Saturday, May 09, 2015

Those who work hard among you (Ministry in Thessalonians, #21)

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord, and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

After an extensive discourse on the hope that believers have in the return of Christ and our eventual reunion with Him and other believers, Paul turns to a more earth-bound topic: The healthy functioning of His body, the church.

Don't think for a minute that these practical instructions are of lesser significance than the future promises we have just read. Since Jesus established it, the church has been God's appointed means for spreading the good news of salvation through Jesus, teaching and bringing others into the family so that one day, people will worship around the throne from "every tribe and tongue and nation and people group" (Revelation 7:9). He wants to multiply exponentially the number of people who will "live together with Him" (verse 10) and that requires a healthy, growing, global church.

No one believer, or one body of believers, or even one massive people movement of believers, can ever fully reflect the character of Jesus to the world or live out the Great Commandments in all the ways God loves. No single body can fulfill the Great Commission. It takes all of us - yet as real as the overall body of Christ is, the fact remains that it is revealed to the world in local bodies of believers. God didn't stay on an abstract plane, but came down to earth in the form of a baby who grew to be a man who revealed God's true nature to us. In that same sense, the "body of Christ" is incarnated in hundreds of thousands of local bodies - the local church. And for each local church to fulfill its God-given purpose in God's global plan, each person has a part to play. As Paul turns to address some of these aspects of healthy church life, let us recall that this is one of the earliest books of the Bible, written to one of the first churches Paul planted. Without the full counsel of the word of God to inform their faith and practice, this church was very dependent on Paul's guidance. What did he consider significant enough to write down and send to them?

Respect. Your. Leaders.

A close examination of verses 12-14 makes it clear that Paul is talking about two different groups: "brothers" and another group described in three ways:
  • They work hard among you
  • They are over you in the Lord
  • They admonish you
These aren't people from outside the church (like Paul & his team) but people who are integrally involved in the daily life of the church. Putting together all the puzzle pieces, and comparing to other Scriptures, we can deduce that this three-fold description can only be referring to church leaders. These verses give insight both into how church leaders should do their job, and how church members - referred to here as "brothers" - can fulfill Paul's request to respect leaders.
1. Leaders work hard. Strong's dictionary defines the Greek word translated as "work hard" with this descriptive explanation: "1. to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief)  2. to labour with wearisome effort, to toil a.of bodily labour". Simply put: Ministry is hard. Sometimes it's hard mentally, sometimes it's hard spiritually ... and sometimes it is physically demanding.

If you are in any kind of ministry, please don't get confused by the common but misguided notion that attempts to assure you that anything done for God will give energy. Yes, it is true that works empowered by the Holy Spirit and fueled by faith do feel different than works done in the flesh. We can feel spiritually renewed in the midst of ministry. But we can also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are walking in our calling and still get really, really tired. 

If you are not in church leadership, please remember this aspect of ministry. Respect your leaders by being aware of their fatigue and the burdens of ministry. Realize that your pastor, or his wife, or elders, or nursery coordinator, are carrying loads that you don't have to carry. Sometimes they may seem to be distracted when you're talking to them simply because they haven't slept in two nights. Maybe your pastor fumbled over a few words in the sermon because he was up all night preparing it. Demonstrate the respect that Paul asks of us by extending the same grace you want after a hard day's work and little sleep. If your pastor has a scheduled day off, respect his time and pray for his rest. In fact, keep your pastor, his family, and all your church leaders at the top of your prayer list every day. You can be sure that part of the "hard work" they do is praying for you, so respect them by returning the favor.

2. Leaders have spiritual authority. I know that word grates at the nerves of a lot of us, especially those of us in more egalitarian cultures. Please know that I am well aware of the abuses of authority that many of us have seen, both outside and sadly, inside, the church. However, hear this well: abusive authority is not spiritual authority. Consider the range of meanings wrapped up in the word translated "over you": "to set over; to superintend; to preside over; to be a protector or guardian; to give aid; to care for or give attention to." Spiritual authority boils down to this: Someone has to be responsible. Part of being responsible is protecting, guarding, helping, paying attention to details.

