Jesus’ Message to His Churches

christ-knocking-at-the-door[1]Jesus Calling is one of the most popular devotionals in the world. People long to hear a direct word from Jesus Christ, and the author claims to deliver just that in her daily inspirational thoughts, presented to readers as personal messages from Jesus himself. Interestingly, the words of Jesus in the Scriptures read a bit differently from the positive, sentimental words in the devotional. Beyond that, Jesus has indeed sent a direct message to his churches, recorded for us by John in Revelation chapters two and three: the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. However, these authentic and Spirit-inspired messages can get a little fiery…

Scripture teaches that followers of Jesus are “set apart” from the world: we are called out from unbelievers and devoted to God (Romans 1:1, 6-7). Christ both expects and enables his followers to be different (unique, separate) from the world in what we love and how we live. At conversion, Christ and his gospel becomes our life, our purpose, our joy and our focus; this is what it means to be set apart. But sin hinders and destroys our distinction from the world.

Let’s consider Jesus’ message to his churches in Revelation. A simple overview of Jesus’ words to these congregations speak volumes to us as we follow him today.

Jesus Knows His Churches (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19, 23; 3:1, 8, 15)

First, Jesus has perfect, intimate knowledge of his people (The Lord knows those who are his – 2 Tim 2:19a). Jesus keeps opening his words to his congregations by telling them, “I know your works… I know your tribulation… I know where you dwell” (2:2, 9, 13). He knows the overall condition of each corporate church (2:9), and he knows the individual members (2:14). He sees all, from our works, to the ulterior motives we hide within (“I am he who searches mind and heart” – 2:23). Jesus knows what we are doing, how we are living, who we are living for. There is no hiding from the Lord. All will one day be made known, and judgment will be just (“I will give to each of you according to your works” – 2:23).

Jesus Loves His Churches (3:9, 19)

Though there are many negative statements, rebukes, and challenges to the churches in Jesus’ words, the Lord does confirm his love for his people. This is the reason he is correcting them! John began the book of Revelation affirming Christ’s love for the church: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…” (1:5b). Always in Scripture we are called to look to the cross to see Jesus’ love for his people (Rom 1:5). Christ loved the church, and give himself up for her (Eph 5:25). How precious to Jesus are his sheep! We who believe are loved by the Father, chosen and given to Christ, who has redeemed us and brought us into the “Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Jesus is pictured in Revelation as present in the midst of the churches (1:13, 20). We must remember the great honor and privilege of being counted among the church of Jesus Christ. While we were sinners, he set his love on us, redeemed us, and included us. This should bring us to humble brokenness before him, and cause us to respond to his grace in worship and lives dedicated to his glory.

Jesus Calls His Churches to Repent of Sin (2:5, 16, 21-22; 3:3, 19)

It may be striking to some how strong Jesus’ words are in these letters to his churches. He consistently deals with the sin that is present in his churches, both corporately (2:4, 20) and in individual members (2:14, 15, 22). Jesus simply will not water down the sin, but calls it what it is, using ugly names: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (2:4); “I also hate” (the works of the Nicolaitans – 2:7); “seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality…” (2:20); “you are dead…I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God” (3:2); “you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17).

We may prefer a sappy, emotional, positive thought of the day, but Jesus loves us too much to withhold the truth we need to hear. The Lord absolutely hates sin, and will not tolerate continued sin among his people. He promises his churches that if they will not repent, he will act decisively against them! Again, he uses very strong and shocking language: “repent…if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (2:5). Here Jesus promises to remove them from being a church if they continue in sin! He will not claim them on the day of judgment, for their continued sin will be evidence that they do not belong to him. And there is more: Jesus threatens to come to un-repenting churches and make war against them with the sword of his mouth (2:16), to make them sick and even kill some of their members (2:22-23), to surprise them like a thief who has come “against them” (3:3), and to even vomit them out of his mouth in disgust (3:16)! Popular Christianity cannot fathom Jesus speaking like this; yet, these are the true words of Christ, who hates sin and loves his people enough to say something about it.

Jesus Calls His Churches to Faithful Endurance (2:3, 10, 13, 19, 25, 26; 3:10-11)

The final consistent message of Jesus to his churches in these letters is a call to faithfully endure through suffering and trials, until Christ returns. It won’t be easy to be a church who belongs to Jesus in a hostile world. It won’t be easy to maintain a distinction between God’s people and a world given to sin. It won’t be easy to experience suffering, persecution, and hardships because of the life of holiness to the Lord that we pursue. We must know this going in. God will not remove pain from his people, but will enable us to endure through it for his glory. We will face temptations, trials, attacks, and even death. Many will fall away and join the ranks of the unbelievers. Many will hide like cowards among the believers, professing faith in Jesus while secretly giving themselves to worldly pursuits. But no matter what, Jesus calls us to endure in him, for him, until he returns. And he promises great reward to those who do!

To church after church in these letters, Jesus continues to repeat his promise, “To the one who conquers I will…” Conquering implies a battle! Christ has dealt the death blow to all enemies, but we are called to stand in him and fight the fight of faith, enduring until he comes. He gives us strength, but he does not make it easy. Jesus will reward his persevering church when he comes, with unimaginable glories, described in these letters in symbolic terms (2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21).

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (3:22).

Our Response

As the beloved people of God, purchased by the blood of Christ, and set apart to the Lord in holiness, let us consider seriously Jesus’ words to his churches. jesus-knocking-the-door[1]Let us refuse to tolerate sin and spiritual laziness in our lives and churches any longer, but open the door of the church to the Lord who loves us and wants to fellowship with us (3:20). Let us repent and serve the Lord faithfully until he comes, in the strength he provides! Let us encourage one another in the church and walk in the obedience of faith together! Let us be diligent and grow in grace (2 Peter 3:14, 17-18) while we wait on the Lord!

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Are You a Mature Disciple of Jesus?

mature disciple 2Jesus called people to follow him in faith and obedience, learning his truth and walking by his example of behavior. These followers were called disciples: learners who follow a leader and submit themselves to his ways. After his resurrection, Jesus sent his apostle-led church out to make disciples of all nations. He spoke of baptized disciples who were being taught to obey all his teachings (Matthew 28:19-20).

Today, Christians are still called to be a life-long, committed learners who are following Christ, in committed community with a local church. And just as Jesus connected the term “disciple” with obedience (not just knowledge), so the apostles in the New Testament instruct disciples to a life of growth into maturity. Peter called believers to grow up (2 Peter 3:18). Paul commended the believers in Thessalonica for the visible growth of their faith and love (2 Thess 1:3). He even rebuked some of the disciples in the church at Corinth who were failing to grow up into maturity, referring to them as “infants” (1 Cor 3:1). Disciple-growth is not optional, but should be the natural process of God’s work in the lives of his people. When we are not maturing as a disciple, we are resisting the work of God and fighting against his purpose for us. Paul’s mission was not merely to get converts, or decisions for Christ, but to make fully mature disciples to present to Christ for his glory; he spoke of struggling and working hard for this great goal (see Colossians 1:28-29; 4:12).

