Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: May 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

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=


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).


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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).


“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.


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).


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]


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).


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.


“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).


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).


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.


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 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).


“ . . . 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.



“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”  (

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


 “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.


“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.


“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.”


 “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.


“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]


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.


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).


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 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).


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).


“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.


Body Building

Okay.  Our “light and momentary afflictions are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (4:17).  Got it.  But what about my body?  It’s “wasting away” (4:16), and it’s the only one I’ve got.  Am I just going to turn into a spirit and float on clouds forever singing praise songs to Jesus?

In today’s text Paul explains why he has “good courage” about the future (5:6), even if his body is destroyed . . .

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Paul likens our body to a “tent that is our earthly home”.  A tent, of course, is a temporary and rather flimsy  home.  If destroyed, writes Paul, ” . . . we know we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
We wouldn’t choose a building as a metaphor for our body (except as in “body-building” at the gym).  Paul does, though, to contrast our tent-like present body with our eternal body by and from God, which we’ll have “if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed”.
Knowing this gives wasting-away-body Paul confidence.  “So we are always of good courage” . . . “Yes, we are of good courage” (2 Corinthians 5:6,8).
For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,  if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:2-4).
Paul explains a further reason for confidence that borders on anticipation.  Why does Paul “groan” in this tent-body?  Several reasons.  First he groans with “longing to put on our heavenly dwelling”, like a woman giving birth groans to consummate the (painful) process and finally hold her child.
Second, in this tent-body he’s “burdened”.  The Greek is barumenoi–to be “weighed down”.  His wasting-away body weighs him down.
I relate.  Since developing primary lateral sclerosis, which has left me unable to walk (I can barely lift my foot an inch off the floor) and with other hurtful symptoms, I know what it’s like to be “weighed down” by my body.  Listen closely; you’ll hear me groan.
Third,  Paul explains he groans about the possibility of being “unclothed”.  Instead, he wants to “be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life”.  Greek ekdo-o is translated “unclothed”.  Literally it means to “strip off clothing”.  Figuratively, as Paul uses it here, it refers to death when the body is “stripped away” from our spirit.  It’s an experience Paul prefers not to endure.  He wants to be alive when Christ returns, so he might bypass “stripping”.
So Paul anticipates being “further clothed”.  The Greek is ependo-omy–to put a garment on over existing clothing.  This supports the idea that Paul wants to be alive when Jesus comes again, so that, instead of being without his body (a disembodied spirit), he might have the Lord put a new eternal body over the old–“so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”
Thus, Paul implies that death-before-Christ’s-return leaves the believer in a disembodied state.  Though Paul prefers God put his new eternal body on over his old earthly one, he still insists, “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).  He echoes that desire later in Philippians 1:21,23–“to die is gain . . . My desire is to depart and be with Christ which is better by far”.
He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee (2 Corinthians 5:5).
The dying process (climaxed for the believer in a new eternal body) is God’s work.  Therefore, it must be fulfilled.  Furthermore, the gift of the Spirit  is a God-given guarantee.  “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).  The Spirit does far more than give us a feeling of assurance.  As Romans 8:11 indicates, he is a living presence in us and already gives us (new, resurrection) life to be climaxed in “life to our mortal bodies”.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him
(2 Corinthians 5:6-9).
This, then, is Paul’s grounds for constant “good courage”.  The Greek theirapuo refers to having “confidence or firm purpose in the face of danger or testing”.  But Paul adds another reason–his knowledge that life in this body is a faith-walk, not a sight-walk.  That means not yet seeing our new eternal “home” body is God-designed.  Being “away from the Lord” (spatially, not spiritually), so as to live by faith, is God’s plan.  But, for Paul, his longing remains:  “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (even in a disembodied state!).
What gives Paul “good courage” (in the face of danger and bodily “wasting away”) is the promise of a new eternal body presently guaranteed by the indwelling Spirit  But what drives him  is this: “we make it our aim to please him”.  What he passionately seeks after is to bring pleasure to the Lord, whatever his condition.
This, implies Paul, should be the aim of us all . . .

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Why does Paul aim to please the Lord?  In his own words–“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ”.  In other words, the Lord will hold us accountable; a day of reckoning awaits.

Christ’s judgment seat, however, doesn’t determine salvation or damnation.  It determines rewards.  Paul wrote in his first letter to Corinth . . .

If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

* * *

I’m struck by how huge is what we’re called here to believe.  Yes, we met it before in 1 Corinthians 15–new imperishable, immortal bodies.   There, however, it was a matter of doctrine, a key part of the gospel.  Here it’s supposed to build our confidence in the face of danger and testing.  ” . . . if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God . . . So we are always of good courage . . . Yes, we are of good courage . . . “

To have the promise of a new by-and-from-God body that creates courage and costly obedience in this life calls for BIG BELIEF.  I can’t work it up.  Can’t demand my self to trust.  The leap from this body to that wider than I can make (even before PLS).

