Sunday, July 29, 2018

All Hands On Deck: Obedient Hands -2 Tim. 3:16-17

In our technological world of smartphones and high-speed internet, it is easy to become consumed with trends that constantly call into question how effectively we are living our lives. This gadget promises to improve your efficiency, this one promises to give you an accurate reading of your health, this new model runs more programs at once, this app can tell you what movies someone with your personality would like to view. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, this predisposition to the “latest and greatest” in our technological world has infiltrated the church. In some circles, ministry is not viewed as effective unless it incorporates these three new ideas, worship services must have these new songs in order to be relevant, and buildings must have a coffee shop feel to attract new followers to Christ, etc. Although there is a proper place for innovation and change in the church, there are those things that I believe are unchanging priorities that should be involved any ministry strategy. We have already looked at a couple of them in our series (corporate worship and prayer) and defended their legitimacy from Scripture. These priorities are foundational to the mission of God. However, today we examine another component of our mission’s strategy that proves equally foundational to the success of our mandate—obedience to the Word of God. After all, the Word of God is the very reason we know that corporate worship and relationships are important to the mission of God. In fact, we would not know the mission of God in the first place (to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to the world) without the Word of God! If corporate worship identifies the crew on board the ship that is the church and prayer is the communication between the captain and that crew, then the Word of God might be compared to the ever-important orders given from high command delineating the specifics of where our ship is to go and what it is to do. The crews’ obedience to such commands is imperative! Therefore, today we are going to take a look at what the Word of God says about itself from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and how this should inspire obedient hands as we seek to accomplish our God-given mission here at Crystal Spring Baptist Church.


Having served the Lord faithfully for many years through world travels, church-planting, mentoring young ministers, and prolific letter-writing, Paul pens 2 Timothy from the perspective of a seasoned and trial-tested apostle. However, at this point in Paul’s ministry, he is nearing the end, awaiting his execution in prison for his persistence in sharing the gospel. In spite of his precarious position, Paul finds it in himself to take advantage of the opportunity he has to write one more letter to his “son in the faith.” Throughout this letter, we get a sense of the paternal connection Paul had with this young minister in Ephesus as he speaks candidly and communicates a litany of encouragements that are not unlike what a father might share with his son upon nearing the end of his life. Interestingly, Paul’s complex writing style is simplified in this letter. However, though his words lack the embellishment that other letters contain, Paul’s words are no less profound.

Immediately before 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul has made several comments concerning the Scripture’s effect on Timothy’s life. In light of the difficult times Timothy would face, Paul draws attention to the firm convictions upon which this young minister stood, saying, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of,…” (3:14). Truly, Timothy had learned the gospel and its demands from a sterling groups of teachers (including Paul himself). These instructors had not only taught him the gospel’s message, but they also assured him of its truthfulness. Also, from a young boy, Timothy had been instructed in the “sacred writings” and had, as a result, apprehended “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (3:15).

After having commented on the effect the Scriptures had on Timothy’s life, Paul is compelled to let Timothy know that the Scriptures can be trusted and that he “need not search out new novelties on which he might squander his energies but to remain in the truths he had learned” (Lea and Griffin, 233).  This is why Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (3:16). However, what is Paul referring to when he says “Scripture”? Up to this point, only the Old Testament existed as an accepted grouping of divine texts. Is Paul only suggesting that these 39 books are inspired? Paul’s words seem to be broader than this. In fact, elements of the New Testament were already being circulated in the early church by this time and were regarded by those that used them as God’s authoritative word. Therefore, Paul is saying “all writings that are Scripture are inspired by God.” One commentator has said, “if we affirm that each part of Scripture is inspired, we come eventually to assert that its entire content is inspired.” Through the miracle of progressive revelation, what Paul said about all Scripture that came before him, applies to all that would come after he penned these famous words.

But what does it mean for Scripture to be “inspired”? “Inspired” in Greek is an amalgamation of two words qeoV (God) and pneustoV (breath). This is where the term, “God-breathed” comes from in some translations. To be “God-breathed” means that the Scriptures have their origin in the mind of God and are given through those that He has appointed to write them down all under control of the Holy Spirit. This is what distinguishes the Bible from all other texts.

God breathed life into man, rendering us distinct from all other creatures and His representation (icon) on the earth. Similarly, God breathed His message to the world, distinguishing the Scriptures from all other writings as the representation of His plan through words.

That the Scriptures are “inspired” means that they are from God, and therefore totally trustworthy. However, it also means that they are incredibly useful.

Paul delineates the Scriptures’ usefulness for Timothy, a young and promising minister, in order that he might put the Scriptures to good use in His church and ministry. First, Paul suggests that the Scriptures are “profitable for teaching.” This means that Scripture is a positive source of Christian doctrine. Because of the proliferation of heresy in the early church, Paul emphasized the importance of good teaching (using the term “teaching” no less than 15 times in the Pastoral Epistles). Against all of the heresy in the world, and in contrast to all of the falsities of inferior belief systems, the Bible as God’s inspired Word is useful in that it provides the true knowledge about God and the world through the various doctrines it presents (Creation, Redemption, Sin, Man, etc.).  Do you want to know what to believe? Look no further than the Word of God.

The second way in which the Scripture can be used is “for reproof” or “rebuke” (3:16c). This term means to expose error, whether in wrong teaching or in one’s personal life. Therefore, Scripture is able to expose failures, clarify mistakes, and point the way out of sin. No other book can do this! Only God’s inspired word convicts the misguided and disobedient of their errors and restores them to the right path.