If you are in church leadership, first of all thank you for taking on this responsibility. See in this Scripture the Biblical authority God has given you over the church extends far beyond giving a message or arranging the Sunday service. Good leaders are the shepherds who guard the sheep; John 10 tells us that a good shepherd won't let any interlopers into the sheep pen. Pray for discernment, to be sensitive to every detail that God wants you to pay attention to for the care and protection of the people God has given you.

If you are a church member, you may read this verse and envy your leaders for their "higher calling." Scripture never makes the distinction that it's higher; only that it carries a heavier weight. Consider  Hebrews 13:17: "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you." This verse gives very specific instructions on how we can respect our leaders in this area: Have confidence in them, and submit to their authority. If you chafe at the word "submit", remember the description of what spiritual authority means: They protect us, they care for us, they help us and pay attention to things on our behalf. When you submit to your church leaders' authority, you are not checking your brain at the door. You are simply allowing them to fulfill their God-given role of protecting you, caring for you, helping you, paying attention to things.

3. Leaders speak hard truths. "Admonish" is a word related to teaching and simply means warning or exhorting. When Scripture speaks of exhorting it is always in the context of the word of God, so this is essentially another way of saying that leaders tell us hard truths from the Bible. They highlight things we might want to skip over. They remind us of truths that we have forgotten. If they are walking in the spiritual authority God gave them as we just noted, they will be paying attention to things we might miss - so they will occasionally giving us Biblical warnings that we might otherwise miss. Of course, as Christ's under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4) they will speak in love and with compassion. But they will speak it.

Leaders, always remember that God doesn't simply give you permission to speak hard truths - He assumes that you will do so. He will always be with you and empower you in anything He calls you to share.

Members, the next time you sense a difficult word coming from your pastor or another leader, pray for him and ask God to help you receive the message. Good leaders are prescient and will always be ahead of the people, so consider that he might be seeing something you just cannot yet see. Study the Scriptures he references and ask God to help you apply them to your own life. 
Paul wraps up this by telling the brothers not only to respect their leaders, but to hold them in high regard in love because of what they do. In a culture based on honor and shame, Paul is telling these church brothers to hold their leaders in a place of honor - not because the leaders demand it or expect it, but because they work hard. We are to do this in love - it's not a burden to show honor to someone who is protecting and caring for you and not seeking honor for themselves.

Finally, Paul wraps up this section by telling the believers to live in peace with each other. Leaders with non-leaders. All the brothers and sisters of the body with each other. Nothing shows respect and honor like peace!

In these two verses, Paul lays the groundwork for a healthy church: Leaders who watch out for the body, and members who let them do so. When the foundation is solid, then the church is able to fulfill God's purpose - reaching out beyond itself to a world that needs to know the love of God and the message of salvation through Christ. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The basis for encouragement (Ministry in Thessalonians, #20)

But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

- 1 Thessalonians 5:8-11

A principle of interpretation is to always look to see what the "therefore" is there for. Here, Paul urges the believers to encourage and edify (build up) each other as a result of specific truths. Just as chapter 4's teaching on Christ's return ends with the exhortation to encourage each other with the words that promise reunification with our loved ones who are in Christ, the section on the "day of the Lord" ends with the exhortation to encourage each other. What is our source of encouragement in the context of a certain coming judgment? 
  • We belong to the day. As the previous section noted, we are children of light and of the day. We are not asleep; we've been awakened by the beauty of Christ.
  • We are spiritually protected. Faith and love become our breastplate, shielding our hearts from attacks of unbelief and hatred. The hope of salvation becomes our helmet, protecting us from mortal wounds of the enemy.
  • We are not appointed to suffer wrath. Salvation is the end result of our faith, because Jesus bore the wrath of God on our behalf. 
  • Jesus died so I can live with Him. Whether dead or alive when He returns, I am assured of life forever with Him. 
The  ministry lesson tucked in to this passage is that Biblical encouragement is always built on truth. Understanding this one principle can help us greatly in discerning true encouragement from well-meaning, but empty, words. It marks the difference between encouragement and mere affirmation. Biblical encouragement can be challenging ("let us be self-controlled"). It can remind us of basic truths ("He died for us") and take us deeper into the cross ("God did not appoint us to suffer wrath"). As we seek to be encouragers and teach others to do the same, let's always ground that encouragement in Scriptural truths. 

