Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

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FOR WHAT DID THEY DIE?

 

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Gettysburg

Today, of course, is the day when we honor the many servicemen and women who gave their lives for their country.  But for what exactly did they die?  We are often told that they were defending our freedom.  But most of the recent wars the U.S. has fought involved conflicts in foreign countries.  In many cases these countries did not have a tradition of democracy.  So what exactly was it that we were defending?  “American values?”  But what are they?

Not too long ago Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens asked the question, “Do we still want the west?”  He told of how in the late 1980’s Stanford University did away with its required Western Civilization course.  An attempt was made last year to bring the course back, but the students voted it down by a 6 to 1 margin (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 21, 2017).

Stephens went on in his op-ed piece to say “There was a time when the West knew what it was about.  It did so because it thought about itself – often in freshman Western Civ classes.”  But today do we even know what a “civilization” is, let alone Western civilization?  What does it mean to be “civilized”?

The word “civilized” comes from the Latin adjective “civilis,” which in turn is related to the noun “civis,” which means a citizen.  A “civis” was a member of a “civitas,” a union of people in an organized community.  The Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero described a “civitas” or state this way: there are “societies and groups of men, united by law and right, which are called states (civitates)” (On the Commonwealth, VI.13).

The earliest form of civilization was a city state.  Thousands of years ago various groups of people chose to give up their nomadic existence as hunter-gatherers and chose instead to live in settled communities.  Early city states arose in lower Mesopotamia (Sumeria) and then others spread across the ancient Near East.  Eventually some city states became more powerful than others and developed into large empires.

But life in a settled community requires some form of social organization.  A sociologist could argue that even primitive tribal societies have at least some form of social organization, and of course they are right.  But life in a settled community requires something more formal and elaborate.  First of all there must be an organized government with written laws and records.  This is why Cicero defined a “civitas” as a group of people “united by law and right.”  Written laws and records, in turn, require a written language.  Moreover in a civilized society there is likely to be economic specialization, with different people pursuing different trades.  This, in turn, requires some form of trade and commerce.

But in order for any of this to happen there must also be something else.  There must be a willingness on the part of the citizens to cooperate and work together.  In order for this to happen there must be shared values and a shared vision.  There must be the social skills necessary for people to work together at the practical level.  And all of this requires some sort of educational system to transfer these values and skills from one generation to another.

In short, a civilized requires social norms – rules to govern human behavior.  These include formal, written laws against criminal activity, as well as customary rules that govern everyday behavior.  This includes common everyday rules of etiquette – people are expected to treat each other with courtesy and respect.  They must be polite with each other.

The Greeks called these social norms ethoi, from which we get our English word “ethics,” and the Romans called them “mores,” from which we get our English word “morals.”  In either case the words refer to accustomed habits or regular practices.  It is the way people are expected to behave in a civilized society, and it is what enables human beings to live and work together harmoniously.

Nor must the role of religion in all of this be overlooked.  Most civilized societies have a form of civil religion, the role of which is to reinforce the mores of society by encouraging people to look beyond their own individual self-interest and to see a larger reality.  The individual comes to see himself as a part of a larger whole, and this helps motivate him to cooperate with the other members of society.

All of which brings us back to Mr. Stephens’ article.  Do we still believe in Western civilization?  Mr. Stephens says that it was once understood that Western civilization’s “moral foundations had been laid in Jerusalem; its philosophical ones in Athens; its legal ones in Rome.  It treated with reverence reason and revelation, freedom and responsibility . . . It believed in the excellence of its music and literature, and the superiority of its political ideals . . .And it believed all of this was worth defending – in classrooms and newspapers and statehouses and battlefields.”

And what happened to Western civilization?  It collapsed during the 20th Century.  Radical philosophers attacked belief in universal truths and moral absolutes.   The counter culture of the late 1960’s rejected social norms of every kind.  Established institutions were seen as artificial and corrupt, and “back to nature” was the cry.  Free speech and free love were the order of the day.  Then came radical feminism’s rejection of gender roles, along with no-fault divorce, legalized abortion, and finally same-sex marriage.  In our consumer oriented society we have rejected social norms of every kind, and believe we are entitled to engage in almost any kind of behavior that suits us, be it rude and crude, vulgar and bizarre.  In short, we have rejected the very premise of civilized life – that there are social norms which ought to be observed in order for organized human society to function smoothly.  In a word, we have become uncivilized.

What does the future hold?  None but God can see.  But it is hard to see how American democracy can survive in a sea of social chaos.  Has Western civilization has become an anachronism in a post-modern world?

THE CHRISTIAN’S PRAYER LIFE

 

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David the Psalmist Giving Thanks

 

Having enumerated all the different pieces of armor, Paul then adds to that the exhortation, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints . . .” (Eph. 6:18; NKJV).  He began this section by saying, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (v. 10).  The “whole armor of God,” by itself, is insufficient.  Ultimately we are directly dependent upon God himself, and the way we appropriate His strength and power is through prayer.  Prayer is the life-blood of the Christian life.

