Real Love

We celebrate God’s real love for us at the Lord’s table. The bread is real and the cup is real. For those who believe, the communion with God through Christ is real, the knitting together of the body is real, and the love of God is real. We don’t eat and drink for sake of vague nostalgia. We remember the historical sacrifice of the Lamb on the cross. The love we commemorate is not fuzzy feelings. It is love that endured a brutal and bloody bodily death.

God’s love is personal, corporeal, knowable. His love took on flesh, dwelt among us, walked in perfect obedience, and humbly died in place of others who deserved personal, corporeal, knowable wrath. His substitution on behalf of His people showed the greatness of His love, not only because laying down one’s life for another shows love (John 15:13), but also because no one greater could lay down His life.

Chew the bread; His body is that real. Drink the cup; His blood is that real. His body and blood, given in love, enable our real life in His love.

Desperation and Deliverance

I think about “the rhythm of desperation and deliverance” all the time.

A pastor who feels competent in himself to produce eternal fruit—which is the only kind that matters—knows neither God nor himself. A pastor who does not know the rhythm of desperation and deliverance must have his sights set only on what man can achieve.

—John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 54

What Is a Ditch?

Truth lovers love truth and, therefore, they love words and definitions and sentences that carry the truth. Lovers of truth who collect and arrange words can get themselves into trouble with all their word play, defining themselves right off the road of obedience. Religious people are the best, or worst as it were, at finding ambiguity in a cup of dirt.

Once upon a time, a lawyer put Jesus to the test, asking Him how to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25ff). Jesus answered his question with a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer replied with a recitation of the first and second greatest commandments and Jesus said, “You have answered correctly; do this and live.”

Remember the lawyer’s reply? “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” Self-defense often starts by calling the unabridged edition of the Oxford English Dictionary as a witness.

Getting good with words can lead in two directions: north or south. Words can aim us the right way, straight and swift to forgiveness or they can send us on back road detours away from fellowship with God and others. We should be thankful lawyers don’t make GPS units.

We can’t avoid vocabulary ditches by going nowhere. Staying in the same place is not an option because words bring truth and truth leads to life so, the good life requires good words. But we must always be careful not to rally words in any way that justifies our disobedience. If you ever ask, “And what is a ditch?” you can be sure that you’re in one.

Pink on Kosmos

I regularly refer people to A.W. Pink’s observations on the New Testament use of κόσμος in Appendix III of his book, The Sovereignty of God. The motivation for his study is as follows.

Many people suppose they already know the simple meaning of John 3:16, and therefore they conclude that no diligent study is required of them to discover the precise teaching of this verse. [But] the word “kosmos,” and its English equivalent “world,” is not used with a uniform significance in the New Testament. Very far from it. It is used in quite a number of different ways. (253)

Below is Pink’s list of uses with a “tentative definition” and the verses he references (updated by myself to the ESV).

1. “Kosmos” is used of the Universe as a whole.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man. (Acts 17:24)

2. “Kosmos” is used of the earth.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

“‘Depart out of this world” signifies, leave this earth’ (254).

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4)

“This expression signifies, before the earth was founded–compare Job 38:4” (254).

3. “Kosmos” is used of the world system.

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. (John 12:31) Compare Matthew 4:8 and 1 John 5:19.

4. “Kosmos” is used of the whole human race.

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. (Romans 3:19)

5. “Kosmos” is used of humanity minus believers.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18)

It’s unlikely that the inanimate parts of the world “hate” Christ, so “world” must be limited to the world of humans. And “Believers do not ‘hate’ Christ, so that ‘the world’ here must signify the world of un-believers in contrast from believers who love Christ” (254).

By no means! For then how could God judge the world? (Romans 3:6)

“Here is another passage where ‘the world’ cannot mean ‘you, me, and everybody,’ for believers will not be ‘judged’ by God, see John 5:24. So that here too, it must be the world of un-believers which is in view” (254).

6. “Kosmos” is used of Gentiles in contrast from Jews.

Now if their (Israel’s) trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (Romans 11:12)

“Now how the first clause in italics is defined by the latter clause place in italics. Here, again, ‘the world’ cannot signify all humanity for it excludes Israel!” (254)

7. “Kosmos” is used of believers only.

“John 1:29; 3:16, 17; 6:33; 12:47; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 5:19. We leave our readers to turn to these passages, asking them to note, exactly what is said and predicated of ‘the world’ in each place” (254).

Pink summarizes: “Thus it will be seen that “kosmos” has at least seven clearly defined different meanings in the New Testament” (255). Regardless of one’s conclusions about “kosmos” in John 3:16 (though Pink makes his conclusion clear), the referent shouldn’t be assumed.

Eminent and Transcendent Love

John Owen on John 3:16: “The love here intimated is absolutely the most eminent and transcendent love that ever God showed or bare towards any miserable creature.”

So” that is, in such a degree, to such a remarkable, astonishable height: “God,” the glorious, all-sufficient God, that could have manifested his justice to eternity in the condemnation of all sinners…: “loved,” with such an earnest, intense affection, consisting in an eternal, unchangeable act and purpose of his will, for the bestowing of the chiefest good: “the world,” men in the world, of the world, subject to the iniquities and miseries of the world, lying in their blood, having nothing to render them commendable in his eyes, or before him: “that he gave,” did not, as he made all the world at first, speak the word and it was done, but proceeded higher, to the performance of a great deal more and longer work, wherein he was to do more than exercise an act of his almighty power, as before; and therefore gave “his son;” not any favourite or other well-pleasing creature; not sun, moon, or stars; not the rich treasure of his creation; but his Son: …that believers, those who he thus loved, “might not perish,” –that is, undergo the utmost misery and wrath to eternity, which they had deserved,– “but have everlasting life,” eternal glory with himself, which of themselves they could no way attain.

