Comparatively Uppity

On earth, the Lord’s Table may be the pinnacle of places where people do not get what they deserve. If we first examine ourselves, rather than being exposed by the Lord, we know that we are guilty outside of Christ, and that even after we came to Christ we have not always appreciated what He’s done for us.

Yet somehow we can still get uppity when we compare ourselves to others who are coming to the Table. We get comfortable in our spot, bordering on complacent, and then condemn brothers around us. “I bet he is eating in an unworthy manner.” But other than those who are under church discipline, it is a bigger problem for our fellow members not to eat and drink than it is for them to do so. Would we keep them from what the Lord gives so until they really appreciate what the Lord gives?

It wasn’t in the context of the communion meal, but Paul told the Romans that we are “not to please ourselves. Let each us of please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:1-2). Paul prayed that God would “grant you to live in harmony with one another” (15:5). And then Paul commanded them, “Therefore, welcome one another as Christ as welcomed you, for the glory of God” (verse 7).

To “welcome” means to be glad to see them, to receive them in, to invite them close, to have the attitude of a host. Let us not despise other grace-getters, but desire great blessings from the Lord for them.

Eye Opening

It is the work of God to open eyes.

The apostle John told the story of a man born blind in John 9:1-41. Initially the disciples assumed that the man’s blindness was a direct result of someone’s sin, either his own sin or his parents. Jesus didn’t deny that this could happen, but Jesus did deny that it happened here. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (verse 3).

As the chapter continues, “the works of God” include more than the restoration of the man’s eyesight through saliva mud and a wash in a pool called Sent. The spiritual eyes of the man were also opened so that he saw Jesus for who He really was: the Son of Man (verse 35). The now-seeing man believed in Jesus, and worshipped him (verse 37).

In the process, the Pharisees showed that their eyes were shut tight, and even the man’s parents covered their eyes to avoid seeing. Then Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (verse 38).

Nearby some of the Pharisees overheard Jesus and asked, “Are we also blind?” They knew that Jesus had moved the discussion beyond the physical to the spiritual. And Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (verse 41).

What’s the application? We want to be blind and admit it. Jesus restores sight to those who acknowledge their need. It is the ones who refuse to admit their problems who have the biggest problem, and they are blind in their guilt.

The Supper Is a Sermon

Or, You Are Always Preaching

Preachers are often asked how long it takes them to prepare a sermon. The question wants to know how many hours the preacher spent that week getting ready to preach. Did he translate the verses for himself? Did he brainstorm? Did he read any commentaries? Did he write out his notes? Did he pray specifically over the sermon? There are any number of steps.

But it’s actually a more difficult question than that. How many years of Greek class did he take (and did he actually learn anything) or is he constantly looking up basic words in the dictionary? How much of the rest of the Bible does he know? Does he have theological guardrails in place already to keep him on the road, or is he spending lots of time climbing up from the ditch of error? Beyond all of that, is he right with God? He will choke on Scripture’s “solid food” if he isn’t practiced in distinguishing good from evil (Hebrews 5:14). These are intangible things that are hard to calculate when it comes to preparing his sermon.

But, if what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:26 is true, that every time we eat and drink the bread and wine we are “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes,” then we all need to ask how we’ve prepared to preach. There is accountability that comes along with teaching God’s Word, so we refer to the authority of the pulpit. But there is accountability at the Lord’s Table, too. There is a sense in which all of us are behind the pulpit. What is our message? God’s people should be ready to preach, by which I mean ready to eat, by which I mean ready to give themselves for one another in love like Christ.

The Vocabulary of Repentance

We owe some of our most cherished vocabulary to the Reformers. This is Reformation Sunday, the Sunday closest to October 31st when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences. It is good for us to be thankful for God’s use of faithful men.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate the New Testament into English from Greek. John Wycliffe hand-wrote copies from Latin into English, but Tyndale had access to the Greek New Testament thanks to Erasmus, and his printed English copies created a firestorm.

One of his most important word choices came in Acts 2:38. After Peter preached on Pentecost, the men asked what they could do to be saved. The Catholic Church taught that Peter replied, “Do penance.” It’s based on the Latin word, Pœnitentiam. Tyndale translated Peter’s reply, “Repent” (based on Μετανοήσατε).

