God Is Closer Than You Think #2 – What Is God Like?

What Is God Like?  (A Taste For His Majesty*)

I. INTRO

Most of us know who Chuck Colson was – a Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973…

On June 1, 1973, Chuck Colson[1] visited his friend Tom Phillips,[2] while Watergate unfolded in the press. He was baffled and shocked at Phillips’ explanation that he had “accepted Jesus Christ.”

But he saw that Tom was at peace and he wasn’t. When Colson left the house, he couldn’t get his keys in the ignition he was crying so hard. He wrote in his book, Loving God:

That night I was confronted with my own sin—not just Watergate’s dirty tricks, but the sin deep within me, the hidden evil that lives in every human heart. It was painful and I could not escape. I cried out to God and found myself drawn irresistibly into His waiting arms. That was the night I gave my life to Jesus Christ and began the greatest adventure of my life.[3]

Charles Colson’s New Understanding of God

That story has been told thousands of times over the last four decades. We love to hear about this kind of conversion.

But far too many of us settle for that story in our own lives and the life of our church.

But not Charles Colson. Not only was the White House hatchet man willing to cry in 1973; he was also willing to repent several years later of a woefully inadequate view of God.

It was during a period of unusual spiritual dryness. (If you are in one, take heart! More saints than you realize have had life-changing encounters with God right in the midst of the desert.)

A friend suggested to Colson that he watch a videocassette lecture series by R.C. Sproul on the holiness of God. Here’s what Colson wrote:

All I knew about Sproul was that he was a theologian, so I wasn’t enthusiastic. After all, I reasoned, theology was for people who had time to study, locked in ivory towers far from the battlefield of human need. However, at my friend’s urging I finally agreed to watch Sproul’s series.

By the end of the sixth lecture I was on my knees, deep in prayer, in awe of God’s absolute holiness. It was a life-changing experience as I gained a completely new understanding of the holy God I believe in and worship.

My spiritual drought ended, but this taste for the majesty of God only made me thirst for more of him.[4]

In 1973 Colson had seen enough of himself to know his desperate need of God, and had been driven “irresistibly” (as he says) into God’s arms. But then several years later something else wonderful happened. A theologian spoke on the holiness of God and Chuck Colson says that he fell to his knees and “gained a completely new understanding of the holy God.” From that point on he had what he calls a “taste for the majesty of God.” Have you seen enough of God’s holiness to have an insatiable taste for His majesty?

This same thing happened to Job in the Bible – through all his tribulations he came to see God anew.

Job 1:1There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

Job was a believer, a deeply devout and prayerful man. Surely he knew God as he ought. Surely he had a “taste for the majesty of God.” But then came the pain and misery of his spiritual and physical desert. And in the midst of Job’s dryness God spoke in His majesty to Job:

Job 40:8–14; 41:10–11: “Will you even put Me in the wrong? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His? Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor?…Look on everyone that is proud, and bring him low? And tread down the wicked where they stand? …Who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.”

In the end Job responds, like Colson, to a “completely new understanding of the Holy God.” Job says in 42:3–6:

Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.”

These two stories of men encountering God in life-changing ways is the same thing that is happening to Isaiah in Chap 6…

Isaiah 6:1-8 — In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

II. BODY

Revival happens, individually and corporately, when we see God majestic in His holiness – and we come to grips with our own need and desperation.

Brokenness, repentance, the unspeakable joy of forgiveness, a “taste for the majesty of God,” a hunger for His holiness—to see it more and to live it more: that’s revival. And it all begins by seeing God.

We have a companion book for this series and we have a companion passage that I am asking all of us to pray for ourselves, our loved ones, for SBF. That passage is:

Eph 1:17-19 — That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

In our companion book “Christian Beliefs” by Wayne Grudem we are in Chap 2 – What Is God Like?  It is the longest chapter of the book (16 pages listing 24 separate attributes of God), and we won’t be able to cover them all this morning, so I would like to offer you 4 glimpses of God from the first 4 verses of Isaiah 6 that coincide with our companion book.

1. God Exists – 6:1:KingUzziah is dead, and Isaiah encountered the Lord sitting on the throne.

We see this also with the first four words of the Bible: Gen 1:1 – In the beginning God…” God was the living God when this universe banged into existence. And He will be the living God in 10 trillion years.

God never had a beginning and therefore depends on nothing for His existence. He always has been and always will be alive.

Our companion book describes God as “independent.”  I would take issue with Grudem’s choice of words here.  I agree with Grudem’s words that God “doesn’t actually need us or anything else in creation for anything.”[5]

I would prefer to use the term self-differentiated rather than independent.  What does it mean to be self-differentiated?

“Self-differentiation” is a term used to describe one who is emotional healthy – and is no longer ultimately dependent on anything other than themselves. They are able to live interdependently with others because their sense of worth is not dependent on external relationships, circumstances, or occurrences.

There are three categories of connection that are worthy of our understanding:  

  • Independence (-)
  • Dependence (-), and
  • Interdependence (+).

Within the Trinity each member is fully self-differentiated – and each is supremely interdependent.

2. God Is Omnipotent – The word omnipotent means all-powerful (omni = all; potent = power). Notice the throne of God’s authority is not one throne among many thrones. It is high and lifted up above ALL thrones. Again in 6:1: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up.”

That God’s throne is higher than every other throne signifies God’s superior power to exercise His authority. No opposing authority can nullify the decrees of God.

What God purposes, God accomplishes. In Isaiah 46:10, God emphatically states: “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose.”

Daniel 4:35: “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand.”

To be gripped by the sovereign omnipotence of God is either marvelous because He is for us — or it is terrifying because He is against us.

Indifference to God’s omnipotence simply means we haven’t seen it for what it is. The sovereign authoritative power of the living God is a refuge full of joy and delight for those who have been gripped by the gospel, which is His new covenant promise of love, mercy, and forgiveness.

3. God Is Holy – 6:2-4: “Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke 6:3: “And one called to another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!’”

The seraphim are never mentioned again in the Bible again. The word seraph literally means “to burn.”  John Wesley describes them as, “An order of holy angels…[that] represent either their nature, which is bright and glorious…and pure; or their property, of fervent zeal for God’s service and glory.”[6]

According to verse 4, when one of them speaks, the foundations of the thresholds in the temple shake.

This scene is repeated in Rev 4:8, where John has a vision of the throne in heaven – “And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

The difference between the creatures in Isaiah and Revelation have a lot to do with the eyes of these angelic beings.  In Isaiah the Seraphim covered their faces – and in Rev – the beings “are full of eyes around and within.”

In Isaiah’s vision the Seraphim cannot even look upon the Lord. Great and good as they are, untainted by human sin, they revere their Maker in great humility. How much more will we shudder and quake in His presence!

Let’s consider the word holy…

  • The possibilities of language to carry the meaning of God eventually run dry.
  • The root meaning of holy is to cut or separate. A holy thing is cut off from and separated from that which is common, or we might use the word, secular.
  • Earthly things (and people) are holy in so far as they are distinct from the world — and devoted to God.
  • The Bible speaks of holy ground (Exodus 3:5), holy assemblies (Exodus 12:16), holy sabbath (Exodus 16:23), a holy nation (Exodus 19:6); holy garments (Exodus 28:2), a holy city (Nehemiah 11:1), holy promises (Psalm 105:42), holy men (2 Peter 1:21) and women (1 Peter 3:5), holy scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15), holy hands (1 Timothy 2:8), a holy kiss (Romans 16:16), and a holy faith (Jude 20).  While it’s not used in the Bible, we speak of holy matrimony.
  • Almost anything can become holy if it is separated from the common and devoted to God.
  • God is not holy because He keeps the rules. He wrote the rules! God is not holy because He keeps the law. The law is holy because it reveals God.

