Originally preached at Citylight Glenelg (24/11/2013)
“Then after 14 years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. I went up according to a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles – but privately to those recognised as leaders – so that I might not be running, or have run the race, in vain. But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. This issue arose because of false brothers smuggled in, who came in secretly to spy on the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us. But we did not give up and submit to these people for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would be preserved for you. Now from those recognised as important (what they really were makes no difference to me; God does not show favouritism) – they added nothing to me. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, since the One at work in Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in me for the Gentiles. When James, Cephas, and John, recognised as pillars, acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I made every effort to do.” – Galatians 2:1-10If there were two things the apostle Paul was constantly on fire about it was the gospel and missions. His books overflow with rich, gospel, doctrine but at the same time the love of God, through Paul, pours out for the lost. I’ll give one example. Arguably, the book of Romans is his big one, his magnum opus; it is where the gospel is most clearly outlined at great length. In the first 8 chapters, it is straight up, hardcore, gospel doctrine but then in chapter 9 his heart finally bleeds, and what spills out? Take a look. Verse 1: “I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit…” Translation: what I am about to write is no exaggeration, it is 100% truth confirmed by none other than the Holy Spirit. Verse 2: “… that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood.” There are no words to describe the amazement of this man at this point. I have never, and highly doubt I would ever, flirt with the idea of exchanging my salvation for anybody. With the prospect of an eternal hell, is Paul mad? And yet the Holy Spirit testifies with him that what he’s saying is true. By the way, Paul, of all people, knows that this is impossible, but his heart still yearns with all honesty. There are 2 other people like him in the Bible that come to mind: the first is Moses. In Exodus chapter 32, we find him at wit’s end with the people of Israel. They’ve just committed the ultimate blasphemy against God, creating a false god in the form of a golden calf and worshiping it. It says in verse 30: “The following day Moses said to the people, ‘You have committed a grave sin. Now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I will be able to atone for your sin.’
So Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘Oh, these people have committed a grave sin; they have made a god of gold for themselves. Now if You would only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book You have written.’” Just like the apostle Paul, what kind of love is this? It is astounding. Well, of course, it’s the love of Jesus Christ, who not only offered up His life for people but was capable of following through with it; He was strong enough to take the wrath of God for His people, atoning for their sin, but unlike these human beings named Moses and Paul, Jesus had the ability to come out victorious, rising from the grave, seated in heaven, where we shall see Him face to face. This is the gospel, the good news, for all who believe. Study Moses, study Paul, and study Jesus Christ. But why do I say all this? Aren’t we in Galatians? Well, this is a prerequisite of sorts. Everything else I say tonight will be in vain if we don’t get what they got: love for God, His saving gospel, and people. Which finally brings us to Galatians 2. There are 6 things you need to know from this text if you want to be a good missionary. I say “good” because the fact is if you are a Christian you are a missionary. The only thing that remains is if you live it well like an Abraham or if you live it horribly like Abraham’s nephew, Lot. We’re going to go through these 6 things but I may as well list them for you now so you get a feel of where we’re heading: 1) Know where the gospel came from. 2) Know what the gospel is. 3) Know what the gospel is not. 4) Know your network. 5) Know your mission. 6) Know the poor.
Picture this: you’re in Church, about to be baptised before family and friends. Just before you go under a whistle blows, “Hold up, time out!” the voice says. A man jumps in the baptismal tank, looks you square in the eyes, “You call that repentance?” He gets baptised for you.
Essentially, this is what Jesus did in the third chapter of Matthew.
“I baptise you with water for repentance,” said John the Baptist.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptised by him. John pulled back, “I need to be baptised by You, and yet You come to me?” Jesus replied, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then John allowed Jesus to be baptised.
What is repentance?
Proverbs says that, “As a man thinketh, so he is.” Basically, you are what you think. Because this is so, salvation must come first at the level of knowing, and work its way outwardly. That is repentance.
