A Warning to Churches

img_08593 John 1:9-10

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church (ESV).

A local church is a spiritual family, a gathering of brothers and sisters in Christ, children of the Father in heaven, a temple of the Holy Spirit. These truths set forth what we are because of God’s grace. An assembly of the Lord’s people should joyfully celebrate the blessings of grace and radiate love for one another. It is to be the place where all are welcomed and accepted for Christ’s sake. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7 ESV). As the old hymn says, “When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word, what a glory he sheds on our way!” Being with people who are jointly being transformed from one degree of glory to another should be a foretaste of heaven (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Sadly, this is not always so. The Apostle John warns us about this sad truth in the above words from his third letter. There are people, who while they profess that a local church is a gathering of believers, think it is a group of people for them to control. They love power and preeminence rather than people. John unmasks these people for what they are – they are lovers of self (cf. 2 Timothy 3:2). In their heart, they have a problem with authority, not theirs of course, but with God’s authority, which John exercised as an apostle of Jesus Christ. They refuse to humble themselves to the authority of the word and then to act with love and respect toward their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Two evils come from such wickedness, which often masquerades as holiness (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15). First, they talk wicked nonsense against other leaders in the church. They tell falsehoods about them, portraying them as out of step, outdated, incompetent, or having an agenda that won’t attract the world. Second, they refuse to welcome the brothers. Obviously, this does not refer to everyone in the church, or they would not have anyone to rule over. It means people in a local church that are not of their class, burdensome, or otherwise less than desirable. They imagine the church as a sophisticated, classy group is filled with beautiful people – in worldly eyes. They need to submit to 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. For this reason, they force out people that don’t measure up to the kind of church members they desire. Those who try to stand up to their wickedness are put out as discontents and troublemakers.

Since this kind of people worm their way into churches, the Apostle John warned Gaius against them. We should not be naïve. It happens too often. It can happen in any kind of church, organic or institutional, because pride works in all hearts. John also told Gaius that he planned to act against the wicked Diotrephes, if he could come. Like Peter and Paul, John had special power as apostles to set matters right. Read Acts 5:1-11 for a fearful example. But John did not know if he could go to help Gaius, so he hints at the action that the church ought to take against the evil man trying to rule over people.

This is an unpleasant subject to consider. At times the friends of godliness finds themselves outnumbered and their local Diotrephes acts against them. Do not be discouraged. The Lord knows those who belong to him. What we all should gain is what the Lord intends for his churches. They are to be gatherings of love, joy, and peace; they are to be partners in spreading the good news of the Lord and Savior everywhere. Pray for your group. Strive to keep it a church where the peace of Christ rules in everyone’s hearts!

Grace and peace, David

When God Seems Distant in a Broken World (Part Two)

img_3720Psalm 10:1-11

King David trusted God, through the complexities of life. He knew that the Lord reigns forever (9:7). Yet he acknowledged the prosperity of wicked, prideful people. Life throws such complications at us, and we need a mature faith to work through the anguish we can feel. David does that in this psalm. We resume the previous article as he sings the unhappy song of the characteristics of wicked people.

  • They are self-confident with no fear of coming adversity (10:5-6). Given the known weaknesses of old age and the certainty of death, it is surprising that they can have such overweening pride. The wicked are like the sports teams that have skilled offences, but forget that they need a defense capable of stopping their opponents. Since they have excluded God from their thoughts, they assume that justice can never touch them. In the name of living for all the gusto they can grab now, they ignore much of life in a broken world. They don’t want to think about it.
  • They are filled with corrupt communication (10:7). Jesus unveiled the source of evil speech. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Matthew 12:34 NIV). People can speak in malicious and spiteful ways. Their aim is to hurt by their words. Read this sad catalogue and know what you can expect to receive in a broken world. His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity (ESV).
  • They set ambushes to murder and oppress the helpless (10:8-10). We all can see and read about this evil every day. God desires people everywhere to care for their neighbors, and he grants people skill and strength to do so. The wicked do not love their neighbors as God commands; they abuse and kill them. Here we can clearly see the hideous nature of sin. We cannot see into the spiritual realm and see the nature of mankind’s rebellion against the living God, but we can see the havoc and ruin it causes in the human condition. Violence is a growing problem among our people. Racial and ethnic tensions continue to rise toward a boiling point. The brokenness of humanity is about to break us all, unless God sends a new great awakening.
  • They suppress the truth of God and his justice (10:11). If they think of the God they have no room for in their thoughts, it is only to mock him. Listen to their ridicule: He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it” (ESV). They portray God to themselves as oblivious, indifferent, and incapable.