We are to pray “always,” or “on every occasion,” or “at every time,” as it might be more literally translated.  The idea here is not that you are constantly engaged in the act of prayer, 24-7, but rather that every time you are conscious of a need, every time a situation arises that requires a conscious decision, you pray.  We seek the Lord’s guidance; we seek the Lord’s aid.  We bring everything to Him in prayer.

We are to pray “with all prayer and supplication.”  “Prayer” is the general word for just that – prayer.  “Supplication” carries with it the specific connotation of petition or entreaty.  Obviously part of what we do in prayer is to ask God for things.

We are to pray “in the Spirit.”  We are told in Romans 8:26 that “. . . the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  We do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”  Prayer is not just a simple matter of us talking directly to God the Father.  We do that, of course.  But because we cannot see the future, let alone see the spiritual forces arrayed against us, we often find ourselves in a position in which we really do not know what to pray for.  In this the Holy Spirit works actively on our behalf.

We are to be “watchful.”  The word here means being awake and alert, watchful and vigilant.  As Paul has gone on to great lengths to demonstrate, we “wrestle . . . against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (v. 12).  Satan will try to catch us off guard.  He will tempt us when we least expect it.  Therefore we must be in a prayer attitude at all times.

We are to pray “with all perseverance.”  In other words, we are to continue in prayer steadfastly.  This is to be a regular, continuous part of the believer’s life.  There will always be a need for prayer; the struggle is never ending and God wants us to feel our dependence upon Him.  Prayer is a necessary and vital part of the Christian’s life.  Without prayer there is no meaningful relationship with God.

We are to pray “for all the saints.”  We have been commanded to “love one another” (John 15:12,17; I Thess. 4:9,10; I Pet. 1:22; I John 3:11; 4:7,11).  One of the ways that we express that love is by praying for each other.  We are not always in a position individually to meet the physical and financial needs of others, but we can go to the One who can.  It is one of the most important ministries we can exercise for each other.

But most importantly of all, prayer is necessary for the effectiveness of the ministry.  And so Paul asks for prayer for himself “. . . praying always . . . and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel . . .” (v. 19).  Paul, at the time he wrote this, was a prisoner.  He refers to himself as “an ambassador in chains” (v. 21).  He had been arrested for causing a disturbance in Jerusalem.  At the time that he wrote the epistle he was living in his own quarters in Rome, and was free to receive visitors and speak to them, but he was under guard (Acts. 28:302,31).  What he asks is that “utterance” would be given to him so that he could speak boldly.  There is obviously something intimidating about being arrested for something that you said, and our natural instinct for self-preservation might lead us to temper the message a bit to make it less offensive to others.  But it takes both wisdom and courage to react to circumstances as we ought.  The real question is, what needs to be said and how ought we to say it?  What does God want us to say?  And what do people need to hear?  How can we say it so that it is unmistakably clear yet not unnecessarily offensive?  And then this, in turn, calls for an inward strength to do the right thing under difficult circumstances, and the Holy Spirit must provide that.

And why is this so necessary?  It is so that we might “make known the mystery of the gospel” (v. 19).  What is ultimately at stake is the eternal destiny of countless multitudes of lost sinners.  Without the gospel they are lost.  And today perhaps the greatest crime against humanity are churches that no longer preach the gospel.  They fail to discharge the solemn commission that has been given to them by God.

Revival comes from God; and if we would have it we must ask for it.  Why is our nation in the shape that it is in today?  One reason, at least, is that Christians do not pray!

THE SPIRITUAL WAR

 

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We are living in a tumultuous time.  A controversial president is sitting in the White House, Russia is interfering in elections throughout the free world, and North Korea racing to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.  Congress is struggling to reform the healthcare system.  And the LGBTQ community is actively working to change long accepted standards of sexual morality.  What are Christians to make of all of this?

One response is to take political action – to organize, canvass and raise funds.  Yet the Bible makes it clear that there is more to the world’s problems than just special interests at work in Washington.  There is a spiritual dimension to the conflict, and it will take more than just political action to make things right.  We are, in fact, locked in a spiritual war.

“”For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12: NKJV).  What we are up against is not just “flesh and blood,” the natural human and physical forces we encounter in everyday life, but rather “principalities” (“rulers” – NASV, ESV), “powers” (“authorities” – ESV), “rulers of the darkness of this age,” “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Paul had previously introduced these sinister forces in chapter 2, verse 2 when he said that the unsaved “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience . . .”  What is going on in the world is positively evil, and it plays into the hands of Satan himself in his rebellion against God.  He is the one who “works in the sons of disobedience,” and has blinded their eyes (II Cor. 4:4)  These spiritual forces are not bound by the laws of nature and human psychology, and hence social pressure and marketing techniques are of no avail against them.

What is needed is something greater, something more powerful.  And so Paul tells his readers, “be strong in the Lord and in power of His might” (Eph. 6:10).  We must look outside of ourselves, to God Himself, for the strength to prevail.

To illustrate the point Paul borrows some metaphors from the military realm.  “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (v. 11).  He then elaborates in verses 14-17 where he describes the individual pieces of armor.  Some of the imagery is drawn from passages in the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, describing the Messiah armed for battle.