Habakkuk 2:20 –“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

The final glimpse is not in our companion book – or, perhaps we could say it is interwoven throughout our companion book…

3. God Is Glorious – 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.”

We cannot separate God’s holiness from God’s glory.

The glory of God is the manifestation of His holiness. God’s holiness is the incomparable perfection of His divine nature; His glory is the display of that holiness.

When we say, or when the Bible says, “God is glorious” it means: God’s holiness has gone public. His glory is the open revelation of the secret of His holiness.

Leviticus 10:3 — “I will show myself holy among those who are near me, and before all the people I will be glorified.”

When God shows himself to be holy, what we see is glory. The holiness of God is His concealed glory. The glory of God is his revealed holiness.

When the Seraphim say, “The whole earth is full of His glory,” it is because from the heights of heaven they can see the end of the world. From down here the view of the glory of God is limited. And truth be told, it’s limited largely by our foolish preferences for lessor things.

Some day God will remove every competing glory and make His holiness known in awesome splendor to every humble creature.

CONCLUSION

Having said that, there is no need to wait. Like Chuck Colson, Job, and Isaiah, my prayer is that as individuals and as a church we will humble ourselves to go hard after the Holy God – that we would develop a taste for His majesty.

I want to hold out this promise from God, who has existed forever, who is omnipotent, who is holy, and who is glorious.

As we prepare our hearts for communion I’d like to read my favorite about revival. But I must warn you it’s not for the faint of heart…Burns asks the question:  Do we want a revival?  Do we really?  And then he answers…

To the church, a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open humiliating confession of sin on the part of her [pastors] and people.  It is not the easy and glorious thing many think it to be, who imagine it filled the pews and reinstated the church in power and authority.  It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to [convict] people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the cross, and to call them to daily renunciation and to a deep and daily consecration.  That is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the church.  Because it says nothing to them of power, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin; it tells them they are dead; it calls them to awake, to renounce the world [system] and to follow Christ.[7]

Sit quietly and reflect and repent as necessary – and when you’re ready come and remember what Christ has done.  His broken body and shed blood.  He lived the life we should have lived – and He died the death we should have died.  While we were yet dead in our sins, Christ died for us – He became poor that we might become rich in mercy and grace…

* I am grateful to the teaching and preaching ministry of John Piper for some of the illustrations of this sermon – as well as the treatment of holiness — and the relationship between God’s holiness and God’s glory.


[1]  Colson was Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973. He gained notoriety at the height of the Watergate affair for being named as one of the Watergate Seven, and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. He became a Christian in 1973 after his arrest.

[2] Chairman of the defense contractor Raytheon.

[3] Loving God, p. 247.

[4] Loving God (pp. 14–15).

[5] Christian Beliefs: 22.

[6] Wesley’s Notes On The Bible. Christian Classics Ethereal Library; 1.1 edition 2010.

[7] James Burns. Revival, Their Laws & Leaders, Hodder and Stoughton 1909:50.

God Is Closer Than You Think #1 – What Is Man?

I. INTRO TO SERIES

Ephesians 1:17-21 is our theme passage for this series.  Will you join me and pray this passage regularly for yourself, for SBA – and for me and the other men who will be teaching and preaching??

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe (emphasis added).

As a church we want to see and encounter the greatness, wonder, and glory of God from an elevated vantage point. Isaiah admonishes,

Get yourself up on a high mountain! (40:9a).

We want to glorify God and know God; we want to have our hearts captivated afresh by a revelation of who God is and what God has done, so that He becomes our greatest hope, our greatest joy and delight.

The first thing we need to know about God is that God’s ultimate goal in all that He does is to preserve and display His own glory. God is uppermost in His own affections.  This is difficult for us to fathom because many of us grew-up and were taught, inadvertently, that we were at the center of God’s world.  This isn’t true.  God does not NEED us.  God loves us, but God has been perfectly content and joyful within the context of the Trinitarian relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – where there has been perfect unity, joy, delight, and love – for all of eternity.

God prizes and delights in His own glory above all things. It is SO important that we see this.  The Bible is about God, not us.  The Bible is written TO us, but it is ABOUT God.

The phrase “glory of God” in the Bible generally refers to the visible splendor and the moral beauty of God’s perfection. It is a weak attempt to put into words what cannot be contained in words-what God is like in His unveiled magnificence and excellence.

When we begin to see God from this vantage point it will free us from our lessor fixations, fears, and anxieties and we will be changed from the inside out.

The secondary reason for this series is to re/lay a foundation of the basic doctrines of the Christian faith at SBF.

Our English word doctrine is derived from the Latin word doctrinais and is the term given to the body of teachings that result from weaving together the various strands of the biblical witness and integrating them into a coherent and systematic account of reality.[1]

A doctrinal statement, then, would be a collection of our core beliefs as an expression of the larger body of Christ.

Some perspective[2] about where I hope this series will take us…

  • God is bigger, more passionate about His own glory, and at the same time, more available to His people, than we have ever dared to imagine.
  • While “principles” are good and helpful, they don’t drive (or change) our lives – passion does. What we really need is for our hearts to come alive for God. Whatever our heart prefers will exercise gravitational pull over the rest of our lives.
  • Something always takes first place in our lives. Whatever, or whoever, is at the top of our “passion list” will drown out everything else. What is it that takes first place in our lives? Is it a relationship – or the thought of a relationship? Is it money, success, pleasure, comfort?
  • Augustine said it as well as anyone – and turned it into a prayer: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[3]
  • This is why the Bible doesn’t just give us advice on how to live, the Bible gives us a revelation of who God is. The glorious gospel is not advice it is news. The Bible does not just offer principles about how to live, it offers an unmatched vision of what (or Who) to live for.
  • Most of us don’t need more information what we really need is illumination.
  • If all we want are practical steps regarding how to live our best life now, then we are seeking the wrong thing.  Our goal in this series is to catch a glimpse of the wonder, majesty, and greatness of our God – that He would become our “exceeding joy” (Ps 43:4) that eclipses everything else.
  • When we studied the Beatitudes last Spring we studied Mat 5:8 – Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. We become pure of heart as we long to see and encounter God above all else.
  • When our thoughts of God are small our feelings for God will be small. What we seeking with this Fall series is a truer, greater, weightier vision of God.
  • In our North American 21st century Evangelical churches, God is not always the true subject matter of much of our preaching.  We have settled for what one researcher described as mere “moralistic therapeutic deism.”[4]
  • My hope for this series is that we wouldn’t have small thoughts about God, but that we would begin to think BIG thoughts about God and that in thinking BIG thoughts about God we would grow an appropriate and wholehearted worshipful response to God – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.[5]
  • As we begin, I am reminded of a quote from John Piper: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man…You can’t commend what you don’t cherish.”[6]
  • May our Bible studies, classes, CommGroup dialogues, and sermons during this season at SBF cause us to worship Christ – first and foremost. Everything else is secondary.

