The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

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From the Poor, Generosity Overflows

Paul’s got a project.  He’s collecting money from Gentile Christian churches for the poor Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem.

Image result for Map Paul's 2nd missionary journey

 

He writes about it in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9.  And from his specific words lays important general principles about our giving.

Nothing here, though, about tithing, which was an Old Testament practice.  For us, a tithe is a baseline for even more generous giving.  Nothing here, either, about funding the local church (mostly salaries and building expenses).  The early church had none of that.  Nevertheless, Paul’s specific situation offers us general principles about giving.

Today we’ll camp just on 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints–and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

The Poor Jerusalem Church

The Jerusalem church was poor for several reasons.  Its growth included widows who needed care.  Jerusalem, and to some extent the church, was overpopulated with elderly Jewish families who moved there to spend their last days in the holy city.  The effects of a 46 A.D. famine lingered and persecution took its toll.  In the face of need, Paul is following through on his intention expressed to the Jerusalem church leaders: “They only asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).

First Instructions to the Corinthians

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul had given instructions for the collection  . . .

“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me “(1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

The Macedonian Model

Now, in 2 Corinthians Paul tries to motivate the church to complete what they’ve started by pointing to  the Macedonian churches. Macedonia had been a Roman province since 148 B.C.  Paul had planted churches there in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. They were extremely poor and severely afflicted, implying that their poverty in this relatively rich province resulted from persecution. Yet, an abundance of joy (about giving to help others) and their rock-bottom destitution flowed over (like a river washing over its banks) in a wealth of generosity.

They gave, not only “according to their means”, but even “beyond their means”—and that of their own accord.  Furthermore, they gave joyfully.  Their affliction was no excuse not to give.  Instead of turning them inward, they looked outward.

Now here’s the kicker:  they earnestly begged “for the favor” of participating “in the relief of the saints”.  (Never in 44 years of pastoring have I had a member raise his hand and plead, “Please can we give a second offering this morning?”)

Paul had hoped the Macedonian churches would give themselves “to us”—that is, to the collection as he believed God willed.  But they went beyond that.  First they gave themselves to the Lord making the collection an act of devotion to him.

Makes you wish you could hire Paul for a church money-raising campaign!  But it wasn’t Paul.  He makes it clear that this was “the grace of God” given among the churches.  C. K. Barrett (The Second Epistle to the Corinthians) comments . . .

Grace itself means generosity; theologically, the generosity of God in giving freely to those who as sinners deserve nothing except punishment.  Paul may mean (a) that the generosity of the Macedonians is the generosity of God himself, or (b) that God has given grace to the Macedonians with the result of making them generous; perhaps he would not have wished to distinguish between the two possibilities” (p. 218).

Sam Storms (pastor Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) calls this grace, “the operative power of the indwelling Spirit.”

Principles for Our Giving

Give According to How We Prosper.  Most studies show that the poor give proportionately more than the wealthy.  The reverse should be true.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul told each person to give “as he may prosper.”

Poverty or Affliction Shouldn’t Prevent Our Giving.  Over the years I’ve met people who told me they couldn’t afford to give.  Poverty didn’t stop the Macedonians; nor should it us.  Everyone can give something.

Give joyfully.  Giving is a “grace”.  Grace empowers generosity in the giver.  Grace is also what the recipients of giving receive in our gift, whether it’s money to fund the local church, support of missionaries, or help to the poor.  Participating in grace is a joy.  “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

See Giving as Part of our Devotion to the Lord.  Giving money isn’t just helping the church pay bills or putting food on the table for a missionary.  Giving expresses our devotion to the Lord.  If he doesn’t have our wallets, he doesn’t have us.  Make giving an act of worship.

More Money in Return?  In 9:6 Paul will promise “whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully.”  That promise may mean gaining more money or receiving some other blessing, either in this life or heaven.  Givers to God receive from God.  Interestingly, though, apparently that was not what motivated the Macedonians.  They gave simply to generously meet the needs of the poor.  That’s the grace of giving.

Wouldn’t it be excellent if our church was known for that grace!

 

 

 

A Peculiar Glory (Conclusion)

John Piper concludes his book:  “the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts and . . . this can be known with a well-grounded confidence because the peculiar glory of God shines in and through these Scriptures.

“This also implies that the Scriptures are the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and right and beautiful.  In matters not explicit addressed by the Bible, it implies that what is true and right and beautiful is to be assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.  All of this implies that the Bible has authority over every area of our lives and that we should, therefore, try to bring all our thinking and feeling and acting into line with what the Bible teaches” (Piper, p.281).

That’s a staggering claim—and whole-world-encompassing, binding on all people everywhere.

AN UNDERSTANDABLE OBSTACLE

If you belong to another religion or have no religion or dabble in various “spiritualities”, this claim presents a huge obstacle.  Such a claim, you say, leads to intolerance, hatred, and finally violence.  Yet even a brief review of history shows that the lack of religious absolutes has led to totalitarian abuses.  Think Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.  When man rejects God, he makes himself supreme authority.

When Jesus Christ returns, he will execute a final judgment and do away with all unbelief and sin in a new world of righteousness and peace. Meanwhile, we call all people to believe his word—but we never use coercion to bring about faith.

A MASSIVE FOUNDATION

This may be the first time you have read an argument for Scripture’s truth based on God’s glory.  But, even if you’re convinced, no one just decides to see the glory.  God the Holy Spirit must open the eyes of our heart.  It’s a miracle for which we can pray.

FOR THE SIMPLEST PERSON

This has been one of Piper’s key concerns in this book—that the simplest person can have a well-grounded confidence that the Bible is true and the standard by which all other truth-claims are judged.

THE PECULIAR GLORY

Scripture reveals a peculiar glory, at the center of which is “the utterly unique glory of Jesus Christ” (Piper, p. 284).

