THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TOWARD THE STATE

As Christians, what do we do when government disappoints us? Are we going to curse civil leaders when they do not live up to our expectations? Are we going to stage a hate campaign, take up arms and rebel against government? Martin Luther called human government as God’s left-handed kingdom. He also said that God puts bad men in control (in government), to control bad men. Furthermore, Martin Luther said that human government as good as it possibly can, is still the result of the fall, influenced by the fall, and is basically unchristian. There are no Christian nations. There are just Christians within human governments. We must realize that God is sovereign in human governments, not just in history but in the formation, the continuation, and the limits of human government (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:22; Isaiah 44:28; Daniel 2:21). God is in control of human governments. That does not mean that they are spiritual entities. It simply means that God has purposed that human government exists for the purpose of keeping law and order in a fallen world. Therefore, He establishes them and controls them. God’s people are repeatedly admonished to submit themselves to these human governments, even invading occupying governments for that matter (cf. Daniel chapts. 1-4). God’s people are also admonished to pray for civil governments (cf. Jer. 29:7) lest men would swallow each other alive (cf. Sayings of the Fathers 3:2). Christians are to give unto civil governments that which rightly belongs to them because it is God Himself who sets governments up. But give to God what belongs to Him whenever the state claims ultimacy (especially in the sense of the deity of the emperor cf. Matt. 22:21; Romans 13:1), and the state has gone beyond the bounds that God has given it. And therefore, we cannot submit to that, yet there is a realm in which we are to submit as unto the Lord to civil authorities, not necessarily that we agree with them, but we are to do it because we are Christians, and how we act affects evangelism and ministry. Everyone must obey the civil authorities as a matter of attitude. It’s a Biblical attitude of reverence and submission to others because of our relationship with God (cf. Eph. 5:21). No authority exists except ordained by God. All human governments have only the authority that comes from God, because God is the only source of authority. This is not to assert the divine right of government, it simply means that God prefers government order than chaos. Human governments are under God’s control and God’s appointment or ordination, and anyone who resists its authority sets himself against God. To rebel against civil governments is to rebel against God. The basic attitude of Christians is reverence, honor, respect, and duty as far as taxes and prayer towards civil governments.

There is a difference in the Bible between how we treat civil government and how we look at it. Paul seems to be very respectful, and Peter seems to say the very same thing. But John in Revelation 13 calls human government the ‘Beast’ as the ultimate enemy of God. The anti-Christ is going to work through human government; so though we have a respect and reverence toward it, it is not ultimate. When the day comes where the government says, “worship me” or “do what i say”, or “i’m ultimate”, we stand up in love, and we die, and by our death and our attitude, God will win more to Himself. We don’t go get a gun and build a safe house, and store water and food, and kill everybody who comes. Human government is ordained by God, but it should not be construed as its divine right. No one form of government is advocated above another. In Scripture, it is a religious duty for believers to obey civil authority with a proper attitude. It is proper for believers to support human government with their money and their prayers. Human government is for the purpose of order. They are God’s servants for a task. Human government is not ultimate in its authority. Believers must act for conscience sake in respecting civil authority, but not when it oversteps its God-given bounds. In his book, City of God, Augustine asserted that we are citizens of two realms, one temporal, and one eternal. We have responsibilities, but God’s kingdom is eternal. We have a corporate responsibility as well as an individual response in a democratic society. We are to try to influence government by going into politics, if we can’t influence it along Biblical principles. However, we should remember that our hope does not come from government. It never will. It can’t. It won’t. We should encourage believers in a democratic system to actually participate in the process of government, and to implement when possible the teachings of Scriptures, but government will never solve the problem of human society.

A Chameleon of a Christian

The main thrust of the Parable of the Soils (Matthew 13:1–23, Mark 4:1–20, Luke 8:4–15) is how one responds to the Word of God. It categorizes four kinds of responses (hearts) unbelievers manifest as they hear the Word of God (seed) sown to them. Number one is the hard heart whose hardness resists the Word of God and makes it easy for the devil to come and take away the Word from their heart so that they may not believe and be saved. The second kind is the shallow heart. It receives the Word with joy when they hear it. But they have no root. They believe for a while but in time of testing they fall away. The third one is what I would call the crowded heart. They are the ones who hear the Word but as they go on their way, they are choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasure. And they do not mature. The fourth and last response is the good and noble heart. They hear the Word, retain it, and by perseverance produce a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