So what do we need in order to succeed in the Christian life and ministry?  The first thing that Paul mentions is “having girded your waist with truth” (v. 14).  The first thing we need is absolute sincerity of heart and mind.  “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts . . .” (Ps. 51:6).  We must sincerely believe and practice what we preach.  Hypocrisy will get us nowhere in the Christian life and ministry.

The next piece of armor that Paul mentions is “the breastplate of righteousness” (v. 14), or “the breastplate of faith and love,” as he calls it in I Thess. 5:8.  The war in which we are engaged is primarily a conflict between good and evil. By living a righteous life we advance the cause of Christ and frustrate the plans of the devil.  Christ is glorified when His people are living examples of what the Christian life is supposed to be like.

Paul then says that we are to have “shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (v. 18).  Here the reference is undoubtedly to Isa. 52:7:

“How beautiful upon the mountains

Are the feet of him who brings good news,

Who proclaims peace,

Who brings glad tidings of good things,

Who proclaims salvation,

Who says to Zion,

‘Your God reigns!’”

The church is to go forth and proclaim a message, the “good news” of salvation.  This is what the church has to offer to the world, the message to which men and women are invited to respond.  If we are to fulfill the Great Commission we must make sure that we get the message right.

Then we are to take up “the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (v. 16).  The Roman shield was a large, oblong shield made of wood and covered with leather.  The “fiery darts” were darts or arrows dipped in pitch and set on fire.  Thus when the darts would hit the shield they would be blunted and extinguished.  The “fiery darts of the wicked one” would include temptations, accusations and outright persecution.  To counter Satan’s attacks what is needed is faith – faith in God’s goodness and power to deliver us.

Next Paul mentions “the helmet of salvation” (v. 17), or as he calls it in I Thess. 5:8, “the hope of salvation.”  We fight the battle in the confidence that no matter what befalls us in this life we have been saved and have been promised eternal life.

And then finally Paul comes to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 17).  Interestingly this is the only offensive weapon mentioned in the passage.  Here “the sword of the Spirit” is identified as “the word of God,” and the word for “word” (rema) refers specifically to the spoken word.  It is Scripture, as originally inspired by God Himself, and it is Scripture as it is faithfully proclaimed today.  Moreover it is “the sword of the Spirit” – it was originally inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it is used today but the Holy Spirit to convict sinners.  And is this not the major weakness of the church today?  We are liable to hear anything and everything from the pulpit today except a careful but forceful exposition of Scripture.  And man’s word cannot replace God’s.

All of these things constituted “the whole armor of God.”  They are the result of God’s grace at work in our lives, and are the practical means by which Christ advances His kingdom.  In this way we can be “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”

And here we can see the necessary ingredients for an effective ministry.  It is not necessarily education or technology or financial resources.  It is a life lived close to God, it is personal holiness, and it is the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit on God’s Word as it is proclaimed to mankind.  May we consecrate our lives to Him, and seek the filling of His Spirit!

 

THE CHRISTIAN EMPLOYEE

 

4.2.7

Van Gogh: Men and Women Going to Work

 

Most of us have had the experience of working for employers, and we would have to admit that it has not always been a pleasant experience.  Most business executives today are focused on the corporate bottom line, and that often means that they work their employees as hard as they can and pay them as little as they can.  And in some cases our immediate boss may be either difficult to work with or just plain incompetent.  What is a Christian employee to do in such a situation?

Writing to the church at Ephesus the apostle Paul addresses the master / servant relationship.  The immediate reference is to the institution of slavery, and significantly Paul does not condemn it outright.  Every society has a social and economic structure that places some individuals in positions of authority over others, and that is unavoidable.  The question is, however, how are the individuals in these relationships supposed to treat each other?

Paul says, “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling. . .” (Eph. 6:5; NKJV).  And the masters are exhorted to do good to their servants, “giving up threatening” (v. 9).  And if outright slaves are morally obligated to obey their masters, and masters are required to treat their slaves humanely, how much more employees and employers, who have voluntarily agreed to work with each other?

Paul tells the bondservants to “be obedient to those who are you masters according to the flesh” (v. 5).  But he goes one step further and says that this is to be done “with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart . . . not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers . . . with goodwill doing service” (vv. 5-7).  In other words, it is not enough merely to “go through the motions” on the job, and to “goof off” when the boss is not looking.  If we are getting paid to work, we should work, and we should try honestly and faithfully to follow our boss’s instructions.

But we have all had the experience of working for bosses who are difficult and unreasonable, and the temptation is to respond in kind.  Yet God tells us in His word that we are to obey “with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart.”  Why?  How is that even possible when the boss is clearly being unreasonable?  Paul explains: we are to render obedience “as to Christ . . . as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart . . . as to the Lord, and not to men” (vv 5-7).  Yes, the boss is being difficult.  But ultimately we perform our work to please Christ, not the boss.  And Paul goes on to add: “knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is slave or free” (v. 8).  God sees what good we have done, and God Himself will reward us accordingly.

