Garrulous Talk

Because men sin, men hide. We are bent to find hiding places because being exposed often hurts. We prefer not to remember, and prefer others not to see. The first thing Adam did after his disobedience was hide. Men hide behind isolation, they hide behind lies. They can even hide behind liturgy, and they can hide behind, rather than in, the gospel.

Consider this observation about Christian hiding that hits close to home.

“The Christians have never practiced the actions Jesus prescribed them; and the impudent garrulous talk about the ‘justification by faith’ and its supreme and sole significance is only the consequence of the Church’s lack of courage and will to profess the works Jesus demanded.”

Ouch. We hide our failure as disciples to observe “all that I have commanded you” behind the doctrine of sola fide. It is wanting deliverance but not wanting to be delivered, or being willing to acknowledge what we needed to be delivered from. It is wanting forgiveness, but not wanting faithfulness that comes from faith.

The above quote was written by Friedrich Nietzsche, no sympathizer to the religious, let alone to Christians. But he could see our Christian hiding better than a lot of Christians. We justify our disobedience rather than dealing with what it means to be justified by God though we were disobedient.

It’s another reason why worship shapes us. We do need to hide in the gospel of Jesus, by faith, from the legal, righteous requirements of God’s law, because Christ fulfilled the law. We do need to hide in Jesus, by grace, from the accusations of satan and the guilt of our flesh. This is not a game of words, it is a life of confession, faith, and reverent, obedient worship of our God who is a consuming fire.

Witnessing Songs

We take worship in song seriously. Singing is not the only act of worship, but the bones of praise move best with the muscles of melody held in by the skin of songs.

What happens when we learn and sing good songs of worship? The body is encouraged, yes. But the body is also made more accountable.

In Deuteronomy 31 the Lord told Moses that his days of leading Israel were almost finished. The remaining task the Lord gave to Moses was to “write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths….” The “Song of Moses” takes up 43 verses in chapter 32 and is harmonized in Revelation 15:3 with “the song of the Lamb”: “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!”

But as it provided an outlet for expressing thanks and adoration, the song also provided accountability. “Put [this song] in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel” (verse 19). The Lord knew that after the many blessings He would give that they would have “eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me” (verse 20).

when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). (verse 21)

Much is required of those to whom much is given. We have been given the privilege of many psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and they call us to account for whether we are fearing the Lord and glorifying His name.

Ruining the Taste

It’s been three weeks of the #samepagesummer so far, but whether you’re following that Bible reading plan or not, we won’t receive the food of His holy Word if we are full of sin. We must acknowledge and abandon sin before we’re free to feed on Scripture, and feeding on Scripture is necessary if we hope to grow in salvation.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation– (1 Peter 1:1-2, NAS)

Numerous translations (such as the ESV, NIV, NRSV) read as if there were two commands but, really, Peter provides one prerequisite and then one command. We could play up the grammatical structure: “having put aside sin…long for Scripture,” or “Crave the pure after getting rid of the putrid.”

Peter mentions five sins and, though not an exhaustive list, these five are sufficient to inhibit spiritual growth. “Malice” or viciousness exalts oneself as judge over others and rather than positioning oneself under the judgment of the Word. “Guile” or deceit honors false words rather than the Word of truth. “Hypocrisy” allows division of soul rather than bring one wholeheartedly before the Word. “Envy” promotes pursuit of competing satisfactions rather than promoting the Word that is more to be desired than gold. “Slander” likewise ruins a tongue’s taste for true goodness.

Any and all of these sins will cripple our spiritual growth. But which sin in this passage is the worst? The greatest sin here is not longing for the Word. The other sins ruin our appetite for that which will nourish our souls. Sin burns our tongues, it leaves a bitter taste. All sins must be confessed and put away so that we will hunger for the good Word and grow.

The Dad Hat

Fathers have an exhaustive, and exhausting, set of responsibilities. The Dad hat is just one of a godly man’s hats, but it is a hat he never really hangs up on a hook. Here are a sampling of specific tasks that belong to fatherhood.

Dad should be the one who sets priorities for the family. He should be the first one one who seeks out sinners, who disciplines, and who brings the gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation to bear. He should teach and train his household in the ways of being a disciple of Christ. He should provide food for them—even if he isn’t the one who prepares it—in a way that creates a table for the family to eat around. And dad should be giving tools and encouragement and assignments, even more as the kids get older, for their various jobs day by day.

