Mending Christians (Part Two)

Galatians 6:1-2

Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (CSB).

In our last post we saw that we need to be gentle restorers of believers that have been overtaken in any wrongdoing. Second, we need to be cautious restorers (6:1b)

The cautious restorer realizes that vigilance over one’s own soul is a crucial part of helping someone else. This is important for at least two reasons. First in seeking to help someone up, we watch out that we do not fall. When we seek to restore someone, we will come into contact with their sin to some extent. Sin spreads. Evil seeks ways to corrupt others, perhaps by taking advantage of a casual or overconfident attitude. We all should learn from the lifeguard’s method of rescuing a drowning swimmer. Keep your heart a safe distance from exposure. In this Covid-19 era, we can illustrate by saying, “Use the mask of the shield of faith.” Keep your spiritual armor on. Second in seeking to help someone, be careful that you do not complicate their problem. Physicians of old time who did not know about bacteria would treat wounds with unclean hands. If you try to treat someone else’s heart with spiritually unclean hands, you could introduce another serious infection into the person you’re attempting to help. For example, if you lack joy in the Lord, you might inject a gloomy outlook or cold discipline into them as a supposed new normal.

The cautious restorer considers the danger of temptation. Immature believers have poor spiritual vision. They see the evil of sin but fail to perceive the dangers of events that lead to sin. They suppose restoration is an easy matter, grow careless in spiritual duties like private prayer and self-examination, and are suddenly entangled in the sin themselves. The mature believer clearly sees where temptation can lead, and so they strive to avoid it (Matthew 26:41). As medical people in our day face great danger from disease in helping the sick, so spiritual restorers face all the evils of contamination from the new paganism of our day.

Third, we need to be burdened restorers. (6:2) Restoration is a difficult work. It is not a job for those who confuse Christianity with a life of ease and pleasure, which is free from pain and suffering. Satan’s great lie to the church has been that salvation is a vacation from service to God and others.

The burdened restorer accepts the burdens that must come on them when they help someone. Frankly, the task can be wearisome, because you find that when you lift the load off your brother or sister’s back, you must carry it on your own. It will cost you time and pain. Some of these burdens, besides being heavy, are also distasteful. Think of a nurse who must change dressings on wounds. It is ugly when you discover that the person whom you have been serving in love has fallen into the sin again and their situation has moved from being complicated to complex. Note very well: We do not overlook the burdens of the fallen, but we try to unburden them, so that they can stand again.

The burdened restorer finds that in doing this, he or she fulfills the law or instruction of Christ. They imitate Christ and discover that Christ’s ideas, attitudes, words, and actions have been learned by them in a new way. They make progress and learn more of the Lord’s joy in serving others. They see his peace “flowing through their fingertips” as their burden lifting touch brings restoration. Through faith they learn obedience to the Lord.

Christ’s law or “binding instruction” emphasizes love for one another. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34 NIV). My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12 NIV). This verse “shows that to love one another as Christ loved us may lead us not to some heroic, spectacular deed of self-sacrifice, but to the much more mundane and unspectacular ministry of burden-bearing” (Stott).

It is time for the church to stop wishing things were better and to begin to follow God’s plan for change. This means we must be gentle, cautious, burdened restorers of our fallen brothers and sisters. We must help them recover the strength to stand by faith in Christ, to walk again, and then to become those who can help others.

Grace and peace,
David

Mending Christians (Part One)

Galatians 6:1-2

Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (CSB).

This world is a place of where everything continually needs repair. Oh, that everything would stay in a “brand new” condition! But cars, clothes, furniture and homes all require repair work.