Paul concludes this section with a word o exhortation to masters: “And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master in heaven also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him” (v. 9).  The parallel passage in Colossians reads: “Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1).  Disciplinary action, of course, is sometimes necessary.  Some employees malinger, some disobey orders, some may even be guilty of outright theft.  Some may have to be warned of the potential consequences of their unsatisfactory work performance.  And yet it is a rule of human relations that nothing will demoralize a workforce faster than constant harsh criticism from management.  When you make impossible demands and hurl insults at your employees, and never reward them for good work, morale sinks and the quality of the work suffers as a result.  If you treat your employees well you will have a more highly motivated workforce.

Businessmen all too easily forget that their customers, employees and vendors are all human beings, and if you want to be successful in business you have to treat the other people well.  Paul reminds the masters that “your own Master is also in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”  Owning a business does not give someone the right to be a petty tyrant.  We are all accountable to our Master in heaven.  It behooves us, then, to do unto others as we would have God do unto us!

WHAT GOD THINKS OF THE MODERN CHURCH

 

            Near the beginning of his controversial novel The Shack author Wm. Paul Young has his main character Mackenzie Phillips (Mack) complain that “. . .Sunday prayers and hymns were cutting it anymore, if they ever really had.  Cloistered spirituality seemed to change nothing in the lives of the people he knew . . . He was sick of God and God’s religion, sick of all the little religious social clubs that don’t seem to make any real difference or affect any real changes” (The Shack, p. 66).  Most of us would probably have to acknowledge that there is more truth to this accusation than we would care to admit.

In many ways the condition of the modern American evangelical church resembles that of the church at Laodicea, described in Revelation 3:14-22.  Ancient Laodicea was a prosperous city, situated on a fertile plain in Asia Minor.  Located at an important crossroads, it was a center of trade and commerce.  But its material prosperity affected the spiritual life of the Christian church located there.  It was the infamous “lukewarm” church of the seven churches of Asia that were addressed in Revelation chapters two and three.

What is especially striking about this particular church is how different its perception of itself was from the way God saw it.  Their self-perception is summed up in verse 17: “You say ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing . . .’” (NKJV).  Material prosperity leads to a sense of self-sufficiency.  Outwardly they appeared to be doing very well – they had financial resources at their disposal and could pretty much do as they wanted.

But how very different was God’s perception of them!  “You . . . do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked . . .” Their material prosperity masked a spiritual poverty.  “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot . . .you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot” (vv. 15,16).  They were half-hearted Christians, content to go through the formalities of public worship, but not really devoted to Christ; precisely the kind of church life described by Young in his book.

And so it is with us today.  We have impressive looking buildings and institutions and “ministries” galore, but can scarcely bring ourselves to spend any meaningful time in prayer.  What passes for “worship” is hardly more than glorified entertainment.  We sit passively in the pews (or theater seats) and when the service is over we go our merry ways, scarcely giving any thought at all at how we may serve Christ in our daily lives.  We are all too prone to ethical compromise.  “ . . .these people draw near with their mouths / And honor Me with their lips, / But have removed their hearts far from Me, / And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men . . .” (Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:8).

The problem is that the modern American evangelical church is a holdover from the Victorian era.  The early nineteenth century was marked by genuine revival – the Second Great Awakening (the First Great Awakening had taken place in the 1740’s).  But during the Victorian era of the late nineteenth century it became quite popular and respectable to identify oneself as a Christian.  Being a Christian came to be equated with being a respectable middle-class American.  It was easy to attract an audience, and impressive looking church edifices were built, complete with stone masonry, stained glass windows, and carved wooden pulpits and pews.  But an institutionalized form of church life developed that was unhealthy.  The theology was watered down, the sermons were filled with sentimental commonplaces, and a variety of religious practices were developed – processionals, robed choirs, responsive readings – that had little to do with actual discipleship or developing the spiritual life.  In short, Protestant Christianity became an American civil religion – comforting, supportive of the standing order, but superficial.

And then the twentieth century arrived, along with the intellectual challenges of evolution and higher criticism.  The more affluent churches in the urban centers tried to change with the times, adopting a liberal theology.  The more conservative churches in the rural areas clung to the older ways.  But the surrounding culture continued to change and drift further and further away from its Judeo-Christian moorings.  First it was the denial of the supernatural, and then it was the abandonment of basic moral principles” the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage.  Churches were faced with a painful dilemma: either conform to the changing mores of society or risk being marginalized and irrelevant.  The liberal churches caved in; the more conservative churches tried to keep the faith, although with many of the Victorian trappings.

But what does God think about all of this?  What He told the church at Laodicea in our text is striking: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich: and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (v. 18).  What they needed was true wealth – spiritual wealth.  And the way He described it has an ominous ring to it – “gold refined in the fire.”  Gold is a precious metal, but it is refined or purified in the fire.  Likewise the Christian’s true spiritual worth is sometimes tested by the fire of persecution.  And this gold, the Lord says, must be “bought from Me.”  Genuine life must come from God himself – it is the fruit of the Spirit.  We cannot work it up ourselves.