But why should I spend time talking about resistant hearts, why spend time talking about shallow hearts, why spend time talking about crowded hearts to believers who have trusted Christ as their Savior? Why should I be talking about having the Word of God stolen by Satan, or starved by the flesh, or strangled by the world? Why am I talking about this way? I think there is another application to this parable; not a primary one, but something worth our while as Christians. Let me introduce you to a believer. His name is Juan de la Cruz. You know him well. And Juan has come to faith in Christ. You would never question the fact that he is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. If you doubt it, ask him, he’ll tell you so. Juan de la Cruz is like many of us. We discover that how we respond to various situations may represent the four different hearts that Juan may have. When it comes to church, he’s a good soil. He loves the Word of God, and in fact he has a good number of verses tucked in his memory. But when Juan goes to work, he acts strangely. Because you see Juan is filled with worry. He’s on a career path, and that career path is so important to him that in the interest of business, and since ‘everybody does it’, he compromises a little bit here and a little bit there. And because he wants to get up to a higher grade salary level, or to get that promotion, he makes a trade-off with his faith. And suddenly, Juan discovers in his relationship to business, he’s got a crowded heart, and he’s not as fruitful spiritually at work. What about Juan de la Cruz in his relationship with other people, perhaps even in relationship to his family? You begin to discover that Juan, ye this same man who when it comes to church can be very faithful. When he’s out in business he can have a crowded heart because of the worries and the desire for possessions and all of these things. But when it comes to relationships you discover that Juan can be very emotional such that when he meets a person, he can just give him over to that person only to find out later when adversity comes, and his own personal convenience is compromised he cringes himself away from any involvement to that person. Juan can be very emotional, but he can be very superficial in his relationship and have a very shallow heart if he’s not careful. And when it comes to income tax time, when it comes to bedrock issues Juan can even have a resistant heart, despite the fact the Bible says that we need to be characterized with honesty and integrity. I submit to you we all have a mirror from Jesus and to each of our own hearts we want to be good soil people, and yet it’s possible that in some situations we are very crowded hearts, and still in other situations we have very shallow hearts. We must realize that when God begins to plow deeply, He wants to plow the whole heart. You and I need to come to an awareness that Jesus is not Lord of just a part of our lives. He is Lord of all of our lives. You and I need to understand that we ought to listen when God speaks, then we become aware of the fact that we are responsible for what we hear. We are responsible to take that seed and allow it to work so in our life that it touches every part of our life. Because we ultimately lose what we don’t use. The seed is the Word of God and the four kinds of soils represent man’s heart. What kind of heart do you have today? Do you know how I could tell? I can tell by how you respond.

Spiritual Adultery

The history of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament has been a tableau of God’s unending love and faithfulness on one hand, and Israel’s continual unfaithfulness to its covenant-making God on the other hand. God had always been faithful to His covenant promises with Israel, but Israel followed after false gods of the pagan nations round-about. Israel had praised and worshipped the Baals of the fertility cult religion of their day that is immensely degrading and terribly immoral. They have lost their sense of moral compass such that they ascribed to these pagan gods the very blessings that their One true God has wrought upon them all through those years in their history as a nation and as the people of God, saying ‘these are they who have given me these things as a nation”. They have ignored Yahweh. Now we say, how could they do that? But you and I do the same thing in our world today. You and I have been guilty, if we’re not careful of idolatry. One of the things that Paul tells us about in the New Testament is about the danger of materialism. And if we love anything more than we love God, then this becomes an idol, and you and I can become guilty of spiritual adultery as well. And we think well, it is my business, it is my ability, or it is my wisdom that has gotten me all these things. And we soon forget, and it’s possible for you and I to have received the blessings of God just like Israel received the blessings of God yet forget to acknowledge God accordingly as the source of all these blessings. We do not think about God until disaster strikes. We start to complain to God, ‘where are You, how could You have allowed this thing to happen?”

You know, when life is good and the Lord our God has given us homes to live in, many healthy children, and a prosperous job, don’t you ever be thinking in your mind, “Look what the strength of my hands have done, look how creative I am, look what I’ve produced, boy, I am a go-getter.” Now, you remember that it’s the Lord your God that provided you these things. It is the blessing of the Lord which makes us rich (i.e. Prov. 10:22). I think we need to take a spiritual inventory every now and then, and sometimes it’s very hard to do it in the crucible of the contemporary. It’s much easier to look backwards when life was good as we were used to seeing 2 ‘footprints’ as the song says, but right in the moment of crisis in our lives we see one. And then suddenly life begins to take on a new perspective because we believe the Bible is the only clear self-revelation of the one true God. He is with us. He is for us, and we don’t want to forget that in our abundance or in our need. We don’t want to have too much that we forget God, we don’t want to have too little that we curse Him. That’s not a half-bad thought; to have a mean in our Christian lives, that we’re going to think about Him always, and not forget who He is in our lives.