About those who fall asleep, and those who sleep (Ministry in Thessalonians, #19)

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. 

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 

But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:7

One of the things that makes the Bible ring true to me is the openness of its teachings. Unlike the gnosticism that was increasingly taking root in the first century, there are no secret teachings or higher levels of knowledge in Christianity. Earlier, we saw how intentional Paul was to highlight truths that he had taught them, things they "knew" because he was transparent in his ministry. Here, we see that same level of intentionality applied to teaching about death, the return of Christ, and the day of the Lord.

Jesus talked at length about the end of the world and told the apostles what believers living at that time could expect to see. So it's only natural that as new followers came into the fold, they would hear of Jesus' words (remember, the gospels hadn't yet been written down) and wonder about other believers who had died, who wouldn't be here to see Christ's return. Paul didn't leave them hanging - he didn't want them to be ignorant about it. This tells me that at the heart of true ministry is a desire for people to know. To have specific truths to hold on to. This is another of those areas where Paul didn't leave room for discussion, for a soft theology of discovery and raising questions; instead, he lays out "hard theology," a sound doctrine of clear truths with a specific timeline (thought not specific dates and times).
  1. Jesus will come down from heaven with a loud command, an archangel's voice, and a trumpet call of God. 
  2. The dead in Christ will rise first. 
  3. Believers who are still alive and left on the earth will be caught up in the clouds. 
  4. Everyone - the resurrected dead and the caught up living - will meet the Lord in the air. 
  5. We will all be with the Lord forever.

Paul also didn't want them to grieve hopelessly. Have you ever witnessed truly hopeless grieving? I have, and it's one of the saddest things I've ever seen. "Grieve" means to be sorrowful or sad. We are not told not to grieve - we will still experience sadness when those we love die, because death is not normal. It's not the way it was meant to be. Instead, when we lose a loved one in Christ we grieve differently because of the hope that we will see him or her again - we don't even have to wait for heaven. We'll be reunited in the sky, either both being resurrected (if we die before Christ's return) or being caught up after their resurrection (if we're still alive). Paul's specific theology here becomes a source of encouragement - we are told to "encourage each other with these words". The bodies of those who are gone are just "asleep" - waiting for the trumpet. (As Paul notes elsewhere, their souls are with the Lord immediately at death; absent from the body but present with God.)

Paul then moves into a related, but distinct topic: The "day of the Lord." Not the day of joyous resurrection, but the day of judgment. He doesn't give specific information, because that day will come suddenly, like a thief. The entire emphasis here is on the impact of this day on those who are being destroyed. These individuals are also said to be asleep, but not in the sleep of death. These are asleep in the darkness of unbelief. Asleep when they could be awake.

Believers are in direct contrast. In Christ, we are all children of the light, children of the day. We are alert, self-controlled. We are not in the dark of night, where sleep and drunkenness reign. We are in the light of day, where truth and love reign. We have been called from darkness into His marvelous light, called to declare His praises with every breath He gives us until our last breath - or until we meet Him in the air.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Now, about Brotherly Love, Part 2 (Ministry in Thessalonians #18)

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. 
- 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

Ever since I wrote the last post on Ministry in Thessalonians, I've reflected on these next two verses and came to realize that I really should have included them in that post on brotherly love. The thoughts are so closely connected that some versions don't start a new sentence at verse 11.

