The Inerrancy Summit

Todd BrayeAfter tuning in to this year’s Shepherds’ Conference today, I wish to encourage you to do the same (follow the link for live streaming and schedule). Unfortunately, I was pulled away from my computer just before John MacArthur gave the opening address. So, I missed him. But I made it back in time to watch Keith and Krysten Getty lead in song before one of my favorite pastors, Alistair Begg, expounded 2 Timothy 4:1-5. His sermon title, Let The Lion Out, was, as he confessed, borrowed from Spurgeon. It was classic Begg; his “Cleveland accent,” keen sense of humor, and MLJ-influenced expository style was simply irresisitble.
The hunt for words to describe seeing hundreds of men gathered to worship, listen, fellowship, and be encouraged in pastoral ministry fails me. And as I found myself being drawn into the event – though it be some 1200 miles away – I remembered attending Pastor Begg’s very own pastors’ conferences years ago. But now I simply encourage you, reader, to watch this one. In a day and age when the absolute truth of God’s only inscripturated word, the Holy Bible, is under attack from both the world and the professing church, this conference is vital.
As a final note of interest, I must say how amazing the hand of providence truly is. In my work with Pastoral Leadership Development, ACTION I’ve begun a teaching ministry via Skype with some 10 pastors in Tenali, India. Sola scriptura was the topic of our last session just over a week ago. Today, one of those Tenali pastors sits in Sun Valley, CA, under the ministry of The Inerrancy Summit! Could it be that Someone is orchestrating His purpose for Gospel advance to all the nations? Undeniably!
Because He has “exalted above all things His name and His word” (Psalm 138:2),
~ Todd Braye
Courtesy Todd Braye and Unveiled | Beholding the Glory of Christ

A Wheelchair and a Song: “Alone Yet Not Alone”

 

If Jesus could hang on a cross for me,
then I can sit in a chair for Him,
for “in [His] strength I find my own.”

 
JoniI love Bruce Broughton’s Oscar-nominated song Alone, Yet Not Alone. The lyrics, written by Dennis Spiegel, speak of the God who is, who is the ever-present, comforting, caring, loving, tender refuge for those who love Him. In the recording studio, with helping husband by her side, quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada lifts her haunting voice to one of the most soul-moving melodies to ever grace my ear. And she does so seemingly without much effort – though we know better. Joni’s lungs function at 50% capacity. So, Mr. Tada helps his wife with the required breath support to sing, literally pushing her tummy in when needed. Joni’s broken body means the vocals are recorded one line at a time. Undoubtedly, there is so much going on here. What a breathtaking picture of husband and wife, one that chokes me up without fail, almost every time. 
Though I hunt for words to describe how this overwhelms my heart with emotion, I cannot find them. And though I am deeply saddened by the Academy’s recent action to rescind the Oscar nomination, I cannot help but think the controversy will better serve the composition, its composers, and its message in the long run. Thank-you, Bruce, for your hard work. It’s a brilliant work of art. Thank-you, also, for standing with a faith-based film in an industry hell-bent on celebrating its depravity.
Alone...As I’ve read about the film, watched its trailers, and listened to the song, it quickly donned on me that while the plot centres around 18th century colonists in the Ohio Valley, the gut of the film addresses a universal issue. We will never be as that 18th century family was. However, if we live long enough, we will know the loneliness that comes from bearing a burden no one can bear for us. Joni knows that. Her wheelchair is the epitome of her weakness, a constant reminder of her frailty. And only Joni knows what its like for Joni to sit there. Yes, she sits there gracefully. But I am sure she has her moments. Why she needs that chair is a burden no one but Joni bears. She is truly alone in that. It’s a heart-wrenching burden I have come to know.
For years I fought hard to not be defined by my disease. But as I get older, the rare condition I live with has determined my use of a wheelchair. I still walk. But not far. I stand. But only for a time. So when I travel all expenses paid to the San Francisco Bay Area to honour my commitment as a research subject at Stanford University, the airline provides a chair and a push through security to my departure gate down the jet bridge. I remember the first time I needed a chair. We were at the University of Alberta Hospital, keeping an appointment at the Genetics Building. I couldn’t keep walking. So, I sat. She couldn’t see my tears because she was pushing my chair. Yes, I felt very diminished. But I also felt a deep sense of sorrow for my wife. If anything, am I not to take care of her? Should this not be the other way around? Does life know no end to grief and sorrow? I never felt so alone, and broken, in all my life. I love you, Bev.
Why I tell you this is quite simple. Obviously, this song and its players pluck my heart strings. But that’s not all that stirs my heart. There’s more to the story here. Bruce and Belinda Broughton have an adult son who suffers with the very same disease I do. There are about 2000 known cases of Cystinosis worldwide. Usually diagnosed in early childhood, Cystinosis is a ‘genetic metabolic disease that causes the amino acid, cystine, to accumulate in various body organs (kidneys, eyes, liver, muscles, pancreas, brain, and white blood cells).’ Without cystine depletion, the accumulation destroys organs gradually. And though there has been many advancements in drug therapy, the disease remains incurable. Without speaking to the composer, his wife, or their son about this, I venture to say that they know what it’s like to be alone, bearing the burden of sickness, a very rare sickness. This could easily be said of any parent and child with any disease; I have only begun to understand something of the pain my parents endure.
But here’s my point: though set in 18th century Ohio, the film and its title track has much to say to those living in the 21st century. Alone, Yet Not Alone speaks of a God who is not simply watching us “From a Distance,” but is “near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). This is a God,the God, who in fact bore a far more significant burden for us. In the Person of His unique Son, Jesus Christ, He bore the massive burden of guilt in His body on a tree, satisfying divine justice on account of our offences against Him. He was crucified for everyone who would ever believe in Him, turning from their sins, trusting Him and His work on their behalf. Nothing else could ever soothe my conscience and quiet my raging soul as I laid awake last night. With thoughts of my mortality hanging over my head, the loneliness of death crashed against my heart as waves crush the California coast. I will one day pass through the door of death alone. So will you. But we need not pass through alone. Jesus, the ultimate burden-bearer, bore the ultimate burden that we might be eternally guiltless, free forever from divine condemnation, free from the burden of the fear of death.

“I’m alone, yet not alone.
God’s the light that will guide me home.
With His love and tenderness,
Leading through the wilderness,
And wherever I may roam,
I’m alone, yet not alone.”

Until I’m Home, one thing is certain (and I’m sure Joni would agree wholeheartedly). If Jesus could hang on a cross for me, then I can sit in a chair for Him, for “in [His] strength I find my own.”
For you because of Him,
Todd Braye.
Soli Deo Gloria.
If you would like to comment on this article visit Todd Braye’s Blog.
 
Todd Braye
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary in 1997, then serving two small, rural Baptist churches over a 15-year period, providence is now directing me in other pursuits..[/author_info] [/author]

Knowing Noah

Note: All Scripture quotations from the ESV, unless noted otherwise.

Noah’s ark was but a shadow,
dim shadow, of a far greater reality.

 
Todd BrayeHollywood’s upcoming Noah (March 2014) is good reason to speak of the actual historical, biblical character. If the trailer is any indication, the movie production could very well be a huge success. The formula is well-tested and proven. Take an impressive story, enlist actors and actresses the likes of Crowe, Hopkins, Watson, and Connelly, shoot on a timeless, almost transcendent set, create brilliant special effects, engulf it all with a huge, soul-entrancing, symphonic soundtrack, and you will draw a crowd. The urge to see the movie will undeniably be irresistible. At the very least, both Jews and Christians will be compelled to experience it. To be honest, I must confess to being somewhat intrigued, and may even shell out the ridiculous ticket price on a future date with my wife.
However, as any biblically-shaped, discerning Christian knows, Hollywood is not in the truth business. There’s simply no money in it. But not only is truth a hard sell (if I may put it that way), Hollywood must not be expected to accurately portray redemptive history. To do so is as naive as it is unrealistic. Considering the natural state of men who hate God and despise His authoritative Word, hoping for a faithful Sunday School lesson at the local Cineplex Odeon is dreadfully unrealistic, if not ridiculously silly. So when another blog reports that Noah is inaccurate and contains “bizarre, unbiblical aspects,” I am more than inclined to believe it; the short video promotion plainly displays its weirdness.
So, what’s Noah really about anyway?
At the risk of oversimplification, I suggest the biblical account is not about Noah at all. It’s actually about God. It’s not that Noah is irrelevant. He’s just not the point. Instead, in Noah’s segment of Genesis, and on the set of post-Edenic earth, God continues to reveal Himself. In so doing, He manifests two glorious attributes.
By the Flood, God reveals His uncompromising holiness. Near the beginning of the chapter, Genesis 6 announces humanity’s depravity. Moses writes, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen. 6:6-7). Indeed, the earth “was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11).
As it was, so it now is.
human violenceUndeniably. The earth is filled with violence! But I digress. In Noah’s day, God saw the corruption of creation. He saw that what He had declared “very good” (Gen. 1:31) had become very bad. Immediately, the Scripture tells us God spoke to Noah, saying “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen. 6:13. Italics added).
The Flood is thus an act of divine judgment. Throughout redemptive history, God consistently reveals Himself as One who manifests His holiness by judging corrupt flesh. In Ezekiel, the prophet speaks against the nation of Sidon, foretelling of its divine “judgments.” These judgments came as “pestilence,” “blood in [her] streets,” and a “sword upon her every side” (38:22-23, NASB). Why? God explicitly, and simply, tells us: “Then they will know that I am the Lord,when I execute judgments in her, And shall manifest my holiness in her” (28:22). In his Epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). The very death of Jesus Christ, the bloody and merciless slaughter of The Lamb, was itself a demonstration of God’s righteousness (Romans 3:25). And, of course, there is yet to come a final unleashing of divine judgment. Christ will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, and those He knows from those He doesn’t, throwing the chaff into the Lake of Fire forever (Revelation 20:11-15). This is the God of the Bible. This is Noah’s God. He reveals His holiness by judgment and wrath. But there is more! Much more!
By Noah’s flood, God also reveals His particular and glorious mercy.
Pay careful attention here. God’s actions refute the false “Wideness in God’s Mercy” teaching so prevalent in today’s pluralistic marketplace of religion. If wideness, or inclusiveness, describes anything, it’s God’s judgment, not mercy! The Scriptures already cited make that crystal clear. But now, fix your eyes on the boat. For in the deluge of fierce judgment is a refuge of sweet mercy!
You know what happens. I need not tell you. God commands Noah to make “an ark of gopher wood” (Gen. 6:14). Every creature on board – Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, along with “two of every sort [of “every living thing,” “male and female”] – were rescued from the watery wrath. I can only imagine the ark was chock full, filled with the blessed objects of divine, definite, but exclusive, narrow mercy. Outside the ark, death reigned as millions upon millions of living creatures – men, women, children, and every other living thing – died. They bore the full brunt of God’s just judgment against the “wickedness of man.”
But wait a minute.
Does Scripture not say, and thus God Himself not say, that He would “bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh” (Gen. 6:17)? Indeed it does. And He did. It is written, “Everything that is on the earth shall die.” God “determined to make an end of all flesh” (Gen. 6:13). Evidently then, “all” doesn’t always mean “all,” since Noah and his passengers were excepted. To be sure, the end of all kinds of flesh had come. But some – a very few in number by comparison – remained. God kept them, and only them, from His torrential, seemingly unending, downpour. God kept His word. He destroyed all flesh, notwithstanding the life-boat. He “did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah…with seven others” (2 Peter 2:5). We must let Scripture define its terms. “All” does not necessarily mean “each and every,” for God mercifully, and purposefully, commanded Noah to bring into the ark with him “two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life” (Gen. 7:15). This mercy, though narrow, is definite. It is particular. And it is real; it actually rescued.
I suggest to you that the significance (or theological function) of Noah’s Ark is two-fold. First, while it demonstrates God’s righteousness, it most certainly displays His faithfulness. Let me briefly explain. Before time began, God promised “the hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2). A few chapters before the Flood, in pronouncing judgment upon the serpent in the Garden of Eden, God promised the serpent He would “put enmity between [it] and the woman, and between [its] offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise [its] head, and [it] shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). “Her offspring” here is Jesus Christ. He would one day defeat the serpent (i.e., Satan himself), bringing “the hope of eternal life” to all mankind. So, no ark, no Jesus. No Jesus, no hope. The ark preserved humanity, or a remnant thereof, in order that one day, “when the fullness of time had come, God [would send] forth his Son, born of woman…” (Galatians 4:4). Her offspring would indeed bruise the serpent’s head! What was promised in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament.
Second, the ark is but a shadow, a dim shadow, of a far greater reality.
In the grand scope of redemptive history, the ark anticipates a greater rescue. To be precise, Noah’s ark foreshadows the Person & Work of Jesus Christ. As the ark saved a few persons from divine judgement, Jesus would one day deliver many “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Luke’s words on the matter are sufficient: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to [the two apostles on the road to Emmaus] in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). In other words, the entire Old Testament, of which Noah’s epic is part, speaks of Jesus Christ. Graeme Goldsworthy writes:

“It is clear…that Jesus and the apostles regarded the whole of the Old Testament as testimony to the Christ; it is all about Jesus. Thus we conclude that there is no dimension of the Old Testament message that does not in some way foreshadow Christ” (Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics, 251).

Therefore, to divorce the Noah narrative from the Christ event is to dreadfully and tragically miss its chief end. We must understand that the Bible is not a collection of unrelated narratives. It is, rather, one grand narrative in which God’s redemptive purpose culminates in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Any retelling of the part without due consideration for the whole is thus completely inadequate; the shadow fails to be, indeed cannot be, the thing itself.
And what of the thing itself? The Person and Work of Christ is worthy of countless books and blog posts. But consider this: Noah’s ark saved a few people. And it also delivered representatives of every living creature upon the earth. But as the thing itself, the antitype, the Person and Work of Christ was designed to accomplish much, much more. It is far too simplistic, if not minimalistic, to confine the effects of the cross to humanity. If the design of the cross was limited to sinners, it would be an unspeakably glorious thing. The work of Christ would in no way be diminished. To redeem His sheep, chosen before the foundation of the world, is unquestionably, in and of itself, worthy of an eternity of praise. However, as the ark delivered a portion of creation (“two of every sort”), the Ark who is Christ inaugurated a covenant in which all things are being made new. The New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21-22) will be a place where, unlike the present earth post-flood, only “righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Until then “the creation waits with eager longing” to “be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). The shadow fails by epic proportions to be the thing itself! The ark served its purpose. It delivered a fallen creation. But by His death and resurrection, Christ redeemed the entire cosmos, having set the stage for the final “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The ark did not, nor could it, make all things new. But that is precisely what God began to do in Christ (2 Corinthians. 5:17). The work of Christ has gloriously cosmic consequences!
What’s Noah about?
I’m certain Hollywood won’t tell you. So, I say, don’t wait for the movie, friends. Read the Book, the whole Book!

The Life of God in the Soul of Man

 

Unquestionably, God desires,

and even wills, the believer’s sanctification.

