Christianity 201

January 4, 2014

Clarifying a Popular Scripture Verse

Dr. Ric Walston is the founder and president of the distance-education school at Columbia Evangelical Seminary.  You are encouraged to read this at his blog, Coffee Talk.

“I can do all [THESE] things
through Christ who strengthens me.”

A short lesson in context.

Philippians 4:13

The Claim
We’ve all heard people claim: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But, was this verse written as a claim-it verse? And, what is this “all things” that Paul speaks of?

The “all things” – The Circumstances
The “all things” are the very things Paul was talking about in Philippians chapter 4 verses 10 through 12.

Paul said: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I’m in” 11b.

What circumstances are those Paul?

He goes on:
1. I know how to get along with humble means, i.e., like a poor person with very little material goods.
2. I also know how to live in prosperity. (Some people don’t ya know! They tend to forget Christ when they have all of the physical comforts of life).
3. In any and every circumstance [i.e., poor or rich], I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

Oh! What is that secret Paul?

Answer: Through Christ! “I can do all [THESE] things through Christ who strengthens me.” The NIV says it this way, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Note the “all this.” The “all this” is the “all things” that he was talking about, i.e., all these things.

And, then note what he says in verse 14:

“Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.”

Paul was afflicted with needs and wants.

So, he ends this point by saying that even though he can live for Christ in needs (poverty) or in plenty (rich), it was still good that they helped him during his time of poverty.

Backing up to verse 10, he says to them that he rejoiced in the Lord that they (the Philippian Christians) had once again revived their concern for him; he says that they were concerned before, but they lacked opportunity—that is they lacked the opportunity to help him in his time of poverty, probably because they themselves didn’t have much to give.

It is in the face of this that Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He’s talking about having nothing and living in poverty or being rich and having plenty; in either case or in both cases, he can do it through Christ who strengthened him.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is not a “catch-all phrase” that refers to throwing a football, or starting a business, or walking a tightrope, or on and on and on. It’s about Paul living in contentment in Jesus whether he was in poverty or in wealth, when he had a full tummy or when he was hungry, both when he had abundance and when he had needs.

Not a “Claim-it verse”
People attempt to “claim” this verse by making it about them. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But, guess what. This is not a “claim-it verse.”

This verse is not even about you!

Paul’s Report
This is Paul’s personal report and testimony of his own maturity in Christ.

The “I” in this verse is about Paul himself, not you.

In the same chapter, Paul says, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” v. 2. But, no one seems to be confused about who the “I” is in this verse. It’s Paul, not you. It’s not you in verse 2 and it’s not you in verse 13.

What’s Our Report?
Most of us cannot live content lives while living in poverty. Most of us can hardly be content when we have all the material things that we need.

Again, this is not a claim-it verse; this is a report by a fellow Christian who tells us that he has found the secret on how to be content whether he is poor or rich: the secret is through Christ!

If you are not content in your station in life, Paul’s example is there for us to follow.

Once you can be content in poverty or in riches by the power of Christ living in you, then you can say, as Paul did, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” v. 11.

It is in this way that Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV).

How about us?
Have we actually reached a point in our maturity in Christ where we too can say with Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances . . . I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m still not there yet.

 

December 17, 2013

Grace Arrives on the Scene

It was just three months ago that we featured the writing of Paul Tautges at the blog Counseling One Another. Normally, we wait six months to return to particular source here, but I want you to be sure to check out some of his other writing, not to mention how much I enjoyed today’s featured post, which is appropriate to the season.  Click to read Grace Has Arrived on the Scene.

Grace is the gift of God brought to sinners through the giving of His Son who willingly humbled Himself, dwelt among us, died a cruel death in our place, and was raised from the dead to give us life. This is the gospel. Romans 1:1-7 is a one-sentence, 126-word, announcement of good news from God. Alva McClain writes, “The literary construction of this sentence is very beautiful, and the unfolding of the ideas exquisite! It is almost like the unfolding of a flower—first the stalk, then the bud, then the full bloom, then the heart of it!” (p. 34). The author of this text is Paul, formerly Saul the persecutor of the church.

  • Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ: Six different words could have been chosen by Paul to explain his servitude, but he chose the strongest, the most absolute servitude. Doulos = slave, one purchased from the slave market of sin.
  • Paul was called to be an apostle: To be an apostle, by New Testament definition, two things had to be true of the man. He had to have seen the Lord (Paul did when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus). He had to have received his call directly from the Lord, which Paul was at the same time (both described in Acts 9).
  • Paul was separated unto the gospel: Paul was chosen by God to be an apostle. Galatians 1:15 indicates that God separated Paul out for this ministry while still in his mother’s womb. God called him to salvation (Acts 9), set him apart for the work of the gospel (Acts 13) for the purpose of spending his life announcing the Good News that God loves and saves sinners through repentance and faith in His Son. It is that gospel that is the very heart and soul of the message of these seven verses. Here we see three simple, foundational truths concerning the gospel.

The Gospel Is Good News from God (vv. 1-2). Paul calls this good news the “gospel of God.” It is God’s gospel. This gospel was “promised beforehand by the prophets.” So many Scriptures were perfectly fulfilled in the first advent of our Lord (see this encouraging article from Answers in Genesis)! Perhaps the greatest Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in our Savior’s death, burial, and resurrection is Isaiah 53. This good news from God was also “recorded in the Scriptures.” Paul stresses the importance of this truth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

 

The Gospel Is Good News about Jesus (vv. 3-4). The gospel concerns God’s Son. This sounds very simple, but it is very significant. The gospel is not about you; the gospel is not about me. The gospel is about Jesus Christ. He is the center of it all. Jesus was born of “a descendant of David” according to the flesh. Matthew’s genealogy, in particular, traces the lineage of Jesus back to King David. He began, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1). This was to establish the fact that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David. He is the long, promised King of Israel. Jesus was born “according to the flesh.” Jesus is fully human. He is the God-man who broke into earth’s history to rescue us from our sin, and He did this in accordance with God’s perfect timing (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus was declared the Son of God by His resurrection. The first advent of Jesus, as a descendant of David according to the flesh, presents his humanity. The resurrection of Jesus was a declaration of His deity. He is God in the flesh. He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it is because of His resurrection that we may have new life. Four names and titles are used of Jesus in these verses.