Repentance is changing your mind, in a corrective sense.
Before I say anything, let me begin by stating categorically that I am as much a failure in these things as anyone you care to name – or choose not to name for that matter. I need to be clear about that because I don’t want anyone reading this to think that I am setting myself up as any kind of example in how to do this right, I only write this because I think it is interesting and challenging to me and probably will be to others too. As I write these things, I will try to use you and I in equal parts to let myself be challenged and to let you as the reader also be challenged.
The seven deadly sins do not occur as a list in scripture per se, but certainly each of these faults are demonstrated at a number of points for the evil they produce (though you can find most of them in Galatians 5:19ff (ff = more than one verse following).
Scripture does not have seven deadly sins, but rather one “deadly sin” - or rather sin itself, which is deadly - in that it corrupts what is good, destroying it like a cancer from the inside out. Scripture goes so far as to say that even if you do everything else right, any one sin will undo it all. [See James 2:10]
This puts each of us into the category of law-keeper or law-breaker, and because no one can claim to have kept all of the law and never stumbled once, aside from Christ himself, we all find ourselves in the law-breaker category.
Each of these sins begins in the mind and then leads into action. [James 1:14f]
Originally preached at Church Glenelg, Adelaide, Australia, the 28th of May, 2013
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. The man, you see, is the head of the woman, just as the Messiah, too, is head of the Church. He is himself the savior of the body. But, just as the church is subject to the Messiah, in the same way women should be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as the Messiah loved the church, and gave himself for it, so that he could make it holy, cleansing it by washing it with water through the word. He did this in order to present the church to himself in brilliant splendour, without a single spot or blemish or anything of the kind – that it might be holy and without blame. That’s how husbands ought to love their own wives, just as they love their own bodies. Someone who loves his wife loves himself. After all, nobody ever hates his own flesh: he feeds it and takes care of it, just as the Messiah does with the church, because we are parts of his body. ‘That’s why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two become one flesh.’ The hidden meaning in this saying is very deep; but I am reading it as referring to the Messiah and the Church. Anyway, each one of you must love your wife as you love yourself; and the wife must see that she respects her husband.” – Ephesians 5:22-33Sermon
What does marriage have to do with Ephesians?
If you were to sum up the book of Ephesians in one word, what would it be? I know what mine is: deep. You’ve been in the book for a while and are reaching the end, and I am certain that you would agree with me that “deep” just about sums it up. In chapter 1 you have heavy Biblical and theological teachings like God’s absolute sovereignty in all things, predestination, foreknowledge, adoption, eternal security, and glorification. In chapter 2 you have justification, total depravity, unconditional election, and reconciliation. And chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 can be summed up in one word: sanctification. Sanctification isn’t hard to understand in the book of Ephesians: it is putting into practice everything Paul has written about you in chapters 1 & 2. Simply put: what does one’s life look like when they’ve been foreknown, predestined, elected, justified, and adopted into the family of God through the person and work of Jesus? And, by the way, what that looks like is not squeaky-clean living, otherwise why would Paul even need to write this kind of stuff to Christians? Sanctification is a messy process for messy people: it is you, the sinner, becoming who you already are, a saint, in Jesus Christ. For the most part it is a slow process, but every now and then you might receive a fast, miraculous, breakthrough in one area of your life while in another it may be painfully slow.
I'm not saying that those who don't share this lifestyle have illegitimate marriages, but I am saying that they don’t have the full blessings of marriage.
Amongst these practical things you have already been through are the Church, spiritual gifts (which, for the Church, are quite practical gifts), right human emotions, right human sexuality, right human lifestyle, and today we are on right marriage. Right marriage is a term you will be hearing a lot from me. When I use it I'm not saying that those who don't share this lifestyle have illegitimate marriages, but I am saying that they don’t have the full blessings of marriage; God’s blessing comes by obedience to God’s word.