 
To the church at Thessalonica, Paul writes: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1Thess. 4:3). Thus, the pursuit of holiness, personal holiness, is a non-negotiable in Biblical Christianity. Those blessed with faith in Christ are exhorted to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18). We must strive for the holiness without which no one sees the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). So, no holiness no heaven.
The question arises. Since, the New Covenant Church is not under law, but under grace, how shall that pursuit proceed? How does one make progress in holiness? In classic Reformed circles, appeal is made to many respectable Confessions. And the Reformed answer goes something like this: We are saved from the Law of Moses in its condemnation. But after conversion, we must return to it for our sanctification. The Ten Commandments are the believer’s rule of life, our standard for holiness, God’s eternal moral law to which all men are bound. So says the Reformed tradition with its Covenant Theology. So says those voices with whom I align myself at many points.
However, when it comes to the matter of sanctification, I contend that the apostle Paul taught no such thing. I do not affirm sanctification needs the help of external Law. It is not my intent to explain myself in great detail here. That is not the aim of this post. For now, it serves my purpose to simply echo Pauline doctrine and affirm that the New Covenant Church is not under Mosaic Law to any degree whatsoever. Indeed, all those who by grace alone through faith alone in and because of Christ alone are justified, pardoned and robed with the redeeming white of Christ’s merit, are under grace! No external Law for the Christian. Nada. Zilch. To echo the apostle again, the Christian, by definition, is one without the need for a “guardian” (Galatians 4:2).
Why that is is simple. The New Covenant! I think Philippians 2:12-13 illustrates the incomprehensible glory of a tremendously weighty reality of the New Covenant. Get this and I think we will be much helped in our pursuit of holiness. The text:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

To focus on “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” is, I firmly believe, a huge mistake. Do that, believer, and it will kill you. Of course, we see it there. We must see it and not deny or skirt it. But to emphasize the imperative is to misread not only Paul’s exhortation, but to turn the Christian life on its head. We say a thousand times “Yes, we must work out our salvation.” But (and this is a big but) the grammatical construction linking verses 12 and 13 demands two things:
1. Our work is not independent of God’s work.
2. God is the decisive, determining, energizing, effectual, sovereignly governing reality.
1. First, then. Our working out is not independent of God’s work. Rather, our working out is completely dependent upon God’s working. The conjunction “for” connects, grounds, and gives reason for the ‘working out.’ The imperatival 12th verse and indicative verse 13 must be seen as an indivisible whole, not two verses which give balance to each other! It isn’t that number one, “work out your own salvation” and number two, “it is God who works in you” are two children on a teeter-totter seeking to avoid extremes! No. These two verses must be held together since that is how they are written. As W.D. Dennison writes: “The Christian life is the organic union of the indicative and the imperative.”
Notice also where God is said to be working! He works “in you.” He works IN believers. God is not a distant God, transcendent only, looking down upon us ‘from a distance.’ Not at all. God is also IN you. How this can be I have no idea whatsoever! Who can comprehend the immensity and, yet, at the same time, the absolute immanence of God! But it’s true of everyone in union with Christ by grace alone through faith alone; the sovereign God of the universe dwells not just in the heavens above, working “all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11), He also dwells IN you, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” This is insanely amazing. This is a reality unique to the New Covenant. In the Old, God dwelt in the tabernacle, outside of His people. In the New, he dwells IN his people in the Person of the Spirit of Christ. The need for the external “guardian” is no more!
2. Therefore, second, God is the awesome, decisive, governing reality in our sanctification. He directly works his will in us for his good pleasure. How can anyone see these verses and couch them in terms of balance? Who dares the attempt to set God’s inner working on par with our out-working? To make the attempt would be as futile as measuring a drop of water against the oceans of Earth. The scales would never balance! And for this I, for one, am grateful beyond words.
God’s sanctifying presence in us is the key. This is the context, the atmosphere, the ocean if you like, of our ‘working out.’ What the Law cannot do, God Himself does. How then do we pursue our santification, our holiness, our working out our salvation if not by the Law? One word: trust. Faith. God is at work in you, Christian. Trust Him. He is the determining reality. The life of God in you is not inconsequential. Your sanctification, your working out, your obedience to His will, even growing conformity to the image of Christ, the fulfillment and very substance of the Law, is bound to happen! After all, who is there that can thwart His will and working? He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.
For you because of Him,
Todd Braye 
 
 

The Spirit-Led Church in its Labor of Love: Final Instructions (3)

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

 

We simply jump right back into this list of instructions….

Don’t seek personal revenge

Paul’s next command is to not seek revenge.

Verse 15: “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil.”

Revenge is not just tolerated today; it’s championed. You can’t avoid the image. Everywhere you go, everywhere you turn, it’s there. People are wired for it. ‘You do that to me, I’ll get you back, somehow.’ ‘You do me wrong and I’ll repay you equally.’ Payback: that’s what’s so wished for. People want justice. They want the score settled. And they, all too often we, want it done now.

The philosophers of Paul’s day were no different than our own. “Where vengeance follows most closely upon the wrong,” says one, “it best equals it and most amply requites [repays] it.” Seneca said that vengeance was legitimate. The commentator writes “In the Roman world, just as in the Greek, avenging oneself for a wrong done was necessary ‘because of the humiliation a Roman’s prestige suffered, if he showed himself reluctant to respond and retaliate for hostile acts. A Roman, governed by a harsh ethos, simply could not afford to ‘turn the other cheek’ and expect to maintain his position in society.'” In other words: No revenge. No honor.

The counsel of a Roman mother to her sons is also documented. “You will say that it is beautiful to make revenge on your enemies. I consider revenge as important and glorious as anyone,” said she.

The Instruction of Scripture

But the instruction of Scripture is quite different. Scripture forbids revenge. Personal payback has no place in the life of a believer.

In Romans 12:17 Paul says to not repay anyone evil for evil. Two verses later, in verse 19, he tells the Roman believers to not avenge themselves. “Never avenge yourselves,” he writes, “but leave it to the wrath of God … “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'” One thing we can draw from this is how payback is really symptomatic of a tremendous pride. Avenging ourselves is really an exaltation of self to the place of God.

In 1 Peter 3:9, the apostle commands us “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling…”

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Proverbs 20:22. “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.” So, payback is also a form of unbelief. Those who entrust themselves to a faithful God wait for him.

Proverbs 24:29. “Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.”

So, don’t avenge yourself. If you’re humble and you trust in God, you won’t.

To be clear about this, I want to be specific. I want you to see how mixed up and distorted this can be. We’ve talked a bit about admonishing one another. Paul brings it up here. So that’s why we are. And that’s good because it’s an area we lack in. We don’t really admonish each other. If we’re honest about it, we don’t. We listen to each other. We make excuses for each other. We do all kinds of things, but we don’t admonish. Not really. And here’s why in part: We actually got this upside down. When a brother admonishes, that is an act of kindness and love. “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it (Psalm 141:5). But what do we do when rebuked? We treat it as if evil and hatred. We take offense often. And we seek revenge some subtle way. Or not so subtle. That’s upside down. That’s evil. No wrong has been suffered. But we all too easily act otherwise. We act as if wronged.

By the way, evil here is that which harms. It’s what’s harmful. It’s not merely the kind of payback one might see at the movies with guns blazing. It doesn’t need massive explosions to be evil. It doesn’t need horns and pitchforks and vampires to be evil. The devil doesn’t wear red. He actually masquerades as an angel. That’s what Paul says. “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). He doesn’t even wear black, for goodness sake. So, we must be about our wits. We must be alert and on our guard at all times. Devouring a church for dinner is on the devil’s bucket list. And one way he does that is through calling evil good and good evil. To admonish is good. To receive it is good. To seek revenge for it, in any number of ways, is that which is actually evil. Don’t get this mixed up and turned upside down.

Also, do not fail to notice this is a corporate responsibility. In other words, this is not merely a call for individuals to keep themselves from revenge. Rather, it’s a call to the entire church body to ensure it doesn’t happen. Paul says ‘See that no one repays evil for evil.’ He’s calling on the entire church to see this doesn’t happen. There is, in other words, a call to accountability in the thing. It’s a group project, and one that requires, again, admonishment.

Decisively strive to bless all.

The flip side of this is decisively striving to bless. Don’t avenge yourselves. Be a blessing instead.

“…always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”

This ‘seeking’ is to be very intentional. If not it won’t happen.

It is also to be very intense. Intentionally, and with intensity, do good to one another. This is so huge. We could spend many Sundays on this. And we might very well spend two.

Do Good to One Another

But doing good to one another; what does that look like?

Doing good to others is much more than shovelling sidewalks.

Well, it might include things like shovelling sidewalks. It’s keeping doors open for each other. It’s greeting one another, bringing meals to each other, praying for each other, and things like that. But that’s only the beginning of it. MUCH, if not everything I’ve mentioned, anyone can do. It doesn’t take someone indwelt by the Spirit of Christ to do these things. What Paul means is more, much more than shoveling driveways. What he means is in keeping with things such as…

Do good by keeping your word.

Do good by keeping your word. That’s what God did. And does. And will always do. God means what he says. Some of you don’t believe that, I know. O yes, you nod your head to the fact. You would never disagree, nor deny with your lips. But the way you live betrays you. You think your profession of faith is all you need. Pursuing righteousness, producing the fruits of repentance, and real affections for Christ do not interest you. Your life, your unexamined life, proves you don’t believe Jesus when he said, “Unless you repent [unless you be repentant and are in fact repenting; repentance is a life-long thing of producing the fruits in keeping with repentance, like thirsting to be with those who starve for Christ, like not demanding your own way, like refusing to covet the attention others get and you don’t, like presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice], you will all likewise perish” (Luke 3:5). Lord, have mercy and remove the scales of unbelief from the eyes of our hearts!

But God always and without fail keeps his word. “Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). And that is good.

“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Psalm 15:1-4).

Translation – His words are bonds. He would rather break a bone than his word. Does this not speak of God Himself? His words are a bond. He would rather crush His Son than break His promise!

There’s a cost to keeping our word! Keeping our word may often mean sacrificing something we treasure, like our comfort, or money, or pride. What the Scripture makes plain to us is the tremendous premium and value of a word kept. And so we should follow through on what we tell our spouses, our children, our friends. But we dare not forget our church. We dare not forget those who are over you in the Lord. [And in case you’re wondering, that isn’t John Piper or RC Sproul or John MacAarthur. In your case, that’s me. I’m over you in the Lord. You’re under me in the Lord. I’m not trying to exalt myself over you or anybody else. I’m just dealing with the verses before us. So, if you have an issue with this, take it up with Paul and the One for whom he speaks. Okay? The Word is the authority in this.] You are to do good to me by keeping your word to me. If you say you’ll show up, show up. If you say you’ll do something, do it, whatever that might be. Of course, that goes both ways. Our words to each other are bonds. We need to value them. We need to keep them. We need to make good on them and thus show we really care for each other. If we don’t keep our word to each other, we don’t love each other. It’s that simple. And that’s serious stuff.

Allow me to remind you of what we’ve said to each other.

Members, we’ve promised to walk together in Christian love, to strive together for the advancement of this church, to promote its prosperity and spirituality, to be faithful in our commitments, to maintain private and family devotions, to avoid all backbiting, slander, and unrighteous anger, to watch over one another in Christian love, to remember each other in prayer, to be slow to take offence, always ready for reconciliation; that’s just a partial list. We do good to each other if keep our word here. How served would this church be if we were faithful in these things, if we all were slow to take offence, especially when admonished? How served would we be if every member kept private and family devotions!

Our life together is nothing more than the sum total of who we are as individuals.

We cannot expect to burst with life on Sunday if there’s nothing but death Monday through Saturday. If there’s no feeding upon and communion with Christ during the week, our post-sermon chat will show it. You will speak to each other about the weather, your jobs, your families, your struggles, and even, shiver me timbers, the Calgary Flames. And there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with that. But if our conversing never gets past those things, what does that say? Does it not speak of what we’ve stored up in our hearts? And does it not betray our word, our pledge, to strive together for the advancement of this church, to promote its spirituality, and maintain devotions? We speak out of that which fills the heart. Why is it that we do not exude Christ and bleed over each other with His word? C.H. Spurgeon – “The converse of saints on earth should be a rehearsal of their everlasting communion in heaven.” I love that. Church should be heaven on a stick, a foretaste of glory.

So, do good to each other by keeping your word. Be faithful to your word. Don’t be fickle with each other. I urge you in the Lord’s presence, and have every confidence in him, that you will view your words to each other as bonds.DBLP01

Do good by speaking truth to each other.

“It is impossible for God to lie.” And that is good. Speak truth to one another, Paul exhorts, “for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4.25). “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self which is being renewed…” (Colossians 3:9-10).

The command to speak truthfully is grounded in the body’s unity. Think about it. The eye cannot lie to the brain without consequence, sometimes serious consequences. You’re driving up the QE-2. Everything’s fine. Traffic is moving well. But you think you see a deer. You react. And there’s a twenty-car pile up, because you thought you saw a deer. Your eye lied. And many paid the price.

But other times false messages and disconnects may not be so consequential, at least at first. Sometimes the consequences manifest themselves over time. I’m no medical student. But it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in medicine to figure it out. If any part of the body gives or receives false information, dysfunction, and even death, is the consequence. Just think about it.

But here’s the point: The local church is a body. We not only sin when we deceive each other, we hinder the spiritual advancement of that body. And we even hasten its death. Speak truth to one another, Paul exhorts, “for we are members one of another.” Deceiving a brother is like deceiving yourself, ‘for we are members one of another.’ Personal, even private actions have corporate effects. A little yeast leavens the whole batch. And lies kill. And killing is not good; suicide is not good. That’s what deceiving each other is. It’s spiritual suicide, why? “We are members one of another.” The church is a body, and bodies have members and parts. When those parts sin by lies, it’s like death by a thousand dope injections.

Of course, we don’t lie to each other here. No one has ever been deceitful under my watch. I wish that were true. The truth is, that is not true. Oh, there may not have been blatant lies amongst us. Maybe not. But deception isn’t a blatant lie. Deception is craftier than that. Deception is underhanded; it mixes enough truth with untruth to make it believable. In fact, deception, or deceit, is a distortion of the truth. That’s the oldest trick in the Book, isn’t it? The snake lied. But he was crafty about it, subtle, clever, and cunning.

And if we take a look at it, we see this sinful action employed by those who were jealous. In Matthew 26.4, we find the chief priests plotting to kill Jesus. ‘They plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth.’ ‘Stealth’ is the rendering of the word for ‘deceit,’ or ‘guile.’ It’s very helpful; there’s stealthiness to deception. It’s there. But it’s under the radar, lurking about. And that’s very hard to deal with, isn’t it.