  • Son = defines His relationship to the Father
  • Jesus = speaks of His humanity, He is “the salvation of Jehovah”
  • Christ = His office as the Messiah
  • Lord = His exalted position. He is the Lord Jehovah.

The Gospel Is Good News for Sinners (vv. 5-7). The good news is that the gospel turns sinners into saints. Here believers are described in three ways:

  • Believers are called of [by] Jesus Christ. By means of the gospel, Jesus Christ calls sinners to Himself. He offers us forgiveness, new life, and peace (Matthew 11:28-30).
  • Believers are loved by God. Isn’t this an amazing description?! We are sinners loved by God (John 3:16)! It is true that we are—right now, this very minute—children of God! (1 John 3:2).
  • Believers are called to be saints. Believers are saints by calling, not by deed. When God saves us from our sin He, at the same time, calls us to Himself. He sets us apart. Alva McClain: “God never goes to a sinner and tells him to try to attain to sainthood. He picks us out of the mud, and He says, ‘You are a saint.’”

God has given us good news. The good news is that grace has arrived on the scene. Grace has been given to desperate, fallen humanity. The gospel is the message of grace, which saves us when we first become a Christian., but the gospel continues to preach to us—day after day—that God’s grace is enough for us. God loves sinners. What a wonder that is!! There is no greater news. There is no greater message. God’s grace has arrived. And it is found in His Son, the Lord Jesus.

June 10, 2013

The Fruit of Ministry: Lives Changed and Growing in Christ

Col 1 : 10( NIV)  …live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,

Balanced Christian LifeOne of the frustrations of online ministry is you don’t always get a lot of feedback; neither do you see the people who are being influenced by what is posted each day. Statistics report that several hundred people land here each day, but I have no idea if the readings are helpful; if they like the videos; if they enjoyed checking out a particular writer’s website.

It’s also possible that many readers find a website which especially resonates with them and end up making that their daily habit instead of this. Of course, that result was built into the design of this page. There is so much Christian writing available; some of it relates more to intellectuals than those less educated; some to women more than men; some to people of certain denominational persuasions more than others.

I was reminded today of this passage in I Corinthians 3:

…4 When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?

After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.

10 Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it…

(continue reading full chapter in the NLT)

Matthew Henry writes:

…Both [people, i.e. Paul and Apollos] were useful, one for one purpose, the other for another. Note, God makes use of variety of instruments, and fits them to their several uses and intentions. Paul was fitted for planting work, and Apollos for watering work, but God gave the increase. Note, The success of the ministry must be derived from the divine blessing: Neither he that plants is any thing, nor he that waters, but God who gives the increase, 1 Cor. 3:7. Even apostolic ministers are nothing of themselves, can do nothing with efficacy and success unless God give the increase. Note, The best qualified and most faithful ministers have a just sense of their own insufficiency, and are very desirous that God should have all the glory of their success. Paul and Apollos are nothing at all in their own account, but God is all in all…

We know a lot about Paul, but when we connect the dots of scripture, we actually know a lot about Apollos as well.  ChristianAnswers.net tells us:

This is the name of a Jew “born at Alexandria,” a man well versed in the Scriptures and eloquent (Acts 18:24). He came to Ephesus (about A.D. 49), where he spoke “boldly” in the synagogue (18:26), although he did not know as yet that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Aquila and Priscilla instructed in “the way of God”, i.e., in the knowledge of Christ. He then proceeded to Corinth, where he met Paul (Acts 18:27; 19:1). He was very useful there in watering the good seed Paul had sown (1 Cor. 1:12), and bringing many to Christ. His disciples were very attached to him (1 Cor. 3:4-7, 22). He was with Paul at Ephesus when he wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians; and Paul makes kind reference to him in his letter to Titus (3:13).  (Scripture reference links are KJV.)

One of our former pastors would constantly say, “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.” In today’s world, it also takes all types of websites, blogs and forums to reach out to an internet-wired world. But as I write this, I long to hear reports of the fruit of this ministry in the lives of readers.

I believe strongly that while we all may be instrumental in the discipleship process of people in our sphere of influence, we should also be know the joys of being reapers of the fruit of ministry. We should all experience Paul-Timothy mentoring relationships. We should all know what it means to reproduce ourselves in the lives of others and even the next generation.

Furthermore, we see Jesus’ attitude toward fruit-bearing ministry in Matthew 21′s story of the fig tree:

18 In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, 19 and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. (NLT)

Ask yourself: Are my efforts for the Kingdom of God bearing fruit, or just putting out leaves?

~PW


Practical Christian Living: Here’s a tip some of you might want to consider or even need to consider. My 21-year old son was convinced he was spending too much time watching videos on YouTube. So he simply uninstalled Flash player in his computer.

In Matthew 5:29 we read Jesus words:

29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (NIV)

but Jesus apparently repeated these words, as Matthew records them again at 18:9

If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. (NASB)

To which we might add the following paraphrase:

If part of your computer causes you to waste time; disable it…

March 4, 2013

Embracing Weakness

We try to go six months before revisiting an author, but after formatting this, I realized it’s only been two months since we featured Elsie Montgomery and her blog, Practical Faith. (I guess she writes good stuff.) Here is another one of her great devotional posts, titled Weakness is a Good Thing. You’re encouraged to read ‘borrowed’ C201 posts at their original source. This one also continued to look at the key verse the next day, that link is below.

Jesus loves me, this I know,
for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
we are weak but He is strong.

For someone who often sings “Jesus loves me…” God surprises me again by pointing to thinking about my weakness in terms of His love and compassion toward me.
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13–14)
Today’s devotional uses these verses again. Obviously, I’ve still more to learn from them. Spurgeon again focuses on the compassion of God, this time on the weakness of His children.
 
As he says, children cannot do much. They have little strength and little children are quite helpless. Yet their father does not chide them for this. In fact, he will enjoy carrying his baby who cannot walk and not at all be angry with the little one who is unable to help himself.
 
As verse 14 says, my heavenly Father knows my weakness. Whether it is a physical lack of strength due to some infirmity or some other shortcoming that keeps me from full capacity, He remembers that I am only dust. He even sympathizes with my weakness.
 