People, yes, Christian people, need restoration, too. And as a faithful servant of God, the apostle Paul sought to mend the broken churches of Galatia. John Flavel said the following well. “And indeed it is not so much the expense of our labors, as the loss of them, that kills us. It is not with us, as with other laborers: they find their work as they leave it, so do not we. Sin and Satan unravel almost all we do, the impressions we make on our people’s souls in one sermon, vanish before the next. How many truths have we to study! How many wiles of Satan, and mysteries of corruption, to detect! How many cases of conscience to resolve! Yea, we must fight in defense of the truths we preach, as well as study them to paleness, and preach them unto faintness: but welcome all, if we can but approve ourselves Christ’s faithful servants.”

In pursuit of this goal, Paul gives some positive, practical steps the church, meaning the people of God and not an institution, must take, as it seeks to keep in step with the Spirit.

In this post we will consider the first of three qualities of a Christian who mends other Christians.

We need to be gentle restorers (6:1a). The atmosphere in the Galatian church had been that of “law keeping for acceptance”. This produces a harsh and judgmental attitude among people. “It is easy for certain types of religious people to sit in judgment on one who has suddenly yielded to some moral temptation, to make their disapproval manifest, but this is not the way of Christ” (Bruce). Let me be so bold as to put it this way. I wonder if some pastors and teachers have real difficulty understanding why the Holy Spirit directed the apostle to write the last two chapters of Galatians. Patience requires much more than talking to a person once about their “sin problem” and then demanding immediate change. If you truly want to help restore others, you must learn a few “four letter words”, like love, time, hear, care, wait, feel, and pain. This is not a task for someone who wants to resolve everything in thirty minutes like TV sitcoms.

How can people be helped properly (and therefore best) in such a situation?

The gentle restorer recognizes that other believers struggle with sin. His own sins and failures remind him that other saints stumble also (cf. Matthew 7:2-5). “Sin” is a trespass, a stepping aside out of the way, rather than keeping in step with the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5). Shocking as it might sound to the self-righteous and those pleased with themselves, the Lord’s followers can find themselves “caught” in a trespass. It is easy to wander off the right way.

The gentle restorer knows who can help and how they can help. Let’s think of both aspects.

All Christians (“you who are spiritual”) can help (Romans 15:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). Certainly, those who are most skilled can help the best. I would not disagree with the concept of training Christians to help others. I have been trained and constantly help train others in my teaching ministry. The idea is not to do an end run around the pastors and teachers that Christ has placed in his church. And we have different spiritual gifts that enable some to do what others can’t do. But too often in a professional therapeutic culture we can miss the big idea that restoration is much more than giving “expert” advice or counsel. It is not a simple matter of the pastor and elders meeting with the one in need of restoration. (By the way, in our time, pastors and elders have more training and interest in leading a “church” in numerical and financial progress than in the wise restoration of believers.) Full restoration of those overtaken by wrong doing requires the input of the whole body of believers. Kind words and actions from new or unskilled believers can be used by the Spirit of God to bring healing to the heart of the one in need of restoration.

Mending is a work for gentle hands. “To gain this object he explains the purpose of godly reproofs, which is, to restore the fallen and make him sound again. This will never be accomplished by violence or a spirit of accusation, or by fierceness of countenance and words. It remains that we must show a calm and kind spirit if we want to heal our brother” (Calvin). In my years of ministry I have encountered many who were grievously injured by harshness when gentleness could have brought about restoration.

It has been said that the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded. Needless to say, this ought not to be. Our model is the Lord himself, not self-righteous leaders who suppose they have some cause or movement or their own reputations to protect. We need to follow the Lord very closely in this matter. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young (Isaiah 40:11 NIV). A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out (Isaiah 42:3a NIV).

Grace and peace,
David

After the World Changed (Part Three)

John 21:1-14

The disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied his outer clothing around him (for he had taken it off) and plunged into the sea. Since they were not far from land (about a hundred yards away), the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus told them. So Simon Peter climbed up and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish—153 of them. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. “Come and have breakfast,” Jesus told them. None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead (21:7-14 CSB).