In the Bible God glorifies himself in working for those who wait for him.  He glorifies himself through fulfilled prophecy, through Jesus’ miracles and through “Scripture-shaped lives of radical love” (Piper, p. 285).  But this “peculiar brightness shines through the whole Bible [and] comes to its most beautiful radiance in the person and work of Jesus Christ, dying and rising for sinners” (Piper, p. 285).

AN INBORN TEMPLATE FOR GLORY

Everyone knows God’s glory (Romans 1:21)—written in nature (Romans 1:19,20), in our hearts (Romans 1:15), and in the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4).  “When God opens our eyes and grants us the knowledge of the truth through the Scriptures, we know we have seen ultimate reality . . .

“When that happens, we enter a life of extraordinary purpose—to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9) (Piper, p. 285).

* * *

In a culture where the Bible is pushed aside, misquoted, treated as just another religious book among dozens of “truth-claims”, we Christians must have a basis for a well-grounded confidence that the Bible is true and holds final authority in our lives.  I pray Piper’s book does that for us all.

My blogs have been just summaries of that book.  It’s not only available to buy but to read free online . . .

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]UTF8&qid=
1493047788&sr=8-1&keywords=A+Peculiar+Glory
https://www.amazon.com/Peculiar-Glory-Christian-Scriptures-
Truthfulness-ebook/dp/B01M99IQ85/ref=sr_1_1?ie=

http://www.desiringgod.org/books/peculiar-glory

Godly Grief

Occasionally we read a text and wonder why in the world is this in the Bible?  2 Corinthians 7:2-16 is one.

Paul begins with a plea, effectively setting the tone for the whole text . . .

Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (7:2-4).

The Greek simply says, “Make room for us” or “Welcome us.”  ” . . . in your hearts” is supplied by the translators.

Paul denies what the itinerant “super apostles” charge and the Corinthians accept.  But he is not condemning them, though he has reason to. They are in his heart in death or in life.  He boldly tells them how proud of them he is and how he overflows with joy for them.  Here’s why Paul rejoices . . .

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn–fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it–though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while” (7:5-8).

Paul had left Troas and crossed the Aegean, hoping to meet up with Titus, whom he had sent to Corinth.  Earlier, Paul himself had made a brief, unannounced visit.  It had gone badly.  The Corinthians’ relationship with him had hit a new low.  After a quick exit, he’d written a hard letter hoping they would repent.  Now he anxiously sought Titus’ report about the results of the letter.

It was encouraging.  The church had treated Titus well and looked forward to Paul’s return.  Paul admits he had regretted writing such a grievous letter, but no more, for the letter grieved the Corinthians too—and had its desired result.

More than Paul’s relationship with the church is at stake.  The gospel for the Corinthians is.  If they believe these visiting “super apostles”, they may be led astray from Christ.  Things remain tenuous.  He begs, “Make room for us” while rejoicing that at least they’ve turned the right direction.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (7:9-11, ESV).

“The New Living Translation” conveys well the sense of Paul’s words . . .

“Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to have remorse and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For God can use sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek salvation. We will never regret that kind of sorrow. But sorrow without repentance is the kind that results in death. Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish the wrongdoer. You showed that you have done everything you could to make things right” (7:9-11).

What is “godly grief” (ESV).  It’s “the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have”, the kind that “produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (ESV).  Or, as the NLT has it, the kind of sorrow “God can use . . . to help us turn away from sin and seek salvation.”

The Corinthians, misled by “super apostles”, had not only turned against Paul, they had turned from the way of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.  Paul’s letter had hurt them, because they realized what they had done.  And they repented.

Paul shows us that repentance is more than confessing sin, more even than grieving over sin.  It is also changing how one acts.  Godly grief produced in them an “eagerness to clear [themselves]” of wrong-doing.  It produced “indignation . . . fear . . . longing . . . punishment” for those who had misled them.  “You showed that you have done everything you could to make things right.”

So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice, because I have perfect confidence in you” (7:12-16).

Paul explains that he wrote the “grievous” letter so the Corinthians might realize how indebted to and how loyal their love for him really is.  And now Paul fairly gushes.  He’s comforted.  He rejoices at Titus’ joy.  He’s happy his boasting about the Corinthians to Titus proved true.  His affection for them has grown.  Did he mention he rejoices?  And he has “perfect confidence” in them.  The alienation with the apostle has been healed.  And the Corinthians are back on the gospel path.

So, why is 7:2-16 in the Bible?

Several reasons, I think.  First, because it tells us more of what the apostle had to endure so we might have the gospel.  Corinth was an especially problem church.  Yet, from it we see Paul’s loving, pastoral heart.  And from it, we have two letters full of rich gospel truths.

Second, this text is in the Bible, because it shows us that relationship problems and doctrinal controversies in the church have existed in the church from the start. That doesn’t make troubles in our church pleasant.  But it implies they are normal–and from them God works great good.

Third, so we might make room for Godly grief that produces repentance.  To say it another way, so we might welcome the Godly grief our sin evokes and welcome the apostolic word when it rebukes our sin and demands our repentance.

Here’s an example.  I read Hebrews 12:10b–“God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”  I decide my illness is God’s discipline.  I want to believe it’s for my good, but I can’t make the connection between my PLS and sharing God’s holiness.  So I reject the whole idea and blame God for my suffering.  Then I read a blog that reminds me that God allows suffering, but he’s never the author of it.  At that point, I stand at a crossroads.  I can either delete the blog or meditate on it, letting its message sink in.

Soon I’m feeling sorry for rejecting Hebrews 12:10.  Another crossroads.  I can sweep away the sorrow or I can let it sink into my soul.  I choose the latter.  And that “grief” from God produces a mind- and heart-change.  I confess my sin of unbelief and choose to believe the word is true.

Godly grief produces repentance.  And both are good when we’re prone to make light of our sin and grieve the Spirit of our God.

 

 

 

A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 17)

“How do human reasoning and historical scholarship . . . relate to the spiritual sight of the glory of God in the Scriptures?”  That’s John Piper’s question for chapter 17.

