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Theory vs. Practice

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

Mark 1:16-17

There once was a group of people who called themselves “the fishermen.” They lived near many streams, ponds, lakes and other bodies of water teeming with fish. The fishermen met twice a week, on Sunday and Wednesday, to discuss fishing. They talked about their special calling to fish. They had classes designed to help them be better fishermen. They listed statistics of the abundance of the fish around them. They encouraged others to fish. They zealously defended their right to fish. But they never actually went fishing.

Their enthusiasm gained the interest of others and anglers from the surrounding region joined them. This growth forced them to build a larger meeting house which only fed the excitement. In addition to these regular meetings they sent out some of their members to other places to spread the message: Everyone should become a fisherman! They held week-long seminars to promote fishing, define fishing and defend fishing as their sole purpose in life. But the men who spoke at the meetings never actually fished.

Strangely, the fishermen continued their campaign offering courses on the needs of the fish, what kinds of things the fish liked, the nature of fish, the best methods to catch fish and the psychological effects of fishing. The men who taught had doctorates in Fishology but they didn’t have time for fishing because they were too busy teaching.

One evening, two men stumbled into a meeting quite by accident. You must understand that these men were not schooled in the ways of the fishermen. After a stirring sermon entitled “The Necessity of Fishing” they were compelled to do something amazing and unexpected. They went to a local pond and actually tried fishing. And much to their surprise and delight, after only minimal effort, one of the men caught a fish!

He proudly brought his catch to the next meeting. This man was hailed as a hero. He was honored for his actions and was interviewed and fawned over by the other fishermen. He was soon scheduled to hold meetings to talk about “The Time I Went Fishing and Actually Caught A Fish”. So he quit fishing and went on tour to share his experience by giving motivational speeches. He had his fish mounted on a shining gold plate with the words “The Fish I Caught That One Time” engraved at the bottom.

Things weren’t all roses for the fishermen though. Oh no! They had to endure many sacrifices. Like going to all those meetings. And reading all those books. And living in communities surrounded by so many smelly fish. And, if you would believe it, there were even some people who had the gall to criticize them. They ridiculed the group for calling themselves “fishermen” while never trying to fish. The nerve of some people!

By now, you have caught my drift. Jesus 'caught' us to free us. He wants to make us “fishers of men” (Mk. 1:17), to save the lost and “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:18-20). We were chosen “that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). Some Christians may go their whole life without bringing another soul to Christ. This is inexcusable. The Christian who doesn’t tell others the good news is as unthinkable to Jesus as a light you can’t see or salt you can’t taste (Mt. 5:13-16).

I’ll leave you with the following poem by DA Carson:

Shall flowers hide their beauty?

Shall rainbows turn to grey?

Shall birds forget their singing?

Shall sunlight fade away?

Shall I be silent at grace beyond degree?

Before the cross I count as loss what once was dear to me.

Jesus Our Older Brother

Saturday, April 17, 2021

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;

in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

Hebrews 2:11-12

There are many ways we relate to Jesus: as Savior, Lord, Creator, etc. In Hebrews 2:10-18, the Hebrew writer pictures Jesus as our older brother, the firstborn of the human race who identifies with his younger siblings (us) by coming to their aid in a place where they live, a land of sin and death, to share their fate and thereby rescue them from it. I don’t know about you but I don’t often think of Jesus as my older brother. 

I wonder how James, “the Lord’s [younger] brother” (Gal. 1:19), would have viewed Jesus growing up. We know the Lord’s brothers didn’t believe in him during his earthly ministry (Jn. 7:5; cf. Mk. 6:3) but after his resurrection and ascension, James quickly became a pillar of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:19; Gal. 2:9) and authored an epistle that largely echoed his brother’s teaching.

Though Jesus may have frustrated James at times (Mk. 3:31-35), he was and is the perfect older brother. For us, Jesus is not the kind of older brother you come to resent because of his perfection but the kind of older brother you come to trust and admire because, without a hint of arrogance, he helps us out of his perfect love and goodness of heart.

As our perfect older brother, Jesus is the trailblazer of our salvation (Heb. 2:10). Big brothers often show the way forward for their younger siblings. Through his example in life, suffering on the cross for our sins and his triumphant resurrection from the dead, Jesus cut a path through the tangled, frightening jungle that is “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psa. 23:4). And now, through him, we can find our way out the other side into life eternal.

As our perfect older brother, Jesus identifies with his siblings (Heb. 2:11-13). Because we are “sanctified” through him, the Lord “is not ashamed” to call us his “brothers.” God blessed me with three older brothers. There was nothing more comforting to me than knowing that my older brothers identified with me and counted me as one of them. Christ gives us that same show of solidarity today. With him, we are legitimate members of God’s family (Mk. 3:35; Gal. 3:28-29; Eph. 2:18-19) who will receive the imperishable inheritance of our shared heavenly Father (Eph. 1:3-5; 1 Pet. 1:4).

