Has Beens

There is only one kind of sinner who isn’t welcome at the Lord’s Table. Sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, effeminacy, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkenness, scoffing, and cheating are not prohibitive as long as they are past tense. These are representative sins, they are some of the “biggies,” and so long as “such were some of you,” so good.

The only kind of sinner who isn’t welcome at the Lord’s Table is the unrepentant. Have you repented? Have you called your sin, sin, according to God’s Word? Have you trusted in God’s Son who died on the cross in order to satisfy God’s wrath against unrighteousness? Have you received God’s Spirit, who dwells in every believer as a guarantee of eternal inheritance? Then, according to the good news, you have been cleansed, you have been consecrated, you have been confirmed by the Judge of Righteousness as one accepted by Him.

So we are all a bunch of “has beens.” You has been greedy, I has been angry, we has been ungrateful, but all of that was nailed to the cross. He has been a hater of his brother, she has been a gossip about her sister, but no more, because Jesus is raised from the dead.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And week by week as we commune around the Lord’s Table we make no compromises with the unrighteousness around us. We declare to the unrighteous that they can be has beens, too, but only through Christ. “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The glory of the cross makes us the most thankful has beens ever.

Two Blesseds

When Jesus talks about those who are blessed He really messes up our categories. His sermon starts out that way, with the poor in spirit as heirs of the kingdom of heaven.

Inheriting the kingdom of heaven is the only promise mentioned twice, and the second time it belongs with the only characteristic that is mentioned as doubly-blessed.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-11)

Not the peacemakers or the pure in heart or the poor in spirit are given two blesseds, but the persecuted. And note that persecuted isn’t narrowly defined as being beaten or killed, though it certainly includes that. This persecution includes being talked bad about, being talked to about your insensitivity, or your bigotry, or your arrogance, or just that you’re so dumb for believing in Jesus.

I have been thinking about this “blessing” more and more recently, and how we want to be a people who are not only able to absorb the criticism, but who really are able to “rejoice and be glad” when it comes. Such treatment puts us in a long line of godly men and women, and it means our reward is great in heaven, for which we really ought to be investing.

Are we living in such a way as to provoke the right kind of persecution, and then are we ready to receive persecution in such a cheerful way as to make others wish they could have that blessing?

Take Him to Dinner

A couple weeks ago I referred to the discipline not just of not being allowed to come to the communion table, but to the discipline of coming week by week. There are benefits for disciples, remembering the truths of the gospel about the love of God and the peace-making work of Christ on our behalf.

The discipline of communing is not only for individuals, but also for the entire church. There is discipline for my heart to make sure I’m ready to eat and drink with God, there is also discipline for my heart to make sure I’m ready to eat and drink with the sons and daughters of God. God has high standards, so His eating in His presence requires preparation, but He is perfect, so He’s never irritating or annoying. He lowers Himself to meet me at the communion Table. But if I start looking around the wrong way, I could think, “Whoa. What is wrong with all these people?”

When Paul said, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones…compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against one another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:12-13) this was an antidote to lawsuits, and bickering and bitterness and backbiting and bad-attitudes. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).

Don’t take your brother to court, take him to dinner. Or, at least remember that we share the same meal of communion here together because of the work of Christ. We are at peace in Christ. Let it be so in real time.

Most Likely to Be an Arbiter

I don’t plan to make this an exhaustive series of exhortations covering all the blesseds in the Bible, but part of the method of staying on the subject for so many weeks is to make the point that God loves to bless His people and that there are lot of ways He does so.

For now let’s go back into the Beatitude orchard and note the seventh in line: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Like the first six in the list, “peacemakers” describes a kind of person. It is one word in Greek, made up of two parts, the verb for “make” and the noun “peace” (very nuanced in translation, as you can tell). A man who makes peace is a man who intervenes in disagreements and disputes, who reconciles divided parties, who works to calm conflicts and bring fighting friends back into fellowship.

Peace cannot always be made, and there are certain occasions when peace should not be pursued. Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). We are to fight against sin and fight for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. But even then we defend the faith for sake of justified peace. We kill our sin for sake of holy peace. We call for the unrepentant and heretical to repent for sake of eternal peace.

That said, most of us weren’t voted “Most Likely to Be an Arbiter” in our graduation class, and the world does not know that we are Christians by our peacemaking. We are much better at stirring things up, or being stirred up. But, as fun as it may be, Jesus did not say “blessed are the contrarians.”