What Does Maturity Look Like?

mature disciple 1Maturity is not necessarily related to how long one has been a believer. Some have been believers for years, but, sadly, show little maturity and obedience. It is possible for new believers to quickly grow to a level of maturity. Paul describes the process of maturity among disciples in his letter to the Ephesian believers (Eph 4:11-16). From this passage, let’s look at seven marks of a mature disciple.

Mature Disciple Submit to their Leaders (v11-12). Jesus gives leaders to local churches in order “to equip the saints” during the process of maturity (v13). This requires leaders to do their part, and lead. They equip through prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4; 2 Tim 4:1-4), shepherding and overseeing the church in love. For non-leaders, this means following Jesus by submitting themselves to the leaders in their local church, with humility giving themselves to the word of God taught and proclaimed by their elders/pastors (Heb 13:7, 17). On the flip side, immature disciples resist the equipping work of their leaders by not coming to the table when it’s time to be fed, not having a teachable heart, or even actively working against the leaders.

Mature Disciples do the Work of Ministry (v12). Growing up into maturity as a disciple includes doing the work of ministry. Every disciple is a minister in some way, and has a vital part to play in the work of the church. Maturity, then, requires renouncing laziness and selfishness and committing oneself to the work of the Lord “for building up the body of Christ.The life of a Christian is not self-focused; it is a daily practice of self-denial for the sake of the Lord and others (Luke 9:23; Phil 2:3-8). Mmature disciple 3ature disciples are not coasting through life, expecting others to feed them and serve them. They do not come to church to be served, but to pour themselves out in the lives of others, for the glory of God. Their focus is not on their needs being met, but meeting the needs of others. Infants cry and scream until someone takes care of them. Mature adults get up and act. Babies need someone to spoon-feed them; maturity brings with it the responsibility to eat. Immature disciples give up when no one recognizes their work. Mature disciples realize they are working for the Lord, not for recognition.

Mature Disciples Commit to Life-Long Service (v13). Verse 13 answers the question, “How long are we to pour ourselves out in the work of ministry?” The building up of the church is needed until Christ returns and the church is perfect! So, our service to the body of Christ starts when we become a believer and ends when we die, or Christ returns. We serve until all the believers in our local church reach “mature manhood.” This calls for perseverance through the various seasons and storms of life (all of which the Lord uses to build our maturity). In your local church, who are you helping reach maturity? Is there a newer believer or less mature disciple you can meet with and serve? Mature disciples help mature other disciples, for the long haul.

Mature Disciples are Becoming Christ-like (v13). Paul describes this “mature manhood” that our ministry to the church is aiming for: “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.This is one of the most important indicators of maturity: Christ-likeness is the goal. Mature disciples are more like Christ; immature disciples are not like Christ. What is Christ-likeness? Think of what you see Jesus doing in the Bible. Jesus loved people. He taught truth. He humbled himself and served. He forgave people who hurt him. Are you doing these things? If not, you are not mature, no matter how long you’ve been a Christian. We can also look at the list of the fruit of the Spirit as a test of Christ-likeness and, therefore, maturity (Gal 5:22-25). Are you becoming more loving and patient with people, or more grouchy and angry? Do you forgive others when they hurt you or sin against you (as Christ did for us and called us to do for others), or do you hold grudges and retreat from community? These things reveal our maturity level as disciples. Some people have been believers for decades, but they are constantly mean to people. They may be teaching Sunday School, but they are not a mature disciple. Paul said that jealousy, strife, and dividing over their favorite leaders were signs that the Corinthian believers were “infants” (1 Cor 3:1-4). Christ-likeness is the goal (see also Mat 10:25 & Rom 8:29). “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

Mature Disciples are Doctrinally Sound (v14). Paul says that “children” are blown around by the winds and waves of false doctrine and craftiness of worldly schemes. While none of us will have perfect understanding of God’s word in this life, mature disciples are growing in the word: learning the teachings of Jesus, explained in-depth by the apostles; memorizing God’s word and integrating it into their daily speech and meditation; applying the word in daily obedience; teaching it to others. Mature believers have grown in discernment; they are not quick to fall for the latest fad of false teaching, or the new, best-selling Christian book everyone is crazy about (but doesn’t hold up to Scripture). They don’t consume a steady diet of shallow fluff, but dive deep into God’s word. See 1 Cor 2:6; 14:20; Heb 5:14; 6:1; 1 Pet 2:2-3.

Mature Disciples are Christ-Centered and Balanced (v15). Maturity is shown in “speaking the truth in love,” a balance that is difficult for immature disciples. Balance is not easy. Some Christians are strong in theology but weak in love (“cage stage” – they see a new truth and want to rub it in everyone’s face, and judge those who haven’t seen it yet); others are all about love, but have no time for doctrine. Mature disciples are learning to walk in both! They are bold with truth, but seasoned with love! The Lord has brought them through suffering and testing over the years, and maturity has come as a result.

This walk in truth and love is carried out as we “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.Maturity is shown in the ability to not be distracted with a focus on other things (even good things) that are not the main thing. mature disciple 4Mature Christians keep the focus on Jesus and the gospel. Immature believers give other things the place of focus that only Jesus deserves. They get side-tracked with issues such as a particular Bible translation, favorite music styles, that ministry they think everyone should be supporting, home-school vs. public school, organic food, fads, politics, etc, to the neglect of Jesus Christ and the gospel! When you see them coming, you know just what they are going to talk about…and it’s not Jesus!

Mature Disciples Do Their Part in the Church (v16). In verse 16, Paul describes the disciples in a local church through the metaphor of body parts working together for the benefit of the body. Ligaments are important, but there is more to the body than ligaments! Individual disciples are important, but we lose ourselves in the Christ-centered, joyful work of the overall church. Paul says this growth happens “when each part is working properly,” so that the body “builds itself up in love. Mature disciples are the body parts who are “working properly,” doing their part. Imagine the problems for a human body if many of the parts did not do their part or function properly! Think of the strain that would put on the rest of the body parts that were working. When someone is not doing their part in the work of the church, someone else in the church has to do their own part, plus theirs. This causes strain on the over-worked members and, eventually, burnout. Every member of a church is responsible to serve the body according to their gifts, and to also help with the “chores” that need to be done. Many church members and leaders are stressed out and approaching critical burnout because of the great number of immature disciples who are not helping. Doing your part requires faithfulness to the gatherings of the assembly (Heb 10:24-25). When you are not gathering with the church, the work still has to be done by others. Seasons do come when we get stagnant, but we must learn to push through these times with eyes on Jesus. There are times where we need ministry, and can’t do our normal share. But this should not be the norm. Mature disciples are giving themselves away, pouring out their lives, for others.

Are you a mature disciple?

It’s ok to act like a baby, as long as you are a baby (Terry Simpson). But when you start getting older, it’s time to act like an adult. How long have you been a follower of Jesus? Are you growing? Are you working with your leaders, doing your part to receive the equipping they are trying to give? Are you causing strain in your local church by not consistently doing your part? Are you involved in ministry, and building up the bod of Christ? Are you progressing in Christ-likeness?

