Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Understanding the great love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13

Image result for 1 Corinthians 13
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3  "But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.
13:1  If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing."

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul introduces his readers to the subject of spiritual gifts. We find him describing the various Spirit-given abilities to be God-given empowerments of grace given to Christians so that they can do the will of God. In past posts we have noted four general categories of spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and elsewhere in the New Testament (see Ephesians 4:11-17; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Peter 4:7-10). Those four categories of spiritual gifts are: motivational, leadership, service and occasional (or miraculous). We've also noted too how spiritual gifts function as spiritual-fingerprints for each individual Christian and the local church. Today we want to understand what is often called "the great love chapter" of the Bible - 1 Corinthians 13. 

The reader may had noticed that I started today's opening passage in 1 Corinthians 12:31. The chapter and verse divisions of our Bibles were not introduced until the Middle Ages. On occasion, wherever a chapter division begins may not be where the text itself ends or begins. 1 Corinthians 12:31 is a transition verse between Paul's foregoing discussion on the spiritual gifts and what will be his communication of God's love through the gifts. 

What kind of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13?
Over the years I have heard 1 Corinthians 13 used in wedding ceremonies. It is most often the case taken to mean the type of love shared between a husband and a wife. For sure, certain applications about human love could be gleaned, however that does not appear to be the thrust of 1 Corinthians 13. This writer would submit that the type of love featured in 1 Corinthians 13 is none other than God's love expressed through and by the Christian to God and to others around them. 

Without getting into the technicalities of the underlying Greek text of 1 Corinthians 13, the way in which the word "love" is rendered suggests that a certain quality of love is the focus in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. In addition, Paul then uses another grammatical feature to specify the type of love he is talking about to not be just any love in general. 

Note: For those readers who want to explore the technical reasons as to why we can say that God's love through the Christian is the focus of 1 Corinthians 13, click the following link to the post:

Several commentators over the years have noted the following about the type of love we find in 1 Corinthians 13:

Ellicott's Commentary notes: "The more excellent way is “Love.” Without it all moral and intellectual gifts are valueless. If there be love—the love of God, and the love of our brethren—in our hearts, all will be well." 

James-Fausset-Brown note in their commentary: "The New Testament psalm of love, as the forty-fifth Psalm (see Ps 45:1, title) and the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament." This particular remark is telling, since virtually all commentators have noted how Psalm 45 and Song of Solomon portray or illustrate the relationship of love God has for His people through the lens of marriage. 

More recent commentators indicate that the love spoken of by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 cannot be reduced to mere "human love" or sentimentality. The Bible Knowledge Commentary for example notes: 

"Paul shifted from the first person to the third person and replaced himself with a personification of love. Some have seen in verses 4–6 the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23); others have seen here a description of Christ Himself. As different sides of the same coin, both are applicable and provided a solution to the many Corinthian problems." 

With respect to the Christian, the type of love expressed by such is explained in the Holman Standard Commentary on this text: 

"Paul’s deep concern for the unity of the church at Corinth caused him to address several aspects of Christian love. The first quality Paul listed was love is patient. Patience is a quality of love that the New Testament frequently mentions by this or closely related terminology. It signifies forbearance, slowness to repay for offenses. God is patient because he does not immediately punish those who offend him. God’s patience slows down the judgment process and opens the way for reprieve from punishment altogether. Believers should behave similarly because of their love for one another."

Oftentimes we will find God's attributes described as being "incommunicable" or "communicable", with the latter referring to those traits with which He and His people share in common. Thus, God is a God of love, with the communication of such love carrying forth in the way the Christian loves other people with His love. One final contemporary resource stems from a sermon Pastor John MacArthur preached on 1 Corinthians 13:1. MacArthur notes the following summary of Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 13:1 - 

"Now, that is precisely the kind of thing Paul is pointing out in 1 Corinthians 13.  No matter what a person is like, no matter how he behaves, no matter how he relates to you, seek his highest good.  That’s what God did.  As God sends His rain on the just and the unjust, so you are to shower acts of self-sacrificing service on the deserving and the undeserving equally.  Now, you’ll have to remember that this is not related to emotion but related to will.  It is not an act of the emotion, it is an act of the will.  To love somebody in terms of an act of self-sacrifice is not a feeling but it is a determination that you make in your mind that this is right and this is what you will do."

Closing thoughts
Today we aimed to understand the great love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13. Our goal was to grasp what kind of love Paul is speaking of in the chapter. We concluded that this is nothing less than God's love expressed through the Christian in the exercise of their gifts. Without God's love flowing like a river through the Christian's obedience and gifts, the outcome will end up being nothing. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What the Lord's Table and Spiritual Gifts have in common

Image result for lord's supper images
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." 

1 Corinthians 11:29 "For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly."

1 Corinthians 12:12 "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ."

Paul is writing to the church at Corinth on a host of various topics. In 1 Corinthians 10-11 he addresses various issues relative to the observance of the Lord's Supper. Then, in 1 Corinthians 12-14, we find Paul addressing the important topic of spiritual gifts. Although the Lord's supper and spiritual gifts may be different subjects, there is a vital common ground shared by both - namely in how the gifts and the supper relate to the church as the body of Christ. Moreover, to consider the body of Christ must necessarily include it's head and Lord - Jesus Christ. Today's post aims at meditating on this common ground shared by the Lord's Supper and the spiritual gifts.

