How and What We Tell Others (Part One)

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

Therefore, since we have this ministry because we were shown mercy, we do not give up. Instead, we have renounced secret and shameful things, not acting deceitfully or distorting the word of God, but commending ourselves before God to everyone’s conscience by an open display of the truth (CSB).

I write this post on the five hundredth anniversary of a great work of God in salvation that began about 1517 and spread across Europe and eventually to its pioneer villages in North America. It is called the Reformation, and it should remind us that God can do unexpected and remarkable things through people and events that seem most unlikely.

My concern in this post is not to talk about that time, but about God’s message in our time, the twenty-first century. The same God still works through the same good news that changed all history in the first century and the sixteenth century. All around the world in our century, the Lord is saving people. In this text, we hear one of Christ’s first spokesmen, a man called Paul, talk about what and how new covenant ministers preach and what God is able to do through that message. Let’s think about what is written for our benefit.

The glory of a gospel or new covenant ministry prompts perseverance and openness (4:1-2). Those who tell others the good news of Jesus Christ must face temptations to disabling discouragement. If anyone had an opportunity to give up, it was Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:23-29). However, Paul did not give in to discouragement. He explains this to his readers. The word “lose heart” can be translated “not despair”. It carries the idea of behaving badly by getting into such a condition. Despair is the spirit of our age, and people try desperately to escape it by pleasure of some sort. But gradually there is no pleasure that can overcome the damp, freezing chill of hopelessness. The Christian is to have no part with this attitude.

Believers in Christ have sufficient resources to overcome this temptation. The apostle mentions two: the character of new covenant ministry, which is surpassing, enduring, and transforming glory, and the mercy of God. You see, if we would not give up, we must remember what God is doing. He has placed us in a ministry that leads to glory. God’s eternal mercy is for us (cf. Psalm 23:6). Whatever happens, we must view our situation through gospel eyes. “Everything is going to be all right” when we are in forever-glory with the Lord Christ.

Those who tell others the good news must serve according to gospel principles. This influences our mode of ministry in three ways.

  • We renounce secret and shameful ways. The gospel has no room for ways that are underhanded and disgraceful, because the gospel’s very character is openness.
  • We do not use deception nor distort God’s word. Our walk (“use”) or way of life is not unscrupulous, cunning, or sly. We do not stoop to anything to accomplish our goals. Nor do we distort God’s Word. The great cry of our age is “tell people what they want to hear.” Christ’s faithful people will not do that. As unpleasant as it may be for speaker or listener, we must tell people what the Lord has said.
  • We set forth the truth to every conscience. The conscience refers to that faculty of the inner person that recognizes right and wrong moral norms and either accuses or excuses the person because of that norm. Certainly, a person can have wrong moral norms; such as supposing that it is all right to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage or assuming that “the one with the most toys wins”. But that is precisely the reason Paul aimed the truth at the conscience. It takes the truth that is in Jesus to produce godly norms in a human conscience.

The point is that the Reformation, like other awakenings and revival, points to the transformation of all, including those who tell others the good news of salvation by grace. We can thank God that the Reformers told people the true way to be right with God. Sadly, sometimes they did not tell the truth in a loving manner. Let us learn from them and tell the truth, but may we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-four)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

One of the difficulties of presenting biblical teaching in a survey form, like this series about the Holy Spirit, is the presentation of teaching without an adequate understanding of the context. The message of the Bible is the story of God’s glory in Christ through salvation by judgment. Please invest some time in reading Acts 10:17- 48 to grasp the immediate context of this greater story. In his message to his Gentile audience, Peter had to familiarize his audience with the narrative of the Bible to show how God acted in Christ to bring salvation to all nations. Peter explained as an eyewitness how he saw Jesus as he fulfilled God’s plan for his glory. We must never forget this underlying purpose. It is God’s story that we need to listen to and then accept by faith in Christ. We do not read verses merely to collect information. We listen to the Spirit of God speak through chosen men to tell God’s message. As this happens, we learn truth about God and ourselves that can transform us. Peter was not giving an informational talk but one that was transformational. Again, I urge you to read the passage.

What are the Four Gospels? They are God’s written testimony to what God did in his Son to save his people to glorify his name. In the Gospels, we read of God the Son in true humanity coming to set up a new humanity from the wreck of the old creation. It is not by accident that John and Mark start their Gospels with words referring to this “new beginning”. John, more profound and theological, starts from the time of the first creation and briefly sketches history up to the entrance of the Son. Mark, more powerful and direct, drives the point home immediately. Matthew and Luke, after setting the arrival of the Son in history, refer to the purpose of God in the coming of the Son as announced in the Old Testament Scriptures (Matthew 4:12-17; Luke 4:16-21). Part of the purpose of the Old Testament Scriptures is to show the wreck that human sin has made of everything and our absolute need for a better Redeemer, a better Mediator, and a better Priest than occurred in the wreck of the ages past.

