A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL (4)

How the Gospel Stuns Us into Lowliness

servanthood

In this latest series of posts, I’ve argued from Philippians 2:1-11 that a life worthy of the gospel treasures and fosters unity in Christ’s church as a non-negotiable priority. 

So far we’ve considered the why and the how of such a life. Lastly, let’s examine what unity takes (vv. 5-11).

Likely an early hymn of the church, this section of Philippians 2 spans the humiliation and exaltation of our Lord Jesus.

Zero in on v. 5. Have this mind (there’s that word again—the way we think matters so much in a church desiring unity) among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus.

What does it take–this unity, humility, concern thing in Christ’s church? It requires the mind of Christ.

It takes Christ’s way of thinking, acting, humbling, emptying, serving, even dying—all so beautifully modeled in His incarnation, laying aside His divine prerogatives, taking the form of a bondservant and dying for our sins.

This Jesus template must govern our thinking at every turn. It involves three things.

One, you must be joined to Christ to even have the mind of Christ. It takes doing what the Bible calls repentance–turning away from your selfish ways and trusting in Jesus’ death on the cross.

Faith joins you to Christ such that you can die to self and live for Him by caring for others.

Two, you must abide continually in Christ (John 15:1-8). Steep yourself in the Word of Jesus and meditate on His love. Pray He gives you His mind, particularly in dealing with those you like least in His church.

Three, trust in Christ that He will reward you as you choose humility and concern for others. He will guard your rights as you lay them down for others.

It takes faith to act on the mind of Christ as a selfless, giving, servant-minded person. God exalts those who humble themselves even as Jesus did, but He humbles those who exalt themselves.

John Piper asks:

Why do Christians walk through life feeling a humble sense that we owe service to people, rather than them owing us? The answer is that Christ loved us and died for us and forgave us and accepted us and justified us and gave us eternal life and made us heirs of the world when he owed us nothing. He treated us as worthy of his service, when we were not worthy of his service. He took thought not only for his own interests but for ours. He counted us as greater than himself: “Who is the greater,” he said, “one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). That is where our humility comes from. We feel overwhelmed by God’s grace: bygone grace in the cross and moment-by-moment arriving grace promised for our everlasting future. Christians are stunned into lowliness. Freely you have been served, freely serve. Emphasis added.

Lives worthy of the gospel treasure and foster unity as a non-negotiable priority.

We know why it matters, how it works, and what it takes.

May we be stunned into lowliness while we wait for the exaltation to come.

Question: What gospel passages in the Scripture most help shape your thinking toward lowliness?

 

A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL (3)

Two Ways a Well-Lived Gospel Life Contributes to Church Unity

seeking humility

The apostle Paul gets painfully practical in Philippians 2:3-4 in describing how we go hard after the having the same love being in full accord unity of Philippians 2:2.

He comes at it from two directions.

First, with respect to self, humility (v. 3).

This was a tough sell in the day. No Greek viewed positively the word Paul uses in v. 3.

It was only ever associated with slaves and lower-class citizens. It was never a compliment to say you were humble.

But Christianity turns culture on its head. For the saints of God, it is a supreme virtue.

Look how emphatic Paul gets in v. 3. Do nothing. How much? Nothing. The negative stands first in the Greek sentence for emphasis.

He’s talking motives here. Selfish ambition and conceit have got to go.

Rather, in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

That same word is translated elsewhere as surpassing (Phil. 3:8) describing the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

This kind of humility of self keeps conceit and ambition in check at the expense of others by seeing others of greater value than oneself.

It’s what Peter prescribes for the unity of his churches in 1 Pet. 5:5b:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Second, with respect to others, concern (v. 4).

Paul assumes we will look out for our own interests. He doesn’t need to exhort on that score.

But unity has another facet beside the attitude of humility that counts others more significant. It looks out for their interests as well.

The word for “look” is skopeo from where we get the word “scope.” Go out of your way take notice–scope out–the concerns of others in your community and act accordingly.

Here’s a way to test what degree Trinitarian realities and apostolic priorities motivate your “how” in preserving unity.

Think of the person in your church that you like the least. That’s right. Let’s face it, we all have favorites and most, if not all of us, have just the opposite.

Perhaps you even downright dislike this person. He or she just rubs you the wrong way.

That’s just the individual by which you can measure the worthiness quotient of your life in the gospel.

