Agonizomai: March 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

1Cor 3:18-20 - Tell 'em What You Told 'em

18-20 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," 20 and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile."

Finally, like any good speaker, Paul, having told them what he was going to tell them - and then told them - now tells them what he told them. In other words, he has reinforced the message through repetition, and thereby signified its importance.

That message is about the contrast between worldly wisdom and right doctrine - between spiritual understanding and carnal thought - between error and foundational truth. He has spent the best part of two and a half chapters on these foundations. And he caps it off by quoting scripture, {Job 5:13,Ps 94:11} just to make sure they understand what he believes the true source of his teaching to be, and to lay down the example of the scriptures as written authority.

The wisdom of God is not folly, but it is folly to the fallen mind. And if we propagate the truth in love, we should know that we shall be regarded as fools by a great number of men. Some will tolerate us, some will be condescending, some enraged, some will ridicule - but God will use the truth, faithfully communicated, to call out his elect from among men, and to keep them in the faith. So we should gear up and not be surprised or offended when we are treated as Christ was treated for bringing the unacceptable truth to men. And neither should we change the message, water it down or play "bait and switch" with it.

The offense that men find in the gospel actually glorifies God. This is a hard truth for us to accept, but God is glorified just as much for His justice as for His mercy - just as much for His judgments unto condemnation as His grace unto salvation. One set of actions glorifies His mercy and love and the other set of actions glorifies His holiness and perfect judgment. Every sinner in hell will bring glory to God through His justice and every sinner in heaven will bring glory to God through His mercy and grace. Those who remain under condemnation do so due to their unrepented sin.

Those who are saved are saved by the grace of God alone. That is the wisdom of God. It is that truth which so offends the natural man (even the residual flesh in the saint) that he rebels against it and considers his own wisdom to be preferable. How can a man be responsible and therefore justly deserving of condemnation and hell, and yet get no credit for believing unto salvation? Only the Holy Spirit can so change a heart that it will accept this truth and bow down at the feet of the Almighty.

In the face of such reality it is always a danger that the professing believer will deceive himself and think thoughts after the mindset of the fallen world - even applying the world’s logic to detriment of spiritual truth. The world knows good and evil, as Satan promised - but it cannot know good from evil because the fallen human heart starts from evil and produces fruit accordingly. The heart and the will are corrupted. Even true saints must learn obedience to the truth as it is revealed to their hearts by the Holy Spirit from the Word. They will hear His voice at their shoulder saying, "this is the way, walk in it." That voice will not be a disembodied, audible external authoritarian enlightenment - but internal agreement with the revealed word applied to providential circumstance through a conviction that moves the renewed will.

So "if anyone thinks he is wise in this age let him become a fool..." What does "in this age" mean? Does it mean the era in which Paul lived? Or does it mean the era of the gospel in which all men will live until Jesus returns? I think it means the latter because the wisdom of the world - even in the believer, manifested as the residual echoes of learned patterns of thinking - is always worldly wisdom, regardless of the era in question. The world is always with us. It the inveterate, ubiquitous, persistent enemy of truth. It is opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So we must not suppose that the wisdom - the zeitgeist - of any particular era is actually worse or better than any other. They all oppose Christ, and the antidote for the believer is always the gospel. The commonality of the spirit of all ages reflects the true nature of our warfare, which is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers of the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. {Eph 6:12} And the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds. {2Co 10:4}

We don’t concentrate on the wicked spirits themselves, but we are told about them in the same way that Gehazi was shown by Elisha what forces were arrayed on the prophet’s side in God’s battle. {2Ki 6:11-17} It is not through concentrating upon the evil forces themselves, but through trusting in God that the victory is manifested. And yet it is the knowledge that we are pitted against forces far more malevolent and far beyond our own powers to resist, let alone to overcome, that we are humbled enough to cast ourselves upon the God to Whom the victory already belongs. The battle is the Lord’s, and men are merely the means and the battlefield in and through which that war is waged.

It is God’s battle and His battle plan. It is His will that must be done. It is in obedience to His will that we are useful in the battle - a usefulness that comes from God because it begins and ends with Him. The world’s wisdom is of absolutely no use to Christians because the world of men, though not the enemy, serves the will of Satan who is the enemy. All that is in the world is potentially if not actively arrayed against God. The world system of values, the body of death that is chained to every Christian, and the devil himself are arrayed against the Lord’s people, as they were against the Lord’s Anointed. If they hated Him, they will hate us, for He is in us to do His will. But this doing of His will is only when we walk in the Spirit obedient to the revealed will of God in His Word. That is heavenly wisdom which cannot be known by fallen men, unless God regenerates them. Otherwise all efforts are futile. All wisdom is foolishness. What is not of faith is sin and what is not wrought in Christ is of no avail.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Missing Audio Updates
For some reason the amended versions of the posts from 1Corinthians Chapter 1 (amended to include audio) are not showing up in RSS or Podcast updates. As a result, I am posting just the audio links in a series or entries below.

1Corinthians 1:1-3 – Laying the Groundwork *

1Corinthians 1:4-7 – The Proof of the Pudding *

1Corinthians 1:8-9 – Finders’ Keepers *

1Corinthians 1:10-11 – Good And Bad Splits *

1Corinthians 1:11-13 – The No-Party Vote *

Friday, March 28, 2008

1Cor 3:16-17 - Reverence My Sanctuary

16-17 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

This is not the context for proof texting that idea that we should eat right and exercise. This is the context for making certain that we imbibe the right spiritual food and do not put the poison of heresy into our minds and souls. Look at the context. It is all about having the right doctrinal foundations and building only upon them; having a right understanding of the gospel, and not tolerating any other teaching but that which we first received.

The church is God’s temple and all of the members of the church are parts of the temple. The temple is the dwelling place of God and the place where His glory is displayed. The glory of the Lord fills the temple. The temple is a place set apart - sanctified and holy. It is utterly "other". It is unique, pure, dedicated. The purity of the temple was prefigured in the tabernacle laws given to Israel in the Pentateuch.

So Paul is finishing out his whole train of thought here by giving the reason why doctrine should be kept pure; it should be kept pure because it is how God dwells in the hearts of His people - through the truth made alive by the Spirit. The Spirit dwells in us all and the pure word of God is taken by the Spirit and used to make us holy - to keep us set apart. False doctrine erodes and destroys this vital living process. As a man thinks, so is he. Out of the heart comes either what defiles a man, or what evidences the life of God within him. And the heart, the mind, the essence, the inner man is nourished and grown in grace through right teaching, right understanding - by assimilating and then living the truth.

To believe false things about God is bad enough, but to teach them is even worse. This is why pastors have the higher burden. Paul speaks here of false teaching as "destroying God’s temple". And he gives a dire warning to those who either believe or propagate false doctrine. To believe any other gospel is to miss salvation and be destroyed. To propagate any other gospel is to destroy not only yourself, but others also.