So then, what should we learn as we live in this broken world?

  • We should avoid falling into the trap that supposes that God is far away and unconcerned. God is near us (Acts 17:27-28). We may not be able to discern God’s activity, but let us not think that he doesn’t care about us or suffering people. God will act in justice at his appointed day. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31 ESV).
  • We should know that God understands our situation in this broken world. He realizes the opposition that the poor, the helpless, and his people face. Remember, this is a song that we need to sing in worship. It might be a very melancholy song, but it has a beneficial purpose. We do not want the Lord to stand far away from people in trouble. Neither should we. God works through people who live in this broken world to reach out to the helpless and the oppressed. We all ought to involve ourselves in his mission.

Certainly, it requires much more than our small efforts, and David will write more in this song about the need for God to act. For now, do not complain about life’s troubles. Use them as opportunities to love God and people.

Grace and peace, David

When God Seems Distant in a Broken World

SAMSUNGPsalm 10:1-11

As already remarked, Psalms Nine and Ten are companion songs or perhaps they were originally one psalm. As David meditated on God’s rule and the life of his people in a fallen, broken world, he presented two sides of reality. In Psalm Nine, David looked at God’s rule and supremacy over all, even when people are oppressed and afflicted. Next, in Psalm Ten his focus is on the suffering of people in this broken world. David wrote this psalm for God’s people in their worship and praise, and unlike much of contemporary Christendom where everything has to turn out “right” in our view, David willingly made known the heartache and pain of brokenness. People do not need religious fantasies.  We need to hear the truth about God and our brokenness. Then we will be prepared to understand and rely on God’s answer.

David had a privileged position in the purposes of God. The Messiah or God’s Anointed One would come from his line. He could face the future with some degree of certainty. Though this was true, David had to live through his then present, hard circumstances. This will always be the life of people of faith. We have great hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, but we have difficulties in this present, broken world. “It is a function of the Psalms to touch the nerve of this problem and keep its pain alive, against the comfort of our familiarity, or indeed complicity, with a corrupt world” (Kidner, Commentary on Psalms 1-72).

David opens Psalm Ten with a question about God’s inaction during times of trouble. Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (10:1 ESV). I’m sure we have all experienced David’s mood and have most likely uttered words like this to God. This is what life is like in a broken world. We dare to think that the Lord is standing far away from us, and when that doesn’t arouse him, we become bolder and accuse him of hiding himself. The living God is not playing a cosmic game of hide and seek with us. Yet we can feel like he is. The Holy Spirit, who inspired David to write these words, is not afraid of our worries or our brashness. He informs us that it is all right to state matters from our limited point of view. When two people can talk out their problems, we say that they have a healthy relationship, though the discussion might be painful. I am not hinting that we should be irreverent; my point is reality. It’s part of the boldness that belongs to everyone in God’s family. I make this point because I have heard a few people confess that they were angry with God. I have seen too many hide the pain of their hearts behind “church smiles”. We can tell the Lord what we think and feel about situations.

Next, David describes the condition of evil people that are a major problem in our broken world. He paints a general picture. Thankfully, not everyone manifests all these characteristics. But they do provide sketches of people who oppose God and his people.

  • They oppress the weak (10:1). Notice the vivid imagery. They plan (“schemes”) their downfall and pursue (“hunts down”) them to ruin. Wicked people despise weak people. They are targets for their own enrichment or for displays of their own power.
  • They brag about what they crave in their hearts (10:3a). This is ugly. Self-satisfaction at the expense of others is a way of life for the wicked. Think of the sex slave traders, the con artists, the identity thieves, and dishonest salespeople. Oh, and what about financial institutions that charge exorbitant fees and interest? Those profiting from such schemes laugh about their abuse of others.
  • Their values are reversed (10:3b). The wicked person blesses the greedy and reviles theLord (NIV). Greed is a serious sin (Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:10). The wicked congratulates those who exploit others, and at the same time slander the Lord.
  • They have no room for God in their thoughts (10:4). Their view of reality is limited by their own senses, experiences, and opinions. They are too pride to seek God; they do not even want to consider God, because they grossly over exaggerate their supposed intellects. “We’ve got everything figured out. Needing God or gods is an indication of foolishness.” Yet a simple list of what they don’t understand could fill thousands of web pages. Here is the root of atheism or functional atheism. People have no room for God in their thoughts, nor do they desire to have room for them. We’ll see why in the next verses (10:5-11).

Invest time in reading this section. Any successful professional sports team understand the opposition. In order to reach out to people with the good news of Christ and salvation, we must know their condition.  Then we can speak with wisdom and compassion.

Grace and peace, David