Biblical Conflict Resolution – Part 2

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This is Part 2.  You can read Part 1 here.  Part 1 is the theological undergirding and this blog will cover the more practical aspects of biblical conflict resolution.

“Those who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of themselves…Only those who live by the forgiveness of their sin in Jesus Christ will think little of themselves in the right way. They will know that their own wisdom completely came to an end when Christ forgave them.”  –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Conflict is inevitable. Embrace it. God will use it.  Good Communication within the church conveys accurate information and gives an opportunity to correct misinformation.  It is as necessary to the healthy function of a congregation as the circulatory system is in our bodies.  Conflict is a normal experience in life.  When conflict occurs, it demands prompt attention.  Conflict that is not attended to immediately is like a neglected infection, and sooner or later it will engulf the entire organism.

Source of Conflict:

“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”  James 4:1-3

Following are some Bible passages that instruct us in the use of our tongues:

  1. “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle.” Psalm 39:1
  2. “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
  3. “Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceit; with his mouth, one speaks peace to his neighbor, but inwardly he sets an ambush for him.” Jeremiah 9:8
  4. “If anyone thinks himself to be [Godly], and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” James 1:26 (See also James 3:3-18)

Towards a definition of gossip:

Sharing anything about someone, when the act of sharing it is not part of the solution of that person’s problem.

Do not triangulate or allow yourself to be triangulated by another person.  Triangulation is using “go-betweens” to communicate indirectly with other parties. The results are unsuspecting, but sympathetic message-bearers become entangled in an unwanted destructive web of blame, anger, and miscommunication. If you have questions or concerns learn the skills of asking questions and engaging in honest, humble, and prayerful dialogue – and go to the person you need to speak to.

The problem with “taking up an offense” (which is a form of triangulation):  Sharing our hurts and bitterness and listening to others share theirs is an area where we need to be very careful.  For example, if someone is rude to your best friend and your friend “leaks” their hurt on you, then you might be tempted to “take up an offense” on their behalf; which means that you get hurt too.  What can happen is that when your friend and the other person resolve their conflict — forgive and forget — you’re still bitter!

Towards a definition of a “wise counselor:” Proverbs 11:14 declares, “There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.”  Sometimes “getting counsel” is merely a pretense for gossip.  What are the criteria for a “wise counselor”?  First and foremost a wise counselor is someone who is mature in the Lord and who will exhort you to godliness and reconciliation.  Secondly, s/he is one who is willing to point out your sin in the situation, and who will not repeat the matter or be stumbled by it.  And thirdly, s/he is one who is seeking God’s will over-and-above your desire/s.  It should also be noted that we can pursue counsel without revealing the name of the person we’re having a problem with.  This is the type of people we invite into either the formal or informal Matt 18 process.

Misc. Thoughts

  • Before addressing any conflict ask, “How have I contributed?” Because you most likely have. Own what you can own first! (Matt 7:5)
  • Some conflict is rooted deeply in the emotional system of a person’s life (Ex 20:5, 34:6-7; Deut 5:9). This must be kept in mind when attempting to reconcile a conflict. When in conflict ask, “What am I feeling and what is the conflict saying about or to me?” (Prov 15:1). Or ask, “What is behind this?” This is especially true when there is explosive behavior or deep emotional reactivity in the conflict. This is often related to family of origin issues.
  • Keep short accounts in any conflict. When you need to talk to others do so in a reasonable amount of time.
  • The goal of conflict resolution moves from forgiveness to reconciliation to restoration. The goal is not to prove you are right! Don’t violate the spirit of the law while following the letter of the law.
  • Some conflict may only be resolved only by forgiving others. To forgive is to bear the wounds of another (see below) and not hold them accountable. To not forgive is to often take on the negative qualities of those who hurt you.
  • Forbearance (i.e., patience, restraint, mercy) is a gift that we give to another. Some conflict may never be resolved. It a [person’s] glory to overlook an offense(Pro 19:11).
  • Why do we become just like the people we hate? It’s a form or worship – intense focus.  We become what we worship.
  • When confronting, create as much safety as possible. Affirmation of another person’s feeling is helpful. Example: “I can understand why you feel that way.”
  • Give yourself grace when you make a mistake or create a conflict or blow a confrontation. Own it and then get back on the horse…
  • Resolving conflict doesn’t mean that you let others trample godly boundaries (by continuing to hurt you) or by being a doormat or by not holding others genuinely and justly accountable for their choices that hurt you.
  • When there are occurrences of “outbursts of anger” recognize that anger is a secondary emotion. We need to ask, what is the primary emotion?  Hurt?  Fear?  Frustration?  Own it and confess it.
  • Practice the basics consistently: (1) Take the log out (Matt 7:5) (2) Go be reconciled (Matt 5:23-24) (3) Lovingly confront (Matt 18:15-18) (4) Restore (Gal 6:2).

Guidelines for resolving conflict:  Biblical guidelines for resolving conflict can be found in Matthew 18:15-20.  If we are offended or encounter a Christian in obvious sin, we are to go to that person in private, in order to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15a).  Following are some guidelines to help us prepare for a “courageous conversation.”  It’s called The P.A.U.S.E. Principle

  • Prepare (pray, get the facts, seek godly counsel, develop options)
  • Affirm relationships (show genuine concern and respect for others)
  • Understand interests (Seek to understand before being understood. Sincerely ask: “Help me to understand…” others’ concerns, desires, needs, limitations, and/or fears)
  • Search for creative solutions (prayerful brainstorming)
  • Evaluate options objectively and reasonably (evaluate, don’t argue)

The Forgiveness of Sins (Apostles’ Creed)

forgiveness

(From a sermon given at Christ Community Church on May 5-6, 2018)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes series in the late 19th century, played a practical joke on some of his friends. He sent a telegram to them that said only these words: “All is discovered. Flee at once.”  Within 24-hours ALL of them had fled the country!  Those were men with guilty consciences. They fled because they knew that they deserved punishment for something.

Here are two questions:

  1. How many people do you think suffer from a chronic guilty conscience in our world?
  2. How many people do you think suffer from a chronic guilty conscience in this room?  [I’ve had bouts with this myself…]

Whether it’s chronic guilt or shame — our contemporary Western culture tries to account for this restlessness gnawing in our soul without taking into consideration the biblical doctrine of sin.

We will be considering the line in the Apostles’ Creed that reads: I believe in the…forgiveness of sins. But before we can talk about God’s forgiveness, we will need to talk about sin.

We will consider just one verse…It’s located in the narrative where Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper:

“For this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” –Matthew 26:28 (ESV)

If you are new to reading the Bible, the words covenant and testament are very similar (a covenant is also a contract). The Bible has an Old Covenant/Testament and a New Covenant/Testament.