This is the God who became a man, actually, a tiny baby. He became helpless and knows helplessness. This is the Creator of the universe who allowed Himself to be beaten, mocked, and strung up on a cross. The Bible says, “He was crucified in weakness… we also are weak in him… (2 Corinthians 13:4)
 
Yet there is power in weakness, partly because it means I will be carried by my Father, but also because when I am weak, I will call on Him and experience His power. Without weakness, I would not do that. This makes weakness, especially a childlike weakness, my friend, not my enemy. Paul said,
… I will not boast, except of my weaknesses…. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:5–10)
Weakness is more than feeling weak. It is also being weak and unable. I’ve struggled as a teacher on those days I could not put together a lesson plan. Many times God has put people with questions in my path and I knew the answers, but my mouth seems sewn shut and I could not speak. I get weary, disorganized, depressed, and bowed down, and feel like a total failure, yet God has compassion on those who fear Him. He knows that I am dust.
 
I have to ask, why should I think I should be able to do everything I want to do? When I see problems, why can’t I solve them? When I see spiritual blindness and hardened hearts, why can’t I open eyes and soften hearts? Maybe my attitude of wanting to fix everything stems from pride. Maybe it stems from wanting to be like God in the wrong way, the way that tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. But I cannot do it all nor does God put me up against a wall and hammer me with “do it.” Instead, He says things like…
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12–13)
If I were able, I would not need God or even seek Him. It is weakness that breeds faith and weakness that keeps me in the right place before God, on my knees in humility and utter dependence. I see this clearly and can only say no wonder Paul was content to be weak and even boasted of his weaknesses.
 
Spurgeon says that “a person in perfect health and strength may joyfully accomplish what another cannot even think of undertaking,” but is this what God wants? I don’t think so. Jesus was such a person, but He chose weakness…
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)
For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but… we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:4)
Click this link: Another Practical Faith post continues to look at Psalm 103

December 10, 2012

The Word of God Is Not Imprisoned

The Apostle Paul saw his imprisonment not as a problem, but an opportunity. We can learn so much from this. Today’s post appeared originally at the blog The Cripplegate. I encourage you to click through to read this, and then explore the rest of the blog which features a variety of authors. Today’s piece is by Los Angeles pastor Mike Riccardi.

Paul wrote his epistle to the Philippians against the backdrop of the church’s concern for Paul as he awaited his trial before Nero in his first Roman imprisonment. How was Paul holding up? Was this imprisonment discouraging him? Would he be released? Could he return to Philippi to help them with their lack of unity (cf. Phil 4:2) and to strengthen them amidst the threats of persecution and false teaching (cf. 1:28–30; 3:2)? Or would he die in Rome, and their sweet partnership in the ministry die with him? And perhaps most importantly of all: How has this loss of freedom affected the spread of the Gospel? Have Paul’s adverse circumstances in prison dealt a blow to his ministry of the Gospel to Gentiles?

After his customary thanksgiving (Phil 1:3–8), and prayer (Phil 1:9–11) Paul begins the body of his letter, in verses 12 to 18, by reassuring them—right off the bat—that far from being a hindrance to the Gospel, this opposition, this imprisonment, has actually served to advance the Gospel.

How? I’m glad you asked.

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.

The praetorian guard was a company of 9,000 elite soldiers that were particularly tasked to protect the emperor and his interests. And it seems that this subversive preacher Paul was a high priority case for Nero, because he was being guarded around the clock by the imperial elite. The “chain” he wore (cf. Acts 28:20; Eph 6:20) was an 18-inch long chain that attached at one end to a handcuff on Paul’s wrist and at the other end to a handcuff on the wrist of the Roman guard. There wasn’t an hour of the day when Paul wasn’t 18 inches away from a Roman soldier of the imperial guard.

linksBut it wasn’t the same guard all day every day. The soldiers took shifts of six hours at a time. That means that for nearly two years, Paul had come into contact with four different imperial soldiers each day, and had them at his disposal for six hours at a time. Talk about a captive audience!

So what do you think Paul talked about? Do you think he said things like,

  • “This isn’t fair!”
  • “What injustice!”
  • “I’ve been waiting two years!”
  • “This is not a quick and speedy trial!”
  • “I’m a Roman citizen!”

How would you have reacted? Would you have complained about the lack of privacy? Would you have blamed God for your unjust imprisonment? Paul didn’t do any of those things. Paul knew a captive audience when he saw one, and he saw this as an opportunity to preach the Gospel.

The Conversation

And that’s exactly what he did. You could imagine the guard would ask, “So what are you in for?” And Paul would respond: “I am in these chains because I serve the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the One, True and Living God—God made flesh in the person of a Jewish Carpenter. And in further humility and obedience to the will of God, He died for sinners on a Roman cross under Roman authority in Israel 30 years ago.

He was buried and laid in a tomb with Roman soldiers keeping it secure. But three days later He rose from that grave, demonstrating His triumph over death. After remaining with His disciples for 40 days, He ascended into Heaven right before their eyes and is, this very moment, enthroned in power at the right hand of God as the Lord of the whole world.

“Not long after His ascension, while I was persecuting His followers for corrupting the Jewish religion—putting them into chains like these, and even approving of their murder—this resurrected Jesus Himself appeared to me in a blazing light! He knocked me to the ground and struck me blind, and told me that I was to be His messenger, to preach His Gospel and strengthen the church that I once tried to destroy! And since that day I have given every waking moment of my life to preaching the Good News that because of His life, death, and resurrection, those who simply turn from their own self-righteousness and trust in Him can be forgiven of their sins, can escape the punishment of God, and can be reconciled to Him. And one day soon, this same Jesus is going to break through the clouds, return to the earth, and set up His kingdom over all nations!”

And as they spoke with him, and heard this Gospel, and observed his character, they learned that he was not in prison as a criminal, but because he was faithfully preaching the Lordship of Jesus.

This is the word that spread throughout the whole guard. They would talk with each other, and wonder with each other, “This man hasn’t broken any laws. All he has to do to be released is to recant his teachings about this Jesus of Nazareth, and he’d be free to go. But he won’t do it! He’d rather lose his head than stop preaching this message!”