1. The Lord's Supper demonstrates the body of Christ, the gifts define the body of Christ - thus both depict Christ and His church
As we consider 1 Corinthians 10-11, we note how Paul reminds his readers of the importance of the Lord's Supper. In 1 Corinthians 10 we find him paralleling the Lord's Supper as a sign for demonstrating the reality of Christ and His church, just as the various festivals in the Old Testament signified the reality of God's covenant with Israel. Concerning Israel in this regard, the commentator Albert Barnes notes: 

"Behold Israel - Look at the Jews. The design here is to illustrate the sentiment which he was establishing, by a reference to the fact that among the Jews those who partook of the same sacrifices were regarded as being one people, and as worshipping one God." 

With respect as to how the Lord's supper demonstrates the reality of the body of Christ connected to its head - Jesus Christ, Matthew Henry comments: 

"Did not the joining in the Lord's supper show a profession of faith in Christ crucified, and of adoring gratitude to him for his salvation ? Christians, by this ordinance, and the faith therein professed, were united as the grains of wheat in one loaf of bread, or as the members in the human body, seeing they were all united to Christ, and had fellowship with him and one another."

The Lord's table serves to demonstrate the reality of the church that is composed of all who have been truly born again, who profess faith in a Risen Lord as their head. So then, how do we define the organic life of the church body. If the supper demonstrates such, then we find the gifts given by the Holy Spirit as a means of defining the body. In the opening passages quoted in today's post, 1 Corinthians 12:12 indicates how the gifts serve to highlight the church's diversity and unity among the members. Each member is distinct with regards to their gifts, and yet they all form one harmonious whole. Such gifts outline the spiritual gift finger-print of each local church, which in turn points to the head - Jesus Christ. 

When we consider the Lord's supper and the gifts together, we find that they work in respectively demonstrating and defining the body of Christ as in connection with its risen and ascended Lord. Let's note one more point of common ground between the Lord's table and the spiritual gifts....

2. Both the supper and the gifts show the church's dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ
We've seen how 1 Corinthians 10-11 and 12-14 depict the relationship that Jesus Chris t has to His body - the church. Jesus of course retained his human nature and physical body (albeit a glorified, resurrected one) following His resurrection and ascension (see Luke 24; Acts 1:11-14). The metaphor of the church as the "body of Christ" represents the logical and mystical union all Christians have with the Lord Jesus Christ. Such truths as that of the Lord's supper and the spiritual gifts highlight the Lordship of Jesus over His church. 

In this second point, we now see our dependence upon Jesus Christ in both the Lord's supper and the gifts. Such dependence is communicate by the language of "eating and drinking". The Apostle Paul unifies both the Old and New Testaments by first commenting on how Israel of old ultimately depended on Christ as He was in His pre-incarnated presence among them in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 "and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ." Then Paul uses this same "eating and drinking" language to describe the church's dependence upon Jesus Christ in 1 Corinthians 10:16 "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?" 

Jesus Himself would often use this imagery to describe the disciple's relationship of dependence and union with Him in texts such as John 6:51 "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” So the Lord's supper is a sign that signifies this mystical reality shared between Christians and Christ. When we partake of the elements, it is we ourselves in whom Christ dwells by the Person of the Holy Spirit. They are symbols for sure, but not just bare ones. We are as it were participating in and with our Lord Jesus Christ, performing what the Psalmist describes as the walk of faith in this "eating and drinking" language of Psalm 34:8 "O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!" The Lord's supper unquestionably shows the dependence the church has upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

But now do the spiritual gifts communicate this same idea of dependence? They do. When one comes to 1 Corinthians 12:13-14, this language of "eating and drinking" is found yet again with respect to the gifts: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body is not one member, but many." The great Baptist commentator John Gill notes: 

"(I)f they are regenerated and sanctified, they appear equally to belong to Christ, to be of his body, and have an equal propriety in all immunities and blessings belonging to his people (see Colossians 3:11). And have been all made to drink into one Spirit; are all partakers of the same graces of the Spirit, as faith, hope, love, &c. and daily receive under his guidance, direction, and influence, out of the same fulness of grace in Christ, from whence they draw and drink this water with joy; and all drink the same spiritual drink, the blood of Christ, whose blood is drink indeed."

Closing thoughts
So in meditating on the common ground shared between the Lord's supper and spiritual gifts, we have found two main themes between them:

1. Both depict Christ's relationship to and over His church.

2. Both show the dependence the church has upon her head - the Lord Jesus Christ

Both the Lord's supper and the gifts remind us that we cannot separate our understanding of the church from the head - Jesus Christ. He is the Lord and Savior of His people and they ever depend upon Him. May we as followers of Jesus Christ look to Him today as Savior, Lord and treasure as we exalt Him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Treasure, Savior and Lord - Reflections on the Woman at the Well in John 4:7-42

Image result for woman at the well
John 4:7-10 "There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus *said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman *said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

Today we want to briefly consider the account of the woman at the well in John 4, and how it is she came to grasp Jesus Christ as Treasure, Lord and Savior. We will discover certain applications to our own lives as we consider her testimony of salvation recounted by John in his Gospel.  