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]UTF8&qid=
1493047788&sr=8-1&keywords=A+Peculiar+Glory
https://www.amazon.com/Peculiar-Glory-Christian-Scriptures-
Truthfulness-ebook/dp/B01M99IQ85/ref=sr_1_1?ie=

This question matters, explains Piper, because someone might infer that our use of reason is not important since God reveals “the truth of his word directly to our hearts by the sight of his glory” (Piper, p.267).  That inference would be wrong.  God mediates his glory through biblical texts “which exist for us today and are understood by us today only with the help of observation, reasoning, and historical data” (Piper, p. 267).

PERSUASION BY REASON AND PERSUASION BY THE SPIRIT

Piper asks, “How did the average person even come to have a Bible?  And how did a person learn to read (French, or Greek, or English) in the first place, or to construe language orally?  And what mental processes does a person go through in order to find the true meaning of a text instead of a false one?” (Piper, p. 268).

Jonathan Edwards (17th century pastor/theologian) wrote, “There must be a knowledge what the things of the gospel are, before we can be sensible of the truth and reality and excellency of the things of the gospel” (Piper, p. 269).

THE MENTAL WORK OF PRESERVING AND INTERPRETING TEXTS

Therefore, Scripture must be preserved through generations, so we can know it.  That preservation includes reading and transmitting the text, producing faithful translations from the original Hebrew and Greek, and the mental work of careful reading of those translations.

FAITH COMES BY HEARING, SIGHT BY READING

We can’t see God’s glory in the word if we don’t hear or read the word.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’  But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-17).

THE ONLY PATHWAY TO SEEING GLORY IS HUMAN THINKING

To see the self-authenticating light of God’s glory in Scripture we must use human observation and human reasoning.  This is because God’s glory in his word is embodied in the meaning of the words.  Thus parents work to teach their children to read.  And we make it a priority to read the Bible zealously and accurately.

HOW DO WE DEPEND ON SCHOLARSHIP AND OTHER HUMAN AGENCY?

This doesn’t mean that we must depend on historians and apologists and scholars to prove the Scriptures true.  But we do depend on them to give us access to the Bible.  And we depend on them (and ourselves) to correctly interpret the Bible’s meaning.  Without human agency, Piper says, we cannot access the peculiar glory of God in his word.

THE PATH OF APOLOGETICS IS THE PATH TO LIGHT

What does this imply for the work of giving rational and historical arguments for the Christian faith?

“We prayerfully observe the facts before us, and we think about them in order to construe the meaning of what the inspired author (and God) intended us to see.  That is what we must do, whether we are seeking rational persuasion or spiritual illumination.  This is because both kinds of knowledge are rooted in real human history and real human sentences” (Piper, p. 273).

The apostle Paul is an example of a person transformed by God’s glory in the Scriptures.  “And he believes that the impact of the word of God on his life is a good argument for the truth of the gospel” (Piper, p. 273).

THE LIFE OF PAUL AS A COMPELLING CREATION OF THE WORD OF GOD

In Galatians, Paul defends his apostleship (Galatians 1:10-24).  Piper summarizes his argument like this . . .

Premise 1:  You know how totally devoted I was to traditional Judaism and how violently I opposed Christianity.

Premise 2:  The very ones I once tried to destroy are now glorifying God because of what they see in me.

Premise 3:  I did not consult with other apostles for the content or the authority of my new calling.

Conclusion: “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“Given how deep was his devotion to Judaism, and how radical was his opposition to Christianity, and how he has now done a 180-degreee turn and his risking his life to spread the very faith he once opposed, we are justified in inferring the truth of his claim to have encountered the risen Christ and received his message from him” (Piper, p. 275).

Of course, someone may argue that Paul had a delusional mental illness, was the victim of a hoax or made an honest mistake.  But, says Piper, Paul doesn’t write the way a deluded man would.  Read and find coherent reasoning and warm, personal relationships.  Second, says Piper, Paul endure decades-long suffering to spread his gospel—hardly the way of a con man.  And third, it’s hardly believable that Paul would repeat the same mistake about his revelation of Jesus Christ year after year.

“And thus the apologist would point out that the evidence is strong that when Paul explains the divine origin of his apostleship, he is speaking as a reasonable and honest man who knows what he is saying and why” (Piper, p. 276).

THE PATH OF APOLOGETICS MAY, OR MAY NOT, YIELD A SIGHT OF GLORY

This path doesn’t lead us to saving faith.  But it does give us an argument to overcome objections. It does strengthen our trust in God’s word.  And through “this valid narrative” of God’s work in Paul’s transformation the peculiar glory of God can break forth.

It did for many.  “And they glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:24).  But not all.

HUMAN AGENCY NECESSARY

The relationship between reason and faith is not hostile.  The sight of God’s glory comes through the word and so depends on human agency.

“So while we are not dependent on human observation and reasoning to provide certainty of the word’s truth, we are dependent on human effort to bring the book to our hands and its meaning to our minds” (Piper, p. 278).

* * *

Because we claim that God’s glory in the Scriptures authenticates the Scripture, we could easily be branded religious fanatics.  That claim might even worry usare we religious fanatics?  Can we have a well-grounded confidence in the Bible as God’s word?

Human reasoning and historical scholarship support a “yes” answer.  They don’t prove the Bible is God’s word.  But neither do that disprove it.  Under the spotlight of rigorous human reasoning and historical scholarship the Bible holds its own as a reliable historical document.

Believing it to be God’s word doesn’t mean emptying our mind or denying the intellect.  Instead, we gratefully accept human reasoning and historical scholarship and welcome the Bible they place in our hands.

And we pray to see the self-authenticating glory of God in its pages.

 

 

 

Don’t Get Yoked to Unbelievers

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (6:14a).

Thus our Sunday school teacher warned us teenagers:  “Don’t marry someone not a Christian!” (Not a problem. My eyes were already laser-set on Lois.)

But was Paul thinking of marriage?