What Jesus is doing in THIS verse is initiating the New Covenant (from Law to grace). Jesus, fully God and fully Man, has completed His miraculous ministry and perfect obedience and He’s having a final dinner and saying some final words to His disciples before He goes to the passion of the cross – and then the resurrection, where the New Covenant (or Government/Kingdom) will be established.

Takeaway: The shed blood and broken body of Jesus establishes a new covenant between God and His people, with the central focus being the forgiveness of sins and access to a right relationship with God (see also Luke 22:20 and Jeremiah 31:31–34).

Today, I would like us to briefly consider two points…

  1. The Problem of Sin (It’s a problem, right??)
  2. God’s Provision for the Problem

We’ll look at them one at a time…

The Problem of Sin

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” –Romans 3:23

Let’s begin with some definitions of sin…Probably, the most common definition (or description) of sin that most of us in the room are familiar with is: “missing the mark.”  Think of a target or bull’s eye – and to miss the mark by even a millimeter is still to have missed the mark.  And let’s be clear, none of us even comes close to the perfection, the majesty, the holiness, the wonder, the beauty of God.

The most succinct biblical definition comes from:

“Sin is lawlessness.” –1 John 3:4b

This is similar to the theological concept of the Doctrine of Total Depravity. It’s fairly easy to read words like lawless and total depravity and think, “Well, I’m not that bad!” (i.e., Hitler or Manson).  Yet, the theological concepts of lawlessness and total depravity, are NOT saying that we are as lawless or depraved as we CAN be, it’s saying that we cannot reach the righteousness or perfection necessary to be in the presence of God.  We’re lawless ENOUGH to miss the mark, we depraved ENOUGH to miss the mark.

Here’s another way to think about it:

We have a total INABILITY to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, as God requires. All humankind is inclined to serve our own interests more than the law of God, apart from the empowering grace of God. (Original sin)

Here’s an example that became VERY real to me in a new way at the pastor’s conference the four of us attended last month in Memphis…to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of MLK…

Most of us have seen video clips of people turning firehoses on marchers in the Civil rights movement – or turning police dogs on them and we think, now THAT’s racism. But I’ve never done anything like that, so I must not be a racist.  And we distance ourselves from the problem…

  • But have I ever told a racist joke – or laughed at one?
  • Or heard racist talk and remained silent?
  • Have I ever stopped to think that an African American father has to have a whole different conversation with his adolescent and teenage sons than I had to have with my son?
  • I have ever sat and listened to a person of color describe what it was like to grow-up in America?

Here’s how Dr. King said it:

“Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.” ― Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

There are sins of commission AND there are sins of omission. And I have to admit I have been part of the racist problem in America.

I’m not as RACIST as I could be, I’m not as LAWLESS as I could be, I’m not as DEPRAVED as I could be, — but I’ve missed the mark in every area and I am desperately in need of God’s forgiveness.

God’s Provision for the Problem

The New Covenant Jesus speaks about in Matthew 26:28 concerns an inner transformation that forgives us and cleanses us from ALL sin:

“‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’” –Jeremiah 31:33-34

We can say that the spilled and spattered blood of Jesus made the New Covenant possible, and it also made it sure and reliable. It is confirmed, it is guaranteed with the life of God Himself.  Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we have can have a new covenant relationship with God.  In our contemporary culture, it is typical for non-Christians to say that the cross of Jesus Christ makes no sense.

Why did Jesus have to die?

Why couldn’t God just forgive us?’

But think about this: No one who has been deeply hurt or wronged “just forgives”!  (Keller)

When someone deeply offends or wrongs us, we only have two options:

  1. Either we seek revenge and retribution — finding ways to make them suffer, or
  2. We can refuse revenge and forgive them. But to do THAT, we must suffer.  We must suffer through the emotional and spiritual (and maybe physical) trauma.

Do you see that? We can’t truly forgive a deep wound, a deep wrong without us absorbing the suffering.  How much more must have God suffered in order to forgive us?  How much more did God experience the obligation and debt and of every injustice and sin that was ever committed – past, present, and future??

I will close with this:

Unless we come to grips with the doctrine of sin, we will not be able to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross.  And therefore, we will not understand forgiveness in a way that will truly liberate us.

On the cross, God’s love satisfied His own justice by suffering and bearing the penalty for your sin.  There is never forgiveness without suffering.

You are more sinful than you ever dared believe and simultaneously you are more forgiven and more loved than you ever dared imagine.  –Adapted from Tim Keller

And when we see that with the eyes of our heart – we become both humble and bold at the same time. We are humbled by our having missed the mark by a mile – and we are emboldened the sacrificial love of God that changes us from the inside out.

How the Ascension Secures Our Joy

ascension-day

It is widely thought that the greatest human achievement of all time was traveling to and landing on the moon.[1]

On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew landed the lunar module Eagle on the moon (with less than 30 seconds of fuel left!).  That day Mission Commander Neil Armstrong uttered two now-famous quotes…

  1. When the lunar module touched down, he said, “The Eagle has landed.”
  2. And then as Neil Armstrong descended down a ladder to the moon’s surface he uttered the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was the first-time human beings had ever traveled to another celestial body.  Well, actually, it was the second time… 

When Jesus Christ accomplished the greatest act of love and redemption of all time—He ascended through the clouds and landed on heaven’s shore—what a celebration there must have been as Jesus returned to heaven victorious!

In this post, we will be considering the Doctrine of the Ascension and, more specifically, how it secures our joy.

Here is how the author and apologist C.S. Lewis rightly describes the Ascension:

“A new chapter in cosmic history has opened.  Christ closed the door to everlasting death by his own death and opened heaven for all as easily as he opened his own tomb. The dragon is slain, the Lamb has conquered and now the King ascends to his throne.”  –C.S. Lewis, Miracles [2]

We will be looking at Luke 24:46-53 and consider how the Ascension of Jesus Christ to sit at the right-hand of the Father can secure our joy:

“Thus, it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations [ethnos], beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. 50 And he led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great [Greek: mega] joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.”  — Luke 24:46-53 (ESV, emphasis added)

Big picture, what this passage is telling us is that there are distinct stages of redemptive history. In this passage we see one stage transitioning to the next stage… it is a movement from the Incarnation, which establishes of the kingdom of God upon the earth as redemption is accomplished.  In our passage today, we see this stage gives way to the Church Age stage.  The goal of the Church Age is to spread the good news that the Kingdom of God has been established (but not yet consummated).  This stage, that we are in now, will give way to the final stage where Jesus will come back – just as He left.

The verse that really caught my attention when I began to study this passage afresh was v. 52:

“And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great/mega joy.”

When Jesus first told His disciples in John 16 (16:16ff [3] – The Farewell Discourse) that He would be leaving to prepare a place for them in heaven the night of His arrest, they reacted with great consternation, confusion, and concern, but then when it actually happened, we see in Luke 24:52-53 they responded with great joy and continuous (and I would add contagious) worship!