Likewise the church at Laodicea was counselled to buy “white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.”  They were so utterly destitute of genuine godliness that they were spiritually “naked.”  They were the proverbial emperor with no clothes.  In Rev. 19:8 the bride of Christ (the church) is “arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”  God wants His people to live lives that are pleasing to Him; only then will we be attractive in His sight.

And then the church was advised to “anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”  They were so spiritually blind that they could not see their own true spiritual condition.  What they needed was spiritual insight and discernment so that they would have a clear view of God’s will for their lives.

The Lord goes on to say, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.  There be zealous and repent” (v. 19).  If God truly loves us, what will He do to us when we are in this condition? What will He do to us now?  Our text says that He will “rebuke and chasten” us.  God loves us, but that means that He will not stand by idly while we wander into sin and apostasy.  A loving parent will discipline his children when they misbehave, because he wants what is best for them.  But the same token God may bring pain, suffering or hardship into our lives to awaken us, humble us, and make us feel our dependence upon Him, and thus restore full fellowship with Him.

What Christ tells the church next is nothing less than stunning: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (v. 20).  This verse is often taken out of context and given an evangelistic meaning.  But taken in its context Christ is standing outside of the church.  This, of course, is not where we would expect to find Him, and yet that is where He is all too often.  He has, in effect, been excluded from the life of the church, so used has it become to operating without Him.  But there may be a few within the church who are still listening to His voice, and to them He makes a promise: “I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”  Even in the worst state of the church it is still possible for individual Christians to maintain a meaningful relationship with Christ.

The aim of the modern evangelical church, then, should not be to revive  the American civil religion of the past; it ought to be to become authentic disciples of Jesus Christ – and that means going back to the first century and sitting, as it were, at His feet.  The answer is not to try to become more relevant; it is to become more spiritual.  It is not to become more accepted by the world; it is to become more conformed to the will of God.  The aim is not to become more like the world but to be lights shining in the darkness.  When the world looks at the church, it should not see a reflection of itself, but rather the image of Christ.  Only then can the church have the kind of testimony to the world that it ought to have.

THE DUTY OF HUSBANDS TO THEIR WIVES

 

4.2.7

Anthony van Dyck:Family Portrait

 

 

As we have seen, God has placed husbands in a position of authority over their wives.  But does that mean that they are free to do whatever they please to their wives?  Not at all.  In fact, in some ways the burden that God places on the husbands is greater than the one He placed o the wives.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church . . .” (Eph. 5:25; NKJV).  The word “love” is agapate, the word used most often in the New Testament to describe a distinctly Christian type of love.  And here Paul specifically points to the example of Christ as a model of how husbands should love their wives.

And how did Christ love the church?  First of all, He “gave Himself up for her” (v. 25).  The word translated “gave” means to “hand over.”  So great was the love that Christ had for the church that He willingly surrendered His very life on her behalf.  But why did He do this?  What did He hope to accomplish by it?  “. . . that He might sanctify and cleanse her . . . that He might present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (vv. 26,27).

In other words, Christ’s aim was the church’s well-being.  But the church’s well-being consists in holiness.  Christ does not allow the church to indulge in every sinful passion or lust.  Rather He desires what is in her genuine best interest.  He wants her to reach her full potential.  And so He does what is best for her, which is not necessarily the same thing as what she wants.

So when Scripture says that husbands ought to love their wives, it is not necessarily talking about a specifically romantic attraction – it does not necessarily mean that the husband is enamored with his wife’s beauty or charm.  Rather it means that he has such a care and concern for his wife and her well-being that he is willing to make any sacrifice necessary on her behalf.  He puts her well-being ahead of his own.

But then Paul gives another reason why husbands should love their wives.  “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself” (v. 28).  Paul quotes Gen. 2:24: “and the two shall become one flesh.”  When a man and a woman get married, they are essentially becoming one person – “one flesh.”  This means that whatever happens to one of them affects the other as well.  This is why Paul could say “he who loves his wife loves himself.”

Paul then draws out the practical implication of this.  “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it . . .” (v. 29), or as we might more literally translate it, “feeds and warms it.”  We are sensitive to every bodily ache and pain.  We are quick to relieve the suffering by any means possible.  But that should be exactly our reaction whenever our wives are hurting.  We should feel their pain and seek to do something about it.  We should pamper our wives as ourselves!

And here again Paul points to the example of Christ and the church: “ . . .but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (vv. 29,30).  Christ, of course, did this for us on the cross to atone for our sins.  But His ministry on our behalf did not end there.  He cares for us still.  He promised His disciples that He would answer prayer (John 14:13,14) and that He would send us another “Helper” (parakletos = a person called to someone’s aid, and advocate, intercessor), the Holy Spirit (John 14:16,17).  Christ gives the church spiritual gifts “for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:7-16).  Christ did not ascend to heaven and forget about us.  Rather, He continues to exercise a ministry on our behalf, guiding us, protecting us and strengthening us.  And He does all of this because He actively cares for us.  This, then, is the care that husbands should have for their wives.