The Thessalonians were taught by God to love, and were successfully loving other believers. As part of his challenge to them to "do so more and more", Paul lays out three specific actions that facilitate love within the body of Christ:
  • Be ambitious about the right things. The New Testament consistently warns against "selfish ambition" and cautions believers about elevating themselves above others. Jesus taught that greatness is measured by the degree of servanthood, so pursuing what looks like worldly success actually moves us away from heavenly greatness. Here, Paul gives a specific "goal" for appropriate ambition: Lead a quiet life. The phrase is used elsewhere in the New Testament to mean "remain quiet" and "rest"; its root means "tranquil". It's a phrase used in contrast to "running hither and thither" (honestly, that's part of the definition). The quiet life is marked by a trust in God (that keeps us from taking on too much), relationship with Him and others, Biblical rest. It's a quietness of soul. Goal-oriented, ambitious people in the body of Christ can love well by focusing their ambition on rest and relationship. 
  • Mind your own business. We chuckle at this, knowing almost immediately what it means (or at least what we think it means). Certainly there is the element of avoiding gossip, as Paul clearly spells out elsewhere. But Young's Literal Translation captures the nuances of the Greek a little better: "Do your own business". Another translation reads, "Attend to your own affairs." In any case, the idea in mind is that we don't let our responsibilities slide ... an apt command given that the previous one focuses on quietness and rest. We are so prone to extremes: "Rest? OK. Great command. I can get into this quietness and rest thing. Can't do the dishes, gotta rest. Can't help out my neighbor, gotta rest." But when we truly grasp all that God is for us in Christ, we not only have quietness of soul, we also have fullness of purpose in the life He gives us. We can contentedly and peacefully take care of our own business - those things we are personally responsible for - without anxiety or stress. 
  • Work. Paul instructs them to work with their hands. The context clearly refers to work that earns a living. We often forget that work preceded the fall. The result of the fall was sweat and toil, thorns and thistles - the difficulties of work. But work itself is God-ordained. 
As believers grow in love for each other, with lives that are consistently marked by quietness of soul, personal responsibility, and hard work, two things happen: Outsiders respect our daily lives, and we are not dependent on anyone. (Certainly, there are times when we step in and help each other, or even where disability or illness lead to dependence - that is not what this passage refers to.) Our love continues to grow as we each increasingly do our part, at home, within the body, at work, and generously share with each other our time, talents, and treasure, within a context of mutual love and submission.

Love at work. It's a beautiful thing.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Story

I woke up late one recent morning, but full of joy for I had in my heart so strongly THE story ... the basic outline of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. In my sleep God had reminded me so strongly of the basics and how simple it really is ... yet how profoundly amazing and full of love:

1) Creation. God created the world and everything in it - and it was good. His creation of man and woman in His image was very good. Whatever ills we see in the world, we cannot blame God. We cannot justly accuse Him or attack His character. A good God made a good world. He could not do otherwise.
2) Fall. God created man in His image - including a free will. God didn't have to create, to reveal, to love ... He chose to do so. God has a free will so creatures made in His image - man and woman, not the animals - had to have a free will. Sadly, they chose to use that will to rebel, to reject, to believe a lie. Sin and death entered the world.

3) Redemption. Amazingly and beautifully, God had a plan. Woven into the story of fall is the story of redemption. Blood-stained garments of animal skin to clothe the fallen couple, when their man-made garments of leaves were insufficient. A future Victor who would crush Satan's head. The assurance that life would continue through future generations.

4) Restoration. So often I think this is the one we miss. God not only offers redemption for all who will embrace it - He restores what is lost. Ultimately that will be in the new heavens and new earth. But even now, where He redeems, He restores. Broken relationships healed. Broken promises fulfilled, Broken people made whole. Broken dreams renewed. Ever wonder why we are so fascinated with home improvements, makeovers, dramatic turnarounds? The Great Commission and the Great Commandment invite us to be part of the biggest restoration project in the world.

I don't know why this simple outline came to me this morning - truths I know deeply. I just had this picture in my mind of someone ready to rail against God, being interrupted with these truths just as He interrupted me years ago.

"Is it any wonder they call it Amazing Grace?" (Geron Davis)

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Now, about brotherly love ... (Ministry in Thessalonians, #17)

Now, about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. 
- 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

One of the earliest American history facts I remember learning is that Philadelphia is the "city of brotherly love". As we studied the history of the constitution and the infant republic, this town was featured prominently. It would be many years before I realized that the name of the city was lifted directly from the pages of Scripture.