As the account begins, we find Jesus and the disciples travelling and Jesus purposefully leading them through Samaria. Normally Jews avoided that part of Israel, since Samaritans and Jews had deep hostilities that were of a historical and religious nature. Samaritans derived from the union of Assyrians and left over Jews following the Assyrian exile of 722 b.c. The centuries of Jewish hostility toward the Samaritans, with the Samaritans developing their own religious traditions centered around the first five books of the Bible - resulted in the tensions.

As Jesus neared the city of Samaria, he told his disciples to go into the city to get some food. While they left, He came to a well that the Samaritans taught had been hand dug by Jacob (see Genesis 33:19; 48:22; Joshua 24:32). According to R.C Sproul's St. Andrews Commentary on John, this particular well is still present in that area (see picture below):
 Image result for well of Jacob
According to Sproul, this woman's timing for drawing water from the well (12 noon or the "sixth hour" - John 4:6) was abnormal, since the women of that era and location would had came together in groups during early morning and late in the day. Her isolation and timing indicates that she was an outcast among outcasts. Undoubtedly, Jesus' timing was nothing less than a divine appointment with this woman. 

More could be noted about the background, but lets dive into the overall narrative of John 4:7-42. What was there about Jesus encounter with her that led her to see Him as Treasure, Lord and Savior? Below we see the following progression and outline of the text:

She was brought to see Jesus as her Treasure. 4:1-26 
We can see in Jesus' interaction with her a series of progressive insights which led her to treasure Him:

John 4:9 "How is it that You, being a Jew"

John 4:12 "You are not greater than our Father Jacob, are you?"

John 4:19 "Sir, I perceive that You are a Prophet"

John 4:25 "I know that Messiah is coming"

John 4:28-29 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?”

The underlined words tell us all we need to know. The woman's conversion occurred officially in John 4:28-29, with the prior statements indicating what looked to be the Spirit's working. We are reminded of John the Baptist's statement in John in John 3:27 "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven."

She urged others to follow Jesus as Lord. 4:27-38
In John 4:29 this woman raises a question that, in the Greek text, would lead us to expect her audience to respond in the negative. The woman saw the dots all connect. As far as she was concerned, this had to be the Messiah. Whether they ascended to embrace and trust in this Messiah as Lord would not affect her identification of Him. Sovereign grace had achieved its work in her heart. The Spirit's work had circumcised her heart, pealed off the layers of unbelief, shame and guilt. This, mind you, was an Old Testament salvation, with all the constituent elements of N.T salvation. In other words, this woman was saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The "circumcision of the heart" was the O.T version of the fuller N.T reality of the New Birth (see Deuteronomy 30:6; Romans 2:29). What would the response of the Samaritans be to this thunderbolt out of the blue sky?

Her testimony led to a confession of Jesus as Savior. 4:39-42
The underlying Greek text, as we already noted, would have us to expect the Samaritans to view her claims as preposterous. No way could this Jesus be the Messiah, the Treasure, the Lord. Yet, just as the Spirit of God had worked in her life, so He did in theirs. We read in John 4:39-42:

"From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

This startling confession of Jesus as "Savior of the World" could only be attributed to the Spirit's working. Paul later on writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3 "Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit." Undoubtedly we have the necessity to utter such a confession of Jesus' Saviorship and Lordship (Romans 10:9-10). Nevertheless, lest the Spirit is at work in our hearts, such a confession will never issue forth from an otherwise spiritual dead heart (see Ephesians 2:1-9; Romans 10:8-10). 

Closing thoughts
As we saw today, the woman at the well was met by Jesus. He acknowledged her as Treasure, Lord and ultimately Savior. The response of the Samaritans to her message tells the same story. I leave you dear reader with this thought: have you done the same? Would it be that we would, by grace, through faith, ever see Jesus as the Treasure we desire to follow as Lord and Savior. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Explaining a Christian Worldview from a Southern Baptist Perspective

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1 Peter 3:15 "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."

Yesterday we offered a brief explanation of a Christian worldview.  We noted first that any worldview addresses the so-called "big questions", with appropriate headings from the Christian worldview:

1. Where did I come from (hence the origins question)? 
Doctrine of God & Doctrine of Creation

2. Why am I here (hence the meaning question)?
Doctrine of God & Doctrine of Creation

3. What kind of world is the world (hence, the nature of reality question)?
Doctrine of Creation & Doctrine of God

4. What explains the problems I see around me, and is there a solution (hence, the problem of suffering)?
Doctrine of sin & Doctrine of Christ

5. Is their a point to life? Where are we heading? (hence, the ultimate purpose of life question)
Doctrine of last things

Thus we used the following five main headings to summarize what we mean by this subject:

1. Doctrine of God
2. Doctrine of Creation
3. Doctrine of Sin 
4. Doctrine of Christ
5. Doctrine of last things 

Today we want to consider what the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 has to say with regards to these main headings. Doctrinal confessions and creeds provide summaries of what Christians believe and teach about the Bible. Such statements are designed to equip Christians to engage with the culture from a Biblical worldview. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 functions in this capacity. The Introductory section of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 explains this function as follows:

"Baptist churches, associations, and general bodies have adopted confessions of faith as a witness to the world, and as instruments of doctrinal accountability. We are not embarrassed to state before the world that these are doctrines we hold precious and as essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice."