The Essential Point Of Christianity

Mark 8:38 says this, “for whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the Holy Angels”. Now, what in the world does it mean to be ashamed of Christ? What does it mean when it says “ashamed of me and my words”? What is that referring to? Does it mean a certain theology, or a certain kind of church policy? What exactly are we talking about here? I think the parallel Scripture passage in Luke 12:8-9 tells us somewhat about how to understand the word “ashamed”. “…everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God”. Well, it seems the word ‘ashamed’ and the word ‘confessed’ are synonymous. They mean the same kind of thing to the authors of the Gospels. When i think of the word ‘confess’, i kind of think of someone owning up to a crime he has committed, but that’s obviously not what’s being referred to here. When it says, “…for whosoever is ashamed of me…”, i thought, well, this might in reference to those folks who would never join a church. And yet I guess one of the verses that have haunted me more than any other in all the New Testament is Matthew 7:21-23, and I think it relates right here to what it means to be ‘ashamed’ or to ‘confess’. This thing really is puzzling when Jesus Himself says, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father who is in heaven many will say to me on that day Lord. Lord did not we prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name and perform many miracles in your name. And I will declare to them. I never knew you depart from me you who practice lawlessness”. Well, that sure complicates matters. Is it possible for you to use the right religious vocabulary, to attend the right church, at the right time, to carry a Bible, and preach, and to even do miracles and wonders in Jesus’ name, and still not be a true Christian? What in the world could that mean? I’ve heard it preached all my life that you just got to say yes to Jesus, and that settles the issue, And here are people who are saying “Lord, Lord…”, people who are working in His church, and Yet Christ says, “I never knew You…”. What are we dealing with here? I thought ‘ashamed’ and ‘confess’ meant talking about Jesus in public? You know, if you talk about Jesus in public, that must be, you must know Him. And yet apparently, simply talking about Jesus is not synonymous with knowing Jesus. Preaching out of the Bible and doing miracles in Jesus’ Name and still not know Him is a staggering thought – so unsettling thought. Perhaps we need to rethink exactly what it is that makes a man right with God. Sometimes, I would tend to believe that we get into the cultural rut of thinking that the church’s membership roll is synonymous with the Book of Life. And it is not! Is it possible today that there are people who are speaking about God, and do not know Him? Do you think it’s possible that some of the miraculous things we hear about and read about done in Jesus’ Name are really not done by God’s people? YES! TO JOIN A CHURCH IS NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH BECOMING A CHRISTIAN. TO CARRY A BIBLE IS NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH BEING A CHRISTIAN. TO BE A PREACHER IS NOT SYNONYMOUS WITH BEING A CHRISTIAN. TO DO MIRACLES IN JESUS’NAME IS NOT AUTOMATICALLY THE SIGN OF GOD. If saying, “Lord, Lord…” is not a public profession of faith in Christ, what in the world is? Do you see the horns of the dilemma upon which we are on? Jesus says, “if you’re ashamed of me…” in Matthew, and in Luke He says, “if you do not confess me…” the question comes back again, what do the words ‘confess’ and ‘ashamed’ mean? Because of the cultural Christianity of our day, I really think that we believe that if anybody who dresses up and comes to church on Sunday, and carries the right kind of Bible, He’s got to be a Christian. And that’s so wrong. Being a Christian is more than having a pendant cross on around your neck; more than having a ‘Jesus loves you’ t-shirt. Being a Christian is more than simply coming and sitting on Sunday morning. I do think sometimes people believe that knowing their Bible makes them a Christian. I want to tell you, you can know your Bible from cover to cover; memorize 3000 verses; have a degree in theology the world can offer, and still not know Jesus Christ. It’s not how often you attend church; it’s not how much you give in percentages; it’s not how godly your parents are; it’s not how big of a Bible you are carrying, and how often you quote from it. Being a Christian has to do primarily with the Person of Jesus Christ. You take Christ out, and you have nothing. So the question is, are you ashamed of the Person of Jesus Christ? Another way of putting it is, Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? You see, I have a personal relationship with my wife; I have a personal relationship with my 2 kids; I have a personal relationship with the brethren in the church. I talk to them, visit them, and I share with them. But I have never ever seen Jesus Christ with my physical eyes. He has never audibly spoken to me. I have never touched Him nor smelled Him. So, what do I mean when I say I have a personal relationship with Him? I think one way that I’m able to know that I have a personal relationship with God through Christ is that when my life becomes heavy on my shoulders, and I’ve got problems that I can’t cope with, and I’ve got frustrations that I have no place to go to, and when nobody is around, and nobody knows, and nobody can see, and nobody can hear, and I close the door to my bedroom, and I fall down on my knees before God, and I start talking to Him as if He was sitting right there, even though I can’t touch Him or feel Him, I know in my heart because I pray, God’s going to do something about the needs of my heart. That’s a personal relationship! That is focusing in on the Person of Christ I only know by faith through the written Revelation, and through fellowship and through the indwelling Holy spirit that leads me to Him intuitively. You see the question of Christianity has never been what church do you belong to. The question of Christianity has never been what kind of bubbly exciting personality do you have? The question of Christianity has never been how often do you attend worship? The question has never been how often or how much do you pray or give. The question has always been is what have you done with the Person of Jesus Christ? That’s more than just saying “Lord, Lord” because these guys were preaching, teaching, healing, and doing miracles, and they were saying “Jesus” every other breath. But Jesus said, I don’t know. So, just to articulate Jesus with the lips is not Christianity. For the life of me, what then in the world is it? “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words,…” – Did you ever notice that Jesus never gave us a systematic theology? He didn’t sit down and said I will tell you about God, and I will tell you about Sin, and I’m going to tell you about Predestination. Jesus never sat down and talked about theology. But He sat down and talked about Himself. “For anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” – He focused everything on Himself. Christianity is not a system of theological proof texts about God. Christianity is not a building with a lot of people in it. Christianity is not the worship of the Book. Christianity is knowledge acted on by faith in a Person who historically died, and historically rose from the dead. Christianity does not stand on who you are, or what you’ve done for God, or how nice of a person you are, or how faithful of a person you are. It stands on what God has done through Christ, and His finished work on Calvary. And when we stand before God on that Day, He’s not going to ask our credentials, or our degrees, or our achievements. He’s not going to give us a theology test, God’s going to ask us this one question: What have you done to my beloved Son? Do you know Jesus? Do you know Him?