Thirdly, Paul says that the Scriptures are useful “for correction” (3:16d). This is the first of two positive ways in which the Scriptures can be utilized. “This term, ‘correction,’ used only here in the New Testament, suggests that Scripture helps individuals restore their doctrine or personal practice to a right state before God” (Lea and Griffin, 237). What a great grace the Word of God is, for it not only exposes shortcomings, but points the way to correction. 

One other way in which the Bible is useful is “for training in righteousness” (3:16e) –that is moral training for righteous living. “Training” denotes a system of discipline that a parent might use to teach a child Christian character. Applied to the Scriptures, the Word itself provides a system of discipline that encourages holiness. The Word of God might be likened to dumbbells in the gym of sanctification as it provides the work out necessary for the believers to get into spiritual shape.
Paul desires for Timothy to understand the incredible authority and usefulness of the Word of God so that He might take full advantage of it in his life and ministry. Its inspiration is timeless and its usefulness gives it eternal relevance.

Think of a Swiss Army Knife. This timeless tool, though a singular object, has many different applications (a spoon, a knife, a screw, a toothpick, etc.). These tools are also timeless and will never be out of date. We will always eat with spoons, have use for knives, and get food stuck in our teeth. It is a timeless and useful tool in the wilderness. A similar treatment might be given to “irreplaceable” smart phones complete with all of their necessary apps. The same can be said of the Word of God on a much deeper level. Though a single book, it has many different applications (teaching, reproof, correction, and training) that will never become obsolete. This renders it an essential tool for the believer as he or she lives and ministers in this wicked world.

What do all these applications yield in the life of the believer? The answer is found as Paul communicates the purpose of the Word of God to Timothy in verse 17.


One of the reasons that the Word of God has been given with all of these applications is “so that the man of God may be adequate” (3:17). This is a veiled reference to Timothy himself, rendering this a very personal encouragement to a close friend. Paul wants Timothy to make the most of the Word of God and all it has to offer so that He might be adequate to the task that he has been given in the church that he leads in Ephesus.

This principle applies to all disciples in their own ministries. Whether God has called upon a disciple to pastor a church, minister to a shut-in, or faithfully serve in the church, all disciples have been called to a task(s) in their lives that they are not prepared for in and of themselves. The Word of God’s teaches what their task might be, rebukes them when they fail to complete it or veer from it, corrects them back to it, and trains them for it in the first place. Therefore, the Word of God is the educational, disciplinary, correctional, and training system through which each disciple is prepared for his or her calling.

However, just because the Bible sits there on a dusty coffee table or leans on a populated bookshelf does not mean that it is effective in this endeavor. Notice the mood of the verb “may be” before “adequate.” Though the Bible is a powerful and life-changing resource, it must be read, studied, obeyed, and applied for it to make a man or a woman of God adequate to the task they have been handed. The Bible’s usefulness is dependent on the believer’s acquisition, apprehension, and application of it.

What does it mean to be “adequate” for the task at hand? Thankfully, Paul gives the answer to Timothy when he says, “equipped for every good work” (3:17). The implied idea here is that if Timothy would “nurture his spiritual life in the Scriptures…, he would be fully qualified and prepared to undertake whatever task God put before him” (Lea and Griffin, 238). It would prove tragic for Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus if he was not spiritually prepared for the task at hand, especially since he had everything he needed to prepare himself in the Scriptures.

The same is true of believers today in their own lives and ministries. When believers fail to obey the Word of God and take advantage of all it has to offer, they will ultimately find themselves ill-prepared for the world in which they live. This would be similar to a student taking a final exam without every reading the textbook, a pianist at a recital without ever rehearsing, or an individual at the starting line of a marathon without ever having trained. A student cannot hope to do well unless he has studied. A musician cannot hope to sound pleasing unless he or she has practiced. A runner cannot hope to finish a marathon without proper training. Similarly, a believer cannot be expected to be used of God to do good works in any meaningful way unless he or she obeys God’s Word.

So What?

The Word of God, according to Paul, is not only a resource to be used to know God, it is a transformative agent that God uses to help believers grow in Him so that they might be used of God to show good works to the world (Know, Grow, and Show). This is reiterative by what the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:12—“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart..” Perhaps this is why Paul tells Timothy elsewhere to “Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season, reprove,  rebuke, and exhort with  great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).

If Timothy took full advantage of all that the Bible is and does, he could expect to be adequate to the task God called upon him to perform in the world and equipped for every corresponding good work. This was Paul’s wish for his “son in the faith.” This is also God’s wish for every believer. The Bible is God’s timeless and useful message in all situations. It will never become obsolete and will never loose staying power. Truly, the Word of God is not only the manual for survival in the life of every believer and every church, it contains God’s divinely-inspired mission details so that the church might accomplish its task on the high seas of this dying culture.  Its applications never need updating, it never needs to be replaced by a newer model, will never run the risk of crashing, and requires no warranty. When was the last time you immersed yourself in its pages, meditated on its words, and studied its passages?

Obedience to the word of God is essential to the task of the church, for the mission of God is one of the Word of God’s commands. How well you are obeying God’s Word can be directly connected to how well you are pursuing the mission of God in this world and how effective a crew-member you are while on board the ship that is the church.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

All Hands on Deck: Praying Hands-Matt. 6:7-13

Johnny had been misbehaving and was sent to his room. After a while he emerged and informed his mother that he had thought it over and then said a prayer. "Fine", said the pleased mother. "If you ask God to help you not misbehave, He will help you." "Oh, I didn't ask Him to help me not misbehave," said Johnny. "I asked Him to help you put up with me." Does what we pray for really matter? Does how we pray make any difference? Last week we took a look at how integral corporate worship was to accomplishing the mission that God has given our church of knowing Christ, growing in Christ, and showing Christ to others. Today we are going to this new series “All Hands on Deck” by examining what is perhaps the most important biblically-prescribed component of the strategy for the mission to which God has us—prayer. You might say that last week we learned about the significance of meeting together; this week we will learn one of the most significant things we ought to be doing during those meetings. However, don’t take my word for it!