And as they heard this Gospel, and observed the virtue and consistent devotion of Paul’s life—that his behavior matched his message—they began to believe. God began to grant them repentance and faith in the Gospel, one by one. So much so that Paul could close the letter to the Philippians, chapter 4 verse 22, by saying: “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Four different guards, six hours at a time, every day, for the last two years, all hearing the Gospel. The messenger might have been in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9). And the result, by God’s sovereign, providential work, was that many in the household of Caesar himself were beciming more sincere followers of Jesus than they ever were of Nero.

What Can We Learn?

The Lord used circumstances that anyone would have supposed would have hindered Paul’s ministry to further it. And in such circumstances of adversity, his response was not to complain, to blame God, or to sink into discontentment and depression.

Instead, he rejoiced (Phi 1:18). In what? In pleasant circumstances, an easy life, or a good reputation? No. Paul’s joy was found in the advance of the Gospel. He could endure opposition from both friends and enemies, he could decrease into insignificance and obscurity, he could suffer hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:3)—because his ministry wasn’t driven by a thirst for prominence, but by the advance of the Gospel.

We need to learn to receive life’s trials from the hand of God Himself—as opportunities sent directly from Him to advance the Gospel. We shouldn’t try to cut the legs out from under the sovereignty of God by suggesting that God just passively allows our trials, or makes the best out of a bad situation. When confronted with suffering, we should see that the Sovereign Lord is purposefully giving us an opportunity to make much of Him and His Gospel by responding in a way that makes plain that comfort, freedom from conflict, and an easy life are not what we love most, but that Christ is.

We also need to take advantage of our captive audiences. We may not be chained to a Roman soldier, but we each have our obligations that keep us “captive.” Maybe you’re chained to a desk in the workplace. Maybe you’re chained to a kitchen sink and a couple of young children. Maybe you’re chained to a hospital bed, unable to move about freely. You need to see each of these “chains” as an opportunity to proclaim Christ from exactly where you are. You can be a witness to your co-workers, to your kids, or to your nurse and doctors. The messenger might be in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9).

October 9, 2012

Tell Me The Old, Old Story

Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.

Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.

The title here is a reference to an old gospel hymn, the first two verses quoted above. The post is actually titled, Sunday Morning Motivational Speaking? by North Carolina United Methodist Pastor Talbot Davis at the blog The Heart of the Matter. You’re encouraged to click through to read on his blog.

In my occasional dark nights of the soul, I wonder:  “is what I’m doing anything other than some motivational speaking on a Sunday morning?”

Seriously: do people come to Good Shepherd or to any church simply to have their ears tickled and the hearts touched?  To feel like they’ve made some connection with a vague “something” out there in the cosmos that helps them approach the coming week with a bit more hope and resilience?

Am I just a pseudo-sanctified Tony Robbins, albeit with half the hair, a quarter of the enamel, and a fraction of the following?

Well, it’s sure possible to fall into that trap, for me or for any other preacher.  And if I succumb to that temptation towards motivational speaking then the dark night of the soul will become a dark month or season or year.

Which is why it is wise never to veer too far from Paul’s words in I Corinthians 15:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

What did Paul communicate to them and then remind them of?  The Gospel.  The story, the history, the facts, the world-tilting events of the first Easter weekend.

And how did he communicate it to them?  By preaching.  Not by example, not by poetry, and not by motivational speaking.  By preaching — heralding The Story that shapes and defines each individual story.

So as long as I and my fellow Sunday preachers do that, well, we can leave the motivational speaking to others.

And become instead Story Tellers for the church.

~Talbot Davis

Here’s another article by Talbot which appeared six months ago here at C201.

September 30, 2012

An Open Heart

NIV Actis 16:13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.  [Full chapter]

Jim Williams is a bi-vocational pastor who has lived in the Canadian Maritimes, on the prairies, and currently calls Ontario home.  This appeared at his blog, The Journey under the title Cooperation.

In Acts Chapter 16 we are introduced to Lydia. She was successful, wealthy and influential. She loved God but it is her response to hearing the gospel for the first time that is revealing. Scripture says that when Paul shared the news of Christ that, ‘the Lord opened her heart…’ (verse 14) As a result, Lydia received Christ a became an influential believer in the early church.

Last week I wrote of “Our Most Valuable Asset” as being our heart because from it ‘flow the springs of life.’ To enjoy the blessings of God in our lives we must protect our hearts from evil influences and open our hearts to God’s Word and Work.

We are in a dangerous state if our hearts are closed to Him. A closed heart is unable to respond to what the Lord has to say. We become resistant to Him.

Now, if our hearts are open to Him we able to respond to what the Lord has to say. We become cooperative with Him and enjoy His blessings.

1) An open heart is like fertile soil.

Fertile soil is able to turn planted seed into valuable crops. Infertile soil is useless and seed planted in it is a wasted resource.

Jesus drew an analogy of the heart condition when he spoke of fertile soil.(Mark 4) He said that some hearts are fertile places that take the seed of God’s word and turn it into something of value. Other hearts are either too hard, stony or full of weeds that are unable to produce anything of lasting value.

The real question is whether we have a heart that is fertile or infertile. Many of us would love to say that it is good soil but truthfully some of us would have to admit the opposite. What type of soil represents your heart condition? Hardened, rock infested or filled with life-choking thorns? Is your heart open to the seed of what God has to say?

2) An open heart is like mold-able clay.

In the hands of a master potter good clay can be shaped to become useful, beautiful masterpieces. Workmanship fit for the King.

The right kind of clay in a skilled potter’s hand can be made from mud to a masterpiece.When placed on a potter’s wheel, mouldable earth can become valuable enough to sit in the palaces of royalty.

God once told Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house because He had a lesson to teach him.(Jeremiah 18) He showed him that we are like earth in the hands of the Master Potter. We are but mud in His skillful hands.

The real question is therefore: what condition is our heart in the hand of God? Are we trying to cultivate a soft, mold-able heart for the Master Potter? Is our heart hard and resistant to the shaping of the Lord? God has only good plans for us. Let’s not resist but let’s allow His work in our lives.

Cooperating with God.

Lydia’s heart was opened by God to receive the truth of the gospel Paul shared. Without His grace she would not have been receptive. Scripture does tell us that Lydia loved God and sought after Him. She cooperated and God gave her an open heart.

God is encouraging us to do the same thing: to cooperate with Him and allow Him to work on our heart. After all, He desires the best for us. He is the Great Gardner and the Master Potter. He is able to make infertile soil fertile and useless dirt mold-able.