If you look down at all on him/her, if you can’t remember the last time you took note of one of their concerns, may I suggest you can do better through the transforming power of the gospel?

Let that be the standard by which you measure a life worthy of the gospel.

Question: What are some ways you have found helpful for looking out for the concerns of others?

A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL (2)

Two Reasons Why Church Unity Matters to a Well-Lived Gospel Life

unity

In my last post, I argued from the book of Philippians that a life worthy of the gospel treasures and fosters unity in Christ’s church as a non-negotiable priority.

In Philippians 2:1-11, Paul explains three components of this truth: why unity matters, how it works, and what it takes.

In this post, I want to suggest two reasons why guarding church unity matters to a well-lived gospel life.

Reason number one: Trinitarian realities (v. 1).

Paul poses a sequence of conditional “if” statements. He assumes a “yes” answer to each.

One could translate it, since there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy.

This verse resembles the structure of 2 Corinthians 13:14—The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

In Philippians 2:1, Paul has God the Father’s comforting love in mind. When the apostle contemplates the persons of the Trinity, he glories in mercy aspects of all three persons of the Godhead.

He savors Jesus’ massive encouragement, God’s comforting love, and the Spirit’s intimate fellowship—all of which he adds to and piles on the synonyms of “affection” and “sympathy.”

That last word is the same word translated in Romans 12:1 as “mercies”—I urge you brothers, by the mercies of God—capturing the beauties of the gospel covered in chapters 1-11.

If all this is true about God—and it is—how can we be anything but a loving, caring, unity-prizing church full of people?

Reason number two: apostolic priorities (v. 2).

In light of all these stunning Godhead realities so terribly important to his way of thinking, Paul adds further motivation to them by begging this: make my joy complete by being of the same mind.

Imagine this. You’re wasting away in prison, wondering where the next gift to keep you alive will come from, and the thing above all things that will drive your joy over the top is to hear that one of your churches is getting along well? Remarkable!

The unity of his churches mattered that much to Paul. He threw his apostolic authority behind the appeal for unity to motivate the Philippians to guard the oneness of their church.

Both the apostle’s joy priorities and Trinitarian love realities more than answer the question why treasuring and fostering unity should matter to us as a non-negotiable priority.

In their book, Peacemaking Women, Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler emphasize the importance of the connection between beliefs and behavior:

As we learn to walk through life firmly rooted in God’s grace, living for his glory, we constantly identify and evaluate our thoughts and convictions in light of the truth of Scripture. Instead of only addressing our behavior, we ask, “What are the deeply held beliefs that influence my emotions, thoughts, and actions?” and “How do my beliefs line up with Scripture?” We then reject any beliefs that are false, affirm those that are true, and take practical steps to live out our faith in a loving Christian community (21).

The more we affirm true beliefs about the mercies of the Godhead and the apostolic priority of unity, the more practical steps we will take to live out a life worthy of the gospel.

Question: What extra-biblical resources help shape your beliefs in conformity to the Scripture?

A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL

How Treasuring Unity Matters to a Well-Lived Gospel Life

Live_a_Life_Worthy_of_the_Calling

I remember the day this headline in the Orlando Sentinel (8.26.15, p. B4) caught my eye:

In faith and politics, angry division often eclipses joy and service.

Scott Maxwell wrote:

When Fred Hawkins Jr. looked out over the Osceola County Commission chambers last week — and saw a room full of religious leaders and activists — he was slightly depressed. That might sound strange for a man such as Hawkins: a devout, conservative Christian who begins each morning with a daily devotion. So please understand that Hawkins wasn’t bothered that religious advocates had shown up this day to protest an equal-rights ordinance that says employers and landlords can’t discriminate against gays. He was bothered that this was virtually the only time they showed up. “I’ve been on the board seven years,” Hawkins said, noting that his board discusses and debates all manner of things that Christians should care about: poverty, homelessness, education and the environment. “And they just don’t come out.” This is one of the main problems of modern-day Christianity: Religious activists make more headlines for division and anger than unity and joy. . . . Organized religion has a PR problem. . . . We could do better. . . . Boy, would that be living the Gospel—and probably attracting followers to boot.

Of course, the problem doesn’t exist just in politics outside the church; it often plagues God’s people inside the church.

It seems the church at Philippi had its own PR problem when it came to conflict in the church.