As noted in our last blog post, Paul concludes by saying “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (v. 33).  In marriage one gives up a lot – you give up your freedom and independence.  You assume a great responsibility, the responsibility of caring for a family.  God’s intention is that marriage would be a permanent, binding commitment between a man and a woman.  Most Americans today are not willing to make that sacrifice and that commitment.  That is why American family life is in shambles today.  We go into marriage for mainly selfish reasons, and then bail out when reality strikes home.

God knows what is best for human society.  We ignore His will at our own peril.  Marriage can be an enormously satisfying experience – if it is done God’s way!

THE DUTY OF WIVES TO THEIR HUSBANDS

 

4.2.7

Anthony van Dyck: Family Portrait

 

America has a marriage problem.  One out of every two marriages ends in divorce.  40% of all children are born out of wedlock.  The American family has clearly become dysfunctional.

Why can’t we make marriage work?  Part of the answer lies in feminism.  Radical feminists have attacked gender roles and put careers ahead of childbearing.  No-fault divorce fundamentally altered the character of marriage and destabilized the family.  But these are all symptoms of an underlying disease.  Our problem as Americans is that we are too narcissistic.  It is “me first” at the expense of everyone else.  And that mentality is a sure prescription for disaster in marriage.  Very few Americans, it seems, are willing to think in terms of the duties and responsibilities of marriage.

In Ephesians chapter 5 the apostle Paul address the subject of marriage.  In verses 22 through 24 he addresses the wives and in verses 25 through 32 he goes on to discuss the role and responsibilities of husbands.  He then concludes by saying “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respect her husband” (v. 33; NKJV).

Paul compares marriage to the relationship between Christ and the church, and interestingly, in this passage, he spends nearly as much space talking about Christ and the church as he does about husbands and wives.  And so Paul begins by telling the wives, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (v. 22), and then goes on to explain why: “For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.  Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (vv. 23,24).

Here, of course, Paul is referring back to what he had said earlier about Christ and the church.  In chapter 1 he had explained that God the Father had placed Christ in a position of authority over the all things, “and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:22,23).  Here the relationship between Christ and the church is compared to the relationship between a head and the rest of the physical body.  The head contains the brain – it is the head that gives direction to the rest of the body.  But the head is also vitally connected with the body; it does not function apart from it.

The role of the church, then, is to be subject to Christ.  He is the church’s Lord and Savior.  It is not for the church to decide for itself what it wants to do.  Our conscious aim must always be to please Christ – to do whatever He wants us to do.  The church is not a social club, and its aim should not be to pursue its own denominational distinctives.  Nor does it exist to make the pastor rich and famous.  Rather Christ himself should be at the center of everything that the church does.  We need to feel our dependence on Christ, to worship and adore Christ, to be subject to the will of Christ.  “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15) – not His suggestions, not His helpful advice, but His commandments.  If we refuse to do so, it is because we don’t really love Him.

Wives, then, are to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22).  The husband, we are told, is the wife’s “head . . .as Christ also is the head of the church” (v. 23).  Marriage is an intimate, hopefully loving, relationship.  The husband is supposed to be the leader, the wife the follower.  She works under his direction.  She was created to be “a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18), not his dictator or boss.

Paul concludes this section by saying, “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33).  The wife is to honor her husband as one who is in authority over her.

A loving husband will appreciate his wife’s opinions on various matters.  But ultimately it is he who must make the final decision.  And if a husband and wife are still arguing and fighting over the matter the wife is simply not submitting to her husband as Scripture has commanded her to do.  And is this not why so many marriages fail?  Wives will fuss and nag over this and the other thing (“When momma ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy”), and fight to get their own way; but in the end they wind up destroying their marriages.  And then what have they gained?  Isn’t God’s way better?

TRUE WORSHIP

 

091

David the psalmist giving thanks

 

What does it mean to worship God?  Different churches have different ideas on the subject.  Some have very elaborate formal liturgical “services.”   Some are more informal and emotionally expressive, with raised hands, shouting and hand clapping.  And in some churches nowadays the “worship service” is virtually a rock concert.  But what does God think about all of this?

The apostle Paul gives us a clue in Ephesians 5:18-21 (and in a parallel passage in Col. 3:14-17).  He tells the believers in Ephesus not to be drunk with wine, “but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (Eph. 5:18-20; NKJV).

To understand this passage it is necessary to know the context.  We today think we know what worship it, based on our own experience.  But the church experience of First Century Christians was very different from ours.  In fact, if we could go back in time to the First Century and sit in one of their meetings we would hardly recognize it.

For one thing, there were no church buildings per se.  There was no professional clergy, no choirs and organs, and no Sunday schools.  How did they manage to function, then?  “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  This suggests that First Century church life functioned on two levels.  First, there were large public gatherings where unbelievers might be present – this may be what is described in I Corinthians 14; and secondly there were smaller gatherings in private homes.  It is in these small home groups that the Lord’s Table was observed, perhaps on the model of the Jewish Passover meal (cf. I Cor. 11).  Thus church life tended to be less formal and more intimate that what we are accustomed to today.