It’s tough to deal with. But it must be dealt with. Those given to it must stop it. We must guard against in ourselves. It’s sinful. It’s manipulative. It’s self-justifying. It brings reproach upon the name of the One you profess and His church. It breaks fellowship, hinders worship, and causes sinful division. Resolve this day to speak truth to your brothers and sisters, and especially yourself. That’s where it begins, right? Get real with yourself! And everyone, here’s a novel idea: why not admonish each other to speak truthfully to each other. If something doesn’t pass the smell test, if it doesn’t add up, say so to each other. Don’t enable sinful patterns. Encourage godly patterns. Be a sanctifying influence on each other. That’s what the church is for! That’s what genuine Christian fellowship is about. It’s about encouraging each other to kill sin by the Spirit. It’s about encouraging each other to pursue Christ and behold Christ and become like Christ.

Do good by walking in truth before each other.

The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth…I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in truth” (3 John 1,4).

Truth is not simply something embraced and cherished and delighted over and treasured. Truth is walked in. Truth is lived. The faithful live in truth. Which means they walk in the light. Which means they know Christ. Which means 1 John 2:3. “And by this we know if we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.

It’s addressed to Timothy. But it’s applicable to every believer: “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12). That’s tremendous. You want to serve the church? You want to do good to each other? Be an example. Be an example of what it means to be a Christian! Of what it looks like to love Christ and worship Christ and put Christ before all your earthly endeavors! Be an example of what it looks like to lay your life down for the sheep! Be resting in Him, fleeing sin, pursuing righteousness, committed to the church and its spiritual welfare! YES, that will cost you. Where did you get the idea that it would not? Not from the Bible! What the church, what this body needs from you, is your holiness. The church needs you to be holy. The church needs you to be walking in truth, and decisively so. We don’t need you if you are of two opinions. Choose this day whom you will serve! If Christ and His people, great! But anything less just won’t cut it.

Good is not at odds with pain because conformity to Christ is the goal.

Next. Doing good to others sometimes means causing them pain. And that means willing to be thought of as a jerk. I long to have a godly, Christ-entranced, Scripture-saturated elder beside me, and one who loves you so much he’s willing to call you out at the risk of bringing your wrath down on his head. Why? Because that would be most profitable. Doing good to another is not the same as making them feel better. Sometimes they must feel worse before they feel better. But feeling better isn’t even the goal. Being conformed to Christ is the goal. And that doesn’t happen apart from the odd spanking. Our dads, if they loved us, “disciplined us for a short time… but he [i.e. God the Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful… but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-11).

This is not the way most think. Most think doing good to others means protecting them from all pain. “If it hurts them, or troubles them, it can’t be good for them,” is the thinking. Well, I want to tell you that is all wrong. That’s the wisdom of man. But to the Bible it is folly.

In conclusion, I remind you that ‘there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.’ Let our prayers be filled with petitions for much help in these things, for eyes that see, hearts that hear, and feet that walk the way that is indeed right according to His Word and not the folly of sinful minds. And may we examine ourselves – there is much reason here to do so, even to see if we are indeed in the faith… Where repentance is needed, let there be much of it. Amen.

____________________________

Todd is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary (M.Div), he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.

The Spirit-Led Church in its Labor of Love: Final Instructions (2)

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

1 Thess. 5.12-22

NO MAVERICK CHRISTIANS
One thing about the church is that the church is people. When God takes a sinner and converts him to Christ, God does not intend for him to flutter here and there and, in essence, be a lone ranger Christian. What God intends for him is attachment to a local, visible church. That’s how those who love Christ are expected to carry out their days. That is the norm of Scripture. In the book of Acts, chapter 2, for example, the pattern is made clear for us. Peter had preached this great sermon about Christ. There was a great moving of the Spirit of God. And men were cut to the heart. They became full of anxiety. There was this great pain that fell on them, as if a knife had been thrust into their chests. Hearts were cut. And they knew they were in a damnable place. Out of their pain they cried. That’s what we do when we know ourselves to be done for. We don’t just lie there and do nothing. We plead and beg for rescue, for a way out, for the pain to go away. To their question ‘What shall we do?’ the apostle was clear. He commanded them to repent – i.e. stop sinning and start trusting Christ. And he also commanded them to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. And when all was said and done those who received the word preached were in fact baptized. Verse 41: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Added to what? Well, to the number in the upper room, to the 120. And so the church was born, and they immediately went their separate ways and worked things out on their own, right? Wrong! I love the very next verse. What is a church? What is she to be doing? Verse 42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (note that apostolic doctrine takes pride of place here), and to the fellowship (i.e. one centered in and around Christ), to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Verse 44: “And all who believed were together…!” What were they doing together? Verse 42! They were devoted to the apostles teaching first up. That is, they were busy engaging themselves with the glorious truths of Christ. They attached themselves to, and were persevering in, the doctrine(s) of the New Covenant. They tethered themselves to this fellowship, to breaking bread with this fellowship, and to praying with this fellowship. There’s nothing ‘loosey-goosey’ here. This is real attachment. These 3000 souls were glued to each other. That’s what being devoted means.

MacArthur: “There was a time when coming to Christ meant coming to His church. As far back as the New Testament, salvation brought you into union with the visible, gathered Body of Christ. Becoming a Christian meant entering into fellowship with the people of God.”

In the NT, converts living unattached from the church is unheard of. Believers joined together. There was no ‘just me and Jesus’ thinking like today, as if one could grow in Christ apart from His body, the church, the visible church, a local church. So, the obvious hits us in the face: Where there are people, there are relationships. The church is no different, of course. But the church is different, of course. The church is not a family. But it is a family. What am I saying? I’m saying that because the very nature and purpose of the church is spiritual, and not temporal, that the church belongs to Christ and Christ is in charge, life within the church body will be, and must be different than anywhere else. It is to this end that Paul provides us with these final instructions in chapter five. Last time we dealt with verses 12 and 13. Paul there tells the church to respect its leaders, those over them in the Lord, those Paul specifies as ‘who labor among you.’ He tells them they are to esteem them highly in love, not because of their looks, or even charisma or lack thereof, but because of their work. He summarily defines this work in terms of admonishment. That’s what elders and pastors and overseers and shepherds do. They are over others for a Christ-ordained, saving and sanctifying purpose. They warn and correct and instruct and rebuke.
BE AT PEACE
So, the next instruction comes as no surprise to us. “Be at peace among yourselves.” It’s not hard to imagine what might happen when the eldership does its job. When he, or they, corrects and warns and acts and teaches with authority, peace is all too often not the response. Far too often offense is taken, heals are dug in, backs go up, sympathy is sought, and there is anything but peace. This cannot be. It must not be. The Spirit-led church is not this. The Spirit-led church is a church marked by peace, not discord. Discord is of the flesh. So, I tell you: be at peace. Be peaceable. If you live by the Spirit, walk by the Spirit and be at peace. You must know that your response to Biblical admonishment is to be a peaceful one. You must not react in ways, in selfish ways, ways that will only cause needless strife among us. That profits nobody. Not even the one, or ones, admonished. But peace is to mark the entire membership.
We all are to live peaceably with each other. The NT is clear on this: Romans 12: 18. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 14:17. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And verse 19: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding.” 1 Corinthians 14:33. “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” Hebrews 12:14. “Strive for peace with everyone…” And verse 15: “See to it that…no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Bitterness is a poisonous root. It blossoms into a cancer that spreads and then kills peace. Is there any animosity amongst us? Any angry hearts? This cannot be. How insane is it for the arm to be angry with the hand! Or the brain be bitter towards the heart! How suicidal is it for one member of the body to stab another! “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). That is the Biblical way. That is what the apostles teach. And this is that to which we are to be devoted. Attached. Persevere in. It will make for peace. So, we must be at peace with each other. Pray it be so. It’s God’s will.
ADMONISH
The next instruction is to admonish the idle. Mark it: This is for the entire membership, not just the eldership. Verse 14: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle.” This is for every regenerate church member. Admonishing is everyone’s responsibility. This launches my thoughts immediately to Hebrews 3:12 & 13. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day … that none of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” To admonish and to exhort is a group activity. And you need to know: this is how we are to care for one another. This is how we love each other! If we love each other we will correct each other when we think unbiblically. We will correct each other when we behave unbiblically. We will warn each other about the consequences of our actions, our sinful actions, or even our simply unwise actions, if we choose them. This is the church at work. This is a real church. This is what a Spirit-led church does. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom…”
Paul instructs elsewhere. But here, Paul says, “Admonish the idle.” Who are the idle? The word for idle has been translated a number of ways, including unruly, disorderly, undisciplined, lazy, and irresponsible. The word actually describes one who is out of line and even insubordinate. Paul may very well have the lazy and loafers in view here, since work and independence is a theme in these epistles. He already instructed them to mind their own affairs and work with their hands and be dependent on no one. So, he then instructs the church to correct the lazy to get off the couch and get a job. Be idle no more! But there’s no reason to limit the focus to employment here. This is but one example of how those in the church, but out of line with Paul, were to be corrected and admonished. So, don’t balk at the person who cares enough for you to correct you and warn you. Be at peace. Be peaceable. And remember: faithful church members do this.
How they do this should be, and will be if Spirit-led, in keeping with Galatians 6:1. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Admonish in a spirit of gentleness. And who are the spiritual? The spiritual are those keeping in step with the Spirit of Christ who indwells them. And get this: they are by means of the Spirit, self-controlled. To admonish without self-control is a very, very dangerous thing to do. But admonish we must. The apostle calls us to it. And if we love each other, we will be compelled to it. We won’t be able to help ourselves. It is bound to happen! And it must happen, why? Because sin deceives. Sin is a liar. Sin distorts everything. And if sin remains unchecked in your life, you’re a goner! You’re a goner and the church will die. The doors might be open. Bodies might be in the chairs. But the lights will have been out for who knows how long.

Spurgeon: “It is that which thou art most loath to hear that thou hast most need to hear; instead of being angry with him who points it out to thee, thou shouldst be willing to pay him for doing it.”

That’s it. That’s sweet. A true brother tells you what you don’t want to hear, and even to his own hurt. Why? Because he has the bigger picture in mind. He’s looking out for not just who you are, but who you will become. And what is it that those in the church are to be? Why do we join a church? People join for all kinds of less than biblical reasons. But listen to the apostle’s agenda for the church, which is my agenda, and I pray yours as well: “…this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone [that’s admonishment] and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1. 28-29). What Paul worked for in the Colossian church, we should work for in our church, namely maturity in Christ. And what is that? We don’t have to guess. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4. Maturity is there defined as “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ!” Are we there yet? Has anyone in this room reached ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ?’ But that’s to be our goal. That’s what we are to aim for. So, be at peace. Admonish. And third…
ENCOURAGE
“Encourage the fainthearted.” Encourage the fainthearted, or the discouraged. Now, listen, lest you misunderstand. There’s a context here. Paul is writing to a church in a very specific circumstance. This church was very vocal about their faith. Their neighbors knew they loved Christ. They stuck out like sore thumbs. They were misfits because of their conversion. Their neighbors and friends and families despised them and mocked them. But it was much worse than that. This church suffered physical harm because of their faithfulness. There’s even more than a hint that some of them were killed. So, what do you think might happen to you if you were in that church? It would be more than a wee bit discouraging, right? We might even be tempted to give up, to keep our mouths shut and blend in with our neighbors and co-workers. After all, we have lives to live, bills to pay, mouths to feed, and the rest of it.
Do not miss the context here. If you do, you miss Paul. And you end up thinking Dr. Phil could’ve easily given this exhortation. When Paul says, ‘Encourage the fainthearted,’ he means persuade the faint of heart to keep on keeping on despite the hatred of unbelievers. This isn’t a plea for some emotion-laden, self-esteem building, feel better about life ministry, in other words. The encouragement given is to be in keeping with the exhortation and encouragement Paul himself gave them earlier; that they “walk in a manner worthy of God” (2:12). And lest we forget; he just finished telling them about the dead in Christ, that they will rise first. Be at peace. Admonish. Encourage. And….
HELP
“Help the weak.” Who are they? Who are the weak? Weak in what sense? The weak in faith? Maybe. The weak in conscience? Perhaps. The sick? The morally weak? Those easily given to temptation and discouragement? The less ‘obvious’ in the church? The more I studied this and reflected upon it the more convinced I became that none of those answers are the right answers. This is why: Paul had made it very plain to them, by his own example, that work is good. He, and those with him, worked very hard, night and day, he writes, that they not be a burden to any of them (2:9). He also instructs them to work with their own hands, so that they walk properly before unbelievers, not dependent on them. In his second epistle to this church, third chapter, he writes the following:

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

All this to ask a further question: What if the weak were those not able to work, or the poor amongst them? And what if Paul himself confirmed this interpretation elsewere? He does. And he does it in Acts 20. Listen to just a portion of his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders:

“…be alert, remembering I did not cease to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of our Lord Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

Be at peace. Admonish. Encourage. Help. And finally. for today..
BE PATIENT
“Be patient with them all,” with those needing correction and to be set straight. Be patient with the faint of heart and the weak. Paul is telling us to bear with these ones. He’s telling us to wait without complaint, to forbear. But wait for what? Don’t misunderstand. This is an active waiting, full of admonition, full of encouragement, full of helping, full of peacemaking. But we wait. We wait for God to do what we cannot do, namely sanctify the unruly and strengthen the faint of heart. And we wait with them until Jesus comes again. I’m not saying push church discipline or even excommunication aside. That’s not what Paul advocates here. What he presses here is a forbearance with certain persons in the church. What he longs to see is the Spirit of Christ manifest. For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…What is love? Love is patient.
CHURCH LIFE IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT 
When you think of the church, and your place in it, do you think in these terms? Do you think that serving the church Biblically, means what Paul tells us here? What he lays out for us is actually the work of faith in the church. This is a labor of love. That’s what he spells out for us. And did you also notice? Church life isn’t passive. It isn’t to be a spectator sport. It’s not a game. It’s not a TV show. Church life is actually a body at work, its members, each of its members, doing its part. It’s what Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4, that “he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
This is my hope for SGBC. Let us be a church where each part works as it should, where peace reigns, correction is given and received, the battle worn are buoyed up, the poor are helped, patience is abundant, and all because its people are Spirit-led people, engaged in a labor of love.
 
Pastor Todd Braye
Todd is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary (B. Mus., M.Div), he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.
 

The Spirit-Led Church in its Labor of Love

Final Instructions

 

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.  And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.  See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies,  but test everything; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil. 

1 Thessalonians 5.12-22 

 
With these verses, the apostle lays before the Thessalonians, and us, sixteen or seventeen instructions, depending on how one groups them. For now at least, I see 16 . The temptation is to see them as a list of dos and don’ts, as a list of codified rules. But we must not see them this way. Instead, I suggest to you that we see them as marks of what an exemplary church looks like. And what I mean by exemplary is Spirit-filled or Spirit-led. I get this from a number of places in the epistle. But to show you just one, look at verse 19. It says, “Do not quench the Spirit.”
So I take it that the Spirit of God was very much active in this church. And I also take it that quenching the Spirit’s work would in turn stifle and subdue that which marks His work, namely, in this case, these final instructions Paul furnishes for us here. So, what are they? We’ll expound upon one and one only for this morning.
 