How do we cooperate with Him?

1) Invite Him.

Simply ask God to open your heart. Life has a way of making us hard-hearted. He longs to be invited into our hearts. Jesus stands at the door of our hearts knocking. He is asking for the invitation to come in. (Revelation 3:20) Why not make that decision? Why not give the invitation? You’ll be glad you did.

2) Slow down!

We often are in too much of a hurry. As Christians we want to mature, grow up and become all that God wants us to be. We want spiritual fruit but we aren’t willing to let it grow. For example, we want patience but we don’t want to wait for.

A farmer can’t rush a good harvest … it takes time … so let God do His work.

A potter can’t rush to make a masterpiece … it takes time … so let God do His work.

Slow down … surrender to the process … listen, learn, grow … have an open heart to Him … it is your most valuable asset.

Questions to ponder:
How important to you is allowing Him to make your heart fertile and mold-able? What kind of steps can you make to cooperate with God today?

~Jim Williams

September 21, 2012

What Jesus Began to Do Was Just The Beginning

Jim Foreman is the pastor of Sedley Baptist Church in Sedley, Virginia. This appeared on his personal blog, On the Brink of Something Large under the title Jesus Began To Do And Teach.

Acts 1:1 says; The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teachThinking about verse 1, we see a key word for understanding the book of Acts and that is the word “began.” Luke in the gospel dealt with all that Jesus began to do and to teach until after his resurrection and his ascension into heaven. The gospel of Luke ends with the ascension of Jesus into heaven and in Acts he starts just before the ascension of Jesus into heaven and moves forward. Luke shares that this was the beginning of the teaching ministry of Jesus. Jesus’s earthly ministry was just the beginning of the teaching and actions of Jesus.

I want you to understand what Luke says here. What Jesus did on the earth was only the beginning of His doing and teaching. The clear implication is Jesus had just started. Right now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, He is not finished as we so often think, but is He is continuing. He is not done and not dead as some think but He is alive and He is present and He was and is and will continue to do and teach until His return. What is seen in the life of the Son of God in human flesh, is the sacrifice of Himself for our sin on the cross, His mighty resurrection and His ascension to the Father’s right hand and that is just the beginning. One of the main points of the book of Acts is that Jesus is not dead and done but He continues. The book of Acts is not just the Acts of the Apostles; but it is also The Acts of the Risen and Living Jesus. Jesus began doing and teaching and He will continue his doing and teaching until the Father sends Him back for the Church.

Let me explain it like this. Whatever Paul accomplished for the kingdom, it was Jesus doing and teaching. Paul in Romans 15:18-19 says: For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. Note the same pair of words: Christ worked through me “by word and deed.” Jesus is speaking and acting through Paul. He is alive and building His church. That is what the book of Acts is about and that is why it is relevant for us today. Jesus is still alive and He will always be alive! He is still speaking and working and building His church and saving souls. How is Jesus doing this? He is doing this through us and we need to avail ourselves to Him so he will work through us!

February 4, 2012

What’s in a Name? Saul Becomes Paul

Thanks to those of you who recommend blogs or specific posts.  If I don’t use your suggestion, feel free to re-submit the idea. 

Today we introduce the writing of Darrell Creswell, where today’s post appeared as Why Did Saul Change His Name to Paul?

By divine sovereignty the Lord intervenes in Saul’s life and he is genuinely converted during an encounter with the Lord Jesus. Under the ministry of Ananias he is also healed and filled with the Holy Ghost. Saul immediately began preaching Christ in the synagogues of Damascus. It is uncertain when Saul’s name was changed to Paul. The first reference in the sacred record to this name change was while Paul was ministering on the Isle of Cyprus during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-9).

  • Acts 7:58 – Saul is introduced in the New Testament giving approval to Stephen’s death
  • Acts 8 – Saul continues persecuting the church
  • Acts 9 – Saul travels to Damascus and is converted by Jesus in the process
  • Acts 9:19 – Saul (no name change yet) begins preaching Christ in Damascus
  • Acts 13:1-3 – Saul and Barnabas (still no name change) are set apart by the Holy Spirit for missionary service
  • Acts 13:4 – Saul and Barnabas set sail for Cyprus
  • Acts 13:9 – Saul or Paul name “change” takes place
  • Acts 13-28 – Saul goes by the name Paul for the remainder of the book and the remainder of the New Testament

The Bible does not tell us how or when Saul’s name was changed to Paul. In the book of Acts, Luke simply identifies Saul as the one who is also called Paul.

Acts 13:9 “Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.”

So why the change from Saul to Paul?

There are two possibilities.

The first is found in the first book of Timothy when the Lord informs Saul that he would become an apostle to the Gentiles.

1 Timothy 2:7 “For which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle. I am speaking the truth in Christ, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

One reason that Paul may have converted his Jewish Saul to the Gentile equivalent Paul is so that non-Jews would accept him more easily. Jews were intensely hated throughout the Roman Empire and very few Gentiles wanted to listen to or be around Jews.

The second possibility and the topic of this piece may be that his new identity reflected a new life in Christ Jesus. After his conversion on the road he was a new man with a new heart. The old man Saul with his persecution of Christians was a thing of the past. I personally believe that Paul knew that this new man with a new heart required a new name.

The name Paul is a fully Romanized name that means “small”, with no Jewish roots attached to it.

Did God change Saul’s name? If He did, the Bible doesn’t say so, and if it wasn’t done by God, then Paul must have done it.

Paul referred to himself as the “least of the Apostles”, a pun on the meaning of “Paul” meaning small in Greek.

It is no small wonder that it was most probably Paul that introduced the word  tapeinophrosune into first century literature. The word was first introduced in Ephesians in about 61 AD. Ephesians 4:2 with all humility (tapeinophrosune) and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.

In Greek pre-Christian writers, the word tapeinos is with a just a few exceptions used by Plato and Platonic writers, in a bad or inferior sense–meaning something evil or unworthy. In secular Greek literature, the adjective (Greek) “humble”, or “lowly” was used always in a derogatory and negative way, most commonly of a slave, bum or a vagrant. It described what was considered unfit, unclean and having little or no value.