After God changed the whole world at Christ’s resurrection from the dead, his disciples had to adjust to living in this new reality. They had already seen Jesus a couple times, and Peter himself had seen Jesus already at least three times (on Resurrection Sunday morning or early afternoon after Mary had met the risen Lord, on that Sunday night, and one week later.) When Peter dived into the water, he was very excited to see the Lord Jesus for the fourth time! Think how you would be in his situation. He had failed the Lord, because of his pride and prayerlessness. But Jesus had been ready to receive him back along with the others and had already recommissioned them (20:19-23). That included Peter. Whatever sorrow Peter still had, and a tragic failure like his would take time to recover from, he still had a great desire to be with his Lord. We should learn from his example. Do not allow your sins to hinder you from returning to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness. He died that we might be forgiven. It is one of the great blessings of the new covenant sealed with his shed blood. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Hebrews 8:12 NIV).

As Peter swam quickly to the shore, his friends followed in the boat, bringing the net full of fish. The Spirit has not recorded what quick conversation happened between Jesus and his learner (disciple), but can you picture the scene. Peter comes up out of the water dripping wet to appear before the Risen Lord of Glory! It has to make you smile. We can come as we are to Him who sits at the right hand of the Father. We ought to have a bold faith.

When the disciples were on the shore together, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. The Lord Jesus had already started breakfast for his hungry followers. Jesus told them to bring other fish that they had caught that he had provided (both sides were true). Their meal was to be a joint endeavor. This is what the Christian life is like: the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake (Romans 1:5 NIV). We trust the Lord to provide, as we do what his word directs us to do.

After the fish were cleaned and cooked, Jesus invited them to the meal. “Come and have breakfast.” Fellowship with the Lord and one another is a great blessing. Like any other men at such a time, they would have enjoyed the food, talked and joked and laughed, as they shared life with each other. Christ wants us to share and enjoy our lives with him. There are times to celebrate in the life of faith, and we ought to join in the celebration! Having dinners with your whole church or with your small group is not a gimmick to enlarge your group. It is sharing our common humanity to the glory of God.

Notice also that Jesus gave them bread. This would have sent off echoes in their hearts about how he had done this on other occasions (cf. Luke 9:16-17; 24:30-32). This whole incident proclaims that the Risen Jesus they ate breakfast with that morning was the same Jesus they had always known. Christ is risen indeed! Life after the world changed ought to be sharing our lives with our Risen Lord!

Grace and peace
David

After the World Changed (Part Two)

John 21:1-14

After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called “Twin”), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples were together. “I’m going fishing,” Simon Peter said to them. “We’re coming with you,” they told him. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When daybreak came, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not know it was Jesus. “Friends,” Jesus called to them, “you don’t have any fish, do you?” “No,” they answered. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” he told them, “and you’ll find some.” So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. The disciple, the one Jesus loved, said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (21:1-7a CSB)

Sometime after Thomas’ confession of faith, we have this post-resurrection appearance that is recorded only by the apostle John. Because they had experienced that Jesus their Lord and Teacher was risen from the dead, they now had two major items on their immediate agenda: to meet Jesus in Galilee and then to return to Jerusalem, where the Holy Spirit would be poured out on them. However, they did not know the details of either meeting. They had to wait in obedient faith for both. Waiting in faith is always difficult, even to people who have demonstrated great faith in the Lord. Plenty of examples are available from the lives of people like George Mueller and Hudson Taylor, both of whom daily depended on the Lord to meet their needs. We live in tension between confidence in the living God to supply our needs and anxiety about when or how or even if God will act for our good this time. If you are finding it difficult to wait for God’s answer to your prayers, know that you have many brothers and sisters in Christ that are in the same situation. I hope that does not sound like “misery loves company”; instead, I hope it sounds like this is a normal experience of the life of faith.