John Wesley said “Prayer is where the action is” because “God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.”

This is why S. D. Gordon suggested “The greatest thing anyone can do for God or man is pray” and why Chuck Smith concluded “the most important thing a born again Christian can do it to pray.”

And yet, in spite of this, J. Hudson Taylor argues “the prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity. If we want to see mighty wonders of divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, ‘Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not!”

Andrew Murray believed that the man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history.” Perhaps this is why, according to R. A. Torry, “When the devil sees a man or woman who really believes in prayer, who knows how to pray, and who really does pray, and, above all, when he sees a whole church on its face before God in prayer, he trembles as much as he ever did, for he knows that his day in that church or community is at an end”

Perhaps this is why, as Andrew Bonar comments, “The Prince of the power of the air seems to bend all the force of his attack against the spirit of prayer.” After all, Satan does not care how many people read about prayer it only he can keep them from praying.”

Is Satan winning the battle against prayer in your life? In this church? May it never be! “Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing necessary….Pray, then my dear brother; pray, pray, pray” (Edward Payson). “The true Church lives and moves and has its being in prayer” (Leonard Ravenhill).

If the church is the ship and Christ is the captain, then prayer is the all-important communication system between the control room and crew. Success in the mission to which we are called as crew members on the tumultuous sea of the this world is directly dependent on the quality of communication with our captain and His will for our vessel. Put another way, your capacity to be used in God’s kingdom building work and the capacity of this church to be used in the hands of God is directly dependent on the prayer life of its members.

So how do we do it?

Thankfully, the disciples of the New Testament asked a prayer expert this same question some 2000 years ago and Jesus’ answer was recorded for us in Matthew 6:7-15. Let’s turn there and look at two sets of instructions concerning prayer so that we might learn how to put our praying hands to the best use as we persevere on the high seas of this lost world.

INSTRUCTION SET #1: Don’ts (Improper Prayer Content)-6:7-8

In an effort to describe what prayer is not, Jesus observes the practice of many Gentiles in his day—“ And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (6:7). Prayer in the Non-Jewish world was often characterized by formal invocations and magical incantations in which the correct repetition counted more than the worshipper’s attitude or motivation. The verb for “don’t use” in this verse literally means the utterance of non-sensible syllables common to magical incantation in the pagan religions of Jesus’ day (e.g. “to say batta” or “to stammer”). In other words, prayers that become so common and mundane that they look and feel more like repetitive phrases than real conversation are no better than purposeless jibberish.

As already suggested, in the pagan community quantity and ritual was desired more than a broken and dependent heart before God.  Jesus suggests that pagan prayers were given by people who interceded endlessly for fear that their gods might not hear them—“ for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (6:7). Jesus prohibits a thoughtless and mechanical prayer life like. 
Ultimately, the prayers of the pagans depended on phraseology and diction rather than relationship. 
However, when it comes to the captain and his crew, there is a relationship established—a strong one. 

Because believers are friends of God, a deeper prayer life can be enjoyed that takes into consideration the heart and not necessarily what words are being used and how many times they are repeated.
Just imagine how annoying/nonsensical it would be to hear the same thing over and over again. Vain repetitious prayers might sound to God like a Gertrude Stein poem.

“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose
Loveliness extreme.
Extra gaiters,
Loveliness extreme.
Sweetest ice-cream.
Pages ages page ages page ages”

Or this one (because I find her so delightfully outrageous)

“If I told him would he like it. Would he like it if I told him.
Would he like it would Napoleon would Napoleon would would he like it.
If Napoleon if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if Napoleon if
Napoleon if I told him. If I told him if Napoleon if Napoleon if I told him. If I told him would he like it would he like it if I told him.
Not now.
And now.
Exactly as as kings.
Feeling full for it.
Exactitude as kings.
So to beseech you as full as for it.
Exactly or as kings.
Shutters shut and open so do queens. Shutters shut and shutters and so shutters shut and shutters and so and so shutters and so shutters shut
and so shutters shut and shutters and so. And so shutters shut and so and also. And also and so and so and also.”

As outrageous as this sounds, how repetitive do we become in our prayer life? Phrases like “bless this food to the nourishment of our body” or “we praise you and thank you for this day” populate our prayers, often times without us even thinking. Such repetitions mean very little when they hit God’s ears.

Members of God’s crew are to communicate with the captain of their ship in ways that are very different. This is why Christ instructs His disciples—“so don’t be like them” (6:8). Jesus, in guarding toward syncretistic tendencies did not want to have other religions polluting the dynamic prayer life his children are able to have with their heavenly Father.

God’s children need not worry about getting God’s attention with vain repetitions or checking off some kind of prayer quota at church and before meals. After all, as Jesus continues “you father knows what you need before you ask Him” (6:8b). Believers already have God’s attention and He is already aware of their needs. Not only that, this verse reminds those listening in that God wants to give us good gifts; therefore, we need not impress Him with our requests hoping to get a secret formula right or say the right words for the magical spell. God already knows the needs of His own. 

Prayer is not to have repetitious platitudes as its content but should be thoughtfully specific and sincerely genuine. However, understanding what kind of attitude one must have in prayer still doesn’t answer what kinds of things should occupy a disciple’s prayer life. For that we must proceed to the “do’s” of Jesus’ instructions.  