The yoke-concept comes from ancient Israelite farm life.  The law said, “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Deuteronomy 22:10)—a prohibition that reflected God creating everything “according to its kind” (Genesis 1:25) and that reminded Israelites God had separated them from other people to be holy (Deuteronomy 14:1,2).

The latter is Paul’s thought here.  Corinthians were not to be “yoked with unbelievers” by engaging  with prostitutes in pagan temples (1 Corinthians 6:12-20; 8:1-11:1).  They were not to be “yoked with unbelievers” by taking their disputes to an unbelieving court (1 Corinthians 6:1-11) or by eating idol-meat in an unbeliever’s home (1 Corinthians 10:27-29).  And widows must not marry unbelievers (1 Corinthians 7:39).

Do not be unequally yoked together” is a powerful image—more powerful than Paul’s first-letter warning against engaging with temple prostitutes (“Flee—run away—from sexual immorality” –1 Corinthians 6:18).
Here the warning isn’t “Run away!”  It’s “Don’t get yoked!”

Paul now asks a series of rhetorical questions that provide grounds for his prohibition . . .

For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial (a name representing Satan)? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (6:14b-16).

The obvious answer to all is “None.” The foundation for “Do not be unequally yoked” is firm.

“For” specifically explains why God’s temple has no agreement with idols.  Paul has already called the Corinthian church “God’s temple” because “God’s Spirit lives in you” (1 Corinthians 3:16).  He repeats it here, perhaps thinking of what the Old Testament revealed only in part.

Leviticus 26:11–“I will set my tabernacle among you . . . and I will walk among you, and will be your God and you shall be my people”.  Ezekiel 37:26,27–“I will make a covenant of people with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them . . . and I will set my sanctuary in the midst of them forevermore; my tabernacle also shall be with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them”. 

But God’s fulfilled presence in believers calls for purity . . .

 “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (6:17,18).

These are the Lord’s words which Paul probably took from  Isaiah 52:8b-11—“When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.  Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the LORD.”

In Christ, the Lord has returned to Zion.  He has bared his holy arm to work his salvation.  Now his saved and set-apart people must separate from unclean unbelievers. That Paul doesn’t mean have no association with unclean believers is clear from 1 Corinthians 5:9,10—“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.”

“I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters to me . . . “ is taken from 1 Samuel 7:8-14a . . .

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth.  And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. “‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you:  When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son.”

This was, of course, the Lord’s promise to David’s son, Solomon, and thus ultimately to Christ.  Paul extends “I will be his father” to those who are Christ’s.

“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (7:1).

Paul applies “these promises” to the Corinthians,from his pastoral heart despite their rejecting him,  calling them “beloved”—“very much loved ones”!

“ . . . let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit” is another way of saying “Do not be unequally yoked together.”  This imperative harmonizes with the temple of God metaphor.

“ . . . [thus] bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”  If the Corinthians cleanse themselves, separating themselves from unclean things, they will complete in their conduct the holiness they have in Christ.  This they must do with an eye to “the fear of God”—that is, their welcome as the Father’s children depends on their self-cleansing.

* * *

I’m struck by the antitheses.  Not just opposites, but opposition.  Righteousness and lawlessness have no partnership.  They stand against one another.  Light and darkness have no fellowship.  One must overcome the other.  Christ and Satan have no accord.  There is antagonism between them.  God’s temple vehemently contends with idols.

Therefore, when we “yoke” with unbelievers, we join the opposition.  And we bring God the Holy Spirit to the “dark side.”  We do it when we engage in illicit (by God’s standards) sex, when we take our disputes to a courtroom of unbelievers, when we “worship” with non-Christians, when we marry unbelievers.

This isn’t moral legalism; this is living out in practice our transfer to the righteousness-side.  We are the temple of the living God.  Shall we join the Holy Spirit to the profane?

But when we live among unbelievers, do business with them, and enjoy friendships with them, how shall we know we’ve “yoked” them?  Sam Storms (pastor of Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) offers a wise guide:  “enter into no relationship or bond or partnership or endeavor that will compromise your Christian integrity or weaken your will for holiness or cast a shadow on your reputation.”

We are the temple of the living God.  His presence makes his temple holy.  Therefore, we are forbidden to be “yoked” to what is not. He is holy . . .

 

A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 16)

We’re nearing the end of our panoramic view of John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory.  He’s answering why we can trust the Bible to be true and the measurement of all other truth claims.

We’ve seen in the book’s final section that God authenticates Scripture by revealing his glory in its fulfilled prophecies and Son-of-God miracles.  In this chapter, we see that God authenticates Scripture by revealing his glory in the people the Word creates.

 

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]UTF8&qid=
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GOD’S PECULIAR GLORY

What is peculiar about God’s glory?  He reveals his “majesty through meekness.”  He shows “the grandeur of his grace through his voluntary sufferings in the rescue of sinners” (Piper, p. 254).

Piper now claims “that the Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God by their display of this peculiar glory of God in the transformation of selfish people into God-centered, Christ-exalting servants who live for the temporal and eternal good of others” (Piper, p. 254).

BEHOLDING AND BECOMING THE GLORY OF GOD

What we behold in Scripture creates a glory in the way we behave.  We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Scripture is, therefore, authenticated by the glory it creates in believers.

THE LORD OF GLORY APPEARS IN THE WORD

For all not present to see the glory of Christ in the first century, words mediate that glory to us.  When we read what the apostles wrote, we see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Piper warns that we mustn’t limit that glory to the gospel.  For all God’s inspired word contains his transforming glory.

ARE WE MADE NEW BY THE WORD OR THE SPIRIT?

God’s glory, which we see in the word, changes us to see the word’s truth and beauty.  “The word itself is the instrument by which the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to see . . . ” (Piper, p. 257.

“You have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).  God causes us to be born again, and the instrument he uses is his word.

WE ARE MADE NEW BY THE WORD IN THE HAND OF THE SPIRIT

“How does the truth and beauty of the word itself do the transforming, [while] a transformation must happen in order for us to see the truth and beauty of the word?”
(Piper, p. 258).