So Paul has been at great pains to explain to this chaotic and confused congregation the essential nature of right doctrine for proper Christian living, and the severe consequences of believing wrong doctrine. Put that in your liberal or your postmodern pipe and smoke it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Housekeeping - The King of Love
Some people might have had a problem listening to earlier recordings that were embedded with an experimental "Flash" client. There were only a few items, but for the sake of completion I am reposting the files in the new flash player format that I have been using lately. Here's the first...

The King of Love (Sermon)

Housekeeping - The Diet of Worms
And here's the second...

The Diet of Worms (Devotional)

The Death of Comments
Don't look now but the "comments" option has bit the dust. Nobody was using it anyway. If you want to say something to me just send me an email by selecting the link in the sidebar. Happy listening/reading.

1Cor 3:12-15 - Foundations and Fruit

12-15 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

What a man believes will characterize his behaviour. Not what a man professes to believe, but what he actually believes. By their fruits shall you know them {Mt 7:15-20}, Jesus said of the false prophets. They were propagating untruth - another gospel. It is a matter of doctrine. It is why right doctrine is so essential to a healthy outworking of faith. Without right doctrine wrong praxis is inevitable, whereas, with right doctrine at least right praxis is possible.

Some false prophets are more subtle. They propagate the right teaching but do not actually believe it in their hearts. So there is a disjunction between what they say and what they do. Jesus recognized this type also when He said, "Do as they say, but not as they do." {Mt 23:2-3}

In either case it is essential for the church today, and for each professing believer to understand what the doctrines of the faith are. In the past, these were contained in the creeds and hymns which were recited and sung every Lord’s Day. Certainly the rote, traditional, dry recitation of mere words - no matter how truthful - is not of itself of any immediate profit. But hymns and creeds came into disfavour not because they were false, but because many of those professing them failed to evidence a true belief in them. The hypocrisy and deadness of the professors (the very thing they were created to operate against) was the downfall of these things in the modern church.

But the cry must be for authenticity (which is what the emerging church craves) and not for deconstruction (which is what postmodern thinking believes is necessary). The creeds and hymns were never inauthentic of themselves - it was the people who cooled. And the answer to such cooling is to be found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ - the same gospel that comes to us in the great doctrines of the faith that are in the very creeds and hymns that are now rejected.

But it is not a real Catch-22 situation. The solution is not to throw out the baby with the bath water, but to clean the bath water itself. If the church is unresponsive to the word of God properly preached in the Spirit that is one thing - but if the ministers let the truth slip away by degrees and fail to covet and to rely upon the power of the Spirit then that is quite another. And not only the ministers, who bear the greater burden, but also the congregations themselves must be vigilant to defend the gospel, including the great truths - the pre-laid foundation of the faith.

For goodness sake, this is precisely what Paul is talking about here. He is saying that the foundation has been laid and now not only must that foundation be jealously guarded and preserved, but it must also form the guiding principles in all of our teaching and preaching. Whatever we preach or teach must completely agree - must arise from and conform to whatever God laid down beginning with Christ, and then through the Apostles.

It seems so simple until you understand that every armament in the arsenal of hell is arrayed against the preservation of the truth. As soon as it was given the truth was subverted by some. Before it was formally collected into a canon of scripture many, many heresies has sprung up and carried away countless people with them. Men died, some of them horribly, in order to preserve the truth that we now take for granted. As Tertullian said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." And it is necessary that there be divisions among believers in order that those who are genuine may be seen. {1Co 11:18-19} It is necessary - but not necessarily desirable.

Two mistakes are common today. One is that we get all pious and say we only get our help from the Bible itself. We don’t need all the other stuff. In a way that’s correct. But a better way to put it is that the Bible is our only rule of faith and life - though we are a part of a larger body of believers to whom it has pleased God to shown things from the scriptures that He has not yet shown us. Church fathers, past writers and historians, theologians and apologists and so on have all struggled with issues, as we do, and some of them have been given light that we have not.

Another error often made today is to deny that we need doctrine at all. It is said that doctrine divides. Too right it does, because it is supposed to. Right doctrine exists so that the false can be seen, refuted and rooted out. But by misunderstanding, and using the slogan "doctrine divides" as a basis for chucking out doctrine altogether, many then lean upon experiences and feelings in their stead. Today many throw out the very idea that we need to study to show ourselves approved unto God by coming to serious grips with God’s Word - and instead trumpet the idea of knowing God through some sort of spiritual experience apart from a right understanding of what the founders actually taught. This is Christian suicide just as much as holding to a bunch of theology as a mere intellectual exercise is suicide. One just feels better than the other, but both are actually dead religion arising from the carnal nature.

So this passage is not primarily about works, but about doctrines. The foundation that was laid was laid in a series of teachings about who God is and how He deals with His creation - particularly in His Son Jesus Christ.

If we truly understand and believe the foundational teachings this will show in the teachings we bring forth based upon them. Right belief will produce right understanding and right understanding will produce Biblical teaching which will bear fruit in both teacher and hearer in changed lives. But it is possible to build using worthless materials - even harmful ones - and to try to make them fit the existing foundation. They will certainly be in evidence; there will be some sort of edifice constructed. It may even look solid. But there is coming a Day when God will try what we have believed and how that belief has been worked out and the true value of it all will be made manifest to all.

A comparison of the lives, teachings and fruits of Asahael Nettleton and Charles G. Finney might well serve as an illustration of the greater revelation that will one day take place - though time and space do not permit a suitable treatment here.

The trial of Christian works by fire is a trial of the fruit of right doctrines. Did they propagate and live by the doctrines that they professed? To the degree that they were faithful in word and deed to the foundational truths and teachings of Christ and the Apostles they will receive a reward for their fruit - though they will give all the glory to God. But in case anyone would be tempted to slip into the error that we are justified by our works - or that we are saved by them - Paul is quick to point out that true Christians who show little fruit, due to their failure to abide in the fullness of the truth, will not be damned. They will still be saved because they were saved by grace, justified by God and kept by His power. For Paul to teach otherwise would be to negate his teaching elsewhere {Ro 8:28-30}

The so-called "Free Grace Movement" seen seminally in Charles Ryrie’s teachings, but fully developed by Zane Hodges and his ilk, seems to come close to this concept. Yet it actually demonstrates why we have the need for sound doctrines, and why we ought not to be so quick to throw away the wisdom imparted to brothers in the Lord who have long since passed into glory. They take a position arising from an Arminian understanding of scripture which devolves into antinomianism because it minimizes the responsibility of man. In the extreme form it says that a Christian has only once to make a profession of faith and he can not only live like a pagan, but actually deny Christ and still be saved based on his once-for-all confession.