INSTRUCTION SET #2: Dos (Proper Prayer Content)-6:9-15

Jesus continues His teaching to His disciples by saying “Pray then, in this way.” To “pray,…in this way” means to pray thusly or according to the following model. Jesus is not insisting on praying what follows next verbatim as some sort of sacred ritual or liturgy. Rather he is simple providing an outline or model of prayer that is pleasing to God and should be considered as an alternative to pagan prayers.  In speaking to a large crowd of individuals, some of whom would become eventually be recruited as members of the church, Jesus intends that this be a helpful model for disciples both individually and corporately.

The first phrase of the model is “Our Father who is in heaven.” This short phrase illustrates the incredible intimacy God has with His children along with an affirmation of His divine sovereignty. “Our Father” recognizes a couple of things. First, the plural pronoun “our” which is used throughout out the prayer shows that prayer should reflect the needs of the entire body of Christ as it exists in unity in the church. Second, the close relationship God’s children have with the Lord and how believers should consider God as accessible as the most loving parent is exhibited with the word, “Father”. However, “who is in heaven” suggests that God is totally “other” from this world as the creator as He exists from the outside looking in.

Already, one’s prayer life is shown not to be primarily concerned with self. Already, one’s prayer life is shown to reflect a dynamic and personal relationship with an all-powerful God. Are these things that frame our perspective when we bow our knees? Prayer is shown to include a personal address to almighty God, an address that takes time to appreciate who He is and what he is capable of given his special powers and qualities.

Following this opening address are a series of petitions. The first is a petition for God’s person—“Hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (6:9b-10). “Hallowed be your name” celebrates the holiness of God. One cannot convey an attitude of wanting God’s name and reputation to be holy if they are not right with God first. This phrase—“hallowed be You Name” means that the one praying desires to see God truly honored as God in the world today. Such a call for God’s holiness cannot be made by one who is not living in pursuit of holiness themselves.

The next phrase expresses the desire that the acknowledgement of God’s reign and the execution of His purposes take place in this world even as they already do in heaven—“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Such a desire can only be communicated by one who is willing to surrender their ideas/wishes/agendas and allow God the freedom to do whatever His will desires. This is seen in the reference that this prayer makes to the “kingdom.” A subject’s prayer life should be more concerned about how the kingdom of God is moving forward than only what affects them personally. Effective prayers are bigger in scope that the individual praying them. 
Not only should prayer include a personal address to God that appreciates all that he is, but it should also include a time where the crew align themselves with the captain’s ways and will.

Next is a petition for God’s provision—“Give us this day, our daily bread” (6:11). Here again lies the plural pronoun (see 6:9b). Much speculation has arisen as to how the world “daily” should be interpreted. Ultimately, however, there is good evidence to support that this is talking about what is necessary for survival. Basic needs of provision need to be committed to God in prayer. In committing these things to God, crew members aboard His vessel recognize that all sustenance for one’s life comes from God and that he guaranteed whatever provision is necessary for the success of his mission AT PRESENT.

CR: Exodus 16:4-“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them whether or not they will walk in my instruction.’”

Along with an address of who God is and aligning ourselves with His will, prayer should include committing our needs to His control and trusting the outcome to Him.

The next petition is for forgiveness –“And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (6:12). Debts leave behind a stigma and consistent reminder of our slavery that that which we own. In the same way, sin leaves behind the stench of guilt that places a bulwark between us and God. Interestingly, what is desired for here is a reconciling of the relationship between God and man. This is understood however to be preceded by the forgiveness man has already shown to his brother for any offenses.

So far the model includes the following: a personal address to God, time aligning with his will, commitment of one’s needs to the great Provider, and time of confession of sin.

Next is a petition for protection—“ And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (6:13). This phrase is not saying “do not bring us to the place of temptation” or “don’t allow us to be tempted.” God’s Spirit has already done both of these with Jesus (cf. Matt. 4:1). This also does not request that God never tempt because he does not do that anyway (James 1:13). Rather this petition is for the subject to not be abandoned to temptation or to succumb to temptation. While often we do succumb to temptation, it is never because we do not have a way out (1 Cor. 10:13). Therefore, when we do give in, we have no one to blame but ourselves. However, we should not ask for God to withhold the very tests that He allows in our life to bring us to a more mature place spiritually. 
Along with the other ideas mentioned, the prayer of a crew member on board the vessel of the church should include asking God to ready oneself to

So What?

As vital as communication between captain and crew is on every important navy mission so too is communication between believers and their God as they accomplish their own mission. While a ship has cables and radios to aid in their effort to communicate properly, we have been given something greater—prayer.

We learn from this passage that there are things that one should and should not include in his/her prayer life. Vain repetitions or meaningless jargon have no place in the highly personal and powerful prayer life that should be found in all of those in the faith. Such superfluous language demonstrates a lack of faith and low view of the personal prayer life. However, in thinking about what one should pray about, we were able to see that our prayer life, while personal, should not be initially focused with ourselves. Rather our prayers should reflect a high view of God and his activity in not only our lives, but in the life of the entire body of Christ. Likewise, we saw that praise should be included along with committing our personal needs to God in faith and asking for forgiveness from sin. Finally, we saw that prayer should include requesting God’s help to live out the life He has called us to in this world that is full of temptation. In summary, prayer has and upward, inward, and outward component (knowing God, growing in God, and showing God to others) that has everything to do with the Lord’s his agenda and little to do with individual and personal pursuits. These are the things, Jesus advises that we fill our prayer lives with.  