While they were in Galilee, apparently waiting to meet the Risen Messiah, Peter and some of his friends decided to go fishing. We are not told why he wanted to go fishing. Nor are we told the reason the others agreed to go with him. They are not blamed for this action. Men have things they like to do, just as women do. It is really okay to the Lord that we act like humans because he made us to be humans. There might have been any number of reasons for their choice, from the simple “they needed food to eat” to “they wanted to lend a hand to the family fishing business” (this is often overlooked by the critical) to “they wanted to relax out on the lake.” This is only to suggest three possibilities. The last is quite human, considering all the turmoil they had been through. If God gives me grace to get through this pandemic safely, I might either want to go for a hike in the nearby mountains (Mt. Joy and Mt. Misery) or go fishing myself. After a time of instability and upheaval, people need time to recover, to return to a normal routine of life, to rekindle relationships. Let us not give those early disciples a hard time, when the Holy Spirit does not in the written word.

When Peter and the others went fishing, I am sure they expected a successful night catching fish. But even the best fisherman does not always catch fish. I have never been a skilled fisherman, although my dad’s nickname was “Fishhook”. How he loved to fresh water fish! Anytime anyone would go with him, he was ready! (Ah, the memories! Excuse me while my eyes tear up for a moment.) He usually caught some fish, even if they were not keepers. My brother and I went fishing one day up in New York. We rented a boat for sixty dollars. We caught one fish. I assure you we had that fish for supper that evening. It was the most expensive fish dinner I have ever had. Anyway, the disciples, some of whom were professional fisherman, caught nothing that night.

But a man stood on the shore of the lake. He had been a carpenter by trade. From the shore he called out to the unsuccessful fisherman. Most English translations are rather formal and say something like “Friends”, as the way the man addressed them. To be more colloquial, we could translate, “Hey guys, you haven’t caught any fish, have you?” A line like this never makes any fisherman happy, but they politely answered, “No.”

The man then gave them some advice that was about to resonate in their hearts. For the same man had said similar words to them a couple years previously (cf. Luke 5:4-7). They did what he said, and immediately their nets were full of fish! Immediately, the disciple that Jesus loved (John) knew it was the Lord. What exciting news! The Lord over all creation had come to be with “his guys”!

After the world changed, Jesus kept his word. The same Lord Jesus they had known and loved for years had come to meet them in Galilee. And he meet them where they were, doing something that they loved to do, and providing for their needs and wants. Hey guys, Jesus loves his people, even after the world changed. He still loves us today.

Grace and peace,
David

After the World Changed (Part One)

John 20:24-29

A week later his disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” Thomas responded to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (20:26-29 CSB).

After the world changed? No, I’m am not referring to Covid-19 or predicting how the world will be different following it. This is a blog about the Scriptures, and our focus is on what is far more important: the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ by salvation through judgment. I leave speculation to those self-assured of their own insights. Yesterday, we remembered Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. Now we want to think about how the world changed for his followers in the days and weeks following that great redemptive event. It marked the end of the old or law covenant and the old age. It brought about a new age with Christ’s new and better covenant. Now we live in a time of better promises and brighter hopes. However, it took a while for his followers to sort things out.

In today’s text, we read of the doubts of one of the struggling apostles, Thomas. His former hopes had been smashed by the cruel crucifixion of Jesus, because he did not listen to all the words of Jesus and the Scriptures that Christ would rise again the third day. After the resurrection, Thomas heard the testimony of the other apostles but he wouldn’t accept their words. He wanted to experience the resurrected Lord Jesus himself. It was good that he wanted proof, because the Lord does not call us to trust him apart from evidence. Thomas’ problem was setting the terms for what evidence he would accept. This is a continuing problem among unbelievers. They set themselves up as judges over what they want to accept about the world. They fail to realize that they are too small to take in all reality and that they at best can only achieve very limited experience and knowledge. Nor do they wish to accept the dreadful effects of sin on human ability to reason. Pride runs large in human hearts. We all encounter prejudice and anti-God anger, but fail to consider that we have been infected with the spiritually deadly virus.

