A Feast of Self-Control

Most meal plans that emphasize self-control do not include necessary feasting. You may be allowed a cheat day, or you may take one anyway, but the emphasis is usually on limited rather than unlimited portions.

When Christ gives Himself to us, He gives all of Himself. We have a portion in Christ, but we do not get only a portion of Him. We do not have to “cheat” to get more of Him.

Both during training and during the actual run, it is important to get the proper fuel for your body. You need energy stores for immediate effort and for down the road. I’ve seen odd things offered to runners along a marathon route, from bananas to bagels to beer, from marijuana to Monster drinks. Some of these will keep a runner going for a moments, some of them will keep a runner going for miles.

In the stadium of the Christian life, the same is true. If every week was like a lap, there is a full table at the first corner set for sake of soul gratitude and gas.

The communion table is not separate from our self-control, it is part of it. This meal feeds our faith in the imperishable reward, and reminds us that we all run in body as a Body. We run to win, but we run together, to win together, which is not the typical way to think of a race.

We all have Christ, and we have all of Christ. He is the one who qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:12), and He Himself is our refreshment and our provision for the race.

Chosen and Expressly Named

I’m struck by a couple small descriptions in the account of when King David brought the ark back to Jerusalem. David offered sacrifices and distributed food to the people, and it was “on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers” (1 Chronicles 16:7). The middle, and most, of the chapter is a song of thanks, and then more appointments for sake of leading worship, including “Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever” (verse 41).

Did the “chosen and expressly named” men apply for the “Thanks Givers Team”? What did that vetting process involve? What did a typical day of work at the worship tent look like, making a new list of blessings, or adding to the one started yesterday? Did those “expressly named to give thanks to the LORD” ever wake up on Monday morning and dread going into work? “I just don’t feel like giving thanks today.” “I need a vacation from this.”

We don’t have the same position today, or at least I’ve never met a “Pastor of Thanksgiving.” And yet, isn’t it true that all of us believers have been “chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD”?

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:8)

This is the Lord’s steadfast love, and we’ve received His mercy (1 Peter 2:9). God chose us before the foundation of the world and sealed us with His Spirit so that we would sing and make melody to the Lord with all our heart, “giving thanks always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:19-20).

We have been chosen and named to the thanks industry, and duties require vigilance to see His hand as well as our indifference.

It’s the Law

There are only two places in the Bible that refer to the “law of Christ.” The first is in 1 Corinthians 9:21 (ἔννομος Χριστοῦ) as Paul clarifies that he does not abandon righteous living to reach the unrighteous with a message of righteousness. He doesn’t abandon obedience to Christ when calling others to obey Christ.

The second time the phrase is used in Galatians 6:2 (τὸν νόμον τοῦ Χριστοῦ), though Galatians was probably written five to six years before 1 Corinthians. To the Galatians Paul explains at least one way to live out the law of Christ.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

This is called the law of Christ because this is Christ’s custom, His rule, His norm. The Son of God picks up another man’s load and carries it for him. The word for “burdens” applies to something “particularly oppressive” or something that “proves exhausting” (BDAG). The plural form indicates at least a diversity of possible burdens if not a multiplicity of burdens. It might be a big one, it might be more than one.

In the context of Galatians 6 the burden could be a brother caught in a transgression. It could also be a brother caught in an affliction. There are all sorts of ways that we struggle and suffer. Remember, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). It is certainly easier not to bear another burden.

This is a communion encouragement, not an exhortation. As a church you do well in bearing the burdens of one another and so fulfilling the law of Christ. Yes, excel still more, as you feed on Christ’s flesh and follow His example of death that brings life (2 Corinthians 4:12).

Interconnecting Gears

On more than one occasion the apostle Paul wrote about the triad of faith, hope, and love. These three don’t just belong together, like complementary colors on a wall, they work together, like interconnecting gears in an engine.

As Paul gave thanks for the Colossians (whom he had not met in person), he remarked that he had heard of their faith “and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.”

We know that love is the great commandment. Loving the saints is right, both the strong and the weak. Loving our neighbors and seeking their salvation is also right. God is love, God commands love, in Jesus we know love, the fruit of the Spirit includes love. So why don’t we love?

We don’t love, or perhaps better said we love the wrong things, for a variety of reasons. But if we reverse engineer this description in Colossians 1:4-5, at least one of the reasons we don’t love is because our hope is broken.

The problem may be because our hope is in things on earth. It could be because our hope is not informed. It could be because our hope is in the present not in the promises.

If we are uncertain about our future then we will be more cautious about today. If we don’t hope in God’s reward, reserved for us with faith but not currently visible, then why sacrifice our current position? Love has its own momentum, but has even more thrust when driven by hope.

Are you building up your hope?

Dead at the Cross

Rhetoric is deeper than what is said, more than well spoken words, more than clear or persuasive speech. Rhetoric most often involves language, but it also includes lifestyle and liturgy.

Paul’s life was a tool of persuasion. He commanded the Corinthians to use their personal rights for sake of others rather than themselves (1 Corinthians 8), and he modeled this very behavior (1 Corinthians 9). Not only was what he said not undone by what he did, what he said was more effective because of what he did.

The liturgy of the Lord’s Table also speaks, but without words. Paul told the Corinthians that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). But how?

Just as Paul provided an example of the gospel of the cross by giving up his personal rights for the sake of others, so we announce the gospel of the cross by giving up our personal grievances against others. We stop judging others wrongly, and judge “ourselves truly” (verse 31). We eat and drink in fellowship because our envy and bitterness and anger is dead at the cross.

The gospel is news. It can (and must at some point) be spoken and heard, written and read. The message cannot be altered because it is historical reality. But our lives can adorn the doctrine, and they should show the truth of the gospel, that sacrifice driven by love for others changes the world.