So, we need to ask why?? What happened??

We read in Acts 1:3 that:

Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” –Acts 1:3  

It seems that Jesus taught a 40-day theological intensive on the meaning and practice of the Kingdom of God.  They needed to know that one stage of redemptive history was giving way to the next stage – the Kingdom established to the Kingdom proclaimed.  It seems that after the resurrection the disciples began to connect many of the dots of Jesus’ 3-years of teaching — as well as their understanding of how the whole Old Testament actually points to Jesus (see Luke 24:27).

Good theology stabilizes the soul – and prepares it for real joy.

After the 3-year ministry of Jesus, after the resurrection, and after the 40-day theological intensive – the penny dropped, the dots were beginning to get connected, the fog was lifting.  So much so that when Jesus was taken up into heaven 40-days after His resurrection there was now an exuberance, joy, and continuous worship!

Today we want to ask, “How can we share in their joy?”

It seems the Apostle’s joy stemmed from intimate day-to-day knowledge of the Person of Jesus Christ as well as a growing theological understanding of who Jesus is, where Jesus went, and what Jesus was going to do.

So, there are three questions we will ask: Who? Where? and What?

One of the well-regarded Protestant catechisms[4] is the Heidelberg Catechism.  It was written over 17 years (1559-1576) to instruct youth as well as pastors and teachers.  It’s divided into 52 sections (with a total of 129 questions and answers) so it could be explained in churches over a one-year period.

Here’s a question and answer from the Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 18 / Q-49

How does Christ’s ascension into heaven benefit us?

  1. First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father.
  2. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself.
  3. Third, He sends us His Spirit as a counter-pledge [first fruits], by whose power we seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, and not the things that are on earth.

Grasping the Who? Where? and What? will open our hearts to new vistas of joy and worship.

Let’s look at them one at a time:

Who has Jesus become in His Ascension?

Jesus ascended into heaven and has been crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords and is sitting at the right hand of the Father. In this new stage of redemptive history, Jesus becomes our Redeemer-Advocate (supporter, defender, attorney).

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” –1 John 2:1

When John calls Jesus “our Advocate,” he means that our Redeemer now ruling and reigning His kingdom from the throne at the right-hand of the Father — to plead our case.  Jesus’ work as our Advocate goes far above and beyond the work of an earthly defense attorney, because the “case” He is handling for us is grounded in the work He has done to secure God’s favorable verdict of innocence (see Romans 8:1–4).

For those who are “in Christ,” God is no longer the Judge who condemns, but the Father who adopts the Christian into His family.  We are all guilty of sin and unable to meet God’s demands of perfect obedience and perfect righteousness, but the perfect righteousness of Jesus imputed[5] (not imparted) to us in our justification, which makes us right (or, righteous) before God.

“The clients are guilty; their innocence and legal righteousness cannot be pleaded. It is the Advocate’s own righteousness that He must plead for the criminals.”  –Matthew Henry

Practically speaking, Jesus’ work as our Advocate involves our once-for-all justification as well as Jesus actively praying for our ongoing sanctification — or transformation.

Where did Jesus go?

Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father and as He becomes our Redeemer-Advocate – and our shame is replaced by His loving care – both covering our past and praying for our present.  The second part of the Heidelberg Catechism answer says, “we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself.” What does that mean?

Here’s a verse that might help us to understand this:

“…[God] raised us up with [Jesus] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” –Ephesians 2:6

Jesus is alive and sitting at the right hand of God the Father with all power and authority and He will one day come again in great glory.  As Jesus rules and reigns from His throne, He is glorified, resurrected body.  He is a single man, with fingernails, Mary is still His mother – you could shake His hand and ask Him how His day has been.

This is the same Jesus who is returning to consummate the Kingdom of God in the same manner that He left – in His glorified resurrected body

Here’s a way to think about it: It’s like a train where Jesus, is the engine (locomotive), which has already pulled-in to the station with His glorified body and we are still on the journey.  We are the boxcars in His train.  BUT, at the same time, we are already in the station because our Head is there. That’s what Eph 2:6 says that we are “seated with him in the heavenly places.”

What was Jesus going to do?

We read in Acts 2 that the Holy Spirit was poured out 10-days after the Ascension.  We call it Pentecost (i.e., 50th day).  The Father and the Son pour out (or release) the Holy Spirit to both launch, empower, and build the Church.

In essence, in this new stage of redemptive history, the Holy Spirit and Jesus switch places – Jesus goes back to heaven victorious and the Holy Spirit is released across the whole earth – as well as to live (habitate) in the heart of the Christian.

The empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, being directed by Jesus, floods the whole earth to convict, to convert, to transform, and to build Christians into the Church.  Jesus said it was better for Him to go so that the HS could come.

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  –John 16:7

It is better to have the Holy Spirit IN us than Jesus BESIDE us.

It doesn’t matter what Christ accomplished outside of us in history, if what He accomplished outside of us, for us, is not made ours by the Spirit’s uniting us to Christ.  –-John Calvin

After the Resurrection, another event was required in the history of redemption – another phase of redemptive history is now necessary to prepare for the final stage, which is the consummation and glorification of God’s Kingdom.

Takeaway:

The Ascension of Jesus Christ marks the completion of the work Jesus came to do on earth and the beginning of what He continues to do in and through the Church by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.  Our joy is secured as we see that all of the majesty, grace, mercy, life, and power of God are wrapped-up in the glorious gospel and are firmly established by the fulfillment of the finished work of Jesus Christ.

The Ascension marks the conclusion of one stage of redemption and the beginning of another.  It is truly finished!  And we await the consummation of the kingdom of God.

 

[1] #2: Electronic devices, #3: Domesticated fire, #4: Air travel, #5: Created writing, #6: Photography, #7: Theories of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, #8: Theory of Evolution, #9: Created Music, #10: The internet.

[2] HarperOne Revised 2015: 236.

[3] In John 16 Jesus promised the emergence of great joy—similar to the transformation of pain into joy when a mother gives birth to a child. Years later, the apostle Paul used the same metaphor—of our world being “pregnant with glory”—to describe life in Christ (Rom. 8:25) –Gospel Transformation Notes (John 16:16-24).

[4] Meaning to instruct in the form of a series of questions and answers.

[5] Reckoned, credited, assigned, ascribed – or, cloaked (see Is. 61:10).

The Basics of True Belief (Romans 10:9-10)

believe

The following are sermon notes from a new series at Christ Community Church entitled “We Believe” — a series unpacking the core beliefs of the Apostles’ Creed.  The sermon title was “The Basics of True Belief.”