Regard Your Leaders Highly (verses 12-13).

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,  and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

 
The two words I draw your attention to are ‘respect’ and ‘esteem.’ 
We know what it is to respect, and to show respect. It’s first of all an attitude, a posture towards something or someone. According to Oxford, it’s a sense of admiration resulting from some qualities or achievements in someone or something. What follows is a certain, undeniable decorum towards what is respected. We respect fire. So, we don’t play with it. We respect the undercurrents of oceans. So, when vacationing in Hawaii, we keep our distance, especially if we don’t swim. But even if we do, we do not presume all undertows are no match for us. We know better. We know the power of waves crashing against the beach. There’s a fascination with it which draws us. But there’s also a fear of it which tempers our approach, and the way we live around it and walk by it.  We respect it. And if we respect people, we behave a certain way towards them as well. We pay attention to them. We don’t disregard those respected. We regard them. We don’t dismiss them or deny them. They have our ears. We don’t tune them out. We recognize just who they are. We treat them well, honorably, and with courtesy. We do not undermine those we respect. Nor do we treat them with contempt.
The other word here is ‘esteem.’ To esteem is to hold an opinion. To esteem highly is to hold a high opinion. To esteem very highly, as the text says, is to hold a very high opinion.
This is Paul’s instruction to local churches.
Members are to highly regard their leaders. This is one mark of a Spirit-filled church. It rightly recognizes its leadership.
That leadership is known not by its office per se, not by whatever name can be attached to it, but primarily by what it does. I want you to see this here. Leadership, local church leadership, isn’t in a name or title.  One isn’t a spiritual leader simply because he’s been given some position, say for example, ‘elder.’  An elder isn’t an elder because he’s been given the position. An elder is an elder before he’s been so affirmed.  I say this primarily because, for whatever reason, Paul makes no mention of the names we link with church office here, like pastor or elder or bishop. I think those names lurk beneath the surface. But what is in plain sight is not an office per se, but a function, and not status, but a service.
That function/service Paul describes in three ways. First, they ‘labor among you.’ ‘Respect those who labor among you.’  Spiritual leadership is labor. It’s work. It’s intensive and at times exhausting. This work involves no small task, much of which is done behind the scenes. I once heard it said that before any man stand as I now stand, he must sit many times longer. But the point I want to get across to you is this: true leadership labors. It doesn’t fritter. It’s not at ease as if on holiday. Paul says to respect those who labor among you, not those who leisure among you.
It should also occur to us that labor in the local church, and not things like success in business, social status or rank, like-ability, sense of humor, or ability to sway a crowd, is the thing. Those kinds of things have nothing whatsoever to do with validating or legitimizing church leadership. What does legitimize it, and thus beckons our respect, is a work, and a certain kind of work at that, as we shall soon see and be reminded of, if only in brief. Gene L. Green is very helpful when he writes:

“In the Thessalonian church, those who were distinguished by their labors for the church, their leadership and provision, and their moral influence over others were those who should be recognized as the true leaders in the church. Neither their status nor their title but rather their service among the believers is what separated them for this ministry. True Christian leadership is not show but substance, not self-serving but self-sacrificial.”

The next thing I wish to get across is very simple.
But it’s very needful to say and hear, especially in the age of the internet pastor. Everyone it seems has a net pastor or preacher/teacher. We live in an amazing age, don’t we? There’s so much access to so much that is good and beneficial for us, provided by men who upload the fruit of their labors on websites and podcasts and the like. We praise God for men, for sound, godly men, who allow us to profit from them that way. But here’s the thing: Paul says to respect those who labor among you.  This doesn’t mean our favorite net pastor isn’t to be respected. But it does mean our favorite net pastor is not in view here. Why not? Because he is not ‘among you.’  He therefore doesn’t know you. He doesn’t observe you. He doesn’t watch over you. He will not give account because of you. He is not preaching to you; he speaks to his own church. True, we might benefit from what he says to his own people, but only indirectly.  So again I say what the apostle says – “Respect those who labor among you.”  Time forbids unfolding this. But let me just say that the one who respects such ones is truly committed to God’s conception of the local church (as opposed to his own conception of it).
Second, those who labor among you are further described as ‘over you in the Lord.’ 
That’s good reason to respect someone, isn’t it.  The phrase speaks of leadership, of ruling and presiding over, of oversight, authority, and direction in the things of Christ. But this is not to ‘be over you’ in order to be in a position of power over you. That’s not it at all. To be ‘over you in the Lord’ is to be placed in a position of authority for spiritual protection, direction, instruction, and benefaction. In other words, to be under such is a very good and safe place to be. It’s where the Head of the Church would have you be. And so, to remove oneself from the local church, either by falling away, staying away, whatever, is to remove oneself from this advantageous position. It is, to be sure, to place oneself in a perilous position, to say the least.
Third, those who labor are those who admonish you.
To admonish is literally to instruct so as to correct in both belief and behavior. This the ‘meat and potatoes’ of spiritual leadership. It marked Paul’s own ministry. In his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders, you’ll recall how he mentions he did not cease to admonish every one under his care. Listen to him speak. He says:

“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).

What are tears? Tears are uncontrollable, involuntary expressions of a broken, burdened heart. And Paul says he admonished night and day with them. What is this? Well, this is Christian leadership; done with tender hearts, a love for the body, wet eyes, and not with clenched fist.
To the puffed up, arrogant Corinthians, desperately in need of correction, Paul writes:

“I do not write these things [i.e. sarcastic things, words of sarcasm immediately before these words] to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children” (1 Cor. 4:14).

Immediately, the family comes to mind, doesn’t it? Maybe not yours, but God’s.  Remember Hebrews 12?

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

One only has to reflect on this briefly, and he will begin to taste something of why this is laborious. To understand the Scriptures, to discern truth from falsehood, to rightly apply, and then to mess around with, and even interfere with the “sacred” habits and cherished doctrines of others, is simply a crazy thing to do! Ha! No one likes to be told what to believe and how to behave and not behave, especially unbelievers. And how foreign is this to our conception of church life, body life, and real ministry? I mean, who thinks of the word and ministry of admonishment when they think church life? That’s anathema today, isn’t it. That’s alright and fine for everybody else. But when it affects you? Well, that’s a different story.   Maybe, just maybe, that’s why Paul gives this very instruction, that the Thessalonian church members, and members of every local church henceforth, respect their leaders.
But it isn’t satisfactory to leave it at that.
It must be remembered: those to whom Paul wrote were a blessed people. They were a changed people. The proof of that transformation was seen in their steadfastness to Christ in the midst of all manner of persecution because of their allegiance to Him. They received the Word. They behaved as their teachers, even the apostle and those he endorsed with him. They trumpeted the glorious truth of Christ, of Paul’s gospel, both near and far. God was giving to them His Holy Spirit. And God Himself, by His direct presence and influence in their souls, taught them to love even as Christ loved. So, I think it’s more than safe to assume Paul had great confidence his instruction would be heeded.   How could it be otherwise! These instructions, inspired by the Spirit of God, given to the people of God, a people in whom that same Spirit dwelt, these instructions would indeed be received, and even produce in them that for which they call.
In the next verse, Paul adds upon his request.
Not only does the Spirit-filled church respect its leaders, it esteems them highly in love. Evidently, the esteem here is extreme. ‘Esteem them in the highest degree possible, ‘ says Paul, ‘in love.’  Two quotes to share with you and we’re done. We’ll resume with this in the New Year. But I choose these excerpts because they are jam packed with implication and application and counter-intuitive, Christ-exalting, body-building food. So…
Gene L. Green-

“This esteem is expressed in love (cf. Eph. 4.2, 15–16). Their great regard for their leaders is not mere submission to a person of higher rank but is rather part of a relationship that is characterized by love. Just as love delimits the relationship between all the members of the congregation (1.3; 4.9–10), so it should be the seal of their relationship with their leaders. This love is closely related to the community harmony or peace that is called for in the exhortation of the second part of this verse … The apostle summons the congregation to this profound loyalty to their leaders because of their work and not because of their position or office. “

Leon Morris-

“…Paul expressly says that they are to esteem their rulers in love “because of their work.” It is not a matter of personalities. It is the good of the church that is the important thing. The church cannot be expected to do its work effectively if the leaders are not being loyally supported by their fellows. It is a matter of fact that to this day we are often slow to realize that effective leadership in the church of Christ demands effective following. If we are continually critical of those who are set over us in the Lord, small wonder that they are unable to perform the miracles that we demand of them. If we bear in mind “because of their work,” we may be more inclined to esteem them very highly in love.”

 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blackie, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]

Christ Jesus Came into the World to Save Sinners!

“Christmas is for kids.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that said in Decembers gone by. To be sure, many December festivities do focus on kids whether school plays or even church Christmas concerts. And of course, who doesn’t spend much energy and hard-earned money on their children [and grandchildren] during ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?’ Marketing strategy banks on the growing expectations of our wee ones. Television specials often target children; as I write I soon expect a deluge of old favourites such as ‘Rudolph’ and ‘Frosty.’ Even the modern day Santa with his flying reindeer and incredible (if not impossible) capacity to deliver to every household in every part of the world every toy ever requested by every boy and girl serves to cater to the fascination, imagination and delight of every child.
Biblically, there are several issues which could be addressed in response to these things. But I limit myself to just one. The statement made by so many – including many inside the visible church – that ‘Christmas is for kids’ is misguided. Christmas, as defined and celebrated by the church, is not for children, but for sinners. For as Paul writes, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (First Timothy 1:15).
This ‘trustworthy statement’ demands that we note two things. First, it beckons that we consider the person and work of Jesus Christ. Space limits what I can say here. However, consider at least this much: Christ came into the world. He who is the sovereign ruler of the universe became a humble servant. He who is eternal and transcends time entered into time and was subject to time. The One through whom and by whom all things were made took the form of that which was made. Vacating the incomprehensible glory of His heavenly and holy throne, exchanging it for an earthly and common feeding trough, Christ, God of very God, took on humanity. By leaving His home, he left majesty for misery, and the dwelling place of righteousness for a world of wickedness.
Second, this ‘trustworthy statement’ commands that we reflect on the mission of Jesus Christ. He came into the world “to save sinners.” In understanding just who these sinners are, it is intensely instructive for us to consider that Paul, the human writer of these words, considered himself to be “foremost of all.” In other words, Paul calls himself the chief of sinners, the very worst of the very worst. How could this be? Is it not true that Paul was the human author of 13 New Testament books, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God, and blameless according to that righteousness which is in the Law? Is it not true therefore that the Apostle Paul was “an incredibly good person?” It is true that Paul, by God’s grace, did much for God. It is not true, however, that he was a good person. The Bible clearly states that there are no good people. ‘There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10; cf. Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3). This is a universally inclusive statement. No one is good; this includes you and me. And so, as the spider hangs from its web above the floor, we dangle by a thread over the fiery pit of hell. But this is the joy of Christmas: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!” Embrace Him! He is truly good!

Like a Thief in the Night

Text

“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. ”

                  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

INTRODUCTION

A. It’s far too easy to turn this passage into something it isn’t. The temptation is to major on the glorious future event of which Paul speaks. The day of the Lord, when Christ returns, when he descends with a cry of command, the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God, will be nothing short of mind-blowing. That will be a major event. In fact, it is, I am convinced, the next big event in redemptive history. But I need not tell you of how many are preoccupied with the sequence of events leading up to that. All kinds of folks get so wrapped up in all kinds of labels and positions, defining themselves in terms of when they think the Bible says Christ will come back. Pre, post, mid-trib, post-trib, pre-trib, preterist, historical pre, pre-wrath, non-premil, and so on: obviously, much thought has gone into the subject, and much ink spilled debating the subject.
Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it can be a dangerous thing. It becomes dangerous when preoccupation with the timing of the thing shrouds and clouds the thing itself. Surely, what is of primary importance is not so much the timing of his return, but the fact of his return. Christ is coming back. This is beyond question. It’s bound to happen. Both Testaments speak of it. The apostle himself had already begun to speak of it in relation to those dead in Christ, in the previous verses. And the apostle Peter writes with undeniable confidence when he inks these words:

“…we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

There we have it, you see. Peter spoke from God. He was ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’ unlike any man today. His voice joins the others, giving testimony to that great and awesome and fearful and glorious and joyful day when Christ returns to take his beloved home. That is the plain thing here. It’s the main thing here. He’s coming back. In view of it, this passage is not reason for eschatological chart making, but rather presses action in view of Christ’s return.
Two Kinds of People in the World
And when he comes back, he will enter into a world in which there are two kinds of people: those who share Paul’s faith, and those who don’t. Look at how Paul describes those who share his faith: a. In verse 5, he calls them ‘children of light, children of the day,’ ‘not of the night or of the darkness.’ In verse 8, Paul describes them as belonging to the day, and ‘having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.’
Everybody else
Those who do not share Paul’s faith is everybody else. They are children of darkness, of the night, and belong to the night.
So, we must mark this and mark it well: the difference between true believers and unbelievers is the difference between day and night. Believers are children of light. Unbelievers are children of the night. There could be no greater contrast. To say both kinds of people look the same, that there’s no great and obvious difference between them is therefore a lie from the pit of hell. We must not believe that lie. You must not believe it. There is a great distinction, a great division between night and day, is there not? There’s also a great division and distinction between believers and unbelievers. There is no dawn or dusk. We are either of the day or night; there’s no in-between position, as if one blends into another. In fact, God separates light from darkness. That’s what he did when, at the beginning of all things, he made day and night. We must be clear on this. This is a life and death issue. There are distinctons, clear distinctions, sharply defined distinctions and separations and even divisions God designed and makes. But such distinction and separation sinful man abhors. He would do away with all such things. He delights in no distinction whatsover. He likes to blend things into one, as if everything was equal and the same in every sense of the term.
So, men dress like women and women men. People mistakenly assume Mormons and Catholics are Christians. In fact, all religion, and each every denomination, is viewed as if no real difference existed among them. After all, we’re told, division is bad. Distinctions cause bad feelings and ultimately wars. And so, the thinking goes, let’s just be the same. That way everybody is affirmed and there is ‘peace.’ Or so the theory goes. But it’s a bad theory, bad because it doesn’t reflect the way God made things. When he made the heavens and the earth, he separated light from darkness. He made a division. He created them male and female; he made a distinction, a division. He creates light, and separates it from the darkness. The one has no sharing in, no fellowship with the other.
Children of Light
But what exactly is it to be a child, or son, of light? I must press this upon you. This is a thing of who real believers are, not what they do. Paul writes these believers and says (v.5) ‘you ARE children of light.’ Like all children, children of light are marked by their parents; like father, like son. “Chips off the old block.” That’s who they are. That’s their identity. ‘Who’s that?’ says one. ‘O that’s Todd, son of Don, son of Uriah. Kinda funny looking isn’t he? He surely resembles his father, especially from the eyebrows up.’
And so it is with the sons of light. God is light.  To be a child of light, then, is to be a child of God. His children are of Him, and not of that which so marks the world, i.e. darkness. How one becomes a child of light has nothing to do whatsoever with what a person does – like pray a prayer or make a decision – O how I wish all would truly grasp this! So many, maybe even some of you, think that because a prayer was prayed, or a decision was made, they are children of light and of God. What a damnable and dreadful and terribly sad thing! Many on that day will say to him ‘Lord, Lord’ because they did things in his name, even. But they will be turned away. Forever! Gnashing of teeth will be their end. Don’t let that be you! Get your Bible and test your profession by it and by it alone lest you be thrown into the Lake of Eternal Fire.
Why read our Bibles? Because life and death depend on it. How should we read our Bibles? We read them as if life and death depended on it. But back to the question of the moment. How does one become a child of light? One verse tells all. 2 Corinthians 4. 5-6: “For what we (ie., Paul & Timothy with him) proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (Why do they proclaim Christ?) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Amazing. This is far greater than decision. Decision is mere easy believism. You know what that is. Someone says a prayer or decides for Christ and accepts him as Lord and Savior. But his life!?? There’s no affection for Christ! There’s no transformation, no power for godliness! How does one become a child of light, and thus of him who is light? God shines in the darkness of his heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! That’s how! A child of light knows deep in his soul the greatness of God in Christ’s face! And that changes everything. It creates a division, a separation, between him and the rest, with everybody else, with those of the darkness, who are children of the darkness. There is no mistaking it. When one believes, when he truly believes in the True Light who is Christ, he becomes a child of the Light, walking in all that is good and right and true, entranced by God’s glory in Christ’s face.
 