If you realize that you are not a mature disciple, even though you’ve been a Christian for a while, realize that this is a problem. Humble yourself and repent before the Lord. Turn from things that are impeding your growth. Reach out to another believer in your local church and ask for help! Meet with a mature disciple and let them disciple you as you grow into maturity. Most of all, you will grow as you look to Christ in faith. Believe the gospel, and continue walking with the Lord in prayer, worship, and the word.

Let’s grow up!

Embrace God’s Scary-Looking Will

prayer-on-my-knees4[1]Mary and Martha were worried about their sick brother. They sent the messenger to their friend Jesus with speed. But in John 11 we see Jesus respond unexpectedly to this request for help from his close friends. The sisters obviously assume that he will drop everything and come heal him (v21, 32, 37). Instead, Jesus stayed where he was for two more days, until he knew his friend was dead (v6, 14).

We understand here some very important and valuable lessons of discipleship, what following Jesus looks like. First, we must understand that God’s goals are not always the same as our goals. The sisters’ goal was for their brother to be healed (and so that was their “prayer request”). But God’s goal for their family was quite different. Jesus gives us a hint of God’s two goals in their situation: (1) the glory of God, seen in Jesus Christ (v4); and (2) the good of God’s people (v5). We are specifically told that Jesus’ motivation for not healing Lazarus was his love for that family (v5)! There are some good things God can only work in our lives through suffering. And so, God was at work in the lives of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, allowing his beloved people to suffer death, and to grieve the loss of their brother.

Which brings us to our second lesson: God’s goal is not to eliminate as much suffering as he can, by any means necessary. God’s purpose is not to run around the world making people’s lives easy and comfortable. But, God does not send us meaningless suffering either.  God will allow Mary and Martha (and even Lazarus!) to see more of him and his glory through this painful situation. It will be worth it in the end. They must trust God in the midst of their pain and confusion.

So, what will we do when our goal is different from God’s goal? That is the crucial moment. There is a false idea of religion and Christianity that seeks to use religion/faith/prayer/good works/rituals/etc to make God accomplish our goals for us. He is the genie in the bottle and we want our wishes granted! If I believe hard enough, or do enough good, God will have to do things my way. If we are not careful, we can fall into this subtle form of the prosperity gospel. We think we have earned the right not to suffer. We are God’s children and we seek to obey him, so he should bless our goals, dreams, & wishes. But, all boiled down, this amounts to manipulation, witchcraft and idolatry. It is reducing God to a power we control to get what we want. God himself is no longer the focus or center; he is just a means to get our real treasure – whatever goal we want him to grant. In other words, we want God to give us our idols!

But that brings us to our third lesson: true Christianity seeks to replace our goals with God’s goals in humble self-denial. God is not a power we use to get what we want; he himself is what we want! Prayer is not a way to manipulate God to accomplish our goals, but an act of self-emptying and lining up our heart with God’s will. This is the essence of discipleship, the heart of what it means to follow Christ.

These lessons are emphasized again as the story in John eleven unfolds:

Let’s Go into the Fire (7-8). After waiting two days (for Lazarus to die), Jesus announces to the disciples that they are going back to Judea. The disciples can’t believe it; that’s where his enemies are…the ones who hate him and recently tried to stone him to death (10:31, 39)! This is yet another occasion where God’s goal is different from ours. The disciples have one goal in mind: self-preservation. It would be crazy to go back into the fire! But that is just where God is leading them.

Walk in God’s Light (9-10). Jesus explains that his concern is not those who want to kill him, but walking in the light of God’s will. Jesus is the perfect example, and he is teaching his disciples here by example (Keener). Jesus is not being controlled by fear, but trusting God and obeying him in faith. Jesus is willing to walk into the fire.

Dull Disciples (11-13). Jesus now shifts the conversation back to Lazarus. Speaking metaphorically, Jesus says Lazarus has died, but Jesus is going to him to wake him up. The dull disciples don’t yet know Lazarus is dead, and they protest that Jesus should let him keep sleeping so he will get better. The dull disciples are missing Jesus’ entire focus. They are nit-picking on small details, oblivious to what God is up to. This is us!!!

I’m Glad! (14-15). Jesus corrects his disciples, speaking without figures of speech: “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there…” Why is Jesus glad that he was not there to keep Lazarus from dying? For “your sake!” Jesus knows that God’s goal here is not just for the good of Lazarus and Mary and Martha; God also has something good in mind for the disciples who follow Jesus. They are being led into a scary situation – going into the hotbed of Jesus’ enemies. But God is leading them to trust him, to walk willingly into potential pain and suffering, for his glory and their good. Specifically, Jesus says he is glad this has all happened, “so that you may believe.” Jesus’ disciples will see Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and their faith will be strengthened.

Let’s Go Die With Him (16). Thomas replies to Jesus by telling his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, so that we may die with him.” “Doubting Thomas” doesn’t seem to be doubting here; Carson calls this a display of “raw devotion and courage.” This may not be full faith, but it is a start. He has no idea what God is going to do, but he is ready to go.

Lessons and Implications:

Notice that in this story, everyone’s eyes are on self-preservation, except for Jesus; his eyes are on obeying the Father in self-denying trust, no matter what the consequences.

Also notice how this affects how we pray. Everyone’s “prayer request” is being shaped by their focus! Mary and Martha’s request is to keep Lazarus healthy. The disciples are requesting that Jesus not go into a dangerous area. Their focus on self-preservation bleeds into their request of the Lord. Do our prayers ever go deeper than self-preservation? In contrast, Jesus’ focus on self-denying obedience of the Father will overflow into his prayer request before the cross (Not my will, but yours be done! Matthew 26:42)! What is the focus of our prayer requests? Self-preservation or self-denial? Eliminating suffering, no matter what? Making our lives easier? Or getting to know God more, see his glory, trust him more, and replace our goals with his goals? Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done, for his name to be glorified, for his kingdom to come (Mat 6:9-10); he taught us to pray God-focused, God-praising, God’s-goal embracing, self-denying prayers.

This embracing of self-denial for the will of God, rather than self-preservation at any cost, is the heart of discipleship. Jesus’ call to follow him was a call to come and die to self (Luke 9:23). As we take up the cross to self and embrace God’s will, our mindset is obeying God and serving others (2 Cor 4:10; Phil 2:5-8). This is what it means to follow Jesus.

Questions for Application

What did God allow in your life this past year? What scary situation did he lead you to walk through? Did you do it? In the suffering he allowed, did you embrace self-denial or fight for self-preservation? How did you pray as you went through it…for God’s will or for yours? What was God’s goal in what he allowed in your life this year? In your estimation, is God worth suffering for? Can you trust him?