INTRO

Today we begin a new series entitled “We Believe.” We will be taking a 12-week look at the Apostle’s Creed.  The word ‘creed’ is derived from the Latin word credo, that means “I believe,” which is what we will be looking at today — a theology of what it means to believe…

Theology

Every person on the planet is a theologian.  (Theology = the study of God.)  Even atheists are theologians — we all think about God, have beliefs about God and live our lives accordingly.  Here’s the deal: We’re either good theologians or we’re poor theologians.  Good, sound theological bearings in our lives will provide stability, contentment, and an undercurrent of joy that will keep us humble during the good times and sustain us during difficult times.

“What comes to our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  –A.W. Tozer (Knowledge of the Holy, p. 1)

The Apostle’s Creed was not written by the Apostles but is a summary of apostolic teaching that contains essential Christian doctrines and beliefs that summarize the gospel and make up the foundation of our faith and is rooted in truth and a rich history that connects the 21st century Church to the early Church – a time when the Church was growing exponentially.

Two types of people who might be nervous about a series based on the Apostles’ creed:

  1. If you have a Catholic background you’ll either think this is awesome because it’s a prayer that is often prayed in the Mass – or you could be pretty nervous right now thinking that the Apostles’ Creed is a distinctly Catholic prayer. It’s not.  The Apostles’ Creed dates back to between 180-250 AD.
  2. On the other hand a few of you may have grown-up in a very conservative church where you heard statements like, “No creed but Christ!” If that is your background and general disposition I would urge you to reconsider.

creed is a concise statement of faith that is used for three primary reasons:

  1. To identify and list essential historic Christian truths.
  2. To clarify doctrinal distinctives
  3. To distinguish truth from error.

The Bible contains a number of creed-like passages…

  1. For example, The Shema, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, is used as a creed (usually benedictory).
  2. Paul included a number of creed-like statements in his letters. Whether or not he generated them, or they were teaching creeds circulating around the churches written by other teachers, we don’t know for sure.  But scattered throughout his letters are several poetic, devotional, and instructive meditations.  1 Timothy 3:16 is a good example.
  3. We could also identify The Lord’s’ Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) as a creed.  Not only was it meant to be prayed as written but it is also meant to describe and teach us some basic concepts about prayer — What does it mean for God to be “our” Father?  “Hallowed” means we are to reverence and worship God.  We are to long for God’s kingdom to come in fullness.  Etc…

As the early church spread, there was a very practical need for a statement of faith to help believers focus on the most important doctrines of their Christian faith. As the church grew, heresies also grew, and the early Christians needed to clarify the defining boundaries of their faith. Here at CCC we view this series as an opportunity to review and teach the basic doctrines of our Christian faith.

Over the next 12 weeks we will not be preaching the Creed but using the Creed to preach the gospel as well as to teach some basic foundational and historic theology.

I heard one pastor explain it this way:

  1. The SUN is like the Bible and the MOON is like a historic creed…
  2. Like the moon reflecting the light of the sun – a historic creed reflects the light of Scripture.

The scriptural truths contained in the Apostles’ Creed help us to live-out good theology with the knowledge that our faith is rooted in truth and in a rich history that spans past and present.

“Throughout church history it has been necessary for the church to adopt and embrace creedal statements to clarify the Christian faith and to distinguish true content from error and false representations of the faith.” –R.C. Sproul

BODY

W will consider the first two words of the Apostles’ Creed: “I Believe.”  We will look at just two verses but then turn our attention to focus on exactly how belief occurs.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”  –Romans 10:9-10 (English Standard Version, emphasis added)

Takeaway: To believe in Jesus Christ is to confess Jesus Christ.  The result is justification, which forever changes our legal standing before God. God declares us not guilty, but righteous because of the finished and complete work of Jesus Christ.

Two points to make concerning these verses:

  1. There is a difference between knowing something and believing something.  To know something is to have it registered in our brain.  To believe something is to have knowledge travel the 18-inches from our head to our heart.
    • To confess and believe happens when the truth moves from something we understand to something we stand under.
    • To use the Apostle John’s language from 1 Jn 3: We go from knowing to beholding.
    • Think of a father taking his son to his freshman year at college. They unpack the car into the dorm room and the son walks his dad back out to the car.  When they get to the car the father hugs his son, kisses him on the cheek, and says to him, “I love you and I will do anything necessary, even die, to make sure you have everything you need.”  And the boy weeps…[1]
      • What’s going on here? This is not new information.  The son already knew that his father loved him.  It’s not a new idea — but the idea becomes new.
      • He doesn’t get new information but the information becomes new. He experiences his father’s love in a new and profound way.
    • What it means to believe and confess is that we experience God’s sweet embrace – and the truth becomes radioactive in our heart.
    • I have to ask: Has this happened to you yet? Have you experienced the Father’s sweet embrace?
  2. Notice how Paul reverses the order of verbs in v. 9 and v. 10: confess–> believe –> believes –> confesses.
    • This a literary technique called parallelism.[2] When a writer employs parallelism, it is done to add emphasis to the author’s intent.
    • What Paul is saying in these verses is that heart-belief and mouth-confession are one and the same — and that hey come together for our justification (some translations use the word “righteousness” – NAS, KJV, NKJV).

Now we turn to the theological doctrine of justification in Romans 10:10 – What does it mean to be justified??  I would like to take the next few minutes and quickly walk you through what is called in Christian theology circles as the Order of Salvation (v. 10a: For with the heart one believes and is justified):

Order of Salvationor the Latin phrase Ordo Salutis, refers to the lining up in chronological sequence of the events which occur from the time when a person is outside the community of faith and dead in their sin, through to the time when a sinner is fully and finally saved.

A short version of the Order of Salvation can be found in:

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” –Romans 8:29-30

An Order of Salvation is as follows:

  1. Election, or God’s choice of us.  (The terms election and predestination are often used interchangeably, both referring to God’s gracious decree whereby He chooses people for eternal life.) “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.”  –Ephesians 1:4
  2. Gospel Call
    • Outward Call: God sends us an outward call by bringing the message of the gospel across our paths, either through reading or hearing the good news of the gospel proclaimed.  We have a “wait, what?” moment.
    • Inward Call/Heart Awakening: Next, God provides an inward call through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, which awakens, or calls to life previously dead hearts.
  3. Regeneration: God imparts new life to us so we have the spiritual ability to respond. “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”  –Titus 3:5
  4. Conversion = Repentance + Faith. Repent of sin and trust in Christ for salvation.  (Think of a two-sided coin.)  Regeneration and conversion is our response to the inward gospel call.  We see Paul’s dramatic conversion detailed in Acts 9.
  5. Justification: Immediately after conversion comes justification, which forever changes our legal standing before God. God declares us not guilty, but righteous — because of the finished and complete work of Christ.  Our justification / righteousness is not imparted but imputed.[3]  Let’s consider the difference between imparted righteousness and imputed righteousness…
    • Imparted Righteousness – The word “impart” means to “give.” (It is also called “infused righteousness” — think of a teabag). The idea of imparted righteousness is that Christ’s righteousness is given to, or infused within, the believer such that he or she actually becomes righteous.  I believe this is the wrong view of justification or righteousness…
    • Imputed Righteousness – The word “impute” means “ascribe” or “credit.” Imputed righteousness thus carries the theological weight of being “counted” or “considered” or “reckoned” righteous.
      • Paul is not writing that we are transformed into people who possessrighteousness, but rather that we have been united to Christ (i.e., the 30 “in Him” passages of Paul’s letters) and because of our union with Him (the emphasis of Romans 5), we have that which He possesses, that is, Christ’s righteousness.
      • Here’s what imputed righteousness accomplishes:
        • In God’s eyes Jesus’ perfect record is imputed to us.
        • We are treated as if we had lived the perfect life that Jesus lived.
        • We are given the love that Jesus deserved (through His obedience).
        • We have the same access to the Father that Jesus did.
      • The best news is that all of this comes not from us doing anything (i.e., works) at all, but simply by confessing and believing.
  6. Adoption: At the same time, God adopts us, making us His children and the brothers and sisters of Christ; and He also unites us with Christ, so that henceforth we are in Him (think of a judge declaring you not guilty and then taking of his judicial robe and adopting you into his family).
  7. Grace Empowered Sanctification: Beginning at that point, and on throughout the rest of our lives, God changes us into His likeness.
    • This occurs mostly through worship and surrender (not willpower – although the will is involved).
    • When (or, as) we worship and surrender the grace of God comes and does IN us and THROUGH us what we could never do on our own.
  8. Grace Empowered Perseverance of the Saints: Throughout this time, God empowers us to persevere in the faith through grace, so that we do not fall away. Then, at death, we enter an intermediate state, where we are in the presence of the Lord, but without our physical bodies.
  9. Glorification: Finally comes glorification, when our bodies will be resurrected and changed so that they will no longer decay, and we will inherit the new heavens and new earth, where we will live in the presence of God for all eternity.

CONCLUSION

A woman named Hetty Green died in 1916 and left an estate valued at between $100-200 million. She went down in history as, “America’s Greatest Miser.”[4]  It was said she ate cold oatmeal to save the cost of cooking it.  Her son had to eventually have his leg amputated, because she was too cheap to pay for medical care.  Hetty Green was wealthiest woman in the world, yet she chose to live like a pauper.

Her life becomes an excellent illustration of the way many Christians live today:

We have unlimited spiritual wealth at our disposal and yet we often live in spiritual and theological poverty.

Do you just know about God, or have you experienced the Father’s love in a new, regenerating, and profound way?

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary:

Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:

The third day He rose again from the dead:

He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead:

I believe in the Holy Ghost:

I believe in the holy [universal] church: the communion of believers:

The forgiveness of sins:

The resurrection of the body:

And the life everlasting. Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Adapted from Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), an English Puritan theologian and preacher.

[2] A balance within one or more sentences of similar phrases or clauses that have the same grammatical structure.

[3] The justification of a sinner is based solely upon the complete and unwavering righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imputed at salvation (see Romans 5:18-21; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:7-10). Imputation means that the merit of Christ’s work of mediation is legally applied to the person, to their account, so that s/he is saved, justified, positionally made fit, and entitled to all of salvation based on a righteousness they personally did not produce, the righteousness of Christ becomes their Substitute and Surety.

[4] She was also known as the “Witch of Wall Street.”

Biblical Conflict Resolution

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Matthew 18:15-35

Here’s what we know…Conflict is inevitable – it’s not about IF there will be conflict in our lives (or in this church) it’s more about WHEN there is conflict.  Most churchgoers are familiar with the passage from Matthew 18 that I will be exegeting, but beforehand let’s climb up to 30,000 feet and look at the whole chapter.  The passage in Matthew 18 concerning church discipline is almost always studied in isolation of the rest of the chapter and I would like for us to see some context.  The theme of the whole chapter is God’s great concern for the spiritually broken, lost, and needy:

  1. God deeply cares about the powerless
  2. God deeply cares about those who have been victimized by sin
  3. God deeply cares about those who have victimized others

Verses 1-14:

Verses 1-6: Addresses our status in the kingdom of God.

We are to become like children (child-like, not childish) and recognize our dependence on God and trust God like a child trusts a loving and attentive parent.  V. 4 tells us very clearly that it is the truly humble people who are the most highly regarded people in the kingdom of God.

Verses 6-14: Tell us that the church is to be a place where the powerless are cared for, that the abuse of people will not be tolerated, and that God deeply cares for each and every person – and is willing to leave the 99 to go after the 1.

With that said, let’s look at Matthew 18:15-35, and consider what Jesus is saying to us:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”  21 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven…

Then beginning in v. 23 we have the account of the Merciful King and the Wicked Slave. The King forgave the Slave a multimillion dollar debt, but the Slave would not forgive a fellow Slave a debt of a few thousand dollars.  The highlight of this account is found in v. 33:   Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?'”

Takeaway: The church is to be a place where sinners are mercifully restored and the church is to be a place where people are quick to forgive and quick to seek reconciliation.

I see this passage divided into three sections – each with a one-word descriptor. I will give them to you upfront and then we will go back and look at them one at a time.  We will see that there is to be:

  1. CLARITY (vs. 15-20)
  2. FORGIVENESS (vs. 21-22)
  3. MERCY (vs. 23-35)

We could also view these as CLARITY (or a clear process) in the context of FORGIVENESS and MERCY (this is why it’s helpful to look at the whole chapter in order to identify the full context)

One at a time…

Vs. 15-20: CLARITY

When conflict happens it must be dealt with immediately. Our natural tendency to look the other way and pretend it’s not there – hoping that it will just go away.  But it won’t.  Conflict that is not attended to immediately is like a neglected infection, and sooner or later it will engulf the entire organism.  Unresolved conflict can do great damage to us as a church as well as to our witness as a church. For that reason, Jesus gives us very clear and specific instruction.  Jesus tells us with specific CLARITY what to do when there is tension between the church members.  Our goal in resolving inevitable church conflict is never retaliation or vindication, but always reconciliation – we want to show and honor Jesus Christ in our healed relationships.

Step 1 – one on one (v. 15) “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

I don’t circulate, I don’t inflate, I don’t inflame, but the first step is to go talk to that person.  We will need to identify if we each have a clear picture of what happened, or what was said.  I would like to point out that in these conflict resolution steps there is both an informal process as well as a formal process.

  1. Informally, we could engage Matt 18 in a home group if someone says something that hurts your feelings or that you think is untrue — or the church hallway if we were to overhear a brother speaking harshly to his wife or his kids. Again, informally we might come-up alongside the person from the home group and say, “You know, I have a different view of the circumstance you spoke about…” – or come alongside the brother in the hallway and ask, “Is everything okay, you seek a little bit uptight today??”
  2. A more formal process might occur if some habitual sin, like gossip, continues to surface in a person’s life.

