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?

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?

GOOD DAYS, GRACE DAYS

How Peacemaking Commitments Make for the Good Life

good life

How do you define “the good life?”

According to one source reported by Psychology Today, happiness consists of four things: experiencing pleasure, avoiding negative experience, seeking self-development, or making contributions to others.

The apostle Peter wrote a different prescription for loving life and seeing good days in 1 Pet. 3:8-12.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For
“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

In my last post, I introduced this passage as a strategy for the good life for a suffering people. The main idea from the passage is this: Our extraordinary identity as God’s people calls for radical peacemaking commitments in the church. 

A suffering church must be a unified church. That takes three different peacemaking commitments embedded in the text.

The first of these commitments in verse 8 is showing grace. I take that from the four specifics which follow the need for unity of mind.

One, sympathy. The word means literally to suffer with someone in something. It’s the idea of empathizing with others in all kinds of situations, good or bad. Romans 12:15 says it well: Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. 

Two, brotherly love. Our affection for others in the body of Christ should resemble the love we have for our physical families.

Three, a tender heart. The root means kidney or bowel. It was used to describe the visceral area of the body. It conveys the idea of a depth of feeling for others that comes from the gut—way down deep inside.

Four, humility. We simply can’t overstate the importance of this quality to a peacemaking ethic. Peter will hit it again in 1 Pet. 5:5: Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Henry Scougal, in his treatise, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, comments on this:

The leaves of high trees do shake with every blast of wind; and every breath, every evil word, will disquiet and torment an arrogant man; but the humble person hath the advantage, when he is despised, that none can think more meanly of him than he doth of himself; and therefore he is not troubled at the matter, but can easily bear those reproaches which would the other to the soul (1996, p. 84).

Does “showing grace” make your list for defining the good life? The apostle put it at the very top. Do you need to alter your priorities?

GUARDING ONENESS

How to Deal with the Killer of Unity in Any Relationship

My mentor and friend surprised me the other day. I asked if he could recommend a go-to resource on marriage. I figured he would point to any number of more recent publications by major evangelical authors. Not so.

humility word in metal type

He suggested Larry Crabb’s 1991 publication Men & Women: Enjoying the Difference (Zondervan). It just so happens I have a copy in my library. I read it years ago. Never hurts to take another look, so I pulled it off the shelf and began reading again.

It took only twenty-eight pages before these words hammered me:

We will not move very far in our efforts to develop good marriages until we understand that repairing a damaged sense of identity and healing the wound in our hearts is not the first order of business. It is rather dealing with the subtle, pervasive, stubborn commitment to ourselves. Self-centeredness is the killer. In every bad relationship, it is the deadliest culprit . Poor communication, temper problems, unhealthy responses to dysfunctional family backgrounds, co-dependent relationships, and personal incompatibility—everything (unless medically caused) flows out of the cesspool of self-centeredness.

If Crabb overstates the case at all, then I am not sure how much. It seems he lines up perfectly with Paul’s instructions in Phil. 2:1-4.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

He gives two directives for guarding oneness. The first addresses attitude–humility of mind which counts others more significant than oneself (see also Rom. 12:16; the second focuses on action–look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The Greek word for “look” is the word skopeo from where we get our English word “scope”–as in a rifle scope. We are to keep our eyes wide open for the concerns of others. He assumes we will do that for ourselves. Guardians of oneness in marriage, family, church or any relational sphere scan the horizon of needs on a broader scale for the benefit of others.

Philippians 2 finishes with four examples of his day from which to draw inspiration: Jesus (5-11), himself (12-18, Timothy (19-24), and Epaphroditus (25-30). Of course none of those matters more to our motivation to guard oneness than that of the Lord Jesus in His humiliation and exaltation.

Why? Because He not only gives us an example to follow; He supplies the power to live similarly through the transforming gospel.

As you move into 2017, where might you have to drain the cesspool of self-centeredness for the joy of growing in others-centeredness?

Why Does God Delay to Answer Prayer?

Why does God delay to answer prayer?

Consider these thoughts by the Puritan Thomas Watson in his book The Body of Divinity.

  1. Because he loves to hear the voice of prayer. ‘The prayer of the upright is his delight.’ Prov 15: 8. You let the musician play a great while ere you throw him down money, because you love to hear his music. Cant 2: 14.
  2. God may delay prayer when he will not deny it, that he may humble us. He has spoken to us long in his word to leave our sins, but we would not hear him; therefore he lets us speak to him in prayer and seems not to hear us.
  3. He may delay to answer prayer when he will not deny it, because he sees we are not yet fit for the mercy we ask. Perhaps we pray for deliverance when we are not fit for it; our scum is not yet boiled away. We would have God swift to deliver, and we are slow to repent.
  4. God may delay to answer prayer, that the mercy we pray for may be more prized, and may be sweeter when it comes. The longer the merchant’s ships stay abroad, the more he rejoices when they come home laden with spices and jewels; therefore be not discouraged, but follow God with prayer. Though God delays, he will not deny. Prayer vincit invincibilem [conquers the invincible], it overcomes the Omnipotent. Hos 12: 4. The Syrians tied their god Hercules fast with a golden chain, that he should not remove. The Lord was held by Moses’ prayer as with a golden chain. ‘Let me alone;’ why, what did Moses? he only prayed. Exod 32:10- 11. Prayer ushers in mercy. Be thy case never so sad, if thou canst but pray thou needest not fear. Psa 10: 17. Therefore give thyself to prayer.