References

  • ESV Study Bible notes. ©2008 Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • The Gospel According To John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, by D. A. Carson. © 1991. Published in the U.K. by APOLLOS (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press), 33 De Montfort Street, Leicester, England LE1 7GP, and in the United States by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.
  • The Gospel of John, A Commentary, Volumes I & II, by Craig S. Keener. ©2003. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI.

The Mind-Blowing, Soul-Stirring Doctrine of the Incarnation

The word incarnation comes from the Latin word carne, which means flesh, or meat. “Incarnation,” then, means the “in-fleshing” of God (Carson). The holy, eternal God put on a body and was born as a Man, in the Person of Jesus Christ! This doctrine is one of the core teachings of Christianity.

The “Ingredients” of the Incarnation

John 1:1, 14 is one of the clearest texts on the doctrine of the incarnation. Verse 1 declares that, in the beginning (i.e. before Jesus became a Man – in “eternity past”): The Word was with God – (He was God’s own “fellow” – Carson) [God’s friend, partner, colleague].

This phrase highlights the distinction of Persons in the Godhead. The Word was with, beside, distinct from, God. The Son is not the Father, is not the Spirit.

And yet, in the same breath, this verse goes on to declare:

The Word was God – (He was God’s own “self” – Carson). This phrase highlights the unity of the Persons in the Godhead. The Word was of one substance, one nature, with God.

So far we have a Person who is, at the same time, both distinct from God, and God!

Verse 14 then gives a crucial third piece of the puzzle: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This Person who was both distinct from God and God himself now adds something new to his experience: he became a Man. In becoming a Man, he did not lose his deity (for Jesus still claims to be the I AM who existed before Jesus’ birth – John 8:58, compare with Ex 3:14). Remaining what he was, he became what he was not (a human being). Carson clarifies that this is not God simply indwelling a human, or merely appearing to be human, but actually becoming fully human. By the time the apostle John wrote his letters, he argued tenaciously for the importance of teaching that Jesus came in the flesh, in full humanity. He wrote to the churches that anyone who denied this doctrine is antichrist (1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 7)!

So, we have a Person who existed before he was born, in a state of both unity with, and distinction from, God. This Person then stepped into human time and history and was born as a Man, called Jesus Christ (who remembers his preexistence and speaks of it – John 17:5). Jesus’ birth was not the beginning of his existence, but it was the beginning of his new experience as the God-Man. This is the incarnation!

Philippians 2:6-8 also speaks of Jesus’ preexistence: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothingbeing born in the likeness of men.” Here we see Jesus existing before his human birth. He existed in the “form” of God (Greek morphe, having the “essential qualities” of God – John Frame). Jesus then entered human experience by being born as a man.

So, the “ingredients,” or the “nuts and bolts” of the doctrine of the incarnation are the ideas of Jesus’ preexistence, his full deity (fully God), and his putting on full humanity.

The “How” of the Incarnation

The incarnation is a great mystery and the greatest of all miracles! How can God become a Man…and still be God? The Bible does not answer all our questions about this, but gives us only one hint, in Luke 1:31-35. The angel told Mary that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a son of the Most High. Mary is the first one to hear of the incarnation, and she asked the same question we ask, “How will this be?” How can God pull this off, “since I am a virgin?” The only answer she received (and the only answer we receive) is this: “The Holy Spirit…” Boom! End of discussion. This will be accomplished by the power of God, through the Holy Spirit! By his work in Mary, the child “will be called holy – the Son of God.” So the Father sends the Son, who is born fully Man and fully God by the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit, through the virginal conception.

The Glory of the Incarnation

The event of the incarnation is a beautiful and soul-stirring display of the great glory and mighty power of God! Thinking deeply on this subject is good for both the mind and the heart! On particular display in the incarnation is the amazing and unparalleled humility of the Son of God (Scheumann). John Owen writes,

“How glorious then is this willingness of the Son of God to humble himself to be our mediator.  What heart can conceive, what tongue can express the glory of that mind of Christ which brought him down from infinite glory to take our nature into union with his so that he could mediate with God on our behalf?” (John Owen, The Glory of Christ).

Philippians 2:6-8 marvels at the great humility of Jesus seen in the incarnation: though he existed before his birth in equality with God, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (he did not fight for his position at all costs – did not “grasp” for self-elevation), “but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus did not give himself to self-promotion, but embraced willingly his self-denial, for our sake! The greatest distance ever traveled by any being is the unfathomable distance Jesus traveled from glory to self-humiliation in the incarnation; he voluntarily went from the highest place imaginable, to the lowest place conceivable. The text presents layer after layer of self-humbling. He emptied himself (a figure of speech that means he completely humbled himself – Carson) and came down from heaven. Born in the likeness of men. Not just a man, but a man of low class – a servant. Then he humbled himself further by giving himself to the experience of death! Finally, he humbled himself to the greatest degree imaginable by embracing the shameful, painful death of crucifixion – “even death on a cross!”

This text is given to us so that we may stand in awe and worship of the glory of God displayed by the incarnation of Jesus. And it is taught to us so that we may follow his example of self-emptying as we serve one another in his church (“Have this mind among yourselves” v5; “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” v3). Jesus took on flesh, in humility, to serve (Mark 10:45 – Scheumann).

The Effect of the Incarnation

The doctrine of the incarnation is directly relevant to us today! Christ’s coming as the God-Man made salvation possible. Jesus, as a Man, was now able to live a perfect life as our representative, and die an effectual, sacrificial death as our redeemer! The Book of Hebrews quotes Jesus as saying, “a body have you prepared for me…I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10:5-7), before explaining, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10).

The incarnation was absolutely necessary for our salvation (Frame): “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest…to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:14, 17).

Jesus needed a body so he could offer it up for us on the cross. He needed blood so that he could shed it for our sins. “The Word became flesh”…so he could save us from our sins by his death and resurrection, and bring us into the eternal enjoyment of God! My encouragement for you this season is to set this beautiful and edifying doctrine before your eyes. Think on it, meditate on it – chew on it like a tasty morsel! Let your mind marvel at the mystery and majesty. Let your heart be stirred to worship and love. Glorify the Lord Jesus, who took on flesh for us!

References

The Passionate Pursuit of God

What is the number one pursuit in your life? What are you running after harder than anything else?

Christians believe that God should be first priority. Yet, we are pretty quick to forget the most important part of our lives. We are busy. Distractions abound. Temptation and sin are real, constant threats. All of this makes it easy for us to lose sight of our purpose. So, we begin to settle for empty, religious externals, “going through the motions.” Our sights move lower, until we become satisfied with false finish lines (“I’ll be good to go if I read my Bible today…or sometime this week…”). Before we know it we are trudging ahead, eyes glazed over, caught in the grips of moralism. What we forget is that our great goal is God himself: to know him, glorify him, and enjoy him! The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and strength.

The truth is that our lives are to be passionate pursuits of God. Why do I say passionate? Because how could it be anything else in light of who he is?! If God is the great Treasure of the universe, the One who satisfies fully and forever, can there even exist such a thing as a “mediocre pursuit” of him? Kinda half-way seeking God?