My point in mentioning this is to open up the practical importance of this article. Diamonds are very beautiful, but to enjoy their beauty people set them in place—in a ring, on a necklace, or some other kind of jewelry. The Lord Jesus Christ is the surpassing diamond. And the Father has provided the jewelry of the Gospels to enjoy his beauty until we see him face to face. You and I need to know that the Son of God, in fulfillment of the Father’s purpose, came to set up a radically new age in history. The Bible, like the facets of a diamond, speaks of this great change in various ways: the new creation, the new age, the kingdom of God, and the new covenant. We need to know that God has made us part of this by his grace to us in Christ. And we need to know that to live in this new age involves living by faith in the crucified, risen and ascended Christ in the Holy Spirit poured out on us. Here Peter presents the power of the Spirit of God during the earthly ministry of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are part of something glorious! Since we are, we should listen well. And we should live accordingly.

Grace and peace, David

Responding to God’s Word (Part Two)

20150523_1439292 Chronicles 15:8-19

In our last article, we mentioned a couple wrong responses to God’s word: ignoring it and failing to apply it to ourselves. The last mentioned can happen because of distraction, laziness, or some other reason. In today’s text, we learn three good responses to the Word. Anytime that people respond positively to God’s message is a time to give thanks and worship, because it is only God’s grace that makes us live godly.

The right response is renewed reformation or better, transformation (15:8). Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2 HCSB). We must see our lives, worship, and fellowship transformed in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. This is a task that is never completed in this world. Churches and the people who are the gospel partners in them too easily get stuck in tradition, being unwilling to transform their beliefs and practices according to God’s Word, the Bible. Brothers and sisters, we must be willing to walk in the light of the Word that the Spirit of God gives us!

  • The starting point of this renewed reformation was the effect of the message on the leader, Asa. “When Asa heard these words… he took courage.” He had courage to lead his people in change. When we know that we are mired in the ways of tradition and unbiblical practice, we must act courageously and change. The lack of this courage yields churches that are in steep decline. To how many people is your local gathering actively reaching out now? Can you name them? Does your group pray for these people? Please don’t complain about the decline in church attendance if you aren’t involved in outreach. Being filled with the Spirit produces boldness in God’s people.
  • Asa responded by acting to remove the objects of false religion from the land (cf. Deuteronomy 12:4). We must clean out evil, the thorns that choke out the fruit, so that the good fruit may flourish. Anyone who has ever had a garden knows this truth. You must always be after the weeds, or soon the good plants will die. Yet people fail to apply this truth to spiritual matters. If you allow the weeds of false teaching or ungodly living or unrestrained desires for worldly matters to remain in your heart, they will choke out the good fruit of the Spirit.
  • Asa also sought to restore true worship by repairing the altar. Here we must think for a moment according to the old covenant. The altar at the temple was crucial for old covenant worship. The Israelites had to offer their sacrifices there for worship and fellowship with God. If it was in a state of disrepair, their worship would have been hindered. We worship properly when we keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

The response of covenant renewal (15:9-15). Such assemblies had occurred earlier in Israel’s history (Deuteronomy 29:1ff; Joshua 8:30-35; 24:25; cf. 1 Samuel 11:14-15) and also later (2 Chronicles 23:16; 34:31-32; cf. 29:10). Here are the parts of such a gathering: First came the call and gathering of a great assembly (15:9-10). It this case it was around the time of the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost), which was one of the three times of the year that all the men were required to assemble in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Asa probably took advantage of this time to impress the truth upon his people. Second, it was a gathering to worship of the Lord (15:11). They presented sacrifices from the plunder that the Lord had given them (14:13-15). In this way they would be acknowledge God’s goodness according to the manner of worship of the law covenant. We should be bringing a sacrifice of praise to the Lord (Hebrews 13:15).

Third, their commitment to the Lord was reaffirmed (15:12-14). This recommitment touched the roots of their being as God’s people. We see:

  • Essence of true commitment ­– They agreed to seek the Lord with all their heart and soul (Deuteronomy 6:5; 11:13, 22; 30:2, 6, 10). The Lord Jesus calls us to the same kind of commitment today (Mk 8:34).
  • Expectation of true commitment – They saw that God was serious about total devotion to him, as he had stated in the Law (Deuteronomy 13). In a physical nation, the penalty was severe. New covenant people are to enforce commitment to the Lord in a spiritual manner, since we are a spiritual people (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
  • Excitement about true commitment – They were glad about the whole-hearted commitment that they saw others make. When we see commitment to the truth in other, we should rejoice, too (2 John 4; 3 John 3-4). Are you making other believers rejoice because of the commitment they see in you? Total commitment leads to great joy!

The Lord God responded to their faith (15:15). He gave them rest!

Asa was affected by the act of reaffirmation. He responded by cleaning his own house (15:16-19) in two ways. He removed the queen mother from her position. She was a descendant of David’s son Absalom and was a source of much evil. She had to be removed. He also contributed financially to the worship of the Lord. Asa got around to giving to the Lord what he had promised. What should you give? The old trite phrase is “put your money where your mouth is.” Generous giving, including the giving of money, should be a priority matter among a people transformed by the grace of God. Give for the glory of God!

Grace and peace, David