Dear ones. Don’t give up. Persevere in prayer.

WTLN Interview with Pastor Curt

For one of their recent Church-of-the-Week programs, WTLN, 950 AM, Orlando, chose to feature, as they have done in the past, Orlando Grace. They aired a message from The Graces of Gospel-Shaped Community series called The Grace of Clothing with Humility from 1 Peter 4:19-5:7. You can listen to the audio of that message here.

Before broadcasting the message, they played a recording of an interview with me about my ministry and the ministry of our church. If you missed that program the afternoon of October 30, you can listen to the interview audio here.

My thanks to Bill Rhoden of the radio station for his kindness in making the copy available to us at OGC.

The Grace of Clothing with Humility

Today’s message from 1 Peter 4:19-5:7 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

John Calvin said this of the proverbial expression, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble:

We are to imagine that; God has two hands; the one, which like a hammer beats down and breaks in pieces those who raise up themselves; and the other, which raises up the humble who willingly let down themselves, and is like a firm prop to sustain them. Were we really convinced of this, and had it deeply fixed in our minds, who of us would dare by pride to urge war with God? But the hope of impunity now makes us fearlessly to raise up our horn to heaven. Let, then, this declaration of Peter be as a celestial thunderbolt to make men humble.

May God strike us with humility’s celestial thunderbolt! Then we will have sheep who submit to their shepherds. Then we will have people given wholeheartedly to lowly-mindedness toward one another.

What could be lovelier before our eyes and more glorifying to our God than a report like: Oh yes, I know OGC, a more lowly-minded, humble community you will rarely find!?

The Better Life

We often hear about the pursuit of the good life. Our culture promotes a variety of definitions that can shape our pursuits. Much of them have to do with the acquisition of wealth and the possessions, experiences, and status it can bring.

But God doesn’t do economics the way the world does. In fact quite often our up is His down and what we esteem He despises (see Luke 16:15).

The ofttimes contrast between what human wisdom esteems as the good life and what God esteems surfaces plainly in the book of Proverbs. For example, consider Proverbs 16:19.

It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.

That’s not your conventional wisdom. In God’s economy poverty plus humility counts for way more than plunder plus pride.

Why is this so? First, because humility draws the gaze of God (Isaiah 66:1-2). Second, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). The last thing I want is for the God of the universe to regard me as His opponent; the first thing I want is for Him to look favorably upon me.

Matthew Henry made this comment on the verse:

It is upon all accounts better to take our lot with those whose condition is low, and their minds brought to it, than to covet and aim to make a figure and a bustle in the world. Humility, though it should expose us to contempt in the world, yet while it recommends us to the favour of God, qualifies us for his gracious visits, prepares us for his glory, secures us from many temptations, and preserves the quiet and repose of our own souls, is much better than that high-spiritedness which, though it carry away the honour and wealth of the world, makes God a man’s enemy and the devil his master.

Do you aspire for the good life, the better life? Take your cue from the wisdom of Proverbs and draw the gaze of God in favor, far better than any spoils this world has to offer divided with the proud.

Faith’s Ultimate Display (Part Two)

Today’s message from John 12:1-11 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Here’s how I closed the sermon:

So, do we get it? Compared to Mary we have so much more to go on this side of the cross! If we do get it, if we understand the truth of what Jesus has done and it grips us such that we believe in Him as the Messiah, our Savior, it will lead to commitment marked like hers with even extravagant devotion – intensely personal, financially sacrificial, extremely deferential, publically unconventional, and spiritually insightful attachment.

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, said this:

There is only one relationship that matters, and that is your personal relationship to a personal Redeemer and Lord. Let everything else go, but maintain that at all costs, and God will fulfill His purpose through your life. One individual life may be of priceless value to God’s purpose, and yours may be that life.

Let everything else go, but maintain your personal relationship to Jesus at all costs.

What God Truly Requires of His Covenant People

Today’s message is now online. You can listen to the audio here.

Matthew Henry writes this about what God requires of His covenant people in Micah 6:8:

The good which God requires of us is not the paying of a price for the pardon of sin and acceptance with God, but doing the duty which is the condition of our interest in the pardon purchased. (1.) We must do justly, must render to all their due, according as our relation and obligation to them are; we must do wrong to none, but do right to all, in their bodies, goods, and good name. (2.) We must love mercy; we must delight in it, as our God does, must be glad of an opportunity to do good, and do it cheerfully. Justice is put before mercy, for we must not give that in alms which is wrongfully got, or with which our debts should be paid. God hates robbery for a burnt-offering. (3.) We must walk humbly with our God. This includes all the duties of the first table, as the two former include all the duties of the second table. We must take the Lord for our God in covenant, must attend on him and adhere to him as ours, and must make it our constant care and business to please him. Enoch’s walking with God is interpreted (Heb. 11:5) his pleasing God. We must, in the whole course of our conversation, conform ourselves to the will of God, keep up our communion with God, and study to approve ourselves to him in our integrity; and this we must do humbly (submitting our understandings to the truths of God and our will to his precepts and providences); we must humble ourselves to walk with God (so the margin reads it); every thought within us must be brought down, to be brought into obedience to God, if we would walk comfortably with him. This is that which God requires, and without which the most costly services are vain oblations; this is more than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices.

May we heed Evan’s exhortation to live each day with eyes to see the opportunities He puts before us to live well with both bottom-line trajectories, horizontal and vertical, in mind.