Friday, January 09, 2009

Searchin' for somethin' given not found / Can't find your place in a world that wasn't meant for you

I love the lyrics - Searchin' for somethin' given not found / Can't find your place in a world that wasn't meant for you - and the passion from God - I left the 99 to find the one, and you're the one...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

DC 201 - Week 1 - Biblical Fellowship

When Christians (or perhaps more appropriately, churchgoers) get together, they often call it fellowship. But is a mere social gathering of friends who share the same church rightly to be considered Biblical Fellowship? That's the topic for the week, and the workload might break down something like this:

Monday - Read Colossians, Luke 1-6, and Proverbs 16 and comment.
Tuesday - Read "Steps to Biblical Fellowship" by Jerry Bridges and "Authentic Fellowship" by Howard Snyder. Make notes in the margins as appropriate.
Wednesday - Memorize Ephesians 4:2, "Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love." Review past memory verses (2 Peter 3:18 and Ephesians 2:10).
Thursday - Answer workbook questions 1a-d and 2a-c (7 questions) and review memory verses.
Friday - Answer workbook questions 3a-b, 4, 5, and 6 (5 questions) and review memory verses.

Let's make an intentional effort to build one another up in the faith by pursuing intimacy with our brethren and by responding in humble honesty when our brethren pursue intimacy with us.

Monday, January 05, 2009

DC 201 - Week 1 - Jeremiah

We began our meetings this year by reviewing the Book of Jeremiah. If we could summarize the book in a single word, it might be this: REPENT!

This week, we'll be preparing for a discussion on the topic of Biblical Fellowship. I'll begin, Lord willing, to lay out the week's workload tomorrow.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ephesians 6:21-24

21Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. 23Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

Paul now writes in his own handwriting one final word to the congregation, and in v21-22, he tells us about Tychicus and why he is sending him. In the course of commending Tychicus, Paul also reveals his own heart. He cares greatly for the church in a practical way (2 Corinthians 11:28) and thus is always working to cultivate unity, fellowship, and shared life for her members.

Tychicus (Colossians 4:7-8), whose name means “Lucky,” likely wrote and delivered this letter or at least followed up on each intended destination for it. The lack of specific personal greetings at the end is solid evidence that the letter was a circular letter, not solely intended for the church at Ephesus. Paul’s purpose in sending Lucky to deliver and/or follow up on the content of this letter was to inform his audience of his circumstances and condition. Everybody in Paul’s sphere of influence wanted to know how he was faring in the prison environment. And rather than occupy the body of the letter with those details, Paul chose to send someone who was with him to tell them in person. Knowing that they were anxious about him, Paul wanted to comfort and encourage them in person, not merely by letter. It’s a way that Paul practically strives to unite the Body of Christ into a more intimate relationship. And we could do the same with a phone call or personal visit rather than an e-mail or voice mail or text message or facebook post.

This style of Paul’s reminds me of Acts 20. Paul’s a busy man, always on the go, and he stops to write letters and meet with people. On his way from Greece to Jerusalem, he informs the elders in Ephesus of his plans and they come to meet him at the halfway point. Their love for one another was so strong that they end up crying and praying, and Paul has to tear himself away from them to continue his journey. Paul is not mechanistic; he’s relational. And that’s how Jesus was; that’s how God is. We ought to be as well.

Now we come to Paul’s double benediction, or word of blessing from God to the audience. His trademark was “grace and peace.” Here Paul starts with “peace to the brothers,” and then he adds “love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” And he wraps up with “grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” Paul wants God to continue to bless His people with peace (the end of hostility / prosperity and harmony / reconciliation and the shalom rest) and love (the full and fatherly and benevolent and overflowing love of God) with faith (the continued indwelling of the Holy Spirit that brought us to and preserves us in Christ) and grace (God’s riches at Christ’s expense / free and undeserved favor). Calvin says, “From this prayer we learn that faith and love, as well as peace itself, are gifts of God bestowed upon us through Christ – that they come equally from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” through the Holy Spirit.

But who are His people? For whom is this benediction intended? We find out at the very end: “Those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” The word undying means sincere and incorruptible. In other words, a sincere love for Christ is one that never ends and can’t cease to be strong. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If anyone does not love the Lord – a curse be on him.” The only hope we have is to love the Lord. And Paul writes that message here. That Ephesians began with God the Father’s predestination and election, covered the total depravity of man, expounded on the purpose of the atonement of Christ, elicited prayers for the essential and effectual work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to faith and sustaining us in faith and growing us in sanctification through faith, and concludes now with the doctrine of perseverance of the saints in no surprise. God has chosen and elected and predestined a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to unite in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit according to His vast riches of grace for His eternal glory – and those people who have freely come to love Christ through that power will never cease to do so, because He graciously sustains them in faith and love to fulfill His eternal purpose. That some deny these teachings of Paul, known commonly as the five points of Calvinism is surprising, given Paul’s clarity. But this is the consistent teaching of Paul in his epistles and, I believe, the clear teaching of all of Scripture.