TWO EXHORTATIONS TO BELIEVERS
BE WHO YOU ARE (verses 4-8)
It is to the children of light that Paul gives two exhortations. The first may be paraphrased as ‘be who you are.’ Be who you are. Verse 6: “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Evidently, the church wondered about the timing of very last things and Christ’s return, about ‘the times and the seasons.’ But he tells them they had no need for an answer from him, since they already knew it. “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you” he writes 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Why this is the case, why they were fully aware, and knew what they knew, is simple. When Paul was with them for the short period he was, when he was proclaiming the gospel to them, when he was really and truly evangelizing, his method wasn’t build relationship, then gradually give truth in nibbles and bits. Not at all! Paul spoke much! And when he spoke, he spoke of many things surrounding Christ. What he proclaimed would in no way fit on one of our measley tracts.
I’m not dissing the use of tracts here. They have their usefulness, especially the good ones. But I’m just sayin’: There is simply no comparison between a small pamplet and the apostle’s greater preaching and teaching. Why did they know? They knew because Paul told them beforehand, when he was with them. Paul was thorough; he covered all the basics, including the day of the Lord, including the return of Christ, the ‘day of judgment’, the ‘day of God’s wrath’, the ‘day of redemption,’ ‘the day of destruction.’ What he told them was very simple. The day will come like a thief in the night. What does that mean? Does it mean it will come when everyone’s asleep and no one will know of it, save a few? Does it mean it will be a secret, silent thing? No, it doesn’t.
What it means is that it will come unexpectedly, when least expected. Just look at it (Paul himself tells us beginning with the 3rd verse): “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them.” There’s the unexpected surprise; no one thinks destruction when he’s thinking, and saying, peace, peace, all is well and safe! No one thought destruction when 9-11 dawned. No one thinks destruction the day before a tsunami. And here, the unredeemed world of men, those of the darkness, will in their utter folly and complete blindness, sing ‘all is well’ right up to the very moment. There will be no alarms. The lips of those on CNN and CBC and the like will be empty of warning. Nothing! Quite the opposite actually: Dow Jones up. TSX up. Job starts up. Everything looks good. Let’s party on! All’s well! They will have not a clue about what’s about to go down.
The Day of the Lord!
It will come at an unexpected moment, even as labor pains come upon one bearing a child. That’s how it will come. And when it comes it will be inescapable. It will be a complete surprise, and they will not escape it. They will be trapped. They will not be able to flee from it. They will try. O will they ever try! They will try to hide! They will even call upon the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from the “wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
But then there’s a big ‘but.’ Mark it! Look at it! Verse 4. In verse 4 Paul makes this cutting, discriminatory, defining, dividing statement. He reminds them of who they are! “But you are not in darkness, brothers…”! Why not? Because they were transferred out of darkness. They lived in a far different realm. They were sons of light. They belonged to the day! That’s who they are. “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” Translation: Because you are not of darkness, because you are children of the day, that day will not surprise you like a thief in the night. Because of who you are in Christ! That brings us back to verse 6. “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.
Because of who you are, and who you’re not, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, don’t sleep, stay awake, and keep sober. Don’t sleep. Stay awake. Keep sober. In other words, be who you are. Live who you are. Behave in a way consistent with deeds of the light and not of darkness. Sleep and drunkeness do not characterize daytime. Those who sleep do so at night. Those who get drunk do so at night. But you’re not that. So, stay awake and keep sober. Sobriety and wakefulness are of the day. And you are of the day. So, be who you are!
Believers: Live as Believers!
This means believers are to live as believers, in a way consistent with who they are. That’s what Paul’s getting at here. Stay awake. Keep sober. Be spiritually and morally diligent, in other words. “This is the moral state of having all systems “on” and functioning,” one writes. Don’t be marked by the deeds of darkness. Light is a full and rich term. It has moral conotations. The fruit of light, says Paul elsewhere, ‘is found in all that is good, and right and true‘ (Eph. 5.9). Light is righteousness. It’s Christ himself. And all who are sons of light and thus of righteousness must live righteously. To stay awake in this vein is to not have our spiritual sensitivities dimmed, dulled, or distorted by the darkness of sin. It’s to stand apart from and live in stark contrast, in a radical contrast to this present darkness, to the filth which so marks our neighbors who abuse our Lord’s name with their lips, and though they might be nice people otherwise, they dwell in darkness.
“Wicked men do all things as in the night, escaping the notice of all, and enclosing themselves in darkness,” writes one. “For tell me, does not the adulterer watch for the evening, and the thief for the night? Does not the violator of the tombs carry on all his trade in the night?” Don’t drink darkness and get drunk with sin. Don’t go down that road. Stay awake. Live like believers. Be who you are. That’s what Paul presses here. Pursue, with all your might, the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. We must be ready. How are we believers to live in light of his comimg? Are we to busy ourselves, and be concerned about, getting our endtime theology correct? There’s a place for that. But here’s the thing: Many will have it all figured out…only to go to hell. Being prepared means living as believers, not deceivers, or idolaters, consumed with ourselves, but being who we are in Christ. And that will put us at odds with many, even the people we live with, even, at times, with people we go to church with.
I must stop here and press this upon you. Are you awake? Or are you indifferent? Are you, ‘Christian,’ living like a believer? Or do your deeds betray and deny your profession? You must take stock of your life. It’s imperative you do so. Don’t put it off. You cannot afford that. Stay awake! You play with fire if you don’t. Believer, live like you believe. If you’re not a believer, start believing!
Believers: Live as Soldiers
I look at the rest, and basically I see much for encouragement. We shall make only passing mention of it. In verse 8, Paul is quick to contrast the ones to whom he writes, i.e. believers, and those who aren’t. “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” Aside from the fact believers are further described as those who have donned themselves with a certain attire, they’re described in military terms. Bellievers are soldiers. We’re soldiers in a spiritual war. If we’re truly believers, we wear a breastplate. That protects our vital organs – our hearts and lungs. Without it, arrows from the enemy easily pierce. The helmut protects our head. Without it, any blow to the head on the battlefield means game over. Confusion, dizziness, loss of balance, haze, blurred and distorted vision, stumbling about, whatever- such a soldier is a sitting duck for the final blow. But that’s not the believer.
The believer wears his gear. He’s protected for the fight in the spiritual realm. How? Listen carefully. With the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of hope for salvation. Faith, love, hope. Faith working through love. And what is love? Let me remind you. Love – Christ’s love, holy love, true love, that which actually and truly has the eternal good and joy for another in view, and not that crappy, sappy, ‘feel good for the moment,’ sin-distorted, sin-indulgent, sin-excusing and affirming, self-seeking excuse for love (and I don’t mean pre-marital sex here; what I mean is far more pervasive and exists everywhere like homes and even churches – true, Christ-exalting, sin-rebuking and correcting, sacrificial, other-centred love is inextricably tied to holiness, and thus light! Just listen to what Paul said in the 3rd chapter verses 12 and 13. It’s remarkable hiow it all fits together! “…may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, WHY? so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, WHEN? at the coming of our Lord Jesus …’! Remarkable, ain’t it? Stay awake in these things. Keep your head!
God Has not Destined us for Wrath
To butress us in these things, he adds a further encouragement for believers/sons of the day. Keep sober, stay awake, live as soldiers, wearing your armour in the fight on the battlefield, believing, loving, hoping, why? Because (v.9) “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” God has not destined us for wrath. Who is ‘us’? ‘Us’ is them. ‘Us’ is him and the ones to whom he writes, namely, now get this, the ones who received the word of God for what it is, and not as if it were a Christmas card from Hallmark – open, read, that’s nice, close. And you carry on. He’s not writing to the likes of them. But to the ones who received the word as the word of God, he says ‘God has not destined you for wrath.’ In fact, your destiny, your ordained, divinely appointed destiny, is salvation from wrath. From the wrath which is yet to come on that day when Christ returns and judges all men without exception. So, whether dead or alive when he comes, every child of light will live with him.
KEEP ON ENCOURAGING EACH OTHER IN TRUTH (verse 11)
Finally, the second exhortation. The first was ‘Be who you are.’ The second is ‘Encourage each other in truth, in these things.’ 11 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. “This is how we get prepared for that day. There’s so much discouragement going around. And it’s dreadful. Beloved, don’t forget: the day is coming. The Day IS coming! In light of that fact, what shall we be doing as a church? What should we be doing to each other? I’ll tell you what we shouldn’t be doing. We shouldn’t be discouraging one another. Let’s build each other up with the truth of these things, with the truth of these things. Why? So that that day will not surprise any of us like a thief in the night…
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blackie, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]

The Dead in Christ Will Rise First

 

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. 

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Life is short.
The Holy Scriptures speak of the brevity of life with crystal clarity. The apostle James says “You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14. NASB). Quoting the Old Testament, the apostle Peter writes: “ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF…” (1 Peter 1:24). “Here is the history of the grass,” said one. “Sown, grown, blown, mown, gone; and the history of man is not much more” (Spurgeon).

O Lord,” prays the Psalmist, “make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath” (Psalm 39:4-5).

Death is sure.
Life is short. (#1) (#2) Death is sure. “…It is appointed for man to die once” (Heb. 9:27). And that which is divinely appointed comes to pass always and without fail. As one once put it: “Yesterday I was born. Today, I live. Tomorrow I must die.” “Our crowded cemeteries supply ten thousand arguments why each one of us may expect to die in due time.” Again, he says, “Who among us can reckon upon a single hour? We talk of being living men: let us correct ourselves, and feel from this moment that we are dying men, whose every breath brings them closer to the grave.”
In these verses Paul is not concerned to furnish material for a chart outlining last things, as if for theological debate. Nor is the thing here to satisfy one’s curiosity about last things. This is not Paul’s concern whatsoever. His aim, rather, is to provide truth for encouragement, Paul’s concern is a pastoral one; he plainly states it in v. 18. ‘Encourage one another with these words .’ he says.
Why this encouragment is needful is clear to us. The apostle has turned to address an unmistakably sober matter. Some among their number died. Why they died, that is, the immediate cause of their end, Paul does not say. But what he does say, he says that he might encourage believers in the face of one of the most painful experiences believers will ever encounter: the death of a fellow, beloved believer.
We’ve noticed Paul exhorts the church to encourage each other with ‘these words.’ But before he presses this exhortation to encourage upon the entire church, he places before it, and us, certain and precise information. And so to begin with the 13th verse…
Paul Expresses His Desire That We Know About Believers Who are Dead

‘But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep…’

Part of the pastoral task, if not its foundation, is that of informing, making others aware of certain things. This is, of course, in stark contrast to what Paul writes immediately before. In v. 9, he takes up a subject about which those to whom he writes had no need of instruction. ‘Concerning brotherly love,’ he writes, ‘you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another…’ I do not wish to dwell upon this this morning, but it does beg the observation. If this be true, if in fact God Himself teaches whom he teaches to love, and they in turn love…then if any need to be told to love the brethren, because they do not love, they have not been taught of God. No love. No faith. No indwelling Christ. The love of God hasn’t been shed abroad in their hearts. But the ones to whom Paul writes were indeed so taught. They were a grace-filled, Spirit of Christ-filled people. They were a people the apostle now wished to inform and give information to.
But here’s the thing: We live in a day and age of information glut. News bites, sound bites, news feeds, social media, computers, laptops, iPads, iPhones: just think about how much information comes at us everyday. And then to top it all off, we come here only to be given more information. And the sad thing is, all this information tends to be met by inaction. What difference does it make to us if Hamas is slaughtering Israel? What can we do about it anyway? Who cares if your FB friends are having fries and burgers for lunch! So what if the horse wasn’t allowed inside the Royal York! What difference does it make? Is this not our default attitude? Observers? It is sad that information is either trivial, irrelevant, met by inaction, or seen and given within the context of entertainment.
But the point I aim to make is this: Though the air we breathe undermines taking information seriously, there’s some information we must take seriously, Biblical information especially. And how does one know he so takes it? Well, he acts upon it. He hears it, and he applies it to his life. It informs and shapes the way he thinks. Then it changes the way he feels about a thing which leads to a different outlook and even different course of life.
Purpose: That Our Grieving Be Different
And here, information is given for the purpose of shaping the way believers grieve the loss of loved ones, i.e. fellow believers. Paul isn’t saying that we should not grieve. Faith doesn’t take the hurt away. What he’s saying is the way we grieve is to be different than the way unbelievers grieve. That’s what he’s getting at, that we ‘may not grieve AS others do who have no hope. ‘Hear the distinction. It’s important. It’s okay for a believer to grieve. Believers know sorrow. Paul himself, speaking of Epaphroditus, wrote elsewhere saying: “Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2.27). But the way we grieve is different, indeed must be different than those who have no hope, i.e. unbelievers. In the face of death, believers have hope; unbelievers don’t. This is a thing of necessity.What Paul wishes is for believers to grieve with an informed grief, that their emotions, as raw as they might be, be tempered by and with truth.
Hope is the key here. Believers have hope, real hope in the face of death. Unbelievers have no such hope. Death for the unbeliever is hopeless. It’s the final goodbye. Not so for believers. Paul gives three reasons why this is so.
Three Solid Reasons
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Verse 14 – ‘For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.’