A dad must do all of these things while doing his other jobs. He must be a faithful father while being a faithful husband, not one or the other. He must steward his money and his minutes as a neighbor and citizen. And he must worship God with the rest of his church.

Worship is where his responsibilities begin, and it is the result of fulfilling them. Worship brings us to our heavenly Father, and worship shows us what we are to be. God the Father gives us identity as His people. God the Father forgives us. God the Father equips us by His Word. God the Father communes with us at the Table. And God the Father blesses us to go work.

Fathers, you do not have a tougher job than our Father. He also is a father to many sinners, to many needy children, and He gives His favor to those who imitate Him.

Formerly Known as Selfish Fathead

Growing in grace leads to unexpected challenges. As disciples we want to grow more and more into the image of Christ. As a church we want the whole body to be built up and knit together. Stagnant spirituality stinks, so how could spiritual progress not be necessarily refreshing? Growth is positive, yes, and sometimes painful.

Growing in grace can be painful when others see our growth and say something encouraging. A friend says, “You don’t fly off the handle nearly as often as you used to.” He’s thankful for the grace he sees in your life at work. You’re reminded how frequently you got up on the angry side of the bed. Your wife says, “I’m so thankful for how sweet and compassionate you’ve become.” You hear her talking about a husband formerly known as a selfish fathead. We wanted to be more patient and joyful. We prayed that God would make us more kind and loving. But now that other people notice, it hurts.

If they would just forget what we were like then maybe we could too. Of course, if they (and we) forget, the testimony of God’s grace is forgotten, too. Be careful when you grow in grace, other people may notice.

Be careful also when you want others to grow in grace. It can be painful, not only for them to see us grow, but for us to see them grow. When others grow it may make us fearful that our own weaknesses and immaturity will be seen, like when a new flowerbed starts to flourish and then highlights how ugly the house paint looks, or it make may us jealous that they’re receiving growth blessings that we want. If they would just stay where they were then we could too, but that’s not how God’s grace gets such a great name.

Justifiable Blessings

One of the reasons that we include confession of sin in our weekly liturgy is not just that we recognize that we are sinful, but we receive God’s revelation that He is perfectly righteous. God not only acts in accord with moral law, what we refer to as moral law comes from His character. His nature is right. He always does what is justifiable.

We don’t, of course. This is why we love the Son who gave Himself for us that we could be justified, declared righteous by God. This is very good news for the list of the unrighteous in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 whose unrighteousness would keep them out of God’s kingdom.

But God’s righteous character applies in more than one argument. I’ve been trying different ways of saying it over the last few months, but here it is from the author of Hebrews.

For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in the serving of the saints, as you still do. (Hebrews 6:10)

Note that this means that God sees your work; His seeing is part of His righteousness. This means that God would be unrighteous to ignore the love that you demonstrate to others. This doesn’t mean that we are working our way to salvation, but that these works are “things that belong to salvation” (Hebrews 6:9).

You will reap what you sow because God is not crooked. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain because God is just (1 Corinthians 15:58). So don’t be sluggish (Hebrews 6:12). Devote yourselves to the service of the saints (1 Corinthians 16:15), not just because it is right, but because God will justifiably bless you.

I Like Job, but I Don’t Want to Be Like Job

Most of us appreciate the story of Job. God regularly uses his story to bless us, to sustain our happiness, or at least our hopefulness, when things are difficult. In Job’s narrative we see how our faithfulness to God brings trouble, not that trouble always comes from our disobedience. We see how nothing happens apart from God’s control, even the worst loss and pain. And we see God’s grace to restore good to His servant when His point to Satan is made. The story is like a warm coat after falling into cold water.

On the human side we see Job, through emotional and physical and relational pain, persevere. It’s not that he didn’t struggle or ask questions, but he kept looking to God for help and answers.

The apostle James found encouragement in Job’s story and reminded his readers to be patient. “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 4:11b).

We are given strength to endure as we consider one who endured by God’s mercy. In fact, the first part of verse 11 states it plain as the noon sun: “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.”

So we appreciate the story of Job, along with many of “the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (verse 10). We consider those who remained strong, who acted like men, who did not give up, blessed.

And, brothers, we also must submit when the Lord gives and when He takes away, so that our stories may give encouragement to others. We like to consider those who remained steadfast, blessed, but we like less being considered by others as blessed. Beloved, be steadfast, be blessed, be a blessing.

