To Live Sensibly in the Present Age

August 19, 2018 in Bible - NT - Titus, Depravity, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Quotations, Sanctification

Titus 2:11–12 (NKJV)

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,

 

For the last couple weeks I preached on this text from Titus. Last week we studied Paul’s insistence that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age. I emphasized that the term translated “soberly” is better translated “sensibly.” This morning let us expand on what we learned.

Paul utilzes the word sophronos to summon us, as God’s people, to live in accordance with the way God has made the world. To live sensibly is to live in harmony with the moral and social universe that God has created; it is to do that which is fitting / sensible considering one’s calling and station in life. Paul utilizes this term extensively in his letter to Titus though its use is often obscured by translations. Consider the variety of places in the letter that this term is used:

  • 1:8 – Elders are to be “sober-minded” (sensible)
  • 2:2 – Older men are to be “sober” (sensible)
  • 2:4 – Older women are to “admonish” (make sensible) the younger women.
  • 2:5 – Younger women are “to be discreet” (sensible)
  • 2:6 – Young men are to be “sober-minded” (sensible)
  • 2:12 – Grace of God teaches us to live “soberly” (sensibly)

Clearly this is an important virtue that Paul wants Titus to inculcate in the congregation. He wants all – officers and laity, men and women, old and young – to be sophronos.

Paul’s assumption, therefore, is that there is to be a correspondence between the created world and our attitudes and actions. To live sophronos is to be in one’s right mind, it is to act in the way one ought to act; it is to do that which is right and fitting considering one’s calling and station in life. To live sophronos is to embrace the world as God has made it, it is to take responsibility, to avoid drugs and drunkenness, to delight in generosity, to abhor sexual unfaithfulness.

Paul’s words remind us, therefore, that God’s law, His righteous requirements, are not simply dictates from on high that force us to act in a certain way. It is not as though we are square pegs that God is endeavoring to force into the round hole of His law. “You will fit!” No! It is that we are round pegs that were designed to fit perfectly into that round hole. However, because of the machinations of the Evil One and our own sinful rebellion, we are marred pegs and we no longer perfectly fit into the hole. But, glory be to God, the grace of God has been poured out to restore us to our original design. God’s law expresses the pattern according to which we were originally designed and Jesus exemplifies that pattern in His own life.

C.S. Lewis well expresses the idea behind sophronos in his essay, “Men Without Chests.” Sophronos “is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know [this] can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within [an objective universe] I recognize this as a defect in myself—just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind.”

What this means, therefore, is that we are called to be students of God’s creative design and to conform ourselves – our attitudes, our actions, our longing, our loves, and our hates – to the objective reality of the created order. Reminded of this, let us confess that we have often been lazy, failing to study as we ought, and that we have not lived sensibly as we ought. We will confess our sins privately and then corporately using the printed confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess.

Preach the Word: Rebuke, Take Two!

September 3, 2017 in Bible - NT - 2 Timothy, John Calvin, Meditations, Preaching, Quotations

2 Timothy 4:1–2 (NKJV)
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

For the last few weeks, we have been meditating on Paul’s charge to Timothy to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” A couple weeks ago, we began looking at the series of imperatives that Paul gives to explain his charge. Paul writes, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” Since you were not all at Family Camp last weekend, I would like to repeat a few things that I said last week about what it means to “rebuke.”

The Greek word behind “rebuke” is epitimao. To rebuke is to deliver a sharp warning that one’s attitude or action is in clear opposition to God’s will and word. In the Greek OT, epitimao is typically reserved for God’s word of power, command, and control. God’s “rebuke” shakes the heavens, splits the Red Sea, stills the storm, overthrows the wicked, and judges apostates. In the NT, the word is used in similar contexts. Jesus “rebuked” the wind and waves and they became still. Peter “rebuked” Jesus saying that He would by no means die. Jesus, in turn, “rebuked” Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Mk 8:33) Jesus “rebuked” James and John, the sons of thunder, when they asked to call fire down on a Samaritan village, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (Lk 9:55). A rebuke, therefore, is a short, verbal thrashing. It is a divine wake-up call. Job “rebukes” his wife, “Shall we receive good from the Lord and not evil?”