To this we might add that prayer ought to be frequent (1 Thess. 5:14, “pray without ceasing”), collective (Acts 1:14, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer,”) offered in faith (Mark 11:22-24"Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.). It is the cure for anxiety (Philippians 4:6, “be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God”) and a source of healing (James 5:16, “the prayers of the righteous man avails much”). Let’s give ourselves to it church! We must have present hands and praying hands if our mission is to be accomplished! Before we talk about service, before we even mention evangelism, before we talk about the study of God’s Word we must preoccupy ourselves with prayer. “Prayer strikes the winning blow; service is simply picking up the pieces” (S. D. Gordon). “Prayer is the real work, Evangelism is just the mopping up.” "No learning can make up for the failure to pray. No earnestness, no diligence, no study, no gifts will supply its lack" (E.M. Bounds).

Thursday, July 19, 2018

All Hands On Deck: Present Hands-Heb. 10:19-25

Crystal Spring Baptist Church exists so that people will KNOW Christ, GROW in Christ, and SHOW Christ to others. Though this is a clever reflection of the very real biblical mandate for all disciples, a mission statement is merely a goal or intention if it is without a strategy to accomplish it. Therefore, I want to take a few weeks to unpack what the Bible articulates by way of a strategy toward accomplishing this greatest endeavor. 

In order to help us remember the important principles that we will learn as we go along, w are going to conceive of the church in this series as a large ship facing a tumultuous sea—our present culture. For the vessel to continue on in its search and rescue mission  (helping the lost and drowning know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ), the crew is going to need to employ the use of their hands appropriately. Today, we are going to begin in this first installment by looking at present hands—or hand that show up. The hands God has redeemed are not going to be of any use unless they arrive for work! The writer of Hebrews talks about such in Hebrews 10:19-25 when he discusses the phenomenon of corporate worship. Let us turn there now, observe three components of corporate worship, and learn about the importance of having all hands on deck.

I. The Conditions for Corporate Worship-10:19-21 & 22b-c

Hebrews 10:19-22 (which articulates the first component of corporate worship in this passage) is actually one long sentence in the original language. The length of this sentence does not merely emote complexity of thought, it also demonstrates the intensity of the appeal made in its words. The author of Hebrews begins a new section in verse 19 as indicated by “therefore, brethren” and introduces something in response to what has just been discussed. Having explained that Christ is the greatest ever sacrifice and that His sacrifice is sufficient once for all, the author moves to encourage his audience in light of the supremacy of Jesus. To this end, the first encouragement offered concerns an active, vibrant, corporate worship life.

However, before the content of this encouragement is made known, the author establishes the conditions that render corporate worship a possibility in the first place. The author believes that the encouragement he hopes to bring will have more staying power if what has been done to make corporate worship possible is revealed first, “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (10:19). The key word in this passage is “confidence,” meaning “authorization” to enter into the holy place. While before Jesus’ death, the holy place was reserved for the select few who were appointed as high priests, all believers because of Christ’s sacrifice are able to confidently enter into the presence of God because of his blood (emphasized as the last word in the phrase). Though today we often take the free corporate worship of God in His Hebrews presence for granted, for those in this author’s audience, this was a relatively revolutionary idea! Jesus’ blood is the believer’s ticket into the presence of God. Our worship of God is a most wondrous privilege that we can only dream of enjoying because of the most expensive passes ever purchased, salvation through the blood of Jesus.   

The author continues to explain why the believer has confidence to enter into worship of God in verse 20, “by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh…”  Jesus Himself is the “new and living way” through which believers have access to the Father. This idea of Jesus as the “way” evokes the same idea of an entrance or doorway found in John (see John 10:9, 14:6).

John 14:6-“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes unto the Father except through Me.”

John 10:9-"I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture”

A simple illustration of Jesus’ role in creating this confidence before the presence of God might involve a chartered vessel. Because God own the boat and Jesus is its captain, anyone Jesus says is clear to board can do so knowing full well that his/her name appears on the ship’s manifest (having been invited by the one who matters most). I wouldn’t dream of boarding a random vessel and would probably be thrown off as so as I did so if I was not an invited guest of the captain/owner. For the church, God is the owner, Jesus is the captain of the vessel, and every believer’s ticket has been bought and paid for.  Therefore, all can board with confidence!

Confidence is the first condition of our worship. Disciples worship in part because they have confidence in the presence of almighty God through the blood of Jesus Christ. There is no true worship of God without confidence in His presence.

However, not only has Jesus purchased our tickets and invited us on board, He is a mediator and advocate for us (passengers) to God (the owner). The second reason why believers can worship God in a meaningful way is because they have a cleric, “and since we have a great priest over the house of God” (10:21). Jesus as “a great high priest” is the mediator between us and God—the bridge between God and man—the advocate pleading the disciple’s case. Without Him, God would immediately dismiss each disciple from His presence. However, Jesus steps in, speaks for believers, and defends their legitimacy as worshippers, thereby captivating the Almighty’s approval.

Confidence is the first condition of a believer’s worship. The second is a supreme cleric who acts as the believer’s greatest defense. Without Him, God would not give us the time of day. However, there is a third condition the writer of Hebrews spells out for worship.

The third condition of worship is “cleansing” (“having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience”) (10:22b).  This act of spiritual cleansing happens on two levels. First, the heart is cleansed from an evil conscience. This describes a washing of the inner self, complete with its nefarious motives, impurities, and general predisposition toward sin. This radical cleansing of the inner man is accomplished through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ described earlier in Hebrews 10 and echoed in Psalm 51:2.

