Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is the Christian life as a series of negotiations?

Do you see the Christian life as a series of negotiations?
John 14:15:  "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

You hear the preacher say that God's Word says such and such, or you read it for yourself, if you profess this then you should do such and such.  But, you don't feel like doing that.  

Would you then interpret the above verse like this?
"If you love Me, you will give Me a shot at convincing you that My way is in your best interests."

How about 1 John 5:3: "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments."

Perhaps your interpretation is, "This is the love of God, that we wait until we feel that it's easy and effortless, or nothing else that we've tried worked, then we'll try out His way".

I'm posting this because I see this all too often in my own life.  I might be tempted to sleep in on Sunday, or do/think/say something that I know I shouldn't, and then I want to negotiate or debate what I know God says about it.
"For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification." (Romans 6:19)  

I emphasized that word, and that word is underlined for a reason. The Greek word is "doulos" and it means "slave".  The New Testament Greek Lexicon defines "doulos" as:
  • one who gives himself up to another's will
  • devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests

I am a slave.  Most translations render that word as "servant" or "bond-servant" because we don't like the word slave.  But that's what the word is and that's what we are.  Okay then, so why do I keep treating the parts of my body as my own?  Why do I want to use them for my convenience and according to my preference?  As a Christian I know that I am to present them all as "slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification", and this includes getting those parts of my body up on Sunday morning and to church, whether it is convenient and easy or not?  Right?

There is no way around it: if we are not slaves of Christ, then we are slaves of sin (Romans 6:15-23). But we are slaves!  Either to the One or the other.

Now, we can anticipate many responses to this.  One would most assuredly be: we are not merely slaves, but also sons.

Absolutely!  The response would be: is a son supposed to question his father's commandments?  Isn't a son to obey his father, and honor him (Deuteronomy 21:18; Malachi 1:6; Colossians 3:20)?  Now, if this is the case with our earthly father, is it not much more the case with our heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:9)?

This truly is being preached at me.  You see, when I was a boy I would try to argue or reason my way out of just about anything, especially if I didn't want to do it.  My mom or dad would clearly lay down the rules, but I had to argue with them.  Sometimes just for the sport of it!  Nevertheless, I had to be convinced by obvious reason that something was really for my own good.  As you can see, I was not very obedient much of the time.

Today, that tendency is still very much at work in my daily life.  Of course, I've surrendered my life to Christ, and chosen to follow His way, but there is still a struggle there.  The difference between then and now is that I've been converted to Christ.  Before my conversion, I was a slave to those tendencies - a slave to sin.  After, I no longer have to obey the sinful ways of my youth - Christ has freed me from that bondage and replaced it with a light yoke under His Lordship (Matthew 11:30; Galatians 5:1).

Here's the point:  whether we're talking about a matter of doctrine, or whether I should go to church, or how I respond to my wife/children/employer, or any other topic under the umbrella of "Christian living", when I respond to God's commandments with a "but" or a series of excuses, I'm no better than Satan in the Garden of Eden when he argued to Eve, "Has God really said that?  Are you really convinced that it's for your own good?  God really just wants to keep something really great for Himself, and not let you have it."  You see, doing that elevates me to the same level as God in my mind - I have exalted myself to the place where I claim the right to question His authority.

So the question we should be asking ourselves: what do you do when faced with a clear commandment, with clear teaching of Scripture, that goes against what YOU want to do?  Either Jesus is Lord, or we are. If we are, He isn't; if He is, we aren't.

We need to think like a slave; and not only a slave, but a crucified slave, who has died to his old master (sin & self), and raised to life for another (Jesus Christ).

So you say, "Whoa! Wait just a minute... is it really just that simple?"  Yes and no.  You see, we take all of those "buts" and excuses and reasons and attempts to slip by or deceive ourselves and Him, and we admit, "I'm going to need a lot of help here", and we take them and ourselves to the Cross, we count ourselves dead to them, we plead for the enabling grace of God... and then... we obey.

Dan Phillips put it this way:
It all really comes down to this: move the "but."

Until now, it has been: "God says to obey, but I have these excuses/challenges/difficulties." And so you don't start. The issue is still whether to obey. This thinking is not indicative of a slave, much less a son.

From now on, it must be "I have these excuses/challenges/difficulties, but God says to obey." And then you start. Now, the issue is not whether, but how. This is thinking like a slave, and thinking like a son.

Move that "but."

Then move yours.