Funnily enough it is usually Arminianism that accuses Calvinism, with its high and sovereign view of God and with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, of a similar error; only Arminians believe perseverance doctrine denies human responsibility (for which read human free will) which leads, in their view, to antinomianism. But what does the passage to hand speak of? It says we must build upon the doctrines given to us by Christ and the Apostles.

And they taught both the absolute sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. But they do not teach the response-ability of man, and therein lies the very fundamental difference. True Christians persevere precisely because, knowing what they are apart from God, they rely upon God and call upon Him for grace to live as He commands. (remember Augustine and the Pelagian controversy “Command what you will and grant what you command”). And they are preserved because God is in them to will and to do of His good pleasure. Balanced and Biblical understanding holds these truths simultaneously because the Bible teaches them. They are foundational doctrines of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

So a true Christian has within him (from God) the desire to be delivered from the reigning power of sin and he looks to God for the power and grace to strive against sin - to put to death the deeds of the body and to be found honouring God. Not all Christians do so equally. But this passage teaches that God alone is the final judge of all works - not only of the reprobates, but also of His children.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

1Cor 3:10-11 - Grace and Means

10-11 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Did I go too far in commenting on the last section? Then why does Paul mention that he laboured according to the grace given to Him? What is grace? What is it in this context? Grace is unmerited favour. In this context Paul is saying that all of his labours and works and skills - all of his applied wisdom - was given to Him by God. Note - his wisdom, his calling, his direction, his purpose, his desire and even his will to enter into the work was from God by grace alone.

But he had received the grace. And, being a recipient of it, he applied himself diligently to the task assigned. God was not the secondary agent, but the Primary. Paul was still accountable to God and God would not do for Paul what He had assigned Paul to do. Paul was not a robot, but a man - a redeemed man. He was called to lay down the foundation of the church among the Gentiles. This he did with all his might - but he did it knowing that apart from God he could accomplish nothing. And so all his labours were bathed in both supplication and thanksgiving. Supplication kept him in the place of utter dependency for the future, and thanksgiving kept him in the place of remembrance of his utter dependency in the past.

This is how the church of Jesus Christ is built. It is built by Christ through the obedience of our faith in Him - a faith which is a gift of His grace. That is how the foundation was laid by Paul. That is how we are to continue until Christ comes again. And whenever we are tempted to speed things along, to boost numbers, to give Christ a helping hand, to go ahead of the cloud - then we are found wanting and, though God will still be at work, we ourselves shall miss the glory of seeing Him working. We must not do God’s work in the energy of the flesh and out of mere human rationality. To do so is to fight spiritual battles with worldly weapons.

No wonder, then, that Paul warns all who follow to take care how they build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ that he laid down. Whether that building is teaching, whether it is evangelism, or whether it is good works - all must be laid in the same fashion as Paul’s original slab. That is - according to the grace given to us. Not according to the grace given to others, nor going beyond what grace we have received - but measured and diligently worked out from the supply that God in His wisdom has allocated to us. We may seek more grace. We may pray for it. But if we aren’t sure we have it then we ought to wait on the Lord, and not rush on ahead in what can only be the flesh. God supplied the manna sufficient for the day that He has sent. Will we build according to His ways, His plan and His timetable?

And we ought to remember that we are building on a foundation already laid down. No improvements to the foundation are needed. No expansion or additions. No revisions. It was skillfully laid by a master builder under the direct inspiration of God Himself. The gospel of Jesus Christ was systematized and put into a theological framework by Paul, for the church, under the supervision of God Himself. Therefore we should build upon it not in the sense that we add to the foundation, but in the sense that what we do and teach and preach rests upon the foundation already laid. And so, theologically at least, what is new is not true and what is true is not new.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

1Cor 3:5-9 - Credit Where Credit is Due

5-9 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Once more, then, we are not to give our allegiance to men, who are but the servants of God, to do His will. We are to give all credit to God and to follow Him alone - though God has purposed that He uses men as means to communicate the gospel. This is a wonderful and deliberate design. God, Who is the Truth has chosen to communicate Himself through men to other men - and the men themselves are vessels, repositories, propagators, recipients - they are active but it is God alone Who is in it for good. This is all accomplished because the Holy Spirit is active in both the preacher and the hearer. God sends the message and God opens the ears and hearts of the hearers. Paul developed all of this in earlier chapters dealing with the nature of spiritual understanding.

We do render honour to whom honour is due, thanks to whom thanks is due, and so on. The human agencies of God’s grace are to be thanked for their yielding even though they yield because God is at work in them and through them. But our hearts and minds know this last truth - that were God not at work in them, they themselves could do nothing. And we do thank and honour even unbelievers, who can still be the means of grace to us though they are not yielded to God’s Spirit in the process.

But Paul is clear. The messenger is nothing. The labourer is nothing. God is everything. He is in all and through all. No results can spring from any amount of human effort unless God purposes and effects it. Christ is not just another preacher. He is not like Paul and Apollos and Peter. He is a man - but infinitely more than a man; He is God incarnate, dead, resurrected and taken back up into glory. Whoever has seen Him has seen the Father, since He and the Father are One. This is the God Who gives the increase. This is the God Who accomplishes all His will and chooses to use men for that purpose.

So when Paul speaks of us being "fellow workers" with God He doesn’t mean that God needs us, or that the results depend in any way upon us, our talents or our efforts. We are fellow workers in that God has granted, entirely by His grace, for us to participate in what He is accomplishing. We are coat-tailers. He sits us down in the sand with a little plastic bucket and shovel and bids us build sandcastles; and He proceeds to build a towering palace over us while we dabble. Then He credits us with working on the palace because some of the sand passed through our hands.

Yes, human agents work. Yes, they perform. Yes, they are accountable to God and their works will be judged. But it is to be a kind of judgement that we should never imagine with our fallen minds. It is the judgement in which God gets the credit from us, and from all the principalities and powers, both holy and evil, for all that is accomplished (because it was wrought in Him) and we get the blame for all that does not last (because it was not a product of faith in Christ).

The church is God’s field and His building. And what did Christ say? That He would build His church upon the rock (of the confession of Jesus as Messiah) and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. He would build it. He would use men of faith walking in the Spirit - but He would be the builder. He owns the field and the crop - He brought the seed and purposed how, when and where it would be sown. He sent the rain and the sunshine. He provided the minerals. He decided what to prune and how much and at what time. He said when to put in the sickle. It is His barn, His threshing floor, His wind that separates the grain from the chaff and so on. Do we get it yet? God is God and He is the source and the mover of all good things according to His good pleasure and purposes and we are creatures entirely dependent upon Him in all things.