What this means, therefore, is that the minister of the Gospel – and, by extension, every Christian – must be prepared to speak bluntly about attitudes and actions that are opposed to the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ. In gardening, there are times when the ground is soft and the weeds can be pulled by hand; there are other times when the ground is like iron and the weeds are so strong that pulling them up by hand isn’t possible and you have to grab the spade and the hoe. Likewise, in life. The Word of God has been given to address the whole gamut of life situations – times when we need comfort, times when we need counsel, times when we need exhortation, times when we need instruction, times when we need rebuke. There are times when we need someone to speak bluntly to us, “Stop that! Wake up! Get to work! Cease your despair!” We need a verbal kick in the pants.

It is imperative, therefore, that we ground ourselves in the Word of God so that we know when a rebuke is needed. I have been reading various biographies of John Calvin this summer. In one of them, Calvin had this to say about the Word of God:
By it [God’s ministers] confidently dare all things, compel all the strength, glory, and sublimity of the world to submit to its majesty and to obey it, rule over all things from the highest to the lowest, build up the house of Christ, overturn the kingdom of Satan, feed the sheep, destroy the wolves, exhort and instruct the teachable, rebuke, reprove, and refute the rebellious and stubborn, loose, bind, and finally, hurl thunderbolts – but doing all things in the Word of God.

So reminded that there are times when we need to give or receive a word of rebuke, let us acknowledge that we are often too timid to give it and too stubborn to receive it. And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why shouldn’t you get rebaptized?

July 31, 2017 in Baptism, Ecclesiology, John Calvin, Quotations, Sacraments, Word of God

There are actually many answers to this question – but consider the following from John Calvin:

“Our opponents ask us what faith we had for many years after our baptism, in order to show that our baptism was in vain, since baptism is not sanctified to us except by the word of promise received in faith. We answer that although we were blind and unbelieving for a long time and did not embrace the promise which had been given us in baptism, yet the promise itself, since it was from God, always remained steady, firm, and true. If all men were false and liars, still God continues to be true; if all men were lost, still Christ remains a Savior. We confess, therefore, that when we totally neglected the promise offered to us in baptism, without which baptism is nothing, we received no benefit at all from baptism… Yet we believe that the promise itself never expired…. By baptism God promises the forgiveness of sins and will certainly fulfill the promise to all believers; that promise was offered to us in baptism; let us, therefore, embrace it by faith.”

In short, Calvin reminds us, baptism is not primarily my word to God, my promise to God, but God’s promise to me. Baptism is a visible word. It invites me, summons me to believe the One who has promised to cleanse my sins through the death and resurrection of Christ. The “solution”, therefore, to someone who has not believed his baptism thus far is not to get baptized but to repent and to believe and receive the promise symbolized in that baptism.

Make your pastor’s labor light!

May 31, 2017 in Ecclesiology, Quotations, Sanctification, Word of God, Worship

“In preaching the word there is some toil, and this Paul declares when he says, ‘Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.’ (1 Tim. v. 17) Yet it is in your power to make this labor light or heavy; for if you reject our words, or if without actually rejecting them you do not show them forth in your works, our toil will be heavy, because we labor uselessly and in vain: while if ye heed them and give proof of it by your works, we shall not even feel the toil, because the fruit produced by our labor will not suffer the greatness of that labor to appear. So that if you would rouse our zeal, and not quench or weaken it, show us, I beseech you, your fruit, that we may behold the fields waving with corn and being supported by hopes of an abundant crop, and reckoning up your riches, may not be slothful in carrying on this good traffic.” 

John Chrysostom, Sermon on John 2:4.