It is my belief that we just might possibly be in the deepest section of Ephesians. You can be the judge of that; I might be speaking purely subjective here. I can only say that I’ve preached on quite a few different topics before: God’s sovereignty in all things, predestination, miracles and physical healing, election, eternal security, death, and even Hell. But this is my first sermon on the topic of marriage and it almost broke my brain.
No command can be truly followed unless it is first correctly understood.
So when Paul says in verse 32 that the “meaning” of marriage “is very deep” it gets a hearty amen from me. Because it’s not enough for me to preach, or for you to read, that wives should be subject to their husbands or that husbands should love their wives. No command can be truly followed unless it is first correctly understood. It is my hope that after we have delved right into the meaning of marriage that not only will you understand it but that your marriage or future marriage will be directly aligned to the teachings of Paul (and God, by the way).
I’ve been reading Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card recently, and I encountered a statement from the protagonist, twelve year old Ender Wiggin who has been pushed into a rigorous military training regime from age six to make him the ultimate commander for a war that could come any time soon, quoting his older brother, Peter, a needlessly cruel and manipulative individual.
What he said was this: “Peter had been right, always right; the power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can’t kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you.” Granted, this statement came off the back of a particularly brutal episode where some other boys attempted to kill him out of jealousy at his inexplicable run of successes, and perhaps things will change as the story progresses, but this also seems to be a major theme of the book as a whole thus far.
On reading the above statement something in my spirit rebelled against it. Surely that can’t be the only kind of power that matters.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
“Sweety, you know you have to eat all your vegetables before you can go and play.”
“And don't hit your brother.”
“It's not fair! You hate me! You never let me do anything.”
I hear the word “hate” being thrown around a lot lately, particularly in the context of people rebuking Christians for our often socially unpopular standpoint on a number of subjects. Lately the issue of gay marriage, along with other issues like abortion and euthanasia, but these are only the issues that are in the spotlight at the moment, there have been plenty of others and no doubt there will be more.
My dictionary defines “to hate” as: “to feel intense or passionate dislike for something or someone.” In the little dialogue I created above, the child accuses the parent of hating her; of being hateful. But any adult will recognise that the parent in this situation is actually showing love to the child. They are trying to teach them in this case to eat foods that are good for their body and to control their emotions rather than lash out in anger and hurt people nearby.
These are good and important lessons for the child, but to the child they just look like a curtailing of her personal freedom. In her state of immaturity, she is not fully aware of the physical and social consequences this kind of behaviour will have on her future, she has no frame of reference for that kind of thinking.
Proverbs 3:11f : "My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights."
1 Corinthians 13:9-12: "Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely."
If we put God in the role of the parent in the dialogue, we find the scene to be uncomfortably familiar. God comes along and, through Christ and his Church, He proclaims to humanity, “I love you, but you must know that your behaviour is sinful and destructive. You need to change.”
Most Christian leaders admit that post-ministry time is one of spiritual lows. For instance, a Pastor once told me that people should leave him alone on a Sunday night; it’s a dark time that he feels no need to share. I understand this to some degree: Biblically speaking, Satan loves to point out to God how sinful we Christians are (think: the book of Job)… lucky for us, God loves to point out to Satan how forgiven we are (think: Joshua in the book of Zechariah). Yet we, who minister, get caught up in the crossfire: the collateral damage, so to speak. If Satan shows my flaws to God (as if God didn’t know them anyway) he doesn’t get the reaction he wants. Unfortunately, when he shows my flaws to me, I react perfectly for him. I feel downtrodden… I get (to quote the Pastor) “dark.” This is why post-ministry time is best for him to strike: leaders are sinners, and we know it. Personally speaking, whenever I preach it is always from the Biblical standard, not mine. O, what a chance for the Devil! But what a chance for us too: if your life is lacking the standard you preach (which, if you’re a preacher of any worth, must be the Biblical standard) it ought to be resolved in two ways:
Recently the questions were posed to me: How did I come to believe Jesus and why do I still believe Him? In truth, I can whittle my answers right down:
How did I come to believe Jesus? The Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8)
Why do I still believe Jesus? Well… the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:28-30)
: But I believe God works these things out a little more practically. So if I were to exchange Him as my answer for something else I believe to be true I’d say this:
How did I come to believe Jesus? The Church (Romans 10:10-15)
Why do I still believe Jesus? Well... the Church (Hebrews 10:19-25)
: To state it simply, I grew up in the Church and it brought me the opportunity to believe Jesus. I would even go further than some and say that the Holy Spirit caused me to believe: all glory for my salvation goes to Him.