The Disciple’s Cross

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

(Mark 8:36)

(Mark 8:36)

Man’s insatiable desire for the things of this world – the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life are the results of the Fall (cf. 1 Jn 2:16). Man has made independence from God and self-centeredness the goal of his life, but now believers must return to total selfless dependence on God. Salvation is the restoration of the image of God in humanity, damaged in the fall. The believer’s goal now is “to take up his cross” as a condemned criminal having to carry his own crossbar to the place of crucifixion (cf. Lk. 14:27). This was a cultural metaphor for a painful, shameful death, and in this context it refers to “death to our old sin nature” (cf.Eph. 4:22; Rom. 6:6). Yes, there is such a thing as a Christian’s cross or a Christian being crucified to his cross (cf. Gal. 2:20;5:24). Evidently we have three basic enemies to our souls; the world, the flesh, and the devil (cf. 1 Pet. 2:11; Rom. 7:18; 1 Pet. 5:8). The apostle Paul is an epitome of one who has been crucified to the world as the world has been to him (cf. Ga. 6:14), so that there leaves no room for him to glory in self and flesh, save the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we couldn’t miss the understanding that what the cross does to us when we embrace it is, it separates us from ourselves, from our enemies, it separates us from everything that damns us, and it shuts us in with God Himself and everything that blesses us. Now here’s the world, the position it can offer, the money it can offer, the pleasure it can offer; now if you’re not willing to embrace and take up your cross in your relation to the whole world, then you are no better than those pitiful pharisees who loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God (cf. Jn. 12:43). Alas, how many Christian workers today who are loving the approval of men, they are worldly as though they had never become Christians. There’s no cross in their lives, and they’re living for the approval of their superiors, the approval of the congregation, the approval of this or that. They love the approval of men rather than the approval that comes from God. And that’s the way we all feel, that’s what we all want – man’s approval. But thanks be to God there is a cross, says Paul. There’s a way out, if we would just consent to that cross, to do its liberating work in our lives. The moment we crucify self, the moment we crucify the flesh with all of its desires and affections to the cross, nothing really matters to us anymore but the approval of God. Friends, I submit to you if you will not allow the cross to separate yourself from your lustful desires and earthly things, then you make yourselves the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ. There is no middle ground. Because the gospel is a radical call for once-and-for-all commitment of all and continuing discipleship to Jesus (cf. Matt. 10:38; 16:24; Luke 9:23; 14:27; 17:33; John 12:25). As Jesus laid down His life on the cross for others, so we must follow His example (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Gal. 2:20; 1 John 3:16). It is only through this process that the results of the Fall are removed.

THE GREAT MYSTERY WHY SOME PEOPLE CAN AFFORD TO REJECT GOD’S OFFER OF SALVATION

I think the parable of the sower or parable of the soils in Matthew 13 provides us in a very meaningful way the reasons to this very intriguing question. At the fore is satan himself who takes the seed that falls on the beaten path. The soil is so hard, the seed cannot germinate because the soil is packed, and Jesus said when the Gospel is broadcast to the world, some seed falls on that packed soil and the evil one comes and snatches it away before it can germinate. 2 Cor. 4:4 calls the evil one or satan, the god of this world. He has blinded the eyes of the unbelieving that they may not see the glory of God in the face of Christ. We go out into the world; we pray, we leave tracts; we visit the sick in hospitals; we hold evangelistic crusades, and the great mystery is when we present the Gospel so clearly – we tell people Jesus loves them, He died for, and whosoever will can be saved, that they can have eternal life, that they can have the free forgiveness of sin, they can have a purpose in life, they can have peace that passes all understanding, the great mystery is why some people can afford to reject such an offer from God?

