The Lord’s Day

Series | The Lord’s Day

George Orwell said,

Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.

I’m not claiming intelligence, but I do think some restatement of the obvious regarding the Lord’s day is an eternally and spiritually intelligent thing to do.

Even the phrase itself, the Lord’s day is instructive. It isn’t just Sunday or the first day of the calendar week or the last day of your weekend. In fact it’s not your day at all. It is the Lord’s day. The name is biblical, and though only found in one verse, it is an inspired designation. The apostle John wrote in Revelation 1:10,

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.

John was isolated on the island of Patmos; exiled as punishment for preaching the gospel. As he began to write the Revelation of the end times he tells us when he received this vision: on the Lord’s day.

This is the only verse that uses this exact phrase. And after reading it in English I had a question, because I was familiar with a similar phrase found plenty of places in the Old and New Testaments referring to “the day of the Lord.” I’ve read my Bible enough and taken enough theology classes to know that “the day of the Lord” denotes a coming, eschatological day of judgment, when the Lord comes back and pours out His wrath on those nations and peoples who rejected Him.

And if you know anything about translation you know that there are numerous ways to indicate possession. You can say “the desk of Bob” or “Bob’s desk.” Both constructions show that the desk is owned by Bob. In English we typically show possession by adding apostrophe “s” but in highly inflected languages (like Greek) possession is expressed by this genitive phrasing.

So I wondered if it was same phrase, and if so, why every other time in Scripture we read “the day of the Lord” but here in Revelation 1:10 it was translated “the Lord’s day.” There are at least a couple reasons for the difference. The first is word order.

In most of the references to the day of the Lord, “Lord” comes after “day” in the typical genitive construction.

ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ κυρίου
the day of the Lord

But in Revelation 1:10, the word for “Lord” comes between the article and the noun. This is the first attributive position and is the principal way to accentuate or highlight the adjective more than the noun. The emphasis is on Lord’s.

τῇ κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ
the Lord’s day

But word order is not the biggest reason why Revelation 1:10 is different. The biggest reason is because it isn’t even the same word. The word in Revelation 1:10 is a form of κυριακός. While in the same family of words as the noun, κύριος, meaning Lord, this is an adjective that doesn’t refer to the person, it distinctly describes what belongs to the person.

The word κυριακός is not a Bible-only word. It was used frequently in secular Greek writings in imperial, official language: “concerning the emperor” or “belonging to the emperor,” often referring to the emperor’s accounts and what was rightfully owned and due to his position. John applies the word to a particular day as “belonging to the Lord; the Lord’s.” Like anything owned by the King, this day is set apart for, specially possessed by, and distinctive of the Lord. It is not my day or your day or even the church’s day; it is the Lord’s day.

There is only one other place that κυριακός is used to describe something else owned by the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 11:20 Paul refers to “the Lord’s supper” and totally transforms ordinary food and common meals into something that is distinct, special, and set apart. Paul admonished the Corinthians that they were treating His table with disrespect and therefore treating Him with disregard.

So κυριακός is an imperial, royal, kingly word, and His day is not something for us to treat with indifference. Matthew Henry wrote,

The name shows how this sacred day should be observed; the Lord’s day should be wholly devoted to the lord, and none of its hours employed in a sensual, worldly manner, or in amusements….Those who would enjoy communion with God on the Lord’s day, must seek to draw their thoughts and affections from earthly things.

We are so far away from Sunday’s like this. We do not treat the day like it’s His. It’s our day, and we may share a few hours with Him if we don’t have something better to do. Instead, we should restate the obvious and remember and rehearse that it is the Lord’s day.

Good for Nothing Bricks

Series | The Lord’s Day

In December of 2003 I taught a short series of sermons under the banner “Church Life for Teens.” The initial motivation for that series was that I really wanted students to understand the importance of the biblical ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I tagged on a short message concerning church etiquette, hoping to instruct students about customary and polite behavior at church (such bottom line basics like not sleeping in church or getting up, leaving, and returning in the middle of a service).