As our perfect older brother, Jesus delivers us from evil (Heb. 2:14-18). As ancient Israel once suffered Egyptian bondage, so we “through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” In suffering and dying for his brothers, Jesus became the true high priest who makes atonement for our sins. In his resurrection, he rendered the enemy’s tool of slavery, “death,” inoperable. Death no longer has the power to enslave us to fear anymore because Jesus took away its “sting” (1 Cor. 15:55). Big brothers protect their siblings from evil.

If we don’t do so already, we ought to think of Jesus as our perfect older brother. He is our hero who steps between us and danger. He is not willing that his beloved siblings should be enslaved by evil forces. He loves, comforts and rescues like an older brother.

And, also like an older brother, he sympathizes with us and understands our weaknesses. Jesus is the human embodiment of God’s mercy and reliability. He knows what it’s like to be tempted by evil because he experienced temptation himself. And because he overcame temptation without sin (Heb. 4:15; cf. Mt. 4) he “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18). May God bless us to love one another with that same Christ-like brotherly affection.

Gleaning in the Fields

Saturday, April 10, 2021

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God."

Leviticus 19:9-10

There are special people whom God blesses us with who influence our faith. One such person for me was a man named Jim Frisby. I had the pleasure of knowing Jim during my time serving a congregation in rural Missouri. Jim had served the church there for decades as a teacher and an encourager. He was happily married to his lovely wife Hazel but the two had no children. I always thought this was regrettable, for Jim would have made an excellent overseer (cf. 1 Tim. 3:4). Jim has since gone on to his reward but "through his faith, though he died, he still speaks," as the Bible says (Heb. 11:4). 

Jim was always ready to accompany me to visit the sick, to help with Bible classes at assisted living homes, classes for new converts and any other evangelistic efforts. He was a gentle, humble, wise man who spoke softly but with conviction and purpose. He could always be counted on to say the right thing in the right way at the right time. He was a comforting influence and a good friend with a great sense of humor. Needless to say, there are precious few people in the kingdom like him. Through his quiet leadership of service to Christ Jim did more good a thousand sermons.

After visiting someone together, Jim and I had a conversation that I will never forget. I asked him why he had never devoted himself to preaching the gospel. He had an excellent knowledge of the Scriptures and a great reputation with his neighbors and was highly respected by the congregation. He was an gifted teacher as well, having developed all the skills necessary for teaching during his tenure as a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Missouri. And it seemed to me that local churches needed more faithful men like him to teach and preach God's word.

His response was classic.

In his humble and casual manner, Jim paraphrased Leviticus 19:9-10, but he did so through the lens of the gospel, so to speak. Those verses anticipated Israel's life in the Promised Land and focused on sharing food from the harvest with the needy. Israelite farmers were not to harvest their field or vineyard bare in order to leave food for the poor and the sojourner. These weaker members of society were at a disadvantage and were to receive special treatment under the Law (Deut. 10:18-19; 24:19-21). 

Through the Mosaic covenant, Israel was to learn what it meant to serve a holy God. This included generously caring for those in need (Ex. 22:25-27; Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 15:7-11; 24:12-15). Such generous care means putting people before profits. We see this principle worked out in the way God intended in Ruth chapter 2. Of course, this same spirit of generosity should characterize God's people today (Mt. 5:42; Gal. 2:10; 6:10; Jas. 1:27).

Jim knew what Leviticus 19 taught but he allegorized it for my benefit, to answer my question. Jim saw himself as one of those poor Israelites picking up the pieces during the harvest. A handful of grapes here, a leftover sheaf of grain there, and perhaps a few olives. To Jim, there was plenty of work to go around in the kingdom and he was content to be the kind of worker that picked up the pieces others left behind. As a gleaner in God's field, Jim played a 'supporting role,' for lack of a better term. 

The irony of this humble description of his work in God's vineyard was that in what he called 'gleaning' Jim had gathered more sheaves than many 'hired' laborers! The fields were "white for harvest" and his food was to do God's will (Jn. 4:34). He was truly "gathering fruit for eternal life" (Jn. 4:36). Local congregations need more servants like Jim who humbly do their work, picking up the pieces behind the scenes. No one knew the full extent of Jim's work or how many lives he had touched and enriched. No one knows, that is, except the Lord (Mk. 12:41-44). Jim did what he could, and that is always enough (Mk. 14:8). The longer I think about him, the more I aspire to be like him. "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." (1 Cor. 15:58) 

 

Discipleship

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Jesus was never guilty of false advertising. No one is duped into discipleship because Christ tells us exactly what are are signing up for. When people said they would follow him wherever he went, Jesus responded, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Lk. 9:57-62). In effect, he was saying, "Are you sure about that? Because once you start following me, your life is going to change and there is no turning back." With Jesus, it's all or nothing. 