Proving the Immortality of the Body

April 24, 2017 in Bible - NT - Romans, Easter, Meditations, Quotations, Resurrection
Romans 8:11 (NKJV)
11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
There once was a boy named Jack whose family was very poor. His father had died and he and his mother lived alone on their small farm. But the crops had failed and Jack and his mom had only one choice left: they’d have to sell their cow so they could get enough money to buy food and seed for the next season.
So Jack’s mom sent him to market and Jack, like a good boy, made his way to town. But along the way he met an old man by the side of the road. “Beans, beans, magic beans!” the man cried. Jack was curious. “What do these beans do?” he asked. “Ah, plant these beans,” the man replied, “and they will grow into a huge vine that will rise to a massive height and take you to the giant’s castle where he holds the goose that lays the golden eggs.” Golden eggs! Well that was just the thing for Jack. If he could get those golden eggs then he and his mom would be free of their troubles.
So Jack made the trade – his cow for the old man’s beans. Whistling happily Jack returned home and proudly showed his mom the beans he had obtained in exchange for the cow. But Jack’s mom – as you may recall – was none too pleased with her son. “You foolish boy,” she declared. “Those aren’t magic beans – that old man has fooled you and now we have nothing left either to eat or to plant in the spring!”
Jack was upset that his mom was disappointed with him – for he was a good boy. So what did Jack do? He determined to put those beans to the test. Late that night, when the full moon was shining on their farm, Jack went out and planted the beans, watered them, and then returned to his bed. “Perhaps now my mom will see that these beans really are magic.”
Early the next morning, before his mom was awake, Jack got up, put on his clothes, and ran outside to check on his beans. Normally, of course, this would be pointless – beans don’t grow overnight – but these were magic beans. And there before Jack’s eyes, reaching high up into the sky, was the biggest bean stock Jack had ever seen. It soared up into the clouds, far out of Jack’s sight.
Jack had been right – they were magic beans. And how did he know they were magic? He planted them, he put them to the test.
This is Eastertide, the time of year when we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. So why was Jesus raised from the dead? The early church father Eusebius explained one reason:
Suppose one desired to show us that a vessel could resist the force of fire; how could he better prove the fact than by casting it into the furnace and thence withdrawing it entire and unconsumed? Even so the Word of God, who is the source of life to all, desiring to prove the triumph over death of that body which he had assumed for man’s salvation… pursued a course consistent with this object. …delivering [his body] up to death in proof of its mortal nature, he soon redeemed it from death, to demonstrate the immortality of the body accomplished by His Divine power and the powerlessness of death.
Even as Jack proved his beans were magic by planting them, Jesus demonstrated the immortality of the resurrection body by dying and then rising from the dead. With this key difference: Jack and his beans are a mere fairy tale but Jesus’ death and resurrection really happened; they are historical. They are, in C.S. Lewis’ words, the fairy tale come true.
Brothers and sisters – Christ is risen! Let us rejoice! Death no longer has the final word. The sting of death has been broken; the power of the grave has been shattered. Hades has given up his captives and we can now rejoice in the power of God and face our defeated foe, death, with hope. There is no cause for fear. The Lord Jesus Christ has proven that even as His body was raised glorious from the dead so too the bodies of all those who trust in Him shall be raised from their graves.

And so reminded that our Lord Jesus died and rose again to attest the immortality of the body and to enable us to live without fear of death, let us kneel and confess that we have often been overcome by our fears instead.

Something Marvelous

April 6, 2017 in Christmas, John Calvin, King Jesus, Quotations, Trinity

“Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning!” 

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.xiii.4.

Only Two Things Wrong with Our Schools

March 2, 2017 in Apologetics, Children, Ecclesiology, Education, Politics, Quotations

“There are only two things wrong with our schools: everything that our children don’t learn there and everything they do. The public schools, with their vast political and bureaucratic machinery, are beyond reform. That does not mean that persons of good will should not offer themselves up as missionaries of truth and goodness and beauty, to teach there, as in partibus furibundis. But we should be quite mad to send our children there. We send missionaries to cannibals. We do not serve the cannibals our boys and girls.”