Where It Wafts

Sometimes Christians are able to take obedience and make it ugly; it’s one of our specialties.

In 1 Corinthians 16:5-8 Paul wrote about his plans to visit Corinth, but also acknowledged that the Lord must permit the visit or it wouldn’t happen. Paul wasn’t expecting an approved itinerary handed down to him by an angel from heaven, but he would recognize by providence if God allowed it.

Solomon wrote that “the heart of man plans his ways, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Only the LORD does “whatever” He pleases (Psalm 135:6); we are not the Lord.

Most Christians are probably familiar with James’ teaching about this perspective on providence.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit,” … instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13, 15)

With all that in mind, in order to obey, do you need to say “if the Lord wills” before every stated intention or plan? Or, do you need to correct your brother or sister if they use a future tense verb without including the “Lord willing” qualifier?

James says that boasting in our self-determination is arrogant (James 4:16). It can also be arrogant to boast over a fellow-believer’s sentence structure. If he isn’t living in light of God’s control, then it might be good to bring it up, which is what James is doing. But Pharisees pay more attention to the proper use of formulas; what we need most is to live by faith.

How can you know if you are living James 4:15? You hold your schedule loosely. You respond to interruptions and changes with patience and contentment (which is harder than tagging sentences with Deo volente). You remember that “we have not even a moment in our power” (John Calvin, commentary on 1 Corinthians 16:7). You remember that your life is a mist, and that the Lord wills where it wafts and for how long.

To Be Clear about Hell

A few things happened over the last year or so that have caused the elders to propose an addition to our What We Believe statement of faith. We have been in different conversations about the reality of eternal death and, specifically, the existence of hell. When reviewing the doctrinal statement as part of our annual elder affirmation process, Jonathan suggested that we add something more specific.

Currently we only have a couple references to what happens after physical death to those who reject Christ. In 4.3, which is actually about Satan and the fallen angels, we believe that they will be “eternally judged in the lake of fire”; and in 14.2, under eschatology, we have “those who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness will be consigned to everlasting conscious misery” with a number of proof texts.

Those don’t need to be changed. Also, we have not changed our minds about this; we have always believed the Bible’s teaching about hell, but we all agreed that we could be more clear.

So we propose adding a point 4 to section 5 under “Man’s Sin and Fall from Fellowship with God”:

“We believe that because of Adam’s sin God judged mankind with death, immediate spiritual death, eventual physical death, and ultimately eternal death in hell. Every man who does not believe in Christ for salvation will face God’s righteous wrath and be separated from His presence in darkness and fire with weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Romans 2:5; Ephesians 5:6; Matthew 5:29, 10:28, 13:40-43; 2 Peter 2:4-10)

Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). The one to fear is God Himself. Jesus also said that at the end of the age the Son of Man will send angels to gather “all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42).

We all deserve hell and the everlasting lake of fire apart from Christ. And as Christians we confess that we are saved in Jesus Christ because He bore the Father’s wrath on our behalf. This is the good news we believe.

A Small Snail Named Apollyon

In an initial draft of The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan wrote about Christian’s encounter with a small snail named Apollyon. It was an epic battle, and Christian won, but some of Bunyan’s friends thought it didn’t really work. One of them named Mr. Plot-be-bold said, “The battle part fits in the story of struggle, but fighting a snail doesn’t seem like anything special.” So Bunyan changed Apollyon into the large dragon-bear-human-fish monster we know about.

The previous paragraph was typed with my tongue in my cheek; there’s no edition where Christian fights a snail. My point is to say, you are not a better Christian because your battles are small. Of course, you are not a better Christian when you lose to a bigger enemy either.

We are in a spiritual battle, with actual enemies, within and without. If it’s not an ad on a web page, or your neighbor, it’s your own heart that tempts you so disobey. The more spiritually mature you are, the more sensitive you become to the danger of the temptations, and the more spiritually mature you are, the bigger the temptations are likely to be. Resist the devil and he will flee, but he’s going to come at you hard before that.

What is tempting you? How severely are you being tempted? Is it not just irritation but a seething anger? Is it not just wishful thinking but consuming envy? Is it not just a passing glance, but slavery to lustful thoughts?

The point is not to beat yourself up when the temptation is big, the point is to beat big temptations when they come at you. You can really lose, but you also have a high priest who Himself “suffered when tempted” so that “He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). He did more than defeat a dust bunny.