Psalm 51:2-“Wash me thorough from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

However, not only has the heart been cleansed by Jesus, so has the body, “and our bodies washed with pure water” (10:22c). Parallel to “hearts sprinkled clean” this describes a consecration of the flesh or the outer man. Though this remains to be realized existentially, essentially God looks upon believers as those who are totally pure because of Jesus sacrifice (inside and out).

Therefore, Jesus Christ has not only sacrificed Himself to purchase our admittance onto the ship called the church and mediates on our behalf as the greatest captain before the vessel’s owner, He has clothed us with righteousness, rendering us suitably dressed for service and celebration while on board. All of these conditions give believers the ability to answer the call of corporate worship given in Hebrews 10:22a, 23-24. 

II. The Call to Corporate Worship-10:22a, 23-24

In light of the conditions given, the author of Hebrews moves to capitalize on the sense of wonder and awe created by what Jesus has done by calling all disciples to “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (10:22a). This is the imperative upon which all of the conditions hang. In other words, the appropriate response to all Jesus has done is to make the most of the relationship He has paved the way for by drawing near to God with total assurance of faith and sincerity of heart because, as stated earlier, the heart has been cleansed by Jesus. Also the plural form of the verb for draw near (“let us draw near”) suggests that our trip and mission aboard God’ vessel is not a solo tour. Instead, it is mission for and by a group—all the redeemed.

Therefore, corporate worship involves drawing near to God with faithful assurance because of a cleansed heart. Drawing near to God identifies the vertical direction of worship (knowing Him) and therefore satisfies the first part of the mission (Know, Grow, Show). 

The second part of the call to worship involves “hold[ing] fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful” (10:23). Not only are disciples to draw near to God in worship together because of a clean heart, they are instructed here to hold fast to their hope in light of the confidence that Jesus has provided. Agreeing in form and function with the imperative before it (let us draw near), this word (“hold fast”) means to continue to believe with the implication of acting in accordance with such belief. Continuing in belief implies a love for understanding and growth of knowledge concerning the things of God (growing in God). Because “the one who promised is faithful,” the believer has every confidence in their relationship with God and can unswervingly hold to the hope that comes with such a bond—the hope of eternity, the hope of life, the hope of blessing, etc.

Therefore, worship also involves inward conviction of the promises of God (knowing God). Holding fast the confession of hope identifies the inward direction of worship (growing in Him), thereby satisfying the second part of the church’s mission (Know, Grow, Show). 

However, there is a third part of worship, the aspect directed towards others, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24). This solidifies the corporate aspect of worship within the context of this passage and the occasion of Hebrews as a whole. Not only are believers to draw near (upward) and hold fast (inward), they are to be about the business of spurring each other on to love and good deeds (outward). The kind of activity described here, of actively encouraging one another toward love and good deeds seems to support a communal aspect of worship that has more recently been underappreciated.

Perhaps ever since Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura idea was mis-appropriated, the church has valued personal pursuit of God over and above a corporate pursuit of God. This has led to an unhealthy and unbiblical view of spiritual autonomy that is never described in Scripture. This coupled with the growing self-centeredness of our culture has driven people away from each other in copious ways. However, the writer of Hebrews explicitly states that part of true worship of God involves a dynamic community of people who are encouraging one another to the things of righteousness (love and good deeds).

Therefore, the worship that has been made possible by all that Jesus has provided (confidence, a cleric, and cleansing), is upward focused (drawing near to God {knowing Him}), inward focused (holding fast to the confidence {growing in Him}), and outward focused (stimulating one another on {showing Him}). However, how is this supposed to be done?

III. The Character of Corporate Worship-10:25

The third component of this passage answers this question as it provides the character of corporate worship, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (10:25a). Regular assembly is one way in which this kind of worship is accomplished.  Forsaking the opportunity of meeting together, as is the habit of some (according to the writer), is prohibited as it dilutes the worship experience and fails to take advantage of all Jesus has provided. The character of corporate worship (the upward, inward, and outward elements [knowing God, growing in God, and showing God]) requires the assembly of believers.

If forsaking the assembly of believers is forbidden, what is called for? The answer is found in the end of verse 25, “but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” “Showing God” to others is not limited to demonstrating Him to unbelievers. It includes showing God to those inside the faith by providing encouragement to one another. This is especially significant in light of the end that is drawing near. As the world heads toward its tragic finale, the author of Hebrews, even 2000 years ago, understood the vital role encouragement of the saints would be. Friends, the waves grow larger with every day, the winds blow more fiercely with every passing season, and the forecast is ominous. Therefore, those on board the vessel must be about the business of showing up on deck to provide much-needed encouragement.

So What?

The conditions, the call, and the characteristics of corporate worship all point to its significance in the life of a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. The conditions cause us to appreciate all that Jesus has done to allow for the corporate worship of God; the call to corporate worship commands us to give ourselves readily to drawing near, holding fast, and encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ; and the characteristics compel us not to forsake this opportunity, but to, whenever possible, assemble together for the purposes of encouraging one another through knowing God, growing in Him and showing Him to others through love and good deeds. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Paul's Final Remarks- Rom. 16:17-27