What, then, does Paul say about worship?  First of all, it is fundamentally an act of praise directed towards God Himself.  The object is to be “giving thank always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . (Eph. 5:20).  A hymn should be a kind of prayer addressed to God, and when we gather for worship we should be consciously entering into the presence of God to praise Him and thank Him for all that He is and all that He has done.  Worship is not supposed to be a form of entertainment, in which the congregation sits passively in the pews and listens to someone else sing to them.  Rather, they are to be actively engaged in praising God.

But what should the congregation sing?  According to Paul it is “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (v. 19; cf. Col. 3:16).  Exactly how Paul meant to distinguish the three is not exactly clear.  However “psalms” certainly includes the psalms of the Old Testament.  But it is entirely possible that the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” include songs with a specifically Christian content, and suggestions have been made that there are fragments of such hymns scattered throughout the New Testament (e.g., Eph. 5:14; Col. 1:15-20; I Tim 3:16 and II Tim. 2:11-13).  And it is even possible that some of the songs used in early Christian worship were ecstatic utterances immediately inspired by the Holy Spirit (cf. I Cor. 14:26).

The important thing, however, is that worshippers  should be singing from the heart, “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (v. 19).  Too often we dishonor God through our listless, half-hearted “worship.”

“. . . these people draw near with their mouths

And honor Me with their lips,

But have removed their hearts far from Me,

And their fear toward Me is taught by the

commandment of men . . .”

(Isa. 29:13).

Rather, God expects us to “make a joyful shout to the Lord . . .” (Ps. 100:1).  When we worship, we should act like we are genuinely grateful for what God has done for us.  Sometimes we insult God through faint praise.

But most importantly, our worship should be driven by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Eph. 5:18-21 forms a single sentence, and the main thought in the sentence is “be filled with the Spirit” – the main verb being “be filled” (v. 18); all the rest of the sentence elaborates on what it means to be “filled with the Spirit.”  In what way?  By “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  Worship is supposed to a spiritual activity driven and motivated by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, giving us a sense of God’s awesome majesty, His unapproachable holiness, and His condescending love.

But what about musical style?  How should the music be performed?  We must be careful here – historically the church has employed everything from Gregorian chant to shaped-note hymns to rock bands.  Perhaps the biggest failure in both traditional and contemporary styles of worship is the lack of artistic expression.  Too often every song sounds alike.  The musicians sometimes act as if they were not thinking about what they are singing.  Christian music should reflect the whole range of Christian experience, and that should be reflected in the way the music is performed.  The music should express the content of the words.

And what about Christian rock music?  I want to be cautious here, but Christian music, if it is genuinely Christian, should reflect Christian values.  In other words, it should be marked by the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  If our music comes across to outsiders as “in-your-face” and “head-banging” it is conveying the wrong message.

To worship God, then, is to

“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,

And into His courts with praise.

Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

For the Lord is good;

His mercy is everlasting,]

And His truth endures to all generations.”

(Ps. 100:4,5).

THE SACREDNESS OF SEX

 

4.2.7

Anthony Van Dyke: Family Portrait

 

In Ephesians 5:3 the apostle Paul addresses what is perhaps the most controversial issue facing the Christian church today: sex.  The United States Supreme Court has declared a constitutional right of same sex couples to marry each other (it is hard to imagine that the framers of the Constitution could have ever have conceived of such a thing); and now anyone who opposes same-sex marriage is accused of being a hate-monger.

What are Christians supposed to make of all of this?  What Paul tells us is this: “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints . . .” (Eph. 5:3; NKJV).  Here Paul is using the words “fornication” (porneia) and “uncleanness” very broadly to cover a whole range of illicit sexual activity.  In the Old Testament the Canaanites were condemned for a variety of sexual sins including incest, homosexuality and bestiality (Lev. 18:6-23).  The sins are called “abominations” (Lev. 18:23,27,29,30), the Canaanites were “defiled” because of them (v. 24), and therefore the land “vomited” them out (vv. 25,28).

But are not conservative Christians clinging to an outdated morality?  What is so wrong about having sex outside of marriage?  Or being homosexual?  None other than Jesus himself  explained the rationale behind sex and marriage.

According to Matthew 19:3 ff Jesus was approached by some rabbis who asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”  The question was a controversial one.  It involved a perplexing phrase in the only passage in the Torah dealing with the subject of divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  There it states that “when a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce . . .” (v. 1).  The question that agitated the rabbis of Jesus’ day was, what was meant by the phrase “some uncleanness”?  One school of thought put the emphasis on the word “uncleanness,” and argued that a man may divorce his wife only because of unchastity.  Another school of thought put the emphasis on the word “some” and argued that a man could divorce his wife for practically any reason – “even if she spoiled a dish for him” (Mishnah, Gittin 9:10).  And so the rabbis asked Jesus to weigh in on the question.