If I were to say to you in the year 20AD, “Hi Buddy, your wife sure is humble”. You would go ahead and punch me out. That is how bad the word humble was. But just as Christ came to change the world, He came to change the word tapeinos to tapeinophrosune and give it a new meaning changing the negative definition to a positive and eternal meaning. Jesus’ death on the Cross and the sharing of that message gave us the meaning of the word we now know as humility, now that’s powerful. Paul understood that as the Holy Spirit directed him to write God’s word. And humility as a believer goes even a step farther than the secular world.

It is Paul who first penned the word as found in the New Testament as a  noun that is translated “humility” (Col 2:18, 23); in several other places in the New Testament it is also translated “lowliness” and “lowliness of mind”.

Neither the Romans nor the Greeks had a word for “humility”. The very concept of humility was so foreign to their way of thinking that they had no term to describe it. During the first several centuries of Christianity, pagan writers borrowed the term (tapeinophrosune) humility from the writings of the Paul  in the New Testament. The pagan writers always used it derogatorily—mostly in reference to Christians—because to them humility was a pitiful weakness. Thus, it is not surprising that the word “humility”, has not been found in any Greek literature outside the Bible before the 2nd century.

The word humility (tapeinophrosune) in the New Testament always has a positive connotation. Humility of mind and spirit is the opposite of pride, pride being the sin that has always separated men from God. Christ through the power of His Blood has transformed the word humble from that of shame in the eyes of man, to that of humility (tapeinophrosune) which carries glory, strength and honor, and is exalted in the eyes of our Lord.

The prominence that humility has gained in Christian scripture indicates the power of this concept in our relationship to God, ourselves and to our fellow man. Jesus not only strongly impressed His disciples with the need of humility, but was in Himself its supreme example. He described Himself as “meek and lowly (tapeinos) in heart” (Matt 11:29) “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted”.

Philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility (tapeinophrosune) consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Here Paul gives us the Scriptural “antidote” for pride, selfish ambition and the pursuit of our own egos and glory. We are to view others as being above and better than ourselves, and to hold ourselves as lower than them, which is exactly the opposite of what our flesh desires to do. The word indicates the esteeming one’s self as small or recognizing one’s insufficiency but at the same time recognizing the powerful sufficiency of God! This the power of the word tapeinophrosune (humility), transformed by the Blood of Christ.

It is not a weakness when we surrender, but in strength when we reject our own wants and desires and look after the needs of others.” It is good to show humility to the world as we follow Christ and humble ourselves that our “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1Cor 15:58).

This is perhaps Scripture’s clearest portrait of the humility called for in the Gospel. It is not a weak man’s surrender, but a strong man’s rejection of selfishness and determination to be actively concerned with the needs and interests of others. In Christ there are no empty, meaningless lives, only strong eternal lives through humility.

Humility is the understanding of our own insignificance, in light of His significance. I think that what Paul is trying to teach us here in understanding humility is

Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience

The word humility here refers to the saints, to see themselves as sinners saved by God’s grace, to esteem others better than themselves; in ascribing all they have, and are, to Christ; in doing works of mercy and righteousness without ostentation, or boasting of them, or depending on them; owing all to Christ Jesus in humility.

So it is fitting that Saul whose name was changed to Paul after his conversion would refer to himself as the least of the apostles and coin the noun tapeinophrosune (humility) for all of recorded history from the time of Christ to see. The word for humility used by Paul is but a reflection of how he saw himself in Christ Jesus -– Small and Humble. A wonderful legacy in Christ Jesus to leave for us all to see and read.

~Darrell Creswell

January 16, 2012

Confession, Belief, Security

Bill Mounce is a regular at Koinonia, where this exposition of Romans 10:9 appeared last week.

Something occurred to me this morning, and I am curious as to what you think about it. It actually has far reaching ramifications.

If you have been following this blog, then you know that I have been thinking about what is a Christian, how do we define it. Specifically, I have been looking for a balance between Jesus’ “Follow me” and the more propositional statements of Paul.

An example of the later is Rom 10:9. Paul is talking about the nearness of the word of faith and says, “if you confess (ὁμολογήσῃς) with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe (πιστεύσῃς) in your heart that  God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes (πιστεύεται) and is made righteous, and with the mouth he confesses (ὁμολογεῖται) and is saved” (Rom 10:9-10).

Here is my question. I have always thought of this confession and believing more in terms of a single event, namely, conversion, going through the gate (Matt 7:13-14). But does it have to be limited to this?

Doug Moo in his commentary says, “Paul is therefore explaining the ‘nearness’ of the word of faith, the gospel, by emphasizing that it demands only a simple response and that, when responded to, it mediates God’s salvation” (657).

Now, certainly this is true of conversion, which is coming to a point of confessing and believing. But I wonder if Paul would agree with the sentiment that a person could make a one-time confession, and later deny his confession, and still be saved. I wonder if Paul would agree that a person could come to a point of faith, and later deny his faith, and still be saved.

I can find no such teaching in Paul. 

Nor can I find it in Jesus. In fact, he has some pretty strong words to say on the subject. For example, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation [i.e., to not confess Jesus’ Lordship], of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels [i.e., to distance in judgment]” (Mark 8:38).

I wonder if we should continue to see the importance of the first time we confess and believe, when we are made righteous and are saved, and yet realize that in the fullest sense of the words, Christians are people who confess Christ and people who believe in the resurrection. If we cease to confess and if we cease to believe, then we can no longer legitimately be called Christians, believers, followers of Christ.

As far as the Greek is concerned the aorists ὁμολογήσῃς and πιστεύσῃς don’t really help us. The aorist is not necessarily punctiliar; it does not necessarily point to a single point in time. Thankfully we are far beyond that view of the aorist. In fact, if these are constative aorists, they could nicely cover the entire range of our lives. And πιστεύεται and ὁμολογεῖται are present tense.

At this point I don’t want to say that this is necessarily what Paul is teaching in Rom 10. But Calvin and Wesley are both in agreement that if a person does not continue in their confession of Christ and belief in his (death and) resurrection, they can hardly be called Christian.

And as I have often argued, whether they never were true Christians or lost their salvation is a nearly irrelevant question, since in either case the person ends up in hell.

