Archive for February, 2010

The Gospel, So Love

In 1 Peter, Peter is writing to elect exiles, Christians who had been forcefully displaced from their homeland to the area now known Asia Minor for the sake of expanding the Roman Empire.  Throughout the book, Peter’s call to these elect exiles is to find their hope in Jesus Christ because God has caused them to be born again in Christ.  After laying out the foundation of their faith in the opening few verses, Peter begins to instruct his readers on what it means to live in light of Gospel as elect exiles.  In verses 22-25, Peter commands the elect exiles to “love one another from a pure heart.”

Throughout the New Testament, the biblical authors present love as a necessary bi-product of our redemption.  Jesus states, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13.35, ESV).  At the end of his section on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, Paul writes, “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12.31, ESV).  Paul then launches into his famous discourse on love, the “still more excellent way,” which ends by writing, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13.13, ESV).  When Paul encourages believers to walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh, he gives the fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5.22-23, ESV).  Notice that the first fruit Paul lists is love.  Paul tells Timothy, his “true child in the faith,” “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1.5, ESV).  Finally, John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4.7-8, ESV).  Therefore, Peter, in accord with the rest of the New Testament, instructs the elect exiles to love in response to the Gospel.

All of these verses beg the question, “What is love?”  Paul answers this question writing, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13.4-8a, ESV).

I have often heard people talk about love as a risky proposition; I am sure that I have even talked about it in that way.  However, risk seems to be a fundamentally flawed way of thinking about love.  When we think of love in terms of risk, what we are really saying is, “If I love, I might not be loved back.  If I love, I might get hurt.  Therefore, love is risky.”  Of course, we act as if we think it is a risk worth taking saying, “It is better to have love and lost than to never have loved at all (or it is better to have been loved and lost than never to have been loved at all).”  The reason this understanding of love is flawed is that it is selfish.  When we view love as a risk we are thinking in terms of what we might or might not get back.  We are still, to some degree, unsatisfied if we are not loved back.  The problem with this kind of thinking is that we often will not be loved back.  Eventually, the risk outweighs the return, so we quit loving.

The explanation of love that Paul gives is different.  Rather than understanding love in terms of risk, Paul understands love in terms of self-denial, sacrifice, and service.  The Gospel is necessary for this type of love, for only in Christ do we have such freedom from our flesh that this altruistic love is possible.  The Gospel says we are sinners with no hope before God except through Jesus Christ.  The hope we have through Jesus Christ is only because, “For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21, ESV).  Because Jesus died for sin as a substitute for all those who are united to Him by faith, then those who are united to Christ by faith have their sins forgiven and are made new creatures.

Only in Christ do we submit to the reality that all things are for God’s glory and love in accord with that reality.  As long as we find our hope in the flesh and the things of this world, we will be unable to deny ourselves and the things of this world for the sake of loving – it will simply be too risky.  Yet, when we find our hope in God and how He has worked out redemption for His people through Jesus Christ, we can rest in the certain hope that we have in Christ and love, even those who harm us, selflessly, sacrificially, and joyfully.

Peter and the other biblical authors see this as a necessary outcome of faith because of the union with Christ underlying our faith.  If we are united to Jesus Christ by faith, and Jesus Christ is God, and God is love, then on what grounds do we fail to love with the love of Christ?

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Blogging Books – The Law of Perfect Freedom (Chapter 6)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism offers the following exposition of the fifth commandment.

“Q. 63. Which is the fifth commandment?  A. The fifth commandment is, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother:  that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.’

“Q. 64. What is required in the fifth commandment?  A. The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals.

“Q. 65. What is forbidden in the fifth commandment?  A. The fifth commandment forbiddeth the neglecting of, or doing anything against, the honor and duty which belongeth to everyone in their several places and relations.

“Q. 66. What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment?  A. The reason annexed to the fifth commandment is a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment.”

