Everything Intended

When we make a sacrifice, we are giving up something in the present for sake of something else in the future, something we believe to be worth more than what we’re giving up. We reason inductively, based on experience, that a certain type of sacrifice (i.e., not eating dessert) will result in a certain type of payoff (our belt won’t dig so deeply into our belly). We also may make a particular sacrifice (not eating meat) by faith, without having seen fruit (our brother’s conscience not being ruined), based on our trust that God follows through on His Word.

Of course things are different for God Himself. But for our encouragement, consider Christ’s death on the cross. What did Christ hope to accomplish by His sacrifice?

Christ did not hope like we do when He laid down His life. Christ did not need faith similar to us for what might happen in the future. Christ secured the fulfillment of everything that He and His Father ever intended for His sacrifice.

No elect person will be lost, no, not one. No sin, however longstanding, however powerful, however tempting, however crippling, will remain in power over any Christian, not even one. No guilt, no weakness, no pain, no suffering, no loss, will define any of those for whom Christ died; not one promise will be left unfulfilled for eternity.

There is still timing to consider; not all the effects happen at once. But in Christ we are in the realm of waiting on the when, not in the realm of wondering if at all. He has not spared His only Son for us. He will give us all the rest. This is the power of the cross.

Liberating Glory

The command in 1 Corinthians 10:31 is well known. It is short, catchy, and always applicable. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

This is the end for which God created the world: God’s glory. This is the peak of the Reformation alones: soli Deo gloria, to God alone be glory.

This is the kind of talk you expect to hear at church; “glory to God” is churchy talk. But while it’s something you might expect to hear at church it isn’t something to be done at church, or things done in the name of church. Paul doesn’t mention corporate singing or sermon listening, he doesn’t identify reading your Bible or having quiet time, he doesn’t talk about leading or even attending Bible study or small group, he doesn’t refer to evangelism proper, though in the next verse he does connect glorifying God to impacting our neighbors. My point is that what Paul doesn’t mention is churchy stuff.

So the command to do all to the glory of God means all the things you do, at your dinner table, at your work desk, on your phone and/or on Facebook, behind the wheel, at the checkout counter.

You might respond to those opportunities in one of two ways. You might think of glorifying God in everything as a crushing requirement. “I have to think about every single thing I do in worship terms? How can I possibly pay that much attention?” So you might think it would be better, actually, to go back to only churchy things as mattering to God and the rest of the “neutral things” belong to you.

But the command could, and I’m arguing should, be received as a liberating truth. God has not limited you to only certain times and places and activities that bring glory to Him. Do you love how many ways God is pleased to receive glory from you?

Too Thankful for the Right Things

Names matter. Part of our image-bearing identity is to name things, and the names we give not only categorize and help us communicate, they also shape our expectations.

Every week we “have” communion, or we observe it, or we celebrate it. Communion reminds us that we are not isolated from the Lord or from one another. This is a meal that reminds us what we share in common. It is also the Lord’s Supper, served at the Lord’s Table. We meet on His terms and receive His provision.

I have mentioned it before, but Christians used to use an additional name, and some still do, but it has baggage that is too bad. It is called the Eucharist, which really is too good a name to let the non-Protestants have. It’s called the Eucharist because the Greek word eucharisto is used all over in connection with the eating and drinking. Eucharisto is the Greek word that means I give thanks.

“He took bread, and when he had given thanks” (eucharistesas)(Luke 22:19). “He took a cup, and when he had give thanks” (eucharistesas)(Matthew 26:27). Paul repeats what he received about giving thanks (eucharistesas) for the bread and “likewise” for the cup (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

Even in chapter 10 Paul said, “If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?” (eucharisto)(1 Corinthians 10:30). He wasn’t referring to eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table specifically, but doesn’t it apply? “You’re not acting sufficiently sorrowful during communion but way too grateful.” Really?

We can be thankful for the wrong things, but we cannot be too thankful for the right things. The gospel is good news for our souls and communion is a meal of thanks for all we have in Christ.