Philadelphia, or "brotherly love" is the noun form of one of the three Greek words for love used in the New Testament (the verb form is phileo; the other verbs are agape and storges; a fourth word, eros, is not used in the New Testament.) While agape refers to divine love or to self-sacrificial love, and storges to natural love such as that a mother has for a child, philadelphia refers to love between individuals - specifically, the love that should exist between Christians. Interestingly, the root word, philos, simply means "friend" and was used to refer to "one of the bridegroom's friends who on his behalf asked the hand of the bride and rendered him various services in closing the marriage and celebrating the nuptials". We're talking about a love that involves a level of trust and deep relationship.

In his classic The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis explores each of these words. He writes of philos: “Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure or burden” (Strong's Concordance). In other words, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to choose not the self-sacrificing agape love, or the natural storge love, but the relational philos love to define the love that God taught these believers to have for each other. 

Love for one another is so important to the heart of God that when the founders of this fledgling church were torn away from them, God stepped in to teach love directly to the church. Certainly phileo love is tied to agape love; the word in the second part of verse 9 is agape. God taught them to love one another with His divine, self-sacrificing love - but it played out in ways that reflected the unique philos love. Why is that? I believe it's simply this: Believers always have Jesus in common.

When we encounter another follower of Christ, we have found something in common, as Lewis described. In a place like Thessalonica, where believers were in the minority and faced persecution, realizing that they had relationships based on the common bond of Christ was crucially important to the young church. Those social bonds would strengthen faith and help them grow to maturity. Furthermore, in the first century there were no denominations or multiple churches within a city. There was no place to go if you couldn't get along. True "brotherly love" was essential for the church to rise above the differences as God brought people from all walks of life - Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female - into the church to make them all equal before Christ. And that's a beautiful thing.

I've certainly experienced some of the beautiful diversity of the philadelphia love within the body of Christ. I think of one friend who is as different from me as I can imagine. I'm a southern girl; she doesn't quite get us. I don't have an artistic bone in my body; she is creative in every way imaginable. I dislike pink and girly frou-frous; she enjoys what is often called "the feminine touches". Yet because of Christ, I met her and gradually developed a relationship of mutual love and appreciation for our differences. She has been incredibly encouraging about my teaching; prays faithfully for my ministry requests; and demonstrates in every way that we have true phileo love for each other. I hope you can think of your own example.

We were created for relationship - with God and with others. Not everyone has a spouse; not everyone has children; but we all have the opportunity to have friends. We can enjoy things we have in common with our friends from all walks of life, but there is a special friendship among believers who have Jesus in common. Paul urges us, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to pursue this love, "more and more".

Let brotherly love continue... Hebrews 13:1

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Giving instructions (Ministry in Thessalonians, #16)

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God's will that you should be sanctified; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man, but God, who gives you His Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)

Throughout the New Testament we see a variety of approaches to ministry. We see the apostles encouraging churches, teaching them, pleading with them, challenging them to think differently. Sometimes we see calls to come up higher; other times guidelines on what to let go and what to take up. And sometimes, we see straightforward commands. This is one of those passages. 

From the standpoint of ministry, it's important that we see there is a place for giving instructions. Certainly there is value in training disciples to discover God's Word for themselves; it's important that the faith-walk of a church be authentic and not empty legalism. Some topics do lend themselves to dialogue and a questioning, socratic-type method. But it seems to me that our post-modern culture has infiltrated the church in a dangerous way when this becomes our default method, especially in areas where Scripture leaves no wiggle-room. The "soft theology" of discovery and raising questions can lead to relativism when it's not balanced by Scriptural "hard theology" of sound doctrine and clear-cut commands. Sexual morality is one area where "instructions" are called for.