We then read on: "As a committee, we have been charged to address the "certain needs" of our own generation. In an age increasingly hostile to Christian truth, our challenge is to express the truth as revealed in Scripture, and to bear witness to Jesus Christ, who is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

Below I will simply list the five main headings with the appropriate quote from the Baptist Faith and Message. 

1. Doctrine of God
"There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being."

2. Doctrine of Creation
We find three statements as follows:
"God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise." (Article 2)

"Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God's creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice." (Article 3)

"God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption. Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God's unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race." (Article 18)

3. Doctrine of Sin 
"In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God." (Article 3)

4. Doctrine of Christ
"Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord." (Article 2, section "B")

5. Doctrine of last things
"God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord." (Article 10)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Briefly explaining the essentials of a Christian worldview

Jude 1:3 "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."

Yesterday we considered what is entailed in a Christian worldview. We noted first that any worldview addresses the so-called "big questions":

1. Where did I come from (hence the origins question)? 
Doctrine of God & Doctrine of Creation

2. Why am I here (hence the meaning question)?
Doctrine of God & Doctrine of Creation

3. What kind of world is the world (hence, the nature of reality question)?
Doctrine of Creation & Doctrine of God

4. What explains the problems I see around me, and is there a solution (hence, the problem of suffering)?
Doctrine of sin & Doctrine of Christ

5. Is their a point to life? Where are we heading? (hence, the ultimate purpose of life question)
Doctrine of last things

A Christian worldview aims to offer answers to the same questions. The reader may had noticed the "green" headings I placed along with the five "big questions". Those various headings comprise what are usually referred to as the "essentials" of a Christian worldview:

1. Doctrine of God
2. Doctrine of Creation
3. Doctrine of Sin 
4. Doctrine of Christ
5. Doctrine of last things 

Today's post aims to briefly explain each of these essentials, so that readers can better understand why they are essential to our overall understanding of a Christian worldview. 

1. Doctrine of God
Who is God? What is God like? How can we know what God intends, says and wills? Such questions are answered by Christians as they assert God as the proper starting place in the Christian worldview. God is One God, revealed in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God has made known or "revealed" His presence and power by way of general revelation in creation and the conscience. He has revealed His identity and will in the special revelation of the Bible and the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ. God by nature is all-powerful, all-knowing, every-where present and all-good. God is Sovereign and achieves His plans by various means - including free-will actions of his creatures, historic events and so-called natural laws. 

2. Doctrine of the Creation
The doctrine of creation asserts that the universe is finite - that is to say - the universe had a beginning. The cause of the universe lies outside of it and before it. Roughly 60 Bible passages speak about God's creation of the universe. The idea of a "creation" includes the notions of there being a "purpose", "meaning" and "value" to life as we know it. The created order is distinct and separate from God while ever being acted upon and within by God. Its movements and development are regulated by God's Providence. The created order is both physical and non-physical, material and immaterial. There are minds and bodies, men and angels, the second heaven populated by stars and planets and the third heaven populated by the heavenly host. God is far and above the heavens and the earth while ever pervading all the cosmos with His infinite power, presence and knowledge.

3. Doctrine of Sin
Man by nature is a sinner - fallen short of the glory of God. Originally, mankind was not created that way. Man was originally created with the ability to not sin. Man could choose whether to sin or remain ever in the right with God. God gave every means of grace necessary for man to remain originally righteous. Mankind rejected God and chose to embrace his own reason and opinion informed by Satan. Communion with God turned to running away from God. The Bible uses various terms and ideas to describe sin: trespassing, falling short, darkness, deadness, alienation, morally corrupt. Mankind cannot save Himself. Salvation is an act of God to man. Lest man by grace alone through faith alone receive Christ - there is no salvation. 

4. Doctrine of Christ
God as the Person of the Son had agreed with the Father and the Spirit as a matter of unified Divine Will and purpose to come to earth to assume true and total humanity. In His incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth, the Eternal Son chose to express His existence in a second way - a humanity that entailed all the limitations of any man, except that of sin. The Son would be virgin born, would live, be crucified, raised from the dead, ascended into heaven and exalted. His soon return will mark the culmination of this age and the beginning of the age to come. 

5. Doctrine of Last Things
The doctrine of "last things" touches not only upon "how it will all end", but often times includes the topics of "life after death", "final judgment", "heaven', "hell" and "eternity". The first four essentials all lead to this final part of the Christian worldview. God's glory is the centerpiece, creation finds it completion and renewal (details not withstanding), Christ will rule and reign and then hand the Kingdom over to the Father and then "all things" will be completed. The Christian worldview sees a two-fold goal: God's glory and the completion of God's redemptive purposes. In the mane, the Christian worldview rejects the notion of everyone being finally and fully redeemed. Only those who by grace truly love God and who have responded to His overtures of grace in saving faith per His legitimate offer of the Gospel will be saved. Those who tragically, freely and truly choose to reject God's legitimate offer of salvation will experience God in His justice and wrath. Heaven and Hell, Mercy and Judgment are all included in such a discussion.

Closing thoughts:
The five above headings and their brief descriptions give the reader a "wide-angle" lens by which to view the Christian worldview. Such a worldview can be used to interact across disciplines (such as science, philosophy, literature, education) and deal with the major issues of life (the problem of pain, finding hope, grounding of objective morality). It is hoped that these last two posts have given people an introduction to what we mean when we say "Christian worldview".   

