Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wisdom is full of mercy

Jas 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.


Recently I was considering how the wisdom that is from above is full of mercy. What brought this about was meeting a young man who is hoping to study in our next Bible School term. The problem is that he has had to major instances of instability and backsliding in the past three years. He is however back in a good church now, and will be talking to my father about what he will need to do to be accepted back.

He may have to meet some stringent requirements for admission because of the past, but there are things that give me hope for him. 1. He was noticeably ashamed to talk to me. Many times people are caught red-handed and yet will still deny and be totally unashamed of what they have done. However it is those whose heads are hung in shame for what they have done that can know God as the lifter of their head (Psa. 3:3). 2. He seems to still have a heart for the Lord in spite of everything. 3. His life has potential, if only he will meet with God and obtain the ability to walk straight from Him.

Mercy makes sense. It is an attribute of wisdom. When someone fails perhaps our first attitude is to replace them, but a replacement would require all the effort and training that was placed into the first individual to be placed into the replacement to prepare them for the same work. Having done that then that person would also be tested and could very possibly fail in the same way as the previous person starting a new cycle. If the one who has failed can be restored – really restored – then the effort, time and training spent on that person are not wasted. This makes sense even for us, but imagine how much God has spent on this person. First consider whatever ministry he has received through the local church and how all of that was really God's investment in him. Then going further back think of all the times the person has responded to the drawing of God's Spirit directly, and all the grace received up to this point to get where they were. If the person is lost all that becomes wasted, if there is some sort of restoration then God will receive something for all that He has poured in.

Restoration is thus very desirable, but it requires a wisdom of its own to accomplish properly. Joseph showed remarkable wisdom in how he dealt with his brothers to see – both for his own and their sakes – if they still were jealous of a favored brother as they had been of him. They showed a marked change, especially Judah who was willing to lay down his own freedom for his brother Benjamin. This is the key of real restoration, not only ascertaining that the person has truly repented and changed but showing them so that they can realize that they are not the same person either. Jesus required a three-fold confession publicly of Peter to atone for his three-fold denial, but also included a three-fold commission to show His acceptance of Peter (John 21:15-17). It also appears to me that one reason for the inclusion of 1 Kings 1:1-4 in Scripture is to show to David and to others that David had changed as a result of his fall and restoration.

Truly the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost and to change wasted, purposeless lives into joyful, productive ones that are filled with Him and His love. To Him be glory forever!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Some Thoughts on Col. 2:18-19

Let no one defraud you, delighting in humility and worship of the angels, intruding into things which he has not seen, without a cause being vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head, from whom all the body, having been supplied through the joints and bands, and having been joined together, will grow with the growth of God.


In the book of Colossians, Paul confronts false teaching that had been spreading among the church. There was a false humility that they engendered and a severe asceticism that they practiced. In these two verses Paul goes to the root of the whole problem. Essentially it is the same problem seen in Jeremiah 2:13, where God's people had forsaken the fountain of living water and hewed out their own broken cisterns of water. Paul's way back from this waywardness begins by abandoning the broken cistern and then returning to the fountain.


  1. The broken cistern

The false teachers were having the people effect a humility and a worship of angels. While it is likely that this referred to spiritual beings, the word angel means messenger (see Mark 1:2), and it is possible that the people were also worshipping these supposed messengers. This resulted in their being defrauded of true spiritual benefit which only flows from the living fountain.


Ironically, while these men taught humility to others they were puffed up in their own minds with their own ideas. The sort of humility they enjoined among their followers can be seen in 2 Corinthians 11:20-21, "For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of--I am speaking as a fool--I also dare to boast of that." The Apostle Paul never exalted himself in that way, but apparently these other ministers did and what is worse the church in Corinth, and perhaps Colosse too, endured it.


Unfortunately this is by no means a first century problem, and recently there have been notable instances of ministers who exalt angels or themselves to such a degree that they cease to be a conduit for God and are in effect making themselves the source that is to be sought whatever needs people have. This is a sign of false ministry – drawing away disciples after yourself (Acts 20:30). The antidote to this is found in Holding to the Head.