Ephesians 6:18-20

18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

In what is often excluded from the armor and weaponry section, Paul, in reality, includes prayer as an offensive weapon. In fact, for Paul, prayer is the weapon that one cannot do without. As Calvin says, “This is the true method.” Paul calls for militant intercessory prayer for two people. First is the group of people known as saints, or believers, and second is Paul himself, in his ministerial role. In v18 alone, he uses all/always four times; we are to pray on all occasions (in good and bad circumstances), with all kinds of prayers (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication), always (at all times – Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “The one urge that a Christian must never resist is the urge to pray.”) and in perseverance (never quit praying), for all the saints (believers everywhere, as a priority, but not to the exclusion of unbelievers, especially those in leadership positions).

In v19-20, Paul asks for specific prayer on his behalf. Plainly, you can see that he desires two things: first, he wants words from God whenever he opens his mouth; second, he wants to be fearless in his declaration of the mystery of the gospel. In asking his audience to pray these two specific things for him, Paul teaches us several other truths that we ought to consider. Let’s notice those things now:

First is the urgency of prayer for ministers. If the Apostle Paul needs prayer, certainly our pastors need prayer. When we pray for others, we bond to them in our hearts, and we come to love them more. And they are blessed and strengthened and encouraged by and through our prayer for them, whether they are in earshot of our prayers or not. We ought to pray for our pastors.

Second is the humbling power of the gospel message. Paul asks for prayer that whenever he opened his mouth, God’s Word would be proclaimed. That’s a reminder to the Old Testaments prophets, who literally spoke only what the Lord told them to say. Paul wanted to be like that. Ligon Duncan says, “God is never preached when one of two, or both of two, things occur: Either hearts are drawn closer to God and prepared for everlasting fellowship with Him, or hearts are hardened against God and His gospel, and an eternal decision of tremendous and terrible consequences is sealed more and more. And those things happen every time the gospel is preached, and all of us need to feel the solemnity of that, not just preachers…Paul understood that mere human oratory and rhetoric cannot bind up the brokenhearted or raise the dead again. Only the Spirit of God can do that. Only the word of God can do that. And so the best ministers, the very best ministers, need prayer. In fact, the better they are rhetorically, the better they are in their abilities to speak and to hold an audience captive, the more prayer they need that they won’t rely on those native abilities, they won’t rely on their own capacities and their cleverness and their intelligence, but that they would rely upon the Spirit of God and speak the word of God plainly.” Therefore, we ought to pray that our pastors would speak God’s word.

Third is the boldness with which the mystery of the gospel needs to be proclaimed. Twice Paul mentions the importance of preaching fearlessly. No doubt there are many pastors who do not proclaim the full gospel, the hard truths, because they are afraid, afraid of losing attendees, afraid of differing opinions on certain issues, afraid of criticism, afraid of being ushered out by some congregations that pay to hear what their itching ears want to hear. Thus Paul treats fearlessness as a great asset and covets prayers on his behalf for it. And we ought to ask God to give our pastors the words we need to hear, rather than what we want to hear, and to bless them with boldness and fearlessness before men.

Fourth is the mystery of the gospel that needs to be proclaimed. The goal of preaching the gospel is to reach the hearts and consciences of those who are the hearers of that preaching. And they need to hear about Christ; they need to see Christ exalted in the crucifixion that atoned for our sins and did away with the wrath of God and our guilt once and for all that believe on Him with saving faith. So Paul wanted his audience to pray that he would preach the gospel, not some watered-down practical tip of the week. And we ought to pray that our pastors would preach the gospel as it ought to be proclaimed.

Fifth is the obligation of preachers to preach in season and out of season with regard to their own personal trials and tribulations. Paul was an ambassador in chains – literally imprisoned while writing this letter. A faithful minister is one whom God has softened and broken down to build back up. Martin Luther said, “A minister is not made by reading books, but by living and dying and being damned.” In other words, Paul asks for prayers for his faithfulness even in difficult times of trials and persecution. And we ought to pray for our pastor not to be overly sheltered from hardship but to endure it and be faithful through it, because a pastor is a shepherd who needs to know where his flock is and has been.

Ephesians 6:14-17 - The Armor of God

14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

First, the belt of truth represents a life of authenticity and integrity based solely and firmly on the intellectual knowledge and understanding of sound doctrine. It is the confidence in decision-making that comes from knowing with certainty that God’s word is true. Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:31-32). The belt, or girdle, of truth holds you up when the devil attacks your conscience and accuses you of hypocrisy. Ligon Duncan says, “To resist the devil, truth must have so taken hold of us inside-out, so that what we are inwardly is what we are outwardly.” When instructed doctrine becomes part of who you are, when your behavior is aligned with your right Biblical beliefs everyday and all the time, then you are wearing the belt of truth.

Next, the breastplate of righteousness represents a life lived in holiness and moral righteousness from the heart. Elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 5:8), Paul attributes the breastplate to faith and love. Perhaps here Paul is referring to Christ’s righteousness, which is imputed to us as He dwells in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). Perhaps Paul is thinking instead of our righteous deeds, which we do with more and more consistency as we grow in faith (sanctification). Either way, the breastplate of righteousness is the confidence that enables us to resist temptation, to repent when we fail, and to always rest in grace assured of our justification before God. The breastplate protects our conscience.