We are, then, fellow workers with God. But putting finite, mutable, weak human beings still struggling with their sinful nature beside the holy, omnipotent, omniscient God - when the shoulder goes to the wheel and the load moves, who do you think moved it? We all got behind the load but were mere fleas pushing against a mountain. Yet the mountain moved. Shall we, then, take any credit?

Monday, March 24, 2008

1Cor 3:1-4 - Part 2 - To Be Truly Human

1-4 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human?

OK - now down to the case at hand. Many of the Corinthians, with whom Paul had spent 18 months only 5 years earlier had, in a number of ways, failed to progress in the Christian life. Perhaps they had regressed or they may just have become stuck. Whatever the reasons, this church is not a picture of the model Christian walk but is, rather, in so many ways a model of what can so easily go wrong when there is no vigilance and no discipline. It is the picture of a church full of immature people, unschooled or unappreciative of the doctrine underlying the truth of the incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ.

For example, they have entirely missed the absolute primacy and uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not just a man to be compared to other teachers. He is the God/man whose voluntary death delivers His people from the power of sin and takes away the condemnation of all who entrust their lives to Him. He is the Truth. All other teachers speak of Him and testify to Him. They do not vie for a constituency that rivals Him.

And, in the same way, those being taught are not receiving truth from their teachers per se, but from Christ through their teachers if indeed the teachers are preaching Christ at all. When Christ is preached properly then truth is preached. When truth is preached then it emanates from Christ, regardless of the vessel by which the words come. God can speak truth even using an ass (if we remember Balaam’s story).

Despite their error, Paul is not saying that they are reprobates. He is hoping in God and believing the best while gently (at first) pointing them in the right direction. He hopes that their foolishness springs from immaturity, rather than from unregeneracy. He cannot see the hearts of the people and he knows that God is the only One who knows for certain those whom the Father has given to the Son. So he labours on in the work God gave him to do - prayerfully endeavouring to strike the balance between stern admonition and gentle correction.

Right doctrine, which is no more and no less than a right knowledge of God in personal relationship through the indwelling and illuminating Spirit of God - right doctrine is vital to right behaviour. The Corinthians are being reproved for their jealousy and strife. Note - they are not being reproved for doctrinal disagreements, but for ignorance of doctrine, which is being manifested in UnChristlike behaviour. The fruit of their wrong belief and/or their culpable ignorance is demonstrated by their bickering.

The ignorance being displayed stems from, as I mentioned {See Note "1Co 1:11"}, a failure to understand the uniqueness of Christ, His centrality and His infinite superiority to all other preacher/teachers, who are merely His servants. Even if those congregants in Chapter 1 who were saying "I follow Christ" really meant that Christ was superior to the other teachers (which I doubt) they entirely missed the need to edify their brethren and lapsed in factional debate, effectively making Christ a competitor of Paul, Apollos and Peter.

There are other opinions on what this and verse 12 of Chapter 1 refer to. Some believe that there is a faction arising between the Pauline crowd, who are most likely Gentiles, and the Petrine crown, who are most likely Jewish converts. It may be that the church has been infiltrated by those emphasizing perceived differences between the two - and then also with the more cultured Greek presentation of the Alexandrian, Apollos. Nobody knows for sure. But whenever true believers disagree, the only possible direction they should go is not to pull against their so-called opponents, but to move towards the gospel. In other words, a right understanding and relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, is foundational to everything else. And when we lose our way we must go back to the basics to discover if we had it right to begin with, or to get it right at last.

This is what Paul is doing here. He is diagnosing or observing the problem, reproving them for falling into it, and pointing them to Christ as Lord of all. Ultimately, just like every other preacher, Paul has no control over whether or not they will heed the admonition. He simply does what Christ called and raised him to do, which is to preach Christ crucified to all, knowing that the effects of this preaching are literally in God’s hands. Those who ultimately heed will show evidence of their faith through obedience unto fruit. Those who are unregenerate trouble makers, or who have been deceived by others or by themselves, will be offended and will bear the fruit of their own wicked hearts. But Paul must labour in love and truth and leave the rest with God.

Finally there comes this very interesting phrase, "For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human?" Much is made of the idea of humanness. Much is made of the human nature of Jesus Christ. And parallels are drawn between us and Him. He became one of us. He came down to our level, so to speak. No! He never came down to our level. He was incarnated and was indeed a full member of humanity, but He was at that time the only truly full member of the whole race, because He was without sin. Jesus not only never sinned, but was without the taint of original sin. This is why His Father was God and his mother was Mary.

And so we need to understand what it is to be human from God’s perspective and not from our own. Adam was human before the fall. Christ was human throughout the entire period of His earthly ministry and is still fully human in heaven, sitting at the right hand of God. But Adam died spiritually and became a fallen human, passing that along to the rest of his descendants. The whole race fell in Adam. Since Adam no natural human has had spiritual life and is, in this sense, sub-human.

Christ, however, had no original sin, lived and impeccable life, and had the Spirit upon Him without measure. He was a fully spiritual man. He is the epitome, the ne plus ultra of humanity in every way - including not only the bodily reality, but also the spiritual reality of what being human is intended to be.

I need to be careful here. I am not saying we are sub-human in the same sense that the Nazis spoke of the Jews. They propagated such things in order to dehumanize Jewry and to elevate themselves. But I am speaking of the entire human race, including myself, as having fallen short of what real humanity is in God’s eyes. Only one Person was really human in God’s eyes in every sense of the word "human," and that is His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came from heaven. He put aside His glory, but not His divinity, and became a man. He lived as a man, that is, He lived a fully human life. What He spoke, He spoke as hearing it from the Father. What He did, He did as instructed by the Father. He walked the earth and did all things that any man does - he breathed, sweated, ate and interacted with friends and enemies. He lived and healed and did mighty works in reliance upon the Holy Spirit for illumination and for endurance and for power, even though all these things were His by nature and by right. He demonstrated to men how to be human in the heavenly sense.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. And this is how it was done - by Christ’s active and passive obedience, even unto death. But I hope it is clear that Christ was not "a man like us". He was a man as we ought to be. He was not human in the sense that we are, because we are carnal, spiritually dead humans until we come to Him. Christ was and is spiritual and eternal Life in a man - He is what man is made to be and what some men are becoming.

The Bible teaches us that there are two Adams in which terminate all human life on earth. The first Adam was definitively human, but mutable - and when he fell the whole of the race fell in him. The second Adam was definitively human, and all those who are born of Him spiritually have eternal life and become (true) children of God - truly human as God intends for man to be. And it is only in His Son that this has been made possible.

