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?

Overcoming Resentment and the Urge to Get Even

geteven

Everyone deals with this. No one avoids hurt which results from bad treatment. The human condition inevitably struggles with lingering resentment over wrongs done. Who hasn’t relished the prospect of payback which matches the harm inflicted by someone’s evil?

Joseph certainly must have. He had every reason to after his brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery (Genesis 37). Fearing the worst after their father died, those brothers definitely worried so:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” (Genesis 50:15-18 ESV)

They pitched Pharaoh’s number two, their little brother, on accepting an offer of servitude in exchange for their lives and the lives of their families. Joseph’s response stands forever as a marvel of grace and a model for peacemaking reconciliation  even in the face of the worst kind of treatment:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21 ESV)

My, talk about letting your speech always be gracious (Colossians 4:6) and love covering a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12)!

How did Joseph do it? What did he know that caused him to release arguably reasonable and deserved resentment for his brothers and bless them with fear-easing comfort?

Three things.

  1. He knew his place – not being God. Am I in the place of God? His was not to judge. That job’s taken. He heard Paul’s words before he ever wrote them:

    Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)

  2. He knew his God – working for good.  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Once again we read foreshadowing of the apostle finding grace to heal hurts anchored in God’s sovereignty.   And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)
  3. He knew his role – caring for others.  I will provide for you and your little ones. Paul, Paul everywhere.

    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. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)

Of course Joseph ultimately points to his greater Son, Jesus, who not only modeled such love and grace (Luke 23:34) but also empowers us to do the same through the power of the gospel (Philippians 2:5-11).

Are you shackled by the chains of unforgiveness that harbor resentment and plot revenge? Seek your freedom in the love-covering-a-multitude of your sins and the sins of others by virtue of the cross and resurrection.

Life’s Ultimate “What If?”

Today’s Easter message from 1 Cor. 15:12-20 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Here is how I summarized the argument in this portion of the epistle:

But here’s the good news. Paul has trafficked in the hypothetical for the purposes of his logical argument in these last eight verses. He has made his point. Denying the reality bodily resurrection results in logically necessary consequences of the most catastrophic kinds – false gospel, futile preaching and faith, fraudulent witness, flourishing sin, forever death, and forlorn-to-the-utmost believers. But none of that is the case! Look at v. 20. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. So we may rightly, and I am indebted to John Piper for this insight, reverse the implications of all six of Paul’s logically necessary consequences. We have no false gospel but a true one with Christ raised from the dead. We have no futile preaching and faith it produces, but full and worthwhile-to-the-max preaching and faith with Christ raised from the dead. We have no fraudulent witness but truthful witness with Christ raised from the dead. We have no flourishing sin but rather fully forgiven sin before God and resurrection power to fight its remaining influences until one day we are completely delivered from this flesh with Christ risen from the dead. We have no forever death but everlasting life and hope of being reunited with all those who have fallen asleep before us with Christ risen from the dead. And we have no forlorn, misplaced, pitiable hope but rather an enviable, blessed-above-all-others kind of hope, even if it costs us our lives, with Christ risen from the dead.

Blessed Easter to all.

We are anything but forlorn! He is risen. He is risen indeed!

Texts That Terrify

Some passages of Scripture terrify (or at least they should) believers across the board.

For example, Matthew 12:36 warns, On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. If that doesn’t flat out scare you given the difficulties attached to taming the tongue (see James 3), I don’t know what will.

Other verses raise the hair on special interest heads only, like Hebrews 13:17.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The church elder/pastor whose knees don’t knock at the prospect of giving an account to the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 4:1-4) at the last judgment for the quality of his watch care over the souls allotted to his charge best resign his office to trifle with lesser responsibilities.

Reading Timothy Witmer’s excellent book The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church recently reminded me of this sanctified terror shared by me and my fellow elders at Orlando Grace.

For this reason and others our elders and deacons opted to tackle this theologically sound and ecclesiologically practical resource in preparation for our annual leadership team retreat next weekend. Lord willing we will gather for a Friday night and Saturday morning to discuss Witmer’s book and evaluate our ministry of shepherding at OGC in light of it.

Witmer reveals his thesis early on in the introduction:

The simple thesis of this book is, “The fundamental responsibility of church leaders is to shepherd God’s flock.” After all, the word “pastor” comes from the Latin word meaning “shepherd.” However . . . shepherding is not merely the responsibility of those who are called to be pastors but also of those who are called to be elders or its equivalent in our churches. In fact . . . “shepherding” is at the very heart of the biblical picture of leadership. Unfortunately, this emphasis is missing in many churches (p. 2).

Thankfully, it’s not missing in our church. But could we do it better? Absolutely. Hence our desire to invest significant hours together next weekend to evaluate ourselves in light of biblical standards.

Will you pray for us that we hear God’s voice as to the action steps He desires for us to take to shepherd better the flock for which Jesus died at Orlando Grace?

After all, getting better at shepherding not only will make things go better for us at the judgment, if I read the rest of Hebrews 13:17 correctly.

It will result in great advantage to you, the sheep, as well.

How to Be Certain Your Faith Is Certifiably Genuine (Part 2)

Today’s message is now on the web. You can listen to it here.

Here is the quote from Charles Spurgeon with which I led off in the message:

Assurance of your salvation will bring you “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” If you know that you are saved, you can sit down in poverty, or in sickness, or under slander, and feel perfectly content. Full assurance is the Koh-i-noor (Persian for “Mountain of Light” – a 105 carat diamond that was once the largest known diamond in the world) amongst the jewels wherewith the heavenly Bridegroom adorns his spouse. Assurance is a mountain of spices, a land that floweth with milk and honey. To be the assured possessor of eternal life is to find a paradise beneath the stars, where the mountains and the hills break forth before you into singing.

Here’s how I summarized this two part sermon on the genuine faith of the man born blind who was made to see by the light of the world, Jesus:

Genuine faith bears the marks of steadfast allegiance to Jesus – growth of insight, boldness of witness, perseverance through suffering, and admission of need. How do you stack up? When you examine your own faith, do these things present themselves as evidences as to its certifiable genuineness? If so, enjoy the Kohinoor of assurance of salvation and give thanks to God for His indescribable gift!

Next week, Lord willing, we move into John 10 and the Good Shepherd discourse, one of the most precious and beloved sections of Scripture to believers throughout the centuries.