But there are 3 other kinds of soils, and in all my life as a Christian, i’ve been told over and over that “if you just prayed this prayer; if you just receive Christ and no matter what happens you go to heaven when you die”. We’ve heard that message preached all our lives, but look at vs. 20 “and the seed which fell on the rocky places”, this is the man who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy – yes it germinates, yes the plant comes out, there is greenery yet has no firm roots in himself, only temporarily. When affliction or persecution arises, immediately he falls away. This is shocking to those of us who always hear “if you only believe”, “if you only receive”, “if you only commit”, “if you only sign this… you’ve got the promises of God”. Because that’s a big, big lie from hell. “in that day many will say to me Lord, Lord didn’t we do many miracles in your Name; cast out demons in your Name; preached in your Name?” Jesus whirls on that group and says, “depart from me you accursed for I have never known.” I believe it’s possible to have a facade of religiosity, even an active ministry; successful ministry that calls on Jesus’ Name and yet does not belong to Him. We watch tv programs and even in the radio that claim to be from Christ , and all they have is money-making schemes that tell you to send money. If you send money, you will receive blessings but if you don’t you will receive sickness or financial setbacks or a plague or something. We are surrounded by spirituality that is false, and if we don’t know our Bible well enough, we won’t know the difference. This man received it with joy; temporary belief and fell away.

Look at the next one, vs. 22, the seed that fell among the thorns. This is the man who hears the Word, but the worries of the world and deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful. Is it really possible that if we focus on the initial decision and totally ignore the call for a changed life that there is a biblical possibility that nothing happened at the decision? YES absolutely! If you go through Romans 3:24; 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9, it says salvation is free. Yes, however, we have to realize that the Bible presents truths in tension-filled pairs to keep us in the middle. Salvation is absolutely free in the finished work of Jesus Christ but salvation costs everything that you are and have from the day that you freely received it until the day Jesus comes again and takes you unto Himself. And what we’ve missed is the call for daily sacrificial discipleship. We just want to come to church every Sunday and go home for the rest of the week live our own lives, and we call ourselves Christians? I believe eternal life has observable characteristics.

Now, look at this last verse; the one on whom the seed was sown in the .good soil. This is the man who hears the word and understands it. Who indeed bears fruit and brings forth some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty. All the 3 soils on whom the seed fell germinated, but this last kind of soil has it seed bore fruit and much more fruit. I guess the important thing to remember is that salvation is a contract or a covenant between a sovereign God and a responsible human being. What starts in repentance and faith must issue in a lifestyle of repentance and faith. What starts as a gospel seed must, must, must turn into gospel fruit. The evidence of true salvation is not how high you jump, or how much you cry. the evidence of a true salvation is Christlikeness. It’s not enough to say “yes”, you must live that “yes”. (cf. Matt. 13:1-23)

THE FALLACY OF PROOF-TEXTING

I must admit i used to be a part of the vast majority of Christians today who are very guilty of proof-texting, and by that i mean we love the Bible so much that we tend to want to say, “If the Bible says it, that settles it”. Now, i know the motive behind that cliche, because of my great love of the Bible as the only source for faith and practice, and the only true knowledge about God and man. But this is an untrue statement. What we tend to do is take certain verses out of the Bible that we have heard, taught, or preached, or quoted in our upbringing either by our Christian parents, or grandparents, or our pastor, or our denomination, and we’ve heard these verses over and over, and we know this is what the Bible teaches, and so we lock down as this being what the Bible says. But the question is, have we spent the time to look at all the verses that relate to this subject? Denominations have found passages in the Bible to build their credo on, and they have said, “thus saith the Lord”, and then anybody who disagrees with what they say is suddenly a weird person, or a liberal, or an inferior, or ignorant, or a heretic at most. But other denominations have read other verses in the Bible – equally inspired, equally valid, equally true, and they have built their religion over those verses, and they criticized as arrogantly as the other group. And we have caught ourselves in a place of casting stones at one another in the religious community. Now, nobody wins the battle except the evil one, when in fact we do not need to be shooting one another. What we have done of course is proof-texted the Bible and have listened to our denominational presuppositions, and have arrogantly claimed our understanding as the understanding of God.

Let me show you one issue so you will know where i am coming from. Historically, the whole Christendom has been polarized by the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. The major theme of Calvinism is that man is totally sinful. Man cannot come to God without prevenient grace, and man can only come to God if God chooses him. So here we have predestination, but Arminianism on the other hand teaches that man does have a part in Salvation. That although predestination is true, the Bible says “whosoever will”. So you can see how major groups of Christendom have been polarized around these 2 doctrines – “God chooses” versus “man chooses”. Which is true? Yes, both are true because both of those doctrines are Biblical, and we could go on for minutes quoting proof-texts on both sides. So the real question is, how do we work out the relationship?