The word translated "instruct" in its various forms literally means "commandment". These are not options! Paul and his team aren't presenting one option among many. Instead, they lay out specific rules - significantly, "by the authority of the Lord Jesus." What does Jesus say about sexual morality?
  • We are to be set apart. "It is God's will that you should be sanctified." Sanctified means to be set apart. This world is broken in every way due to sin - including sexual brokenness. Christians are not to be like the world. Our approach to sexual morality should be one area where we are set apart. Other Biblical passages make clear what that should look like: Sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between a husband and wife, and anything that defiles that should be rejected.
  • We are to avoid sexual immorality. "Avoid" means to hold oneself back, to abstain. It means that we are not to go in the direction of immorality but instead in the direction of purity. It's not just about avoiding certain acts; we are to pursue a lifestyle of purity that holds us away from sexual immorality. 
  • We are to control our body in a holy, honorable way. When we belong to the Lord, we don't get to "lose control". Our body is His temple and therefore, we are stewards of His temple. We must control ourselves in a holy, honorable way. We handle ourselves in a way that reflects His holiness and brings honor to His name which we bear. Paul contrasts this to "passionate lust" - a hedonistic, physically oriented lack of control which characterizes those who don't know God.
  • We are never to wrong or take advantage of someone in the area of sexual morality. To the Thessalonians this most certainly meant not being involved sexually with another man's wife, as was common in that culture. In fact, Thessalonica was known for sexual immorality being practiced in the guise of the religions of that day. Paul makes it clear that the church should be distinguished by not sharing spouses, but also by not taking advantage of another person. We might not have Thessalonica's sexual mores, but examples abound of "taking advantage of" another person in this way. In Paul's teaching of Jesus' instructions, morality is not based on consent. It's based on marriage, self-control, and love for others that would never take advantage of a weakness for selfish passion.
Paul wraps up the section by stating that Jesus Himself will judge those who commit these sins, because God wants us to be holy, not impure. He boldly tells us that disobeying these commands is a rejection of God, who gave believers His Holy Spirit. We have to intentionally reject the Holy Spirit's promptings in order to commit sexual sin.

These are hard, direct words. Paul doesn't shy away from sharing them. That's the ministry lesson tucked into this teaching: Don't be scared to share truth under the authority of the Lord Jesus. 
Yes, we can trust the Holy Spirit in the lives of other believers, but we have to realize that He uses teachers, pastors, and other leaders (Eph 4) to mature the church. It's great when we get to have a good discussion. But sometimes, we all need some clear instructions.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Wrath + Love

God's Word is so amazing. I have written and taught a study on the attributes of God, and I've studied covenant in-depth, but tonight doing my Bible study I made a connection I've never seen before.

One of the first passages I ever memorized was Isaiah 54:10: "For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken," Says the LORD who has compassion on you." A great verse in a beautiful context of God restoring His relationship with His covenant people, pictured as a bridegroom renewing His promises to His bride.

As I reflected on this from the perspective of the bride, I thought of the differences between human relationships. In human relationships there is almost always wrong on both sides. But in this situation, God was 100% right to be angry with His people, His bride, and put her away for a time because of her unfaithfulness. She was 100% wrong and He was 100% right. But despite the judgments of the earlier portions of Isaiah, now the emphasis has shifted to a completely undeserved outpouring of grace, love, compassion. Why? What makes the difference?

Context is key in Bible study. Isaiah 54 follows Isaiah 53 which ends with this moving and dramatic truth about God's Servant, the Messiah:

53:12 "So I will assign him a portion with the multitudes, he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful, because he willingly submitted to death and was numbered with the rebels, when he lifted up the sin of many and intervened on behalf of the rebels.”

An intervention has occurred. The Messiah has carried their sins. He intervened on their behalf. They were no less rebels. But He took on the wrath of God that they deserved.

And not just them ... us. Me. Everyone. Romans 5:10 says "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." Reconciliation came when we were still enemies, because Jesus bore the full force of God's wrath.

A theology that omits the wrath of God is not only incomplete, it steals from us the deep joy that comes when we realize the depth of God's love. We cannot know His love fully until we realize that His Son bore the wrath we deserved. When we hear this message it either becomes the craziest thing we've ever heard, or the most hopeful. We either think there is no way it could be true, or we desperately hope it is true.

God loved Jesus fully. Jesus fully pleased God. Yet He died. That makes no sense apart from one great truth that has drawn people for 2000 years: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16).

Wrath + Love = The Cross.
Love + Acceptance of the sacrifice = The Resurrection.
The Cross + The Resurrection = The Hope of the Gospel.