Good Things from Three Persons

The most explicitly Trinitarian benediction in the Bible comes in the final verse of 2 Corinthians.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

All three Persons are referred to, even if we would tend to want to mention the Father first. Paul attributes something different from each Person, not because any of these gifts can be separated from God’s Triune nature, but most likely because Paul had already attached these particular blessings to a particular Person previously in the letter.

From the Lord, the Son, we receive “grace.” He who is the Master, He who is the Messiah, gives His favor, and the favor is unconditional. In 2 Corinthians 8:9 His grace to us included His becoming poor so that by His poverty we might become rich.

From God, the Father, we receive “love.” His love is more than a disembodied form somewhere up in the sky. The Father abounds in affections for His children and that love came sloshing over the edges of eternity when He the sent His Son and then His Spirit. He loves generously because, as in 2 Corinthians 13:11, He is “the God of love and peace.”

From the Holy Spirit we receive “fellowship.” We are brought into the company of the saints in light. We are made partakers of the divine nature through the Spirit, God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts through the Spirit, and we are united to the body through one Spirit. According to 2 Corinthians 5:5 the Spirit is the guarantee of our eternal life. We will share this fellowship forever.

It’s only by the Son’s grace that we know God’s love, and it is love that defines our fellowship in the Spirit.

Remove the Rust

Yesterday our church held a seminar about fellowship. When we have fellowship it means we have a close association with those who share mutual interests. Christians share in Christ. He is our central and essential interest. All of the parts of the body get signal from the Head of the Body. Each living stone is built on and leans on the Cornerstone. Every spiritual planet revolves around the Son.

We will share a fellowship in heaven for eternity that realizes the unity of God in three Persons. Jesus prayed that we would be one even as He and His Father are one (John 17:11). In the meantime, those who are being sanctified in the truth (John 17:17) find that more sanctification is necessary if we’re going to get along. Jesus gave us His Word so that His joy would be fulfilled in us (John 17:13), but there’s quite a mess while we’re still in the world.

You will not be surprised to hear that the cause of distance between us is sin. Like a weed through concrete, sin can crack apart the thickest communion. Sin is like rust on the bolt; forget about getting the nut on tight until the rust is removed. Fellowship requires cleansing that keeps the heart threads clear.

As Christians we believe that blessed fellowship only comes by the blood of Christ. It requires us to be honest about our sin and to walk obediently before God.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)

Confessing our sin is where fellowship starts.

What Other Table?

Whether we recognize it or not, whether it is obvious to others that we recognize it or not, God is really among us. In our liturgy we acknowledge the call into His presence together from the start of our service, and our aim is to share communion with Him in the Lord’s Supper. The cup of blessing is a participation in the blood of Christ. The bread is a participation on the body of Christ. If we offered ourselves to any other presence we would be provoking the Lord to jealousy.

So how should we act around His Table? How about hungry, thankful, filled, and thankful.

We are hungry for righteousness, and we couldn’t bake or buy our own. God’s Spirit disclosed the secrets of our hearts, and it wasn’t pretty. We hunger and thirst for salvation, for Him to deal with our guilt and to be His sons. When we see the bread and the cup we are reminded that Christ gave Himself for our salvation. He made this meal, and we come to eat and drink by faith with thanks. Amen? To what other table could we go?

When we eat and drink we are enacting our amen. We are convinced that Christ alone is our Savior and say amen from our mouths, and we consume His flesh and blood as another sort of amen with our mouths. He died and rose again, we with Him, let us eat. Amen? It is food and drink for our souls, thank You, Lord.

We are not imagining that God is really among us, we are imaging the reality by bringing our hunger to Him, by rejoicing in His provision, and by communing with Him together as His body, amen.

Not The Stages of Outrages

You’ve probably seen the comic of a man sitting at a desk in front of a computer and his wife asks him when he’s coming to bed. He says he can’t come to bed yet because “someone is wrong on the Internet.” 

More than someone is wrong on the Internet. And what’s even more problematic, everyone you know is wrong about something they think, let alone how they act. You might not be talking about their wrong thing, you might not even know what their wrong thing is, but you can be sure that if you talked long enough, their wrong would pop up like sponsored ads on Facebook. 