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The essentials of a Christian worldview

1 Corinthians 8:6-7 "yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him."

What is meant when we speak of a worldview? The simplest response to this question is to reverse the words contained in the term "worldview" and assert that it is how one views the world. However, to be more specific, a worldview is a narrative one has for explaining the answers to five main questions: 

1. Where did I come from (hence the origins question)?

2. Why am I here (hence the meaning question)?

3. What kind of world is the world (hence, the nature of reality question)?

4. What explains the problems I see around me, and is there a solution (hence, the problem of suffering)?

5. Is there a point to life? Where are we heading? (hence, the ultimate purpose of life question)

Worldviews function as a set of glasses that we use to address, understand and process questions like the ones I just listed. Everyone in the world has a worldview. There are no "neutral" observers. How we evaluate which worldview is the most reliable one relies upon whichever one best handles the above "big questions". Certain methods that measure how probable one worldview is over another in handling and processing the "big questions" are usually employed when judging between competing worldviews. 

As a Christian, it is vital to have a Christian worldview that can give good reasons as to why one believe what they believe. 1 Peter 3:15 gives the charge: "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."

Peter was one of the original followers of Jesus (i.e a disciple). When Jesus commissioned him to be one of the original early leaders sent forth to carry His message (i.e, an apostle), Peter would some 35 years later pen his first letter to a group of Christians scattered throughout the Mediterranean world. Peter understood the importance of having a Christian worldview.

In like manner, another Apostle by the name of Paul, had been called by Jesus in a vision while on his way to persecute Christians in Acts 9. At the time he was known as "Saul of Tarsus". As Jesus confronted him and called him to be an "apostle to the nations", Saul changed on the inside and became a vocal witness for Jesus Christ. His change of nature led to a change of name (i.e Paul). In Acts 13 and Acts 17 we find records of Paul's preaching and early defenses of the Christian faith as he articulated a Christian worldview. In later letters that he would write to churches such as the church at Corinth, Paul would summarize the salient points of the key components of a Christian worldview (see 1 Corinthians 8:6-7; 15:1-6).

The basics of a Christian worldview
Both of these apostles demonstrated early on the need for every generation of Christian to be equipped and ready to operate with a Christian worldview. With that said, what could we say comprises the basics of a standard Christian worldview? In considering both Paul and Peter's writings in the New Testament, as well as considering the history of Christian thought over the past 2,000 years, theologians have identified what are called the "common places" or key points of Christian doctrine that comprise the essentials of the Christian faith. These "common points" or "common places" (called by older writers: "loci communes") are usually listed as follows:

1. Doctrine of God
2. Doctrine of Creation
3. Doctrine of Sin
4. Doctrine of Christ
5. Doctrine of Last things

Such a list could also include are key doctrines as "doctrine of man", "doctrine of revelation" and "doctrine of redemption". For our purposes we will stick to the five above, likely including the "doctrine of redemption" in with what we already have listed, namely "the doctrine of Christ", as well as "doctrine of man" under the larger heading of "doctrine of creation". 

How the Christian worldview addresses the five "big questions"
So how can the five key essential doctrines be used in formulating a Christian worldview? Again, a Christian worldview aims to answer the big questions of life. I will list those again, and then plug in the doctrinal essentials so that the reader can see how a Christian worldview can work.

1. Where did I come from (hence the origins question)? 
Doctrine of God & Doctrine of Creation
(we could include doctrine of man)

2. Why am I here (hence the meaning question)?
Doctrine of God & Doctrine of Creation

3. What kind of world is the world (hence, the nature of reality question)?
Doctrine of Creation & Doctrine of God

4. What explains the problems I see around me, and is there a solution (hence, the problem of suffering)?
Doctrine of sin & Doctrine of Christ (we could also include the doctrine of salvation, since this connects the work of salvation to the Savior, Jesus Christ)

5. Is their a point to life? Where are we heading? (hence, the ultimate purpose of life question)
Doctrine of last things

So why does it matter whether or not we have a Christian worldview ready to answer these big questions?
These so-called "big questions" are the ones raised all the time by philosophers, scientists and people of other religions. It does not take long to see these questions being discussed and debated on the internet, Youtube and on the major news networks. As a Christian develops his or her worldview, eventual introduction and even study to other disciplines will aid in sharpening up the specifics. We find that in studying the Bible, we can not only find such questions raised and answered, but more specifically, we can better understand how to approach such questions from a Biblical perspective. It would be the contention of this writer that only the Christian worldview can successfully handle all five "big questions". 

Tips for improving one's understanding of the Christian worldview
Knowing Bible backgrounds will aid greatly when explaining the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, as well as how God could allow such an event to occur. It has been this author's experience in worldview discussions that opponents of Christianity and the Bible have rarely read, let alone thoroughly studied the Bible. Moreover, in as much as reason and education can access the contents of the Bible, only a converted heart and mindset committed to Jesus Christ can grasp and appreciate the meaning of those contents. 

Understanding a little bit about the basics of philosophical argumentation can aid in presenting the Christian worldview to people who are greatly opposed. Memorizing scripture is the greatest weapon of course, since one never knows when they may need to bring up the Bible in the appropriate setting. Most of all, prayer and a patient heart are crucial in a worldview discussion. One could very well win the argument and still lose their testimony as the result of a misplaced attitude or word.