The main idea of Step 1 (or v. 15) is, can we settle this at the lowest level possible?  The goal is to establish a renewed “family” relationship with our brother or sister. It may take a little time and a little work.  “Help me understand…” is a great intro to what could be a difficult conversation.  This isn’t to be mechanical and reconciliation certainly isn’t automatic, it’s something to be done with great care.

But what if it doesn’t work?

Step 2 – Go in two’s (v. 16) But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.

**This is where it can get harder, or messier. Often times it “feels” so much easier to talk to someone we feel would be more on our side of the conflict than it is to actually talk to the person we are having the conflict with.  This verse reflects the ancient Jewish standard of fairness. That everything would be established by one or two credible witnesses.  The “witness” or “witnesses” are to delve into both party’s perspective of the conflict.

Illus – Perspective matters…If we were to ask the 12 disciples to submit to a battery of tests to determine their aptitude for management positions in a modern organization, we might find that: Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper, that Andrew has very little aptitude for leadership, that James and John tend to place their personal interests above company loyalty, that Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that may tend to undermine morale, and that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau – but that Judas Iscariot is found to be highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible…

What if Step 2 doesn’t work?

Step 3 (v. 17) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Tell it to the church. This DOESN’T mean that we talk to all our friends in the church!   We are to speak to those who represent the authority in the church. Ultimately this would be the elders in the church.  The role of the elders is primarily 3-fold: Doctrine, Direction (vision), and Discipline – yet after steps one and two have been unsuccessful.  The goal is always to help people build a holy consensus and unity that will express the reconciliation that God has brought to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. As Christians we have been reconciled to Christ and there are times when we need to be reconciled to one another.  Again, conflict is inevitable.  The gospel is to be expressed in the way we deal with one another.  Sometimes the elders need to get involved. Sometimes it can get really messy and difficult.  And sometimes we need to involve outside Christian arbitration.  Sometimes it is necessary to inform someone they are in great spiritual danger.

The NT describes three categories of sins that reach this level of seriousness[1]:

  1. Major doctrinal error (e.g., 1 Timothy 1:20)
  2. Major moral failure (e.g. 1 Corinthians 5:5)
  3. Persistent divisiveness (e.g., Titus 3:10)

You may be denied access to the communion table – and your fellowship at this church will be in jeopardy.  No one likes talking about this – until it is your reputation that has been smeared… Or your family has been cheated… Or your marriage has been shattered… Or your church leaders have been scandalized in some way.  What Jesus is saying here is that to protect His Church, He has given us a clear guiding process. God protects His Church by providing a process.  What is the purpose of this process? We are not to be mindless or automatic… Why would we bother to do this?  The primary reasons are rescue and reconciliation. We are willing to engage in uncomfortable conversation in order to rescue and reconcile people due to their own sinful behavior OR from being victimized by other people’s sinful behavior.  The whole purpose of this process is to gain a brother or a sister.

We go back to vs. 12-14 Parable of the lost sheep…

We sometimes think that Matthew 18 is there to protect and vindicate us – but it’s really about caring for those who need rescuing and reconciling…

Verse 17: What does it mean to treat someone as a Gentile and a tax collector?

What Jesus is saying here is that an unwillingness to see and own our sin – even after the highest authorities in the church have weighed in — causes the church to no longer view them as being part of the Christian “family” and, possibly, in need of conversion. (e.g., 2 Corinthians 13:5: Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.)

We are to cut off the unrepentant from access to the sacraments as well as from social relationships.

The Westminster Confession (30.3) explains: “Church [discipline is] necessary, for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren, for deterring of others from the like offenses, for purging out of that leaven which might infect the whole lump, for vindicating the honour of Christ, and the holy profession of the gospel, and for preventing the wrath of God, which might justly fall upon the church, if they should suffer His covenant, and the seals thereof [the sacraments] to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.”

The purpose of church discipline in all its forms is not to punish for punishment’s sake, but to call forth repentance in order to recover the straying sheep. Ultimately, there is only one sin for which a church member is excommunicated — an unwillingness to repent.  When there is genuine repentance, the church is to declare the sin forgiven and receive the offender into fellowship once again.

We have one more question to ask of the text in this section. What is Jesus saying in Matt 18:18?  Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. [This verse is VERY often taken out of context!]

The ruling authorities (usually the elders) pray a prayer that removes the church’s covering from the unrepentant sinner/s. Paul applies this disciplinary action in both 1 Corinthians 5 and 1 Timothy 1:20.  There was obvious and blatant sin in both Corinth and Ephesus and Paul was admonishing each of the churches and their leaders to address it.

  • “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”  —1 Corinthians 5:5:
  • “Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.)” –1 Timothy 1:20

This is not an angry, reactive, pugnacious determination, it is a humble and sorrowful response to sin with a longing for full and complete repentance and restoration.

Matthew finishes this section of his Gospel by emphasizing the need for church discipline to be exercised in the context of continuous forgiveness and extravagant mercy

Verses 21-22: FORGIVENESS

We see Peter attempting to be generous by offering to forgive someone seven times (he doubled the Jewish standard of three times and added an extra).  Then Jesus lovingly says, “Not exactly Peter – it’s seventy times seven times.” The idea is that if we actually tried to keep track we would lose track along the way.

Forbearance is a word found mostly in the King James Version of the Bible.  The idea is that God has show great forbearance with us and we are to show forbearance with one another.  We find a good example of this in Colossians 3:12–13: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another” (KJV).  The New Living Translation words it this way: “Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you.”

Here is something you may not have thought about before: The goal of this biblical process is ultimately about our mission as a church. That others, even outside the church, would see the gospel in operation as we continually pursue healing and reconciliation with one another.  We want to make the gospel known by the witness of the church.  The separation that can happen in church can have eternal consequences for some people when we don’t follow the biblical processes laid down by Jesus for His Church.

Verses 23-35: MERCY

We are to extend the mercy we have received from Jesus Christ at the cross to one another.  Luke 7:47 tells us that those who have been forgiven much will love much.

Here is something that is continually surprising to me…In almost every church there is a person, or group of people, who want to be regarded as church leaders – or, people who regard themselves as gatekeepers in the church who often cause the most damage and strife through gossiping and triangulation (explain triangulation).  These people can even have a strong understanding of the Bible and be very gifted in many areas, but in the end they disqualify themselves because they cannot hold their tongue – or they cannot take their concerns to the people who actually need to hear them.  The rest of the church needs to lovingly stand up to these people and point them to the people they are complaining about or gossiping about.

 

[1] D.A. Carson, Editorial On Abusing Matthew 18, Themelios, May 2011, Vol 36, Issue 1.