That we are to honor our parents is perfectly clear from this commandment; however, the Westminster Divines pushed past honoring parents to honoring “everyone in their several places and relations.”  The Westminster application of course increases the weight of the fifth commandment.  In many ways, Michael Horton’s treatment of this command parallels the Westminster Divines treatment, but Horton, writing a book, had more room to develop the argument for this broader understanding of the fifth commandment.

Horton approaches his argument, in part, by unpacking the family table found in Ephesians 6.  In dealing with Ephesians 6.6-8 he writes, “To serve our earthly superiors is to serve our heavenly Superior; therefore, our attention, efficiency, and diligence are to be motivated not by whether the boss shows enough respect for our work, but by the fact that God our heavenly Father is pleased when we help build a good car or house, use our time at work efficiently, or read and pray with our family.  We can endure many of the frustrations of working conditions when we realize that the dignity of our work is measured by God’s satisfaction, not merely by our employer’s” (Horton, 138).  Following this exposition, Horton goes on to deal with the Youthism, Nowism, Pretentiousness, and Me-ism that plague our culture and rail against honoring others, especially elders.  Essentially, in each of these sections, Dr. Horton is saying we need to get over ourselves.  Whether we are talking about honoring our parents, boss, friends, or anyone else humility is required.

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Valentines Day… My Favorite!

102189Valentines Day is… interesting… to say the least.  We do not know much about any of the Saint Valentines for whom the holiday might have been named.  Various stories are told about why romantic love came to be associated with this particular day.  It is certainly impossible to overlook the reality that, at least at this point in history, Valentine’s Day is almost entirely defined by folks running businesses.  Yet, this weekend literally millions of us will feel obligated to celebrate love by sending cards and flowers, going on dates, eating fancy meals, gifting cheap mystery chocolates and giant red stuffed animals with hearts embroidered on their bottoms, and a whole host of other fun and exciting things.  And we will do all of this while our single friends are giving us their sage advice, “If you would have loved her like you should have all year, you wouldn’t have to have this special day.”

Now, I am admittedly cynical about this grand holiday.  The first Valentines gift I gave Annie, who surprisingly enough is now my wife, was a paper titled “The Death of Romance.”  However, even I have to admit that there is nothing wrong with setting aside special times to express your love for your spouse in special ways.  It might even be a good idea.

The Bible tells us that marriage is a picture of the church.  Paul writes, “25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body.  31’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.  33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5.25-33, ESV).

It is not too much to say that when husbands take pleasure in loving their wives sacrificially and selflessly they are playing out the awe-inspiring love of Jesus Christ for his bride, the church.  Nor is it too much to say that when wives take pleasure in resting in the love of their husband they are playing out a life lived in the security of what our Savior has done for us.

So, men, take advantage of this special day and take pleasure in loving your wife – not with a pre-packaged love, but with a sacrificial and selfless love, not for what you may get in return, but because it is your pleasure to love her, and not because she deserves it, but because you have called her your bride.

Need some resources to begin thinking in the right direction?  Read and study Song of Solomon, John 3.16, 1 Corinthians 13.4-7, and Ephesians 5.25-33.  Be satisfied with God’s love and glorify him by exemplifying with your own bride the love that Jesus Christ has for his bride, the church.

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Blogging Books – The Law of Perfect Freedom (Chapter 5)

411BSN0H2NL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_In the fifth chapter, “Rest Assured,” Dr. Horton delves into the fourth commandment which states, “8Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.  On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20.8-11, ESV).

Early in the chapter, Horton admits that his view is at odds with many, perhaps the majority, protestant Bible scholars.  The historic position on the Sabbath is summed up in Westminster Shorter Catechism #58-62.

“Q. 58. What is required in the fourth commandment? A. The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself.

“Q. 59. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath? A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath.

“Q. 60. How is the sabbath to be sanctified? A. The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

“Q. 61. What is forbidden in the fourth commandment? A. The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission, or careless performance, of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

“Q. 62. What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment? A. The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the sabbath day.”