The key is to realize that the Bible is an eastern book which uses figurative language expressing truth in very strong statements, but then balances it with other seemingly contradictory statements. The Bible presents truths in eastern and not western genres, and as such presents major doctrinal truths in tension-filled paradoxical (dialectical) pairs. People who are not acquainted with eastern genres practically hate dialectical tensions. We want it black or white. We want truths in “either or” categories. Our minds function in detailed outlines. We put things in major categories with sub-points, and we have done that to a Book that is not western. Remember, the Bible is not a systematic treatise on God. The Bible was not meant to build a systematic detailed theology on. The Bible was meant to bring us into a relationship with Jesus, the Christ. Its sole purpose as far as priority, is to show us our need – to bring us to Christ, and then to teach us how to walk in Him. Now what we’ve done is we’ve made the Bible, which is primary relational, we’ve made it propositional. Therefore truth is found between the two seemingly paradoxical extremes. Denominationalism tends to proof-text one side of the paradox and radicalize truth by literally and dogmatically interpreting one expression of truth without seeking and being open to the opposite truth. We must live within the tension created by these truths no matter how seemingly paradoxical they are because all Scriptures are divinely inspired.

THE EUPHORIC RETURN FROM EXILE

Psalm 126

Psalm 126 would seem to be linked to Psalm 137 as it refers to the return from the Babylonian captivity, but we’re not really certain Psalm 126 alludes to it. New American Standard Bible says, “When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion,…”, but the New International version has, “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,…”, and that doesn’t sound like the captivity. Now what we have here is an example of a word translated one way that may really have multiple meanings where the phrase “turned again the captivity of Zion” may mean something besides the Babylonian exile. You might want to see the use this phrase in Psalms 14:7; Psalms 53:6: and Psalms 85:1 where the word “shuwb’ appears, and which means to ‘to turn back’. It’s used so often Jeremiah chapter 4; the ideal of the covenant people repenting and turning back to God which is so obvious here. It’s the idea of a time of pressure; a time of problems, and the people of God who already believe turning back to God in repentance and faith. And that seems to be the context here. Some try to make it Cyrus’ proclamation of 538 BC, and i know that’s a possible allusion because the same phrase is used in verse 4 where to calls on the people to return again. I’m not sure it fits automatically the Babylonian captivity though that would be one example of the kind of setting this Psalm was written to. “When the Lord brought back the captive ones to Zion, we were like those who dream” – it seemed so unreal, they thought they were dreaming when they were released under Cyrus by virtue of the decree that let all the peoples go home. Not just the Jews, but all the peoples. Basically, what the Persians did under Cyrus was that they had totally reversed the policies of Assyria and Babylonians who tried to keep control of the captive populations by deporting them to different areas, but the Persians tried to keep these captive people loyal by letting them go home and even paying the cost of rebuilding these national indigenous temples. And the Jews were one of the many that benefited from it that they could not contain their joy and exuberance so much so they exclaimed, “Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the nations, The LORD has done great things for them.” – you know the Jews have always been a witness to God. If God can be seen in how He’s dealt with Israel, i think He chose the Jews they’re so stiff-necked and rebellious. That’s what the book of Deuteronomy says, and God’s grace shows so clearly, and how He’s worked with the Jews and God’s faithfulness to the Jews can be seen in our modern world, and i think it’s a real showcase of God’s faithfulness.

Notice as it says in verse 3, “The LORD has done great things for us; and we are glad.” – remember that when the Jews went into captivity, God’s Name was in disrepute because the gentiles thought He couldn’t save His own people, and therefore considered Marduk was stronger. But here God shows He is the powerful One. He is the Controller of history. He is the One that has all power in Him as His people were restored. Now look at verse 4, “Restore our captivity, O Lord,…” – this is the idea that “the Lord turned Himself to the turning of Zion.” meaning, God returns to His people when they return to Him in repentance. Martin Luther thinks this verse is messianic and refers to the church. Others have said this refers to the historical setting of the return of the exile from Babylon under Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubabbel, and all the pressures they faced after they got back in the land. And that the second prayer is for God to sustain them. Some say, no it refers to the idea that the Jews were praying for more of their brother Jews to leave Babylon and come back to the Promised Land because they needed them. Now, which one of those i’m not sure; maybe it’s all three because i believe in prophetic foreshadowing in the Old Testament where a contemporary event foreshadows an eschatological event. Now, “…as the stream-beds in the South” – these are the dry river beds in the Negev that only ran certain times of the year. Water being a sign of God’s blessing was used as God fully restoring this desert land to abundance. Now, verses 5 and 6 speak about the idea that the Jews were saying that they were going forth weeping in repentance; the tears being a symbol of that, and God who is in control who is in control of history will seal our hearts, and in our repentance will bless us. Even in hard times we need to entrust our lives to God; continue to do things of faith and continue to live for Him. God is going to bless us if we’re true to God in times of stress, and failure, and problems. God is going to bring us to a time of blessing because we’ve trusted in Him. I think that’s the witness here, and whatever particular historical setting is, God can be trusted even at a time like the Babylonian exile. I don’t know what you’re going through, but you haven’t experienced anything that bad and that confusing that God can’t be depended on. If we turn to Him, He will restore us! Hallelujah!