All this to come to the point that being "merely human" is a rich and deep theological statement referring to the old nature which is common to all men and which is death. We are not called to be human in this sense. We are called not to be Adamic, but to be Christian. It is not that Adam is our father, but that God is. We have died to whatever we were in Adam - to all that we were in Adam - and we have been made alive in Christ. The flesh will pass away. Even the passions of the flesh will go. We cannot take anything Adamic into heaven. Our bodies will be glorified - not merely given a makeover. All that will be left of us is what is of Christ in us. He will have completely remade us. Some of this is while we are conscious partakers in this life, and some of this remaking will await final glorification. But if any man be in Christ Jesus He is a new creation. And that creation is and will be truly human when it is perfected in us.

Though we are born anew of God’s Spirit and we shall ultimately become what God purposes fully human beings to be, we must grow in grace and knowledge and we must live our lives under this reality. We are in the world but not of it. We have a body of death, but we have died and been renewed, and we are called to live in that light. In this we put to death daily the deeds of the body {Ga 5:19-21}, some of which Paul is pointing to in the Corinthians here. So here, being merely human is not a good thing; it is living death awaiting eternal judgement. For Paul says in this very Galatian quote that those who do the deeds of the flesh (habitually and without any sign of repentance) will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Our call, and the call to the Corinthian church, is not to be human in the fallen sense, but to be human in the heavenly sense, which is to be made like Christ. To be perfect as He is perfect. To strive to enter in at the narrow gate and to stay in the narrow way. And we love both God and our neighbour when we help each other, by the grace of God, to be so found.

Friday, March 21, 2008

1Cor 3:1-4 - Part 1 - Carnal Christians?

1-4 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human?

Before starting in earnest here, it seems prudent to point out that this passage is not endorsing the heretical view that there is such a category as the "carnal Christian." There is not, and the Bible nowhere teaches that there is. There are Christians who sometimes behave in carnal ways, as is evident from the whole theme of Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians in this epistle, but that is a far, far cry from Paul teaching that Christians can be spiritually "dormant" (read "dead). In fact, quite the opposite is true. Paul is reproving them for their behaviour precisely because it is not how Christians are supposed to act. The reproof will find an ear in the children of God, but it will ultimately prove and root out those who are not truly His, wherever it is steadfastly ignored.

It’s a perfect example of why all Christians always need to be constantly hearing the gospel preached. It’s why they need to be corrected and reproved from the word of God. The preaching and the teaching are God’s means of bringing His sheep home. The sheep hear His voice because they are His, and they heed Him. Refusing to heed is, in the long run, evidence that a person has no ears to hear, and does not belong in the fold. They need to be evangelized, not pastored. They need to be shown their need of Christ, and not be lulled into a false sense of their salvation.

So - no carnal Christians - just Christians who sometimes fall into carnal behaviours, and unregenerate professors who have no actual love of the truth - and the Word of God to pierce and divide and separate the one from the other.

As one would expect, though, new Christians are blessed with a great deal of ignorance of spiritual things. They need to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. So new Christians will obviously be found with carnal behaviours much more than those who are more mature in the faith. And this is where Paul is coming from here in Chapter 3. He is preferring to give them the benefit of the doubt, as all Christians should with their brothers and sisters. He is hoping and thinking good things - that they are simply immature, rather than utterly reprobate. But he does not let this hope get in the way of his admonition.

All Christians are born again of the Spirit of God. They are called and commanded to walk in the Spirit and no longer to walk in the flesh. What does this mean? It means that we now obey God by listening to His Spirit and we no longer obey the lusts of our old carnal nature. God now governs our lives and we are no longer behaving like highly intelligent animals, responding to stimuli in order to please our selves and to gratify our desires.

As I said, all true Christians have the Spirit. He is the One Who makes the difference between the saved and the unsaved walk. He is the One Who is in us to will and to do of God’s good pleasure. The world does not have Him and it therefore cannot understand the things of God, Who is a spirit. But because God, Who is a spirit, became a man - then He can sympathize with our infirmities. Not condone our sins, but sympathize with our weaknesses. And He can be at work in all of His reborn children for good, bringing them into the joy that was Christ’s - which is to know the One True God, and to be found doing His will. This takes obedience - which is something that God will not do for us, but will work through us to accomplish by training us up in the way we should go. The work of the True Master will inevitably bear fruit. He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. {AV Isa 53:10-11}

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Saved for a Rainy Day

So, while the subject of Noah's Ark is still fresh in your mind from the devotional piece, "God's Navy" yesterday, why not listen to this sermon I wrote about the flood, judgment, justice and justification. If you'd rather listen later you can download the file by right clicking here and selecting "Save link as" or "Save target as", depending on your browser. Tomorrow it will be on to 1Corinthians Chapter 3

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

God's Navy

Here's a short devotional I wrote about the fact that we supply the lack and God supplies the sufficiency. When you've read/listened to it, maybe you'll want to hear the longer piece which I plan on posting tomorrow, called "Saved for a Rainy Day". We'll start the third chapter of 1Corinthians on Good Friday, 21st.

There is only one boat in God's navy. It is 450 feet long and made of Gopher Wood. I speak, of course, of the Ark. Getting into God's navy, and progressing through the ranks has been quite a bit odder than anything I have been used to.

Prior to being in the "Senior Service" I had been a confirmed landlubber. Like the people of Noah's time I looked at God's navy of one single boat, and then at the notable lack of water and I laughed myself silly. But one day a bunch of sailors from the boat came ashore and talked to me, and my fascination with things naval had begun.

Before I knew it I had somehow managed to get myself enlisted. Joining God's navy was great because apparently everybody who first signs on gets the rank of Admiral. I soon found that there was no shortage of Admirals on the Ark and felt right at home. I had the distinct impression that the whole navy was in desperate need of what I could do for them. I would soon have everything running like a top. Everybody on the boat, especially the junior officers, tolerated my high-handedness with a patience that was hard to explain. I laboured hard and long at controlling all aspects of naval operations, despite the conflicting orders of all the other Admirals aboard, but I became exhausted.

Fortunately, the First Sea Lord, whom I had never met face to face, had taken note of my efforts and I was promoted to "Captain". In my new capacity things seemed much simpler. I no longer felt myself responsible for the strategic concerns of the entire Navy. All I had to worry about now was the tactical performance of the boat. There were still a lot of Admirals around, but I had learned that nobody was really listening to them anyway. New Captains sometimes made that mistake until they realized that such orders were always contradictory and counterproductive. I laboured hard and long as a Captain, believing that my plans, ideas and efforts were going to keep the boat afloat when times got tough. At last I became weary in this position, too - and again the First Lord promoted me. This time I was made a "Chief Petty Officer".

Now, "Chief Petty Officer" was a title I could live with! I liked the "chief" part and I was pretty sure I could handle the "petty" bit, too. And boy was I right! I found that I could nit-pick at the minutest details of the condition of the boat and the work of other sailors. I did the job with great relish for a long period of time, truly believing that I would soon whip all those shipmates into shape and get them seafaring, as they ought to be. My ambition was that they should become just like me - perhaps as petty, if not as "chief". When the ratings below me resisted my best efforts to transform them, I came close to a nervous breakdown, but the First Lord came to my rescue again - just in time to avoid my being keelhauled. I was promoted to "Able Seaman."