Answer:  the Holy Spirit.  “It is as though the sun of truth has broken through the clouds after a long storm of darkness” (Piper, p. 258).

The human heart has to be changed before it can see God’s glory in the word.  But “before” has a causal meaning rather than a temporal one.  The opening of the heart’s “eye” and the seeing of God’s glory in the word happen simultaneously.

THE WORD IS CONFIRMED BY THE GLORY IT CREATES

God’s peculiar glory in Scriptures is reflected in people who are “transformed from self-centered, self-exalting people to God-centered, Christ-exalting servants who live for the good of others” (Piper, p. 260).

Therefore, these people themselves are evidence for God’s reality in the word.

THE SALT AND LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12a).  Now the disciples have seen his glory and been changed.  So, Jesus says to them, “You are the light of the world . . . In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

There is something peculiar about the glory of those good works, says Piper. A moment earlier, Jesus had said about his disciples . . .

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Not everyone who sees the disciples’ good works glorifies God.  Some persecute them.  “This kind of response to suffering is so utterly extraordinary that Jesus immediately says, ‘You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world’ (Matthew 5:13,14).  The stunning taste and brightness of the disciples’ joy in suffering for righteousness’ sake is the salt and light of the world.  This is the peculiar glory Jesus brought into the world” (Piper, p. 261).

CHRIST GAVE THEM THE WORDS AND THE GLORY OF GOD

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14, Jesus’ prayer to the Father).  God’s word and God’s glory to his disciples resulted in hatred from some and belief from others.

JOY THAT SUSTAINS LOVE IN SUFFERING

This joy in spite of mistreatment flows from the hope of the glory of God.  “For the joy that was set before him [Christ] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).  “Blessed are you when others . . . persecute you . . . Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11,12).

This, says Piper, “is the key to our joy in sorrow and therefore the key to enduring in love in spite of suffering . . . The word [of God] exhibits and creates the glory of Christ in the lives of Christ’s followers, and this too is how the Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God” (Piper, p. 263).

TO CONVINCE AND CONVERT, COMFORT AND BUILD UP

The word “exhibits and creates human lives that embody” the peculiar glory which is “majesty in meekness, strength through weakness, and deeds of love done with Christ-dependent joy in spite of mistreatment” (Piper, p. 264).

The Larger Catechism answers the question of how the Scriptures show themselves to be God’s word by “ . . . by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation” (Piper, p. 264).

* * *

Piper writes:  “[God’s peculiar glory in Scriptures is reflected in people who are] “transformed from self-centered, self-exalting people to God-centered, Christ-exalting servants who live for the good of others.”

Wow!  That makes me nervous.  I know plenty of professing Christians who don’t measure up!”   I know.  I pastored 44 years.  Besides, I know me.  So either a lot of us aren’t truly born again or Piper’s argument that changed Christians authenticate God’s glory in his word is full of holes.

Wait.  We’ve got a third option.  All of us Christians really do have a heart-change.  We want to be God- not self-centered and Christ- not self-exalting.  The Holy Spirit (the new Christ-nature implanted) makes us want to live like servants for the good of others.  But we’re in-process.  We’ve been changed, and we’re being changed.  It’s not a momentary make-over.  It’s an over-time make-over.

Even so, signs of new life show up.  When we gather for worship and with all our heart sing God’s praises in Christ, we’re singing out that we are new inside.  When we pray for a hurting sinner, when we sit with a lonely Christian, when we serve in a soup kitchen for hungry strangers, we’re living out the new we are inside.

Not by world-shaking leaps, but by baby steps we show that what we behold in Scripture creates a glory in how we behave.

And so we show that the Scriptures reveal themselves to be the very word of God.

 

 

Don’t Receive God’s Grace in Vain

Is it possible to “receive the grace of God in vain“?

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you. Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (6:1,2).

Paul sees himself as “working together” with God who “For our sake made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (6:21).  Therefore, he appeals to the Corinthians “not to receive the grace of God in vain.”  The Greek word is kenos—used of things which lack effectiveness, “empty, futile, without result”.

The Corinthians had received God’s grace:  “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4).  Now, Paul appeals to them not to receive it without result.

How might they do that?  If they were “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” from “someone who comes and proclaims another Jesus” (11:3,4).

Paul quotes from Isaiah 49:8—“Thus says the LORD:  ‘In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you’”.  Here Isaiah prophesies about the Lord eschatological (last days, messianic age) salvation.  The quote injects urgency to his appeal.  This is it—the consummation of God’s saving work in the world through Messiah.  The Corinthians must not turn from the grace they’ve received!

Now is the time!  Now is the day!

Why might the Corinthians turn from the gospel of grace Paul preached?  Because the “super apostles” have discredited Paul.  And by discrediting him, they discredit his gospel.

The message and the messenger are inextricably bound.  This is why the preacher must live what he preaches.  And it’s why Paul commends himself in the following verses . . .

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything (6:3-10).

In 5:12 Paul wrote, “We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.”  Here, however, he admits, “ . . . as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way . . . ”  He commends himself as a servant!  And his self-commendation is an unusual mixture of sufferings which show his weakness and virtues which show his strength.  And, through it all, it shows God’s power and Paul’s Christ-likeness.

“ . . .by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” describe external circumstances of the apostle’s life.

“ . . . by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left, through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise” describe the moral marks of the apostle’s conduct and the mixed response his ministry meets.  His mention of “the Holy Spirit” and “the power of God” (curiously injected in the list of moral marks) implies the moral power arises, not from himself, but from the Lord.

“ . . .through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” describe the paradoxes of the apostle’s experience.

These “bounce-back” experiences (“dying and we live, punished and yet not killed, sorrowful yet always rejoicing, poor yet making many rich, having nothing yet possessing everything”) remind me of our children’s childhood with their plastic clown punching bag.  Weighted in the bottom, no matter how hard they knocked it down, it popped back up.