A CALL TO UNITY

(cf. Colossians 3:12-16)

Ephesians chapter 4 deals with 2 issues which are crucially needed in the modern church as a whole, and those are, unity and the giftedness of every believer as a called, gifted, and full-time minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those are the 2 major truths of chapter 4. But it is noteworthy that Ephesians is the outcome of an expanded outline of Colossians, and Colossians was written to the Lychus river valley where 3 churches (Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea) were all started by a layperson named Epaphras. Gnostic false teachers came and disrupted the fellowship of those churches, and Paul sitting in prison wrote a letter to these 3 churches particularly, which is expanded in Ephesians (as a cyclical letter) to all the churches in western Turkey, better known as Asia Mino.

So it is chapter 3 of Colossians which is Paul’s original outline starting in verse 12 where Paul, with all the power of the Word of God, addresses the disruption prevailing in these 1st century churches. If we think we have disruption in our churches today, we don’t know what disruption is compared to the 1st century. Believers are on the verge of being completely destroyed in their faith. And it is in this difficult time of confusion and disruption the Word of God comes to them with power, as it speaks to all of us today in our problem of disunity. Paul exhorts, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” – these are Old Testament titles of the people of God. As Jesus is the beloved of Father, so are we (the church) the beloved of the Son. “put on” is a common Pauline metaphor like a Christian should take off the “old man” and “put on the new man”. So here he’s going to say “put on” – it’s a clothing metaphor which means make these attributes of Christ-likeness obvious and visible in your life. Have these characteristics of the mind of Christ in you is just another way of saying that. Notice this list here: “a heart of compassion” – think seriously about loving one another, and have deep feelings for one another; “kindness” – is a wonderful word which has a parallel in Ephesians 4:32 which basically means be tender-hearted to one another. It’s a great verse on how we have to treat each other, tender-heartedly. We all live in glass houses. If we start throwing rocks, nobody will have a house left. It’s kind of if you look for the perfect church, and you find it you’ll screw it up. So get over it. We all live in imperfect churches, and we all work with imperfect people. “Humility” – is a surprising word for the Stoics because they saw it as a weakness. Another for word for humility is meekness, and in the Bible there are only 2 people called ‘meek’, Jesus and Moses, and none of us are. Don’t you ever think that God’s got a good deal when He got you, and i don’t care who you are. Humility is recognizing the condition that we’re in, in this fallen world. None of us have all of the understanding and plans of what the will of God is. That’s why we believe as a group, no matter how messy it is, when we combine all the gifts, and all the prayers, and all the understanding of the congregation, we’ll have better chance of finding the will of God. Because the whole is always greater and better than its individual parts. Humility is also teachableness – not always having to be in the front row; not always having to have your opinion taken or not taken. We’re too stinking sensitive, we think we’ve got too many chips on our shoulders. the question is, if it’s a biblical chip, let’s go to the wall and die for it. If it’s a personality chip or a personal preference chip. let’s get over it, for Christ’s sake.

Gentleness has the idea of a domesticated beast, like a big stallion. How do you control it? You don’t break the spirit of that horse. You channel the strength and spirit of that horse to the purposes of the rider. And that’s precisely what the Holy Spirit wants to do with you. He gifted you. He’s the one that made you. Psalm 139 says, “but we are physically and emotionally the work of God for His purposes”. We need to be not broken, but channeled for His purposes. Let our strength that He gives us flow in the direction that He’ll receive honor and glory and not ourselves.

Patience is the idea of patience with people. And people get on our nerves all the time, because we are all different. We all see things differently. We all have differences. We all have different backgrounds, different cultures, and different education, but what characterizes us as a group is kindness, gentleness, humility…almost sounds like “the fruit of the Spirit” of Galatians 5. We all come believing we know the will of God; we all come believing we understand the will of God. there’s a seriousness with that, there’s a passion with that, but the truth is all of us can’t have the will of God, because we don’t agree. So we hope, together we can pool our giftedness, and find the will of God, but we’ve got to treat each other with respect!