But the way He did so was through the Church.
The first question is not enough though. There are many people who have grown up in the Church, having had similar experiences to me, but are no longer around. So the second question becomes very important (plus it’s also Biblical!): why do I still believe Jesus? Alas, the answer is exactly the same: because of the Holy Spirit through the Church.
This answer, dear Christian, is also your answer. There’s nothing unique about my situation.
In my time I’ve had many discussions about certain worship songs and their constant infatuation with talking about the me instead of the He. To be perfectly honest there have been Sunday mornings where I’ll refuse to sing certain lines.
The reasoning is this: if I know I won’t do it… I won’t sing it.
Even if I don’t know if I’ll do it, I feel uncomfortable about singing it. And worship is ruined. There are actually songs that exist with lyrics about “lifting my hands” and there are some Christians out there who don’t lift their hands in worship. Now, is this right? Why would a Church sing songs that cut them out? That forces them to feel uncomfortable about how they worship? Why are we constantly singing songs about what we’re going to do anyway? Why are we singing any songs about what we’re going to do? And where we're going to go? And how it’s going to be? Is worship about me, and what I’m currently doing or will do?
You already know the answer.
The impression I get from the Bible is that, primarily, worship is first and foremost about God; this is worship for everyone. Secondarily, Biblical worship is reactionary or, to say it another way, it is about the doing; this is worship for the individual.
We have confused individual, reactionary, man-focused, worship with congregational, God-focused, worship.
Making matters worse, many people get their theology from worship songs and, shamefully, not from the Bible. So when you have songs that go, “do-do-do,” you get a theology that goes, “do-do-do.” And, after a while, you forget to sit back and remember: ahh… it’s all done.
In summary: lame worship + Biblically ignorant people = a disaster waiting to happen.
A disaster indeed.
In the 3rd century, Cyprian of Carthage famously said, “you cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.” There’s much truth in that statement. There are three types of children here: 1) The child who scoffs at his Mother while proclaiming relationship with the Father. He won’t make it. 2) The child who’s Mother mothers too much. He might make it. 3) The child who loves both. He’ll make it. The Scoffing Hypocrite
The child who scoffs at his Mother is the hypocrite. Rather than seeing the church as fellow sinners saved by grace, people who have been born again by the Holy Spirit and cleansed from sin by the atonement of Jesus, they just see the church as fellow sinners, who are always doing something wrong (if only they would listen to his wise counsel!). There are a few reasons for this: one is a commonality; the others are differences: 1) They are not fellows 2) Perhaps they haven’t been saved by grace 3) They are sinners (the common ground) : There’s a ridiculously obvious truth they might be escaping here: that if the church they attend apparently sucks it’s probable that maybe, possibly, I don’t know, definitely (?), means they suck too. This is Church 101, people! Almost the first thing we Christians learn about the church is this: the church is the people; the people are the church. This is why the scoffer is the hypocrite. He sees the church’s faults (of which there could be many) but never speaks of his own (of which there are many). He speaks of how the church should act but he… he ne-ver acts. Would you trust a “doctor” who always prescribed the medicine, and never dispensed it? That’s not a doctor; it’s a fool. Beware of this person: he is not a fellow and he has no grace to give (for perhaps he was not given grace). He is a goat at best, and a wolf at worst. But this doesn’t mean the Mother is perfect.