Closing thoughts
May we be ever ready to make a defense for the Christian faith and arm ourselves with the tools we need for developing a Christian worldview. Below I have included links to resources that can help the reader achieve that very thing:



Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Understanding the fruit of the Spirit - "love"

Galatians 5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."

The great listing of the "fruit of the Spirit" in Galatians 5:22-23 comprises the practical outworking of the Spirit-filled life. In the wider context of Galatians 5:16-25, we find Paul urging the Galatians to "walk by the Spirit" and "to be led by the Spirit". We find him contrasting the "flesh" and "spirit" as he does in Romans 8:1-11. Many of the themes that we find in Paul's later letters are first developed here in Galatians. The Spirit-filled life is both about experiencing God in fuller measure by empowerment and about the life-practical moral virtues that accompany such a life. It must be immediately underscored that Paul does not refer to "fruits of the Spirit", rather, the singular "fruit". As a collection of fruit, it appears Paul intends all nine fruit of the Spirit to be taken together. 

Ways in which we can categorize the fruit of the Spirit
The famous expositor of the scriptures J. Vernon McGee once explained how he organizes these nine virtues or "fruit of the Spirit". The first three he labels "inward fruit" (love, joy, peace). The second set of three fruit he labels "outward fruit" - which is - virtues by which we relate to others (i.e patience, kindness, goodness). Then in the final set of three, McGee uses the title "Godward fruit" or "upward fruit", which refers to the fruit we use in our walk with God (hence, faithfulness, self-control, perseverance). I find McGee's treatment very helpful, since he places each heading in a diagram of a triangle. The first two sets comprise the bottom points of the triangle; whereas the top-most point representing the so-called "God-ward" fruit.

Such a categorization like J. Vernon McGee's aids in knowing how to perhaps apply the nine-fruit. Truly with Paul's listing of three sets of three, such a pattern is a typical Jewish way of presenting a poetic text - with the three sets of three signaling completeness, soundness and balance. One could say that in each set of three, the first fruit in each set functions as a "head fruit", which, if listed out, would appear as follows:

love          patience        faithfulness
joy            kindness         gentleness
peace        goodness        self-control

Other commentators have noted this "triad" or "triple-triad" pattern. The great commentator Alexander MacLaren notes: 

"It is perhaps not too artificial to point out that we have here three triads of which the first describes the life of the Spirit in its deepest secret; the second, the same life in its manifestations to men; and the third, that life in relation to the difficulties of the world, and of ourselves."     

Focusing briefly on the head of fruit - "love"
When we consider that these fruit are the fruit of the Spirit, we must grasp the fact that we cannot produce them on our own. The flesh cannot replicate these fruit. When we think of "love", love refers to the manifold ways in which God expresses His love - especially as we find it in the Bible. Whatever God loves, and how He loves, translates into the Christian expressing such love towards the same types of objects, people and things. In the Bible we find at least five different categories or expressions of God's love (these thoughts are partially influenced by D.A Carson's work - "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God"):

1. God's internal love, chiefly highlighted for example in how the Person of the Father loves the Person of the Son.

2. God's benevolent love toward His creation. As Jesus notes in Matthew 5:45, He makes it "rain on the just and unjust". In Genesis 1 we find God declaring "it is good" on seven occasions.

3. God's general love which He expresses towards sinners. Such love is chiefly seen in John 3:16. The term "world" refers to the class of humanity. We know in Mark 10:21 that Jesus loved the rich young ruler, even though the young man, as far as we know, never trusted in Christ.

4. God's redemptive love towards His people whom He sets His affection, calls and then who respond in saving faith. God's people are those whom He has pledged to preserve until the return of Christ. Passages such as Acts 20:28 and 1 Timothy 4:10 distinguish the love of God in general for all men with that of His redemptive love towards His people.

5. God's love for righteousness. God loves what is right because He is Holy. He rules by righteousness and lovingkindness (Psalm 89:14; Jeremiah 9:23-24). God esteems what is just and fair, since He is by nature just and fair. Oftentimes Christians will speak of the "things of God", including "prayer" and "the Bible". Such things and means of grace constitute the righteous things that God loves.  God's wrath is His goodness expressed against what is unjust. Some have suggested that God's wrath is God's love expressed negatively and repulsively against sin. 

Life practical expression of the fruit of "love"
Now these five expressions of love are all expressed by God. They are as it were tributaries fed by His love and fed back into His love. The Person of the Holy Spirit - being God - brings the Christian into contact with such expressions. What this means then for the Christian is the following with respect to the fruit of "love": 

1. As with the first expression of love, the Holy Spirit will enable me in the fruit of love to love the Son with the love of God.

2. As with the second expression of love, the Holy Spirit will enable me to have a greater love and appreciation for His creation.

3. Thirdly, the fruit of love, when partaken in faith, gives me a burden for the lost - just as God does in His general love toward them through the general, legitimate offer of the gospel.

4. Fourthly, we can love our fellow believer in a profound, Godward way. To love the Son, the creation, unbelievers and believers in each of the expressions of which God loves is unique. Only the Spirit can make such love possible.

5. Finally, to love the things of God - i.e righteousness, means I will adore the scriptures as my daily food (Job 23:12); love to talk to the heavenly Father and other such disciplines which esteem God in His holiness.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Summarizing the "Bridegroom" theme in the Bible

John 3:27-29 "John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full."