Thomas suffered from this spiritual malady, and he was unaware of his condition. But suddenly Jesus appeared and transformed his world and life view. He entered the room where the apostles had sequestered themselves, even though the doors were locked to keep out unwelcome visitors. What were the apostles doing after the world changed? They hid. They had a message to proclaim (Luke 24:45-49), starting in Jerusalem. But they hid. They lacked something to be able to witness: the power of the Holy Spirit!

Please do not imagine that we would have acted differently. None of them did, and they were people that would one day, excepting John, who would die for Christ. They were new people in a new world, but they lacked the outpoured Spirit of God to help them in their witness.

Jesus had already told them that they needed the Spirit, but the Lord did not let this teaching opportunity pass. First, he corrected Thomas. This apostle had been faithless when they others testified to him. So Christ himself provided clear evidence to lead Thomas to a new vibrant faith in his Lord. Thomas joyfully responded to it and proclaimed his belief in Jesus as his Lord and God. Second, the Lord Jesus provided encouragement for those who would later believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, apart from actually seeing and/or touching him. He gave all us a special blessing! So then, what we lack in experience is more than made up by what we receive through faith. And like the early apostles, all believers in the Lord Jesus receive the promise of the now poured out Holy Spirit. He is a great blessing indeed!

Grace and peace
David

A Verse for Our Times

Psalm 56:3

When I am afraid, I will trust in you (CSB).

People can have many fears at all times. At times, a relatively few people share the same fears. Those who share the same fears probably don’t have the same degree of fear. For example, some people have a tiny fear of heights; in fact, they’re simply cautious as all sane people are. Others are terrorized by heights, almost sure they are going to fall and die. Others might get paralyzed by their fears. Once in my construction days, I had to help a carpenter with forty years’ experience down off a roof, because he became paralyzed with fear. Yes, I, who have a rather healthy respect for heights, had to do this. (My wife and children are no doubt laughing as they read this!) Yet, I had to help him, and after about fifteen minutes, he was able to inch himself over to the ladder, and I held it securely for him, as he came down under his own power. Needless to say, it was the last time we allowed him to go up on a roof.

I don’t know where you are on “the fear spectrum” concerning Covid-19, the latest corona virus. Some people need to gain a healthy respect for it and act circumspectly. Others might be terrorized or paralyzed by fear. Many are in the middle or at some other point on the spectrum. No one can simply tell another person not to fear. We need to confront our fears with truth, and then replace them with faith in God.

David wrote this psalm. He had experienced strong, serious fears nearly his whole life. Many enemies tried to kill him. Yet escapes from possibly fatal encounters did not make him arrogant. Some people have that reaction after a brush with certain death. Arrogance is never wise.

The condition of his heart was complex. He was afraid, yet he trusted at the same time. He did not allow his fear to immobilize his soul. “It is possible, then, for fear and faith to occupy the mind at the same moment. We are strange beings, and our experience in the divine life is stranger still. We are often in a twilight, where darkness and light are both present, and it is hard to tell which predominates. It is a blessed fear that drives us to trust” (Spurgeon, Treasury of David, on this verse).

If you are afraid of what consequences Covid-19 might wreak in our nation and world, you are thinking. But don’t let your fears stop you from an active, growing, vibrant trust in the Lord. At the very moment you feel overwhelmed with fear, remember that God is in our situation. He is not far away and unconcerned. He is sovereign and ruling for the good of all believers in one way or another.

What David does is to encourage himself in the true and living God. If he had put his trust in idols and false gods, his faith would have been futile. But it was not. His faith was in the Lord of the covenant, in Yahweh (56:10-11), in the Great I Am Who I Am. His name, the Lord, is the hope of his people, the brightest star during the darkest night, the refreshing breeze on the hottest day, the one who is able to supply all our needs in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Let us not be like the unbelievers in the wilderness. They demanded food from God, but immediately questioned if he could provide (Psalm 78:17-22).