William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at  Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill’s other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at www.billmounce.com

October 18, 2011

Inspiration for Scripture May Have Rested on a Larger Number of Contributors

Ryan Peter lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is the latest blogger to join the Alltop Christianity Page.  This article will greatly expand your view of how the Pauline epistles, in particular, were written. He gave it the much more concise title, Paul’s Use of Scribes, Scriptural Interpretation and Scribes Today.

Many people might not have noticed that Paul, quite clearly, employed the use of scribes in his letter writing. Rom 16:22, for example, shows that Tertius wrote the letter (on paper) but the letter is authored and sent by Paul. There are other references and clues to this all over his letters. Just go to the end of each of them and see if you can find them (for example, Paul highlighting how he is writing a certain part of the letter in ‘his own hand’.)

But now why is this important? I’m going to come at this from three angles:

1) It has something to say about the inspiration and the authority of the Scriptures, I think.
2) It has something to say about how scribes can be (and perhaps should be) used in the church and apostolic teams today.
3) It has something to say about certain letters where Paul’s authorship is disputed.

I’m a writer myself and something of what I do each day fits into what scribes used to do in Paul’s time (and even before, as we see Jeremiah also dictated his prophecies). Scribes used to either write a letter on behalf of someone else word-for-word (dictated); edit the letters of their client, getting sign-off once they were done; take down notes to get a general idea of what their client wanted written and compose the letter themselves, getting sign-off from the client; or, in extreme cases, write something they know their client would say and send it off without even getting sign off as there was a trusted relationship between them.

In the world of PR and communications this happens in various levels and many people, when they get into this world, are shocked to find out that the CEO of whatever company didn’t actually say what a newspaper article says he said, but rather the PR company wrote what the CEO would (or probably should) have said and he just rubber stamped it. He doesn’t have the time to think of all the right words to say, he pays someone to do that for him. Well, in the old days, kings and queens and Caesars and even the common person (who couldn’t write) would hire scribes to do pretty much the same thing, to various degrees, and Paul himself either hired a scribe or had scribes on his apostolic team. In fact, I think the latter is more probable, given the fact that Tertius feels at liberty to butt in and send his own greetings at the end of Romans.

Now, what does this say about scriptural authority and interpretation?

I’m coming off the back of a very interesting article written by Andrew Wilson from King’s Church Eastborne who thinks that the biggest theological debate for the next 20 years will be about how we read, understand and apply the Bible. It’s a very good article and point, and I have an inkling that the debate might be made a lot easier if we can understand how scribes would have worked with Paul in composing those letters.

The idea of a scribe ‘working with’ Paul has a number of implications for this topic that might not be immediately clear.

Firstly, it means Paul might not have dictated all this ‘word for word’, which means we can’t be too technical when it comes to his use of certain words across all of his letters. Secondly, it may also mean that it was not only Paul who was inspired by the Holy Spirit in writing those parts of the Bible, but also his scribe. Now that says a great deal about Paul’s own scriptural authority and inspiration, apostolic authority today, and a great deal about writers today, but we don’t have space to unpack all the implications in this one post (I might unpack it as I do more research).

That also perhaps wouldn’t be seen as much of an issue within Jewish culture, given the authority scribes seemed to have (many were seen as Rabbis). Now I’ll even take it one step further because, given what I see written at the end of some of Paul’s letters, and the style of the book of Hebrews and some of Paul’s letters, letters may have not just been composed by Paul and his scribe but letters could have been a collaborative effort by Paul and his apostolic team. I’m thinking of Paul in prison here, mostly, where we see a lot of greetings at the end of the letters.

Paul was the leader of an apostolic movement but he had many people on his team. Letters sent “from” Paul are sent carrying his authority as the leader of an apostolic movement, but what if they were composed collaboratively? Paul was there to OK the letter but he didn’t come up with the whole thing, rather doctrine was discussed, how things were to be communicated was agreed upon, the scribe wrote down what the team wanted, did some editing to make it more clear, less confusing, and a letter was sent? This means that Paul, although the leader, was not the only one inspired by the Holy Spirit to write scripture. This throws some interesting light on how scriptural inspiration could have happened, which greatly increases the authority of Scripture in my mind (it’s not just coming from one guy but from a team of guys who all have the Holy Spirit).

This also throws light on the role of scribes today. As a scribe myself it helps me understand the seriousness of what I write and how I write and it shows me how my gifting can be used apostolically and in the Church today. Many pastors and apostolic guys today aren’t good at writing well, and it’s not as if I think they should be, I’m not very good at half the things they do. They also don’t have the time. But a scribe can take the heart of these guys and, also being inspired by the Holy Spirit and carrying a certain authority, convey it in written words for them, which is necessary in an information driven world that is being dominated by the Internet.

That makes me excited. I’m also here to perform my function in the church and this function is a serious one. We leave it up to the pastors to lead, envision, and even write books. Why? Why aren’t we seeing more scribes do that? This is perhaps a lost art form that I think is much needed in the church today. Writing is not just about selling millions of books (and generally it’s only the big name pastors who sell lots of books anyway) but about helping leaders in the church to communicate effectively. No one really knows the name Tertius but he was perhaps an incredibly important cog in the scripture writing process. It’s not about having a big name but about being effective.

As to number (3) above, this article at the Religious Study Centre answers that, and I think pretty well. It also clears up a lot of how scribes used to work and I recommend it for further research.

I realise I haven’t unpacked everything I could in this post, but I probably will as time goes by and I give this all a think and more research.

~Ryan Peter

June 2, 2011

Going Deep, Staying Real

Today, a reprint from June of last year…

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

March 8, 2011

Christ Formed In You: Spiritual Transformation

I want to introduce something a little different today.  Sometimes a blogger will work their way, chapter by chapter, through a current Christian book.  Others will dedicate a whole blog to promote a particular book they’re enjoying.  We’re going to crash in the middle of a blog which is the latter type, set up to promote the book Christ Formed in You by Brian Hedges (Shepherd Press).   If it whets your appetite for more, click back to the beginning or, better yet, buy the book.

This one is titled The Pattern of  Spiritual Transformation.

How does God get us up on our feet and moving in the right direction? What are some of the basic elements we need to understand in order to walk more like Jesus? Two related passages of Scripture give us the answer.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)

In these verses, Paul provides us with five essential elements which make up spiritual transformation: the goal, the motive, the cost, the process, and the power. Each element is important. We must have the right goal, if we’re to know what we’re striving for. We also need to be rightly motivated in our pursuit, while at the same time fully understanding and embracing the cost. An understanding of the process is also essential, if we’re to fully cooperate with it. And, of course, we must be resourced with power, or we’ll get nowhere.

