Jealous of a Complainer

How do you know that God is willing and working in you for His good pleasure? As you are working out your salvation with fear and trembling what is the result? If you could choose just one act of believing obedience to make a dent in the world, what would it be?

It’s possible that one thing answers all those questions. Though he doesn’t use the word, it connects Paul’s thoughts in Philippians 2:12-16. He called the Christians to work out their salvation (verse 12), remembering that God is at work in them (verse 13), and then reminded them that they are 
“children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights of the world” (verse 15).

Certainly the Philippian believers stood out for their morality (“blameless and innocent”) as well as for their different authority (“holding fast to the word of life”). But the way they became these bright lights is by obeying Paul’s command at the beginning of verse 14: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Stated positively: they were thankful. God wills that we give thanks always. Saved people are thankful people. And thankful people stand out in a crooked and complaining generation.

We should be Christians living in the world and with one another in such a way as to provoke good jealousy among others, eventually all Israel (see Romans 11:11, 14), who will want what we have in Christ. But have you ever heard of someone being jealous of a complainer? “Wow, you see all the bad things so accurately. You really put into words all the grumbling feelings I have. I wish I could have your spirit of fussiness.”

There could be someone who hears us complain and is jealous of all our blessings that they see better than us that we aren’t giving thanks for. In that sense they are jealous of a complainer, but not of our complaints. Let us repent and recount our blessings in thanks.

Shape and Cadence

In perhaps the most well-known passage about salvation by grace through faith, one word is used three times. It isn’t grace, it isn’t faith, it isn’t saved, it isn’t Christ or God. The word is works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8–10)

We are not saved by works. No man can be justified with God by obedience or good-doing. Perfect law-keeping of God’s standard was only attained by one man, Christ Jesus. We receive His work on our behalf so we cannot boast in what we have done.

In addition to regeneration, the sovereign grace of our Savior recreated us so that we are His “workmanship.” We are divine work-product, made alive with Christ to be like Him and to do for Him. Our new lives have a designed shape and cadence, like a statue or a poem, but much more than a stationary stone or printed sentence. We are alive “for good works.” We can’t be saved by works but we are saved for works.

This has been God’s goal all along. The branches for our fruit have a particular direction, a determined thickness, a certain color according to His desire. He prepared these works “beforehand,” like a map, “that we should walk in them.”

We still don’t get to boast. Our works are His working and willing in us (Philippians 2:13). But this means we also don’t get to coast. He knows the plans He has for us, plans to make us productive, to give us a heavy basket of fruitfulness. He made us alive to follow the course of His Word, following the Prince of Peace, through the Spirit that is now at work among the sons of obedience.

Is binge-watching Netflix the good works God planned for us? How about non-stop social media scrolling or cable news captivation? Video gaming? How many other ways of consuming rather than working are we excusing?

Broccoli for Dinner

The sage preacher once said, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Sinners can be teachable, especially when others are getting caught. They’re not concerned about violating a principle but about avoiding punishment. In Solomon’s day a delay could occur between the sentence being sorted out and carried out. How much more license in our day when judges can’t even define an “evil deed.”

The children of men take a similar approach to God’s justice. Sin today often has no consequences tomorrow, so it seems. Many sinners appear to be profiting, flourishing, basking in their sin. There are no negative consequences, and apparently not any judgment from God. So it must be okay with God, right?

This is a category mistake. Whether or not something is right is not determined by rapid results. Turn it around to the positive. Broccoli for one dinner doesn’t make a bodybuilder by breakfast. A diligent day sowing seed in the field requires more than a week to see the fruit.

And Paul told the Romans that delayed judgment is not due to God’s lack of will, but instead from God’s will to be kind. “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is mean to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) God isn’t failing, He’s extending forgiveness.

The apostle addressed unbelievers but it is a good reminder for the justified as well. Just because Jesus paid for our unrighteousness doesn’t mean that we can keep on committing it without consequence. Because God is patient and kind, repent.

Bleeding Forgivness

Why does God forgive anyone? We come near the beginning of our worship service to confess our sins and seek His cleansing and forgiveness. God says that He will forgive those who repent and believe. He sent His Son as a substitute so that He could grant forgiveness without undermining justice. There is no question that He does forgive, but why does He do it?

He forgives because we need it. Men have been rebelling against His commands since Eden and breaking fellowship with Him. All are guilty before Him, we all stand in need of forgiveness, a need He sees and meets. He is the God of need-meeting. But forgiveness runs deeper than that.