Today we end our long journey through the book of Romans and what a journey it has been! First, we looked at Paul’s bold introduction in which he claimed that the gospel of Jesus Christ is salvation for all who believe (and this is nothing to be shy about) (Rom. 1). Thereafter, Paul made the case that all require salvation because all (Jew, pious gentile, and worldly pagan alike) have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 2-3). Everyone needs God’s righteousness and this only comes through faith in Jesus Christ and his completed work (not works, tradition, etc.) (Rom. 4-5). Paul then argued that the same grace that saves is what molds the believer more into Christ’s image as the righteousness imputed at salvation in justification is imparted to the saved in their sanctification (see Rom. 6-7). Ultimately, those in this process will be vindicated in the end (at their glorification) and can find great hope in the present in all the blessings that come with a relationship with Jesus (see Rom. 8). This applies both to Jews and Gentiles and applies to these respective groups in ways that are keeping with God’s faithfulness to the promises that were issued to each (see Rom. 9-11). In light of so great a salvation, believers were then encouraged to live lives of spiritual sacrifice unto the Lord (Rom. 12), in submission to authorities (Rom. 13), and in a way that fosters unity (Rom. 14). After betraying his plans for the future (Rom. 15), Paul set out to provide some final greetings (Rom. 16). It is at this point that we are given Paul’s final remarks in Romans 16:17-27. Therefore, to conclude our study of this amazing epistle, let us listen to three final remarks that the apostle gives as he says goodbye for now to the church in Rome and learn what we might take away as we say goodbye for now to the study of this book. 

I. REMARK #1: A Final Warning-(Look out!)-16:17-20

If final comments are any indication of what is important to a speaker after the body of a speech or in the conclusion of a book then it is safe to assume that Paul’s warning in verses 17-20 was not only necessary, but important to the health of the church and Rome and the success of her mission.  Paul’s final warning begins as follows “Now I urge you, brethren (lit. asking you earnestly) to keep your eye on (watch closely) those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned” (16:17a). Though the identity of these false teachers is unknown, one thing is certain, as in many groups, there were those in the ranks that were intent on bringing down the whole. The means by which these enemies of the cause were confronting the church in Rome was through “dissensions and hindrances.” Proverbs lists such attacks among “the seven [things] that are detestable to [the Lord],” calling “a man who stirs up dissension among brother” in the most emphatic position” (Proverbs 6:16, 19) (Mounce, Romans, 278). Such “hindrances” and “dissensions” not only threw the unity of the church in jeopardy, Paul reveals that such is “contrary to the teaching which you learned” (Rom. 16:17a). What teaching is Paul referencing here? I imagine the unifying teaching of the gospel of Christ that brings people of all backgrounds into one body through faith and repentance. Such unifying teachings can be found in Romans itself as it encourages a diverse population toward working together for the single mission of God. Any unnecessary hindrance and/or dissention, was not only practically inhibiting, it was theologically unsound.

Concerning those who would divide people unnecessarily or throw improper stumbling blocks in the way of the gospel mission, Paul says “turn away from them” (16:17b). Literally the text implies “purposefully avoid them” or “shun” them. Given in the present tense, Paul may be suggesting that this act of extending dissenters the cold shoulder may need to be a common and often-endorsed behavior. Whenever people like this present themselves, the church is instructed here to avoid them like the plague they are.

But why? Why are such people so destructive/dangerous. First, Paul says that “such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites” (16:18a). Literally, the word “appetites” translates the Greek word for “belly.” Paul warns against such men in Philippians 3:19 where, speaking of false teachers, Paul says “their god is their stomach.” Instead of being driven in their gut by their pursuit of Christ and his calling on their lives, such men/women were driven by their own desires/agendas—whatever satisfied their cravings (i.e. attention, power, prestige, etc.).  There are few things more dangerous to a church than people with insatiable appetites for self-glory.

Not only are these to be avoided for misdirecting glory, they were to be shunned because of their propensity to lead people astray. Paul continues “and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (16:18b). As often proves the case in Scripture, Paul makes sure the church remembers that Satan does not put his minions in garish costumes that scare, but in silver-tongued “good-ol boys and girls” that offer flattering and pious speech. “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments” (Col. 2:4). Paul wants to be certain that the church was aware that there are some who would by “deceptive eloquence would lead them into error” (Mounce, Romans, 279).

Unfortunately, this encouragement is just as applicable today as it was in the first century. Whether you call it “false teaching,” or “strange fire” (Macarthur) there is a very real need for the people of God to “watch out closely” for and “turn away” from the same kind of freshly pressed, good-looking, monsters that grace stages and TV stations. I’m talking about those who leverage their pulpits for fame and fortune rather than mission and kingdom. I’m talking about those who begin and end their programming with something they are selling. I’m talking about churches in which self-help has replaced the complete gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m talking about men and women whose most sophisticated arguments are constructed for the purposes of justifying fundraising efforts for their second or third private jets. I’m talking about people who promise miracles for the exchange of money. I’m talking about places in which strange and indiscernible tongues, violent convulsions, and worrisome antics are confused for the work of the Holy Spirit. Watch out for and turn away from such church lest you be devoured by a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15).

Another reason the church should be on special guard for these villains is there was (and is) so much to lose. Paul commends the church in Rome saying “For the report of your obedience has reached to all, therefore I am rejoicing over you” (16:19a). The obedience of those in the church in Rome was well known throughout the known world. What a thing to be known for! Not only did this give Paul great joy, it also put a large target on the back of this body of believers. This is probably why Paul immediately shifts from this commendation to a reiteration of the warning already given.

“but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil” (16:19b). Another translation reads “be well-versed in which is good” (TCNT). Paul wanted the church of Christ hold advanced degrees in truth and blackbelts in godliness while also being totally free of evil. Similar sentiments are shared by Jesus when, in his admonition to the disciples before sending them out, he says “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (16:19b). Remember, the church in Rome existed under extreme pressure to compromise and capitulate. Similarly, today, in a culture that continues to betray the spiritual forces that war against the church, it is vital that believers live lives of uncompromising holiness. “God never intended his children to become intimate with evil in order to communicate the gospel to those in its grasp” (Mounce, Romans, 279).