The Resurrection of Christ is our hope in the face of death. It’s a sure hope, one based and grounded in history, truth and fact, not myth. And here we are, again on the doorstep of December, and the barrage of silliness has begun yet again. People drink as it were, all kinds of weird and strange myths – a magical snowman, flying reindeer, a hefty old man dressed in red, able to visit every house on the planet in one night. That’s okay. That stuff they encourage faith in. But the Resurrection? If it wasn’t so sad it’d be funny; but myth is preferred. And what’s actually true, grounded in historical fact is shunned as myth! What I’m saying is this – the believer’s hope and confidence is real. It has a true foundation, not a false one. It rests not on anything in this world or of this world. It isn’t speculation. Nor is it a cleverly devised tale. Do you believe it? Do you see and savor it as true, as historical fact, that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures? Christ conquered death! It held him not. He was victorious and triumphant over the grave! ‘Up from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes. He arose a victor from the dark domain and he lives forever with his saints to reign.He arose! He arose! Hallejujah, Christ arose!’
The consequence of this gloriously stupendous truth Paul spells out for us. Verse 14: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” The Resurrection guarantees this. Through Christ, God will bring with him those who fell asleep in him. I take this to mean this: God, by means of Christ, or in Christ, will have on the day Jesus returns, every believer by his side. He won’t forget them. Everyone for whom Christ died, and who died as believers, will be with him on that day. God will see to it. The grave will not win nor sever them from him. The Resurrection guarantees this. Because Christ rose from the dead, this will happen. It’s bound to happen! It cannot not happen! As sure as the tomb was empty, God in Christ will bring with him his beloved.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
First reason for solid hope: the Resurrection of Christ. Second reason: the revelation of Christ.

V. 15: “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”

The apostle makes it explicit. What he says here originates in deity. It’s from the Lord. It therefore carries the highest of authority. And what that authority reveals doesn’t merely tell of the dead’s sharing with the living on that Day, when the Lord returns, but it goes further. The dead will not miss the events of the day, but will actually be first in line, and thus occupy a place of honor.
The coming of the Lord is his parousia. Parousia is a term wich often referred to the official visit of a ruler, a sovereign, to a city. It was a day filled with pomp and circumstance, incredible celebrations, outlandish banquets, speeches of praise for the ruler, lavish donations, a visit to the local temple, games, dedications of statues, arches, and the like. Golden crowns might have been awarded. Money might have been minted to mark the occassion. And apparently, new eras may have been inaugurated (Green, G.L.). Fascinating isn’t it? It was a real party, as if the Royals paid a visit to Calgary in July. And Paul makes it clear to us – the dead won’t miss it. In fact, when Christ visits again, the dead will have front row seats!
The Intervention of Jesus Christ
Solid reasons to not grieve as others who have no hope: (1) the Resurrection of Christ (2) the revelation of Christ & (3) the intervention of Christ.

V. 16 – “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”

Christ descends. He commands. And the dead in Him obey in resurrection. And mark it: this is very noisy. There’s nothing silent or secret about it. A cry of command is that which must be obeyed. It cannot not be. It impels its objects to do that which is commanded. The voice of an archangel adds to this cry. When Christ comes again, he won’t be alone.The trumpet of God will also sound. This has nothing to do with anything musical. When trumpets sounded, you knew something was up. Trumpets blew for military purposes, for religious ceremonies, and when men died. But trumpets in the OT were connected also with the day of the Lord. God would on that day sound a trumpet. It will signal that moment in redemptive history, a terrifying moment for all not in Christ, but a glorious moment for all in Him, when Jesus comes again to bring about the consummation of the New Covenant with his beloved bride. The trump will sound, and the dead will be raised. The dead in Christ, that is. These are the ones Paul is concerned with here.
It’s imperative that we not overlook this. Who are the dead in Christ?
The short answer is simple. The dead in Christ are dead believers. They are asleep in Him. That is to say, when they died they were joined to him, engrafted in him by faith. This is huge. It demands far more time than we can give it here. But it’s imperative that we dwell on it for a moment.
To be in Christ means to share in the benefits of his person and work. It means to share in his death, burial, and resurrection life. It means to be blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. It’s a union, a joining together. It’s not just the believer in Christ, but Christ in the believer also. This is an intimate relationship. This is a real joining by grace through faith alone, effected by God alone. Two pictures:
The first is the vine and the branches. John 15:5, Jesus says to his disciples – “I am the vine, you are the branches.’ The branches are in the vine. They cannot live apart from the vine. It’s a vital, nourishing, life-giving, fruit-producing relationship. The branches are in the vine. Believers are in Christ, even when death comes.Death doesn’t sever the branch from the vine, not when the vine is the true vine.
Second picture is a wee more graphic. It’s mind-blowing actually. 1 Corinthians 6.16-17. “Do you not know that bhe who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” Question – Why does Paul speak of being joined to Christ in the context of sexual immorality? Surely, he means to underscore the unthinkable, the joining of the members of Christ with a harlot. But why are believers members of Christ? Answer: 1 Cor. 6.17! “He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” That is amazing to me. To be in Christ is to be so joined to Christ as to be one spirit with him. And it’s all be grace alone through faith alone because of God’s love alone. But get this! The sexual union speaks something of that which is far greater and more incomprehensibly more satisfying than that of the marriage act: union with Christ! Sex is a dim shadow of the joys begun at faith but consummated when He comes!   Hallelujah to that! Can you even begin to imagine???!!!

THOSE DEAD IN CHRIST DIED WITH EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING.

The grave did not sever them from him nor his riches. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, diistress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword….’ or death? “No,’ says Paul to the Roman believers. ‘Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come…nor anything else in all creation‘ will sever those in Christ from the love of God in him. Rom 8.35-9.
The Lord will descend. A cry of command. The voice of an archangel. The trumpet shall sound. And the dead in Christ will rise first, before the other dead, those dead outside of Christ. Three solid reasons for hope – the Resurrection of Christ in history, the revelation of Christ in his word and person, and the intervention of Christ in his commanding return.
 
The Final End
Exhortation: Encourage One Another with These Words
Finally, Paul ends the section with his one and only exhortation of the paragraph. In light of all this, in view of this…information, the church, its members, not the leadership only, is to encourage one another with these words. Encourage – Here the word  so rendered means comfort, or console [It doesn’t always mean this]. This is to be a body thing, a corporate thing, not just a thing for the eldership or any other small segment of the fellowship. What he presses in the 18th verse, he does so to the entire church. Every member has a responsibility in this.
But do not let this escape your notice. Paul says to ‘encourage one another with these words.’ Here ‘these words’ refer to the truths in the face of death and the second coming. But let’s broaden the application. Encouragement must always be with ‘these words‘ if ‘these words’ refer to that which is true. Whatever the cause for pain, always be sure to encourage by the truth and not a quick fix or what seems wise at the moment.
 
Application
One more thing. I wish to leave us with an even broader application. Let me get at it with a question: is it at all possible that there is a disconnect between us, the way we live, the way we react and respond and think and feel about the providences in which we find ourselves (for e.g., the death of a beloved believer, or something else far less than desirable) and the informaion (i.e., ‘these words) of all Scripture? It seems to me that what Paul ultimately presses for here, is for the supernatural display of truth fleshed out in God’s people. Isn’t that what he wants? ‘I do not want you to be uninformed,’ he says. Why he then informs is obvious to us, that our grieving inthe wake of a painful providence looks not at all like the grieving of those who are without hope. Truth is indeed for life. Let’s live it together by His ample supplies of grace. Amen.
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]

“Christian Ambition”

 

“Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

1 Thessalonians 4.9-12

 
Introduction
As we resume our studies in this epistle, I draw your attention to verses 11 & 12. We’ve been working our way through this letter to the Thessalonian believers. It’s a marvelous letter. It drips of grace, speaking much of its effectual workings. It describes the excellent church and the exemplary ministry. We’ve seen how a people and its very first pastor were knit together in heart. We’ve seen how these people became a people by the Word of God clothed in power from on high. These people were a Word-centered people. They were a spiritual people, new creations, imitators of the apostle and the Lord Christ Himself.
It is indeed the Word that bound Paul and people. Whenever there is this binding of souls, this knitting together of hearts between Christian people, it is always because of the Word. Find any true Christian fellowship and you will also find the Bible at the center of that fellowship. The older I get, the more I find this to be true: In the middle any true mysterious joining of Christian hearts, the Word is present and exalted and exulted over. Paul and his people savored, I mean truly savored and treasured Christ, the Word, the Word to whom the word gives testimony. The first three chapters speak of such things, and more besides.
But in this chapter, in chapter four, Paul turns from expressions of commendation and longing affection to practical instruction and exhortation. Pleasing God is the concern. Sanctification is at issue. He takes up the matters of sexual purity. Abounding in love for the brethren, wherever they may be found, is pressed. And here in these two verses, verses 11 and 12, Paul tells of Christian ambition. He exhorts Christians to aspire to certain things.
 
Concerning Ambition
I wonder what your ambitions are. I wonder what they might have been, what your aspirations, your aims in life are/were? Are they grandioso? The very words themselves make us think big, don’t they? AMBITION! ASPIRATION! The words speak of success on a grand scale, of hard, focused, in it for the long haul work, self-consuming, making a name for oneself, of fame, fortune, of … Frank:
 

Start spreading the news

I am leaving today

I want to be a part of it

New York, New York

 

…I want to wake up in that city

that never sleeps

And find I’m king of the hill

Top of the list

Head of the heap

King of the hill.

 

But the ambition and aspirations Paul urges upon us are nothing of the kind. In these two verses, he tells us to –

Live peaceably and independently.

What does he mean by that? Well, let’s look at it.

 
Live peaceably.
First up, he urges believers to live quiet lives (v.11). “Aspire to live quietly,” Paul urges. The apostle tells us to direct our hopes and ambitions toward achieving a certain kind of living. A quiet life is a tranquil life, free from a certain kind of noise. It’s a disposition, a certain arrangement of life. There’s an unmistakable calmness about the one who so lives. He doesn’t get too excited about things. Contentment marks him; he’s satisfied with his lot.
There’s also an undeniable ‘steady as she goes’ quality about him/her. He knows his course, his business, his path in life, and he sticks to it. There’s no abrupt turning to the left or right, no being tossed to and fro by every wind of providence.
What’s more is that the quiet life does nothing to draw attention to itself. It’s seldom seen if at all heard. It isn’t that it’s absent. That’s not it. But there’s a certain stealthy-ness to it, almost as if under the radar.
Furthermore, it isn’t demanding. There’s nothing quiet and peaceful about one who makes demands, selfish demands, on others. That life is a noisy life. It isn’t peaceable; it’s pouty. Nor is unruliness peaceful. You know what unruliness is. An unruly life isn’t subject to discipline and authority. It’s disruptive, disorderly, and lacks self-control. It seeks its own interests. It pays little or no attention to the interests of others.
Perhaps three pictures are helpful to us.
First, the quiet life is not given to contention. The argumentative life is not a peaceable, quiet life. Paul isn’t forbidding contending for truth. He’s not telling us to not engage in thought-out argumentation where Scripture or matters of truth are concerned. The faithful believer does in fact contend for the truth [and there’s only one truth, one faith delivered once for all to the saints!]. What Paul urges upon us is not to not argue per se, but to live peaceably, which means to not live with an argumentative spirit. There is a world of difference. One is constructive and means to edify an correct. The other is simply disruptive, divisive, and unbecoming, if not a serious nuisance.
The second picture is that of submission. A submissive wife is a wife with a gentle and quiet spirit. She lives peaceably with her husband, as far as it depends on her.
The third picture is that of a troublemaker. Living peaceably is at odds with causing trouble. It’s to keep aloof from strife and not even stir it up. It’s the refusal to pour gasoline on the fire of conflict, real or perceived. “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out” (Prov. 17.14).
Water unleashed is destructive. We’ve been reminded of that again and again. The levee is easier built good and high than repaired. Once a dike is breeched, the damage is done. We’ve all seen the pictures from “Katrina” and now “Sandy”. There’s nothing peaceable about the Jersey Shore and Lower Manhattan these days.
Strife is like water. One drop, one provoking word brings on another and another and another until it’s far too late and the thing is ruined. Water damage sometimes takes years to undo; just look at New Orleans. And sometimes strife destroys friendships irreparably. ‘An arrogant man [or woman] stirs up strife…’
Wisdom dictates that the time to quit is not during the fight, but before the fight ever begins. We must control ourselves at the very first, kill proud estimations of ourselves, and seek to be as Christ is. Writes one: “…nothing can be so unworthy of a well-composed soul, as to pass away life in bickerings and litigations, in snarling and scuffling with everyone about us” (Prior’s Life of Burke).

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Heb.12.14-15). 
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12.14-21).

This is a quiet, peaceable life. And Paul urges us to aspire to it.
 
Live faithfully.
Secondly, Paul tells us to make it our ambition to live faithfully. Live peaceably, and live faithfully. Aspire to “mind your own affairs” is how he puts it.  Arguably, to mind one’s own affairs is a manifestation, if not application, of living peaceably and quiet. Just think about for a minute. If one is busy tending to his own business, being faithful to his own responsibilities, he will not be so interested with the affairs of others. He will, in fact, mind his own business, as it were. He will not have the time or energy for any snooping or creeping into the affairs of others. “Those who are busy-bodies,” writes Matthew Henry, “meddling in other men’s matters, have little quiet in their own minds, and cause great disturbances among their neighbours.
But attention to one’s own duties and not interfering or meddling in the lives of others is the exhortation. The exhortation is to be diligent, endeavor, aspire to be faithful to our own concerns. Parents parent. Raise up your children in the fear of the Lord. Husbands, love your wives. Be providers and protectors. But lead; lead your family to Christ, first and foremost. Lead into the deep things of Christ. Be a godly example, an example of what a believer is and looks like. Wives, respect and love your husbands. Love your children. Be self-controlled, pure, workers at home. Everyone: Keep the bills paid. Take care of your body. See the doctor when you need. Make the tough calls YOU need to make. And let others alone to do the same. Whatever is on your plate, be faithful. Get it done. Deal with it. Pay attention to it. Don’t neglect it.  Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” Translation: If it ain’t your problem, don’t play with it. You’ll get teeth marks somewhere.
There’s a clarification needed here. But before we make it, we should not underestimate how quiet and peaceable our lives would be if we endeavored to keep our noses to ourselves. What if everybody refrained from sticking their noses where they don’t belong? I’m convinced life would be a lot less problematic if everyone minded their own business.
Now, clarification is needed. Paul does not mean to hinder or forbid that type of intervention required for the spiritual welfare of others. There’s far too much Scripture against such a notion. Faithful ministry requires a certain degree of intervention. One case in point: Galatians 6:1 – Paul there instructs the spiritual ones to restore one caught in sin. Elsewhere, the church is admonished to put unrepentant sinners out of fellowship. The very act of preaching is of itself a kind of intervention. God Himself, in the Person of Christ, intervenes into our lives. And for this we are grateful. So it’s not that Paul forbids all intervention/interference without exception. Christians are in fact their brothers’ keepers. The activity Paul strongly encourages here does, however, engender a certain respect for the boundaries of others. Remember boundaries? Fences aren’t all bad. In fact, I doubt they’re bad at all. Erect a fence and there’s no guesswork. This is mine. That’s yours. And all is well. “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you” (Prov. 25.17). Overzealousness, or undue interest in the affairs of others is unfitting.
 