There’s no need to remember Tyndale every time we repent. However, it is good for our humility and our gratitude to remember that we’ve been delivered from numerous gross errors and heavy religious burdens because of men who loved God and His Word more than their own lives.

Never once have you come to this part of our liturgy on Sunday morning and heard that you must confess your sins to a priest who takes your confession for you to God. You are exhorted to confess, and the heart may resist, but when you confess, it is directly to God through Christ. No man is in the middle, Christ alone is the mediator. And on no occasion have you heard that, due to your sin, you must punish yourself, or pay God money, or travel to see a religious site, or work off your penalty.

When you realize your sin, what should you do? Confess your sin, repent from it, trust in Christ, and your forgiveness is by grace alone.

More Melody Than Misery

It is more than possible that at least some of the Corinthians had participated in the worship of Dionysius, also known to the Romans as Bacchus. Bacchus was the god of wine and festivity and fertility, a god well known and served for centuries before Christ came. In the name of Bacchus men and women became drunk and in many cases caused destruction through frenzy and ritual unrestraint. Some of the Corinthian Christians may have brought this baggage with them to their fellowship meals.

Paul went out of his way in Ephesians 5:18 to contrast being filled with the Spirit to being filled with, another way to say “controlled by,” wine: “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

But it is interesting to see the results of that Spirit-filling: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20). This does not sound like the death of Bacchus, it sounds like his salvation and submission to Christ. The opposite of Dionysian madness and indulgence isn’t commiseration, but melody and thankfulness.

Worshipped as a god, everything brings damnation. Seen as a servant of God, all lawful things are good for God’s glory. So were the Corinthians behaving inconsistently at the Lord’s supper? Absolutely. What would have made it consistent? Consistent would not have been misery instead of revelry, consistent would have been loving God and others joyfully in remembrance of Christ.

Because Others Refused

The reason we confess our sins as part of our church’s worship on Sunday mornings is because of unconfessed sin. I don’t mean that we are trying to provide an opportunity for those who failed to make things right with the Lord in the previous six days, though it does do that. I mean that we wouldn’t even be in this position as a church had not sin been defended and its ugliness demonstrated.

Many years ago I was personally, and then pastorally, struck by the fact that confession of sin by believers was mostly talked about as something Martin Luther did when he was trying to be a good monk, wearing out his priest in confession for hours at a time. Most of the churches I had been a part of only encouraged confession of sin for Christians during A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) in corporate prayer meetings, and even then for a short period of silent prayer. I started to wonder why confession of sin, to God and to others, had become so little practiced. Around that time I read Augustine’s Confessions and made resolutions to repent, more specifically and more quickly, and urge others to do the same.

The existence of our church, not just our liturgy, came about because others refused to acknowledge their sin, blamed people around them, and used their authority to punish those who were confronting the sin. It wasn’t difference of opinion or preference. Failure to take responsibility for our sin causes pain and it can cause, and has caused, division in relationships, in families, and in churches. In our case, forming a new church allowed for additional study about church services, and a time for confessing sin seemed relevant for our liturgy and circumstances.

By God’s grace we benefit from the weekly reminder to confess our sins because others refused to. Only God can bring blessing out of sin, and He also blesses those who confess and forsake their sin.

The Nature of Bread and Wine

We know from Psalm 19 that the heavens declare the glory of God so that all men should see His handiwork. We know from Romans 1 that creation reveals the existence and power of God so that all men should honor God and thank Him. And in 1 Corinthians 11 we read that nature makes it so that all men know how long to cut their hair.

What does nature teach about the Lord’s Table? Well, that is probably asking too much. Nature doesn’t tell us about the cross or about the resurrection or about the need to believe in Christ for our sin, and nature doesn’t tell us about either ordinance of the church. We need special revelation, which we have.