Belly Worship

We’ve been talking about food and gods in 1 Corinthians 8 in our current sermon series, about the connection between eating and worship. In Philippians 3 Paul warns about those who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” and it also has to do with an idolatrous relationship with repast.

“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory on their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (verse 19).

The four phrases seem to work backward from the end. These men are occupied with physical things and so that’s where they get their standards. Earthly standards lead to an exchange between glory and shame. When shame gets taken for glory, self must be the god. And because we can’t ever successfully exchange God’s world for our imagined world, self-as-god ends in destruction, where the verse starts.

“Their god is their belly” is quite a striking, almost crude sounding description. The comforts for self, the satisfactions for self, all serve self. Note that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a “fat belly” (Buddha-like) god, it could be a “free range only belly” god or a “flat belly” god; the focus is still on self. These are enemies of the cross which crucifies self.

Those who are, by contrast, friends of the cross, if we can call them that, are not defined by what they do or do not put in their bellies, they are defined by their bellies being servants of God rather than gods to be served. They are appropriately ashamed in their shame, and they anticipate the true glory when Christ transforms our “lowly” bodies “to be like his glorious body” (verse 20).

There is no neutrality. Either we will worship the Creator or something in creation. Our bellies will show shame or glory, not measured by girth but by gratitude.

Self-Esteem Propaganda

There are (at least) two ways to feel superior to other people: know that you know more/better than others, or, not actually know better but be self-satisfied in your imagined higher estate. In other words, pride comes from a certain kind of knowledge, and pride comes from a certain kind of ignorance.

God says that knowledge puffs up. The wise man measures his wisdom and seeks to gain more of it, but his sin tempts him to measure against the attainments of others. Rather than compare our knowledge to God’s, and give thanks for His grace that brought us to knowledge, we sit in judgment on our brothers.

Ignorance is not better, and it certainly does not guarantee of humility. An ignorant man who has enough knowledge to know he is ignorant is one thing, but a fully ignorant man is ignorant of his own state. All he needs is a good imagination and to drink at the fount of self-esteem propaganda all around him.

In my observation, men are more likely to fall into the latter category, women into the first, they even have the moniker: “Church Ladies.” (Preachers are a third category of unhelpful.) Men should stop acting like know-it-alls, and women should stop believing that they are better because they talk demurely about their righteousness. It is not always those who argue loudly that have a pride problem, it can also be those who whisper, taking delight in someone else’s failure.

This is another reason why worship, informed and driven by the Word, is so important. Worship in ignorance does not exalt God, and worship in true knowledge of God does not exalt us. We are humbled before Him and learn how to treat others just as He treats us.

The Father’s Generosity

When Paul affirmed the truth of the knowledge about God to the Corinthians he summarized: “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).

Of course this affirms God’s sovereignty. God is the source and the end of all things, and Jesus mediates God’s wisdom and strength in the creating and sustaining of all things. But is the point of the truth God’s power and authority?

It is not less than that, but it is also an affirmation of God’s generosity. Of all the things that belong with God as Father, it is His love that gives. All things originate in Him, but the point even to the Corinthians is not that we look through thick glass walls that separate us from all that He has. There is no wall. We look at all that He has given.

Included in that generosity is His own Son. God loved the world and gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but receive eternal life. And if the Father gave us Christ, how will He with Him not give us all things?

On Father’s Day we are learning what fathers are like, even as we eat and drink around the table of His generosity. We learn His nature and we are strengthened to imitate Him.

Not by Self-Promotion

In a fallen world it is possible to mess just about anything up, including the good things. That said, there are some things that can help us mess up less.

The weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper could get messed up. It could become stale ritual, a heartless motion-going. Worse, it could become a source of self-righteousness and superiority over others who don’t do it as often or who use grape juice or tiny, dry cracker bits.

But you really have to work to not think about what we’re doing here to get to that point. It doesn’t take much remembrance to promote humility and relationship.

The reason for the bread and the wine is because of our sin. Jesus gave His body and His blood because we rebelled against God and God requires atonement. We remember what we deserved, and we remember that salvation came from outside of us and by grace to us. That is humbling.

The goal of salvation, though, is not that we be humbled, but that we be exalted by Him rather than exalted by self-attempt and self-promotion. The Lord’s Supper is a time for our communion with the Father through the Son by the Spirit. That is relationship with the Trinity, and relationship with others in the Body in reflection of the Trinity.

More than facts, more than truth, we know God’s love, and that feeds our love for Him and each other.

Truth-Tubes

Ignorance of God makes idolators or weak worshippers. Knowledge of God, like knowledge of one’s spouse, increases and intensifies love and praise for God.

But it is easy to seek knowledge as an end, or maybe more accurately to seek knowledge for the praise of our knowledge. This is a subject that I’ve spoken about repeatedly, a subject that I believe is relevant for our flock, and a subject that regularly requires repentance.

I’ve referred to seeking Bible knowledge as an end as trying to fill one’s “truth-tube” and those who do so as “truth-tubers.” This is not a criticism of truth, but rather an image intended to provoke our thoughts about what truth is for.

Imagine organized rows of clear and clean glass test tubes, all filled to various heights with fantastic colored liquid. What good are those tubes doing for each other, including the ones that are filled to capacity? They are close, but they are not connected.

The illustration of truth-tube came as I attempted to come up with the opposite of a great illustration used by John Bunyan in his book, Christian Behavior.

“Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of each other.”

The “dew of heaven” is grace and truth. We are “nourished” in order to “become nourishers of each other.” This is why we speak truth in love for sake of being joined as a body and growing as a body built up in love.