 

Does the Bible Condone or Condemn Slavery?

does-the-bible-condone-slavery

The church I am serving is currently studying Colossians.  The next passage I will speak to is Colossians 3:22-4:1, which begins with: “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth…”  Given the history of The United States of America along with our current political and social context I did not think I could easily jump to pretending this passage is really just speaking of employer/employee relationships.  I did some research — both secular and church-based and composed an essay that reports on what I found.  When it comes time to preach my sermon I will need to condense what I found into about 5-7 minutes so that I can actually address what the passage is saying.  I was surprised and saddened by what I found — the USA is one of a very few societies in recorded history that was both a “slave society” as well as a “closed slavery system.”  See below…

 The practice of slavery has developed in virtually every civilization known to humankind. Slavery in ancient Rome differed from its more modern forms in that it was not based on race. Nevertheless, it was an abusive and degrading institution. As much as two thirds of the Roman Empire were slaves during the 1st century — in both lowly and prestigious positions. Besides manual labor, slaves performed many domestic services, and might also be tasked with highly skilled jobs and professions. Greek slaves in particular were often highly educated working as accountants, tutors, and physicians. Unskilled slaves, or those sentenced to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills. Their living conditions were often brutal and their lives were usually short.

Slave Societies

Ancient Rome was one of only a few “slave societies” in recorded history.[1] The term “slave society” distinguishes between societies where slavery was practiced and societies where slavery defined the principle labor market through buying and selling. The 18th century (or Antebellum) American South would also be considered a “slave society.”

Open vs. Closed Slavery Systems

Another distinction historians and anthropologists make is distinguishing between “open” and “closed” systems of slavery. In the “open slavery system” slaves could be freed and accepted fully into general society; in the “closed slavery system” slaves were a separate group and were not accepted into general society even if freed. Roman slavery generally conformed to the “open slavery system.” Cicero, the Roman politician, lawyer, and orator noted in his speeches that a Roman slave could usually be set free within seven years and under Roman law a slave would normally be freed by age 30.[2] By contrast, “American slavery [was] perhaps the most closed and caste-like of any [slave] system known.”[3] Thus, 17th-19th century slavery in America[4] was both a “slave society” as well as a “closed slavery system.” And, sadly, many of the effects of our “closed slavery system” remain embedded in our culture.

New Testament Roman Slavery

I found that the following quote serves as an adequate overview: “In the first century, slaves were not necessarily distinguishable from free persons by race, by speech or by clothing; they were sometimes more highly educated than their owners and held responsible professional positions; some persons sold themselves [or their children] into slavery for economic or social [reasons]; they could reasonably hope to be emancipated after [several] years of service…they were not denied the right of public assembly and were not socially segregated (at least in the cities); they could accumulate savings to buy their freedom; their natural inferiority was not assumed.”[5]

Basic NT Teaching

Jesus is the most revolutionary person who ever lived – and the purpose of His coming was to initiate a full-fledged yet subversive revolution, an upside down kingdom. Jesus, in His first coming, established the kingdom of God on the earth. Jesus, in His second coming, will consummate the kingdom of God on the earth. A helpful illustration is the Allied troops successfully landing on Normandy Beach in WW-2. With the success of the invasion the back of Hitler’s army was broken and the end of the war was inevitable. However, some of the fiercest fighting of the war occurred in the 11-month period between the Normandy invasion and VE-Day (e.g., Battle of the Bulge). It is the same with Jesus and His kingdom – His death and resurrection breaks the back of Satan’s army and the end of the war is inevitable yet we are still in a very real fight.[6]

Jesus and the NT writer’s subversive and revolutionary Christian affirmations, if taken seriously, begin to tear apart the fabric of institutional slavery. Jesus and the NT writers proclaimed the kingdom of God, declaring God alone as the one true King over heaven and earth. Jesus called His followers, as citizens of God’s kingdom, to live in a radically different way on earth and to “fight” in a radically different way. Rather than hating their enemies, they were to love them. Rather than seeking revenge, the disciples of Jesus were to turn the other cheek. No ordinary revolutionary would say things like this. Jesus was advancing a deeper and more pervasive revolution, the overthrow of the kingdom of the Evil One and the victory of the kingdom of God. Jesus (and the NT writers) sought to keep the good news of the gospel at the hub of the cultural wheel – not social justice or any number of other legitimate causes.

The NT writers’ position on the negative status of slavery is more than clear:

  1. Jesus clearly stated that His role and calling was to “proclaim release to the captives…[and] to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19)
  2. Paul clearly and decisively repudiated slave trading (1 Tim 1:9-10)
  3. NT authors repeatedly affirmed the full human dignity and equal spiritual status of all people (Matt. 7:12; Acts 17:26-31; Eph. 2:14; Gal 3:28; Col. 3:11, 4; 1 Jn. 3:17)
  4. Paul encouraged slaves to acquire their freedom whenever possible (1 Cor. 7:20–22)
  5. In Revelation 18:11–13, doomed Babylon (i.e., spiritually speaking those who oppose God) stands condemned because she had treated humans as “cargo,” having trafficked in “slaves [literally ‘bodies’] and human lives.” This repudiation of treating humans as cargo assumes the doctrine of the image of God in all human beings.

The Bible clearly teaches a fundamental equality because all humans are image bearers of God (Gen 1:26; James 3:9). Yet, an even deeper unity in Christ is to transcend human boundaries and social structures: no Jew or Greek, slave or free, no male and female, as all believers are all “one in Christ Jesus” (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28).

The seeds for the destruction of slavery were sown in the New Testament (see Philem. 16-17, Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 6:1-2) –Wayne Grudem

In the NT, the Greek word doulos is frequently used to designate a slave (one bound to another), but also a follower of Christ (or a “bondslave” of Christ).[7] The term would have been an extremely common metaphor that every strata of society would have understood, which points to a relation of absolute dependence where the master and the servant stand on opposite sides with the former having a full claim and the latter having a full commitment. The metaphor indicates that a true servant can exercise no will or initiative on his or her own. Jesus Himself took on the form of a doulos” (Phil. 2:7). As believers we have moved from being slaves to sin to become slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18) by the matchless grace of God through the Incarnation of Jesus.

Returning Onesimus

John Piper writes that instead of a frontal attack on the culturally pervasive institution of slavery in his day, Paul took another approach in his letter to Philemon.[8] Onesimus was a slave, Philemon was master and both were now Christians. Onesimus had evidently run away from Colossae (Colossians 4:9) to Rome where Paul, in prison, had led him to faith in Jesus. Now he was sending Onesimus back to Philemon. This letter tells Philemon how to receive Onesimus. In the process, Paul does at least 11 things that work together to undermine slavery.