Paul ends his final warning with a promise—“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…” (16:20). This prediction literally suggests that the church will smash Satan into pieces along with all vestiges of his power. Here, Paul uses an allusion to the beginning in order to provide hope for the ultimate end. By clearly referencing Genesis 3:15 (the protoevagelium), Paul reminds the church that while their present struggle for truth and holiness is real, so too is the promise of final victory. In the meantime Paul says “the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (16:20).

II. REMARK #2: A Final Greeting-(We all love you!)-16:21-24

The second remark that Paul makes as he closes his letter is a greeting. In verses 4-15, Paul himself greeted several Christians that he knew were living in Rome (or were heading in that direction). Here, Paul is extending the greetings of others who wanted to encourage the church. The first of these is Timothy and his company—“Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen” (16:21). It is not secret that Timothy held a special place in Paul’s heart and ministry. He joined Paul in Lystra on Paul’s second missionary journey and labored alongside the apostle for an extended period thereafter. Mounce argues that “no other man had quite the same personal attention from the aging apostle, who was nearing the close of his ministry” (Mounce, Romans, 280). Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater were other workers with Paul who, along with Timothy offered their greetings to the church in Rome.

Interestingly, the next person to extend a greeting is the secretary who composed the letter itself—“I, Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord” (16:22). Though the content of the letter is Paul’s, Tertius is the “amanuensis”—i.e. the trained scribe who physically copied down Paul’s dictation to the Roman Christians. These “secretaries” were often employed in Paul’s day to write correspondences down neatly when paper was both scarce and expensive (Moo, ZIBBC, 94).
Next in line to offer his greeting is Gaius and company—“Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother (the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen)” (16:23-24).  Gaius is probably one of the few people Paul is identified as having baptized (see 1 Cor. 1:14). Paul and many others have enjoyed his hospitality and he is extended an opportunity to greet Rome. Little is known about the other two men, other than what is mentioned.

So many wanted to greet this important church and offer their support. Paul, in essence passes around the microphone to those around him before closing his letter. However, he grabs the mic one more time to offer a final benediction.

III. REMARK #3: A Final Benediction-(Its all about Jesus!)-16:25-27

Paul’s benediction begins with the praises of a great and mighty God. Paul initially frames the Almighty as the great Establisher—“Not to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ” (16:25a). This “gospel” that serves as the foundation of the church is the same gospel that Paul had made plain in the first 11 chapters of this letter—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ served as the focal point of the gospel as well as Paul’s preaching. Jesus is at the center of it all, the cornerstone of the foundation of the church.

Not only is God the great establisher through Christ, he is celebrated here as the great revealer—“according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but is now manifested” (16:25-26a). Prior to the first century, salvation through Jesus has been shrouded in prophecies and hidden in the eternal counsels of God. However, once Christ emerged, the mystery—God’s plan of salvation—is perfectly revealed to all.

Ephesians 1:9-“he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.”

Col. 1:26 –“Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Of all the revelations that God has provided of Himself, none is greater, more perfect, and more complete than Jesus Christ.  After all, “the son is The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3).  Paul says that this revelation of God (Jesus Christ) “has been manifested”—meaning that his work, now complete, suffers present and ongoing implications.
The revelation of God in Jesus Christ works to fulfill the scriptures of the prophets, indicating that in addition to an establisher and revealer, God is a fulfiller—and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God"  (16:26a). All that God promised to the saints of old was fulfilled in Christ, indicating that Bible is not so much two testaments as much as it is one grand story with Jesus at its center.

Not only does God establish, reveal, and fulfill all in Christ Jesus, he potentially leads all in faith—“has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (16:26b). Jesus not only connects two testaments together into one metanarrative, he establishes one people—the people of God, from two significant different backgrounds—Jew and Gentile. This is yet another theme of Romans (especially 9-11). In other words, the gospel message of which Paul is not ashamed (see 1:16) is a message for all nations that has entered the world through Christ and now suffers ramifications for the entire world (Jew and Gentile alike—see 1:17).

In a euphoric and passionate doxology, Paul breaks syntax and concludes his letter with “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen” (16:27). Even here, Paul places Jesus Christ as center focus for His advent is in keeping with God’s wise plan and His humiliation and resurrection returned to God the greatest glory imaginable. Paul hoped that his ministry in general and his letter to the Romans in particular would also be in keeping with God’s wisdom, centered on Christ, and result if God bring glorified. May it be so! (Amen!).

So What?

Though these may not be the final comments you would expect after such a lengthy and theologically charged letter, these are the ones that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to offer the church in Rome as it persevered in its brave new world. Look out for false teachers! We all love you! and it is all about Jesus (that is the gospel and the glory)!  What is so striking about these last remarks is how applicable they are in today’s context (our own brave new world). Are we not currently a church under assault both from without and from within by false doctrines and charlatans who seek to mislead the masses for their own personal gain? We must be a church that is vigilant in keeping a close eye on such, committed to truth and holiness over what sounds and feels good. Look out church! Are we not encouraged when we know that our brothers and sisters in Christ (and the great cloud of witnesses is cheering on the sidelines and encouraging us as we endure to the end!) We all love you church! Are we not also prone to add to or supplement the gospel with peripheral things, forgetting that gospel that saves and the glory that is promised is all found in Christ, the establisher, revealer, fulfiller, and leader of our faith who came, died, and was raised from the dead? It is all about Jesus church! May it be so and remain so as we endure this brave new world until the end!