Why are peacemakers blessed? It certainly doesn’t feel happy in the midst of most conflict, either between you and someone else or when trying to help two other people. But God makes it blessed because it is a share in God’s own work. God makes peace. God gets in the middle. He is a Mediator at heart, or at least He is in flesh, and that’s why Jesus says the peacemakers will be “called sons of God.” When we make peace we are acting like our Father.

Discipline of a Different Style

When a man refuses to repent from his sin the church disciplines him which includes no longer allowing him to participate in communion. When a man is repenting from his sin the church provides discipline of a different style which includes providing weekly opportunity to participate in communion. There is discipline in not communing, there is discipline in communing.

Discipline almost always has the idea of negative feedback, equated to punishment and involving pain of some kind. But discipline and disciple are related terms, and both are rooted in the Latin word discipulus which means “learner” at the most basic level. A disciplined person is a person who is learning, not just suffering something unpleasant.

There is discipline for disciples in coming to the Lord’s Table week by week. The way we approach it, it is not unpleasant, but it is not easy either. There is necessary work to get ready for it and to partake in it. What do disciples learn here at Supper?

We learn, or are regularly remembering what we’ve learned, that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. We learn that salvation is not by any of our works. We learn that atonement is substitutionary. We learn that God fulfills His promises. We learn that faith gets fed. We learn that God desires fellowship with us. We learn that we are not alone. We learn that we are always proclaiming something, and that we are privileged to proclaim in eating and drinking the good news of Jesus’ death. We learn that today is not the end, but we must eat and drink “until He comes.” We learn that thankfulness is the necessary tone, and the Table trains us get in tune.

Left Without Discipline

We are still in a series of exhortations to confession focused on being blessed. Recognizing our blessings from God and giving Him thanks for those blessings is a part of our evangelistic strategy. This is not a prosperity gospel, though prosperity can be a blessing. There are other blessings that are harder to recognize, so we want to see them and boast in the Lord about them.

The last couple blesseds have been from the Beattitudes, and there are more worth covering from that Sermon, but for now let’s consider that one of our heavenly Father’s great blessings to His children is discipline.

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD,
 And who you teach out of your law. (Psalm 94:12)

The version we sing at our church is, “blessed the man whom You chastise, Lord, whom You teach to know Your way” (“God of Vengeance, O Jehovah”). Discipline is training, often that corrects disobedience. Discipline can include rebuke or pain that turns us away from sin and back to holiness.

The author of Hebrews says a lot about discipline without using the word blessed, but it certainly applies. He even quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 which has some overlap with Psalm 94:12.

How is discipline a blessing?

Discipline means that we are not abandoned, but loved. God’s discipline is a father’s love for a son, not a judge’s punishment of a criminal. Worse than that, perhaps, is being allowed to have whatever we want, left to sit and stew in soul destroying sin. Discipline displays our Father’s wise affection applied to us. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6). And, “if you are left without discipline…then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:8).

Discipline also means that we are not finished, but still being shaped. The Father wants us to “share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). That would be preposterous if God Himself hadn’t said it. Discipline is “for our good,” it “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

So don’t be weary when He corrects you (Hebrews 12:5). Don’t treat His discipline like an unwanted intervention. Discipline is blessing, and we ought to receive discipline in such a way that makes others jealous to have it.

We Eat What We Are

Because of how the gospel connects indicatives to imperatives, we can not only say: you are what you eat, but also you eat what you are. When we eat and drink Christ's body we are being knit together and strengthened. Our faith is strengthened by His bread, our hearts are gladdened by His wine.

But we are also eating what we are. We are, in Christ, bread that strengthens the faith of others. We are, in Christ, wine that gladdens the hearts of others. We are a new lump, and what is it good for? It is good to be eaten. We are new wine, and what is it good for? It certainly can’t stay in old wine skins.

So Christ's body is bread and wine to us, and also we are bread and wine as Christ's body. We celebrate all that we have in Him because He is our Passover lamb who has been sacrificed. And that celebration is not limited to one day of the week or one week of the year. That celebration extends to our lives.

Feast here on Christ in communion, and remember that you eat what you are. How will you celebrate with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth? Put off the old self which is corrupt through deceitful desires and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24). Do honest work so that you have something to share (Ephesians 4:28), speak for the building up of others that gives grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up as a fragrant offering (Ephesians 5:2). You are that fragrant offering in communion with Him.