II. SERMON INTRO

That being said, please turn to Genesis 1:27-28…

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

The biblical story of creation reaches its climax with the creation of man (male and female) in God’s image. (Woman is at the apex of God’s creation — God made man and then He said, I can do better than that! 🙂  Four things should be noted about this climactic creative act:

  1. Man is created as the last of all God’s creation works and thus is the highest creature.
  • We are below God as worshipers.
  • And we are above lower creation and therefore, have we have been given dominion – or, stewardship.
  1. Only humankind is said to be in the image of God. (Latin: Imago Dei, Greek: anthropos).
  2. Only now that man is on the scene in the image of God does the writer of Genesis describe the work of creation as being very good (1:31).
  3. Man is given dominion (stewardship) and commanded to subdue and fill the earth (1:28).

Today we are asking the question “What is man?”  Or, “What is humankind?”  It is this doctrine that answers questions regarding how humankind is both similar to and distinctive from God the Creator.

III. BODY

What does it mean for us to become image bearers of God?  The theme, the motif, the thread, of us being image bearers of God runs throughout the Bible as we will see…

So, the first thing that we learn from this passage in Genesis is that we were created to reflect God’s glory.  We are image bearers of God.

We look to God for fulfillment of our deepest needs.  We find our joy, our comfort, and our delight in Him.

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Ps 16:11

We want to join God in His rejoicing over us:

The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior.  He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.  Zephaniah 3:17

If we are made in God’s image, then the more we see and understand about God, the more that we will see and understand about ourselves.

  1. We are moral creatures – born with an intuitive sense of right and wrong.
  2. We are not mere physical creatures, but spiritual creatures.  As such, we can relate to and know God.
  3. We are intellectual creatures, having the ability to think and process information.
  4. We have been born with a desire to know and be known in the context of community.  This reflects our Trinitarian God, who has existed for eternity in perfect love, harmony, respect, and admiration – each one fully serving the needs of the other.  We join in this “dance” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: 52)

Because of sin this image has been distorted.  There is a confluence (crashing) within us of both majesty and depravity.

A few weeks ago we spoke of how the “gift of righteousness” (Rom 5:17) was imputed (or, credited) to us. Is 61:10 – “He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.”  Well, in the same way Adam and Eve’s sin was imputed (or, credited) to us.  Every human being is born with this “sin nature.”

This is where the dogma of contemporary culture is in direct opposition to the gospel.  Our culture desperately wants to believe that we are all basically good people (with a few exceptions).

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jer 17:9

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  Rom 3:23

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.  1 Cor 13:12-13

We will talk more specifically about sin next month, but sin:

  • Sin distorts our moral judgment.
  • Sin clouds our thinking.
  • Sin restricts and hinders our fellowship with one another.  We see this in the Garden of Eden after the sin of Adam and Eve.

The good news is that through repentance God’s image can be restored. God redeems us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The theme, or thread, of us being image bearers of God:

  • Roms 8:19, 29 — For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God…Roms 8:29 — 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.
  • We also see this in Colossians 1:13-15 — The incomparable Christ rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
  • Col 3:10 – Through worship and adoration we, “have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.”
  • 2 Cor 3:18 — But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
  • Our transformation culminates with the consummation of this present age and  in 1 Cor 15:49 — Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
  • 2 Cor 4:1-4 — Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.

In Jesus we see God’s likeness as it was intended to be – and because of what Jesus Christ has done we will eventually be changed to reflect God’s image as we were originally intended to do.

What responsibilities do we bear as image bearer’s of God?

  1. We are reflecting the image of God throughout the course of each and every day (for better or for worse!).  As we engage one another, our spouses, our children, or our co-workers, or neighbors, or friends – or even those that don’t like us (or, God-forbid, those that we don’t like), we are to be cognizant (aware, conscious) of the ongoing question: How can I serve, love, and listen to this person in a way that reflects a little bit of who God is?  “We cannot commend what we do not cherish” (John Piper).
  2. We are to reflect God by taking care of the earth…
  3. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation.  2 Cor 5:17-21 — Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

IV. CONCLUSION

N.T. Wright on What It Means To Be An Image Bearer…

Next week: What is God like?  What does God say about Himself?  (I think this may be the longest chapter in our companion book.)


[1] Adapted from Alister McGrath, “Doctrine,” in Kevin Vanhoozer, Gen. ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, Baker Academic 2005: 177.

[2] I am indebted to a sermon by JR Vassar entitled, Our Great God (Apostles Church in NYC) for spurring me on to think bigger thoughts of God.)

[3] Confessions. Lib 1,1-2, 2.5, 5: CSEL 33, 1-5.

[4] Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith, with Patricia Snell (Oxford University Press, Sept 2009).

[5] Westminster Shorter Catechism 1648, Q1.

[6] Let the Nations Be Glad. Baker Book House 1989: 11.

God’s Mission Becomes Our Mission

I. INTRO

Last week we turned an important corner in the life of this church with our Sacred Assembly.  Today, I’d like for us to consider the mission of God’s Church – and more specifically this church, Southside Bible Fellowship.

By way of introduction, God has a MISSION, a MEANS, and a METHOD.

1. What is the MISSION of God?

God’s mission is the manifestation of His own glory.

“For the earth will be filled

With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,

As the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14

What is God’s glory?  God’s glory is the shining forth of the perfection of all of God’s attributes.

God’s supreme desire is that He might be known and enjoyed above all things.

God seeks to be recognized as supremely worthy, supremely splendid, and supremely valuable. God’s glory is sensed when we feel the reality of His presence, goodness, and superiority.

2. The MEANS of God’s mission is Jesus Christ and the work He did on the cross.

We call this the gospel.  God creates, calls, rescues, redeems, saves, restores, restrains, and grants — all to the end that we may find our true comfort, joy, and delight in Him.

The gospel is the historical narrative of the triune God orchestrating the reconciliation and redemption of a broken creation and fallen creatures, from Satan, sin and its effects to the Father and each other through the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension — and future return of the substitutionary Son by the power of the Spirit for God’s glory and the Church’s joy. (We see summary statements of this throughout Scripture – both Old and New Testaments.)

To be “gospel-centered” means to both see and live out this narrative as the central theme, or singular story line, of the Bible.  It is central. It is singular.

The gospel stands at the center of God’s redemptive plan, and in it we see Him most clearly for Who He is and what He has done.

3. The METHOD of God’s mission is you and me – the Church.  In a nutshell we (the Church) are all called to live as missionaries in our current life station and cultural context.

Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – all our social networks.

If you were preparing to be a missionary in Malaysia what activities would best prepare you?

We are to begin the discipleship process BEFORE conversion.  (This is where most churches get it wrong…think about it – we start discipling our kids before they’re converted…)

II. BODY

Having identified God’s MISSION, MEANS, and METHOD I would like to spend the rest of our time considering the mission of the church – and specifically this church – SBF as we enter into a new season of ministry…

The mission of the Church universal is: To glorify God by making disciples through embodying the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God’s mission and the mission of His Church are inseparably linked. If God’s mission is to be glorified through the redemption and reconciliation of a people, the Church’s mission must orient around the glory of God and seek to glorify Him through redemption and reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 – “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The mission of the Church is highlighted in these verses. As those who have been reconciled to God through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are now ambassadors of reconciliation to a lost and broken world. We plead, urge, implore, reason, pray, serve, preach, teach and gather to see God glorified through reconciliation.

We also see the mission of the church in the more familiar Matthew 28:19-20:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

A suggested mission for SBF: To glorify God through making disciples.  We will accomplish this through:

  1. Gospel-centered worship
  2. Gospel-centered prayer
  3. Gospel-centered community
  4. Gospel-centered service
  5. Gospel-centered mission.

1. Gospel-Centered Worship

All of life is worship. Every thought, word, desire, and deed involves the ascribing of worth and value – glory. Each attitude, affection and activity is an expression of our allegiance, whether to our Creator or His creation. God is alone worthy of our worship.