  1. The True Fountain

It is from the Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, that we all receive the nourishment that we need to grow and thrive and produce fruit. We are to abide in Him (John 15). Apart from Him we are and can do nothing. He is and ever remains the source, and we are merely conduits. There are two wrong ways of thinking that Paul also incidentally touches on as he encourages believers to hold to the Head.


Firstly, while we hold to the Head we are not isolated from the rest of the body. As we hold to the Head we will be joined with the other joints that are also joined to the Head and will promote mutual growth. Christianity is a religion of personal relationship with God, but from that flows relationship with others. This is seen even in the Lord's prayer which begins by saying "Our Father" expressing both relationship to God and others at the same time.


Secondly, there is another tendency to gauge the degree of a person's holding to the Head by their denominational loyalty and connectedness. Yet, we are not to hold to the Head through others, but directly. It is from the Head, both directly and indirectly that the whole body is supplied. As we are joined to the Head, we will have grace to be joined to the body. In all honesty we need a direct source of grace to put up with the humanness of our fellow believers. If we are looking to them as the source rather than the Head, we will never have the grace we need to stay connected to them. However as we all hold to the Head, we are enabled to keep together as well. True Christian unity is always found in uniting under the one and only Head. To Him be glory forever! Amen.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Hebrews 13:12-14

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.


The book of Hebrews is a book that covers a lot of doctrinal subjects and which gives an exposition of the New Covenant and how it is superior to the Old Covenant. That is however not the purpose of the book. Too often as Christians we view Christianity as a series of doctrines to be learned, but in the early church doctrine was taught to promote godly living. The whole purpose of showing the superiority of the New Covenant is to bring the recalcitrant Jewish believers to this conclusion – go outside the camp. What did this mean to them and how does it apply to us?

The Jews could boast in many ways of their society and culture. They were the only nation in antiquity that did not abandon unwanted children or practice abortion. They had a high literacy rate especially among their male population, because of their synagogue schools. They could even boast as no other culture could that much of their cultural framework was from God, because it was based on the law. The superiority, on the whole, of Jewish morality and their just claim to having received their cultural framework from God made it very hard for them to break with their traditions.

Peter told God, "No" three times when he saw the vision of the sheet with unclean animals come down and was commanded to kill and eat one (Acts 10:9-16). Even after that when he preached to Cornelius and the Holy Spirit fell on him and those with him, Peter and the Jews still had reservations, but they knew it was of God. Peter then had to make a defense of his conduct in Acts 11. All of this shows just how difficult it was to break with the Jewish culture and traditions for even the most godly of men, who had already given up so much for Jesus.

Yet in spite of all the good things that could have been truthfully said of the Jewish culture at the time there were serious problems with it. It majored on minor details and neglected what God considered very important. While it forbade polygamy and other flagrant forms of immorality, it was very lax concerning divorce and remarriage. It also tended to place the welfare of the Jewish nation above its proper place and above the glory of God. As can be seen in the prophets, especially Jeremiah, this was something that the Jews had repeatedly done (Jer. 7:4).

For Jewish Christians the danger was that they could avoid much persecution if they outwardly conformed to Jewish tradition while at the same time they remained Christians. They had endured persecution before (Heb. 10:34) and it was understandable that they would want to avoid further persecution. Yet this attitude of desiring to fit in with Jewish culture placed them in danger of backsliding as they were continually warned in Hebrews.

Here is where this message becomes applicable for us. No matter where we are or what culture we are in Christianity will run counter to it in some way. In rural places in Malawi there is great pressure put on mothers to have their children where charms from witchdoctors to prevent disease. Even many Christians do this because if they don't and the child becomes sick the family all converges on the parents and applies pressure on them. In the 1850's and 1860's in America, while there was what could be called a godly culture in some ways, yet it tolerated slavery in the South and sweatshops in the North, and little was said about it in the churches. Victorian England for all its supposed piety fought a war so that they could continue to sell opium in China. The mixture of Christianity with culture and national pride has seriously disrupted the testimony of the Church many times in history. Nietzsche wrote that one could only be a German or a Christian not both, and the rise of Nazism was only possible because many Christians decided that being German came first.