As an "Able Seaman" it was impossible to think of myself as anything but "able". Wasn't that what the title said? It had to be true. I was put to work below decks doing menial things, but I did them so ably that I was very proud of myself. I was thinking that, though I was not in charge of very much any more, at least the work I was doing would make a difference. Some of the officers who were still waiting for a promotion like mine assured me that my work was pivotal to the whole security of the boat. Without my small but crucial efforts, I believed, the whole kit and caboodle might suddenly plunge to the bottom of the ocean. With this in mind I obsessed and slaved over my small tasks until they became a strain, and eventually a drudgery. I became a shadow of my former self. My strength began to fail me and I wondered if I would even be discharged for inability to perform my duties. But the First Lord was on my case. I supposed by now that He must be a sort of Godfather or a relative of mine to take such an interest in my career. He promoted me once more - this time to "Seaman Third Class."

As "Seaman Third Class" I began to understand that all the things I could do would only ever be "third rate" by Admiralty standards. I would, of course, do them to the best of my ability, but I had come to see that my own abilities were useless indeed for the task at hand. I was no longer responsible for the entire navy, or for the boat - not even for the other men on the boat. I was only responsible for doing my best with what was assigned to me.

It was then that I finally met the First Sea Lord. I didn't recognize Him at first, because he was cleaning out the bilges in the bowels of the boat. When at last it dawned on me who he was I was stunned. He told me he had been managing my career every step of the way, ensuring that I would eventually be promoted to a level that was ideally suited to my abilities. He said he didn't need any help with the bilge or any other naval matters either, but he would welcome my working along with him just for the joy of the experience. And He promoted me on the spot to the pinnacle of my naval career. I became a "Cadet". This position was wonderful because it was to be permanent, even after the war was over.

Somehow, the mere fact that I was at last where He wanted me to be, doing what He wanted me to do and doing it right alongside Him was liberating. I was free at last to leave the whole Navy in His hands, where it had actually been all along, and give Him all my attention and obedience, trusting Him for all the results.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Podcasting Agonizomai
OK, I finally figured out how to handle enclosure links, so I am able to include them for pod catchers like i-Pod to scoop up. Just add my atom/RSS feed to your pod catcher list. I'll try to add enclosure links for past posts (say, those made in the last 6 weeks) so that your pod catcher can catch up.

Happy listening.

1 Cor 2:14-16 - The Untouchables

14-16 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Man’s inability to understand the things of the Spirit of God
unaided is foundational to the gospel of grace. Paul has spent a good portion of this letter so far making clear the spiritual nature of the understanding of gospel truth. Spiritual understanding can come only from God, as a gift of His grace, and spiritual birth is a necessary precondition to repentance and faith.

Think about it. If the natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God it follows that he must first be made an unnatural man or a postnatural man, or be reborn of the Spirit of God before He can actually grasp spiritual things. He cannot know the truth unless God enables him. And the reason for his inability is that he is spiritually dead. This spiritual deadness has lead all mankind to think and to act like spiritually dead people, to serve and to please themselves and to hate the very idea of being subservient to God.

But the spiritually reborn and living child of God has the indwelling Spirit of God imparting to him the very mind of Christ, Who is the eternal Son, one in substance with the Father and the Spirit. Just as all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily in Jesus, so portions of the fullness are revealed in us, starting with the understanding of the wisdom of God in the cross of Christ and going on from there.

Inasmuch as we know the mind of God by the Spirit revealing it to our hearts through the Word as it is lived out in God’s daily providence, we are able to discern truth from error, good from evil, righteousness from sin because we do it not according to our own opinions, but according to God’s own revelation of His purposes and His mind.

This being true, Paul argues, a believer acting according to God’s precepts in the power of the Holy Spirit is beyond the judgement of mere men. They cannot rightly judge him on two accounts. One - they have no spiritual basis upon which to understand the facts, the words and the actions of believers walking in the Spirit. Two - believers walking in the Spirit cannot sin because they are doing the will of the One True God Who is beyond all judgement of His own creatures. It is no longer we, but Christ lives in us, sanctifying all that we are and do through the obedience of our faith.

Yes, we do not always walk in the Spirit. We do sin, sometimes grievously. We lose our way. We wander. That’s not the point here. The point is that we have been born again into the family of God and we are now joined through betrothal to God the Son. His honour is ours. His righteousness is ours. His discipline is ours. His correction. His salvation. All things are ours in Him and all things work together for our good - even the evil that we still do. God has not judged us and God will never condemn us because the price of all of our sin has been paid by the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sin. The believing ones. The called ones. The elect ones. The chosen of God have been saved to the uttermost for eternity.

When we abide in this truth - that we are justified forever - then who has the right, the understanding or the power to question what God has done? He has declared it and none can say otherwise.

And we have the mind of Christ - but what is meant by this? Nothing more and nothing less than the fact that we have the Holy Spirit in us, communicating to us the things of God, as has just been explained. The means by which the Holy Spirit does this communicating is not via some mystical personal subjective inner experience. It isn’t "voices in the head" or a "feeling that comes over us" or an "intuition". It is our mind thinking God’s thoughts after Him due to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in us. And the way we hear God is through the Word made known and revealed to our hearts for the obedience of faith.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Monday, March 17, 2008

1 Cor 2:9-13 - Preaching, Parsing and Power - Part 2

9-13 But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"—10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

Paul’s entire thrust in this and preceding verses is that the knowledge of God comes by revelation from God and not by the perspiration of man. We cannot think our way to God. Unless we are born of the Spirit we cannot, of ourselves, spiritually appropriate even the plain facts about Jesus Christ and the gospel accounts. We cannot believe unless God reveals His Son in us and to us. He uses facts. He uses the gospel. He employs preaching, teaching, study and other forms of witnessing. But He reveals His Son only to and in those whom He has given to the Son from eternity past.

Paul speaks of "us". When he does this he cannot be speaking of mankind in general since he has just argued that the natural man (all unregenerate people) cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. So the "us" is we who, by the grace of God, have believed. In this epistle he is mainly referring to the Corinthian believers, but the inference is that all that are in Christ have the Holy Spirit in them revealing the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that they know whom they have believed and are persuaded of His message and His truthfulness.

So we see that it is the same Holy Spirit that is in all and through all. He inspired the gospel message in all of its stages of revelation and through all the writers of scripture - and He dwells in the hearts of all regenerate people revealing that message in a deeply spiritual way to the inner hearts of His people. We don’t know, we don’t believe because we are wise or obedient and humble - we are wise and obedient and humble (to whatever extent that may be true) because we have been granted faith to believe.