Worship is related to every area of our lives. We are called to eat, drink, speak, think, and work to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31 – whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”). Worship cannot be narrowed down to a particular time and place as if God does not claim authority over certain aspects of our lives. There are no neutral desires or deeds; everything is an expression of worship.

Gospel-centered worship is to be pursued in every facet of our lives as we consider how all encompassing the gospel is to us. Gospel-centered worship is nurtured through:

The gathering of God’s people in a weekend worship service. Within this venue, we worship God by remembering the gospel through preaching, teaching, singing, praying and celebrating the ordinances of baptism and communion. Each presents an opportunity for the church to receive, remember, respond and rejoice in the work of our great King.

Gospel-centered worship also means that we orient our lives (between Sundays) around learning how to worship God and bring Him glory through our thoughts, words, and deeds.  Again, 1 Corinthians 10:31 becomes our holy objective – whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”

1 Corinthians 10:31, Psalm 145:1-21, Isaiah 43:6-7, Colossians 3:1-17

2. Gospel-Centered Prayer

Turn with me to Exodus 33:15-18 –“Then [Moses] said to [God], “ If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth? 17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!

What we have here is the greatest request we could ever make of God.  It transcends any other request that we could ask of God.

It’s an unrelenting desire to engage the presence of God.

If you want to know the real you, listen for what you pray for involuntarily.  Listen to the spontaneous prayers that irrupt from your heart.

Moses’ prayer is a reflex of the heart.  It reveals what he REALLY wants.

What is it that you involuntarily pray for?  What is the unrehearsed outburst of your soul…

God loves it when we address Him in prayer as the END and not simply a MEANS.  If you’re like me it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing God as the MEANS to our true desires instead of seeing God as the END of all our desires.  We seek God for jobs, for relationships, for good health, for material things – and all those are good yet the ultimate value is God Himself.

The prayer that most delights God is the prayer that makes Him our most passionate desire.

Jonathan Edwards concluded the most essential difference between a Christian and a moralist is that a Christian obeys God out of the sheer delight in who He is. The gospel means that we are not obeying God to get anything but to give him pleasure because we see his worth and beauty. Therefore, the Christian is able to draw power out of the contemplation of God (i.e., prayer). The moralist will usually only come and petition God for things…

Gospel-centered prayer, is making God the END and not the MEANS — rather than anxious petitioning.

3. Gospel-Centered Community

We worship a triune God, Who has eternally existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In identifying the tri-unity of God, we recognize that God is communal. The Godhead has perpetually dwelt in perfect harmony, unity, joy, and love. Bearing the image of God, we are called to reflect this reality. We are called to be communal creatures imaging the community of our Creator.

Though each Christian has a personal relationship with God, that relationship is not individual or private. The Christian faith is not intended to be lived in isolation. We were made for community – relationship with God and with each other.

The local church is not merely a place that we attend but a people to whom we belong. The Bible calls us members of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31) with the expectation that we contribute to the body for the glory of God and the good of His people.

Gospel-centered community is a radical call amid a culture of mere attendance and casual involvement. It involves mutual love, care, consistency and authenticity as we seek to adorn the person and work of Christ with our lives. Where these elements are lacking, we have moved away from gospel-centered community and into the realm of social clubs.

Gospel-centered community is primarily expressed through Community Groups that meet during the week, or Sunday School classes that meet before the service on Sunday mornings. Groups are not perfect and those who participate in them will find them messy at times. However, our hope is that group members will be radically committed to reform from within. This takes time, prayer, effort, patience, love, trust and hope.

Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 3:12-13, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

4. Gospel-Centered Service

Gospel-centered service is motivated by the reconciling work of God and seeks to extend His grace and mercy to others for His glory and not our own. It is an expression of love and stewardship of grace marked by humility, generosity and hospitality and empowered by a passion for the glory of God.

Service can and should be pursued in various ways by all recipients of varied grace. Those who have been impacted by the gospel have countless opportunities – both formal and informal – to serve others by greeting at the doors of the church, following up guests who will be visiting our church, volunteering to work with our children and youth, teaching, singing, serving communion, giving financially to the needs of others, opening their homes to their neighbors, etc.

John 13:1-20, 1 Peter 3:8-11, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15

5. Gospel-Centered Mission

We are used to thinking of mission in terms of funding and sending missionaries to work in other countries to share the plan of salvation with unreached people groups.

If there is an unreached people group in the United States, it is New Englanders. A recent Gallup poll placed the six states of New England in the top ten least religious states in the nation.

Those in New England who attend evangelical churches hover between 1- 3% of the population. There is a higher percentage of evangelical Christian churchgoers in Mormon Utah than in New Hampshire!

Gospel-centered mission is the recognition that each one of us is sent by God as a missionary into our own sphere of relationships – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – where we boldly promote the gospel through collaborative expressions of mercy and generosity.

We serve a missionary God: The Father sent the Son, the Son sent the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit sends us.

Let me just say that I am more of a fan of mining the vein of our current relational sphere than I am into organizing what we’ve known as “street witnessing.”  And I am more of a fan of initially engaging our relational network through learning how to listen.  In our culture at this moment in history, we will earning the right to speak through first of all learning how to listen.

2 Corinthians 5:11-2, Matthew 28:18-20, Mt. 4:19; John 20:21; Acts 16:20; 17:6, and to make disciples of all nations Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8

The Upside Down Life #4 – Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

I. Intro

Matthew 5:4; Hebrews 12:14-17

Today we will continue in our series The Upside Down Life, looking at the first 16 verses of Matt 5.  Today we will do some review work and unpack a few concepts in Matt 5 and then we will move into Heb 12.

(Review) Both Gene and Chris did an excellent job defining the words “blessed” (and what it means to be “poor.”)  Those notes are available here on the blog…

Review “poor in spirit”

  • Two weeks ago Chris said being “poor in spirit” is seeing our desperate need for God.
  • And then last week Gene said some pretty heavy things…
    • He said that as a church we are to be thankful that SBF has been privileged to go through all the struggles we have. God must be thrilled that there is somebody here who is broken and hungry for more… (Heavy words…a perfect message to begin our week-long fast as a church).
    • Gene went on to say SBF has lost pastors, people, programs, reputation, visible success, and a downward trend in the bank account…  [God comforts the afflicted – and afflicts the comfortable]
    • Your church is flat broke, you do not have it all together, you do not have it all figured out, and you cannot muscle, or buy, your way out of this one.
    • Blessed are those bankrupt in spirit, because they are entering the eternal reserves of the reservoirs of the God of true riches.
    • As a church we’ve been taken out to the woodshed…we’ve been spanked. Are you glad yet?  [I have a tremendous amount of respect for those of you who have stayed.]

Where do we go from “bankrupt in spirit”?  We mourn…

Today, we will look at 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted”

Once we see and acknowledge our deep spiritual poverty, it gives way to a deep and utter repentance.  (There’s a difference between repentance and “relentance.”)

There is a transforming grief, or repentance, that surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, and suffering that grips our world.  (“Meanwhile we groan.”)

I’ve titled the message this morning, The Unlikely Route To Joy (borrowed from a chapter heading in Dan Allender’s’ book Wounded Heart).

  • In order to become rich, we need to acknowledge and own our poverty.
  • And in order to know “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8) we must mourn.  This is the essence of living the upside down life (or counterintuitive).

I would like us to refer to mourning as a lifestyle of repentance.