Live industriously.
Aspire to live peaceably, live faithfully, and third, live industriously. “Work with your hands,” he says. Be productive. Achieve something. Make a living. Get and keep a job. Work is a good thing. Work is a very good thing. Apparently, evidently, God’s sovereignty and providential care for us is no reason to not get up and go to work everyday. That’s an aside. But let me share a quote with you:
Leland Ryken – “…the Puritan view that God calls all workers to their tasks in the world dignifies all legitimate kinds of work. Above all, the Puritan doctrine of vocation sanctifies common work. William Tyndale said that if we look externally “there is difference betwixt washing of dishes, and preaching of the word of God; but as touching to please God, none at all.” Baxter explained how this could be: “God looketh not … principally at the external part of the work, but much more to the heart of him that doth it.”
I think that’s very good. Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord. Be industrious which is to say, ‘Don’t be a sloth.’ Don’t be a slacker! Do the work!
Paul amplifies this in his second letter. He writes:“ Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.  For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.  For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.  If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.  Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (2 Thess. 3:6–15).

Let’s sum up- Live peaceably, live faithfully, and live industriously, and do so day in and day out. Do it daily. Wake up. Go to work. Mind your business. Be quiet. Go to bed. Get up. Go to work. Mind your business. Be quiet. Come home. Have supper. Go to bed. Get up. Go to work….and on and on it goes til death, or Jesus comes back, whatever comes first. There’s an unmistakable routineness here isn’t there. It’s really a simple life. It’s ordinary to be sure. There’s no fame, no making a name, only much of the same again and again. It’s like the sun that rises in the morning, runs its course all day long, sets in the evening only to do it all over again the very next day.
 
The Exhortation’s Purpose
Why Paul urges these things is stated in verse 12. Walking properly before outsiders [i.e. unbelievers] and independence is why. Whether or not this is the reason for all three exhortations or just the one about work is a matter of debate. But I see no reason to limit the reason to just one exhortation.  The force of the entire passage then becomes: Be ambitious to live peaceably, faithfully, and industriously, as we told you, so that your life before unbelievers is proper, and you aren’t dependent on anyone, including outsiders. Be a blessing, not a burden. That’s what Paul was when he was among them.
How we live before unbelievers is, therefore, a matter of significance. God cares a great deal about this evidently. How we present ourselves before them – and they are in fact watching – how we present ourselves before an unbelieving world [at work, at school, in town, wherever] is a thing of which to be mindful. Believers are to be above reproach in things such as these. There’s a certain decorum and respectability we are to have in their eyes. Do our unbelieving family and friends and co-workers respect us? Do we live peaceably and quietly? Or are we troublemakers, constantly stirring up strife? Are we faithful in our own affairs? Or are we gossiping, interfering busy bodies? Are we hard workers? Or do we hardly work, willing be to be a tax burden, on welfare, or even freeload? That’s the idea here. Paul urges that we be ambitious to be outstanding, peaceable, quiet, contributing citizens among all citizens.
 
The Believer’s Power
Let’s be what Paul calls us to be. Let’s be what God calls us to be, to be ambitious in these things. And lest we forget: God does not call us or command us to do that which He Himself does not work in us. He has given and gives His Holy Spirit to us. All believers have regenerate hearts. But that’s not all they have. Within every believer this side of Calvary, Christ dwells. “He has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” Therefore, we can do, and we will do, because of His presence within, all that He wills.
 

I want to wake up in that city

that never sleeps

And find that we’re peaceable

Faithful to our tasks

&

 working

that our King who died on the hill

would be seen working His will

even in me.

 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]

Living for the Pleasure of God (3)

Love, Christian Style
 
Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
 

Introduction
Love. We all know the clichés, the platitudes and the lyrics.  ‘What the world needs now is love, sweet love.’ ‘Love makes the world go ‘round.’ ‘Make love, not war.’ ‘All you need is love.’
How many times have you told someone you love him/her? I wonder: Is it possible that we use the word so much that it means virtually nothing at all? There was a man who often told his sweetheart that he loved her. He soon learned that it’s more than possible to so overuse a word as to render it meaningless.
But everybody wants to be loved. People crave it so much they do stupid things for it, like rack up obscene phone bills, and maybe make the attempt to drive 13 hours overnight to visit a girlfriend. Love drives Hollywood and the movie industry. Love stimulates the economy. Gift shops, flower shops, hallmark cards, diamond rings, wedding planners, honeymoons at tropical resorts, you name it: love does make the world spin.
And then there’s the whole thing with feelings. Feelings can be wicked things. I know because I have them. When things go my way, or someone does or says something I interpret as pro-Todd, I feel loved. Doesn’t mean I am loved; it might be the very opposite. Maybe I’m being indulged. Maybe I’m being allowed to get my own way, even in my sinfulness and self-worship. Who can deny that merely feeling loved often passes for truly being loved? We’re so easily duped by our own emotions and love of … self. It isn’t that feelings and affections are bad in and of themselves. That’s not at issue. But remember: our wills weren’t the only things corrupted by the fall. Our emotions were also. So that’s why I say this love thing is tricky.
But is this love? Do these things truly speak of love? Or do they reveal our own depravity? Love is a tricky thing, I think. Who doesn’t want to be the object of another’s affections? Who truly doesn’t wish to be made much of? Be honest. Be honest. And also know that Scripture does not tell us to be made much of. ‘Seek to be loved’ is not in the Bible anywhere.  And yet that is the M.O. of countless many in the church, evidently. Far too many come, stay, leave, grumble, do, don’t do, and so on, based on whether or not they feel loved. What if that was Christ’s M.O.? What if Christ sought to be loved before he loved? What if Christ sought your love before he loved you, then what? Where would you be? What if his love for you hinged on yours for him, then what? If your purpose in life and ministry is to be loved, you aren’t fit to serve the church. Indeed, you won’t serve. It’s impossible to serve. Why I say that is simple: you don’t understand the gospel.  You might be able to articulate it. But you don’t live it or know it, not as you should. Here’s a prayer request for us, for this church: Pray there be no disconnects between the gospel we profess and the gospel we live WITH EACH OTHER.
That ‘God so loved the world …’ doesn’t mean God so loved because the world was loveable. Nor does it mean God so loved the world to make much of the world.  God loved the world, not so the world would make much of itself, not because the world is worthy of being made much of, but God so loved the world, you and I, that it, you and I, would make much of Him. And making much of him includes walking so as to please him. Increasingly.
 
What Makes Love Christian
So, I ask the question (because all loves aren’t equal):
 

What makes love, Christian love?

 
Now, concerning brotherly love…”
 
Christian love is a special affection.
The object of its affection is the church, fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, i.e. the saints, not the ‘aints.’ Romans 12.10- “Love one another with brotherly affection.” This is what’s in view here in 4.9. Like Christ’s own, special love for the church, those who love Him love others who love Him above all others. This is a special, peculiar, and even discriminating love. It’s a covenant love, one that binds two parties to each other at the exclusion of all others, namely those who do not love Christ.
And so we must ask the question, whether or not we love the saints, even the ones with whom we share this room week after week. We must not look outside our own walls with this. That would be far too easy; that kind of thing only leads to self-deception. We flatter ourselves when we look at our spiritual heroes and say, ‘Yes, I love them. I do in fact love the saints, even with great affection.” We must not do that sort of thing. We are who we are with whom we are and nothing more. There is good reason for the church. I think humility is part of the reason, to keep us from thinking too highly of ourselves. When alone, we tend to think we’re hot stuff. But put me in a group, not so much. Loving the brethren is easy from a distance, but being in the same room with them tells the true story.
 
Christian love is also an action.
Paul makes it clear to us. The saints to whom he writes loved each other with a love that ‘did.’ Verse 10 makes it explicit. Love is more than affection; it’s affection unto action. Love is a doing (verse 10). Love is a labor (chapter 1 verse 3).
When placed within the larger context of Scripture, why this must be a matter for self-examination becomes clear. It surely is reason for sober evaluation of our own church when we consider how the NT church was marked by love. Just look at this church in Macedonia. It oozed love. Their souls were knit together. Their souls touched. And theirs was a love that did in fact reach past their own to the brethren in all Macedonia. Theirs was a love that no doubt saw wallets opened, money given, and various wants met. I wonder if their church looked anything at all like the Acts 2 church, selling their belongings, giving the proceeds to all in need.  Don’t confuse this with socialism. Socialism is forced distribution of wealth by law, not Spirit-led fulfillment of and obedience to the law of Christ (i.e., the Spirit). There’s a galaxy-wide chasm between the two.
 
Christian love is crucial.
… brotherly love…” Jesus commands it. The true church is marked by it. And the Apostle belabors the necessity of it. You recall last Sunday: “If I speak in the tongues men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong….And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” You understand what Paul’s saying here don’t you. Even if someone is a ‘spiritual hotshot,’ if he doesn’t have love, he’s zilch, a big fat, annoying zero. It doesn’t matter what he’s got to say or offer. It doesn’t matter if he can out-preach John Piper. It doesn’t matter if he can pray like an angel. It doesn’t matter if he’s got the evangelistic touch; people will just cover their ears and tune him out. He’s useless in the church. In fact, he may not even be part of the church. He may not be united to Christ by faith. Those in Christ are those in whom Christ dwells. And those in whom Christ dwells love; that is, if they aren’t quenching the Spirit.
 
Christian love is foundational.
That is, love for the brethren is elementary. It’s the ABCs of the faith. It’s spiritual kindergarten. If we don’t love our brethren, it doesn’t matter if we understand the more difficult stuff, things like the ‘ins and outs’ of the covenants, or the wonders of God’s sovereignty, or how OT types foreshadow the Apex of redemptive history, and even the doctrines of grace!  ‘If we understand everything in the Bible…but have not love … we’ll be a symphonic headache to all.’ That’s not a concert anyone wants to … attend.  But here’s why love is foundational and why I say its spiritual kindergarten: 1 John 3.11 – “This is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” From the very beginning, on the first day of class, love of the brethren was the subject, why? It was something Jesus said, right? “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13.35).
Concerning brotherly love: It’s affection and action. It’s crucial and it’s foundational. Next…[and this is really a freeing, encouraging thing]  
Human teachers can’t effectually teach it.
I can preach it ‘til I’m blue in the face. But ‘nothing’ just might be the result. Zippo. Zilch. Nada. No preacher or teacher can make anyone love anybody. No preacher or teacher can force the issue. In fact, if it’s so forced it isn’t love. It’s self-evident: external realities (like a preacher, a word captured in ink, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a pastor, or even a law or commandment) cannot make us love. Those things do not create the loving affections that lead to loving actions, even sacrificial and self-denying actions.  The only reality that can effectually teach love for the brethren is one that dwells within. The only law which effects what it commands is a law written not on paper, but inscribed on the human heart.
Paul writes: “Now concerning brotherly love, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you have been taught by God to love the brethren, [how does he know they’ve been taught by God?] for that indeed is what you are doing…” The proof is in the fruit!!! The proof is in the doing, not the imagination.  God is the teacher, not any man/woman. If he’s in us, if he dwells in us, we will love. Let’s be clear on this. This is why the law is obsolete. This is why believers are not under law. It isn’t because less is expected. It isn’t because righteousness and pleasing God are things tossed out the window. Believers aren’t under law because what the law cannot do, God does!!! God creates a loving which even far surpasses the dim shadow etched on tablets of stone.
Let me anchor this deep in the rich soil of the New Covenant. Then we’ll ask the ‘so what’ question and apply this to us.
 
The Apostle and the Prophets
We need to back up just a bit to the last phrase in verse 8 where Paul writes that God ‘gives his Holy Spirit to you.’ What the prophets speak of as future, the apostle deems present, fulfilled.  Just listen to Ezekiel. Listen for the Spirit talk and the holiness talk and the causing obedience talk: “It is not for your sake…that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name…And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned amongst the nations … And the nations will know that I am the Lord…when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes… I will put my Spirit within you, and cause (not enable, or empower) you to walk [sounds like 1st Thessalonians, doesn’t it) in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36.22-27). Ezekiel promises the Spirit. Paul applies the fulfillment of that promise to the church. God “gives the Holy Spirit to you.”
Next up is this phrase: “…for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another…” To be taught by God means God Himself, through absolutely no human agency (like a teacher), so taught so as to cause results. God taught them to love each other. So, they loved each other! They had no need for a lesser teacher, like the apostle.
This is also a New Covenant blessing foretold by the prophets. Jesus says this himself in John 6.45. ‘It is written in the Prophets,’ he says, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Jesus simply cites Isaiah 54.13 which says “All your children [i.e. Sarah’s children, the free woman, remember Galatians 4!] shall be taught by the Lord.” Everyone in the New Covenant has been taught by God to love each other. Therefore they love each other! It’s not “if only he did this” or “when she does that, then,”; this is not natural, it’s supernatural. It’s spiritual. It’s of God!
 
Towards Application
So, now the question: “So what?” What do we do with this? Answer: Probably a million things. But here’s one thing: What does it look like, what would it look like for us to love each other ‘more and more?’ Answer: Probably a million things. But let’s start with perhaps two or three things [in no particular order].
 
Washing Each Others Feet
First, we can wash each other’s feet. You know the scene-

13 Now nbefore othe Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that phis hour had come qto depart out of this world to the Father, rhaving loved shis own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when tthe devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing uthat the Father had given all things into his hands, and that vhe had come from God and wwas going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, xtied it around his waist. Then he ypoured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him12 When he had washed their feet and hput on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, i“Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 jYou call me kTeacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, lyou also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, mthat you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, na servant3 is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, oblessed are you if you do them.”

 
A few observations-
(1) This was ‘Before the Feast of the Passover,’ the meal during which the Lord instituted what we call the Lord’s Supper. I think that is significant.
(2) We can literally wash each other’s feet, but not do what Jesus did. What Jesus did was stoop to a crappy, smelly place and did something reserved for the household peon! That’s what he did! That’s what the King of kings did!  Humble service? Those words only begin to describe what happened. And you know what the kicker is! It gets far worse before it’s all over; which is more than good for us.  But before that, consider observation…
(3) Jesus washed Judas’ feet, the one who betrayed him with a kiss.
 
So, loving more and more actually means getting lower and lower. Verse 31, same chapter:
 

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, n“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and oGod is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, pGod will also glorify him in himself, and qglorify him at once. 33 Little children, ryet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just sas I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 tA new commandment uI give to you, vthat you love one another: wjust as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

 
Humble service: it can take a million forms. It may not always look like much. Sometimes it even looks like denying our wants and needs and giving others space and time for any number of reasons.
 
Genuine Forgiveness  
Second, loving more and more means forgiving more and more. The opposite of love is not out and out hate necessarily. Listen to Leviticus 19.18-

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but [the word indicating contrast/opposite] you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Translation: We can’t be grudging and be loving at the same time. It don’t work that way. It’s one or the other.  Two Scriptures to press the seriousness of this –
 

Matthew 6: 14-15. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 sbut if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Sounds like holding a grudge is risky stuff, to say the very least.
 