So whoever knows the right thing to do
and fails to do it,
for him it is sin
(James 4:17)

Adapted from Dan Phillips post on November 20, 2008 on Pyromaniacs

Sunday, August 22, 2010

1 Thessalonians 1:4-6

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
(1 Thessalonians 1:1-10)

Verse 4 
εἰδότες, ἀδελφοὶ ἠγαπημένοι ὑπὸ Θεοῦ, τὴν ἐκλογὴν ὑμῶν, (GNT)

Knowing brethren, O ones being loved by God, of your selection, (AB)

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, (ESV)

This is a continuation of the thought beginning in verse 2, "We give thanks to God always for all of you...", with verse 3 giving details of how they're giving thanks, and now in verse 4 we see Paul explaining why they give thanks, "For we know... that He has chosen you".  The word, for, could be translated, because:  "[Because] we know... that He has chosen you".

So, they're giving thanks because they know that the brethren in Thessalonica have been chosen, or selected, by God.  The word, εκλογην, is a unique word that only appears in the New Testament, and always in regard to God's choosing of men (Acts 9:15; Romans 9:11; Romans 11:5; Romans 11:7; Romans 11:28; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10).  A related word, εξελεξαμην, was used by Jesus in John 15:16 when He tells the disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you...", and this is often pointed to as one proof-text of the doctrine of election, in that Jesus chose us, not that we chose Him.

In the next verse we read what evidence led the Apostle and his companions to this conclusion.

Verse 5 

ὅτι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐγενήθη εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν λόγω μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν δυνάμει καὶ ἐν Πνεύματι ῾Αγίω καὶ ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πολλῇ,  καθὼς οἴδατε οἷοι ἐγενήθημεν ἐν ὑμῖν δι᾿ ὑμᾶς.  (GNT)
that our good news did not take place in you in word only, but also in power, and in [2spirit 1holy], and in [2full assurance 1much]; as you know what we became among you for you.  (AB)
because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (ESV)

A cross reference in my bible takes me to 1 Corinthians 2, where Paul says, "And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." [emphasis mine]  

The Holy Spirit was the confirming aspect of the message that Paul delivered to them - not his own "smooth and flattering speech" (Romans 16:18) or a self-made "persuasive argument" (Colossians 2:4).  

Peter makes a similar statement:  "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (2 Peter 1:16a).

We read in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians that "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14)  These believers in Thessalonica were convinced of the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by a message brought to them by man only.


Verse 6
Καὶ ὑμεῖς μιμηταὶ  ἡμῶν ἐγενήθητε καὶ τοῦ Κυρίου,  δεξάμενοι τὸν λόγον ἐν θλίψει πολλῇ μετὰ χαρᾶς Πνεύματος ῾Αγίου,  (GNT)

And you [2imitators 3of us 1became], and of the Lord, having received the word in [2affliction 1much], with joy [2spirit 1of holy],

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
There are three obvious aspects of this verse that I want to look at quickly.  First, "imitators of us and of the Lord" means that they looked to Paul and his companions to demonstrate for them how a follower of Christ should behave and treat others.  Just as we today need others to come along side us and disciple us in the ways of Jesus, they too looked to these men as their example.

Second, "received the word in much affliction", is not a phrase that engenders the "warm and fuzzies", right?  Contrary to much "health, weath, and happiness" teaching that passes for Christianity today, Scripture teaches in fact that the true follower of Jesus Christ will bear His reproach.  Just as Christ was rejected by the world, so too will His followers.  These believers apparently suffered affliction based on their profession, and yet we see that they still had joy.

Third, "the joy of the Holy Spirit".  What would Paul be referring to here? Joy amongst affliction?  What exactly is this "joy of the Holy Spirit"?  Would you say that you have this joy in your daily life, or at any time at all?  Are God's commandments heavy burdens to bear?  Is coming together on Sunday mornings with fellow believers simply another chore that "respectable people" do, but there is no joy in it?  I don't believe that Paul is referring to the "joy" that one finds in many modern American churches where you have loud popular music and choreographed light shows entertaining 2000+ attenders.  If man must manufacture the "joy" in the church-goer, then it's not of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that the joy that Paul refers to here is the genuine joy that a believer experiences when they do find themselves under that affliction for Christ's sake, and stop to remember that Jesus told us that we would suffer for His sake.  When we find ourselves ridiculed and rejected for our beliefs, we are tasting just a bit of the reproach that Jesus bore for us.

I believe that we Christians in America are going to see a "ramping up" of this ridicule and rejection in the next coming years.  We're already seeing it.  We've seen a steady erosion of Scriptural authority throughout the 20th century, and it's continued with a vengeance in the 21st century.  As secular society continues to chip away at biblical authority in the areas of creation vs. evolution, the family vs. gay-rights, and "every-road-goes-to-heaven" vs. Biblical Christianity (just to name a few) Christians will be vilified and persecuted for what will be labeled as "intolerant" or bigoted views.

The New Testament is replete with messages to the Christian in this arena - 1 Thessalonians is one such place.  We should not be taken aback by it or led to believe that it means that we missed something when we too receive the message "in much affliction".  What will be the tell is whether we suffer that affliction "in the joy of the Holy Spirit".