Verse 13, “…bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” – is like us having a statement of assets and liabilities. There’s what people owe you and what you owe people. Now what God in Jesus Christ did was, He took your liabilities, and He washed them with His own blood. And now He says to you, to your assets (the due what you think others should pay you, what think others owe you, and what you think others should do for you), because Jesus has accepted you with all of your faults, failures, and sins for a greater purpose, He now asks you to erase those assets due you, so that you can walk in peace, and joy, and humility, and kindness, and gentleness, and patience, and long-suffering together. We all have glass houses with cracks. And none of us can measure up to the standard of the glory of God in Christ. We were all forgiven by God in Christ Jesus, now He asks us to forgive those people who have wronged us. Please, let us not be ugly to one another. Let us not get so factious as to cut the throat of anybody or everybody who disagrees with us. Please do not tear up the church over your own personal preferences and biases, because this is the blood-bought people of God. “Whoever has a complaint against anyone, let them forgive each other, just as the Lord forgave you so also should you”.

Notice as it continues, “Beyond all these things put on love…” – satan may have counterfeited every aspect of the Gospel, but he can’t counterfeit love. Because love is the root and the fruit of a relationship with Jesus. “This new commandment I give you, that you love one another even as I have loved you” (i.e. John 13:34). We all know John 3:16 but have you read 1st John 3:16 lately? “As Jesus laid down His life, we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers”. “…put on love which is the perfect bond of unity, and let the peace of Christ rule (umpire) in your hearts to which indeed you were called in one body, and be thankful!

I submit to you, indeed there are hurt feelings inside the fellowship, and if we do not reconcile those hurt feelings, soon quickly they go subconscious. If they go subconscious they become a detached, movable, and transferable irritability that falls on everything in the church. If you don’t deal with that hurt feeling now, it will metastasize into an emotional cancer that will destroy you. It will not destroy the person you’re mad at. It will destroy you. Give it to God, and He will deal with it appropriately. God help us!

WHAT SHOULD THE AMBITION OF CHRISTIANS BE

(cf. 1 Thess. 4:11)

What do you think should be the ambition of Christians? The Apostle Paul answers this question quite succinctly when he says to the believers in Thessalonica, “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands,…so that you will behave properly toward outsiders (unbelievers) and not be in any need” (NASB). The Phillips Translation of the New Testament has it, “…make it your ambition to have no ambition!”. I often wonder if we sit down and wondered what does God really want for me? Well, if we look at the Apostle Paul God sent him on a worldwide mission to evangelize the whole world, and left everything that he had and began on a trek and a pilgrimage of following Christ all over the world that finally ended in his martyrdom, and yet this Apostle with a mission like that also had a word of advice for his fellow Christians when he said, “Let your ambition be to lead quiet contented lives”. I think that’s a balance we need to hear. I feel like we’re always doing something in the church; doing prayer meetings, fasting, pushing about Sunday school, or were pushing about visitation, or we’re always trying to spur ourselves into action and getting ourselves motivated, which really is a pretty frustrating experience in itself. The other side of that coin though is, i think it is quite possible to have a quiet contented life and be in the will of God. What i’m saying is, we do a lot of things to try to win people to Christ. We have all kinds of things to try to get ourselves to actively share our faith, but my personal belief is that every Christian can be as dynamic by living quiet, contented lives sharing their lifestyle faith to those whom they are most intimately acquainted with, at work, or at school, or neighbors. We wouldn’t need to have any of these big programs for evangelism. We could penetrate the world very quickly if every believer just lived their lives quietly and impact their sphere of influence, and with those people whom they may know best.

It may sound paradoxical that Paul would say this, when this gung-ho of an apostle seems so dynamic as to say, you know, “…reaching for the upward call of God…” and all that. I think it’s because we’ve misunderstood, and got the concept of a super Christian as someone who is always out on the streets giving tracts, doing something or always in the limelight, but i really see the super Christian as one who is content where God puts him, and lives in appropriate Christlikeness in that situation. You see, we tend to think the one who’s always in the front line, and always doing something is the one who is pleasing to God. I really think of that little paradox that says, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first” is a spiritual truth that we need to contemplate. What is this thing? Paul defines here what a quiet life is. He says a quiet life is to attend to your own business. I think it’s very important that we watch our tongues. The tongue is the only thing that the Bible uses the word hell about, ‘Gehenna’. Did you know that Jesus uses the word ‘Gehenna’ or hell quite often, and the Apostle James says that “the tongue is set on fire by hell”? You know, we can do more problem in the church by opening our mouths in unloving, inappropriate cutting ways, and I want to tell you, that is simply inappropriate for the people of God. Better yet, make it a practice only to listen to something, and only talk about something if you feel like you’re a part of the solution, or that you’re involved somehow in the solution. What Paul is saying is, make it your ambition to live a quiet life, and he says tend to your own business. Vast majority of people do not read the Bible, and perhaps the only Bible that they would be able to read is the Bible lived out in our lives. And so please live your lives worthy of your calling as children of God (cf. Eph. 4:1-16).