October 11, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Church History, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Principles and Methods

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

One of the perpetual dangers of sinners in society is contention – the work of the flesh that we focus upon today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… contentions.” Webster defines contention as “Strife; struggle; a violent effort to obtain something, or to resist a person, claim or injury; contest; quarrel.”

Such contentions are characteristic of sinners in society and so are always a temptation for the Church Militant which is a society of sinful men and women. The Corinthian church, you may recall, was rife with contentions. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:11, “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.” These contentions saw the rise of party spirit within the congregation. “I am of Paul,” said some. “I am of Apollos,” said others. But Paul rebukes both, “For where there are envy, contentions, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3) To give way to contentions, Paul insists, is to revert to our fallen nature and ignore the Lord who has saved us and united us together as one people. There is, Paul writes, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph 4:5). Hence, we are to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). By one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body not many. Contentions are of the flesh, our fallen nature.

So why do contentions arise? Contentions arise from pride. Paul informs Timothy that the contentious man “is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words…” (1 Tim 6:4). The contentious man does not weigh matters rightly. He prides himself on his wisdom and discernment but through pride destroys the unity of the Church. He makes every mole hill a mountain and insists that all must agree with him or the church is going to fall into irreparable apostasy. Now, of course, the threat of apostasy is real; there are genuine mountains. But the contentious man cannot distinguish them from his personal preferences.

So what of you? Are you able to distinguish major from minor issues? Are you endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Are you putting to death the temptation to party spirit? Homeschoolers versus dayschoolers; gluteners vs non-gluteners; maskers vs non-maskers; winebibbers vs teetotalers. Among a people who take Scripture seriously, who take theology seriously, and who want to do all things well, there is always the danger of holding our theology in such a way that we destroy the very Church which Christ gave His life to save. So beware your heart; beware the lure of pride; always be open to correction; and pray regularly that God would preserve us all from contentions.

Reminded that contentions arise from a proud and disagreeable spirit and that we are often tempted to pride and contention, let us kneel as we are able and confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Honesty in our Business Dealings

February 24, 2019 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Covenantal Living, Giving, Justice, King Jesus, Meditations, Principles and Methods, Responsibility, Wealth

Proverbs 11:1 (NKJV)

1 Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight.

The Proverbs regularly remind us that the Lord is passionately concerned about the marketplace. Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord – He hates them – but a just weight is His delight – an honest transaction causes God to rejoice. Our text reveals that the Living God takes an interest in the food we buy, the gasoline we put into our cars, and the drinks we consume. Unfortunately, however, we often get His interest in such things wrong.

On the one hand, we can get it wrong by imagining that the products we buy or the foods we consume will get us closer to God. If I avoid pig, God will be pleased; if I consume more fruits and nuts, I’ll get closer to God. Nothing, however, is further from the truth. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 8:8, “But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.” Want to avoid gluten or sugars or transfats or squid? Go for it! Want to eat all of those at once? Enjoy. Do you want to put regular unleaded in your car? Go ahead. Premium unleaded? Knock yourself out. In the new covenant, what you use does not matter. None of that will get you closer to God nor distance you from Him.

Second, we can get it wrong because we imagine that these things exist in a little secular part of our life. Since it doesn’t matter what we use, we reason that the way we make use of them must be totally irrelevant to our spiritual life. So we divide the sacred and the secular. Our sacred life is our church life or our prayer life or our Bible reading time; our secular life is our trip to Fred Meyer or our visit to the Exxon station. But there is no such secular/sacred dichotomy. All of life is to be devoted to the service of God. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). All of life is sacred.

So what do the Proverbs teach us about the marketplace? They teach us that, with some notable exceptions, God’s concern is usually the nature of the transaction not the material transacted. God is concerned with the way you are treating your neighbor. He wants honesty in the transaction. He wants sellers who sell what they advertise and buyers who pay with honest money. His interest is in the nature of the transaction – because it is in that transaction that you either love your neighbor or hate him.