John 2:1-11 and John 3:22-36 represent bookends that expose readers to the theme of Jesus Christ as the Heavenly Bridegroom that came to redeem His bride. The Bible Knowledge Commentary notes this point about Jesus and the "bridegroom" theme:

"In Jesus’ growing influence, John found his own joy fulfilled. He illustrated this for his disciples by referring to a custom at Near Eastern weddings. The friend of the bridegroom was only an assistant, not the main participant in the marriage. The assistant acted on behalf of the bridegroom and made the preliminary arrangements for the ceremony. His joy came when he heard the bridegroom coming for his bride. John the Baptist’s work was to prepare for the arrival of Christ, the “Groom.” John baptized only with water, not with the Spirit. Therefore Jesus must become greater and John must become less. This was not merely advisable or fortuitous; it was the divine order. John willingly and with joy accepted Jesus’ growing popularity as God’s plan."

The Biblical theme of the Divine Wedding as used by God to portray His redemptive purposes in the Bible will be the focus of today's post. In a more specific way, we want to see how this overall theme applies specifically to understanding the identity of Jesus Christ in John 3:22-36.   

1. The Old Testament's use of the "bridegroom theme"
It is no accident that the most famous passage on salvation in the Bible - John 3:16, occurs in the same chapter with John the Baptist's declaration of Jesus as the Bridegroom for the people. In the Old Testament, God planned to marry Israel as His wife, as portrayed in His promises to the patriarchs, His covenant with them on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19-20) and His repeated appeals for them to be faithful as a spouse to her husband (see  Hosea 2:20-23). 

Books of the Old Testament like the Book of Ruth tie in the marital language of the Old Testament with the concept of a "Kinsman Redeemer" who takes on a bride that has no way of redeeming herself. As the Old Testament unfolds this "marital" language describing God and His people (see Psalm 45 and Song of Solomon); the reader is faced with the abrupt theme of divorce representing the breach of covenant by the people to God (see Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8; Hosea 2:2). The sad treachery of Israel is thankfully not the final word. Glimpses of promises of restoration sit on the horizons of the prophets. Through prophetic predictions of a new Covenant and coming Messiah (Ezekiel 36:25-26; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 2:28-31), Yahweh revealed His plan to restore unto Himself His people (see again Hosea 2:20-23). What all this means is that God's Sovereign purposes to restore His people was not going to fail. The Old Testament tells us what Yahweh intended to do, and yet it does not reveal how.  
2. The appearance of the Heavenly Divine Bridegroom to achieve salvation for His people
John the Baptist's remarks about Jesus being the "bridegroom" begins to unfold how it is God is going to restore unto Himself a people.  With a surprising twist - that God Himself in the Person of the Son was going to be incarnated as the Groom who would offer Himself to Israel as her Messiah. Redemption is pictured among other things in the New Testament as God's desire to restore broken fellowship with a people who rejected Him! 

3. The Tragedy and Triumph of the Bridegroom in redeeming His people
As the reader journeys throughout the Gospels, we see the following thoughts developed regarding the presentation of the Son as the Groom for His people:

1. The Divine Groom rejoices in coming for His people. Matthew 9:15; John 2:1-12

2. The Divine Groom rejected by His people. Matthew 22:1-5

3. The Divine Groom renders His life on behalf of His people. Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25-27

4. The surprising climax of the Bridegroom redeeming His people
The New Testament's unfolding of this amazing theme centers almost exclusively on the Groom - The Son.  However there is another twist, a surprise unforeseen by the Old Testament and faintly unfolded in the Gospels - the mystery of the church.  The Son who rejoiced, was rejected, rendered His life and who will return, is now looking forward to coming to receive the bride that is being called forth, one choice person at a time, by the Holy Spirit, resulting in freely made decisions that say: "I do" to Jesus Christ. When we put together all that we have considered up to this point, and then consider how the remainder of the New Testament explains this theme, we discover the following:  

a. The bride is being prepared for her groom, (with Israel being set aside at this present time). Romans 11

b. The Bride will be presented to the Son as His bride in heaven the rapture. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 19:6-7

c. The Bride will be presented here on earth at His second coming (at which point He will restore Israel). Matt 25:1-13; Rom 11:25-26; 1 Thess 4:13-16

d. The Groom will reign on earth with His Bride the church, along with Israel who will be folded into His bride to be at the end of His reign on earth. (Revelation 20)

e. The Groom and Bride will be married for all eternity, thus completing God's purposes in presenting a bride, composed of all of those whom He chose, called and were converted by faith to His Son. 

Closing thoughts
So when we consider all of the above observations with what John says in the opening text of John 3:27-29, we can see why he was so excited. Truly the promises of redemption and restoration were decisively revealed in the life of the incarnation of the Son in Jesus. In the next post, we will feature a brief outline of John 3:22-36 that incorporates what we learned in today's post. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Major themes of Jesus in John 1-3

John 3:27-29 "John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full."

Introduction: the themes of Jesus we find in John chs 1-3
As one considers the first three chapters of John's Gospel, it becomes quickly apparent that the coming of the Son of God altered reality and understanding. Today's post wants to briefly explore the major themes developed by John in the first three chapters of His gospel.

