Friday, December 27, 2013

Rethinking What it is to Love the Lord

SoS 2:3 As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. 2:4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.

In the Song of Solomon the bride constantly expresses her love for her beloved by describing all his wonderful attributes. We understand this book to describe the love between the Lord and the church or his bride.  In Ephesians we are exhorted to love our wives as Christ has loved the church and gave himself for her.  We know how he loved us in the cross and so we know what our love for our wives should look like.  But the quoted text above is speaking of our love for the Lord.  What I would like to do is to use human love as an illustration for how we are to love the Lord.  I believe a case can be made that we can easily fail to understand what it means to love God as we ought and often love temporal things more intensely than we do the Lord.  If the sum of our duty to him is to love him with all our heart then understanding how to do that is rather important.  So let me offer a few thoughts on loving Christ as we should love our wives.

Think about those things other than God for a moment that we really love.  Hopefully this will include our wives but my example will work for any object.  What do we do with those things that we really love?  We will get one if we can and we study it and get to know it. If it is a sport or musical instrument we will practice and get as good as we can.  If it is a hobby we will read every book on the subject so that we can understand it as well as possible.  We display it; we want others to enjoy it like we do; to see the beauty in it in the way we do.  We certainly speak about it when given half a chance.

If we are speaking specifically of our spouses then true love is seen in that we love to converse with her and get to know her.  I think of the hours we spent on the phone when my wife and I were first getting to know each other.  You care about who she is and what she loves and how she thinks about things.  Love isn’t displayed by only caring about what she can do for you but what you can do for her.  Simply put, you find her interesting.

This is sometimes illustrated in gift-giving.  A good gift for your loved one is not one picked up at the last minute with no real forethought.  A good gift is one that you get based on what she would like.  You take the time to understand her and find something that you know would please her, not yourself.  Suppose I get her a wok for her birthday because I like Chinese food and so I get her a wok so she can make me Chinese food?  It isn’t hard to see that it is my love for self that is my motivation in “celebrating” her birthday.  It is completely backwards.  It isn’t her person that I am in love with but myself.

Now let’s use that to examine how we love the Lord.  As with the betrothed in the Song of Solomon, she is caught up in the loveliness of her beloved and can’t get enough of him.  If we love God we should want to know everything about him well beyond whatever hobby or object and activity that we might love on earth.  But it is right here that we often see a problem. 

I am always puzzled by those who claim to love the Lord but say things like, “We don’t need to be concerned with doctrine or emphasize it; we just need to experience the Lord”.  Does this not sound a lot like I don’t really want to get to know him in the main way he has revealed himself, his Word, I just want to have an emotional, light relationship with him.  In another context we would call this a one night stand, no commitment, just a cheap thrill.  Knowing and experiencing and serving the Lord is more than just getting an emotional high during the church service.  We are exhorted to grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, not just to seek momentary “thrills” that aren’t based on solid truth.  Our Lord is far too glorious to just get emotions and feelings from him.

It is like some marriages that I have the misfortune of seeing now and then.  Here is man who is quite content to live in the same house with his wife, go to work and provide for her, keep up with household repairs, take out the trash and maybe even sleep with her but is just as content to never have a real conversation with her.  He doesn’t care about her thoughts, dreams, desires or how her day went.  As long as she has dinner prepared and is ready in bed when he is then he is content.  That isn’t a biblical marriage, let alone a satisfying one and it won’t work with the Lord either.

A Christian who isn’t interested in careful, thorough, life-long Bible study can’t really be all that interested in getting to know the One he claims to be the love of his life.  Those things that we love, we love to be around and learn about and talk about.  To be content to have a relationship with Christ as long as you know he will be there for you when you need it or just one that is based on feelings and emotional highs but not on carefully listening to what he has to say is really missing the point. 

In my next article I will try to show how all this is related to living in the New Covenant. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Necessity of the Virgin Birth

The following is my message for the Nursing Home this Sunday and I thought it would be a good post for this time of year.

Mat 1:18  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Mat 1:19  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. Mat 1:20  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Mat 1:21  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Mat 1:22  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Mat 1:23  "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). Mat 1:24  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, Mat 1:25  but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

There have always been those who have denied the virgin birth and I would like to say a few things about it that might be of interest.  There are two things in particular that are most important to understand about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.  1. The Bible unmistakably teaches it and 2. If there is no virgin birth, there is no Christianity; it is vital to understanding who Jesus Christ is and how he could save us from our sins.

1. Both here and in Luke we are told that Mary was a virgin at the time she had Jesus.  He was her first child.  Matthew tells us twice that the child formed in her was from the Holy Spirit, not Joseph.  It happened while they were only engaged.  And we are told that this was what Isaiah was referring to in his prophecies.  Luk 1:34  And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" Luk 1:35  And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God.

So if someone says that this is impossible I would want to ask them a question.  If God can make all that is why can’t he form a baby in a womb?  If God can’t do that then he isn’t much of a God.  Yes, it was never done before and will never be done again but that is no proof that it didn’t happen.  It is a one of a kind event because Jesus is a one of a kind person.  The fact of the matter is that if you believe the Bible, you believe in the virgin birth because it tells us it happened.  If you don’t believe it then you don’t believe the Bible.