Forgiveness is first subjective and then objective. By subjective and objective I don’t mean forgiveness is just God’s perception, let alone our perception, rather than reality. I mean that, in the simple gospel statement, “God forgives sinners,” the subject of the sentence takes priority over the object. He is the God of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not peculiar to God but it is essential to God. God forgives because that’s who He is.

As Jewish pilgrims sang on their way to Jerusalem for worship, “If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness so that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:4). This isn’t because He loves to hold it over our heads, always ready to remind us of what He could have done to us. “Remember that time when you…?” We fear Him, we stand in awe of Him, not only because He could have crushed us instead of forgiving us. We stand in awe because He forgives like a great fountain flows. He promises to forgive. He loves to forgive. He is eager to forgive. Forgiveness is not a reluctant position He takes to meet a quota. Spurgeon once said about Bunyan that if you pricked him, he would bleed bibline. If we could prick God anywhere, He bleeds forgiveness.

What Is Earthly

There is a way that we must hate the things of earth so that we can also love the things of earth in a different way. In order to change the world we must not be slaves to the world; we cannot worship the world and offer that to God. That’s idolatry, and the Lord is jealous for His own glory.

So let us take very seriously our responsibility to hate the things of earth as God defines the things of earth. We must take extreme measures as individuals and as a church to deal with “what is earthly” in us.

In Colossians 3:5-11 Paul gives three commands: 1) put to death, 2) put away, and 3) do not lie.

We must “put to death what is earthly” in us, and that includes any sort of sexual sin, whether in our hearts or with our parts. We must kill greed, which is the functional equivalent of idolatry, sacrificing ourselves for the pleasures of money rather than for the pleasures of God. But “on account of these the wrath of God is coming.” Therefore, mortify sin for sake of honoring the marriage bed on earth. Put sin to death in order to be generous with wealth in this world.

We must also “put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk.” This verb could be translated “take off,” as if we were wearing soiled and stained clothes. The contrast comes in the next paragraph with “put on” the character of Christ. Don’t put on rage and bitterness, those are earthly things. Instead, put on kindness and patience here and now. Put on thankful diligence in the work God gives.

And then “do not lie to one another.” We are people of the truth because we are not what we used to be.

Our new selves are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Creation is not the problem, our sin is the problem, and we must be ruthless in repenting from it or it will ruin us. As John Owen wrote, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Wings to a Bird

One word Christians don’t seem to use as much as they once did is the word “godliness.” It’s a biblical word, one used frequently in the pastoral epistles. When Paul wrote to Titus he identified himself as a servant and an apostle, and the reason for those roles was “the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.”

The Greek word for godliness is eusebia and it means “a life devoted to revering God.” This piety is the goal of faith and knowledge. The object of faith is Jesus, the end of faith is godliness. The knowledge we seek is “of the truth,” and that truth has a form. True-truth fits with, it agrees with godliness.

Paul told Timothy that godliness is proper for women and goes along with their “good works” (1 Timothy 2:10). Godliness is the opposite of believing silly myths, which are easy to swallow, but godliness is something to “train” for (1 Timothy 4:7). Training for godliness is comparable to bodily training which is of some value, but “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Peter also told his readers that God’s power has given His people “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Christ” (2 Peter 1:3), and that we are to intentionally “make every effort to supplement” our faith with, among other things, godliness (2 Peter 1:7).

As wings to a bird so is godliness to a believer. Are you spreading your wings or are you in a nose dive because sin has pinned your wings to your back? People of faith, people of he truth, ought to be easily identified as those devoted to revering God.

Serious Bible Studiers

The disciples on the road to Emmaus listened as Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself, and their hearts burned. Earlier in His ministry Jesus had talked with some other Jews who were serious Bible studiers. They searched the Scriptures. They didn’t do it to disprove God’s Word, they did it with confidence that they would find eternal life in there.

Yet Jesus claimed that while they knew some of the finer points they had missed the entire point. They knew the details and they didn’t actually know God (John 5:39).

Jesus confronted the Sadducees over a similar problem when some of them came with a Bible question. They wanted to know how the law of Moses—specifically the law about a younger brother marrying his deceased older brother’s wife—fit with the teaching on resurrection. Before giving them the answer Jesus told them, “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). But again, their question was based on the Scriptures.