To trust God, you need correct ideas about him. The right beliefs come from his word. Read Isaiah 42-55, Mark 1-8, and the Gospel of John to fill your soul with the truth about our God. Then you must replace your fears with faith in the true and living God, the Almighty, the Ruler, the Sovereign God over all. Where is your heart today? Are you filled with fears? Or are you filled with the Holy Spirit, who makes Christ present in your heart, the same Christ who healed the sick and calmed the troubled seas. If the Lord can do that, he can be with all of us through this pandemic.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV).

Grace and peace,
David

We Need to Talk (Part Two)

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4 NIV).

Let’s talk about our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We, Christ’s new covenant people, the church, belong to him. And he belongs to us (John 14:20). We ought to take this truth seriously. More than that, we should rest in it, rejoice in it, and in revel it. The purpose of salvation is to be a people who belong to the Lord. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9 ESV).

The law that Paul speaks of is the law given on Sinai as God’s covenant with his people. The law or old covenant regulated the life of the people of God from Sinai to the cross. The people of the law covenant had its promise of life (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), but being sinners, they could not keep it. Thus they fell under its curses (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). The law demanded spiritual fruitfulness, but offered no power to produce fruit. We do not belong to the law covenant. It was given by God and its commands good (Romans 7:12), but it could not produce godly fruit in sinful people. But the resurrected Christ can produce spiritual fruit in his people. He does this by the power of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

This much Christians have said through the years. It is the idea of belonging to Christ that we should have a greater awareness of. Paul uses the illustration of a married woman. At the core of marriage is the concept of the husband and wife belonging to each other. Each hands over to the other their aspirations, their financial independence, their bodies and so forth in order to form a union with each other. As Jesus said, Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6 NLT).

We need to become serious that we are joined to the Lord. Do we share his aspirations (his revealed will for his people)? Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to him (2 Corinthians 5:9). Jesus knew the Scriptures, so should we. Jesus went about doing good (Acts 10:38), and that is our calling (cf. Titus; 1 Peter). Jesus lived a life of love (Galatians 2:20), and our love for others ought to show up in how we talk to each other (Ephesians 4:29-5:2). Jesus completed the work the Father gave him to do (John 17:4), and we need to pursue the task of making disciples and being his witnesses (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).

Part of the marital relationship is properly representing your spouse. When my wife and I had just started to get serious in our dating relationship, we agreed not to refer to each other as “the old man” or “the old lady” or other derogatory terms. We speak in words that seek to honor the other before God and people. This means we are also careful in the way we speak of the Lord, whose name is constantly dishonored in our time.

Positively, this means that we show the Lord Jesus’ qualities to a watching world. Consider Colossians 3:12-15. Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful (CSB). Here is how the Lord wants his wife to dress. He wants us to wear godly relational qualities. This starts in our relationships with other believers, and extends to acting in a beneficial manner to all. With the internal squabbles that characterize most local churches and the fruitless quest for political power by many professing believers in our time, the world does not see the above fruit. It hears the defiling speech spoken against in Colossians 3:8. It observes contention, arrogance, impatience, and a mournful lack of gentleness, kindness, and love.

Dear brothers and sisters, we need to face the hard truth. Our words and our contact have not properly represented the Lord Jesus Christ. We desperately need a radical change in our world and life view that restores the supremacy of Christ in our attitudes, words, and behavior. The Lord wants us to relate to him and to others in a much godlier way than we have been.

Grace and peace, David

We Need to Talk (Part One)

Ephesians 5:22-33

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church (5:32 NIV).

The Biblical passage from which we begin this series is often used to talk about the marital relationship between a husband and a wife. Clearly, it does provide crucial teaching on the sharing of life between the two partners in the marriage covenant. But there is more to these words than the relationship of two humans. Their union is a picture of the greater union of the Lord Jesus Christ and his people. Christ is the husband and the church is his bride. As a man and a woman share life in their marital union, so Christ and his people share life. Marriage is about knowing a person and being known by that same person. Our eternal life with God is about personal knowledge (John 17:3) And knowledge involves communication. So, in this series think of Christ saying to his dearly loved bride, “We need to talk.”