2. But the virgin birth isn’t just something that we are to believe as a fact; there is a reason why it happened.  It isn’t just a neat miracle to impress us; it had to happen for Jesus to do his work of salvation.  And this is most important to understand and is another proof that it happened.

The first thing to keep in mind is what Jesus said in Joh 8:56  Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." Joh 8:57  So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" Joh 8:58  Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." Joh 8:59  So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.  He plainly states that he existed in Abraham’s day and then refers to himself by the name given at the burning bush when speaking to Moses; he calls himself Yahweh, I Am.  The Jews immediately got this and so tried to stone him.

One reason Jesus had to be virgin born was because he did not just become a human but already existed as God.  In John 1 we read that Jesus is the eternal Word of God who came into the world, Joh 1:9  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. Joh 1:10  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. Joh 1:11  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  So the first fact is that Jesus existed as God before he was born into the world.

All this begs the question then, why did he take on human flesh and become the God/Man?  This is what Paul answers in Php 2:6  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, Php 2:7  but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Php 2:8  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross

If he wasn’t formed by the Holy Spirit in a special way but was just the product of a man and a woman, then he would have been just a regular, sinful man like you and me.  But as God he took on human flesh so that he could do something that being only God or only man could not do.  Being God he was sinless and lived a purely righteous life.  Being man he could die for men, as a man on the cross.  He could pay the penalty of sin for us so that we could be forgiven. 

What the Bible teaches us is that God alone is righteous and he alone is the only one who could save us from sin and so he became a man so that he could suffer the wrath of God that was due us.  It had to be this way because God must be glorified in everything.  So salvation could not be something that we could do on our own or we would be able to boast in our works.  God took on human flesh precisely because we are unable to do anything to merit God’s favor.  Salvation is a free gift from God which is what the word “grace” means. 

We know that this is fully in line with all that the Bible says about our salvation from 1Co 1:28  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 1Co 1:29  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  One thing no man will be able to do when he stands before the Lord is to point to something he did to merit God’s favor.  

So the virgin birth isn’t just some sentimental story that should only be told at Christmas time; it is one of the foundational truths of our salvation.  If it never happened then there is no mediator to stand between us and the Holy God.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Do We Hold Ourselves Accountable For the Way We Live?

1Co 5:1  It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. 1Co 5:2  And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

In Ch. 5 of 1 Corinthians Paul address the need for church discipline due to gross sin that was going on within the church.  Church discipline is not a pleasant subject and for this reason and others it is usually ignored or greatly modified today.  When sin is not dealt with biblically it is many times excused by saying something like, “Who are we to cast the first stone” or “We want to be tolerant of people’s problems and not cast them out and leave them to fend for themselves” and many more excuses.  But there are a couple of important problems with this kind of thinking.

First of all it basically suggests that we are more holy than God when we disobey under the assumption that we know better than he does.  If he tells us that there are certain sinful lifestyles and actions that cannot be tolerated within the church then that is the end of the conversation.  It would seem that we are indeed capable of understanding that there are times in which we must judge certain sins and sinners as in need of censorship even by other sinners.  In the next chapter when addressing taking each other to court Paul says that Christians are going to be judging the world and angels and so suggests that we have enough light and wisdom to be able to recognize sin and sin’s destructive power and do something about it even in this life.  Only those with light have the ability and right to make judgments on moral issues.

Then we have the idea that we are just as bad as the offender and so shouldn't point the finger.  This sounds humble and spiritual but it is full of problems.  Church discipline as it is set forth in the NT is to be used for gross public, divisive and damaging sins that must be dealt with for the good of the church and the reputation of the Lord.  The problem with such a pseudo-humble attitude is that it fails to take into consideration that all saints have been given a new nature that loves righteousness and hates evil. 

Yes it is easy for us to be self-righteous and to see everyone’s sin but our own, but we are not speaking of merely finding faults with others.  Paul is addressing public, obvious, divisive sins that are demeaning the name of Christ and dangerous to the life and reputation of the church.  Putting all this together Paul is saying that Christians should have enough spiritual sense to recognize activity that cannot be tolerated from the everyday remaining sin in our lives and to love Christ enough to do the hard thing and remove those who will not repent from the church lest we all become party to the same sins.  The Bible teaches that all saints have been changed and that this will lead to a different kind of life than they led before.

If we don’t hold ourselves accountable to the Word and hold each other accountable on serious issues either because we are too lazy (and by that I mean our love for the Lord is so shallow) or with the excuse that we are no better than they are, then two options are available to us.  Either we had better get right with the Lord and get our lives under his control as we are commanded in Scripture or we need to quit pretending that we are saved and disband the church. 

Either we have been transformed and are capable of living lives that honor Christ and can be held accountable by the church to do so or everything the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit is a lie.  But if God’s power can change us and produce some level of purity in the church then we need to pursue that and not make excuses for lives that offer little to no evidence of salvation.