What did these men need to repent from? They needed to repent from the very thing they considered their righteousness. They needed to repent from their Bible reading.

Of course it’s not the Bible that’s the problem, it’s the reading. There is a way to read and search and know the Bible that isn’t enough. It is to read partially, or academically, or for the purpose of impressing others with what we know. But reading the Bible should make us want the glory that comes from God not that comes from man. And reading the Scriptures to know Jesus should show that Jesus is interested in more than just our Bible reading.

It is not enough to be delivered out of the land of weak theology and topical-topic sermons, but still complain and not obey. Some have itching ears for sermons that make them feel better about themselves, yes, and others of us have itching ears for expositional sermons that make us feel better that we aren’t like “other men,” like the unrighteous (see Luke 18:11). Let us repent whenever we need to, including when we find ourselves missing the point while staring at the pages.

Freedom from Confusion Is a Gift

Those who believe in the sovereignty of God ought to be the most kind instead of belligerent, and the most patient instead of panicked, in discussions with those who disagree. This is true logically; it is inconsistent to act as if you make the difference while saying that God makes the difference. So it is an issue of being consistent. It is also an issue of obeying God’s command.

the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24–25)

Act in accordance with your doctrine, and that doctrine is displayed in the next sentence. As the Lord’s servant behaves himself, “God may perhaps grant them repentance.” Turning from sin is a gift of God, a work of His independent grace.

But what particularly interests me is the result of repentance. “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

Repentance precedes knowledge. Sin is blindness,. and God gives the gift of open eyes. Sin is willful error, and God gives the gift of hating falsehood. Sin is slavery to lies, and God gives the gift of freedom from confusion.

This is God’s work in unbelievers, those who are caught in “the snare of the devil,” those who were “captured by him to do his will.”

As it applies to spiritually dead men repenting toward a knowledge of the truth, let us not forget that spiritually alive men still need to repent, and our repentance will result in knowing more truth. We are rescued from the devil’s stranglehold, but we are not without need of correction. Sometimes our sin makes us stupid, and we learn when we turn.

Spiritual Shapeshifters

Whatever your preferred system of eschatology, there is no doubt according to Paul’s definition that we are living in the “last days.” He told Timothy that the last days would include “times of difficulty” (1 Timothy 3:1), and he described the people who would make it difficult. Such persons “will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (verses 2-4). But that’s all. You can’t collect five Poké Balls, or watch five minutes of cable news, without seeing people like that.

These times will be “difficult,” hard, troublesome. Diesel engines don’t run well on unleaded gas, and a wicked culture will clunk down the road. Sin not only makes the sinner stupid, sin makes a society deadly. A society of evil men will be a violent, dangerous society. These are the difficulties of our lives.

The worst part of all, though, comes in verse 5. Whether it applies to the final two adjectives alone (pleasure-lovers and not God-lovers) or to the entire list doesn’t make much difference. These are the kinds of people “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”

They have the morphosin, the form. They know how to morph into giving a particular look. But it’s just a show. There is no actual life. Not only do they not have power, they refuse to have it. They wouldn’t want it if it was their only choice.

Paul told Timothy: “Avoid such people.” Good counsel. It’s also a good call to confession. We can’t play with any of these sins and not make it more difficult, for ourselves, and certainly for our worship. Be the people who are lovers of God rather than lovers of pleasure, having the appearance of godliness because you are strengthened by God.

Pots Throwing Pieces

I bit the bait and clicked an inflammatory link a while back that permanently burned my brain. A straightforward tweet asked: What is the most offensive verse in the Bible? and promised an answer behind a click. The answer surprised me, stirred me, and settled for me so much of our cultural, and even Christian and Christian cultural, woes.

The most offensive verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

If that verse is true–and I believe it without hedging or hesitation, without a wink or crossed fingers behind the back–then God must be acknowledged as Creator, thanked as Maker, and obeyed as Lord by all. This God who created the world rules the world and He makes the rules for the world. He does not need anyone’s counsel, nor does He ask for it or take it. He did not create in order to disclaim His authority but rather to demonstrate it.

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you 
 but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

What is good for man requires man to submit to God. What is this strange word, “submit”? It means to do what someone else says.

As the t-shirt so memorably exhorts: There is a God, and you’re not Him. Resistance is futile, like clay pots throwing pieces of themselves at the Potter, destroying themselves in the process.

We would do well to take the posture and pray in a way similar as Jesus did, “Not my world, but Yours be done.”