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, p. 54.

Why baptize babies?

February 26, 2017 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Romans, Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Quotations
Romans 6:3–6 (NKJV)
3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
In our exhortations, I have been exploring various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship. Since we have the privilege of baptizing a baby later this morning, I thought it beneficial to use our exhortation to explain our rationale for this action. Why do we baptize babies? I’ve written on this elsewhere, but consider a few more thoughts.
In Biblical Theology sacraments are visible words. Even as God communicates to us in His written Word, the Bible, so He communicates to us in visible words, in covenant signs and seals – what we call sacraments or ordinances. One of the earliest covenant signs was the rainbow – God placed the rainbow in the sky as the sign of the covenant that He made with Noah. The rainbow visibly proclaims God’s promise to Noah and to us that He will never again flood the earth. So every time we see the rainbow, God invites us to believe His promise and trust Him. In other words, the rainbow isn’t our word to God but God’s word to us, God’s promise to us (Gen 9:12-17).
What is true of the rainbow is also true of other covenant signs: they are primarily God’s Word to us, not our word to God. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 6 by using the passive voice to describe baptism. He writes that the Roman Christians “were baptized” (passive) into Christ and “were baptized”(again, passive) into His death. So why the passive voice? Because, first and foremost, baptism is God’s act, God’s word, not my act, my word.
We do not baptize ourselves; we are baptized by another. In baptism, God speaks to each of us individually – He claims us as His own and assures us that, so long as we trust Christ, we are cleansed of our sin as surely as water washes our bodies and are anointed with His Spirit as surely as the water makes us wet. While the preaching of the Word holds that promise out generically, baptism makes that promise personal. Today, God speaks to Piper and assures her that His promise is reliable for her; even as He spoke to you in your baptism and made the same promise to you.
Robert Rayburn illustrates this powerfully while explaining why it is that we have ministers of the Gospel perform the baptism:
The reason why no one [but the minister] baptizes someone in our churches… is so that it be absolutely clear that baptism is not our act; it is Christ’s…. Suppose we were to have an infant baptism here next Lord’s Day: and suppose on this moment alone of all the moments in the history of the Church since the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ this was a sacrament by sight and not by faith: Just as the minister was prepared to begin, with a loud, tearing sound the roof of the building parted; and lo and behold, the Lord Christ Himself descended to where I am standing right now. There were seraphim hovering above His shoulder. We were all on our faces before the glory of God, but He told us to arise. He took the baby in His arms and He pronounced the Divine Triune Name over the child and made the promise of His Gospel and covenant to this child by name and then by name summoned him or her to the life of faith and godliness and consecration. He then spoke a word to this child’s parents about the sacred stewardship He was now entrusting to them and how they would answer to Him for this child’s faith and this child’s life on the Great Day. Then He spoke a word to this congregation about your responsibility and then a word to the minister about his. Then He blessed the child and poured water on its head and ascended back into Heaven and with a loud crash the ceiling came back to where it was before and everything was as it was.
Let me tell you a few things that would be inevitably true. One is that that child, though he or she would be too young to have any personal recollection of that moment, would remember his Baptism forever and better than he would remember any other event in his life because scarcely a day would pass without his parents telling him what happened in the church when he was three weeks old and what the Lord Christ said and demanded and promised. He would live as he grew up—at 3, at 4, at 6, at 8. at 12. at 18, at 26—he would live under the specter and under the mercy, the glory of Baptism. His whole life would be colored and shaped and formed by it. That’s what Baptism is. That’s exactly what happens in the Baptism of a child or adult when it happens in this church. The only difference is that it is by faith that you see it and not by sight.
Baptism is an invitation to trust God’s Word; it is a call to faith; a call to believe God’s promise in Christ personally. Consequently, it is fitting to apply it not only to believers but also to their children – for God graciously names our children as His own and summons them to trust Him along with their parents.
And note that baptism does demand something of us. Paul declares that baptism unites us with Christ’s resurrection such that we also should walk in newness of life. We should walk. Whether we were baptized as an infant, a child, or an adult, God speaks to us through our baptism, unites us to Christ, and calls us to trust Him, to love Him, and to walk in newness of life by the power of His resurrection. We are to respond to His grace with faith and obedience.