Jesus answered by going back to the account of creation in the Book of Genesis.  “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’ . . .” (Matt. 19:4, quoting Gen. 1:27; 5:2).  Here two key points are made.  First of all, were “made” or “created” by God.  We did not come into existence by accident or through some blind, impersonal natural process, as atheists would have us to believe.  We were created by an intelligent Supreme Being for a specific reason and purpose.  His creative will defines our existence, and because of that life has meaning and purpose.  It also means that there are behavioral norms to which we must conform.

Secondly, gender differences are a part of the created order.  God “made them male and female.”  Granted, sometimes societies have engaged in needless stereotyping.  Women can be very strong, intelligent and capable.  But physical and psychological differences remain, and it is futile to ignore them.

But Jesus goes on and quotes another passage from Genesis.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matt. 19:5, quoting Gen. 2:24).  What is clearly in view here is a heterosexual marriage.

Jesus then goes on to draw His conclusion: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6).  Marriage was meant to be a permanent, binding commitment between a man and a woman.  Divorce, save for the cause of sexual misconduct, is out of the question.  Jesus, in effect, sided with the stricter school of interpretation.

If that, then, is what God intended for marriage to work, if follows that any kind of sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marriage defeats the whole purpose of marriage itself.  We are complex physical and emotional creatures.  Sex is more than just the physical act of copulation; it is an intimate relationship between two human beings.  Our emotions follow our hormones.  If we have sex without being married, we are having an intimate relationship without having made a commitment.  It is basically sex without love.  We are simply using that other person  for our own selfish pleasure.

And if we are married and have a sexual relationship with someone who is not our spouse, we have violated a commitment that we have already made.  The spouse has been betrayed and the marriage undermined as a result.  And the end result of all this sexual license is social chaos – children growing up in unstable, dysfunctional families.

When sins like these become commonplace and accepted in society, it is easy not to take them seriously. But Paul warns of the dire consequences of such behavior.  “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Eph. 5:5-7).  Society may change its standards, but God does not change His.  “We ought to obey God rather than me” (Acts 5:29).

What God intended in marriage is love and affection in a committed relationship, not casual or commercial sex, not self-gratification masquerading as “love.”  Ironically the modern “anything goes” approach to sex only serves to cheapen and degrade it.  Christians do not think that sex is somehow “dirty.”  Far from it; it is precisely because sex is sacred that it must be protected from anything that cheapens, trivializes, or demeans it.  “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).

THE IMITATION OF CHRIST

The apostle Paul tells the Ephesians to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Eph. 4:32; NKJV) and to “walk in love” (5:2).  These are all noble ideals, of course, but sometimes hard to put into actual practice.  Our natural instinct is to look out for ourselves and to retaliate when wronged.  To us it seems like a simple matter of justice.  And why should I go out of my way to do good to others?  I have enough of my own problems.

And yet Paul enjoins us to be kind and to forgive, and he underpins the exhortation by pointing to the example of Christ: “forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (4:32), and “walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma” (5:2).  “God in Christ forgave you.”  The verb in the Greek (echarisato) suggests open-handed generosity – to forgive freely with no strings attached..  We were guilty sinners.  We fully deserved God’s wrath and condemnation.  Yet in Christ Jesus we have been forgiven – our guilt has been removed and we are accepted as perfectly righteous persons.

But how was that possible?  If we are guilty there is no denying the fact.  The answer is that “Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God” (5:2).  He “gave Himself.”  The verb here (paredoken) means to “hand over” or to “deliver up,” especially to a person or judgment.  Jesus was betrayed, tried and crucified.  But He did it voluntarily; He could have prevented it if He had wanted to, and yet He did it anyway.  And in so doing He was basically making Himself “an offering and a sacrifice to God.”  The imagery here is drawn from the Old Testament temple ritual in which various things would be brought to the temple and offered up on the altar.  In this way the thing offered was surrendered to God.  And the reason Christ offered Himself for us  is that He “loved us” – He had enough care and concern for us, guilty sinners that we were, that He was willing to lay down His very life on our behalf.  And according to our text, this was “a sweet-smelling aroma.”  We are told in the Book of Genesis that after the Flood Noah built an altar, sacrificed some animals, and burnt their carcasses on an altar.  “And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma” (Gen. 8:21).  And thus when Christ offered Himself up on the cross it was, figuratively speaking, “a sweet-smelling aroma” to God, something to which God took exquisite pleasure.

If, then, God has shown such grace and mercy towards us, what excuse do we have if we fail to show it towards those who have wronged us?  We are to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us” (5:2).  We should show that same care and compassion, that same willingness to forgive, as did Christ.  It is the attitude here that counts.  We should be “kind to one another,” ready and willing to do good to each other.  We should be “tenderhearted” – we should feel real sympathy and compassion in our hearts for others.  And that in turn means that we will be “forgiving one another.”  No one is perfect, but we are to love them anyway.  The hurt may be real, be we seek the other’s redemption, not his punishment.

In this way we can be a living example of Christ’s own love.  People should be able to look at us and get an idea of Christ must have been like in His earthly ministry.  And in this way by our example the world is confronted with Christ.