Paul even calls out by name two women apparently out of sorts with one another in Philippians 4:2.

He wrote the letter for other reasons as well, but we piece together this important occasion for writing from his multiple references to unity.

Consider the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2. He could hardly write more strongly with greater emphasis.

Let’s start with Philippians 1:27. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. How?

Jump down to the end of the verse: Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

And then just in case we missed it, he hammers the same idea again in 2:2—complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Notice the repetition of the word mind—three times.

Get on the same page. Have the same values. Be thinking the same God-honoring, Christ-glorifying, Spirit-inspired truths designed to renew your minds and make you one (Rom. 12:2).

That he calls a life worthy of the gospel—living in unity as God’s people in His church.

A life worthy of the gospel treasures and fosters unity in Christ’s church as a non-negotiable priority.

In the next few posts, I want to answer three questions related to the priority of cultivating a culture of peace in your church—why it matters, how it works, and what it takes.

Question: What are some other Scripture passages which show the connection between the power of the gospel and striving for unity in the church?

SCREWTAPE’S SCHEME FOR DISUNITY

How Satan Plots Against Church Oneness

Screwtape

The apostle Paul advises donning the full armor of God as the only adequate defense against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:10-12).

Satan hates unity in Christ’s church. We must not be ignorant of this scheme (2 Cor. 2:5-11)!

C. S. Lewis focused on this plot in one of his masterfully imagined correspondences between Uncle Screwtape and demon nephew Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters:

I think I warned you before that if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it.  I don’t mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better.  And it isn’t the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice.  The real fun is working up hatred between those who say “mass” and those who say “holy communion”. . . .  And all the purely indifferent things—candles and clothes and what not—are an admirable ground for our activities.  We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials— namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples.  You would think they could not fail to see the application.  You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry.  And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour.  Without that the variety of usage within the Christian Church might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility.

The reference to Paul comes from Romans 14:1-15:7.

There the apostle prescribes welcoming–embracing, accepting, not judging one another–as the antidote for the kind of critical spirit which divides believers over matters of conscience.

How charitable are your judgments of others regarding nonessentials? Where do you see a temptation to prideful criticism which disrupts unity within a church?

Refusing judgment and deferring to others does make the church a positive hotbed of charity and humility.

Few things contribute more to preserving congregational unity.

Question: What helps make a church a positive hotbed of charity and humility?

LIVING IN PEACE & THE KISS OF LOVE

How Striving for Peace Fuels the Kiss of Love

peace

A church at odds will not likely have many of its folks practicing the gospel virtue of greeting one another with the kiss of love (1 Pet. 5:14). Perhaps that’s why Paul finishes the way he does in the passage under consideration in this latest series of posts.

After emphasizing the role of joy, wholeness, submission and agreement for enhancing the practice of greeting with a holy kiss in 2 Cor. 13:11-12, the apostle Paul ends with one final factor.

“Live in peace.”

Rejoice, aim for restoration, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace.

So many texts of the New Testament point us to this last virtue. Consider Heb. 12:14:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

It is the duty of the church to strive for peace, to work hard at peacemaking, as those shaped by the gospel of the ultimate peacemaker, Jesus, who reconciled us to God (2 Cor. 5:18).

Notice the sweet promise with which Paul finishes for the church that prizes these five things: and the God of love and peace will be with you.

The God who supplies love and peace, given that’s His nature, will abide with the church in a special way with that love and peace. Of course inherent with the promise comes the warning that to fail to do these things means He will withdraw the same.

If we consistently do these things–rejoice in God, aim for perfection, submit to godly, gospel-laced, Bible-saturated authority, agree on the truth, and strive for the peace of our church–we stand to excel as one holy kissing bunch of believers!

Not that I necessarily want to say that you go out and from now on do the peck on the cheek thing. But as a rule something more may befit us than the token handshake of our culture.

Holy hugs (men with women and vice versa remember – side hugs or A-frame only) capture a whole lot more of the spirit of what the Bible teaches here than the casual wave or minimal greeting.

Let me leave you with this one thought. If the idea of giving someone else in the body a holy kiss seems unpleasant, even repugnant to you, you more than likely have some peacemaking to do.

Determine to rely on Jesus’ peacemaking power and the gospel’s impetus to help you engage others with a holy, tangible intimacy.

Greet one another with the kiss of love.