I have only two possible sources.  One (here I go again), God’s Word.  I have to fill my mind with it so I can walk, not by this body that I see, but by faith in the Lord’s promise for the body that will be.  (I’m incomplete–Paul’s word is “naked”–without my body.)

Two, God’s Spirit.  He must create in me an awareness of his presence in me.  And his presence must assure me that he’s got me “in process” toward that Day.  And, he must give me a “holy scare” that I’ll stand before Christ in judgment–a “holy scare” strong enough that I make it my aim to please him in every thing I do in this old body.

Father, through your Word and by your Spirit, please nurture in me that BIG BELIEF.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


A Peculiar Glory (Chapter 13)

John Piper asks this overarching question in his book:  Is the Bible true?  Can ordinary people like us answer “yes” with well-grounded confidence, even if we can’t engage in rigorous, historical study? Again, “yes”.  How?  By  seeing   the Bible’s own self-authenticating glory.

We’ve reached chapter 13–“Majesty in Meekness:  The Peculiar Glory in Jesus Christ”.

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


“ . . . the way the gospel wins the self-grounded confidence of its hearers is by shining into the heart with the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” —2 Corinthians 4:6 (Piper, p. 212).  The gospel narrates and interprets the events of Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  “And this verbal narration is the prism through which God causes spiritual glory to shine into the human heart” (Piper, p. 212).


The Larger Catechism says “the scope of” all of Scripture is to “give glory to God.”  This is  correct for two reasons.  One, Scripture  teaches that God does everything for his own glory.  Two, it reveals what it is about God’s ways that makes him glorious.


Piper summarizes redemption history to illustrate that all God does he does to communicate his glory.

Predestination—“He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORIOUS GRACE” (Ephesians 1:5,6).

Creation—“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I CREATED FOR MY GLORY . . . “ (Isaiah 43:6,7).

Incarnation—“Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness . . . and in order THAT THE GENTILES MIGHT GLORIFY GOD FOR HIS MERCY” (Romans 15:8,9).

Propitiation—“ . . . whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, TO DEMONSTRATE AT THE PRESENT TIME HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25,26).

Sanctification—“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—TO THE GLORY AND PRAISE OF GOD” (Philippians 1:9-11).

Consummation—“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes TO BE GLORIFIED IN HIS HOLY PEOPLE and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you” (2 Thessalonians 1:9,10).


Admittedly, God’s self-exaltation has driven many away from the Bible; they simply don’t like it.  But, suppose our “heart is a template made for God’s glory and we were created to know and be satisfied by God’s glory and we hungered and thirsted for the presence of his glory and suppose God, despite our sin, had made a way to maintain his righteousness while still giving himself to us for our good? . . .  If that were true, then God’s unwavering commitment to uphold and display his glory would not be a mark of selfish pride but a mark of self-giving love” (Piper, p. 216).


No one could identify all the ways the Scriptures show God making his glory “shine” to different people and to different cultures.  “As the Scriptures are read by countless persons and in thousands of cultures, that diamond is turned in ways that suddenly catch and release a beam of God’s self-authenticating glory that I have never noticed” (Piper, p. 217).


What makes God’s glory glorious, Piper explains, “is the way his majesty and meekness combine . . . [T]he majestic heights of God are glorified especially through the way they serve or stoop in lowliness to save the weak” (p. 217).  The majestic God meekly serves sinners to set them free.


”From of old no one had heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).  While other gods demand to be served, God works for us who in faith turn to him and wait for him.


Not only the prophets, but the books of history and psalms reveal the same glory.

“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him (2 Chronicles 16:9). 

The LORD is looking for people to serve!  Therefore, he actually prosecutes his people who act as if he needed their service and sacrifices . . .

 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God . . .  I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens . . .  If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it . . . Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me”  (Psalm 50:7-15).


God’s peculiar glory is seen most brilliantly in Jesus.  God came to earth in Jesus Christ to serve and give his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45), so the nations might “glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9).  “This,” says Piper, “is the peculiar glory of God and of his Scriptures:  the glory of God is everywhere the aim, and the central means is the self-humbling of God himself in Jesus Christ” (Piper, p. 223).


What makes Christ glorious is “an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies” (17th century Puritan theologian and pastor Jonathan Edwards—Piper, p. 224).

As the Lion, Christ—like a gentle, humble lamb—“woos us in our weariness.”  And this gentleness and humility “become brilliant alongside the limitless and everlasting authority of the lion-like Lamb . . . This is the heart of the glory that shines into our hearts through the Scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit and convinces us that they are the very words of God” (Piper, p. 225).