Now, the gospel is the reason for the creation. By this I mean that redemption is no afterthought. God decreed the fall and He purposed the redemption before ever a star twinkled in the infinity of the universe. His secret decrees included those who would be saved in Christ by the grace and mercy of God alone, and those who would be passed over and left to the consequences of their willing sin. The Bible teaches this so that we may know it - but it does not tell us the secret things, such as which people are elect and which are not. We are told the preceptive will of God. {De 29:29}

But, while God is infinitely deep and therefore infinitely beyond our full comprehension, His infinite Spirit knows all of those depths and is able to communicate to our souls much more than we are capable of receiving. God can fill us with new things about Himself eternally and we shall never come to the end of learning more about Him. That is at once both frightening and joyous information. And it is information that not only confirms to us in our deepest hearts that we belong to Him, but is vital as a precondition for that knowledge to become reality to us.

Verse 12 confirms this. And it points out once more that there are two spirits at work in men; the spirit of the world (driven by many spirits, and by the prince of the fallen spirit himself) and the Holy Spirit (the Spirit Who is from God - not which is from God). The Bible is constantly drawing lines and men are constantly trying to erase or to smudge them. God does no leave any one that luxury. In love He is constantly making the distinctions and showing the exclusivity of the kingdom by warning and by speaking in contrasts. Heaven or hell. Lost or saved. In or out. Of the devil or of God. The spirit of the world or the Holy Spirit. Whole chapters in Leviticus are given over to establishing the principle of exclusivity - separation - purity - holiness. We are called to a holiness without which no one shall see God.

It is indeed in Christ that we find and abide in this holiness, but it is not apart from the means God has decreed by which we are found and kept there. And those means are the preaching and teaching of the whole counsel of God - from the Word, in the Spirit - so that His true sheep will both hear and heed His voice.

So the "we" who impart the wisdom of God is first the Apostle, but also all Christians who have received the love of the truth by the Holy Spirit. And I hope it is plain by now that we are the vessels, the conduits, the means by which God the Holy Spirit works to propagate Christ in the Word, just the same as He did when we received Christ. He is there in the transmitter (in the preacher) and in receiver (in the hearer). If the Word is preached then God did it through men. If the Word is received, then God did it through men. God is the mover of history through providence and of the hearts of men by His Spirit. And men have a duty to willingly do what God is doing.

Christ did this perfectly. He always did what the Father was doing and said what the Father was saying. Christians do this far less perfectly, but they desire to be found in the will of God. Unbelievers do the will of God unwillingly - or shall we say "unwittingly". Do we see yet for ourselves that it is God and God alone to whom all glory belongs because He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith? Do we grant that He is in all and through all and that all things are from Him and to Him and for Him? Do we see that we are included only by His grace? I hope it is so for me.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Friday, March 14, 2008

1 Cor 2:9-13 - Preaching, Parsing and Power - Part 1

9-13 But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"—10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

Paul is quoting the OT here. {Isa 64:4} It may seem strange to some - especially when one agrees with those who desire every effort to be made in translating and interpreting according to sound hermeneutical and exegetical principles - that the early saints (and indeed Christ Himself) seemed to quote the Old Testament (the Holy Writings) in what sometimes appeared to be a rather haphazard or inexact way. To which I will say two things; first - that they more often than not used the Septuagint, rather than the Hebrew scriptures, because Greek was the more universal language; second - they were often making application of the sense of a passage rather than trying to render the literal grammar.

In other words, they were not parsing grammar, but giving spiritual lessons. Each has its place. There is a vital need to understand the Bible as near as possible to what the original author both said and meant. But the danger in this is that teaching and preaching can be turned into grammar lessons that focus on the words, rather than the lesson contained in them. Balance is always needed. This is why we have both dynamic equivalency and more literal translations. One captures more idiomatically the idea that the translators think the original author was trying to convey. The other simply conveys the original author’s words and leaves it to the reader to prayerfully inquire as to the meaning.

As an example of the need for the original language I offer the most well known verse in the Bible:
For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. {Joh 3:16}
Many people incorrectly use it as a proof text for the universal atonement. They take "whoever" and give it a universalistic inflection as proof of the libertarian free will of man. Now, I do believe that the gospel should be universally preached in such a way that all people hear the good news and are exhorted to repentance and faith. And I do believe that all who believe are saved. But the passage in the original Greek actually says this:

For so loved God the world that His Son, the only begotten, He gave, so that all who are believing (all the believing ones) on Him may not perish but may have life eternal. {Joh 3:16}
And this does not carry the implication that some infer of "whoever wills" or "whosoever will" at all. It is a simple statement that all who believe are saved - and this fact is both incontrovertible and is the proper inference to be drawn from this particular verse. Such things can be important when trying to understand the way that God works in salvation.

On the other hand, parsing Greek text to those who hear John 3:16 as rank unbelievers - or to babes in the faith - is not always likely to excite their interest or to edify them. An undue and inappropriate emphasis on minutiae can quite ruin the main message and might even hinder the Holy Spirit - especially if the one teaching/preaching/witnessing has a wrong motive for showing his "knowledge." If it puffs him up, if it puts him between people and the Lord Jesus Christ, if it clouds the message rather than clarifying it then there is a problem.

If we compare the present verse (1Cor 2:9) with the Septuagint to which it refers, the main departure seems to be this;
Paul uses the words "for those that love Him"
The Masoretic text says "for him that waiteth for Him"
The Septuagint text says “for them that wait for mercy”
But any difference has little effect on the meaning in this case because waiting for His mercy is simply a subset of loving Him. Those that wait upon the Lord are those that love Him. Those that do not love Him do not consider themselves to need His mercy. And so - for those troubled by this particular variation a little study and some thought yields that there is no substantive change that would affect the thrust of Paul’s argument.

And Paul’s argument is that there are wonderful things stored up for those that belong to God. They were stored up just as much for OT believers as they are for we who are in the gospel age. But we in the gospel age have a greater revelation than they did. We have clarity. We have seen the denouement. We have, in a very real sense, had the finale made clear and the means laid bare. And I mean not just the facts because these facts are available to millions who do not believe, and have been known to millions more who died rejecting their implication.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Thursday, March 13, 2008

1 Cor 2:8 - Culpable but not Capable?

8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

The rulers of the nations (most notably Rome and Israel) at the time of the advent did not understand the secret decree of God that was fully unfolding in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That might seem obvious. It might seem equally obvious that, had they understood, they would have desisted from the murder of the Son of God. But then, how could any one have been saved, had they acted thus?