 

LIKE-MINDEDNESS & THE KISS OF LOVE

How Agreeing on the Truth Fuels the Kiss of Love

agree

Our church learned the importance of the lesson of this post the hard way. Unity disintegrated big-time over major doctrinal differences. It was ugly, according to those who endured it.

After emphasizing the role of joy, wholeness, and submission in enhancing the practice of greeting with a holy kiss in 2 Cor. 13:11-12, the apostle Paul turns to yet another significant factor.

“Agree with one another.”

The text reads literally in the Greek this way: the same thing, think. I call it like-mindedness.

Paul says this kind of thing a lot in his epistles. He likes this command.

For example in Phil. 1:27 we read, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

Phil. 2:2 provides another example. “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

He doesn’t lobby for uniformity in all thinking. It’s not possible. But he does argue for a oneness of mind about especially the priority of the gospel in the community of faith.

He pleads for a focus on the truth so passionate that when it comes to the essential truths of the gospel and the great doctrines on which it depends, as opposed to any kind of false teaching, let us all be thinking the same thing.

John MacArthur credits this reality significantly for the unity enjoyed at Grace Community Church over the years:

I’ll tell you right now, the key to living in peace is having the same thoughts, isn’t it? One of the reasons this church is so harmonious, one of the reasons this church doesn’t split up and fracture all the time is because we believe the same things. And whenever…listen carefully…and it’s only really occurred once in my tenure here, there has been a fracturing of this church, it is because some people believed something different was true and we didn’t have that truth. Where you have a common grasp of the Word of God, you have the commonality that perpetuates itself in peace. But when you get some people who start teaching something different, then you create the fracture. So if you’re going to live in peace, you have to be like-minded and submissive to the truth and expressing joy in that truth.

For this reason among others I rejoice that OGC is a confessional church. A document like the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith helps us do that by spelling out the truth so we know what we believe together.

Does your church have a clear statement of faith upon which you can agree? It definitely helps make for a unity that fuels the kiss of love.

SUBMISSION & THE KISS OF LOVE

How Following Leadership Fuels the Kiss of Love

File'-Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles'_by_Valentin_de_Boulogne

When you blog as a pastor you never know. Does anyone read what you write?

I was both blessed and bothered recently by a report. Someone told me they were glad I have been writing lately on the New Testament exhortation to greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Cor. 13:12).

Great. Score one for this pastor/blogger. Somebody actually reads these posts. My elation was soon tempered.

“We think your church has become unloving.” Ouch. So much for self-congratulation.

Guess I need to keep hammering away at this subject.

In the first post I explained how the gospel shapes our community with oneness when we engage one another intentionally by greeting with the holy kiss of love.

In the second post I emphasized how rejoicing in the Lord is the first of four things Paul proposes for motivating the practice of greeting one another with a holy kiss.

In the third post, I unpacked how aiming for restoration–setting high goals compels doing the holy kiss thing in church.

In this post we turn to the next imperative in Paul’s arsenal from 2 Cor. 13:11 to promote his unity purposes at Corinth: submitting to the leadership.

The ESV offers an alternative in the margin to the next command, comfort one another.

For reasons I won’t elaborate on, I prefer the footnote. Listen to my appeal.

Throughout this letter Paul has brought apostolic correction in the way of inspired teaching designed to cure what ails them as a church.

It is imperative that they heed his counsel and follow his instruction if they have any hope of righting the ship, mending their ways, and going on to maturity.

In this he directs them yet another time away from the destructive influence of the false teachers plaguing the fellowship and draws them back into the safety of his pastoral and apostolic leadership.

In a community, some have to lead and others have to follow. Elders don’t possess apostolic authority, but God has entrusted them with ecclesiastical authority for which they will give an account (Heb. 13:17).

Without order in leading and following you have little likelihood of a church of peace where love can be readily expressed including things like the holy kiss.

Thus Peter says in 1 Pet. 5:5: Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

John MacArthur put it this way:

There must be a character of submission in the church in that it submits itself willingly to the authority of God, to heed all the appeals based on truth, all the calls to righteousness. Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “Look, if you’re going to be the kind of church you ought to be and enjoy the perfection that I desire for you . . . there needs to be a pervasive submission to that which is authoritative from the mind of God to you.”

Nobody likes the “S” word. I get that. But rightly understood, it matters greatly for preserving the gift of unity in the church.

Submissive types hug; rebels self-protect. Which are you?