Perhaps those connected to one28 remember the events that followed. As I was preaching through those messages on church life I realized I had missed a fundamental thing. My assumption was that the church was a priority. I was wrong. There were some parachurch groups becoming more and more popular at that time and a number of our own students were directing a good portion of their time and energy into things I argued were inferior to, if not in direct competition with, the church. So I taught a couple messages on the Potential Problems with Parachurch.

But almost four years later I see another trend. This trend is even more of a threat than parachurch groups or misunderstanding about proper church behavior or ignorance about the ordinances. This trend is more selfish and more dangerous and more disobedient and more dishonoring to God than perhaps all those others. The trend, the threat, is NEGLECTING THE LORD’S DAY.

There is an increasing pattern of neglecting the Lord’s Day, Sunday, in our culture. That is probably to be expected. But most alarming is the growing disregard for Sunday and corporate worship I see among my own students (and across the whole church).

I’ve given a lot of thinking effort in attempt to pinpoint why there is so much neglect. Maybe some students just don’t know. Perhaps the problem is plain old Bible ignorance about the priorities and practices of the Lord’s day. The only thing they know about the Lord’s day is that their parents have made them go all their life. It’s just the pattern, not their passion. If that’s the case, I hope some instruction will help stir up eagerness and energy for first-day gathering.

But I’m afraid there are more whose primary problem is not ignorance; it is selfishness and laziness. They know, either from past instruction or from their own conscience, that the Lord must be honored more on Sundays by them, but they refuse and neglect to dedicate and celebrate His day. Those need not only light, but heat; not only teaching but warning; not only truth, but loving pleading and prodding to get where they belong.

Now it is likely at this point that some are already defensive. Perhaps they are defensive because I couldn’t possibly know their particular sob story. They can’t make Sundays a priority. They just can’t change their schedule or they’re just doing what their parents want, etc. We’ll talk about that.

Others would say, Christians are saved individually. And I would agree, in some sense. But even if we agree that our relationship with Christ is personal, we cannot dismiss the fact that our relationship with the church is corporate. Students may be Christians by themselves, but every Christian is part of the church. Spurgeon called such disconnected Christians “good-for-nothing bricks.”

I know there are some who say, “Well, I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to the church.” Now why not? “Because I can be a Christian without it.” Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? What is a brick made for? To help build a house. It is of no use for the brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick. So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose. You are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do.

Still others are defenders of faith, in other words, they love to hunt Pharisees and legalists. They fight against anything that even hints like it’s a rule or an external requirement because after all, we’re saved by faith alone. They beat the drum that church attendance can’t save us and we all know that God cares most about the heart. Those students are afraid of formality and tradition and going through the motions and routine. Fair enough.

But what if God holds us responsible, not for missing church meetings or sleeping during sermons or being distracted from worship itself per se, but what if He holds us responsible for those things because they demonstrate that our hearts weren’t right? I agree that God is not most concerned about our attendance…He’s concerned about our heart’s attention! We don’t want to be Pharisees, but we also don’t want to be servants who are defiant to our Lord.

Over the next week or so I’m going to blog a brief series that I pray God would use like a pointblank fire hose to douse our selfishness and direct us and drench us with love for the Lord’s day.

For the First Time in 28 Years

I did not go “back to school” yesterday for the first time in 28 years. The past six years I taught one or more high school Bible classes at our Christian school and the previous 22 years I made my way through the typical course of elementary, junior high, high school, (three) colleges, and then graduate school. That is a lot of school; not necessarily a lot of education, but a lot of school, with a fair share of apprehensive and/or unenthusiastic first days to boot.

So Mo took me to dinner in order to celebrate my new freedom. I came home from church, ran almost 11 miles (in training for a marathon to be named later), got clean, and then drove down to Daniel’s Broiler on Lake Union. We had a gift card from another celebration: our five year anniversary at Grace Bible. Yes, that party was last June, meaning that it took us over 15 months before utilizing the gift, but our feast was well worth the wait and the filet mignon was as tender and flavorful as ever. The waiter even asked if I had licked my plate, which I probably haven’t done for around 28 years.

