share it with others.

I could add additional examples of how we are shaped by those in our lives, but I think you get the idea.

So today, why not reflect on how God may be shaping and polishing you by the interactions you experience with the people in your life. Pay special attention to the ones you feel cause discomfort and friction. God may be using that person to polish your own rough edges. And remember, it is Christ in you (Colossians 1:27) who will give you the ability to see and understand what God may be doing. Welcome to God’s tumbler!

7 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” 
2 Corinthians 4:7

17 “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:17-18

1 “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
Colossians 3:1-4

-GJE

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Conclusion

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Over the past several posts we have seen how the local church is an essential component to the growth of the believer.  The reality is that when God’s people utilize God’s ordained instrument the results are unbelievable.

There are three specific, positive results that are revealed by Paul in Ephesians 4: 13 – 16 with the condition that they will come to be if the members of the church body will faithfully exercise their individual spiritual gifts.

  • The church will be unified and loving (v. 13).
  • The church will become mature and wise (vv. 13-15).
  • The church will become effective and successful (vv. 15-16).”[¹]

In light of these statements it is imperative that we recognize that this success is not necessarily equal to the success as would be defined by the world.  However, this success will be exactly what God has planned for that particular ministry.

Romans 12 is another passage to consider when attempting to understand this concept.  In Romans 12: 3 – 8, we find the Apostle Paul exhorting the Roman church to utilize all of their gifts for the effectiveness and efficiency of the ministry.  Paul makes it clear in verses 4 – 5 when he says, “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:  so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”[²]

Therefore it is imperative to recognize what God’s plan is and then, as God’s children, follow this plan while utilizing their individual God given gifts. When we take God at His word and follow His plan be prepared to see amazing things take place in our own individual lives while also in the lives of those around us both individually and corporately.

[¹] Wayne Mack & Dave Swavely, Life in the Father’s House, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 158-159.
[²] Romans 12:4-5, KJV.
©2013 Mark Davis

<< The Medium of Growth

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The Medium of Growth

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Within the context of the local church there are several pieces that can, and should, encourage the spiritual growth of the believer.  Those things can range from the pastoral leadership to the people you sit next to during the service to the appearance of the facilities, inside and out. 

While it is certainly healthy to have all of those “things” being just right, the reality is that the pin-point aspect that should encourage spiritual growth, and thus being seen through all of the peripheral items mentioned above, is the Word of God itself.

The Bible speaks much about the value of itself but we will focus only a few key passages in this post.  In 2 Timothy 3: 16, the Apostle Paul states that “All scripture is profitable….”  In making this statement, Paul is most definitely including the writings of the Old Testament (the Law) in conjunction with the writings of the New Testament.

No matter how you attempt to translate what appears in our English Bible as “All Scripture” you will find that “all” means all and “Scripture” is referring to the writings found within the canonical Bible.

As we follow this idea to the next step, we need to explore what these writings are profitable for.  Paul’s statement continues by saying that it is profitable for “doctrine [teaching], for reproof [rebuking], for correction [adjusting], for instruction [training] in righteous-ness.

Thankfully Paul does not stop at this point but he continues on to tells us for what purpose these things are profitable.  In verse 17 he tells us that they are profitable in order to guide the man of God to be “perfect [proficient], thoroughly furnished [equipped] unto all good works.

This plays out in a number of different ways in the local church today but John 17:17 provide some great insight here that helps us see exactly why it must be central.  The words of Jesus Christ read “Sanctify them [make them holy] through thy truth: thy word is truth.”  This verse provides a concise view of what medium must be used in order to see growth in the body of Christ.  The Word of God is the only medium that will not change and is profitable for many things (2 Timothy 3:16).[¹]

Paul, in Ephesians 4:15, exhorts the reader to be “speaking the truth in love”.

When true lives are married to love, the Spirit is free to do his work, and the result is wonderful.” [²]

The sufficiency of Scripture must be relied upon in both the life of the teacher and the life of the student (all believers).  If this reliance is not found on one side of this equation the effectiveness of the medium of growth greatly diminishes.

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[¹] Not only is God’s Word profitable for instruction in righteousness (which is what we all love about it) but it is also profitable to reprove and correct us when we make those wrong turns that we are all prone to make in life.
[²] R. Kent HughesPreaching the Word: Ephesians, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 136.
©2013 Mark Davis

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The Goal of Growth

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The ultimate goal of the preparation of the saints and the work of their ministry is the building up of the body of Christ.”¹ This building up of the body ultimately finds itself producing a great level of unity within the body of Christ.  This unity allows for believers young and old to be able to come together around a common goal and push forward.

As the local church (the body) grows toward Christ-likeness individually, the corporate unity begins to take place.

Having established that the gifted people were given to the church for the immediate purpose of preparing all the saints to minister for the building up of the body of Christ, Paul explains the need for the process to continue until attaining the goal that believers mature to the measure of the fullness of Christ.”²

Maturity does not always equate to unity nor does unity always equate to maturity.  Many times one will make the other to be more likely, but they can be used synonymously.  Full maturity that is to the measure of the fullness of Christ cannot humanly be experienced this side of eternity, but it is extremely necessary for the believer to continue to strive toward that end.  Paul explains in verses fourteen and fifteen the importance of growing individually so that the whole body can function as it was designed.  If one part has failed to develop as it should then failure is eminent and thus the entire body will suffer.

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¹ Frank Thielman, Ephesians, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010), 280.
² Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 551.
©2013 Mark Davis

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Having briefly explored how gifted leadership is essential to the growth of the church in verses 7-11, Paul begins explaining how that takes place in verse 12.  In this verse the process of discipleship is established as the means for growth.

He says quite simply that God has given gifted leadership to the church ‘to prepare God’s people for works of service’ (v.12a) – or as it literally reads, ministry.”[1]

The word commonly translated as equipping is the Greek word karartismos which “basically refers to that which is fit, is restored to its original condition, or is made complete.”[2]  Christ, through His divine power, “hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” however, those things must be honed through the sound teaching of the Word by those that have been appointed to be over the body – the leadership.[3]

This teaching can be done from a pulpit, classroom, one-on-one, e-mail, instant-messenger, etcetera.  Regardless the means, this teaching must be taking place.  The body of Christ is the most obvious people-group that such teaching would take place in.  Although the ministers of the church are ultimately over the teaching material and training times this does not have to be done only by the church staff.

Many times a fellow lay person would be the best person to work with another lay person in order to immediately break down barriers and see God’s Word do a great work.  This can be one of the most rewarding relationships a believer can have.

When a believer takes a personal interest in a fellow believer, it causes both parties to think and study so that they can be better equipped and therefore would be able to equip others also.

The Bible speaks specifically to these types of relationships in Proverbs 27:17 and 2 Timothy 2:2.  Within both of these passages it becomes apparent that believers can have a great impact on each other and not be considered “official” church leadership or staff.

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[1] R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Ephesians, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 134.
[2] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 152.
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