Archive for June 2012
Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. John 7:16 – 18
The theological discipline that aims to teach people how to distinguish between truth and error is called “apologetics”. If you study apologetics you will learn about cults, sects, aberrant television evangelists and the great heresies that keep on appearing in different guises throughout the church ages. Google “apologetics” and you will find so many websites that your head will spin.
Christian apologists (called “heresy hunters” by their enemies) range from dull university professors to ecclesiastical vigilantes. They come in all shapes and sizes, and it is not unusual for them to turn on each other. Some of them, like the beloved Dave Hunt (no pun intended), have done legendary work in exposing deception in the church.
However, much of Christian apologetics would be totally unnecessary if we would simply heed Jesus’ words above. Firstly, they reveal the secret to discerning truth: An earnest desire to do God’s will. Secondly, they reveal the fundamental difference between the true and false teacher: The former is interested in God’s glory, the latter in his/her own glory.
The conclusion is clear: The person who seeks to do God’s will is sensitive to teaching that glorifies God, and so a natural detector of truth. Likewise, the one who seeks his/her own honour is attracted to teachings that can provide it, and to teachers who embody it.
Simple, isn’t it?
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time… Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:3-5, 13
“See to it that no one is… unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” Hebrews 12:16
I want it all, and I want it now. Freddy Mercury
Q: What do the prodigal son and Esau have in common?
A: They could not wait for their inheritance. They wanted it all, and they wanted it now.
This is more than a casual observation or an interesting question for a Bible study class. It is a prophetic warning for the church of Jesus Christ. Esau and the prodigal were not unbelievers, but children of a loving father who had a rich and good inheritance stored up for them. Yet they were immature and impatient. Their desire for instant gratification robbed them of their real reward.
The prodigal’s story ends well, but we should not allow this to confuse us. Many scholars believe that the father’s words to the elder son, “…all that is mine is yours”, indicate that the prodigal had indeed forfeited his inheritance.
Similarly, when Esau “desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” (verse 17). You cannot have your cake and eat it.
The single biggest theological shift that I have witnessed amongst Christians over the past three decades has to do with exactly this. What was once regarded as a future inheritance is now said to be immediately available. For the first time in the history of the church, there is a widespread consensus that the blessings of God’s kingdom are accessible here and now. We merely need to claim it.
Perhaps some correction was necessary. Perhaps we needed to understand more about the “victory of the believer”. But the pendulum has swung too far. It would appear that some of us are no longer feasting on the bread of life, but on huge bowls of lentil soup.
“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house…” Exodus 20:17
The past week’s international news headlines were dominated (yet again) by the current global financial crisis.
This time it is the Spanish economy that is wobbling. Whilst many are hoping that a massive bank bailout will resolve the problem, an increasing number of economists are warning that it won’t. They are predicting a “broader Eurozone catastrophe.”
That sounds rather grim, and so many people are asking the obvious question: “How did we get into this mess?” Google an answer and you will be overwhelmed by an array of articles filled with highfalutin economic terms that are pretty incomprehensible to Joe Soap and his family.
But there is something that you may notice while you’re at it: The recurrence of the term “housing bubble”.
It would appear that an inordinate amount of people bought an inordinate amount of houses with money that they never had but manage to borrow from banks who had inordinately liberal underwriting standards, causing real estate value to skyrocket in an inordinate way.
You don’t need to be an astronaut to understand why the whole thing was destined to pop.
This brings us to another question: Why on earth would anybody with a sound mind want to get involved in this? (Keep in mind that you will have to explain to your grandchildren why you helped destroy the world economy.)
The answer is simple: We never thought that God was serious when he told us not to lust after our neighbour’s house. And so we wanted bigger and better than the Joneses, and used every opportunity to get it.
Of course that made Mr & Mrs Jones feel terrible, and so they had to catch up.
We got into this mess because of greed. That’s the correct answer.
Will we get out of it? God alone knows. So let us focus on what we do know: That the Biblical definition of “gain“ is contentment, not accumulation.
Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, was a rather outspoken man. He did not flinch when it came to addressing error in the churches of his day, and so much of his ministry was marked with controversy. Not everyone appreciated Charles’ straightforwardness.
Spurgeon is especially remembered for his statement that ministers are called to feed the sheep and not to amuse the goats. In an article bearing this title he writes: “The devil has seldom done a more clever thing, than hinting to the Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them… My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the Church. If it is a Christian work why did not Christ speak of it? “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.” No such words, however, are to be found.”
In his remarkable book The Messenger of the Cross, the Chinese Christian Watchman Nee writes along similar lines: “Many Bible teachers and congregational leaders nowadays are successful not because they know more of the Holy Spirit than do other people but because they turn their superior natural talents to the Bible and spiritual things.”
Nee goes on to point out that any form of spiritual work is entirely useless if it is based on the abilities of a human being or any technique that may impress a crowd of people. Towards the end of the book he concludes: “Whatever is done out of one’s self will be burned up on that day… and what is done out of God shall remain.”
Makes one think, doesn’t it?
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
We have just seen that the power to create life and light is from God, not from us. This distinction is so vital and beyond any negotiation that God designed a way for us to constantly be reminded thereof. How does he do this? By revealing to us continuously that we are mere vessels containing the treasure, and very fragile ones at that.
In the following verses Paul provides us with examples of exactly how this message is driven home on a daily basis, and how we are constantly reminded of our own brokenness, mortality and dependence on God: We are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down, and in this way we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus. All of this takes place to remind us that it is God’s power, not ours, and that we merely reflect God’s glory.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, he emphasises the same principle: A thorn in the flesh was given to him to keep him from becoming conceited about his ministry. His conclusion in verse 10, “when I am weak I am strong”, is one that runs like a golden thread throughout the second letter to the Corinthians. We are only qualified to be carriers of God’s glory and to reflect it to the world when we realise exactly how weak and fragile we are. To the degree that we experience death in ourselves the life of God will be revealed through us.
We can summarise by saying that for the message of grace to be truly grace, it must be evident not only in the content of the message, but also in its delivery. It is therefore imperative that the one who brings God’s message should not do it in a boastful way, but “in fear and trembling”, as Paul did when he preached to the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:3). This will reveal the true source of the power behind the message, both to the preacher and the audience.
Paul concludes his teaching in verse 16 by repeating the same statement that he made in verse one: “Therefore we do not lose heart.” The principle is clear: When you understand that the success of the gospel does not depend on you or your efforts, then you will no longer be demotivated when you do not see the results that you would like to see.
The main reason why we lose heart is because we do not understand the glorious nature of the ministry, that this is something that we can only have through God’s mercy and that we cannot do anything to make the message more appealing to people who do not find it appealing enough. We simply do not understand that we do not have to despair when we do not see the visible results of our ministry.
As Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
In order to clearly make the point that no human mediation can remove the veil over the gospel, and that no human being can create spiritual sight on behalf of God, Paul points to the creation of the world, and in particular to the creation of light.
There is only one who has the authority and power to create light in darkness, he reminds us. It is God. The same God who said “Let there be light” at the beginning of creation, now says “Let there be light” at the beginning of the new creation. In the next chapter this argument is drawn to its logical conclusion when Paul says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God…” (2 Cor 5:17)
The history of the Old Covenant begins with the very command that characterises the beginning of our participation in the New Covenant: “Let there be light!” The former was a creation of physical light, the latter of spiritual light. The miracle of removing the veil over the gospel, of delivering people from the god of this age who has blinded their minds, of allowing them to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, is the very miracle that took place at creation. The power needed to do so is the very power that was needed at the beginning of time. Darkness and light are separated with God’s recreation just as they were at his creation.
The implications of the above are rather stunning: If a preacher thinks he has the ability to remove the veil over the gospel, then such a preacher might just as well claim that he has the ability to create the universe.
Is this possible? Certainly not.