That’s Paul empowered by the Spirit of God.  That’s the apostle’s path. And by these—Paul’s external sufferings (like Christ), Paul’s moral marks and ability to “bounce back” (in “the Holy Spirit” and with “the power of God”)—Paul commends himself to the Corinthians, so they might not find fault with his ministry and message.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.  In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also (6:11-13).

Literally, “Our mouth has been open to you . . . our heart is broadened”.  In other words, “We have spoken openly from our affection-filled heart”.  The New Living Translation captures Paul’s next thought: “If there is a problem between us, it is not because of a lack of love on our part, but because you have withheld your love from us.”  And then Paul pleads, “I am talking now as I would to my own children. Open your hearts to us!” (NLT).

Paul’s concern runs deeper than their personal relationship.  If they reject him, they reject the gospel he preaches.  And, if they reject his gospel, they will have received God’s grace in vain.

 * * *

For our take-away a big question looms:  What did Paul mean by “to receive God’s grace in vain”?  Can he possibly have meant to turn away from Jesus and forfeit salvation?  Paul himself contradicted that when he wrote of his confidence “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Yet, to these Corinthians Paul wrote . . .

“I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.  But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.  But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super-apostles'” (11:2-5).

Clearly, Paul is concerned that the Corinthians might “be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” because they “put up with . . . a different gospel from the one you accepted.”  That sounds a lot like forfeiting salvation in Christ to me!

Time and space won’t permit all the commentators’ competing comments (none of which I found satisfying).   Nor do I think it helps to just pick Philippians 1:6 over 2 Corinthians 6:1 and 11:2-5.  Frankly, I think we have a conundrum.  And so we just have to say, “I don’t know how to reconcile this apparent contradiction.”

What we must not do is “water down” 2 Corinthians 6:1.  We’ve should take it “straight.”  Which means to alertly reject anything that sounds like “another Jesus” or “another gospel.”  The consummation of grace in us depends on perseverance in the faith.

O God, I can’t reconcile these Scriptures.  Help me to be less concerned with my systematic theology and more concerned with allowing your grace to have its full effect in my life.  Give me ears to hear the apostle’s heart.  Give me a conviction to trust him as your true servant.  And move me NOW–and in every “now”–to welcome all that  your saving grace wants to work in me.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 15)

Can we trust the Bible?  Is it true?   John Piper answers a resounding YES.  We’ve been following his reasons. In this final section of his book, Piper argues that God’s glory in the Scriptures authenticates them.  In chapter 15, Piper contends Jesus’ miracles (as do his fulfillment of prophecy in chapter 14) show his glory–and thus show the Scriptures true.

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]

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THE LINK BETWEEN MIRACLES, GLORY AND FAITH

The apostle John wrote, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Included in that glory were miraculous signs.  When Jesus changed water into wine, John commented, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory” (John 2:11).

Jesus spoke of his works as reason to believe in him.  “Even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 14:11).

FAITH WITHOUT THE SIGHT OF GLORY

But Jesus warned that it’s possible to believe in his miracles without believing who he is.  John reports:      “ . . . as he was saying these things, many believed in him.  So Jesus said to the Jews WHO HAD BELIEVED IN HIM, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples’ . . . ” (John 8:30,31).  Then, talking to the same Jews, Jesus said, “You seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (John 8:37).   They “believed”, but refused his word!

In the same way, after Jesus fed the 5000 crowds enthusiastically followed him.  In fact, they wanted to make him king. But Jesus said, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26).  They followed him only for their stomach’s sake.  In neither case, says Piper, did they have saving faith.

EVEN HIS BROTHERS SAW THE MIRACLES BUT DID NOT BELIEVE

“But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do.  No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:2-5).

“So his brothers see the miracles, believe that Jesus is doing them, are excited about the impact they will have, and do not ‘believe’.  What are they missing?  The clue lies in the fact that they tell Jesus to go to Jerusalem publicly, but Jesus says no and then goes privately . . . and starts teaching” (Piper, p. 242).

THE PECULIAR GLORY CAN BE SEEN BY ONLY THE RIGHT HEART

What was wrong with his brothers’ faith?  The answer lies in what Jesus taught the Jews in Jerusalem . .

“My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him” (John 7:16-18).

“The mark of authenticity in Jesus’ miracles is not their raw power but that their power was in the service of God-exalting humility, not self-exalted crowd pleasing.  This was the peculiar glory of his miracles . . . This Messiah was not what the brothers of Jesus (or anyone else) expected” (Piper, p. 243).

His brothers’ “unbelief” was not due to ignorance of Old Testament messianic prophecies, but to hearts not in harmony with God’s will. “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).  “The deepest problem is not ignorance but a will that does not will to do God’s will” (Piper, p. 243).

 YOU CAN’T BELIEVE IF YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH HUMAN PRAISE

Jesus makes this clearer:  “I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:41-44).

The answer to Jesus’ rhetorical question is, “You can’t”.  Why?  Because you love men’s praise more than God’s glory.

TRANSFIGURATION:  THE COMING, THE GLORY AND THE SCRIPTURES

The one moment in Jesus’ life, writes Piper, when his majesty uniquely shown forth was on the Mount of Transfiguration.  “ . . . what is most significant about this exceptional revelation of glory is the impact it made on the apostle Peter and what he made of it.  Peter saw in this revelation a confirmation of the written word of God in the Old Testament, especially as it relates to the second coming of Christ in glory at the end of the age” (Piper, p. 245).

Mark’s Gospel is representative of Matthew and Luke who report the same statement . . .

“And [Jesus] said to [his disciples], ‘Truly I say to you there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God come after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1).

Jesus made this promise immediately before being transfigured.  Piper says the “seeing” of God’s kingdom in power was in the transfiguration.  That event looks forward to the second coming of Jesus in glory and backward to Moses and Elijah who prophesied it.

Peter tells us what the apostles made of that amazing event . . .

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’  We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.  And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:16-19).