Coming to v15, we have the shoes of readiness of the gospel of peace. Some have suggested that Paul has in mind Isaiah 52:7, the passage that speaks of beautiful feet bringing good news, but ironically, the peace that comes from the gospel readies one for war against evil. The Roman soldiers of Paul’s day wore a half boot, similar to a high-top football cleat. It was designed to enable fast and easy running – compared to plodding with full boots on – and firm footing on unstable ground in order to stand firm. Ligon Duncan says, “Paul is reminding us here that our ability to march for God and to stand firm in the day of evil is wholly dependent upon our having experienced the effect of the gospel,” which is reconciliation with God, or peace, along with a readiness to live for God and go where Christ directs as Lord. We need to be ready (1 Peter 3:15; Romans 1:16), prepared for battle, and to be prepared is to understand that we have peace with God through the gospel. Are you ready to move for God? Are you ready to stand firm in your faith in the midst of persecution? If you are wearing gospel shoes, then you have peace with God, reconciled to Him through Christ, and you are ready!

Next, the shield of faith, rather than the breastplate of faith and love as mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, mentioned in v16 was a large full-body shield that, when dipped in water prior to a battle, could easily extinguish fiery arrows when they fell upon it. 1 John 5:4 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” To resist the devil we must have a living and active faith in the living and active God. We must trust and confide in Christ, knowing that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Calvin says, “The most necessary instruments of warfare – a sword and a shield – are compared to faith, and to the word of God. In the spiritual combat, these two hold the highest rank. By faith we repel all the attacks of the devil, and by the word of God the enemy himself is slain. If the word of God shall have its efficacy upon us through faith, we shall be more than sufficiently armed both for opposing the enemy and for putting him to flight.”

If you have a faith without works, then you might want to check to see if your faith is alive. The Bible says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:14-19). Do you have the shield of faith? Prove it!

The helmet of salvation in v17 involves the confidence that God finishes what He starts (Philippians 1:6); there is a present experience and a future hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8), because God is the One working in you to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13). The verb translated, “Take,” would be better stated, “Receive,” as it points specifically to the given nature of the object. When Roman soldiers prepared for battle, they would put on their armor, but the helmet and sword would be handed to them on the way out to battle. Receive from God the helmet, the intellectual and heart-felt assurance of your salvation. Ligon Duncan says, “If we’re going to stand firm in the day of evil, we must have a vital hope, a vital sense of God’s having saved us – of our present and future salvation. The Apostle Paul is saying that the knowledge that we are saved and secure, the knowledge that nothing can pluck us from God’s hand, the knowledge of Romans 8 that ‘...neither death nor life, nor angels, nor powers, nor principalities, nor nakedness nor famine, nor peril nor sword, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus’; the knowledge that we are God’s, that we belong to Him, that we are kept by Him, that we are saved by Him, that we are safe and secure with Him, is vital to the whole project of the Christian life.”

Often called the lone offensive weapon in this passage, we have the sword, the word of God. In reality there are two, and we’ll consider prayer in the next set of verses. But this sword would have brought to mind for the reader a short sword used first and foremost for defense in hand-to-hand combat. Consider a jousting match where one knight falls from his ride and is injured. The other knight would only be victorious if he voluntarily dismounted and came over the fallen knight to finish him off. But the injured knight would not go down without defending himself; and he would use this kind of sword to cling to life as long as he could. Then after succeeding defensively, this sword would be used for offense. It brings to my mind Jesus’ one-on-one battles with Satan during the Spirit-led desert temptation. And from that example in its entirety (Jesus defends, turns the table, and offends in the three battles with Satan), we learn that to resist the devil, to fight successfully against the spirits of darkness, we must rely on God’s Word; we must be people of the Book; we must hide God’s Word in our hearts so that we don’t sin against Him; we must love His law and meditate on it day and night. That’s how we win the spiritual war against evil.

Like the helmet, the sword is received on the way to battle. Paul implies that the Word of God, which is the sword, is received by and through the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13, Jesus says, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.” As we study the Word of God, the indwelling Holy Spirit instructs believers in the understanding and proper use of God’s Word for defense first and then offense. Vincent Cheung says, “Every time a Christian verbally defends Christian ideas and attacks non-Christian ideas in a biblical way, he is wielding the sword of the Spirit,” and then he quotes Gordon Fee as saying, “Paul is almost certainly referring still to the gospel, just as he does in Romans 10:17, but the emphasis is now on the actual ‘speaking forth’ of the message, inspired by the Spirit. To put that in more contemporary terms, in urging them to take the sword of the Spirit and then identifying that sword with the ‘Word of God,’ Paul is not identifying the ‘sword’ with the book, but with the proclamation of Christ, which in our case is indeed to be found in the book.”

The Word of God does not merely lead us to salvation; it builds us up and sustains us; God’s Word helps us grow and stay alive in Christ. “For the Word is living and active; sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates, even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God speaks to power of God’s Word when it says, “That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth.” Vance Havner said, “Show me a Christian whose Bible is falling apart, and I’ll show you a Christian who isn’t.”