  1. Paul draws attention to Philemon’s love for all the saints. “I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” (1:5). This puts Philemon’s relation with Onesimus (now one of the saints) under the banner of God’s saving grace and love, well beyond commerce.
  2. Paul models for Philemon the superiority of appeals over commands when it comes to relationships governed by love. “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you” (1:8-9). This points Philemon to the new dynamics that will hold sway between him and Onesimus. Acting out of freedom from a heart of love is the goal in the relationship.
  3. Paul heightens the sense of Onesimus being in the family of God by calling him his child. “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment” (1:10). Remember, Philemon, however you deal with him, you are dealing with my child.
  4. Paul raises the stakes again by saying that Onesimus has become entwined around his own deep affections. “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart” (1:12). The word for “heart” is “bowels.” This means, “I am deeply bound emotionally to this man.” Treat him that way.
  5. Paul again emphasizes that he wants to avoid force or coercion in his relationship with Philemon. “I would have been glad to keep him with me…but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (1:13-14). This is pointing Philemon to how he is to deal with Onesimus so that he too will act “of his own accord.”
  6. Paul raises the intensity of the relationship again with the word forever. “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever” (1:15). In other words, Onesimus is not coming back into any ordinary, secular relationship. It is forever.
  7. Paul says that Philemon’s relationship can no longer be the usual master-slave relationship. “[You have him back] no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (1:16). Whether he lets Onesimus go back free to serve Paul, or keeps him in his service, things cannot remain as they were. “No longer as a slave” does not lose its force when Paul adds, “more than a slave.”
  8. In that same verse (1:16), Paul refers to Onesimus as Philemon’s beloved brother. This is the relationship that takes the place of slave. “No longer as a slave…but as a beloved brother.” Onesimus now gets the “holy kiss” (1 Thessalonians 5:26) from Philemon and eats at his side at the Lord’s Table.
  9. Paul makes clear that Onesimus is with Philemon in the Lord. “[He is] a beloved brother…in the Lord” (1:16). Onesimus’s identity is now the same as Philemon’s. He is “in the Lord.”
  10. Paul tells Philemon to receive Onesimus the way he would receive Paul. “So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me” (1:17). This is perhaps as strong as anything he has said: Philemon, how would you see me, treat me, relate to me, receive me? Treat your former slave and new brother that way.
  11. Paul says to Philemon that he will cover all Onesimus’s debts. “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account” (1:18). This is a beautiful picture of the gospel. All our debts are charged to Christ’s account.

The upshot of all this is that Jesus, Paul and the other NT authors pointed the church away from slavery because it is an institution that is incompatible with the way the gospel works in people’s lives. Whether the slavery is economic, racial, sexual, mild, or brutal, Paul’s way of dealing with Philemon works to undermine the institution across its various manifestations while keeping the gospel of Jesus Christ front and center. To walk “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14) is to walk away from slavery.

In summary, Jesus and the NT writers stringently opposed oppression, greed, lust of every kind, slave trade, and treating humans as cargo. It should also be noted the NT teaches that only through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone do we receive the life and power of the Holy Spirit to walk in the way of God’s kingdom. God’s grace comes TO us and does IN us and THROUGH us what we cannot do on our own. The earliest Christians were a subversive, revolutionary, new community united by, in, and through Jesus Christ — a people transcending racial, social, and sexual barriers. And some days, if I am honest, it doesn’t look like we’ve made much progress…

 

[1] Moses Finley. Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, Chatto and Windus, 1980.

[2] Marcus Tullius Cicero. Orationes Philippicae 8.32. (A series of 14 political speeches Cicero gave condemning Mark Antony in 44 BC and 43 BC.)

[3] James L. Watson. Slavery as an Institution, Open and Closed Systems, in James L. Watson (ed.), Asian and African Systems of Slavery, Blackwell, 1980: 43.

[4] Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619 to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco.

[5] Murray Harris. Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, IVP 2001: 44.

[6] Adapted from Oscar Cullmann. Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time, John Knox Press, Rev October 1964.

[7] Another common NT term, diakonos, derives from a verb meaning “to wait at table,” or “to serve.” As the Son of man, Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45).

[8] How Paul Worked to Overcome Slavery, desiringgod.org.

Happy 500th Reformation Day!

Happy-Reformation-Day-It-Isnt-Just-Halloween

This is an expanded re-post from Dr. Stephen J. Nichols who is president of Reformation Bible College and chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and teaches on the podcast 5 Minutes in Church History.  I added some definitions as well as several links to help expand the historical account.  You can read Dr. Nichols original post here.

 

A single event on a single day changed the world. It was October 31, 1517. Brother Martin [Luther], a monk and a scholar, had struggled for years with his church, the [Roman Catholic] church. He had been greatly disturbed by an unprecedented indulgence sale.  [An indulgence is a payment to the Catholic Church that purchased an exemption from punishment (penance) for some types of sins.]  The story has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. Let’s meet the cast…

First, there is the young bishop—too young by church laws—Albert of Mainz.  Not only was he bishop over two bishoprics [a district or a diocese], he desired an additional archbishopric over Mainz.  This too was against church laws.  So Albert appealed to the Pope in Rome, Leo X.  From the De Medici family, Leo X greedily allowed his tastes to exceed his financial resources.  Enter the artists and sculptors, Raphaeland Michelangelo.

When Albert of Mainz appealed for a papal dispensation, Leo X was ready to deal.  Albert, with the papal blessing, would sell indulgences for past, present, and future sins.  All of this sickened the monk, Martin Luther.  Can we buy our way into heaven?  Luther had to speak out.

But why October 31?  November 1 held a special place in the church calendar as All Soul’s Day.  On November 1, 1517, a massive exhibit of newly acquired relics would be on display at Wittenberg, Luther’s home city.  Pilgrims would come from all over, genuflect before the relics, and take hundreds, if not thousands, of years off time in purgatory.  Luther’s soul grew even more vexed.  None of this seemed right.

Martin Luther, a scholar, took quill in hand, dipped it in his inkwell and penned his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517.  These were intended to spark a debate, to stir some soul-searching among his fellow brothers in the church.  The 95 Theses sparked far more than a debate.  The 95 Theses also revealed the church was far beyond rehabilitation.  It needed a reformation.  The church, and the world, would never be the same.

One of Luther’s 95 Theses simply declares, “The Church’s true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ” [#62].  That alone is the meaning of Reformation Day. The church had lost sight of the gospel because it had long ago papered over the pages of God’s Word with layer upon layer of [dead and greedy] tradition.  Tradition always brings about systems of works, of earning your way back to God.  It was true of the Pharisees, and it was true of medieval Roman Catholicism.  Didn’t Christ Himself say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light?” [Matthew 11:30].

Reformation Day celebrates the joyful beauty of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is Reformation Day?  It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness.  It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation.  It was a day that led to Martin LutherJohn CalvinJohn Knox, and may other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical [i.e., clergy – pastors, etc.], and cultural transformation.

So we celebrate Reformation Day. This day reminds us to be thankful for our past and to the [Martin the] Monk turned Reformer. What’s more, this day reminds us of our duty, our obligation, to keep the light of the gospel at the center of all we do.