But does this mean that nature does us no good whatsoever when it comes to the communion meal? I don’t just mean the physical elements, or the embodied persons who partake, though those do argue against any kind of gnostic or dualistic priority. While recognizing that Christ instituted the Supper with words and that His apostles delivered the instruction, and while recognizing that Christ’s pattern was the Passover meal provided by God’s Word to the Israelites, there is a created nature of the meal that belongs with the revealed intent of the meal.

What does nature teach about bread? Eat! It’s good! What does nature teach about wine? It’s a gift! Drink! Let your heart be glad! And what does even nature teach about a table of bread and wine? It is meant to be shared, and shared in joy.

There are occasions for corporate quiet and contemplation, but even nature recommends fasting for such sobriety. Nature commends feasting in fellowship for stirring up thanks and gladness.

To be sure, Paul could not commend the Corinthians for their communion practice. But that is because they were divided and because they were selfishly indulging themselves. I would argue that not only goes against the gospel, that goes against nature.

Bolognology

Men lie. Christians of all people should know this, or at least stop believing what everyone says. Men lie. They’re lying if they say they aren’t.

By “men” I mean human beings, male and female, young and old, from every tribe and language and people and nation. This nationality piece is especially significant, because it extends to all peoples. By “lie” I mean to present an untrue statement as true with the intent to deceive.

There are all kinds of specific lies in the world, but one of the most obvious, yet accepted, lies today is that men don’t know what is right and wrong. This is Bolognology, the study of bologna.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. (Romans 2:14)

The Gentiles didn’t have the Mosaic Law, God’s revealed law, even if they had societal laws. Paul isn’t saying that they always did what is right, but “by nature” they know that there is right and wrong. This “nature” is something God gave.

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…. (Romans 2:15)

They know that there is right and they judge how they behave according to that standard.

Of course they could wrongly apply the standard. Having your feet on the ground doesn’t mean you’re standing in the right place. Natural law and the consciences of men are not without error, but it’s enough to call them on. Christians should both not believe the worldly when they say that law is something socially relative nor should we receive the accusations of the world that say we are the ones who make them feel guilty. The know that they’re guilty by nature.

Likeness Sharers

In creational terms, man is the glory of God and woman is the glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:7). That is God’s sovereign Word, we receive it, regardless of the culture’s hatred of gender distinctions, a misplaced hatred because they really want to do away with the distinction between themselves and God.

In redemptive terms, all believers are being remade in the image of God to share the glory of God; we are brothers and sisters in Christ. This is also God’s sovereign Word, we receive it, regardless of the Arminian’s (or Pelagian’s) argument.

For those whom he [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29)

This is just an amazing thing. God decided beforehand that we would be summorphos, that is, sharing the likeness of God’s Son. We are predestined to this adjective: we are the “likeness sharers.”

Verse 30 follows not with a hierarchy, but with a chain.

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This glorified state is not separate from Christ’s image in us. We are being transformed into the same glory by beholding the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). By His “very great promises” we are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3).

So man was created for God, and woman was created for man, and you, beloved, are created and called and saved for glory.

Sin into a Proper Noun

Sometimes things stick out that make you see from a different angle. It might be a typo. For example, when I type the name Chris, I often need to delete a “t” from the end because my muscle memory first types “Christ.” But, for a Christian named Chris, wouldn’t he appreciate being so easily mistaken for his Christlikeness?

It wasn’t a typo, but I had a different angle on hate this past week. Some of us are reading The Iliad and hate is used with a capital H. It’s because in the story Hate is a god (lowercase g).

Hate, whose wrath is relentless, she is the sister and companion of murderous Ares, she who is only a little thing at first, but thereafter grows until she strides on earth with her head striking heaven. (142)

Later Hate comes to watch the war between the Greeks and the Trojans, and she is also called “the Lady of Sorrow.” But unlike the Man of Sorrows who carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-6), Hate is the Lady of Sorrow because she gives sorrow to others. She delighted to see men attack each other like wolves.

Hate is not actually a god, but sin does enslave. Hate can work even in believers. “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness” (1 John 2:11). “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

We are monotheists by confession, but how many gods are in our sinful hearts? If we turned the sin into a proper noun, would you be seen as worshipping another? Bitterness? Anger? Drunkenness? Rivalry?