Piper claims Jesus confirms the Old Testament’s  authority.  “ . . . he confirms the Scriptures by revealing the very glory that he will have when he comes at the last day to fulfill all that had been written about him . . .

“For one brief moment, the transfiguration broke the pattern of the incarnation.  It pulled back the curtain on the future when the glory of Christ would not be clothed in fragile lowliness any longer . . . And all of that serving to make the Scriptures more sure” (Piper, p. 248).

Where God does his blindness-removing work, we see Jesus for who he really is “and the peculiar glory of his miracles becomes a good foundation for well-grounded faith” (Piper, p. 249).

THE PECULIAR GLORY OF THE MIRACLES AND THE SCRIPTURES

The apostle John connects Jesus’ miracles with the Scriptures.  In his Gospel, he records seven miracles (“signs”) and explains why he wrote them . . .

“These are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

Piper explains:  “In other words, John intends for his writing to put the glory-revealing signs on display for future generations—for us.  Just as the miracles of Jesus displayed the peculiar glory of Christ in his earthly life, so they do the same for us as we read” (Piper, p. 249).

PECULIAR GLORY ON DISPLAY

“ . . . the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6) is its own confirmation.  “In the end, we do not deduce by logical inference that the eyes of our heads are seeing objects in the world.  Sight is its own argument.  Similarly, in the end, we do not deduce by logical inference that the eyes of our hearts are seeing the peculiar glory of God in his word.  Sight is its own argument” (Piper, p. 250).  In this way, the glory of Jesus’ miracles confirm that the Scriptures are God’s word.

* * *

When I read the Gospels, I believe Jesus really performed miracles.  But Piper claims more, and we shouldn’t miss it.  He explains that John intended that we see Jesus’ glory in the miracles–and further that Jesus’ glory in the miracles, coupled with John’s intention, authenticates the Gospels as God’s word.

It’s (sort of) like this.  I write you a letter telling you how Lois loves me.  I describe her self-giving acts, her affectionate words.  I communicate so well, you feel as if you know her.  And, because you care about my happiness, you cherish my letter.

So, if we read John’s Gospel with his intention in mind and with reliance on the Spirit, we may catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory in his miracles, and find our faith in the Scriptures well-grounded in the glory.

 

Transparent

“What we are is transparent to God, and I hope it is also transparent to your conscience” (2 Corinthians 5:11b, the apostle Paul, my translation).

What exactly is transparency?  It is “removing the mask and revealing who you really are; it is getting beyond the surface to what is really going on in your heart”  (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/533184043361623961/).

When Paul “goes transparent” he reveals heart-qualities for which we all should strive.  Take a look.

FEAR OF THE LORD

 “Since then we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men” (5:11a).

Paul trembles, not at being judged for his sins, but for how he lives as a Christian. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due for what he has done in the       body . . . ” (5:10a).

Such accountability drove his behavior: . . . we try to persuade men” to believe the gospel.

We’ve so emphasized a “personal relationship with Jesus” that fear sounds foreign.  But knowing we will stand “before the judgment seat of Christ” to account for how we’ve lived as believers should cause some trembling.  If it doesn’t, perhaps we should pray for it.

NO SELF-ENDORSEMENT

“What we are is plain to God and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart” (5:11b,12).

Paul knew the Corinthians could easily misinterpret his remarks as self-applauding.  He merely wants to set the church straight, “so that you can answer those who take pride in outward appearance rather than what the heart contains” (my translation).

Years ago a young man visited our church.  He was a good guitarist, who wanted to join our worship team—and he wasn’t hesitant to cite his accomplishments!  I decided then and there that, no matter how talented a musician, his pride would be a problem.  Humility, not pride, should ”ooze” from our hearts.

LOVE-COMPELLING

“If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (5:13-15).

Commentators divide on exactly what Paul meant by his “out of your mind/right mind” statements.  But there’s no question what drove Paul to endure suffering for preaching the gospel:  “For Christ’s love compels us”.

His love was far more than a warm feeling:  Christ “died for all”.  His death was a sacrifice for the benefit of others.  And it meant more than sins-forgiving.  It meant “all died”.  John Calvin explained:  “He died for us that we might die to ourselves”.  That was Paul’s explanation—and more:  “ . . . he dies for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him . . . “

We celebrate Christ’s love, as we should.  But his “cross-love” in our hearts should drive us, not just to “feel” love, but to live for him.  It hasn’t influenced us sufficiently until it does.  “Jesus, make your love a powerful force in my life that drives me to live, not for me, but for you.”

A NEW CREATION VIEW

 “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (5:16,17).

Paul doesn’t see people as just people, and he certainly doesn’t see them for what he can get out of them.  That’s “a worldly point of view”.  Rather he sees them as sinners who, by grace through faith, can become literally “a new creation” from which the old, sin-dominated order has gone and to which the new righteousness-dominated order has come.  Or to say it another way, “a new creation” from which a craving for this fallen world has gone and to which a taste of the new holy world order has come.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors” (C.S. Lewis).

Of course, this view, then, should move us to pray for, love, and find ways to share the gospel with others so they might become the new creation they can be in Christ.  That’s how it moved Paul.

RECONCILIATION

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:18-21).

God, says Paul, is the source of “All this . . .”  And “All this” starts with God reconciling us rebels to himself through Christ.  Consequently comes “the ministry . . . [of] the message of reconciliation”.  True, this is the apostle’s ministry and message.  But, to a lesser degree, it’s also ours.  It begins with a heart that’s been reconciled to God, that knows the joy and peace of “war over”.   And it continues with a sense of responsibility:  “he has committed to us the message of reconciliation”.

I’ve heard preachers claim we have people in our lives only we can reach with the gospel.  I doubt it.  But I do believe we know people with whom we can have a key role in bringing to faith.  “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

A rather heady claim that—to identify ourselves as Christ’s ambassadors.  Who’s sufficient for such a thing?  But note that “ambassador” means God is making his appeal through us.  He’s wooing through our feeble efforts.