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, 211-12

Cultures Are Incarnational

If it’s true that men become and live like who/what they worship (and God says it is, see Psalm 115:4-8), then there can be no truly secular space.

All cultures are the incarnational outworking of a religion or combination of religions. When you deny a transcendent God, this does not eliminate the need for a god at the top to make the system coherent. It just means that the applicants for the position of deity are all, to use one of Hitchen’s favorite words, mammals…If there is no God above the system, then the system is god. All societies are religious organisms, not just the ones with a religious exoskeleton…All human societies are theocracies. The only issue that confronts us is which theos we will serve. The atrocious cultures are the ones who serve atrocious gods. (Doug Wilson, God Is, 95-96)

Our Neighbor’s Eating

Immediately preceding Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church about communion, he admonishes them about their selfishness.

When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:20–22, ESV)

The congregation certainly called what they were doing the Lord’s table. So why does Paul say “it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat”? Because self-absorbed, self-serving does not belong at His table. Taking, hoarding, and mocking don’t belong at the Lord’s table, the Lord who gave and gives, the Lord who shares Himself and His resources extravagantly, the Lord who gives and shares with those who are not at His level, the kind of people that a selfish god would mock.

Eating with an attitude of superiority toward others, brought in from before the service or that arises during our time together, is one way of eating and drinking in an unworthy manner. That sort of selfish participation makes one guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.

The Word became flesh for us. He gave His body for us, represented by the bread. He bled for us, represented by the cup. Let us thank Him, and let us honor His sacrifice as we sacrifice for each other, as we wait for each other, and think more highly of our neighbor’s eating than our own.

Confessional Finger Pointing

It is usually easier to see how much more someone else needs forgiveness than we do. Everyone needs a Savior, we say, and that’s especially true for everyone else. We are really glad for this regularly scheduled confession because Lord knows how much that guy over there needs it.

There are at least two errors with confessional finger pointing, not equally obvious but equally problematic. On the surface, it’s obviously a problem because humility does not mean counting the sin of others as more significant than our own. The deeper, less obvious error is that, in some sense, the sin of others is our sin, too.

Let me illustrate. If my left leg is broken, my right leg may desire treatment and healing for the left leg, but it cannot do so from a disconnected or patronizing perspective. When one part suffers, the whole body suffers. In a similar way, when one part sins, the rest of the body can’t separate itself from the effects, including discipline. We usually spank our kids on the rear but it usually isn’t because they sat in the wrong place.

Each of us confess our own individual sins to the Lord. We are also one body, one Bride for the Lord, and a blemish on one part affects His view of the whole because we are connected. In this way, your sin is our sin and mine is ours, so we confess our sins. You and I can wish that the other would be better and quicker at confessing, and we should start by confessing how often we look down on each other from a distance. We’re in this together.

Using Bad Words

Most of us shy away from using the word “magic” for much the same reason we prefer to offer providential blessings rather than wish to someone “good luck.” Magic doesn’t make us think of a Maker of magic; it removes the power from a Person behind the power. So we avoid terms such as magic and mystical. Instead of using bad words with a good reason, we use good words without thinking much of it, including words such as “spiritual.”

This communion meal is magical, I mean spiritual, I mean there is something about it that a rationalist observer cannot explain. Something real happens here, but it only happens by God’s Spirit whom we can’t see coming or moving or blowing among us. When we gather around this table in faith, the Spirit spiritually takes the bread and the cup and turns it into stronger faith. When individual parts eat and drink together, the Spirit spiritually melds the many into one. These effects are the Spirit’s gracious work. We can’t make it happen, but we can believe that He is feeding souls and building the whole body into a spiritual house.

As those who have been born of the Spirit, come and eat. Magical, I mean, spiritual things happen around this table.

Thankful for Conviction

There is no app to download for any smart phone that proves if a person has been born of the Spirit or is walking in the Spirit. There’s no buzzer, no siren, no spinning light that shows the Spirit’s presence in an individual’s heart. So is it possible to know? Yes.

One signal, not the only one, but one signal of the Spirit’s work is conviction of sin leading to confession. In Ezekiel 36, God promised to send His Spirit and put new spirits within people. One effect of the Spirit’s work is that people will remember their evil ways and their not good deeds and “will loathe [themselves] for [their] iniquities and [their] abominations” (Ezekiel 36:31). In a similar way, Jesus, speaking to His disciples, promised to send the Spirit who, among other things, would convict the world concerning sin (John 16:8).

Without the Spirit there may be misery in sin, but there won’t be conviction of its offensiveness before God. Without the Spirit there won’t be confession of sin to God or others, but rather attempts to hide and rationalize it. Without the Spirit there won’t be acknowledgement of sin, nor any effective impulse to turn from sin. Whole-hearted conviction, open confession, and real repentance are only possible by the Spirit.

He is, after all, the Holy Spirit. His work includes opening our eyes to see sin, stabbing our consciences to loathe sin, and refining our tongues to taste the sweetness of holiness. Our weekly corporate confession depends on the Spirit’s work. If your sin weighs heavily on you and you find relief in confessing it, be thankful for that conviction. That’s a sign that the Spirit has given you life.