THE GOAL OF THE KISS OF LOVE

How Aiming for Restoration Fuels the Kiss of Love

goals

Does your church have goals? The apostle Paul prescribed an important peacemaking one for the church at Corinth in 2 Cor. 13:11. Aim for restoration.

Recently I’ve been writing about the kiss of love (1 Pet. 5:14) as a gospel grace for guarding unity in the church.

In the first post I explained how the gospel shapes our community with oneness when we engage one another intentionally by greeting with the holy kiss of love.

In the second post I emphasized how rejoicing in the Lord is the first of four things Paul proposes for motivating the practice of greeting one another with a holy kiss.

Another factor in guarding unity through practicing gospel greeting is setting our church sights high for what Paul calls “restoration.” This matters a great deal for all churches but especially for those marred by a history of conflict.

Aim for restoration. He used a form of the same word back in v. 9. Your restoration is what we pray for.

The idea behind the word is to be made complete, whole, perfect in the sense of mature, put thoroughly in order. It’s used in the gospels for the mending of nets and in the culture for setting a fractured bone.

The same root appears in Eph. 4:11-12 concerning the role of gifted people in the church to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry so that the body can be made whole and mature.

See also Gal. 6:1-2 where it applies to helping restore spiritually someone trapped in sin. We might translate it mend your ways.

The Corinthian community lacked in so many ways. Paul exhorts them to set their aim high at cleaning up their act. Make right the wrongs. Get their ducks in a row. For just one example, consider 2 Cor. 12:20.

For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

Now there was a church with a lot of work to do in cultivating a culture of peace! Paul exhorts them not to settle for such a distorted form of community but to aim for something far superior.

In my next post I will share a number of concrete ways a church can aim at the perfect in this all important virtue in our gospel-shaped community.

You won’t likely offer the holy kiss of love to some member of the body you’re fighting with. You’re more likely to hide from them in the cave so as not to even make eye contact.

God help us to aim higher!

 

JOY & THE KISS OF LOVE

How Rejoicing in God Fuels Greeting with Love

hugs

I married a hugger.

Jan loves to greet folks she knows with a warm embrace. She’s just about the best example I know of someone who takes seriously the Bible’s command to greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Cor. 13:12). She’s turned me into more of a hugger!

In my last post I wrote about the kiss of love (1 Pet. 5:14) as a gospel grace for guarding unity in the church. The gospel shapes our community with oneness when we engage one another intentionally by greeting with the holy kiss of love.

The way I see Paul’s flow in the argument makes me think we most likely will embrace his command in 12, or some modern-day, culturally appropriate version thereof, IF we take seriously and obey all five of his rapid-fire, staccato, summary-of-the-book imperatives in 2 Cor. 13:11.

 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

I call them five virtues which must be operative in a gospel-shaped community if it’s going to show genuine, holy intimacy in relationships: rejoicing in the Lord, aiming at the perfect, submitting to the leadership, agreeing on the truth, and striving for the peace.

The first is rejoicing in the Lord. Finally, brothers, rejoice. Some translations have farewell. And it can mean that. The Greek word became a familiar form of greeting and parting in the New Testament world.

But the word literally is, as rendered by the ESV, the word for rejoice. Paul ends the same way in Phil 3:1 – Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord and Phil. 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Paul made it very clear in the opening of the letter, 2 Cor. 1:24, of his priority agenda in this regard – we work with you for your joy.

This way of saying hello and/or goodbye doesn’t differ all that much from the Jewish salutation shalom. Peace be to you. It conveys a certain sentiment, blessing, and hope for the party given the greeting.

It is decidedly vertical in its trajectory, for the object of rejoicing isn’t in one’s circumstances which vary substantially, but in God who always remains the same and always works all things together for a believer (Rom. 8:28).

People grounded in the bedrock theology of God’s sovereignty that contributes a deep running current of joy in His control of everything best fight against anxiety and more often than not bear the fruit of the Spirit that is joy (Gal. 5:22-23).

And because they keep their eyes on Jesus on the throne and the certainty of His love in the gospel, they possess a power to rejoice even in suffering and touch others with tangible, holy forms of intimacy rather than drown in a sea of self-pity that ignores the needs of others.

What greater need do we have than to be loved by others?

Consider giving more attention to your greeting ways in the church fueled by your rejoicing ways in God.