Knowing God, enjoying fellowship with him, is a major theme running through the pages of Scripture. It’s part of the big story of the Bible. Walk with me:

Creation

God created us in his own image and then spoke to us (Genesis 1&2). God blessed Adam and Eve, put them in a garden paradise, and gave them instructions (including the house rules). Imagine! As the freshly created first humans opened their eyes, the first thing they saw was their glorious Creator! And he spoke to them! Conversation. Fellowship. There are even hints that they would would walk together in the garden (3:8).

Fall

But this fellowship with God did not last forever. Adam and Eve’s fall into sin broke their relationship with him. Sin is always an obstacle to the enjoyment of God. The Lord judged Adam and Eve for their sin and removed them from the garden (sin brings distance & separation) [Gen 3:23]. But God gave a gracious promise of a Rescuer (3:15).

Redemption

Now God began a long work of redemption, which he unfolded slowly over human history. After Cain killed Abel, God gave another son to Adam and Eve, Seth. This would be the line from which the promised Rescuer would come. And when Seth had a son, the Bible says, “then men began to call on the name of the LORD” (Gen 4:26). People began to seek God. And this was just what God intended, as Paul explains: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 ESV). God wanted us to seek him, even as he was working to accomplish our redemption and bring us back to him.

Over time, God revealed himself to Abraham and his kids, the nation of Israel. Finally, he sent his Son as a Man, born from the Israelite people. Jesus Christ accomplished the work of redemption by dying on the cross for sin and rising from the grave. This resulted in cleansing from sin, which is what we usually think about. But Christ’s death and resurrection had another wonderful result: reconciling us to God (2 Cor 5:18-19). Part of Jesus’ mission was “to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18a). In other words, Christ came, not just to save us from sin’s penalty, but also to restore us to fellowship with God!  Those who come to God through repentance and faith in Jesus enjoy fellowship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3-4; 2 Cor 13:14b)!

Consummation

The fellowship with God made possible by Christ is enjoyed now in part, by the Spirit, but awaits the full experience at Christ’s return. In other words, we can know God and enjoy him now, but in a limited way. Yet, the time is coming when we will enjoy God “face to face,” because, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12 ESV)! Jesus spoke of the time when he would drink with us in the kingdom of God (Mat 26:29). Imagine sitting around the table with Jesus, and all the redeemed! At the end of Scripture we see the new heavens and the new earth, with the announcement that God will now dwell with men (Rev 21:3)!! What was lost in the garden has now been restored by Christ! What a Day that will be!

Pursuing God While We Wait

So, what does that mean for us now? We are waiting on that great Day to come, when we will know God fully, face to face. While we wait, we continue to seek him. It is always the desire of the people of God to know him more. Pursuing God passionately is an overflow of faith; it is evidence of a heart that has been touched by God’s transforming grace. God’s people in every age desire him, and put away the pursuit of earthly things to know him more. We cannot serve two masters; we cannot walk two paths. We cannot pursue this world and Christ at the same time. Sin deadens our hunger for God. Other things creep into our hearts and slowly become our number one pursuit. So the people of God practice repentance, casting aside competing pursuits as God reveals them to us, and renewing our pursuit of the Lord, through faith in Jesus.

The pages of Scripture are full of God revealing himself to his people, and his people seeking him: Moses cried out to see God’s glory (Ex 33:13-23); The prophet Jeremiah told us not to boast in riches and wisdom, but in knowing God (Jer 9:23-24; 29:13); The writers of the Psalms used poetry to express great passion and hunger for knowing God (Psalm 17:14-15; 42:1-5; 62:1; 63:1-8; 73:25-26; 84:1-4, 10). What imagery! Panting in thirst for the Lord; describing his steadfast love as “better than life;” considering how blessed the birds are, who make a nest in the house of God!

Jesus called us to deny ourselves from the pursuit of other things and follow him (Luke 9:23). And Paul spoke passionately about counting every other pursuit as nothing but garbage and dung, compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8-11)!

So, I will ask the question I started with. What is the greatest pursuit in your life? Is God bringing to your mind competing pursuits? Is he stirring up your heart to seek him?

In our busy world, seeking God first is a fight. But it is possible, with the grace and power of God! It will take self-discipline (eliminating competing pursuits), repentance, and diligence. You will need to set the Lord before your sights throughout the day, chewing on his word, continuing in prayer, singing songs of praise to yourself. It will mean preaching the gospel to yourself daily, fighting discouragement and guilt with the truth of God’s love in Christ. And it will certainly require fellowship with brothers and sisters in your local church family, who will give needed and timely strength, encouragement and accountability.

We were made to know God and enjoy him forever! Let’s pursue the One who has pursued us in Christ!

Building God’s House, Or Ours?

The Old Testament book of Haggai has a good word for the church today. Who in the world was Haggai, and what message did he preach?

Background

After many years of disobedience to God in the promised land during the age of the kings, Israel was finally given over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586 BC). He destroyed the temple built by Solomon and hauled Israelites into Babylon for 70 years of exile. This punishment was from the Lord. In 539 BC the Persians conquered Babylon, led by Cyrus the Great. Cyrus freed the Israelites to return to the land and rebuild (just as God had prophesied through Isaiah, even calling Cyrus by name approximately 150 years before! – Isa 44:28; 45:1, 4b-5). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the temple and the city wall. The people laid the foundation of the temple, but then stopped building because of opposition (ESV notes – Ezra 4:24). Now God’s house was lying in ruins, while the people built their own houses and pursued their own interests!

Ezra speaks of two prophets from God – Haggai and Zechariah – preaching to the people and encouraging them to get back to work rebuilding the temple (Ezra 5:1-2). In the book of Haggai we actually read his sermon to the Jews, and their response! God wanted the temple rebuilt, his presence with his people, so that he would begin to fulfill the promises he made – to bless the world through Israel (ESV notes).

Haggai’s 1st Message

In Haggai chapter one we read his powerful message of confrontation:

Ø  Consider your ways (v5, 7)! Judge what you are doing and how you are living in light of God’s perspective, plan, commands and promises. God sees how you are living, what you are pursuing and what you love.

Ø  Examine your priorities (v4, 9)! Haggai’s message from the Lord is, in effect: “You guys are saying it’s not time to work on the temple. Really?! Is it time for you to live in your nicely built, paneled houses, while God’s house lies in ruins?? Is that the focus of the people of God? Is it time to prioritize your house or God’s house? Is it time to concentrate on your kingdom, or his? You are all busy with your own agendas and priorities instead of the Lord’s.” Calvin explains: “The Jews were so taken up with their own domestic concerns, with their own ease, and with their own pleasures, that they made very little account of God’s worship.”

Ø  What will God bless (v6, 9-11)? God will not bless our self-focus and neglect of his will. Haggai tells them that this is why God has been withholding blessing from them (they are experiencing drought, crop failure and financial troubles). They are being disciplined for sin! God’s people must understand that neglect of God’s will and focus on our own priorities is a sin that must be confessed and forsaken.