The Limits of Pretending Friends

First in the field of blesseds according to Jesus is being "poor in spirit." It is a unique way to start a sermon, and certainly not an easy sell to a worldling who (thinks he) wants blessing. Previously we considered the second in the list, namely, that mourning is a blessing that includes the promise of comfort. As one example, Paul called the Corinthians to mourn over sin in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:2). They likewise would have been benefited by planting this tree in their soul: humility (1 Corinthians 5:6).

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Again I want to argue that the happiness is not just in the future, or in the grasp of the future now by faith. There is blessing coming later (a kingdom), there is blessing in the current knowledge of what is coming (hope), but it is blessing to have a proper view of one's self.

Humility is a blessing because self-exaltation turns out to be really hard. It is a discouraging work to hunt for reasons to praise something or someone (like oneself) that isn't so great, let alone to lobby a group to pretend there is greatness. Most pride has the unfortunate position of not fitting with reality, and even friends have limits for credible imagination.

Humility is also a blessing because it hurts less to be corrected. We sin, or we make mistakes, and pride multiplies the original problem: it makes us defensive and distanciung, and it makes the fall farther when the strike hits. A humble person is already low; you can’t crash to the floor when you’re already on it.

And humility is a blessing because it shuts the gate to a number of other sins. Pride is what provokes anger (“How dare you not praise me!"), bitterness (“Why don't you recognize me?"), envy ("I deserve to have that."), and slander (“They do not deserve to have that!").

Jesus promises the heavenly kingdom to the humble, and the humbled are blessed in the humility itself.

Fixed in Mind

The argument for church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5 assumes at least a couple things. First, from the sinful man's perspective, he still wanted to be associated with the congregation. Paul confronted the flock for not removing the man; he had not removed himself. Whatever he was getting from his membership, he didn't want to lose it. Second, from the congregation's perspective, they should have something that the sinful man should want. Once removed and delivered over to Satan and the flesh, that bitter taste should turn him back to the fold.

In a similar remembrance that produced repentance, the prodigal son remembered all the blessings in his father's house. The difference for the prodigal, of course, is that he had left on his own whereas the disciplined man was removed. But what happened to the prodigal would hopefully happen to the disciplined man: he would remember all the blessings among God's people.

So part of our strategy for purity, preventative and remedial, is joy around the Lord’s Table. We share the blessings of salvation in communion, food for our faith and fellowship among the body in such a way as to fix in a man's mind something desirable. In the case of a disciplined man, the Lord may use remembrance of the shared bread and wine to draw him back. For us, we are encouraged week by week to not want sin more.

A couple Sunday mornings ago we welcomed to the Lord’s table two first-timers. They made their public profession of faith in the waters of baptism the previous Sunday evening, and we want for their first communion to be one of many sweet and serious celebrations. May our proclamation of the Lord's death until He comes be loud and compelling.

In the Orchard of Blessings

In this series of exhortations focused on God’s blessings, it would have been more awkward not to reference the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus sat down to teach He began with what we call the “Beatitudes,” so named due to the Latin word beatus which means “blessed.” Nine verses in a row start with the Greek word makarioi, translated by the plural form beati in the Latin Vulgate, and “blessed” in English. In the orchard of God’s blessings, these nine trees are planted closely together.

Skipping over the first in the list at the moment, here is Matthew 5:4. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Paul uses the same word for mourning (pentheo) in 1 Corinthians 5:2 in reference to how the church should respond to flagrant sin in her midst. Jesus uses it about those who are constantly mourning.

Matthew doesn’t record the reason for mourning, so perhaps it refers to any kind of sadness. But there is good reason in the sermon context to understand it as a grief for sin. That’s certainly true in the Corinth context. A man feels sorrow for the loss of holiness, which he was made to have. He grieves that he has caused insult to God.

Of all the blessings, this one seems the most difficult to connect. Happy are the ones who are sad? But that’s what Jesus says, and it’s not just because of the promise. Yes, those who mourn “will be comforted,” but if comfort was the only piece of blessing, wouldn’t the beatitude need to say, “Those who mourn will be blessed with comfort”? The comfort is blessing, but so is the mourning itself.

Mourning is part of the blessing because it means we see something as God does, and because we’re sharing His reaction to it. Those who are deluded or who are distracting themselves are not blessed, neither are those denying the truth. The blessing is as deep, or shallow, as the mourning.