For those of us who have read Pete Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, we remember that the 3rd principle of the EHC is to live in brokenness and vulnerability.

This means living and leading out of our failure and pain, questions and struggles…[1]

This is how Paul led.  In 2 Cor 12 – Paul speaks of being caught-up to the third heaven – and then he shares about his thorn in the flesh“a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

Dr. Dan Allender – “An about face movement from denial and rebellion to truth and surrender… Repentance involves the response of humble hunger, bold movement, and wild celebration when faced with the reality of our fallen state and the grace of God…It is a shift in perspective as to where life is found…It is melting into the warm arms of God, received when it would be so understandable to be spurned.” (Wounded Heart)

**Mourning, or lifestyle repentance, is living WITH our failures, but not UNDER them.

II. BODY

With that said please turn to Hebrews 12…

If we had to boil down the book of Hebrews to a one-word description, the word would be perseverance. It is written specifically for a group of Christians who were about to quit.

Vs. 14-17 are full of some very specific admonitions to help us with engaging in a lifestyle of repentance…

14Pursue peace with all [people], and the sanctification without which no one will see [to perceive, to know, to become acquainted with by experience] the Lord.

15See to it [Looking diligently – episkapao] that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled [stained];

16that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

17For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance [NIV – he could bring about no change of mind], though he sought for it with tears.

This is a heavy passage: Esau found no place for repentance – even though he sought for it with tears.  (What are we supposed to do with this text?)

This passage offers us some insight into the reasons for Esau’s inability to come to a place of true repentance – and I believe it will help us to consider some possible issues that may be keeping us from fully knowing the privilege of repentance.

Listed in this passage are (at least) 6 admonitions that will move us toward embracing a lifestyle of true repentance…

1.  Pursue peace with all people.

Pursue: to run swiftly [NIV –  Make every effort]

Peace: from a primary verb eirēnē (harmonized relationships)

“If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”  Matthew 5:23,24 (NAS)

Roms 12:18 – “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

(In a few weeks we’ll be talking about Mat 5:9 – Peacemaker vs. peacekeeper.)

I once flew from Reno, NV to Tulsa, OK and then rented a car and drove 3 hours just to ask someone’s forgiveness after reading this passage and taking it to heart.

2.  Pursue sanctification.

Sanctification: hallowed [NIV – Make every effort… to be holy] The Lord’s Prayer (Mat 6) hagiasmos (Heb 12 – noun), hagiazō (Mat 6 – verb)

We have positional sanctification and progressive sanctification

The Gospel Is for Believers.  We Christians need to hear the gospel all of our lives because it is the gospel that continues to remind us that our day-to-day acceptance with the Father is not based on what we do for God but on remembering what Christ did for us.  (That is what communion is all about…)

**Esau was rejected by God because he steadfastly refused to serve the purpose of God and instead served his lust for the immediate and the tangible.

3.  Pursue grace.

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God.” (v.15)

Grace: All that God is lavishly poured into you. If God has acted lavishly toward you, could you not be lavish to others?  Or yourself??

Jerry Bridges, in his masterpiece says, “The idea portrayed here is analogous to the ocean waves crashing upon the beach. One wave has hardly disappeared before another arrives.[2]

Pursue the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

“See to it that…no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”  (v.15)

Notice the word, “many.”

Like a small root that grows into a great tree, bitterness springs up in our hearts and overshadows even our deepest relationships.

A “bitter root” comes when we allow disappointment or expectations to grow into resentment, or when we nurse grudges over past hurts.

Eph 4:15: But speaking the truth in love we are to grow up…” In my view this passage speaks to the epitome of what it means to be spiritually and emotionally healthy

5.  Pursue purity.

“See to it that…there be no immoral…person like Esau.” (v.16)

pornos – male prostitute.  Again, Esau steadfastly refused to humble himself to serve the purpose of God.  Instead he served his lust for the immediate and the tangible.

6.  Pursue God.

Instead of being godless (or, “unhallowed, profane” – Vine’s]

Esau found no place for repentance (metanoia), though he sought for it with tears.

We usually associate tears with repentance.  And it’s true that tears very often accompany true repentance.  But here we have the instance of Esau crying for repentance but not finding it.  Why?  Esau was in “relentance,” not true repentance.

III.CONCLUSION

“Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”   Acts 3:19 (NAS)

Nothing will cause a renewed soul to hate sin so much as a realization of God’s grace; nothing will move him to mourn so genuinely over his sins as a sense of Christ’s dying love. It is that which breaks his heart: the realization that there is so much in him that is opposed to Christ. But a life of holiness is a life of faith (the heart turning daily to Christ), and the fruits of faith are genuine repentance, true humility, praising God for His infinite patience and mercy, pantings after conformity to Christ.  —The Doctrine of Sanctification by A.W. Pink.


[1] EHC: 110.

[2] Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace.

The Upside Down Life (#1) – An Indepth Look At Matthew 5:1-16

The Way In Is the Way On.  An Overview of the Beatitudes…

I. INTRO

I have been serving here at SBF for 11 months now – and I can tell you that everything we have been studying up to this point has been preparing us for the study we are about to embark on…

We will take our time and work through the first 16 verses of Mathew 5.  These are also the first 16 verses of the most famous sermon of all time – The Sermon on the Mount (SOTM), which consist of chapters 5-7.  They are all red-letter verses, in other words these are the words of Jesus.

Here’s what John Stott the late pastor, author, and missiologist has said about the SOTM:

“The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that he ever uttered, for it is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do.”[1]

Now, reading the SOTM only takes about 10 minutes so it’s widely thought that Matthew is giving us the “Cliff Notes” version (i.e., highlights).

We need to make some theological distinctions as we lean into the Beatitudes and the SOTM…

Some of the theological roots of SBF include what’s known as a dispensational[2] view of the Bible.

Dispensationalists and most of the rest of Evangelicalism would differ on the interpretation and application of the Beatitudes (and the SOTM).

Classical dispensationalism would argue that the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) are not gospel but pertain to life in the millennial kingdom after to the second coming of Christ.[3] (If you have a Scofield Study Bible – that would emphasize the classical view of dispensationalism.)

It should be noted that there are more moderate views of dispensationalism.  If you have a Ryrie Study Bible – he’s a more moderate dispensationalist.  Yet he would still believe that primary fulfillment of the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) are in the millennial kingdom.[4] (Popular contemporary dispensationalists include John MacArthur and Charles Swindoll.  I have also heard that John MacArthur has become more moderate in his dispensationalism, but I don’t have first hand knowledge of that.  Charles Swindoll would also be considered a more moderate dispensationalist.)

The basic evangelical approach is to recognize that the kingdom of God has come in the person and work of Jesus. (Mk 1:15: “kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel). This “kingdom now” theological perspective teaches that Jesus established the kingdom of God (KOG) at His first coming and will consummate the KOG at His second coming – and we live in the age (or dispensation) between the two.  One theologian, George Ladd, has said we live in the presence of the future – between the already and the not yet.[5]

So, how will this affect our study of the Beatitudes?  I believe the Beatitudes (and the SOTM) ARE for today – and that they are the means to allowing the gospel to be worked into our lives – and then through our lives to others.

Here’s how I would say it: “The Gospel is not advice, it is news.”  (Jared Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness, Crossway 2011: 188.)  It is the ultimate Good News.  I would suggest to you that Sunday Services are not primarily the place to give advice… Gospel-centered (or Christ centered) change (i.e., sanctification) is rooted first and foremost in remembrance. We are to remind one another primarily of what Christ Jesus has done, not what we must do.