What should you do about this serious problem? After all, God is perfect, His way is perfect (Psalm 18:3), and demands that His creatures be perfect (Matthew 5:48). 

We are living in an increasingly outraged culture. Passionate outbursts of so-called righteousness abound around the clock, and believers must not be conformed to this world. So, Christian, when you encounter certain problems your duty to the Lord may be to relax

This is not ostrich orthodoxy, burying your head in the sands of your own pure thoughts. It is a call to be people of the Spirit. After describing the fruit of the Spirit, Paul wrote this:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Things to note: others can actually be wrong, even sinning. If it’s not sin, then you should probably unbutton the top button on your righteousness collar. Take a deep breath, and take care of your own responsibilities. But if it is transgression and you see it, you should say something, if you 1) are spiritual about it, 2) want their restoration not their humiliation, 3) talk to them in a kind way, and 4) don’t act like you could never have the same problem. Those are not the stages of outrages. 

Because we see a bunch of people confronting wrongs wrongly does not mean that it shouldn’t be done. Confront those who are wrong rightly. And also, consider that you might be the one who is wrong. 

No Lesser Bread

One of the things Paul valued about clarity was how it brings “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). When the Spirit gives words to His people for the good of the body it brings comfort.

Communion is also a consolation, a comfort. The Lord’s Supper is not a consolation prize, mostly because it isn’t a prize, and also because we aren’t competing to get it. Communion is a grace from God. He gives communion and comfort to those who need it but not to those who deserve it or try to earn it. There isn’t bread for the winner, but lesser bread for the runner-ups.

But God does alleviate our pain by reminding us that Jesus endured anguish and affliction on our behalf (Isaiah 53:4, 7, 11), by reminding us that pain can only last so long (this life)(2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 1:6), and by reminding us that pain can only take so much (not our salvation)(Matthew 10:28). Communion also comforts us with gospel truths that we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Because of Christ the cornerstone “in him…[we] are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (verse 21).

Are you feeling isolated? Afflicted? Perplexed? Do you see a lot of problems? Do have a lot of problems? Don’t lose heart! We are being renewed day by day. “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us…into his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14). Communion at His Table is a no small consolation.

Blessing-ficiaries

I can’t remember if I’ve asked this question before during an exhortation to confession. We’re now over 400 times of corporate confession on the Lord’s Day, and while there are a lot of things that require repentance, some of them need more repetition.

Who do you confess your sin for? Who benefits when you “say the same thing” (homologeo) as God? You are certainly one who profits. Sin separates us from fellowship, forgiveness granted restores fellowship, so if you want fellowship you need forgiveness which comes through confession.

You are not the only blessing-ficiary, though. God receives glory when we repent. It’s not that we should sin that grace may abound, though grace does reign over sin. God’s patience and mercy and atonement are exalted when we depend on Him. He doesn’t need us to confess in order to get honor for Himself, but He is honored by our honesty and our humility and our hope in Him.

That still isn’t the end of it. The scope of benefits and blessings should be broadened. When we confess our sins we are restored to fellowship, and God’s holy standard and perfect sacrifice are praised, and also the entire church body is built up.

Your sin may be private in that only you and God know about it, for now, but your sin is never isolated as if only you are affected by it. We are one body, we are God’s building. We might not be able to see the disintegration of some studs in the wall, but when you deal with rot the right way it strengthens the whole structure.

Open Communion, Closed Membership

We love celebrating weekly communion at our church, and it is having multiple desired effects. It proclaims the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26). It unites the body as we participate in the blood and body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). It encourages us to keep short accounts (1 Corinthians 11:28). And it makes people ask questions, including our kids, who wonder when they will get to share in communion.

This is a feature, it doesn’t have to be a frustration. Just as the liturgy of various offerings in the Old Testament provided opportunities for parents to tell their kids about God’s redeeming work, so we want our liturgy to cause others to want it, especially our kids. If we had to choose between abusing the Table by making them dread it due to our anxiousness, or abusing the Table by making them desire it due to our joyfulness, is that hard to answer?

One question that is a bit harder, at least on a personal level, is, Who is welcome at the Table? We practice what has historically been called “open” communion. That means that you do not need to be a member of our local body to be invited to eat and drink. You do need to believe in Christ, and, in most cases, you should already be baptized in public identification with Christ. We typically discourage parents from having their young people partake until they’ve been baptized.