Ø  Get to work and build God’s house (v8)! Haggai gives God’s clear command. The people are to get back to work immediately! God wants his people focused on his will, not theirs. It is time for the people of God to build the house of God!

Ø  Live for God’s glory (v8)! The Lord declared that he would take pleasure and glory in his house. God wants his people to consider his pleasure and glory above all else. When we turn from God’s will and put ourselves first, at heart we are making ourselves gods and pursuing our own glory.

The People’s Response

The people paid attention to the preacher! They listened to his word from the Lord, obeyed what was said and feared the Lord (v12). The preachers encouraged the people in the work, equipping them for this ministry (v13). And God worked in them, stirring up their spirit to do the work of the Lord (v14).

Haggai’s 2nd Message

The people repented of self-focus and returned to the work of the Lord. But their heart was not in it, because they did not see the glory of what they were building. Solomon’s temple had been luxurious and extravagant, but this temple was much more…plain. Ezra reports that when the temple began to be built, the young people shouted with joy, but the older ones – the ones who remembered the beauty of Solomon’s temple – cried like babies (Ezra 3:10-13)! God did not just want his people obeying; he wanted them obeying with right hearts! So, he sent Haggai with a 2nd message to encourage the people.

Haggai told the people not to judge with their eyes. This temple may not look as great as Solomon’s, but it will be glorious (2:3-9)! Haggai encouraged them to be strong, keep working, and don’t be afraid, knowing that God is present with them by his Spirit.

Applying Haggai’s Message in the Church

While we do NOT apply Haggai’s message by constructing church buildings, God does have powerful things to say to us through Haggai’s words:

Ø  Christ is the Temple! Haggai’s words are ultimately fulfilled by Jesus Christ; he is the true, spiritual temple; God’s glory present with us (John 1:14; 2:19-21; Mat 1:23). Jesus said that he would build his church (Mat 16:18), which is his people (not buildings). Because we are united with Christ by the Holy Spirit, we who believe are also referred to in Scripture as the temple, the house of God in Christ, where the Spirit and presence and glory of God is present (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-5).

Ø  We are Prone to Self-Focus. Like the Jews in Haggai’s day, we too are prone to neglect the things of God and elevate our own priorities above his will. We have a natural and sinful bent away from the disciple-making, church-building mission of the church; away from pursuing God’s glory and advancing his gospel cause. Instead, our bent is towards self-focus. We are quick to lose our passion for ministry in the church and drift to the “outskirts” of the action, leaving it for others. Our vision drifts from the community of believers to building our own house and kingdom, and chasing our own desires, hobbies, pleasures, comforts, cause, etc. From Haggai’s prophecy, we must recognize that this is a sin to be confessed and forsaken.  Philippians 2:21

Ø  We are Ministers on Mission. Jesus sent out his disciples on a mission to make other disciples. He is building his church in the earth, through the gospel, and we are first and foremost to be focused on this ministry and mission. Jesus calls us today to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23) and embrace the will of God. Christians follow Jesus in pouring out our lives for his cause, joining him in building up his church. We must invest our time, treasures and talents in building his house! This is done through ministry in the church and gospel mission in the world. So…where are your time, treasures and talents going? Whose house are you building? There is much work to do, and your church needs your commitment to Christ and his people.

Ø  Remember the Glory of What we are Building! Ministry is hard, and it is easy to lose sight of the eternal glory and beauty of what we are building. We get frustrated and exhausted; we battle our flesh and the world and the devil. We think we are the only ones doing it right. We look back on the “glory days” of how things used to be done, and we get discouraged. But our labor is not in vain. The church will shine! God’s glory will be seen, and it will all be worth it in the end.

For his glory, let’s get to work!

You Can’t Follow Jesus Without Humility

Faith, Hope and Love are the three great virtues of Christianity. But Humility seems to be a chief attribute of the believer. You just can’t follow Jesus without it. Humility is defined as “submissiveness before God” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church), “an attitude of lowliness and obedience, grounded in the recognition of one’s status before God as his creature” (Dictionary of Bible Themes), and even “being free from arrogance and pride, and having an accurate estimate of one’s worth” (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary). But I’ve found that it’s easier to define Humility than it is to actually be humble.

The opposite of Humility is Pride. Pride is the great sin, the mother of them all. It brings competition and division and war. It destroys our fellowship with God and with others. It robs us of peace, and removes thankfulness and gratitude, because it causes us to feel entitled, never satisfied, deserving of better. Pride hinders our forgiveness of others (it would rather hold a grudge), and makes God-glorifying relationships virtually impossible. Someone has said that “Pride is God-repellant.” Nothing chases away fellowship with God like pride. It is a sin that lifts us up in opposition to our Creator.

It is at the moment of our conversion that God breaks our pride with a debilitating blow, and leaves a mark of humility on us that lasts forever. The very act of conversion is an experience of being humbled by God, who cuts us down before he builds us back up. We must recognize we are sick before we will call the doctor. We must feel the great depth of our sin-disease before we will fully appreciate the cure of God’s amazing grace in Christ. At conversion, God touches our pride, and we are never the same. He humbles us, bringing us to our knees. We bow low. Sometimes God uses difficult situations when we are especially stubborn, but he always knows just what to do to bring us to humbleness before him. The good news of the gospel begins with the bad news of our need. Through the gospel God shows us our sin and calls us to repentance. As we begin to see how wicked we are, God’s grace shines brighter and brighter, and the end result is a humbled, thankful and joyful heart that trusts him and loves him.

A picture of what I’m describing can be seen in the Old Testament story of the Patriarch, Jacob. Jacob was a trickster; a manipulator and deceiver. He was selfish. His cunning obtained for him the birthright that belonged to his older brother, Esau. He teamed up with his conniving mother to deceive and manipulate Jacob’s father, Isaac. The blessing came to Jacob, and Esau was furious! Jacob had to run for his life, and God used another trickster to begin to bring some humility into Jacob’s life. His father-in-law, Laban, deceived Jacob, giving him the wrong daughter for his wife! He went on to change his wages and make life miserable for him, until Jacob decided it was better to go home and face the murderous threats of Esau.

While waiting to meet Esau, Jacob had a life-changing encounter with God, who appeared to him as a man and wrestled with him all night! The man touched Jacob’s hip, and he limped for the rest of his life. But God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:22-32). This was a changing point. Face to face with God. Jacob was a new man. He was still flawed, but there was now some maturity, some humility, about him.

This is a vivid picture of the way the Lord touches our pride at conversion. We limp the rest of our lives, having been brought to the end of ourselves. We see our sin, our need – our place before God. We see his gracious provision in Christ. There is a humility given to us that will become a great fountain in our lives, overflowing in many directions, and touching everything we do. The Christian life is impossible without it.