If Christ had not died then who could be saved? There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved than that of Jesus, Who is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Christ had to die. It was ordained for Christ to die before anything was even made. God purposed it from eternity. Nevertheless, the slayers of Christ are culpable even though God ordained that they should act as they did. If you doubt this then a reading of Luke’s record {Ac 2:22-23,3:14-18} will quickly set you straight.

Peter, in the second of these passages confirms that these killers of Christ acted in ignorance. So they were innocent, right? No! Because he calls upon them to repent in the succeeding verses. And now we begin to see that God’s ways are not our ways. God’s standards and means are not what immediately springs to our mind. God is sovereign even over the wills of men, yet men are still culpable for their evil deeds. Men are unable, through powerlessness and through ignorance to do what is right in God’s eyes, yet God absolutely requires that all men repent regardless of their inability. And their ignorance does not excuse them.

How can this be? It can be because God has decreed it. It can be because man’s inability and ignorance is a moral inability, manifested in his will. Man does as he pleases - he simply is pleased always to choose the evil. He may have knowledge but he lacks the wisdom to properly apply that knowledge. Only God, who is omniscient, has perfect knowledge and only God has perfect love and power by which to apply that knowledge so that it is manifested as perfect wisdom. Would we be wise? Then we must do His will and not our own. Put another way, our will must become His will. We must be conformed to His will. And for this to happen we must be regenerated by God so that we may repent and believe Him.

This is why the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. The rulers of the age had not the fear of God. They had not the fear because they were ignorant. But they were ignorant because they wished (willed) to be. Therefore they were culpable. Therefore, unless they repented they were liable to hell fire. They were already under condemnation and wrath WHEN they acted - not just because they acted.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

1 Cor 2:6-7 - Systematic Theology is Born

6-7 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

As previously stated, it is not that the wisdom of God in Christ is actually foolish; it is that our hearts and minds are so twisted so deceitful, so evil, so desperately wicked - that until and unless God does a work in us, we regard our fallen understanding as wiser than that of the Holy God.

But with a new heart (a heart born of God Himself) and a new mind (the mind of Christ) we see the beauty and wisdom of God in the Lord Jesus Christ and His work. We cannot thank ourselves for this, for we must glory in God alone, who thought it, wrought it and brought it to us, His people.

So, when the doctrine of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ (which is the whole Bible) is preached to the converted, they have the God-given ability to see the wisdom of God in it all in greater and greater measure. For all of us, the gospel begins at the incarnation and the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but for those who wish to be more than spiritual babies - those who wish to become mature - God has revealed Himself in a more comprehensive detail by revealing to us His mind with regard to the creation, His purposes and His means and ends. It is called "teaching" or "doctrine".

From Genesis through the patriarchs, the judges, prophets and kings - throughout Biblical history - God has spoken and revealed riches related to salvation in His Son that He expects His people to search and to know. The objective is that they may know Him as He has chosen to reveal Himself. Having been born of the Spirit of God and being spiritually alive they are able to see spiritual things in the Bible where they were able to see only words before. Now they are given illumination of the Spirit in order that they might see God by the inspiration Spirit in the Word, and be grown in Christ.

In short, we believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction - that the man of God may be perfect (fitted), throughly furnished unto all good works. {2Ti 3:16-17} Therefore, you will never find a true believer who questions the authority of scripture. All true Christians have been internally taught by God the Holy Spirit to know that God the Holy Spirit breathed all the words of the Bible - again using those secondary causes that normally characterize the way God works.

We may struggle to accept certain things. We may even struggle against certain aspects of doctrine. We may disagree with each other about some things - sometimes passionately - but, in the end, it depends upon God in us to bring us to a knowledge of the truth through our struggles. And this characterizes the Christian - even in the midst of his struggles with the Word (for they are usually actually struggles with the flesh’s reaction to the word) - that though he may limp and balk, he is always submitting to the truth. Through the obedience of faith God is at work empowering the Christian to believe and to put to death the unbelieving, rebellious flesh.

When Paul says that the wisdom from God is not the wisdom of "this" age, contextually he is certainly speaking of the first century, because that is when he lived. But, though men may change and though the spirit of the age may change with the passing of time, God never changes. You can take that to the bank. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. And Jesus is the gospel. He is God speaking to us the good news in His Son. He is both the gift and the message. And no matter which age He is presented in, the wisdom of that age - emanating from the spirit of that age and embraced by hearts equally fallen as in prior ages, is not the key to the gospel, nor to its presentation.

All life will wither as the grass and will pass away. The transitory nature of the lives of fallen men and of their collective wisdom apart from God, being both mutable and impermanent, is nothing compared to the infinite, changeless and eternal wisdom of God. Since Christ is the infinite Wisdom of God personified and He is changeless and eternal, then the gospel does not change. The gospel is perfect because God is perfect, His eternal purposes are changeless and all His works are known unto Him from the foundation of the world.

There can be no comparison between fallen worldly wisdom and the wisdom of God. And Paul goes on to say that the foolishness that the world thinks of when it hears the gospel is actually received through the faith of the saints as the unfolding revelation of the purposes of God from the foundation of the world. The fullness of the revelation of God’s plan was never obscured deliberately, but it was manifested gradually - in increasing clarity. However, it was not until Christ came, lived, died and rose again that the revelation was completed. Until then it was to some degree or another "secret," or what some translators have called "a mystery". What God knew fully regarding His purposes of redemption are demonstrated completely only at the incarnation of Christ. It is now "finished". The finished work may now be witnessed (attested) to and preached because, with the passing of the Apostles and the completion of the scriptures there is now nothing left that is necessary for the completion of the gospel. We’ve got all we’re gonna get and it is sufficient for all that we must do.

Finally it is amazing to see the reason given by Paul for the secret purposes of God which have been revealed in Christ. Seemingly contrary to all that went before Paul says that God purposed it for our glory. Yet we are exhorted by Paul to glorify in nothing but God. We are to boast in nothing save our God. And this apparent tension means two things;

1) That while God may glorify us in the sense of bringing us to glory, it is through our utter lack of self-glorification. God must be the author and mover and achiever.

2) That when we are glorified it brings glory to the God who does it all. When God glorifies us He glorifies Himself through us. Our glory and His are one and the same in quality, if not in quantity, because we are now united to Him in His Son.

It is not that we share His glory in any possessive sense. God is jealous of His glory and will not share it with any one. It would not be good and loving for the perfect and infinite Creator and Sustainer of all things to share His glory with the infinitely lesser beings that are His creatures. God’s glory may not be grasped. That is the lesson of Christ’s humility in laying aside His glory temporarily, before taking it up again. It is the lesson of the fall of Satan with a third of the angels of heaven. We may not ascend the sides of the hill of the North. We may not. But God as a man has descended, and has ascended carrying us with Him.

God may glorify us because it redounds to His glory. We are not possessors, but reflectors of His glory. And this is all in Christ, and Christ is the gospel.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans