One slander against the early church regarded their Lord’s Supper celebrations. Those outside the church heard words such as “love feast” (a term used in Jude 12) and figured that the Christians were doing all sorts of inappropriate things when they got together. What else do you do when you’re jealous? You make it sound as if the other person who has what you want doesn’t deserve it or isn’t using it right.
Our weekly communion makes men mad. They think, usually to themselves, “Hey, we want to eat with God, too.” They say, “You should not be so comfortable doing it so often.” Or, “This is not supposed to be a time of gladness no matter how thoughtful you claim to be.” Or, “Certainly some will abuse it and participate unworthily.” These criticisms often come from those who wish they could have the gladness they criticize.
We do not eat and drink joyfully because we deserve it or because we have it all figured out or because we refuse to be serious about our sin. We eat and drink joyfully because God has dealt seriously with our sin, putting our judgement on His Son, and inviting us to believe the good news of eternal life. We eat and drink joyfully because of grace we cannot manage. It is fearful how much He loves us, and it is wonderful. If that opens us up to slander and hatred, we should not be surprised and we should tell them that they can have it too by faith in Jesus.
It is extremely difficult not to take on the worldview of the world around us. Not only do we live in the world, we used to be of the world, and the gravitational pull of some orbits are hard to break. As Christians we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds and this is part of the reason why our worship is so important. It gets our heads out of this world.
Take, for instance, the matter of authority. God made the world the way He did and He arranged it so that some men have authority over other men. God defines the idea of authority and He created the relational spheres where authority belongs. Those who want everyone to be equal everywhere–a common lust in our culture–fight against the authority of God Himself who made a different system than the one they wanted. These levelers are actually idolators, wanting a different god.
It is, however, possible to love authority because God said it and still be a practical idolator. We are reflections of God, so if we do not bear authority in the way He does than we bear the image of some other god, maybe Zeus, or Jupiter if you prefer Latin, Odin, Thor, or maybe just the idea of being the “boss.”
Jesus said that the Gentiles, those who don’t know God, lord their authority over men (Matthew 20:25-28). Solomon wrote about those who have power over other men to their hurt (Ecclesiastes 8:9). Authority embodied (in Jesus) said it should not be so among us. True authority takes responsibility and gives service rather than taking service and giving responsibility. We are guilty when we deny authority by our politics and by our practices. We must continue to be remade in our worldview as we see the Beloved Son love us into something better.
The hardest part about Thanksgiving is actually being thankful. It is much easier to imagine ourselves being thankful than it is to be thankful. When we imagine sitting down to dinner on Thursday, we imagine that everyone got a good night of sleep, that everyone is getting along, that everyone fully appreciates all the work that everyone else is doing, and that the turkey is hot and moist and done just when Martha Stewart promised. Coordinating all of that to work together perfectly only works in the editing room of the Hallmark channel.
Future gratitude always hits the mark because it doesn’t require real work. We are all great visionaries when it comes to our behavior in certain circumstances, especially when we get to pretend the circumstances, too. We are rarely realists about circumstances and hardly ever realists about how stridently we demand that those around us get their lines right before we will step out of the dressing room. We are gratitude divas.
Today is the day of thankfulness, and Thursday is as well, even when the rolls won’t be finished for another ten minutes and the three year old fidgets with her silverware during your bumptious devotional about the pilgrims. Be thankful now for what God has given and those He has given and where He has you. If you cannot be thankful now, then a dream of your future thanks may be just that, a dream.
The Lord’s Table will be sweeter the last time we taste it than it was the first time. The apostle John recorded the Lord’s rebuke to the Ephesian church that they had lost their first love. But he didn’t want them to go back to the limitations of love’s beginnings, he wanted them to go back to the intensity of what was fresh.
Each week we discover fresh reasons to love. Each day brings hundreds of new graces to us, undeserved gifts. Counted by flock, or considered in the universal church, how could we calculate the new mercies of every morning for every Christian? And what about the addition of new believers into the Christ’s Body every week?
A thousand years ago in Britain they made a scarlet dye from whelks (small mollusks or sea snails), said not only not to fade as it aged in the sun and rain, but the dye became bolder and more beautiful in color. The gospel is the same. As we eat and drink today we have more reason to rejoice than last week. Think of how much fruit has grown since the first supper the night that Christ was betrayed. It may be true that familiarity breeds contempt, but it will be a long time before we’re truly familiar with the full price or final profit of the cross. Think of how many haters have been won by His conquering love. Think of how much sin in your own heart He has loved out of you. It is more now than ever and, even if hatred increases, it is because haters have more to hate by God’s grace.