 

God’s word is absolutely full of calls to humility. Jesus taught that we cannot enter his kingdom unless we are humbled and become like a child (Mat 18:4)! We learn that everyone who exalts themselves will be cut down by God, and everyone who bows low in humility will be lifted high by God (Luke 14:11; James 4:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:5-6). We see wicked, idol-worshiping kings receive blessing from God when they humble themselves (1 Kings 21:29; Daniel 4:28-37). Even the evil Assyrian kingdom in Nineveh escapes God’s decreed disaster when they humble themselves and repent, much to Jonah’s dismay (Jon 3:6-10)! The mighty Creator God says he takes notice of the man who has a humble, repentant heart, who trembles at his word (Isa 66:2). And God sums up all that he requires of us as walking humbly with our God (Mic 6:8).

The life of the disciple of Jesus is only possible through humility. Pride is the opposite of following Jesus, who calls us to self-emptying, self-denying pursuit of God’s will (Luke 9:23). The life-long process of sanctification is the application of humility to all of life and all our relationships. As we walk in humility we are following Christ. Paul instructs believers to clothe ourselves with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another” (Col 3:12-13). As we embrace self-denying humility we will discover that the secret of Christian relationships is treating others the way God has treated us. Again, this is possible only in humility. Because we have been brought low before God, we understand that he has been gracious to us, much better to us than we deserve. Therefore, we can be gracious to others. Pride hinders this continually, and much of the Christian life is fighting this pride, consigning it to the cross where it belongs, and embracing humility once again. Because God has been patient with me I can be patient with others (Col 3:12b). Because we have been loved by God, we can live in love towards others (Eph 5:2). Because God has forgiven us in Christ, we can forgive others (Eph 4:32).

Paul describes this entire mindset of humility that sums up the Christian life: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3b). He tells us to have this “mind” (“mindset,” or “attitude”), which is ours in Christ (v5). In fact, Jesus modeled perfectly for us this humble attitude. Though equal with God, he did not fight for the enjoyment of his rights, but rather, “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8).

This humility enables us to have God-glorifying relationships in the church. We won’t be competing and dividing if we are walking with our limp – the humility given to us in Christ. Husbands and wives will discover that the only way it is possible for them to walk in the marriage roles assigned to them by God is through humility. Pride will stop a husband from loving his wife as Christ loved the church, serving her and leading her well in the Lord. Only in humility can he pour out self-sacrificing love on his wife! Pride will make submitting to her husband as unto the Lord the very last thing a wife wants to do. Only in humility can she look past her imperfect husband to Christ, and follow his leadership with respect and joy. Moms and Dads will only be able to patiently and joyfully parent their children through humility. Humility is a great key that opens the door for relationships that honor God.

So, are you limping like Jacob yet? Has God touched your pride and brought you low before him? Have you seen your sinfulness and your need for Christ? Have you embraced God’s will? May the Lord fill us with his humility, and enable us to walk out this life of discipleship, for his glory!

[All Scripture quotations, English Standard Version (ESV) (c) 2001 Crossway]

 

God is Jealous?

In the Bible, God describes himself as “jealous.” This confuses and turns off many people. At first glance, it seems to be painting a picture of a selfish and insecure being who is not really worthy of our worship. So what does God mean when he calls himself jealous?

When God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, he brought them to Mt. Sinai and revealed himself to them. God entered into a covenant relationship with the nation and gave them his law. As he spoke to Israel at the mountain, God said, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4 ESV). Later, when God told them to go into the land he was giving them, he commanded them not to worship the gods of the peoples of the land: “You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars…for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:13-14 ESV). What does this mean?

The problem with our understanding of God’s jealousy comes when we reduce God to being like us. We know that jealousy is most often a bad thing among humans. We think of someone smothering their loved one, becoming angry when they talk to anyone of the opposite sex. We think of abuse and over-protectiveness. But this is not like God’s jealousy. God is not like us: we are finite, fallen and sinful creatures; God is the infinite, holy Creator!

God’s jealousy is not wrong for two reasons. The first reason is that God deserves our allegiance and affection. Sinful jealousy seeks to take for itself what it does not deserve. God’s jealousy is righteous simply because he is God; he deserves our loyalty and love because he created us! God created us for his glory and praise. He is worthy of our worship because of the splendor of his Person and the majesty of his works (who he is and what he has done). It is good for God to forbid us to give that glory and praise to other things, because only he is deserving of it all.

The second reason God’s jealousy is not a bad thing is because he has our best interests at heart. When we give what belongs to God alone to other things or other people, we are worshiping a lie; a god of our own invention. We are becoming enslaved to what is not God; giving ourselves to things that will ultimately not satisfy us. Other gods cannot save us. They cannot help us or eternally fulfill us. Only God rescues us from the sin that brings destruction to our souls, and leads us into the eternal enjoyment of himself! For this reason, God is blessing us when he commands us to worship him alone. His jealousy sets us free from what will bring us harm.

Only God deserves all glory, praise and worship, and the allegiance and affection of our hearts. It is good for God to demand our praise, because there are no other true gods. He is calling us to true worship of the only God. He is worthy of it all as our Creator and Savior. When we demand the affection of others it is wrong, because we are not worthy of it. But it is right and loving for God to do this, because of who he is, and because he is acting for our eternal good.

May we give God what is rightfully his! And may we thank him for limiting our loyalty to the only true God; the only one who can delight our souls forever! Praise God for his jealousy!

Humility: The Key to Marriage?

Humility might just be the great sign of genuine Christianity, and the key to marriage.

Though no one – Christians included – is exempt from battling the monster of pride, it is impossible to be a real follower of Jesus without that pride being crippled to some degree by the power of the cross. The very act of conversion is an experience of being humbled by God. We hear the gospel and realize that we have sinned against a holy God. By grace we realize that this is part of who we are because of the fall of mankind; sin flows from our heart! We begin to understand that this disease has touched us to the core, affecting and tainting every part of us. Thus, the Holy Spirit humbles us. But in the next moment he raises us, showing us the great love of God for sinners displayed at the cross! We see Jesus taking our sin and bearing it for us, paying for it with his blood, and we are filled with humble, joyful faith. We get it. We believe, and we praise God for grace, which for the first time, seems truly amazing.

From that moment, we begin a walk with God and a process of becoming more like Jesus, by his powerful work in us. This process is sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but there is progress. We begin to see the fruit of the Spirit popping out in our lives. And with us every step of the way (but in varying measures) is the humility Christ etched into our soul the day we met him. This is illustrated by God’s dealing with Jacob in the Old Testament. When Jacob was touched by God, he limped for the rest of his life (Gen 32:30-31). God transformed him from a deceiver named Jacob into a growing servant of God named Israel. Humility, then, is a mark of genuine discipleship, and pride is its very opposite.

The self-righteous religious leaders of Israel needed Jesus just as much as the prostitutes and drunkards who were flocking to him; they just didn’t see their need, blinded as they were by pride. It is only those who perceive they are sick who call for the doctor. And those who have been forgiven much will love much, according to Jesus (Luke 7:47). Followers of Christ, therefore, must view ourselves through the lens of humility, considering others as more important than we are. This is how we follow the self-emptying example of Jesus (Phil 2:3-8). As we live day by day with an awareness of our sinfulness, and the great grace we have received from God, the gospel will radically transform our relationships; all of them! We will love others because we have been loved by God (Eph 5:2). We will forgive others as God in Christ forgave us, with humble, tender hearts (Eph 4:32).