1. The Goal: The Image of Christ

As we saw in chapter one and have repeatedly emphasized throughout this book, the goal of spiritual transformation is conformity to the character of Christ. We see this in 2 Corinthians 3:18: we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” This is God’s eternal purpose. As Romans 8:29 says, God has “predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son.” He wants to make us more and more like Jesus in his spotless holiness, humble service, radiant joy, and self-giving love.

2. The Motive: The Mercies of God

Next, consider the motive, which Paul declares with the phrase, “the mercies of God.” This again takes us back to the thrust of this book. All genuine spiritual transformation is driven by the gospel.

Sometimes Paul’s letters are somewhat evenly divided between an exposition of the gospel and encouragement to his readers to live differently because of the gospel. But in the book of Romans, the first eleven chapters (out of sixteen) are almost entirely one great and glorious exposition of the gospel. Then we come to the first phrase of the first verse of chapter 12, which includes a “therefore” encompassing all that came previously. After eleven complete chapters explaining and extolling the glories of the gospel, how does Paul summarize it all in a single phrase? “Therefore, by the mercies of God . . .”

Paul is saying that the gospel is ultimately about God’s mercies [i] lavished on us in Christ, even when we were enemies to God (Rom. 5:10). God has justified us freely in Christ (Rom. 3:24), liberated us from sin’s slavery (Rom. 6:6-7), and indwelt us by his Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 13-17). God did not even spare his own Son, but gave him up for us (Rom. 8:32). This level of mercy and grace, this stunning demonstration of unwavering commitment to those whom he loves, assures us that God will give us everything we need. What amazing mercy! Only the ravishing taste of such mercy and grace can change us.

3. The Cost: Present Your Bodies as Living Sacrifices…

4. The Process: Renewing the Mind…

5. The Power: The Spirit of the Lord…


[i] God’s mercies include: righteousness (3:21-26), redemption (3:24), grace (3:24), peace (5:1), grace (5:2), justification (5:1), hope (5:4-5), the love of God poured out in our hearts (5:5), union with Christ (6:1-11); freedom from sin (6:1-23; eternal life (6:22), freedom from the law (7:1-25); no condemnation (8:1), the Spirit (8:9), sonship (8:14-16); the hope of the future redemption of our bodies (8:23); the Spirit interceding (8:26-27); all things working together for our good (8:28), conformity to Jesus Christ (8:29), calling (8:30), glorification (8:30), and so on.

February 27, 2011

Discipleship Equals Sacrificial Living

Enzo Cortes is active in student ministry and writes at Zoy Sauce Etc. — love the blog name — where this appeared earlier today under the title Peter and Paul: Reflections on the Cost of Discipleship.

For a while, I’ve been reflecting on the life of Peter. Jesus called him when he was doing fine in the seafood industry. Peter left his livelihood to follow Jesus. Matthew 4:18-20 (see parallel in Mark 1:16-18) says:

18While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

But at the end of his life, as tradition says, he was crucified upside down, because he did not feel worthy to die as Jesus did. (This is fulfillment of the prediction of John 21:18-19). He was called by Jesus, only to be martyred in the end.

So I’m tempted to ask him, “Was it worth it to be a disciple of Jesus?”

I also reflected on the life of the apostle Paul. He was “was advancing in Judaism beyond many of [his] own age among [his] people, so extremely zealous was [he] for the traditions of [his] fathers” (Galatians 1:14). But on his way to Damascus to persecute the believers, God was pleased to reveal his Son to him (v.15). But in the end, Paul was beheaded, as tradition again says.

I ask him as well, “Was it worth it?”

Jesus answers my questions for them. Matthew 10:37-39 says:

37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Emphasis added)

Mark 10:29-30 says:

29Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Emphasis added)

If this is the case, then the rewards of discipleship far outweighs the costs.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”1 Indeed, the cost of discipleship is great, but the rewards are infinitely greater. Conversely, the cost of non-discipleship is greater, and the loss is infinitely devastating.

Following Jesus is worth it!


1Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (London: SCM Press, 1964), 79.

February 25, 2011

Maybe All the Letters Should Be in Red Ink

Red Letter Christians” is a popular term of late. Dan Phillips has a great article at Team Pyro that I want to encourage you to read in its original form. It will take you about 3-4 minutes. Just click here, and then you may skip everything that follows.

Don’t have 3-4 minutes?  Okay, here’s the snapshot:

  • The present trend is to put more stock in Jesus’ words than the words of the Epistles, probably because Jesus’ words are more palatable to certain audiences.
  • Jesus told the apostles to preach and gave them the freedom to draft their own text. At a literal level, they were not reading off the same page.
  • The apostles were promised the Holy Spirit to inspire and supervise their writing.
  • The above point goes deeper, the Spirit would “bear witness” with their spirit, John 16: 12-15 promises they would deliver their message with authority; a message than can be trusted.
  • The promise in John 16 also suggests that the apostles would receive “new things” which Jesus himself had not yet uttered.
  • These things would be “of Him,” in other words, their words would be His words.
  • The apostles knew this and realized the weight of their words. Dan phrases this: “”If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). The apostle, in so many words, equates his writings with a command of Jesus Christ. His writings, Paul says, are (not merely “contain”) the command (not merely general notions) of Jesus.
  • Ephesians 2:20 says that the apostles are laying the foundation with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone.  This is God’s design, building for the generations that would follow.
  • Attempts to “segregate” the writings of Paul are negated by Peter’s affirmation of Paul’s writings in II Peter 3:15-16
  • Here are some concluding thoughts from the article:

..You really could make the legitimate argument that the apostles’ words should also equally be red-letter, in that they are the words of Christ conveyed by the Holy Spirit…

and

…In conclusion, I might come full circle and affirm that Christians should focus on the words and teachings of Jesus Christ.

But then I would hasten to say that those words and teachings are found from Matthew to Revelation.

If you’re reading this sentence, it possibly means you skipped the original, so now that you’re appetite is whetted for this discussion, here’s a second chance to just click here.

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 137 other followers