So what does our text require? On the one hand, it requires business owners to be honest in their dealings with customers. Don’t claim to sell that which you are not selling. When you have sold a pound of licorice, give a pound. When your pump disperses a gallon of gas, make sure it disperses a gallon. When you bill a certain number of hours on a project, make sure you spent that many hours on it. Be an honest seller.

On the other hand, it requires customers to be honest in their dealings with sellers. Don’t use counterfeit money; don’t buy something so that you can simply use it for 30 days and then return it; don’t rack up debt on a credit card that you cannot repay. When you’ve obtained goods from a supplier or services from a medical professional, don’t perpetually delay payment when you have the ability to pay. Be an honest buyer.

Reminded of our obligation to love others in the way we transact business, let us acknowledge that our culture is awash with injustice and that we ourselves often treat others unjustly – we do those things which the Lord hates. 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.

What is Legalism?

August 25, 2008 in Bible - NT - James, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Principles and Methods

James 4:11-12 (NKJV)11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

The modern church tends to devote a lot of attention to the problem of legalism. And with good reason. Legalism is a nasty sin. It packages idolatry in nice wrapping paper and pawns it off as the worship of the true God.

But for all the opposition to legalism out there, one would think that the problem itself would be well understood. Instead what one finds is a general fogginess. What exactly is legalism? “Well,” responds our fuzzy friend, “it means putting too much emphasis on the law.” Too much emphasis on the law? What does that mean? “It means,” responds another even further out on the branches, “that once the Spirit of God has taken residence in our hearts we aren’t required to keep any written codes any more.” We aren’t required to keep written codes? Why did God give us His Word? The definitions of legalism offered by most people are foggy at best and smack of anti-nomianism, opposition to all written law, at worst.

So what is legalism? James tells us today that legalism is hatred of God’s law. Did you catch that? Legalism is hatred of God’s law.

Legalism takes the law of God, which is good, holy, delightful, and life-giving through the Spirit of God, adds its own restrictions and regulations on top and then uses that to grind others to powder and speak against them.

Legalism is not paying too much attention to God’s law. Listen to the psalmist and tell me – is this legalism? “Oh how I love Thy law, it is my meditation all the day.” “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testmony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” “How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth.” The law of God, the psalmist tells us again and again, is good, delightful, a source of light and salvation when empowered by the Spirit of God. Love for God’s law is not legalism – it is life itself.

You see the Pharisees were legalists, not because they understood the law of God but precisely because they misunderstood it and misconstrued it, applying it in ways that were oppressive and destructive. They hated God’s law and loved their traditions instead. They set themselves up as lawgivers and became, as James says, not the doers of the law but judges of the law – putting themselves in the place of God Himself.

Notice then what James is and is not doing in this passage. He is most certainly not forbidding his audience from evaluating behavior based on the law of God. How do we know this? Because he has been doing this throughout his letter! What then is he doing? He is rebuking those in his audience who were tempted to make all the people of God obey their personal whims and opinions. Whether those opinions were like the Pharisees’ restriction on washing all one’s utensils carefully or whether they are more modern restrictions like complete abstinence from alchohol, or opposition to trans-fatty foods, or hatred for marmalade. There is, James tells us, but one lawgiver and judge. Who are you to judge your brother?

And so listen – learn to distinguish between principles and methods. The Word of God is given to direct us in the way of obedience and provides us with a full and complete resevoir of wisdom and instruction for life. As we apply these laws in our lives in specific ways, we will be required to utilize methods that will enable us to fulfill the principles. When your brother uses a different method, leave him alone – whether the issue is private Christian dayschooling versus homeschooling, eating twinkies or multi-grain muffins, consuming steak or cooking up a veggie burger. God’s law grants a great deal of liberty to each household in the methods they choose to implement biblical principle. So who are you to judge your brother?

Reminded that we often hate God’s law by judging our brothers based on our own opinions rather than his word, let us kneel and ask God to forgive us through Christ.