The Scriptures from beginning to end “present God himself as giving all glory to God . . . What gives this portrait a distinct and compelling glory is that God magnifies his greatness by making himself the supreme treasure of our hearts at great cost to himself . . . and so serving us in the very act of exalting his glory” (Piper, p. 225).

* * *

Let me come at this take-away  two ways.  First, as a skeptic might.  He’s read the Gospels.  Sees Jesus’ uniqueness.  But no glory.  Is Piper wrong?  Is no glory there?  No, the skeptic is dead in his transgressions.  No way to see it unless the Spirit enlightens “the eyes of [his] heart” (Ephesians 1:18).

Second, I come at this take-away pastorally; that is, as a fellow believer who needs to be cared for by Christ, the Great Shepherd of the sheep.  I’m grateful that Christ’s glory shines through the gospel, and that, because of the Spirit’s heart-eye-opening work, I can see it.

But life is ordinary.  In fact, in this fallen world it’s often marred by suffering, either mine or those I love.  Easily I get discouraged.  So I need to see glory–not to authenticate the Scriptures but to feed my own soul.  So the lesson for me today is read the gospel.

Astoundingly, God has chosen to reveal his glory in Christ in a Book!  And that by the ordinary act of reading, we can catch glimpses of it.

So:  today I will read.  I will approach prayerfully, because, even after all these years, I’m still absolutely dependent on the Holy Spirit.  And I will read trusting that God in his grace will show me the inspiring, faith-building, hope-infusing, heart-transforming glory of Christ.






Moral Report Card

I usually don’t trust polls.  But this Gallup one, if at all accurate, is concerning.   Here’s the opening paragraph . . .

“Americans continue to express an increasingly liberal outlook on what is morally acceptable, as their views on 10 of 19 moral issues that Gallup measures are the most left-leaning or permissive they have been to date. The percentages of U.S. adults who believe birth control, divorce, sex between unmarried people, gay or lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, doctor-assisted suicide, pornography and polygamy are morally acceptable practices have tied record highs or set new ones this year. At the same time, record lows say the death penalty and medical testing on animals are morally acceptable.”

You can find details at  It’s worth reading, even if rather discouraging.

For example, 69% of Americans say sex between an unmarried man and woman is acceptable.  An all-time high.  63% say gay or lesbian relations are acceptable–also an all-time high.  Polygamy is acceptable for 17%.

“Some of the largest changes in opinion reflect a transformation in Americans’ views about the institution of marriage and intimate relationships.”  Those changes are toward a moral liberal view.  Of the 19 issues questioned, none reveal a more conservative shift.

Gallup concludes these changes reflect a more “tolerant” view by older Americans and the younger, more liberal generations in our country.

The poll results don’t surprise.  The unbiblical worldview that pervades America (at least among the media, entertainers, and educators) spreads more easily than a biblical one.  Sin is like metastasizing cancer.  And (it seems to me) immorality increases like an uncontrolled truck racing downhill.

Poll results bring to mind Jesus’ words to us disciples . . .

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

Doesn’t Jesus mean we’re to have a “salty”, enlightening influence for morality in our country?  One would think.  And maybe we are.  Maybe the morally liberal (not a political statement) permissive view is so pervasive we are holding back the tide from sweeping higher.

On the other hand, a December 2015 Gallup poll reveals 75% of Americans “identify with a Christian religion.”  I know that doesn’t mean that many are what the Bible calls Christian.  Still, I can’t shake this sobering thought:  how many Christians were among the leftward, morally permissible respondents?   Instead of being “salt” and “light” to counter the moral decay and darkness, are some Christians being morally decayed and dark in their moral worldview?  Are we allowing “the world” into the church more than we’re taking the church into the world?  Is our younger generation “moving left” too?

Another poll (!) might give answers.  It’s not necessary.  We should assume that our children are being morally misled.  And we must keep them (or get them back) on track.  That means parents and church teaching them what Jesus taught is morally right.  And that teaching shouldn’t be a one-way lecture.  What do they see and hear?  What do they think–and why?  What “moral sense” lies behind biblical morality?

And, of course, we must hedge our children around with prayer.  The battle is spiritual and demands spiritual weapons.

I hope I’m not fear-mongering.  But I think the most dangerous reaction to the nation’s increasing immorality is this:  “My child could never think that way.”


Clay Pots

As a young preacher, I determined not to become a fat one.  I’d seen too many.  So, I jogged, played racquetball, biked, swam, lifted some weights.  Not until my late 60’s did I realize now fragile my body really is.

Odd, then, that our Lord chose to make these frail bodies the “chest” to hold his treasure.

What treasure?   Paul explained earlier . . .

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

That’s the treasure.  The Creator’s light shining in our hearts “to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in Christ’s face.”  Not only so: this glory inwardly transforms us into his likeness by the Spirit.