Ephesians 4.32. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, iforgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

How did God in Christ forgive us? Well, for starters, he did so fully, completely, and even at tremendous personal cost. He gave what? His one and only Son. There’s only one Jesus in the entire universe. Which makes him priceless to God. But he gave of Himself! That’s what forgiveness requires. You don’t keep yourself. You give yourself. You let go of you. You let go of the countless trillions of wrongs done against you. If God in Christ forgave your brother or sister, what’s your problem? Don’t you think it’s a wee bit arrogant to hold from your sister what God doesn’t? Who has been offended more? Who is holier? You, or God?
 
Being Honest with Each Other
Third, and this is simple and maybe not so much. Be honest. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. Speak truth in love. Are we hiding from each other? Let’s be honest. Can I be honest? …
 

[Section deleted as it concerns local issues]

 
…The Biblical solution is this: Since “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4.18), the answer lies not with us, but with God.  The fruit of the Spirit is love. And so I commend us all to Him. He is the solution. The Law of Christ is the answer.
Two quotes, a Scripture, and I’m done.
Two Quotes
The first quote is a challenge to me. I simply pass it on to you for your help. It comes from one Samuel Bolton.
 

“Things impossible to others are easy to them that love…Love is an affection that refuses to be put off by duties or difficulties which come between it and the person loved.”

 
So, the question is ‘Do we love each other enough to work out our difficulties?’ That is the question.
 
The second quote comes from Tullian Tchividjian:

“Because Jesus has done everything for me, I can do everything for you without needing you to do anything for me.”

Is this not how God in Christ forgave us? He did everything for us without needing us to do anything in return. You know what that is? That’s GRACE!! So, let’s be gracious with each other more and more.
 
Conclusion
What the church needs now, not the world, is love.  “Now concerning vbrotherly love wyou have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been xtaught by God yto love one another, 10 for that indeed is what zyou are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to ado this more and more…”
 
 
 

The LORD your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love…

(Zeph. 3.17)

 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]

Part Two: Living for the Pleasure of God

 

Sanctification & Sex


1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
 

Introduction
With these words, the apostle turns from expressing affection for the Thessalonians, from rejoicing over them, to giving them instruction. And it must be clear: Paul isn’t writing to everyone without exception. Paul writes to a very specific group. This is so basic and obvious; and yet it isn’t. It must be emphasized. It must be underscored. It must even be repeated again and again. Those to whom Paul writes are those to whom the Gospel came in power and the Holy Spirit. It came not in word only. It came with power, clothed in the Holy Spirit. Lives were truly transformed from the inside out. People loved Christ so much they became the targets of hatred. They no longer loved what everyone around them loved. They were different. They were the church in Thessalonica! And as that church, two characteristics marked it: (1) The way they behaved (i.e., their walk, what they actually did, not merely what they said) pleased God, (2) they loved their brothers and sisters.
That’s what Christians do. They’re obedient in that they please God. They’re obedient in that they love the brethren. These are heart things, not things of the ‘head.’ The faith that saves does involve the intellect. There are facts, Gospel facts, to be believed.  But that’s not all. Saving faith involves the will; and it involves feelings. Facts are believed. Wills are changed. Wills are dramatically changed. And hearts are turned. There are new and real, consequential affections for God and His people.
In keeping with this, Paul gives two exhortations in this passage.
 
Exhortation (1): Please God more and more (v.1).

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.”

Believers then, are to walk in a certain way. But believers are often better at talking the walk than actually walking the walk. I won’t belabor this. But I do wonder if there is a ‘disconnect,’ a grand chasm actually, between what is often said, and even ‘liked,’ and what is applied and lived.
But there’s something else here we need to mark. These believers were in fact pleasing God. Their walk delighted Him. The way they behaved evidently brought God pleasure. It isn’t that they were doing so with perfection. Otherwise, there would be no need for urging them to do so ‘more and more.’ But believers evidently can please God and do please God.
Why I say this is simple. Much Reformed thought breeds nothing but gloom and doom and defeat in this area. ‘We can’t do it,’ ‘We’re nothing but no-good sinners, even wretched men’ is the message. And that’s what Reformed thought begets, misery and miserable people. It isn’t that believers are sinless. That would be far too much to say. But that believers are without the ability to please God is equally too much to say.
 
Grounds for the exhortation (vv.2,3,7):
Why Paul urges these believers to please God more and more, or better, the grounds upon which he buttresses his exhortation are 3-fold (not 2-fold like I said 2 weeks ago).

  • First, it agrees with previous instruction from God. Verse 2 makes this clear. His exhortation agrees with divine revelation. It also makes equally clear that Paul was telling them nothing new: “For you know what instructions we gave you …” he says. What he’s about to tell them, there’s nothing novel about it. It’s going to be the same old same old. His instruction, his moral instruction, will not have changed. What he said when he proclaimed the Gospel to them will be in keeping with what he now says. No bait and switch tactics here. Just consistency. And obviously, Paul’s evangelism covered more than much than what modern evangelism covers. He gave instruction concerning how one ought to walk, not just what he ought to pray. But we can’t pursue that now.
  • Second, it agrees with the will of God. Please God more and more, verse 3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”  We’ll come back to this.
  • Third, it agrees with the calling of God. Please God more and more, verse 7, “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” The word rendered holiness here in verse 7 is the same word rendered ‘sanctification’ in verse 3. This is why God saves you. God calls whomever He calls to make them holy, to make them godly, grave, pious, pursuing righteousness, holiness, obedience, purity in all things, to make them Christ-like, to make them like Himself. That’s why God calls sinners. So while we may come as we are, do not think it’s okay to stay as we are. If we remain where we were when we came, we really didn’t come. God’s sanctifying presence obligates holiness. It requires change. It will happen.

 
Sanctification: What it is
Sanctification: what is it? I want to dwell on this a bit. Well, first of all, sanctification, or a believer’s holiness, is the will of God. God desires, He wills, that believers be holy, that they walk and conduct themselves in a way worthy of Him. “God’s sanctifying presence means [believers] must be holy” (TJD). It’s bound to happen. God wills this. God does this. He causes, by His indwelling, sanctifying, holiness-producing presence, personal holiness. This is God’s work. It’s fully His work. Scripture teaches this (This is surely good news!): “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it(1 Thess. 5.23-24).
In 2 Thess. 2:13, Paul is abundantly clear: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” Sanctification is by the Spirit of God. Again, Paul writing to the Romans chapter 15 and verses 15-16: “But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
It’s so very clear. God sanctifies. It’s His work. It isn’t that believers aren’t active in it; they are. They’re very active. But they’re active because of God’s sanctifying presence, a presence that compels sanctified choices and holy walks and righteous behaviour.
Sanctification, secondly, is a heaven or hell doctrine.  Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12.14). So, this is not something we can afford to ignore or treat with indifference as if inconsequential. Eternity is at stake.
 
Sanctification & Sex
Now, Paul further defines sanctification, applying it to sex. He describes it in three ways: (1) abstaining from fornication, from any and all forms of sexual expression outside the marriage bed, (2) controlling oneself, exercising self-control, not walking around like a baboon in heat, not in the passion of lust like those who don’t know God. Those who know God know how to control themselves sexually. In fact, I do not think it’s too much to say sexual immorality is the ‘typical manifestation of a Christless existence” (TJD). When the apostle says that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” he speaks not of an act performed or mere head knowledge. He instead speaks of a state or power, an acquired power.
It’s the same kind of thing, the same kind of knowing, that he speaks of when he said he knew how to be content in all circumstances, whether he was in plenty or want. He knew how, i.e. he was able, to be content no matter what. It’s the same kind of thing he spoke of when giving Timothy instruction concerning eldership. If a man does not know how to manage his own household, then he’s not qualified for eldership in God’s household, the church. Ability is the issue here, the ability to take care of things in the lesser before assuming the greater. And then there’s this illustration given by Peter. He writes in his second epistle chapter 2 verse 9: “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.” To know in these contexts is to have a power, an ability, to do something, like knowing how to control one’s own body in holiness and honor. This isn’t a one-time act (like getting a wife), but a continuous, habitual state.
This is why we must exult in not just what God has done for us, but also what He does in us – if in fact the Spirit of Christ dwells in you. God’s presence is a sanctifying presence. What He wills He causes, even in a triple X, ‘R’ rated world. To those who receive the word of God as the Word of God – and not like some magazine article or other religious commentary or even newspaper- to those who so receive it, it works in them. The word works in those in whom God dwells. That’s power. That’s consequential, fruit-bearing, holiness-producing, gospel power.
There’s a third aspect to this. It’s conveyed to us in the 6th verse, namely “that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter.” (1) Abstinence, (2) self-control, & (3) that a brother, or sister, be not sinned against: There’s a corporate aspect to sexual sin. Sexual impurity affects more than one or two people. At the very least, it affects three people. At the most, it of course affects the entire human race. But somewhere in between it affects an entire fellowship of believers. A little leaven leavens, or pollutes, or influences, the entire loaf, the whole body.
My point is simply this: no man’s an island to himself.
There’s a ripple effect, sometimes a massive tidal wave, that goes with even one act of impurity. With adultery, a man or woman wrongfully takes what isn’t theirs. A man sins against his brother by robbing him of his wife. And she herself gives away what isn’t hers to give away.  With pre-marital sex, there’s a giving and taking of that which rightfully belongs to a future husband or wife. Boy says ‘I love you.’ Girl says the same. Boy says ‘Prove it.’ These are selfish acts. These are acts, fruits of unbridled passion by those who get what they want, who aren’t walking by the Spirit IF they in fact know the God of Scripture.
And Paul underscores the gravity of the issue here when he reminds us that God is an avenger in all these things (v.6). God punishes the sexually immoral. He avenges, that is He carries out His wrath on the evildoer.  “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13.4) Why? It’s because God is both just and holy.
But listen to this: The more I studied this the more convinced I became that the way to read this phrase in context is not so much as a warning (though it is that to be sure) but as cause and reason to further rejoice in God. Read the whole passage, pay close attention to the small connecting words like ‘for,’ and this is what you get: God wills our sanctification to save us from Himself! From the top: The exhortation: Please God more and more. The ground: for this is the will of God, your holiness. The description: that…that…that… The bottom line: because God is an avenger in all these things.  God wills our sanctification, i.e. He causes it to happen, why? To save us from His avenging self!
 
Conclusion: Ignoring this exhortation equals rejecting God Himself (v.8).
Then Paul comes to a conclusion. Verse 8:  “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” I can do no better than simply echo the words of two others here. The first comes from William Stevens:

“Do not think how you can justify yourselves to us: it is no human authority that you will impugn [call into question] and challenge by disobedience, but that of God himself. A reminder of what is much insisted on in these epistles, that the apostles were not the bearers of their own or any human message, but of a direct revelation from God” (W.A. Stevens).

Ignore Paul’s exhortation equals a rejection of God Himself. We defy God when we ignore and disobey the apostles. From the top again: Please God more and more for what we exhort is in keeping with our previous instruction from God, agrees with the will of God, and with the calling/purpose of God. Therefore, disregard this and you disregard Him.
Second quote is from Sinclair Ferguson:

‎”Those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on [its] spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about itself and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety [be] nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ” (Sinclair Ferguson).

That is absolutely splendid.  God gives believers the Holy Spirit. Which is to say He gives us Himself; and not just as a one time shot. This is, as Sinclair rightfully says, ‘ongoing.’ ‘God GIVES [present tense which means continuous action] His Holy Spirit to you.’ So, the implications are obvious aren’t they? Focus on self, and you’re dead in the water. Focus on Christ and His life, the one that is yours by faith, the one that indwells each and every believer, and fruit happens. But there has to be this death of self first, even a crucifixion. “I have been crucified with Christ, said Paul. “And it’s no longer I who live but Christ lives in me…” This is true of everyone who receives the Word of God as the word of God, who has turned from idols to serve the living and true God.
 
Application
There are a number of directions we could go from this point. I’ll just say this much: free sex is a god. It’s an idol. It’s an idol because it’s really the worship of the creature rather than the Creator. It’s an idol because at the center of it it’s all about self.  It’s all about me. And it’s not something that is exclusive to the world. I need not tell you it’s infected the church. It always has. There’s good reason Paul speaks of it as much as he does. Sexual immorality in fact takes pride of place in all his lists of sins; it’s first up. It’s first up because it’s a big issue; it’s a major, and even defining issue. It always has been. I agree that it’s the blazing battle between the City of God, the Church, and the City of Man, the Satanic realm of darkness, his playground with all kinds of “attractions”.
Sex is used everyday. It sells. It begs for and grabs our attention. And it’s no longer a question whether or not an unmarried couple are sleeping together; it’s just assumed. After all, they love each other. Love is the justification for all kinds of immorality, isn’t it. Premarital sex, extra-marital affairs, and even homosexuality and I suppose polygamy would fit in there.
But there doesn’t have to be any such justification for sex. All there needs to be is a desire for it; Sex, so-called casual sex, friends with benefits, sex with no strings attached, emotion, or consequences. I was struck yesterday when I read an excerpt from one of MacArthur’s sermons. Let me share with you here:

“The extent to which that satanic system will go for freedom to commit sexual sin is nowhere better seen than in abortions. We read about murders and we read about killings all the time, but just remember this, ninety-nine percent of all murders in the U.S. are abortions. That’s how much we want our sexual freedom. People are willing to murder to maintain it. As one writer put it, “Abortion is the willingness to kill for the sake of the willingness to copulate.” That’s it. So here we are in this society redefining love in connection with its sexual demands and sexual freedoms and nothing could be further from a proper understanding. In fact, it’s exactly what Ephesians 5 expects, that instead of the real thing, the world is going to come along and substitute immorality, impurity, driving lust, filthiness, silly talk, coarse jesting, all the dirty talk that goes with a sexually oriented, promiscuous culture.”

It’s so painfully true. But sinners put their babies on the altars of the sex god. The voice of the flesh does in fact say: “Take your sexual fulfillment. If you don’t like the consequences, kill it” (JFM). I cannot think of a more unloving, selfish act… I’ve never stepped foot inside an abortion clinic. But I gather many professing Christian females have.  “Now the works of the flesh are evident: (first up) sexual immorality.” Why not kill the flesh and not the baby? Why not let the baby live and kill the flesh? Answer: The flesh! The sinful desire to please self, not God! But then again, having the baby may equally be about self, since it does put mom in the spotlight, at least for a time. It’s so messed up and twisted.
Nothing in all this resembles love, not even for a nanosecond. It’s really all about the ‘ego,’ the self, getting what one wants at the expense of another.  In fact, the very opposite of such impurity is charity, i.e., love.  First, Paul speaks of chastity. And beginning with the 9th verse he turns to charity.  Both are under the umbrella of pleasing God.  But charity will have to wait for next time. That God would press these things on our hearts unto our growth in holiness is enough for now. Let there be much repentance where required. And let there be a ton of focusing on the God who gives us His Holy Spirit that we not be exhausted, but nourished, feeding on the source of all true piety. Amen.
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]