We cannot commend what we do not cherish.  -John Piper

And the essence of Christian maturity is when the Gospel – or, what Christ has done — gets worked IN – and then THROUGH our lives – which is what I’d like to spend our remaining time considering – and this will be the main intent of our series.

Today we will take a look at the Beatitudes.  Allow me to offer a few introductory thoughts.

II. BODY

Contained in the Beatitudes are eight qualities that characterize the life of Jesus Christ, and therefore, through conversion, they begin to characterize our life in Jesus Christ.  Jesus calls us to follow him, surrender to Him, and to depend upon His strength and power.

The word beatitude comes from the Latin word meaning “blessed.”

More specifically the word means exalted joy, or true happiness. (Joy is not always exuberant, but can also be described as calm delight in even the most adverse circumstances.  Joy fueled Paul’s contentmentPhil 4:11.)

With the beatitudes, Jesus dives into our innermost being probing the heart and raising the question of motive.  (This is why, at face value, it’s harder to be a Christian than Jewish…)

What made Jesus a threat to everyone and the reason He was eventually killed was that in His encounters with people (particularly the religious leaders), He exposes what they were on the inside.  Some people find it liberating – others hate it.  (Mat 23:27: hypocrites and whitewashed tombs.)

The Beatitudes, I have come to see, is our surrendered response to the Gospel.  I see the Beatitudes as a step-by-step spiritual formation process that moves us toward spiritual depth and maturity.  This becomes cyclical as we grow deeper and deeper in our faith.  The Beatitudes become the outworking of the Gospel IN and THROUGH our lives.

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit…

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Petersen – MSG)

Another translation renders this verse, “Happy are those who know their need for God.” (JBP)

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?  A desperateness of soul that is weary of living in it’s own strength and longs for God’s mercy and grace to come and refresh the soul.  In a word, it is DESPERATION.

Prodigal Sons (Lk 15:11-32) The younger prodigal came to the end of himself (v.17) and though he had no idea of the Father’s love, made his way home.

In the recovery movement this would be similar to steps 1 & 2:

  • Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

2. Blessed are those who mourn…

I have a river of sin in my life – with 3 primary tributaries…

  1. Original sin (Adam & Eve traded the presence of God for the knowledge of God – and that’s been our core tendency ever since…).
  2. Family of origin issues. (We all have negative traits and generational sin patterns that we bring into our Christian experience.  Are you in touch with yours?)
  3. My own dumb choices.

As we are honest about the sin that has infected us there will be a transforming grief and accompanying repentance, that surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, lust, and suffering that grips our world.

I want to own my sin everyday.[6]

This is where the upside down life comes into play.  The Beatitudes are counterintuitive (paradox: seeming contradiction).  We go down to go up; death precedes resurrection; we get to joy by traveling through grief.  Our soul wants to find a way around grief, but God says, “No, you must travel through grief – and the good news is, He says, “I’ll go with you and we will do it in My strength and power.”

The way of the Gospel is a death and resurrection cycle…

**The gospel has the greatest potential to captivate us when we understand that we are more depraved than we ever realized and simultaneously more loved that we ever dared to imagine.

3. Blessed are the meek…

Rick Warren would say, “Meekness is not weakness, but the power of your potential under Christ’s control.”  The concept of meekness describes a horse that has been broken.  We can either surrender to Christ and invite His breaking, or remain the undisciplined and wild stallion.

Grieving over sin and suffering grows meekness in us and delivers us into a humble learning posture (disciple means learner).

4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Spiritual hunger and thirst is the growing desire to be empty of those things that don’t reflect God, and initiates a deep longing for wholeness in our lives.

5. Blessed are the merciful…

Mercy is entering into another persons feelings – attempting to see things from another person’s perspective – all with understanding AND acceptance…just like Jesus has done for us.

As we receive God’s mercy we begin to give mercy – to ourselves and to others.

6. Blessed are the pure in heart… Mercy cleanses our heart and restores purity to our lives.

Did you know that your virginity CAN be restored?

2 Cor 11:2For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

7. Blessed are the peacemakers…

Purity gives way to a personal serenity and peacefulness.  Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of anxiety in the midst of inevitable conflict – and when others encounter it, they want it too.

Our Western concept of peace needs to be considered in the light of the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, which is SHALOM — and means more than our limited understanding of peace (i.e., the lack of conflict).

Biblical SHALOM means a universal flourishing, wholeness and delight; a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied, natural gifts are fruitfully employed — all under the arc of God’s love. Shalom is the way things ought to be.

Neal Plantinga – “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in equity, fulfillment, and delight.”

I will also say there is a difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper.

To be a peacemaker does not mean peace at any cost.  Peacekeeping creates a false peace.  Many of us live out our lives with this false peace and say nothing or do nothing to change it—in churches, homes, work places, marriages.

Examples:

  • Someone makes inappropriate sexual comments to you at work.  You know its not accidental because its repetitive and degrading.  But you keep your mouth shut because you know they’ll threaten your job or make you miserable if you say anything.
  • A family member makes a scene at a family gathering.  It embarrasses you, the rest of the family, but you say nothing.  You keep the peace because to go there would unearth a lot of stuff that you just aren’t willing to deal with.
  • Your spouse makes insulting remarks to you or humiliates you publicly through critical tone of voice.  It grates on you.  But you keep silent because you want to keep the peace.

8. Blessed are the persecuted… Living life from a kingdom of God perspective will place us in conflict with those that oppose it (usually it’s “religious,” moralistic people!).

III. CONCLUSION

Without the knowledge of our extreme sin, the payment of the Cross seems trivial and does not electrify or transform.  But without the knowledge of Christ’s completely satisfying life and death, the knowledge of sin would crush us – or move us to deny and repress it.

By walking the way of the Beatitudes we hold our depravity and the Cross in a healthy and dynamic tension that will lead to transformation and renewal.


[1] The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, InterVarsity Press, 1978:15.

[2] Dispensationalism is a theological system that teaches biblical history is best understood in light of a number of successive administrations (dispensations) of God’s dealings with humankind. It maintains fundamental distinctions between God’s plans for national Israel and for the New Testament Church, and emphasizes prophecy of the end-times and a pre-tribulation rapture of the church prior to Christ’s Second Coming.

[3] As one dispensationalist put it, “this Sermon cannot be taken in its plain import and be applied to Christians universally…It has been tried in spots, but…it has always been like planting a beautiful flower in stony ground or in a dry and withering atmosphere” (I. M. Haldeman, The Kingdom of God, p. 149).

[4] The moderate dispensationalist [still] views the primary fulfillment of the Sermon and the full following of its laws as applicable to the Messianic kingdom” (Dispensationalism Today, 107-08).

[5] A good primer on this alternative to dispensationalism view would be the “The Gospel of the Kingdom” by George Ladd.

[6] “None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:10 (ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Eph 2:1-2 (ESV)

A Generous Life #5 (of 6) 2 Cor 9:1-7

Reciprocity Reconstructed – 2 Cor 9:1-7

 I. INTRO

Where are we headed today?  The BIG IDEA is reciprocity reconstructed.

I would like to begin, however, with a review of our foundational verse in this series – and in this section (chapters 7-8): 2 Cor 8:9.

Then we’ll define, deconstruct and then reconstruct this concept of reciprocity – and then use that concept to help us unpack the three key verses in our passage today (primarily vs. 6,7, & 8).