Now on the human side of things, when a man or a woman says to their spouse, “We need to talk,” it is because there is a problem of some kind. Some might be small and others very serious. When one says this phrase, the other might begin to think, “Now what have I done,” and “how can I defend myself?” To ease into this, imagine that a married couple is a party. The husband tells a joke of some sort, that he assumes is simply funny and harmless. But the next thing he knows, his wife comes up to his side and whispers in his ear, “Dear, we need to talk.” Immediately, by her tone, the husband knows he is in trouble! And he is ignorant, and thinking, “Oh no, what did I do or say now?”

In that situation, the husband is probably guilty of some social faux pas. However, we the church are united to the Lord of glory, who is all-wise and never makes mistakes, even when we fail to comprehend his ways. On the other hand, we commit many sins and errors, which require our repentance and faith in his grace to restore our fellowship with him.

For our constant benefit, the Lord Jesus talks to his church through the living Word of God. We don’t need to find a time to talk with him in a busy schedule, which can be difficult for married couples in the busyness of our fast-paced lives. His words are always available, and we can always talk with him (prayer).

This series does not directly speak to the issue of reading the Bible and prayer. A discussion about the latter usually turns into a guilt trip (hardly anyone prays like we all know we should), an excessive concentration on the physical and financial needs of others (who prays for spiritual matters?), or a mystical quest (there are many forms of mysticism in prayer that have little or no connection with the Bible). Dare I even mention attempting to get “Bible believing” Christians involved in reading the Bible regularly? I think it would be easier to encourage believers to wade waist deep through a horrifically smelling swamp for a year than to read the Bible daily for three months! We have a serious problem with distraction or disinterest or disillusionment when it comes to reading God’s word in a consistent manner. Do you think I’m joking? All right… Read First Thessalonians every day for a month. The Spirit might use it to change your life.

Instead, I want to think with you about teachings of the Scriptures that the Lord wants us to pay attention to, as he talks with his dearly loved bride, the church. Christ says to us, “We need to talk;” that is, we need to listen to him about our relationship with him, our worship, our fears, our pride, our lack of passion, our brotherly love, and our need for wisdom. May God our Father give us hearts to listen and grace to change!

Grace and peace, David

Why Christ Came (Part Two)

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God’” (Hebrews 10:5-7 NIV).

Our second text makes known why the Messiah came in relation to the story of God’s glory. God chose to work out his plan through a series of covenants. There are five covenants clearly identified in the Holy Writings, and they are usually linked to major characters in God’s plan. So we speak of covenants associated with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ. The covenant with Abraham is called the holy covenant (Luke 1:72) or the promise (Galatians 3). The covenant with Moses is called the law or the old covenant in many places; it is also called the first   covenant (Hebrews 8:7; 9:1). It is important to keep this last designation in mind in order to understand Hebrews ten properly. The covenant of which Christ is the substance (Isaiah 42:6; 49:8) is usually called the new covenant, though in Hebrews it is also called the better or the second covenant (8:7 CSB, ESV, NLT). Now let’s focus on this second reason for Christ’s first coming.

The Messiah said, I have come to do your will, my God. Now surely he always pleased God the Father. When you read the Gospel of John carefully, you learn that all his works and words were exactly what the Father desired. When he did signs and wonders, each one was the will of the Father. When he spoke, he spoke what the Father told him to speak. How he acted was to reveal the Father to us (John 1:18). If we read this text through the lens of systematic or practical theology, we will think that this phrase is speaking of our Lord’s general obedience to the Father, and how he is our pattern to do the same. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with either systematic or practical theology, but we must not allow them to interfere with a proper understanding of any Biblical text. What is the will of God that Christ came to do?