Genuine Religious Affections are Relentless

Series | For the Love of God

This fifth mark is acutely helpful but typically ignored in the attempt to identify gracious, spiritual affections.

5. Genuine religious affections are relentless.

In other words, genuine affections are always increasing and developing. They are not stagnant nor are they easily satisfied with their attainments. They do not applaud themselves and pat themselves on the back for how far they’ve come. Truly spiritual affections are not easily satiated. They are always pressing and pushing to mature more.

The kindling and raising of gracious affections is like kindling a flame; the higher it is raised, the more ardent it is; and the more it burns, the more vehemently does it tend and seek to burn. (303)

A fire lit is a fire seeking to burn. Isn’t that exactly what we see of Paul?

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

This is why in the New Testament, conversion is always seen as just the beginning. Men are to run the race with commitment and not stop until the course is completed. Believers are constantly striving and agonizing, wresting against principalities and powers, fighting, standing, pressing forward, crying to God day and night. Taking a break from the battle or calling a timeout during the fight is a sure way to be toast. Satan is not resting. Sin takes no breathers. That is why we must be ever alert and always active. Edwards dreadfully warns us away from half-heartedness:

Slothfulness in the service of God in His professed servants is as damning as open rebellion; for the slothful servant is a wicked servant and shall be cast into open darkness among God’s open enemies.

But gracious and genuine affections are not intermittent or listless, they are relentless.

Genuine Religious Affections are Nature-Changing

Series | For the Love of God

Today we pick up with the next distinguishing mark of genuine religious affections.

4. Genuine religious affections are nature-changing.

Though I suppose that this one should be obvious, it apparently is not. When the Bible talks about salvation and conversion and becoming a Christian, it uses language like “born again,” “new creatures,” “taking off the old man and putting on the new man,” “being made partakers of the divine nature” and so on. These images do not present genuine Christian life as an add-on or a surface level change or simply behavior modification. Genuine religious affections stem from an entirely different, completely changed, new nature.

Of all the changes, perhaps the single most affected part is our perspective on ourselves. That is to say, genuine religious affections are always distinguished by the presence of humility. Whereas the natural man and the hypocrite are always lifting themselves up, genuine affections cause a man to be low. We know we must decrease while Christ increases. Edwards defined this “evangelical humiliation” as the

sense that a Christian has of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness with an answerable frame of heart. (237)

Religious posers compare themselves with others. They think that they are not nearly as bad as most everyone else and figure that they have done numerous noteworthy religious things. They are like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who thanked God that he was not like others. They tend to be the hero of every story they tell.

But true saints compare themselves with God’s standard. And in proportion to God’s position and requirements, no one in this world is what they ought to be. The highest love that any have in this life is but skimpy, tepid, and diluted in comparison to what our obligations are. Edwards’ logic is watertight here.

The least sin against an infinite God has an infinite hatefulness or deformity in it; but the highest degree of holiness in a creature has not an infinite loveliness in it.

Our obligation to love and honor any being is in some proportion to his loveliness and honorableness, or to his worthiness to be loved and honored by us…We are surely under greater obligation to love a more lovely being than a less lovely; and if a Being be infinitely lovely or worthy to be loved by us, then our obligations to love Him are infinitely great, and therefore whatever is contrary to this love, has in it infinite iniquity, deformity, and unworthiness.

So much the greater distance between God and the creature, so much the less is the creature’s respect worthy of God’s notice or regard. A great degree of superiority increases the obligation of the inferior to regard the superior, and so makes the want of regard more hateful. But a great degree of inferiority diminishes the worth of the regard of the inferior; because the more he is inferior, the less he is worthy of notice; the less he is, the less is what he can offer worth…as he is little, and little worth, so is his respect little worth.

In other words, our wickedness is infinitely despicable and our best love is hardly admirable compared to what He deserves. Of course, we tend to overestimate our position and therefore underestimate the distance between ourselves and God. This is a monumental mistake.