Horton sums up his position when he writes, “Nevetheless, I wish to make the case for my conviction that the fourth commandment belongs in what we call the ‘ceremonial’ rather than the ‘moral’ part of the law.  Remember, the ‘moral’ part of God’s law is what is eternally binding on believers in both testaments, whereas the shadows of Christ in the civil and ceremonial laws disappear when the reality (Christ) appears.  To suggest that the fourth commandment, then, is part of the ceremonial, rather than the moral, law is to say that it is no longer binding on Christians” (Horton, 124-25).

To support his view, Dr. Horton makes two key points that we must test.  First, he puts forth the idea that the origin of the Sabbath is in the Ten Commandments rather than at Creation.  Second, Dr. Horton argues that the Sabbath is not part of the moral law.

In response to Dr. Horton’s first point, we can simply read the reason given in the Ten Commandments for celebrating a Sabbath.  “11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20.11, ESV).  Granted, the reason given in Deuteronomy 5, a later repeating of the Ten Commandments, is the remembrance of the Exodus, but the Exodus 20 reason still gives cause to see the Sabbath as rooted, at least partially, in God’s rest from Creation in Genesis 2.

Horton’s second point, that the Sabbath is not part of the Moral law runs into problems with the very reasons he gives to support his thesis.  He writes, “First, the apostle Paul argues in the first two chapters of Romans that the law written on the conscience and the law written on tablets of stone are one and the same.  In other words, the moral law (Ten Commandments) is the written expression of the natural law engraved on the human conscience” (Horton, 125).  The obvious conclusion then is either that the Sabbath is part of the Moral law, or that the fourth commandment was not part of the Ten Commandments.  However, Horton comes up with a third option.  He views the Sabbath as part of the Ten Commandments, but as unique among the other nine in that while it is part of the Ten, unlike the other nine, it is not part of the Moral law.  In the end, Dr. Horton’s argument, that unlike the other nine commandments we do not find a Sabbath principle stamped on the human conscience, seems tenuous.

The second reason Dr. Horton gives for not seeing the Sabbath as part of the Moral law is that we find each of the other nine commandments dealt with in the New Testament but not the Sabbath.  He writes, “We search in vain to find one single New Testament commandment concerning the Sabbath” (Horton, 126).  However, Matthew 12.1-13, Mark 2.27-28, and other passages do deal with the Sabbath in light of Jesus Christ.  Admittedly, one difficulty is the shift from the Sabbath on Saturday, the last day of week to the Lord’s Day on Sunday, the first day of the week.  Again, multiple verses deal with this shift as well, such as Acts 20.5-12 and 1 Corinthians 16.1-2.  Finally, Hebrews 3.7-4.13, which some scholars have called “an inspired commentary…on Genesis 2.2 and Psalm 95.7-11,” lays out a robust understanding of the Sabbath in light of Jesus Christ.

In the end, Dr. Horton makes some very helpful points on two fronts.  First, his work is helpful to work through for our understanding of the implications of the work of Jesus Christ on the ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath; however, I think he goes too far by saying that the Sabbath is only ceremonial.  Second, his work at the end of the chapter dealing with the practical benefits not only of a weekly Sabbath, but also of corporate worship is a much-needed reminder.

As someone who holds a higher view of the Lord’s Day the questions that I come back to again and again are these – Am I so satisfied in and trusting of God and his will that I am willing, and even desirous, to set aside my agenda to celebrate the Lord’s Day?  Am I living under the illusion that I am such an island that a day of purposeful worship and rest is not of profound benefit to me?

What are your thoughts on this thorny issue?

If you want to dig deeper there are multiple resources here, including a position paper (with minority reports of course) from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that can also be accessed here.  Or, you could check out Edmund Clowney’s book, How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments.