Plutarch ( late 1st & early 2nd century Roman biographer) tells of the 167 B.C. Roman victory when 3,000 men celebrated by carting spoil of silver coins in 750 earthen vessels (The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Philip Hughes).

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay . . . ” (2 Corinthians 4:7a).

So the Lord put the treasure of his glory in the fragile human bodies.  Why?  “  . . . to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7b).

What “all-surpassing power”?  “ . . . the life of Jesus . . . “ (4:10,11).  The Lord’s glory (4:6,18). The power to remain uncrushed by hard pressure, to not despair when perplexed, to not feel abandoned when persecuted, to get up undestroyed when struck down (4:8).  All this is the power.   So Paul boldly declares . . .

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).

“Hard pressed” as by a violent mob.  “Perplexed” as to be completely overwhelmed by some hardship.  “Persecuted” as being pursued with hostility.  “Struck down” as to be beaten down.  In every case God’s  power protects Paul from being crushed, in despair, abandoned or destroyed.

“We” refers to Paul and his team.  Paul is commending himself and his gospel to the Corinthians, who, fueled by the “super apostles” out to discredit Paul, mutter, “In person Paul is unimpressive and on a 1-10 scale in speaking gets a zero” (10:10).  On the contrary, Paul says,  “You don’t understand God’s gospel ways.  He intentionally chooses unimpressive apostles so Jesus is seen in them. “For we . . . are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body” (4:11).

Who is being revealed is key.  Tell me.  Who is revealed in the following short video?  Jesus or the preacher?

The genuine apostle, then, suffers for Jesus’ sake.  He’s “crushed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down”.  And it’s all “for Jesus’ sake”–that is, so unbelievers and believers alike may see Jesus’ power in the non-crushed, non-despairing, non-abandoned, non-destroyed  apostle.

So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.  It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak,  because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.  All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God (4:12-15).

Paul describes his sufferings as “death . . . at work”, so that “life [may be) . . . at work [in the Corinthians].” The Corinthians receive “life . . . at work in [themselves]” as a result of the “death . . . at work in [the apostles]”. 

Quoting from Psalm 116, a thanksgiving hymn for deliverance from death, Paul echoes David’s words.  He speaks because he believes that God “who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.”  The end of the apostle’s bodily suffering, isn’t death, but bodily resurrection.

And here for the first time we see that what the apostle writes of himself in all of chapter 4 pertains, not just to himself, but to the Corinthians (“and present us with you in his presence”).  Paul takes his “It is written” quote from Psalm 116, a hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance from death . . .

Yet the apostle’s suffering lies beyond that of the Corinthians.   It’s “for your benefit” and has a sweeping purpose to include increasing numbers of people and ultimately glorify God:  “so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”  As John Piper has written, “The purpose of missions is worship.”

All this provokes Paul to keep pushing on . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (4:16-18).

In 4:1 having this ministry “through God’s mercy” kept Paul from losing heart.  Here it’s ” . . . an eternal glory that far outweighs [our light and momentary troubles]”.

Paul writes graphically of what’s happening to him: “ . . . wasting away”.  It translates the Greek diaphtheiro, used of moth-consumed clothing.  Just as powerful his inward condition:  ” . . . yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”  This daily renewing is the Spirit’s work, who is transforming us “from one degree of glory to another” (3:18).

Remarkably, Paul calls his troubles “light and momentary”–not because he’s being stoical, but because he’s seeing troubles from eternity’s view.  John Piper has wonderfully said, “Eighty years of pain, then–glory!” 

Just as remarkable, Paul claims our troubles “are achieving for us” an eternal weight of glory.  The Greek is katergazomai–“accomplish, produce, bring about.”  He counters his critics who claim troubles disqualify him as an apostle, by claiming, “Sure, I’ve got earthly troubles in a wasting away body.  But not only am I being inwardly renewed day by day, these troubles are actually producing an eternal weight of glory for me.”  In other words,  the more troubles now the weightier glory then.

Therefore, what does Paul fix his eyes on?  ” . . . not on what is seen (temporary troubles, his wasting-away body) “but on what is unseen” (daily inward renewal and eternal glory).

* * *

Our take-away here covers the entire passage, because what Paul applied to himself in some measure applies also to us.  So a suggestion:  reread my comments and substitute your name where you find Paul’s.

Frankly, I loathe the “wasting away” part.  If I were God, I would have done things differently.  But I try to content myself that God is far wiser and loving than I.  So I have to trustingly accept these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  Clay pots glorified!  Meanwhile, I have to pray that Jesus’ life will be revealed in my fragile, mortal body.

One question remains:  How can we fix our eyes on what we can’t see?

Answer:  By prayerfully, worshipfully filling our minds with the words of those who saw the unseen glory revealed . . .

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1) . . . “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched– this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).



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