The problem with eternity is that it still won’t be long enough to develop every deep hue of Christ’s loving sacrifice. But it will still be good for us to watch and we will always have fresh reasons for intense love.
As Christians we know that we are in the world but not of it. Navigating this relationship requires more than quoting a great verse, it requires applying great wisdom. How do we know when we are appropriately in while also not being inappropriately of? How do we live here without living like here?
We can’t address every particular right now, but we can say that worldliness is a sin that should be addressed. Many professing Christians, Christian organizations, and churches deliberately adopt worldly behavior for sake of evangelism, sometimes behavior that didn’t even belong to their own pre-Christian days. Their philosophy of ministry aims to show the world how much Christians are like the world. While specific turns along the way are important, we should at least acknowledge that we can’t be going east and not-east at the same time.
Loving to be loved by the world is part of what it looks like to have the love of the world. In other words, unwillingness to stand out from the world is worldly. The world talks about non-conformity, but only to be conformed to the cool group talking about non-conformity. Christians who blur the lines of Christian doctrine and obedience are acting like the worldly blurrers, not believers.
Thinking that we can be friends of Christ and friends with the world is worldly, not obedience. Jesus’ half-brother James wrote, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). The apostle John commanded believers not to love the world (1 John 2:15) and said, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).
We will have enemies. We will be at odds either with God or with those who are at odds with God. To the degree that we compromise our loves with the world we need to confess that as sin to God. He will forgive us, cleanse us, and conform us to the mold of His Son.
Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4 in 1 Corinthians 2:9. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul uses Isaiah to point to the work of God’s Spirit who teaches us and helps us to understand all the things that are freely given us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12).
We enjoy a variety of endowments freely given us by God, but near the roots of His grace is our justification by faith. We celebrate Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenburg 496 years ago last Thursday, a document that lifted up the principle of sola fide, salvation by faith alone. And boy do we need that.
In the context of Isaiah 64 and all the things that God has prepared, two verses later, and the reason we usually turn to this chapter, the prophet says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (verse 6).
This affects our attitude at the Lord’s Table when we think both about what plagues us and about the things God has prepared for us. We don’t come to this table in miserable guilt. We do not work ourselves into a lather of bad feelings because our best bad feelings are like filthy rags. We cannot dig conviction deep enough to make ourselves worthy to eat and drink. We will not get our lives, like leaves, into a shapely pile with the leaf-blower of shame and keep them arranged. We couldn’t if we wanted to because the gusts of sin blow too strong.
We come to this Table remembering all the things that God has prepared for us including God-given righteousness. We come by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We come in joy because no one else has a God like this. The things He has prepared for those who love Him include His potent love which cleanses us and forgives us and frees us for eternal fellowship. He replants us and enlivens us by the cross, not by demanding that we chase down all our guilt with a bigger rake.
Last Sunday was Orphan Sunday. It’s not a holiday, though many churches observe it in the United States and in other countries. For that matter, November is National Adoption Month, at least here in the States. In both cases, the point is to make special effort to heighten awareness of year-round needs throughout the world.
As a church we support Andrew Schneidler and the Children’s Law Center of Washington. He is a lawyer helping make permanency possible for families that don’t have financial resources. We give him money each month and make supplication for him almost every Sunday. As a church we also took up support for the Good Shepherd’s Children Home in India through Kidstown International. Likewise, we send money and make prayers for the kids and for the leaders of that orphanage.
We’ve promoted (and run) in the Adoption Run for Antioch Adoptions. Some of us even organized an event a few years ago to cut adoption costs for a family desiring to take kids into their family. Last Sunday night we also made a large statement through a small party on behalf of the Hall family who are closer than ever to bringing in to their home some kids who don’t have a home, kids who don’t have a place or parents to parent them.
In less brochure-able ways, we are involved in orphan prevention. We do have the obligation according to James 1:27 to help widows and orphans. We also have the obligation to love our wives, respect our husbands, and not exasperate our children but raise them in the culture of Christ worship. It may be too dramatic to call that orphan prevention, but it is not too dramatic to call it obedience to God our Father. We are to lay down our lives for one another, for others, including little others.