Part of the teaching today will be a critique of the so-called Prosperity Gospel, sometimes referred to as Health & Wealth or Name It And Claim It.  Sadly, this message has seeped into the Evangelical landscape of North American Christianity.  And what’s even sadder is that it is being exported to third-world countries through infected missionaries and ministries.  But more about that in a few minutes…

Let’s begin by going back to our foundational verse for this series: 2 Cor 8:9, which identifies Jesus Christ as the most generous life ever lived…

2 Cor 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

This is a rich (no pun intended :)) theological statement, which anchors this section on practical Christian stewardship. It identifies the ultimate example of (self) giving – how and why Jesus so fully and completely gave Himself (Christology).

This verse invites us to ask and answer three questions:

1. How rich was He?  No one ever started so rich as the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ps 50:12b: “For the world is Mine, and all it contains.”

2. How poor did He become? No one ever became as poor as the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Cor 5:21: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

3. How rich do we become? No one ever started out so poor and have become so rich as those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Eph 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” [no need for a second blessing]

Our “riches” in Christ include: Justification, forgiveness, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, partakers of the divine nature, new heart, new will, new creation, imperishable inheritance — the inheritance is Him.  We’ve been invited into the Trinitarian dance…

OK, with Paul’s lesson of Christology, let’s consider Reciprocity Reconstructed.  What does reciprocity mean? (Definition, Deconstruction, Reconstruction)

Definition: rec·i·proc·i·ty [res-uh-pros-i-tee] noun

A reciprocal state or relation.

Reciprocation; or mutual exchange.

Deconstruction: The word reciprocity has been adulterated by the (so called) Prosperity Gospel movement (i.e., “word of faith,” “positive confession,” “health & wealth gospel,” etc.) claims the Bible teaches financial (& physical) blessing is the will of God for Christians. Their doctrine teaches that:

  • Faith,
  • Positive speech, and
  • Donations to Christian ministries

Will always increase material wealth and physical health.  At the root of this “false” doctrine is their belief that God’s promise of dominion to Israel applies to Christians today.

Paul clearly warns against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warns against ministries who stir up – and teach the desire to be rich.

1 Timothy 6:9-10: “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

Reconstruction: The reciprocity of the gospel exchanges my sin for Christ’s righteousness. Martin Luther calls it, “the great exchange”…

Luther says, “This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them.”

So, the Health & Wealth folks have cheapened the concept of reciprocity – and made it about materialism.  Kind of an Americanized brand of Christianity…

II. BODY – now let’s take these concepts and move into our passage for today…I’ll give a cursory view of the first five verses and then we’ll unpack vs. 6,7, & 8.

The ministry of giving in Corinth – 9:1-5:

  • Paul’s reminding them of their initial commitment to give – vv. 1-2.  Paul’s comment that the Corinthians’ initial zeal to give stirred up “most” (v.2) of the Macedonians is a healthy dose of realism.
  • In other words, not all the believers in Macedonia gave generously with joy in the midst of their poverty and affliction (cf. 8:1-5).
  • In vs. 3-5 we see Paul’s purpose in sending Titus –
    • Paul’s initial excitement has been somewhat tempered. Titus has come from Corinth with the discouraging report that the collection has, basically, been put “on the back burner.”
    • Paul expresses some disappointment here these verses.  Paul views stewardship and living out the generosity of Jesus as an important component of discipleship.  Paul had hoped they were farther along.
  • He is also attempting to prolong the friendly competition between the Macedonians and the Corinthians.

Verses 6-11 help us to understand and apply the principle of reciprocity in Christian giving…

In v.6 we encounter the illustration of “sowing” and “reaping”

Now I’m not a farmer (I could kill an artificial plant!), but in farming, what may initially appear to be a loss (“sowing”) – in due time, it will produce a gain (“reaping”). As one sows, so one reaps.

So, we need to ask what determines whether a gift is “sparing” or “bountiful”?  It is not determined by the quantity, but by:

  • The means of the giver (we learned from chapter 8 that giving is to be in proportion to our wealth (cf. 8:3,11,12; 1 Cor. 16:2); and
  • The heart (mind/mood) of the giver (it is possible to give a lot of money, but still be sowing “sparingly” (cf. 8:1-5; 9:5b).

In v.7 we encounter the pattern for generous stewardship. There are six parameters:

  1. Universal (“Let each one…”)
  2. Personal (“just as s/he has purposed in his heart”). Many commentators say that if Paul had believed that we should begin our giving with a tithe, he would have reiterated that here.
  3. Choice/Resolve (“as he has purposed;” this verb proaireomai, found only here in the NT, means: to choose deliberately or to make up your own mind about something.)  In the end only you and God will know if you are sowing sparingly or bountifully.
  4. “Not Grudgingly,” or, without regret. Lit., “not out of sorrow;” i.e., giving and then grieving over the fact that money is gone; thinking of all the things you could have purchased with the money.
  5.  “Not Under Compulsion. No force – psychological, guilt-driven, or otherwise.
  6. Cheerful. The Greek word translated “cheerful” is hilaron, from which we get out English word “hilarious.”  What does it mean to be a cheerful, or hilarious, giver?  It means that we find our joy, our delight, our pleasure in the generosity of Jesus Christ and we give out of a worshipful, joyful heart – as we remember what Jesus Christ has done.  Is it an act of faith?  Yes.  We sow and we wait…

III. CONCLUSION

What if the cheerfulness of responsive obedient giving is not there?

I’ll suggest three things[1]:

  1. Don’t say it doesn’t matter how you feel. Confess the sin of joylessness (yes, joylessness is a sin). Acknowledge the coldness of your heart.  (Money might be one of your root idols!)
  2. Pray earnestly that God would give to you, or restore, the joy of responsive obedience.
  3. Go ahead and do the outward dimension of your responsive obedience in the hope that the doing will rekindle the delight.

Paul envisions us joyfully and bountifully sowing in the light of God’s faithfulness — that we might give as a response to His joyful sacrifice and righteousness. (Heb 12:2: “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross.”)


[1] Adapted from John Piper, Desiring God: 248-249.

A Generous Life #2 (of 6) 2 Cor 8:1-7

I. INTRO

The title of our series – A Generous Life – is what’s referred to in literature as a double entendre, which means it can be understood in two ways. (Often one meaning of a double entendre is innocent and the other is risqué.  In the case of our series title both meanings are scandalously grace-filled – but neither is risqué .)

  1. The first way to understand it is what we spoke about last week – The life of Jesus was the most generous life ever lived. In his unpublished essay on the Trinity, Jonathon Edwards writes, “God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, His own essence and perfection.”[1] Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, left this “cocoon” of infinite perfection and with humility and generosity condescended into human history. And Philippians 2 tells us that, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (vs. 6-8).
  2. The second way to understand our series title is that you and I have access to a holy capacity to live a generous life.  We see this in 2 Cor 8:1,“the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia.” It was not born out of their own strength or power – it was God blessing and enabling them (and us) to become outrageously generous.

Today we will begin to work through 10 Principles of Generosity that are found in these two chapters.  (Found in last weeks notes here on the Southside blog – and in the study guides, which are also available for download here on at the blogsite, or there are hardcopies in the lobby.)  We will work through two principles per Sunday for the next five weeks.  (Gene will be here next week.)

Before we get to todays principles, I’d like to provide a little bit of background:

First of all, notice the geography…

Macedonia is to the north of Corinth.