One specific relationship that will be greatly affected by our continued growth in humility is the marriage relationship. Humility (and his friends, thankfulness, kindness and gentleness) is crucial to a good marriage. In fact, the instructions for husbands and wives in Scripture are actually expressions of humility toward God and your spouse! The roles God assigns to husbands and wives are the overflow of hearts that have been humbled by God. We see this in Peter’s words for husbands and wives (1 Peter 3:1-7).

Peter calls wives to act towards their husbands with the humility they have received from meeting God. For the wife, this is expressed through biblical submission. Biblical submission is never about inferiority. It does not imply that her husband is wiser, more knowledgeable, or closer to God (as verse seven of this passage will make clear). Rather, biblical submission is one equal choosing to submit to the other equal for a higher purpose. Christ, though equal to the Father, voluntarily submitted to him in order to fulfill his role. This is the pattern for wives, and it is impossible without humility. A wife looks beyond her husband to the Lord, and offers her voluntary submission as worship to God. Pride will be the constant hindrance to a wife’s biblical submission.

This humility is further seen as Peter calls wives to focus on inward, spiritual beauty, rather than what is outward and physical. Specifically, Peter refers to a “gentle and quiet spirit,” which is precious to God (v 3-4). A woman who is at peace with God, trusting him wholly, exudes this “imperishable beauty” from within.

Finally, Peter gives the example of Sarah and the Old Testament saints who displayed this beautiful humility in marriage because they “hoped in God” (v5). A wife whose heart has been touched by God will limp like Jacob. Her humble, inward beauty will radiate from her like a sunrise. She will not fear (v6), or continually butt heads with her husband, fighting for control, for she is looking to what is greater. Her eyes are on her Lord, and she seeks for his glory to be displayed through her marriage. So, like Christ, she voluntarily submits to her equal in quiet trust and humble worship.

Peter’s instructions for husbands are also all about humility. Men are called to approach their wives with sensitivity, understanding and consideration of their needs. They must live with their wives with “knowledge.” Schreiner thinks this is knowledge of how God wants them to treat their wives; knowledge of God’s will. It could also refer to knowledge of his wife’s specific needs. Either way, God requires husbands to put thought into their treatment of their wives.

Specifically, husbands are commanded to show honor to their wife (this is unique in Greco-Roman literature, according to Schreiner!). They honor their wife, because she is “the weaker vessel” (v7). This is not an insult (it is in the context of honoring them), and most likely refers to the fact that, in general, men are physically stronger than women. God, then, calls husbands to use their strengths to serve and honor their wives, rather than to abuse or mistreat them. God requires men to act in a gentle, humble, loving way to their wives, giving them honor and consideration. This is the outflow of a heart that has been touched by God.

Peter affirms the equality of husbands and wives in his last words on the subject, telling husbands that their wives are “heirs with you of the grace of life” (v7). This means that men and women stand as equals before the cross. This destroys pride, and encourages humility. A man who rejects this humble approach to his wife will not be blessed by God (“so that your prayers may not be hindered” – v7). God will not listen to a man who is not humble toward his wife.

The limp of Jacob must be seen in the way husbands and wives relate to each other. Our conversion to Christ makes a difference. Pride kills relationships, but a heart that has seen its sinfulness and God’s great grace will overflow in life-giving, marriage-building, joy-bringing, spouse-honoring humility, to the glory of God!

Are you acting in humility towards your spouse? Is there any area where God is calling you to humble yourself toward him/her? If you are failing in this area, receive God’s grace! Repent, and look now to the one who humbled himself for us at the cross. Touched by his humility, we are now free and enabled to show humility to others, including our spouse.

For his glory in the marriage!

Reference: (1, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, Volume 37, by Thomas R. Schreiner. © 2003. B&H Publishing Group.)

Men Adrift…or Faithful Men?

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For…how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3a ESV)

In this passage, we are given a strong warning about a grave danger for believers: the danger of slow-drifting from the sanctifying effect of regular gospel belief/preaching. The words “drift” and “neglect” describe the problem in terms of spiritual laziness, distraction, misplaced priorities, and lack of diligence in keeping Christ and the gospel in first place. Like a small boat on the ocean, the current of sin and this world pulls us away from Christ, the gospel and the church – faster and farther than we realize – until we are gone… Outside of Jesus, only judgment remains.

The passage gives us not only the danger, but also the remedy. The call is to “pay much closer attention” to the gospel. We need the constant rhythm of the preached gospel washing over us over a lifetime. We are strengthened and matured and enabled to endure to the end through the means of continually hearing and believing the gospel (Rom 1:16; 10:17; 16:25). We need this continual gospel proclamation in our own walk with the Lord as we set the gospel before our own eyes/heart (Deut 6:4-6). We need it in our family as we continue to proclaim Christ to one another in the daily life of the home (Deut 6:7-8). And we need this in the community of the local church, where we commit ourselves to faithfulness in the gatherings, both to hear the regular preached word and to remind our brothers and sisters continually of the gospel (Heb 3:13; 10:24-25). The idea is to endure to the end in faithfulness to Christ, through the enabling power of the Spirit at work in the word.

Drifting through neglect is a danger to all believers, but particularly for men, who are called by God to lead in our families and in the church. We must realize that while we wait for Christ to return we are at war with sin, the world and the devil. We cannot afford to coast, fall asleep, become distracted with other things, or simply quit fighting. God created men to have strength and live for glorious things. The enemies of God attack this call for men, seeking to “declaw” men and render us sleep-walking zombies who are passive in the things of God and the fight of faith. This began with the very first man! Adam was passive as he watched the devil lure his wife away into sin, finally joining her in it. He allowed those under his care – those he was responsible for before God – to fall (Gen 3:6, 9; Rom 5:12, 18a).

A Call for Faithful Men in the Church (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Christ restores the glory that was lost in man’s fall into sin. The world attempts to render men ineffective, spiritually weak and of no eternal significance. But Christ became a Man and,  through his death and resurrection for us, undoes the power of sin and death. Men who are brought to faith in Christ through the gospel are increasingly enabled to walk as men of God, with the power of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of one another in the church community.

At the end of the Apostle Paul’s life, as he was in prison awaiting his death, he wrote his final letter to Timothy. In 2 Timothy chapter two, Paul called Timothy to be strong in the grace of Christ. And he instructed him to pass the gospel on to other men, who will teach others in the church. Christ wants to raise up men in the church.

These men should have the mindset of battle – ready to suffer, fight, and be inconvenienced for the Lord Jesus and his mission (2:3). Paul gives examples from the world of military, sports and farming to call men to rise up in strong servant-leadership in the church (2:4-6).

The Lord is with us as we stand for him and pour out our lives for his glory in the church. By his grace, through the gospel, let us be men who endure in the faith to the end!