All His Commandments

Every week we worship God by confessing our sins. We know that man’s nature is sinful because God reveals it: all have sinned and fallen short of His glory. We also know our own hearts, not perfectly, but what we know is enough to know that this regular time for confession is rarely unnecessary.

And yet, while we understand that sinless perfection will only finally be attainable in our glorified state, the goal of a pastor’s preaching is not that you would be eager to confess, as relevant as that is. The goal is that you would have nothing to confess.

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

God charges, that is, He entrusts, overseers in the church to command and teach the word of God so that Christians would be godly. “Godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Connecting it with the categories of Paul’s aim, godliness looks like unmixed love and unmixed motives and unmixed faith. Godliness looks like full affections and no regrets and profound trust. As we increase in godly character our conduct should also be more defined as godly, and that should give us less and less to repent from. A believer with pure love and a good conscience and a sincere faith has a longing for zero sin.

I went to the parent’s part of a driver’s ed. class last week with my oldest, and we watched a video about traffic deaths in Washington state. The video showed people answering questions about how many die each year in car crashes, and how many deaths are a realistic goal, and then how many deaths are the desired aim in their own family. Of course the answer to the last question is zero. It’s an easy answer. It’s obvious. And every disciple’s desire for zero sin should be as absolute.

If you have sinned this week, you are in the right place. While God’s Word gives us light to walk in, if we do sin, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Confess your sin, and trust Him to cleanse your conscience and to enable you to keep all His commandments.

Substantive Sharing

There have been frequent arguments in church history about what exactly happens at the Lord’s Table. Most of these arguments have come from motivations to value Christ’s work on the cross and in communion, though not all of the arguments can be true.

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul helps us see the nature of the Supper through his comparisons with two other types of worship meals.

Example one: “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” (verse 18) But where are the arguments about transubstantiation or consubstantiation when it came to the various offerings eaten by the Jews? Those arguments don’t exist. The sharing in the sacrifice did not happen because the molecules of the meat or the grain were changed or mixed.

Example two: “what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons” (verse 20). The same sharing is happening and, again, the sharing happens without the substance of the elements being transformed.

So, when we participate in the blood of Christ by drinking the cup, and when we participate in the body of Christ when we eat the bread, there is a real and supernatural and substantive sharing in Christ’s sacrifice. But it not because the wine or the bread change substance, or even because the spiritual presence of Jesus shows up in the wine or the bread. By faith we partake of the Table, and we are associated with Christ and with all that His sacrifice accomplished in and among us.

What You Tolerate

In a book about leadership I read this principle: “When it comes to standards, as a leader, it’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate” (Extreme Ownership, 54). This applies across many domains, not just in leadership, but in personal sanctification.

Preaching is easy, at least in many contexts. Talk is cheap compared to conduct. Teachers may have the best classroom rules, laminated and taped to the wall in the front of the room, but if they don’t enforce them, they don’t matter. Parents often give the best lectures to their kids, but if they don’t follow through, if they don’t hold to the standard, the words fall to the ground.

The same applies in our discipleship to Christ. He does not call us to know His commands, He calls us to obey them. That begins with learning; we hear or read His word, and we can even repeat the standards to ourselves. But they will know that we are disciples not merely by what we preach, but by what we tolerate in our own attitudes and actions. Do we preach against lying while excusing our cheating? Do we preach against lust while taking the second, longer look? Do we preach against anger while tolerating heated annoyance? Do we preach against cowardice, just quietly in the comfort of our heads?

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

We know the standards, do we tolerate our disobedience to them? The Lord our God is a jealous God. He knows the standards, He gave us the standards, and He does not tolerate our indulgence of self.

Lyrics and Harmony

One of the ways we know if we’ve been born again is our attitude toward those who sit around the Lord’s Table with us.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. (1 John 5:1)

This meal of communion is only for Christians, those who are born again, and Christians are those with a particular affirmation and with personal affection.

Those who are born of God believe “that Jesus is the Christ.” Any claim of new life apart from confessing that Jesus is Lord and Savior is a bogus claim. The lyrics sung by the born again are clear: Jesus is the Christ, the promised and anointed one, the substitutionary sacrifice who died on the cross for sins, was buried in a tomb for three days, and was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection.