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The Trinity – Westminster Shorter Catechism #6

“How many persons are there in the Godhead?  There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”

While “Trinity” is not a biblical word, it is the word that theologians have agreed upon to voice the understanding of God put forth in Scripture and summarized in WSC #6.  The idea is that there is one God who exists in three persons.  The three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are all equally God and are one God.

Throughout history, there have been multiple attempts to illustrate or design an analogy to help explain the Trinity.  Some have, and still do, explain the Trinity using the analogy of water and its three states or modes, solid (ice), liquid, and gas (steam).  However, this analogy fails because God does not exist as one substance that is in different modes at different times. God exists at all times as one God in three persons.  The water analogy illustrates the heresy known as modalism.

Others have tried to use the analogy of Neapolitan ice cream.  The problem here is that the three flavors do not actually share the same substance and the only “oneness” they have is based on proximity.  Ultimately, Neapolitan ice cream beautifully illustrates tri-theism, three gods, but fails to properly explain Trinitarian monotheism.

In the end, there has never been an analogy for the Trinity that does not break down in some major way, so if you here the words, “The Trinity is like…” it is probably a good idea to listen with guarded ears.

Based on the biblical teaching the most that can really be said (without getting into longer more technical formulations) is that which has been handed down for generations in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  “There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”

The Larger Catechism does take one more step saying the three persons can be distinguished by their personal properties, which it then explains in the next question.  “What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?  It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity.”

The doctrine of the Trinity is precious to the church; we would do good to master the simple formulation found in Westminster Shorter Catechism #6.

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Ransomed from Futility

1Pet. 1:17-19 17And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Peter tells us that Jesus has ransomed his people from futility.  What does it mean to be ransomed?  R.L. Hubbard writes that redemption, a closely related biblical concept, “involves the release of people, animals, or property from bondage through outside help” (Hubbard, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, “Redemption”).  Through the outside help of Jesus Christ, we have been ransomed, or redeemed, from the futility of this world.  The blood of Jesus Christ was the ransom payment for his people.

When the only hope that we have is in this world, the pattern of our life is determined by the standards and influences of this world.  When we have been ransomed by the precious blood of Christ, the pattern of our life should no longer be determined by the futile patterns of this world.  If we have been bought with the blood of Christ, ransomed from the futility of our former life, let us not bind ourselves again to such vanity, to such sin.

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Watching the Super Bowl to the Glory of God?

Here is C.J. Mahaney’s take on how to watch the Super Bowl and who will win.  It’s worth reading and thinking through.

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Blogging Books – The Law of Perfect Freedom (Chapter 4)

Michael Horton’s fourth chapter, “Guarding God’s Reputation,” deals with the third commandment.  What is the third commandment?  “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold guiltless anyone who takes his name in vain”  (Exodus 20.7, ESV).

In typical style, Horton drives straight to the heart of the matter, pointing out that it is neither the misuse of God’s name by non-Christians nor the absence of the exaltation of God’s name in the public square that is the greatest issue, but the misuse of God’s name by Christians and the absence of God’s name in church.  He asks “Why should Christians lament the day when the Ten Commandments were taken down from the wall in the classroom when few of them can name these decrees themselves” (Horton, 96)?  There are a great many parallels between the church in 2010 and the Israelites of the Old Testament on this very issue.  With this sobering analysis laid out, Horton turns to Hosea to show how God prosecuted the Israelites for their failure to hallow his name.

Horton breaks down our violations of the third commandment into four categories:  Using God; Hypocrisy Heresy and Error; and Blasphemy.  It is easy enough to see these categories and think we have nothing to worry about; however, Horton does an excellent job of working through these issues in order to show us our own deficiencies.  One statement I found particularly pertinent was “It is easy to use God’s name instead of fearing it” (Horton, 100).  This thought left me asking myself, “Why do I pray?”  Do I invoke Jesus name in prayer in order to seek my own will or the will of God?

There are many other great points in this chapter.  What are your thoughts?

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