1. The Journey of Deity in partaking of true humanity - John 1:1-18
 John 1:1-18 present the Son coming into this world to reveal Himself as the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. The self-imposed voluntary humiliation of the Son's stooping down to partake in our frail humanity is details in other New Testament passages such as Philippians 2:5-11 and Hebrews 10:5-6. As John unfolds the identity of "the Word made flesh" in John 1:19-3:36, we see several Old Testament themes re-introduced and tied together in Jesus. In John 1:19-51 we see several names of Jesus that reveal Him as truly Divine and truly human (namely "Lamb of God" in 1:29; "Messiah" or "Christ" in 1:41; "King of Israel" in 1:49 and "Son of Man" in 1:51). This journey of the Son's "enmanning" or "incarnation" occupies the "prologue" of John 1:1-18.

2. Lamb of God - John 1:19-51
Here we find various titles expressed by John the Baptist and would-be followers of Jesus. John the Baptist begins this sequence of titles by expressing Jesus as "The Lamb of God". In subsequent follow-up conversations that we find between Jesus and his would-be followers, we see such titles as "Messiah" (John 1:41); "King of Israel" (John 1:49) and "Son of Man" (John 1:51). These three titles work in differing ways to communicate the true Deity and true humanity of Jesus. As the Lamb of God, His mission was to come to die as man for the sins of the people while being God who would ever be the source of their salvation. 

3. The Mediator of the New Covenant - John 2:1-11
The unfolding of Jesus' significance goes on in John 2:1-11, whereby in His first sign or miracle of changing water into wine, He introduces Himself as the Mediator of the inbreaking New Covenant age. This particular identification of Jesus connects the reader to how Jesus' coming alters history and understanding of everything from designating the ending of the Old Testament era to the fulfillment of so many prophecies and promises (see Isaiah 12; Ezekiel 36:25-26; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Joel 2:28-31). The miracle of the wedding at Cana forms a cycle in John which Gerald Borchert in the New American Commentary series describes as "The Cana Cycle":

"The five segments of the Gospel and two transitional statements (2:12, 23–25) that compose the Cana Cycle move the reader’s attention from Cana (2:1–11) and Capernaum (2:12) through Jerusalem (2:13–24) to an unclear Jewish/Judean(?) context (3:1–36), then to Samaria (4:1–42) and back to Cana in Galilee (4:43–54). The focus of this Cana Cycle provides the reader with a perspective on the widening influence of Jesus’ ministry reminiscent of the dominical (i.e a command given by Jesus) commission given the disciples in the postresurrection encounter."

4. Jesus as the New Temple and High Priest - John 2:13-25 
The cleansing of the Temple in John 2:13-25 weaves in another set of themes, namely Jesus as the New Temple and the True High priest who cleanses His temple. Both of these themes are so closely related as to really occupy one two-fold theme.  It appears that Jesus conversation with Nicodemas in John 3:1-21 continues on the two fold theme of temple/priest and the cleansing thereof from John 2:13-25. Ellicott's commentary for English Readers notes this connection: 

"Our division of chapters breaks the connection, and the omission of the conjunction leads us to think of the visit of Nicodemus as quite distinct from what has gone before; whereas it really rises out of it."

Jesus was communicating the old temple system to be obsolete, with Him being the true temple and true High priest - albeit the externals of faith. In John 3:1-21, Jesus' actions lead to the true and only way spiritual cleansing can occur - namely by the New Birth. When one explores the Biblical theme of the Divine Wedding as used by God to portray His redemptive purposes in the Bible, rich themes emerge.  

5. Jesus as the Bridegroom that came for His Bride (i.e His people) - John 3:22-35
Since the Wedding at Cana miracle is set in the context of a wedding, we find Jesus communicating himself as the groom who had come to state and demonstrate his intentions toward the redemption of His people, who are portrayed throughout the Old Testament as "the bride of Yahweh". Consequently, this wedding theme is reinforced in a testimony of John the Baptist in John 3:22-36. In every unfolding episode of the introductory themes we find in John's first three chapters, we find a brief exposition, some sort of sign and then responses of various people to whatever identity of Jesus is being revealed.

The significance of the growth of Jesus' ministry certainly had gained the attention of the people of that time. As all of these themes are introduced and then woven together by John, we find a beautiful tapestry that introduces us the Person of the Son of God. The Bible Knowledge Commentary notes:

"For a short time the ministry of John the Baptist overlapped Jesus’ ministry. Thus the Judean countryside must have been alive with the teaching of both these great preachers of repentance and God’s kingdom. Both John and Jesus had disciples, large crowds followed both of them, and both baptized." 

The same commentary later on adds:
"Both groups were baptizing and thus two “reform” movements were popular. This was before John was put in prison (3:24). This statement reveals how the Fourth Gospel supplements the Synoptics. It implies that readers knew about John’s imprisonment from reading the other Gospels (Matt. 14:1–12; Mark 6:14–29; Luke 3:19–20) or from common church tradition."

Closing remarks:
The point of today's post was to explore the major themes of the first three chapters of John with respect to the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. In our exploration we noted four major themes:

1. The Journey of true Deity partaking in true humanity - John 1:1-18

2. The Lamb of God - John 1:19-51

3. Mediator of the New Covenant. John 2:1-12

4. The New Temple and High Priest. John 2:13-25

5. The Bridegroom who comes for His bride (His people). John 3:1-36