The harmony of the born again song is loving other born-againers; this is not a solo act. We who are born of God confess Christ and care for one another. Diluted affections for, resistance to forgive, and reluctance to fellowship with other believers calls into question one’s spiritual life just as failing to breathe calls into question one’s physical life.

If you’re harboring resentment or anger toward a brother, whether the size of a cruise ship or kayak, you should repent and make that right before you celebrate the symbol of our uniting love. He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and we who are born again must love all the others who share our living hope.

Come, eat, drink, and celebrate your born again life in Jesus the Christ. Come, eat, drink, and commune with your born again family.

How Grain Gets Memorialized

When some Greeks came to see Jesus, Jesus said it was the hour of His glory. Then Jesus explained the truth of buried seed bearing abundant fruit.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:23-24)

The way of fruit is sacrifice and burial for sake of life. This is not only the way God made the world to work, this is the way He made men to receive glory. We remember battles. We remember sacrifices. We memorialize those who gave what they had, and in a thousand ways we don’t even recognize, we are the fruit of many men’s deaths.

Of course this is ultimately true in the gospel. Jesus took on flesh to spend it, He came low so that He could be lifted up on a cross, and He knew that such a death would be His glory.

We learn the path to glory and how we ought to imitate Him. In the communion meal we start by remembering His cross-work, and consider the results of His death and burial. It wasn’t just His resurrection, it is the many brothers who He has raised since. May we remember, may we rejoice, and may we not give up our place in the line.

Wise in His Own Worship

Perhaps one of the most response-provoking visits of our trip to the United Kingdom was an unscheduled stop for Sunday morning worship at a church in Coventry, England. Our coach driver had a friend who attends the church there and, though that friend ended up not being there, we enjoyed a different service than most of us are accustomed to.

Everything was different, and similar, all at the same time. Most of our students, however, saw more of the differences than the similarities. We sang a few of the seven-eleven songs—songs with seven lyrics repeated eleven times—and that is not an exaggeration. There was nothing heretical said, though it was comparatively light.

We had quite a conversation on the coach following the service that continued over the next day or so. Of course our church has been working to develop our liturgy, to deepen our understanding and practice of worship, and some of our youth had not really experienced Church Lite.

It was fantastic, in one way, to hear their critiques. Where was the sense of sin? Where was the repentance? Was the service attempting to manipulate emotionally? How did the preacher connect his points? Were his illustrations appropriate?

The Bible urges us to watch others and consider their conduct. The Proverbs are full of persons to observe, most of whom we should avoid. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul admonished believers to not be like the entire generation of disobedient.

But, the primary point of all this is to remind us to repent. Look at them, and think about what I am doing wrong, how I am sinning, how I need to grow up. It is the wrong way to appreciate our emphasis in worship on sin and repentance and be best at criticizing others who don’t do it like us.

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
 There is more hope for a fool than for him.
(Proverbs 26:12)

The Mask Is Off

When Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, what did that miracle do? It seems that there are at least two things. First, it enabled the party to continue. Second, it demonstrated that Jesus had divine power.

But is that it? Is the point of the miracles to reveal Jesus as God? It is certainly one of the things that happened, and it is important to acknowledge Jesus’ identity. But any given sign that Jesus did, such as turning the water into wine, is intended not merely to make us think about that one event, but to think about every time God ever does a similar natural thing.

Athanasius was the first to make this connection regarding the Incarnation. C.S. Lewis followed up on it in his essay, “Miracles.” All the miracles Jesus performed were supernatural, but they were focused demonstrations of what God is always doing naturally.

[E]very year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana. (God in the Dock, 29)

It doesn’t make the miracles less significant, but it does mean we should be more in awe and giving thanks for the mundane.

The Lord’s Table is not a miracle, but as we eat the bread and the wine it is a focused, and special, opportunity to remember the death of Jesus, followed by His resurrection and the vindication of His sacrifice for sin. But this is not the only time we should think about God’s provision of bread and wine, or about His provision of a church body, or His provision of everything, and how He is building it all together.

Many things come into focus when we focus on this meal rightly.