One additional challenge for us involves those who sincerely believe that infant baptism is a valid expression of the ordinance. As a church we do not believe that, and so we have what is called “closed” membership. We believe (in brief) that “disciples obey the Lord in baptism” and so, as a credo-baptist church, we do not affirm paedo-baptized members.

But, desiring to be charitable to those who profess with both lips and lives their belief in and love for Christ, we will encourage them to partake at the open Table though we won’t affirm them as official members. This is a compromise we are comfortable with. Currently, the most significant limitation is that such a person could not hold a church office (that is, be an elder or deacon), though in every other way they would receive the care of the shepherds.

We gladly welcome the Lord’s disciples to the Lord’s Table, even when we believe there is more to teach them to observe that He’s commanded, which is, of course, true for all of us in some way or another this side of glorification.

Our Father Who Judges

When we come to our time of confession as part of our worship we come to confess our sins to our Father. God is holy, God is righteous, God is just, God is the judge of the world. But to all who believe in His name, “he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). We confess our sins to God, but He is our “God and Father” (Galatians 1:4).

Peter gave more explanation about what we should do because of the Father we have.

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:17-19)

There are a couple things to notice about this imperative and this information. We are to pay attention to what our Father says to do. He has given instruction, and He intends for us to walk in His ways.

We are also to remember what our Father has done for us. He sent His Son to pay the price for our deliverance. He set us free from ignorance and unholiness. There were a lot of false gods and a lot of nasty behavior and a lot of gloomy moral blindness like the darkest cave, and the Lamb covers and cleanses us.

Leave the empty ways behind and call on the Father through His Son.

All a Pitter-pattering

Is love more science or more story? Is love an historical fact or a philosophical idea? Is love a Platonic ideal, an abstract quality existing Up There, or is love an Aristotelian reality, expressed Down Here in hands and lips and bodies? Where do you learn about love best? Reading the dictionary? Reading the Bible? Hearing a story? Getting a timely hug from your dad?

As much as I love a good dictionary, dictionaries don’t inspire. Definitions are helpful and even necessary, but statements of meaning distinguish between things more than they activate affection for things.

The Greek word agape means “the quality of warm regard for and interest in another.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines love as “intense feeling of affection and attachment.” I’m sure your heart is just all a pitter-pattering now.

Again, I like a good proposition and I think a well crafted sentence of explanation is like truth gold set in syntax silver. But what informs and impels our affections are not notions of love as much as narratives of love.

The gospel is the ultimate story. In our last Omnibus Tenebras class we talked about stories and “myths” and tales and legends. Whatever word you’re comfortable with, “in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).

This is an eternal and true story that tells us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. It is the ultimate, overarching story with chapters still being written by the Author of our salvation. We are not just fed our lines, we are fed bread and wine for living and participating in the saga together by God’s grace.

Perpetual Shortfall

There are a couple sure-fire ways to get almost any Christian to feel guilty. One way is to ask a believer about his prayer life. A recurring response is that, “It could be better.” Well of course it could. You don’t really need to sleep, right? Jesus spent whole nights in prayer…what is your excuse?

That’s an easy one, but the one exhortation to rule them all is not about Bible reading or prayer, it’s not about church attendance, it’s not about how many dates you’ve taken your wife on in the last year, it’s not if you’ve ever spoken to your kids in impatience or anger.

There is one law that none of us obey, not even one. If we had a week of only telling the truth, of only sacrificing for the good of others, of only faithful working and stewarding as image-bearers, of only being in a good mood and always giving thanks in every circumstance, we still can be tagged with not loving God with all our hearts.

It’s good to have goals that are measurable. The Great Commandment is absolutely measurable, and the measurement is repeated three times by Moses (Deuteronomy 6:5) and all three times when Jesus quoted Moses. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

What should we do about our perpetual shortfall to this command? How can we accept it without being buried in paralyzing shame? What we most certainly cannot do is ignore or even lower the law. What we can and most certainly must do is come to the Father who commands us to love, not because He needs it, but because He knows that we need it. Love Him, and love that He faithfully loves us in Christ even when our love is halfhearted.