From our homes, to Western Washington, to other continents, God created us to love others, especially those who are weak and needy. If we only love those who earn our love, those who make it easy for us to love them, then we do not realize how potent love like God’s is.
What is the single most important thing you can do to grow into God’s image? Do you remember when the apostle Paul wrote about believers being “filled with all the fullness of God”? Is that even allowable? It’s an inspired description, so it must be. But how does that happen? What is the process? We’re naturally too weak to do it on our own, therefore Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they:
may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18–19, ESV)
The single most important and humanly impossible need is for us to know the love of Christ. It’s not that we need to love Him more, though we will. It’s not that we need to obey for 70 years or by strength 80, though He may enable us to do that. We will be deified–filled up with all God’s fullness–as we come to have His love wrapped around our heads.
John Bunyan wrote an entire book on these two verses, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, recently published under the title, All Loves Excelling. Near the end he asked,
Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better? (Knowledge, 37)
In other words, could you have imagined, let alone asked for, a better love than Christ’s? Satan hates for you to know this goodness. He hates for us to come to the Lord’s Table set with the symbols of Christ’s love spent for us, the body and the blood of Jesus. Christian, remember His death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection three days later. Abide in His love. Come, eat and drink it represented in this communion meal. It fills you with all God’s fullness.
Even though we do the same thing around the same time in our service every Sunday morning, those who benefit most from our time of confession are probably those who are most surprised. I’m not talking about visitors. In one sense those of us who participate regularly should be more surprised each successive week that we have more sin to confess.
We are Calvinists so we have a hold on the petal of total depravity, even the one-pointers. We believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We believe that even when God regenerates us He doesn’t sanctify away all our sinful practice instantly but progressively. We believe that a Christian who says that he has no sin makes God a liar. So how can I say that there is a place for surprise when we come to see our sin?
We are surprised because we also believe the gospel. We believe that God saves sinners and that means we are dead to sin–in reality. Believing the gospel means that we’ve been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life–right now. Believing means that God has granted to us all things pertaining to life and godliness–for the present. Believing means that God set the seal of His Spirit on us to make us more holy–before heaven.
We are likely to be surprised by an exhortation that exposes another sin to confess because we believe that the gospel has taken root in our lives. Our optimism, our hope in the gospel, motivates better confession.
G.K. Chesterton observed that only optimists reform anything. Cynics and pessimists see evil and, well, they knew it would be. Optimists are still startled by injustice. “What?! That’s not right! That doesn’t belong!” Anyone can rail against unrighteousness. Only a man with gospel hope will want better.
The pessimist resents evil solely because it is a grievance. The optimist resents it also, because it is an anomaly; a contradiction to his conception of the course of things. (All Things Considered, 53).
We are not naive about sin, and certainly not sentimental towards it. We acknowledge that we are sinners being saved but we also acknowledge that the power of gospel overcomes the power of our sin. God calls us to mortify our sins, put them to death. He also calls us to believe that sin will in fact be put to death and stay dead, even as we confess it and repent.
What would our lives be like without the gospel? Only those who believe the gospel could come close to answering the question because those without the gospel live as self-deceiving slaves to darkness. They don’t know what they’re missing. Believing the gospel puts us in a better position to try not to miss all that it gives us.
Without the gospel we would be “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). We would have no idea where we came from or for what purpose we exist. We would have no peace, isolated from blessing in Christ and from righteous community. We would be gathering and collecting only to give to others. We would be busy dying for no good reason.
With the gospel we have the first-fruits of eternal life, peace with God and participation in His Triune joy. With the gospel we care about fellow image-bearers who hurt in soul and body. We know that it’s right to care for the health of the sick without filching the work of the well to pay for it. With the gospel we know why governments go crazy, why education and vocation matter forever, why dinner around the table with your family won’t burn. With the gospel we can look around and enjoy all the fruit of the Vine (John 15:5).
It is an endless task to answer what our lives would be like without the gospel. The Father sent His Son to die and rise and change everything with Him. We cannot hold all the fruit of His work in our hands but we can be thankful that we can’t. We will never complete our thank you note to God but, as we eat and drink the symbols of our life together in gratitude, He is glorified.