And note, too, that the message is reconciliation, not one of heavy evangelism-“salesmanship” or deep theological doctrine.  Reconciliation.  Quit fighting God.  Surrender to Jesus.  Trust him to make you his friend.  And so here’s the gospel to be told:  “God made [Christ] who had no sin to be [guilty of] sin for us, so that in [faith-relationship with] him we might become [recipients of] the righteousness of God.”

* * *

You and I are transparent to God.  What we really are inside, he sees.  Do we hope, as Paul did, that we’re transparent to others’ consciences?  Do we want them to see our heart?

We’re not apostles, but do we share some of the same heart-qualities as did Paul?  Do others’ consciences tell them we’re trying to persuade them for Christ, because we know we’re answerable to Christ?  That we live for Christ because we know we’re loved by Christ?  That we see them potentially as wonderful new creations in Christ, not just another fault-filled face in the crowd?  That we really believe God is appealing to them for reconciliation through us?

Some big matters for us to pray about . . .

 

 

A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 14)

I’m summarizing John Piper’s book, A Peculiar Glory.  It answers the questions, “Is the Bible true?  Is it the authoritative source over all other truth claims?”

In this last section of the book, Piper argues that people without rigorous historical study can have well-grounded confidence in the truthfulness of Scripture because God’s glory in Scripture authenticates it as God’s word.

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by [Piper, John]

https://www.amazon.com/Peculiar-Glory-Christian-Scriptures-
Truthfulness-ebook/dp/B01M99IQ85/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=
1493047788&sr=8-1&keywords=A+Peculiar+Glory

INNUMERABLE DIVINE GLORIES SHINE THROUGH SCRIPTURE

Not only does God’s glory shine through the Scriptures, his specific glories do.  In this chapter Piper shows how God’s glory shines through Scripture’s fulfilled prophecies.

THE SHEER FACT OF FULFILLED PROPHECIES IS GLORIOUS

Isaiah 53 offers a most astonishing prophetic picture of God’s suffering Messiah seven centuries before he came.  Here is a partial list . . .

  • Isaiah 53:1—“Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” . . . John 12:37,38—“Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:  ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’”
  • Isaiah 53:4—“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” . . . Matthew 8:16,17—“That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:  ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’”
  • Isaiah 53:4,5—“Surely he had borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgression; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” . . . 1 Peter 2:24—“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed.”
  • Isaiah 53:9—“And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” . . . 1 Peter 2:21,22—“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.”

Old Testament references like this found in the New Testament are intended to magnify God’s glory and show that God rules the history that climaxed in Jesus.  “God,” Piper writes, “does not just predict.  He plans and accomplishes.  The sheer fact of fulfilled prophecy is . . . owing to . . . God’s sovereignty over the world” (Piper, p. 233).

THE FULFILLMENT OF SCRIPTURE DEPICTS THE PECULIAR GLORY OF GOD

This chapter’s main focus is not the fact of fulfilled prophecy, however, but the way God fulfills it.  “This fulfillment serves God’s peculiar glory of majesty in meekness—the peculiar glory of supreme strength in voluntary suffering for others” (Piper, p. 234).

THE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF JESUS AND HIS DIVINE GLORY

The way Jesus connected himself to prophecy is one specific way he spoke of his divine glory.  “For example, he cited the prophecy that he would be betrayed by one of his disciples, and then he added his own specific prophetic application to his immediate situation and drew out an important implication for his divine glory” (Piper, p. 234) . . .

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.  I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen.  But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me’ [Psalm 41:9].  I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he” (John 13:17-19).

There is no “he” in the Greek original.  It says simply, “That you may believe that I am.”  Jesus was identifying himself with God’s name in Exodus 3:14—“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’”.

Therefore, in John 13 Jesus was not only claiming to fulfill Psalm 41:9, but that he was the all-sufficient God of Israel.  “And here is the point:  this illustration of fulfilled prophecy not only validated Jesus’ divine glory, but it also revealed the peculiar nature of that glory because the prophecy tells that Jesus would be betrayed and suffer.  Thus Jesus, even as he declares himself to be God, embraces his mission to die.  This is his glory” (Piper, p. 235).

POINTING TO THE PECULIAR GLORY THAT IS TYPICAL OF PROPHETIC FULFILLMENT

The Scriptures, Piper explains, point to the peculiar glory that the Messiah will show his majesty in suffering.  Jesus confirms with his words to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus . . .

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that THE CHRIST SHOULD SUFFER THESE THINGS AND ENTER INTO HIS GLORY?” (Luke 2425,26).

THE GOLDEN THREAD OF PROPHECY

“In summary, then, Scripture is woven together by prophecy and fulfillment. This, in itself, is a great glory of Scripture . . . But my point here, (Piper writes) . . . is that the Promised One displays the fullness and the uniqueness of his glory by moving through meekness and to splendor through suffering.  He attains the height of his glory through humble service.  This is the golden thread of prophecy . . .

“So when Jesus says that such prophecy is a good ground for our faith (John 13:19), he has in mind not only the sheer transcendent glory required to predict the future and carry it through but also the peculiar glory that is woven through the whole fabric of biblical prophecy:  the ‘glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:4) manifest in the majesty of his meekness, the strength of his weakness, and the supreme power of his voluntary suffering.  This is the glory that called the Scriptures into being.  And when we see it shining through these inspired writings, God confirms to our heart that these are the very words of God” (Piper, p. 237).

* * *

Why blog this long summary of Piper’s book (14 of 16 chapters so far)?  First, because he approaches the truthfulness of the Bible uniquely–that is, through God’s own glory in it  that (according to Piper) authenticates it.  Admittedly, only those whose “heart-eyes” are enlightened by the Spirit can see it.  Therefore, the skeptic on his own won’t be convinced.  But it does give well-grounded confidence in Scripture’s truthfulness to us believers.

That’s important.

Because we are staking our lives on it.

 

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