Though the following illustration is far from Edwardsean, perhaps it will help to knock us off our proud pedestals.

Imagine that you are the curator of a worm farm. You have acquired an aquarium and collected a great number of worms for your colony. You provide your worm community with food, water, protection from attack, and all other things necessary for their pursuit of happiness. In return you require the group to follow, let’s say 10 commands. You even display those commands on a poster on the side of the aquarium for all to see. Most of the worms appreciate your care and oversight, so much so that they decided to hold weekly services to sing songs of thanks and praise.

But here are two very important questions. First, would that worm worship make you feel truly respected? When you were ignored at parties, would your self-image be boosted by remembering that at least the worms love you? Probably not. They are worms. Their admiration and submission is only worth so much.

And the second question is, what would you do if one of those worms disobeyed? Would you not find that utterly inappropriate and reprehensible? How dare a worm disregard you!

And though God is graciously more mindful of man than men are of worms, the point is in the parallel. The more we understand how infinitely great and holy God is the more we see how wicked and pathetic we are. And as we see the distance between us we will must be more humble. The best we can offer Him is worthless. The worst we can offer Him is infinitely bad. The more actually holy we get the more sense and sensitivity we will have to how holy we still are not. We will never imagine our humility to be low enough. As Edwards wrote,

It is really no argument of any great conviction of sin for some men to think themselves to be sinful beyond most others in the world; because they are so indeed very plainly and notoriously. (260)

So gracious affections come from a changed nature, and one evidence (on a great heap of evidences) of a changed nature is developing humility.

Out of God’s Control

Justin Taylor linked to this article by Dr. Roger Olson who claims that the Calvinist view of the Minneapolis bridge collapse distorts God’s character. Wow. Where to begin?

Olson says,

What a strange calamity. A modern, seemingly well-engineered bridge in a major metropolitan area collapsed in a moment without any forewarning of danger.

Something similar could happen to any of us anytime. Similar things do happen to us or people just like us–innocent bystanders passing through life are suddenly blindsided by some weird tragedy.

So where is God when seemingly pointless calamity strikes?

The question is constructive, but only if we answer it from the Bible. For example, Job thought God was in control when he was suddenly blindsided by calamity (loss of all his livestock and property) and tragedy (all of his children killed by a windstorm). Not only did Job understand God’s sovereignty, he worshiped the LORD and criticized his wife for her unwillingness to receive evil from God, even when his own health was taken without warning. Although Job had no clue of the purpose of this calamity, his response was not to question God’s control or His character.

Yet Olson criticizes John Piper (without using his name) for stating that God was in control of the bridge collapse. According to Olson, if God is in control of bad things, God’s character must be bad. For God’s character to be good, every bad thing must be out of God’s control. So Olson asks and answers,

But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, “OK, not my will then, but thine be done–for now.”

How about when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery? There is no doubt about the finitude and fallenness of his brothers. Their act was really evil and wicked. But God was not constrained by their sinfulness, and Joseph knew God was in control and trusted God’s character. The whole reason Joseph didn’t kill his brothers in retaliation (to their self-confessed transgression) was because he understood that what they meant for evil against him, God meant for good. Joseph wasn’t waiting for God’s will to be done later; he recognized sovereignty at work all along.

Somehow Olson expects that what will make us feel better about the bridge collapse and other calamities is to consider that God can sometimes help and that He willingly spends time on the bench for sake of the team.

God says, “Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that’s one of my self-limitations. I don’t want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world.”

I can promise you that if “making this a better world” depends on me, we’re in trouble. I have neither the inherent wisdom, power, or care to improve anything on this planet. What’s worse is that Olson says God doesn’t either. And even though God reveals Himself as sovereign over every historical and redemptive event, Olson concludes,

The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil.

The God of Olson scares me for Olson’s sake because I’m not sure how to distinguish his position from disbelief and/or defiance. God is not out of control, Olson is.