As an American who has spent his life from the age of nine outside of America with the exception of two years I have a different perspective on culture than most people. As I see it now in the American churches there are two main groups, the one group goes along with the current American culture fads and desires to fit in as much as possible, the second group wants to return America to the way it was in the fifties. It is my belief that neither of these groups truly please God in these endeavors. The one group ends up watering down the Gospel in the name of tolerance, the other group though more conservative often also substitutes American culture for the Gospel - it's just the American culture of yesteryear. The problem with that is that if the Church in America in the fifties was doing so well, we wouldn't have gotten into the mess we are in now anyway. True Christians will follow Christ in their generation. There are different battles in each national culture and each generation, but a true Christian will never really be at home in any culture or generation of the world. The Booths were outcasts in the work they began, Spurgeon died outside of the denomination he had been with for years, Wesley was an Anglican that most Anglicans didn't want. Hudson Taylor was considered very odd in his day too.

These people all saw that Christ was outside the camp, and they were willing to forsake all for the Gospel. It is in forgetting our father's house that we win the heart of our heavenly Bridegroom (Psa. 45:10-11). We will only have a shallow and superficial Christianity unless we take this lesson deeply to heart. Let us go outside the camp. We do not go because we are mavericks, but we go because the One we love is already out there, and He is being mocked in this world and we want to be with Him even in His shame and sufferings. To Him be glory forever!

Monday, October 04, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Sonship and Training

In all relationships there are levels. There are some things we readily share with people, and other things that we say little of, and then only to those very close to us. The things we speak little of are important to us, however, that is precisely why we don't share them with everyone, because they are so near to our heart. For someone to learn of these things they must first be near to our heart, it is no coincidence that it was John as he was leaning on Jesus breast that heard who the traitor was at the last supper. Some things are only heard if we are near enough. One thing that is very near to the heart of God is His Children and His plans for them.

Isaiah 45:9-11 shows us something of the nearness to God's heart of God's plans for His children, "Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' or 'Your work has no handles'? Woe to him who says to a father, 'What are you begetting?' or to a woman, 'With what are you in labor?' Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: 'Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?'" This passage written in a somewhat ironical tone shows that among the things God does not readily share with everyone, especially not with His critics, are His plans for His children and the way that He works and governs the world.


Yet, God does share something of the plans that He has for His children with His people. Abraham was told concerning the coming Egyptian captivity and Exodus (Gen. 15:13-14). Jacob was given prophecies concerning each of his twelve sons revealing the council of the Lord for them and their descendants (Gen. 49). God's progressive revelation of His plans for His children continued throughout the Old Testament as prophets received promises concerning the Babylonian captivity and return, and also the final deliverance of Israel and millennial reign of peace following the second coming of Christ. Yet even all these plans are not a full exposition of God's plans concerning His children, because Paul quoting Isaiah writes, "But, as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him'" (1 Cor. 2:9).


We are the sons of God and it does not now appear what we shall be. We don't usually consider it this way, but long before he developed his theory of relativity, Albert Einstein crawled on the ground. He also likely made a mess trying to feed himself, and wet his diapers. If I were a betting man, I would also wager that long before he learned to articulate his desires and wants in an understandable manner his cries filled his family home.


Mankind starts with a rather unpromising beginning both naturally and spiritually, but as a man is born again within him is placed the very nature of Christ. This nature will grow and mature to produce the full stature of Christ in the believer. The whole reason why God ordained the fivefold ministry in His Church is to bring this about (Eph. 4:11-13). Not only that but God intends to reveal in some manner His power and glory in the Church not only now but in the ages to come (Heb. 6:5; Eph. 3:21). With this in mind every triumph that believers experience on earth is the acquisition of skills and attitudes that fit them for their eternal position. Conversely, even a failure is only a momentary setback which if remedied by God will not inhibit the final victory of becoming a mature child of God who walks as Christ walked. This is Christ in us the hope of glory, and when we see Him we shall be like Him! Amen.