First, in the above verses, notice the contrasts between sacrifice and offering with the body God prepared for the Messiah, and between offerings that could not please God and doing God’s will. Weren’t sacrifices and offerings established by God (see especially Leviticus) and so his will? Yes, they were! But they could not please God in the sense of being able to take away sin and cleanse the consciences of those who sinned. The Messiah had to come to provide a better sacrifice for sins, the offering of himself.

Second, notice what the writer of Hebrews said about the old covenant. The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship (10:1 NIV). It was a shadow and its sacrifices can nevermake perfect those who draw near to worship. Now a shadow is good for the purpose for which God made shadows. They show us that something of substance is nearby. But that does not make the shadow better than the substance. And when we have the substance, we no longer need the shadow. For example, my shadow might show my wife that I am walking toward her. So she is alert to my presence. But I don’t want her to kiss my shadow; I want her to kiss me!

There are too many Christians in our time that are in love with the shadows of the law covenant. Such shadows proclaimed that the Lord was near his old covenant people. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12 NIV). But now that Christ, who is the better covenant, has come and accomplished redemption, we no longer need the shadows of the law, because Christ is now in us.

Third, Christ came to fulfill the law, set it aside because it was fulfilled, and to establish the new covenant. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrew 10:9-10 NIV). Notice what the Spirit caused to be written. He sets aside the first to establish the second. The first is the law or old covenant and the second is the new or better covenant. We are no longer under the law, written on stone tablets and given to Israel on Sinai. We are in Christ, and the Spirit of Christ who lives in us is our leader in following Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Grace and peace, David

Be Thankful (Part Two)

Colossians 3:15-17

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (NIV).

We offer thanksgiving as part of our new way of life (3:15). Our union with Christ in his death and resurrection has ended the rule of sin in our lives (cf. Colossians 3:1-4). The practices of the old way of life are contrary to a life of thanksgiving (cf. Colossians 3:5; cf. Romans 1:18-29; 2 Timothy 3:2). For this reason, we are to end the remaining actions of the old way of life. Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5 CSB; cf. Romans 8:13).

Our union with Christ begins the development of a new way of life. We become thankful to God our Savior. Thankfulness disables self-pity. How can you throw a pity party for yourself when you are a thankful person? Consider what we might call the self-pity sequence: Envy leads to self-pity that causes anger that leads deeper into bitterness that in turn causes depression. But thankfulness to God promotes humility and contentment. Every good gift is from God. Therefore, I should not expect to be treated as superior (1 Corinthians 4:7). Every good gift is from God. Therefore, I should be satisfied with his good gifts. I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself (Philippians 4:11 CSB).

We also become thankful to others:

  • We recognize our mutual interdependence. We let each other know in a glad and encouraging way that we need each other.
  • We express appreciation. This makes us observe what Christ is doing in and through others, and then to verbalize our approval and enjoyment of such actions.
  • We encourage others in good works (cf. Hebrews 10:25).

We also offer thanksgiving as partners in worship (3:16). The word of Christ should govern our worship together. The word of Christ is both from him and concerns him. He is the source and the substance of God’s revelation or message to us. This word is to live richly in our hearts. How does this happen? It richly lives in us when we listen attentively to it (Matthew 13:9), hide it in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), handle it correctly (2 Timothy 2:15), and hold it out to others (Philippians 2:16).

We must seriously understand that thanksgiving is to be a corporate experience. The whole local assembly is to share in the richly living word of Christ together. Church is not a place that you go to, but it is people in Christ that you partner with for the word of Christ.

When the word of Christ has its proper place in a local church, it transforms the worship of the gathering of believers. The word that is sung in worship becomes a means of teaching and admonishing one another (cf. Colossians 1:28). We join the vertical and the horizontal aspects of worship. Then worship is not an individual matter, but a sweet sharing of life in Christ. Then our songs of praise join together as songs of gratitude for how God has given us grace together in the body of Christ. How is your experience of corporate thanksgiving to God in Christ? How would you rate what happens in your local gathering? Will you join with others to increase the overflowing gratitude that our Lord and Savior deserves?

Grace and peace, David