So reminded that in baptism God has claimed us as His own, has put His Name upon us, and summoned us to walk in newness of life, let us confess that we often respond to His Word with unbelief, that we have despised our baptism and forgotten the call that He has issued to us in it, and that we have need of His forgiving and cleansing grace as even our baptism signifies. And, as we confess, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

The Need for Converted Wallets

February 19, 2017 in Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Bible - OT - 1 Chronicles, Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Bible - OT - Malachi, Giving, Meditations, Quotations
Malachi 3:8–10 (NKJV)
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. 9 You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.
Martin Luther once remarked that every Christian undergoes three conversions: the first of his mind, the second of his heart, and the third of his wallet. Of these three, it may well be that we find the conversion of the wallet to be the most difficult. Charles Spurgeon writes, “With some (Christians) the last part of their nature that ever gets sanctified is their pockets.”
In the last few weeks we have explored various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship. As we continue in this vein, let us address our practice of presenting our tithes and offerings before the Lord. Each week we sing a song about giving as we bring our tithes and offerings to the front of the sanctuary. Why do we do this?
Consider just a few of the many reasons: first, presenting our tithes and offerings to the Lord in worship reminds us that God lays claim to our wallets. God is the owner of all we possess and appoints us as His stewards to manage all our wealth in a way that honors Him. And Malachi insists that one of the ways we honor Him is by giving Him a tithe, or ten percent, of our increase. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse. Alongside such tithes are offerings, free-will gifts above and beyond the tithe which can be the fruit of vows we have made, an expression of gratitude for the Lord’s generosity, or an effort to help others who are in need. Presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us of God’s claim on our wallets.
Second, presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us that worship is not confined to Sundays. What are our tithes and offerings but a token of the work that we have done throughout the week? The tithes represent the fruit of our work – all of which is done to the glory of God. There is no division between “secular” work and “sacred” work – all our work is sacred, performed in the presence of God to the glory of God. Presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us of this.
Finally, presenting our tithes and offerings to the Lord reminds us that all we are able to achieve in our employments is a gift from God. As David prayed after collecting supplies for the construction of the Temple, “But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You” (1 Chr 29:14). Of Your own we have given You – it is God who gifts us with intelligence, with opportunity, with ingenuity, and with skill to get wealth. So we are to give Him thanks – and one way we do so is by giving Him a portion of the wealth He gives us.
Presenting our tithes and offerings weekly reminds us, therefore, that God lays claim to our wallets, that all our work is to be done to the glory of the Lord, and that all we are able to achieve is a gift from Him. But it is not enough to know whywe do this; it is also important to consider how we are to do it.
So how are we to bring our tithes and offerings to the Lord? The other Scriptures we sing as we present our tithes give us sound counsel. First, Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 urges us to give generously. “Cast your bread upon the waters,” it says, “…give a portion to seven and also to eight.” These words counsel us to spread our wealth abroad. In Jesus’ words, we are to make friends by means of unrighteous mammon that we may be received into the heavenly dwellings. The tithes and offerings presented here are to reflect a pattern of generosity that characterizes the entirety of our lives. Like the Good Samaritan, we are to help those who are in need. We are to give generously.
Second, Paul urges us in 2 Corinthians 9:7 to give “not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Even as God has freely given to us, He wants us to freely give to others. We are to give, not because compelled to do so, but because we recognize God’s generosity to us. He has saved us from our sin; He has provided for our daily needs; hallelujah, what a Savior!

So reminded of why we present our tithes and offerings to the Lord and howwe are to do it, let us confess that Luther was right – our wallets do stand in need of conversion. Let us confess that we are often stingy, and often give only grudgingly. And, as we confess, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.