On several occasions, Jesus explicitly told his closest followers what would happen to him in Jerusalem. He would suffer, die, and then be raised from the dead. This fate was unthinkable and completely incongruous to their expectations of the Messiah (Mt. 16:21-23). Nevertheless, having made it clear that there would be no cross-less Christ, Jesus then went on to tell them there would be no cross-less Christians either (Mt. 16:24-27). 

THE DEMANDS OF DISCIPLESHIP - (Matthew 16:24)

Jesus first tells those who want to follow him that we must deny ourselves. Not deny ourselves things, mind you (this is asceticism Col. 2:23), but deny ourselves. This voluntary dethroning of self and surrendering to Christ as one's sole authority is the first step in becoming a disciple (Mt. 28:18; Gal. 2:20).

He then tells potential disciples that we must carry our cross. This is not suffering the minor discomforts of everyday life, as in the modern phrase "we all have our cross to bear." It was customary for victims of Roman crucifixion to carry the instrument of their death to the place of execution (Mt. 27:32). It was a one-way trip. Jesus was speaking of a choice of death as a way of life. To bear one's cross is to consciously die to all forms of selfishness and sin (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5). 

Then we must follow our Lord. As Jesus is not only our teacher but our also example (1 Pet. 2:21), a "disciple" is not just a learner but also a follower. The verb "follow" indicates continuance ("keep on following me"; cf. Lk. 9:23). Becoming a disciple means leaving everything else behind to follow Jesus everyday (Lk. 14:33). 

The demands of discipleship may seem too heavy to bear but they aren't! Granted, Jesus is demanding everything we have to give (Mt. 13:44-46), but once we recognize the weight of the cross he bore on our behalf (1 Pet. 2:24), our burden is light and easy by comparison (Mt. 11:30).

THE REWARDS OF DISCIPLESHIP - (Matthew 16:25-27)

A great paradox of discipleship is that in renouncing our life for Christ's sake, we actually find our life! When choosing self over others, we think we are acting in our own best interest, when just the opposite is the case. Self-sacrifice governed the life of Jesus and resulted in eternal life. So it will be for all those who follow his example.

By living as a disciple, we also save our soul. Our soul, or our inner life, is our most prized possession. Jesus says that not even the entire world could compensate for losing it, perhaps because this world will pass away (1 Jn. 2:15-17) whereas one's soul will live on. Jesus refused to sell his soul for the world (Mt. 4:8-9) and compels his disciples to count the cost and make the same choice.

The final motivation Christ gives for following him is that we will meet our God. If the way of the cross seems severe, it helps to remember that a day is coming when Christ will return as Judge and hold the entire world to account (Mt. 25:31ff). Because this is so, choosing to be a disciple also means escaping God's just judgment and receiving his gift of grace and eternal life instead (Rom. 6:23). 

The rewards of discipleship may seem too good to be true but they aren't! The grace and eternal life available to disciples of Jesus is very real. Remember, there is no false advertising with Jesus. He wants us to weigh the cost of following him and choose life (Lk. 14:23-33). Those who have reservations about this commitment or find ways to justify their rejection of Christ engineer their own destruction. Those who count the cost and unreservedly follow Jesus will find their lives, save their souls, and meet their God as his forgiven, beloved children. 

Christian Women (part 3 of 3)

Saturday, March 27, 2021

"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."

1 Timothy 2:11-15

In our final article in this short series on Christian women, we tackle the last section of this difficult verse. What does Paul mean in verse 15 when he says, "Yet she will be saved through childbearing"? Remember that Paul is addressing proper behavior in the Ephesian assembly. Men must learn to pray in purity and holiness (1 Tim. 2:8) and women must dress and behave modestly (1 Tim. 2:9-12). 

The Importance of Modesty (1 Timothy 2:9-12)

First, women should not draw undo attention to themselves with their dress. Evidently, some women in Ephesus treated the assembly like a fashion show. These vulgar, extravagent displays of wealth (and/or promiscuity) were out of step with the gospel of humility and holiness. Rather, Paul says, Christian women should be known for their "good works." These "good works" include, but are not limited to, leading a dignified, temperate lifestyle (1 Tim. 2:11), raising children, showing hospitality, and caring for the needy (1 Tim. 5:10). This is part of the "adorning" of inner beauty which is incorruptible and precious in God's sight, exemplified in a "gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Pet. 3:3-4).

The other side of immodesty is a tendency toward insubordination (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Women should take up their place, alongside the men, as disciples, which, in Jewish society, was a radical notion (see Lk. 10:38-42). But Christian women are to "learn quietly with all submissiveness," not necessarily silently but with a quiet and respectful demeanor. This attitude extends beyond the assembly into everyday life (1 Tim. 5:13). A Christian woman's role within a congregation is as a learner (v.11) not a teacher (v.12). However, this is not a complete prohibition against women teaching as Paul himself instructed the church in Crete that "older women" should "train the younger women" (Titus 2:3-4). Rather, Paul forbids women to "exercise authority over a man." 

Perhaps Paul writes so forcefully here because some women in Ephesus were disrupting the church by advancing the errors and speculations of false teachers (1 Tim. 5:13-15). He then goes on to support his argument by referencing the creation account in Genesis chapters 2-3. 

Male Leadership Defended (1 Timothy 2:13-14)

The order of creation (v.13) should suggest male headship in the church (cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-12). Paul then emphasizes how Eve was "deceived" by Satan (Gen. 3:13). The deception that Eve experienced in the Garden was not unlike that of some women in Ephesus (1 Tim. 4:1; 5:15; cf. 2 Cor. 11:3). "Adam," Paul says, "was not deceived" by the serpent. Rather, Adam sinned with his eyes wide open, that is, he sinned knowingly. Adam's was boldfaced rebellion and God held him to account (Gen. 3:17-19). 

Together, Adam and Eve, the representatives of the human race, plunged the world into ruin. How did this happen? Instead of following the order ordained by God in creation, Adam followed Eve leading to the downfall of both. Back to 1 Timothy, Paul's goal in writing the letter was to restore order to the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 3:14-15; 1:3). That order includes respecting the appropriate roles of men and women within the church. The woman's role in the church is not primarily one of leadership, hence his reference to Genesis 3. 

Salvation through Childbearing (1 Timothy 3:15)

Paul softens the blow of verses 13-14 with the comforting, but admittedly difficult, words of verse 15. Though woman was deceived and fell into sin, "yet she will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." Notice the shift in pronouns from "she" (singular) to "they" (plural). Because of this ambiguity, there are different ways to read Paul's words. Our job, of course, is to determine the correct context and find out what he meant (2 Tim. 2:15). 

If "she" is Eve, the representative woman, and "they" are the Christian women at Ephesus, then "saved through childbearing" means that a woman's salvation comes not through the activity of ruling in the church but through faithfulness to her proper role, which is exemplified in motherhood. Christian women are to be known for their "good works" (v.10) which include marriage, child-rearing and keeping a good home (1 Tim. 5:11, 14; cf. Prov. 31). Paul could not be saying that having children and being a good mom serves as a basis for salvation, for not all women have children and salvation is not merited, so he qualifies his words: "if they (Christian women) continue in faith..." then they will be saved. 

Although this interpretation is a possibility and has a lot going for it, I believe there is another more likely one.

If "she" is a Christian woman and "they" are her children, then "saved through childbearing" means not saved from sin (eternal salvation) but saved from the pain associated with bearing and raising children in this world broken by sin. This would tie back into the curse pronounced to Eve in Genesis 3. In Eden, the natural order was turned on its head: instead of man leading woman and ruling over the beasts of the field together (Gen. 2:28), the beast (the serpent) led the woman, who led the man, which resulted in creation being "subjected to futility" (Rom. 8:20). 

Sin fractured God's creation and had severe effects on humanity. Particularly, women would suffer increased "pain in childbearing" (Gen. 3:16). "Pain" is prolonged toil and misery. This pain does not merely refer to the physical pain women suffer in childbearing but also includes the emotional suffering of childrearing (the Greek word found here could include both), raising children in a sin-sick world. Part of Eve's suffering the curse of sin was to know Cain killed Abel out of hatred and jealousy (Gen. 4:8). Whereas Adam's 'work' of raising crops was cursed with prolonged "pain" (Gen. 3:17), Eve's 'work' of raising children was also cursed with prolonged "pain" (Gen. 3:17). (This is not to say that women do not have secular jobs [see Lydia, Acts 16] and men have no part in raising children [see Eph. 6:4]). 

The Gospel of Christ 

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman" (Gal. 4:4). It was through Eve, "the mother of all living" (Gen. 3:20), that God raised up her promised "offspring" and defeated evil through the cross and resurrection of Christ. In Jesus, God's promise to the serpent in Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled. Now that Jesus has come, mothers are "saved" (delivered or rescued) not only from sin but also from the "pain" of raising children, "if" those children "continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." Christian women can rediscover the joy of motherhood in a world where the curse of sin is being rolled back by the gospel. Mothers of Christian children everywhere echo the truth of John's words: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in truth" (3 Jn 1:4). 

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