A commentator describes Macedonia as, “a splendid tract of land, centered on the plains of the gulf of Thessalonica…Running up the great river valleys into the Balkan Mountains, it was famous for its timber and precious metals. The churches of Macedonia had been planted by Paul on his second missionary journey.[2]

I think it’s important to notice that Paul is seeking to motivate the Corinthians through a  bit of competition. In the south, Macedonia was referred to as the “barbaric North” and the Greeks and Macedonians had a lengthy history of political rivalry.

And Paul was probably writing 2 Corinthians from Macedonia.

Corinth was a prosperous double-ported Roman outpost and colony of approximately 200,000 people that sat on a narrow strip of land (isthmus) between the Aegean Sea with the Ionian Sea (within the larger Mediterranean Sea).

Corinth was cosmopolitan in nature, and not unexpectedly, Corinth became notorious for luxurious and debauched living.  Some commentators liken it to San Francisco during the California gold-rush days.

We know from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians that they were a pretty carnal church.  They took the grace of God for granted, tolerating immorality in their midst and some were also getting drunk at their gatherings.  One commentator states the Corinthians were, “undisciplined extremists…setting a poor example for their pagan neighbors. They also did not take kindly to [Paul’s] authority.”[3]

What we have in Corinth is a young church that was not yet disciplined – financially or otherwise, and Paul is seeking to teach them by showing them the example of the Macedonian churches. Churches that were so exemplary in their financial stewardship and generosity, that they are mentioned four times in the New Testament as exemplary churches.  They represented the kind of church that we here at SBF aspire to be.

Both the Macedonian churches and the church at Corinth were struggling under an economic recession that’s not totally unlike the one we are experiencing.  But the Macedonians were suffering far more painfully than those who lived in Corinth. The economic downturn hit them, apparently, much harder.

II. BODY

So in chapters 8-9 Paul has 10 principles for them. We’ll look at the first two today. 

Money is one of the ways that we show that we belong to Jesus and understand His life and message.  Throughout the course of the Gospels Jesus talks about money approximately 25% of the time.  In Mathew 6:21 and Luke 12:34, He says that where our treasure is, our heart is.  In other words, our hearts are reflected in our finances.  And Paul is saying that generosity reveals the grace of God.

So, the principles that we will look at today are:

  1. Generosity is a work of Gods grace. (2 Cor 8:1-6)
  2. Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice. (2 Cor 8:7)

Let’s look at them one at a time…

1.  “Generosity is a work of Gods grace.” (2 Cor 8:1-6)

1 Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 5 and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well.

I observed an equation in verse two.  It’s counter intuitive…

A great ordeal of affliction + abundance of joy + deep poverty = liberality.

This leads me to a hypothesis (or proposition):  Any circumstance that includes great affliction and deep poverty, wherein we place our joy and comfort in the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, will result in liberality.

If we place our joy and comfort in the god of money, and that god was crucified through an economic downturn, and showed few signs of resurrection, we have no reason for joy and generous liberality.  

If, however, our God is Jesus, then, our source of joy and generous liberality is still alive and well. Where there’s root, there’s fruit…

John Piper sums up the spiritual dynamics of this text by saying: Grace comes down, Joy rises up, and Generosity flows out.

This brings us to our second principle of generosity…

2.  Generosity is both a work of God’s grace and a choice. (2 Cor 1:7)

7 But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.

First of all, this verse is a summary (or synopsis) of 1 Corinthians – with a loving admonishment to share the grace God has given, or imparted, to them (“see that you abound”).

“When poverty-stricken Macedonians beg Paul for the privilege of giving money to other poor saints…it is an extension of their joy in God…They are denying themselvesbut the joy of extending God’s grace to others is a far better reward than anything money could buy.[4]

Three important points:

  1. Grace initiates all giving that glorifies God, otherwise we would take pride and praise for our support of others.
  2. This grace alone is the root of genuine joy. Otherwise joy is misplaced and dissipates when circumstances turn bad.
  3. Grace-given joy is always other-oriented.  When our giving germinates in the soil of grace, it blooms in generous bounty to those in need. Such is the nature of true love.

What we find in our study of stewardship and generosity is that the seed-bed, the foundation of it all is grace.

The grace of God, first and foremost, is the power of God’s Holy Spirit that converts the soul. It is the activity, the moving, of God whereby God saves and justifies us through faith (see esp. Rom. 3:24; 5:15,17).

Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well.

Grace, then, is a dynamic and experiential reality that empowers the human heart to look beyond its limitations and accomplish things that defy rational explanation.

Grace is the power that enables impoverished and suffering saints to give when, by all accounts, they should be the ones to get. Such was the operation of grace in the giving of these Macedonian believers.

If we attempt to live generous lives out of our own soul or self will, we cut off the very grace that was given through Jesus.  “Soul grace” (we’ll call it) actually denies the deity of Jesus.

III. CONCLUSION

There is a prosperity gospel that is preached in many churches throughout North America.  (It’s particularly said because this Americanized version of the gospel is being exported around the world.)  Those who claim that God wants His people to be materially rich have missed the whole point of the gospel.  Having said that, I believe there’s one area that they don’t go far enough in…

Their mantra is that, “we give to get – and we can never out-give God.”  Is there truth in that?  [Yes.]

What the gospel tells us, however, is that giving to get does not go far enough.  We are to give to get, to give again – and again, and again…

GRACE GIVING (Version 2)

(This is our initial attempt to generate a formal statement regarding SBF’s stance on the stewardship of finances.  Please read it and make any comments or ask any questions that would help you to better understand what the Bible teaches us about money.)

So what’s the deal with “tithing”? The word tithe simply means “one-tenth.” Under the Law of Moses in the Old Testament, the Israelites were required to give in such a way that it amounted to a little over 23% of their income. The first was 10% of all of their possessions (Lev. 27:30–33; Num. 18:20–21), which was given to the Levites for Temple Ministry. A second was taken from whatever produce was left after the first tithe was given. Jewish interpreters consider this to be a second giving requirement for feasts and sacrifices (Deut. 12:17–18; Lev. 27:30; Num. 18:21). Finally, another tithe was given once every three years to support the poor (Deut. 14:28–29). On top of these giving mandates were the voluntary freewill offerings given out of their own will and desire above and beyond their normal giving (Ex. 35:29; Lev. 22:23; Ezra 3:5).

When it comes to the New Testament teaching on giving, we begin with the understanding that the Mosaic Law no longer binds us (Rom. 6:14). This leads us to the question, “Should we still give according to the Old Testament system, or are we able to give less – or even more?”

Concerning this, Paul wrote, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:6–8).

As Christians who are no longer under the Law, we give because of the grace that God has given us. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul commends the believers in Macedonia for what is often referred to as “grace giving.” Paul describes the qualities of this benevolence as being generous (2 Cor. 8:2), willful (2 Cor. 8:3), directed by God (2 Cor. 8:5), shared (2 Cor. 8:6), active (2 Cor. 8:7), and motivated by love (2 Cor. 8:8). This kind of giving should not be done out of a “legalistic” mentality, but as the Lord leads you to give (2 Cor. 8:8).

It may be concluded that the Old Testament tithing system set a standard for giving, and that while we are no longer required under the Law to give, we are under grace—and our giving is to reflect this. We are not under compulsion to give; rather, we are to give cheerfully and prayerfully as God leads us. New Testament teaching places our giving in the category of an aspect of worship unto the Lord, which is why churches (usually) receive these tithes and offerings as a part of our corporate worship gatherings on Sundays. Additionally, many churches also make the option available to give privately via online debit cards, as that is now how many people handle their “crops.”


[1] An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity.

[2] Edwin A. Judge:1982.

[4] Desiring God: 104.