Church

Where are all the "3 P" Men?

What is the greatest problem facing men today? In an article in the New Statesman, Edward Smith attempts to answer that question. While many are advocating an aggressive feminism as the root of man’s ills in society, Smith writes, “The real problem males face today is not, of course, a rise of women – it's a shrinking of men.[1]” Men are shrinking. They are shrinking in their morality. They are shrinking in their work ethic. They are shrinking in their spiritual development. They are shrinking into passivity and lured into entertainment and worldly lusts. The world needs better men. And this is not a new problem.

            Since Adam abdicated his role of leader and protector of his wife in the garden, men have struggled to lead well. They ever abuse their God-given role with force and power or abdicate their God-given responsibility into passivity. The first Adam was not a great role model. The loss of God given identity produces disastrous results. John Piper writes,

Confusion over the meaning of manhood and womanhood today is epidemic. The consequence of confusion is not a free and happy harmony among gender-free persons…. The consequence rather is more divorce, more homosexuality, more sexual abuse, more promiscuity, more social awkwardness, and more emotional distress and suicide that comes with the loss of God-given identity.[2]

Following in the footsteps of fallen Adam produces deadly result in society and in the church.

             Therefore, God sent a New Adam for the good of the world and the glory of the Father. Jesus Christ is the model of true manhood now. He calls to those men who are shrinking from and shirking their God given role, He calls to them to Himself. He calls them to follow him into true manhood. He calls them like Nehemiah did when the wall needed to be built, “Come let us build the wall…that we may no longer suffer derision.” (Nehemiah 2:17) It is time for men to rise up and build the wall so that the name of Christ will no longer suffer disgrace in the world, but the glory of His name would be manifested in our homes, our churches, our communities and our nation. God is looking for a few good men to rise and help build the church for the glory of God.  

            Paul writes to Timothy to encourage the men to represent their new identity in Christ well. Paul wants “3P” men. Men who are prayerful, pure and peaceful. The church is suffering because men are either not leading in prayer or they are leading in prayer while their lives are not pure or peaceful. We must look at 1 Timothy 2:8 in light of the historical context and the context of the letter. Paul has already addressed false teachers in the church and encourage specific kinds of prayers for all people because God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth that the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all who would trust in Him. And know Paul encourages men to obey the admonition to pray so that they will reflect Christ well and be able to serve as elders in the church. The section immediately following the instructions on men and women will address the leadership in the church.

Prayerful Men

            Paul begins his charge to men simply by directly stating that men are called to pray at all times and in all places, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray.” The reference to every place could refer the many homes that the Ephesians would gather for worship. There could be an extension that believers are called to prayer in all the gatherings throughout the world. Regardless of where, Paul wants men to pray. This is a constant encouragement throughout the Pauline Epistles.

2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,

Colossians 4:3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—

1 Thessalonians 5:17 pray without ceasing,

1 Thessalonians 5:25 Brothers, pray for us.

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

2 Corinthians 1:11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Colossians 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

And those are just the exhortations to pray and not the example prayers that are placed throughout his corpus. Very simply men should lead the congregation through their prayers.

            As stated above, there may have been some men in the community who were shrinking from their responsibility to pray. Therefore, Paul encouraged the men to pray. Prayer being important to the Christian life and the life of the church is like bacon being important for a good breakfast; it is essential. So what keeps us from prayer?

Laziness – We do not discipline ourselves for godliness so we do not prioritize that which is most important.

Busyness – We may be very productive and efficient at work or even in ministry, but we do not invite God into our work. This busyness reveals our pride and our lack of dependency on the power and presence of God.

Worldliness– It is hard to pursue the Lord in prayer if our minds and hearts are being drawn away from God into conformity to the world.

Sin – Our hearts find more pleasure in sin than in prayer.

There is a myriad of reasons that keep us from praying, but we must pray. Prayer is the lifeblood of the church. If men are not leading in prayer, then they simply are not leading. Men, rise up and pray.            

Pure Men

            Paul does not only want men to pray, but to pray with pure hearts. “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands.” Paul is not really concerned with men lifting their hands in prayer, but lifting their hearts in prayer. It is about purity over posture. David Platt points out two Psalms that show the importance of purity in our prayers,

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart. (Psalm 24:3-4)

            I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar Lord. (Psalm 26:6)

Purity is essential to prayer. God wants us to come to him in prayer. God wants us to come to him in prayer even when we are in sin, but he wants us first to confess our sin before we bring our requests before him.

            Why should we expect God to answer our prayers if we have been hearts set against him? One of the most challenging verses on prayer for husbands should be 1 Peter 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Do you see the implication? If you are not living in purity towards your wife than why would God want to honor your prayers? A husband’s prayers are hindered when he does not honor his wife.

            There were some in Ephesus who were praying before the Lord when they had sin in their lives. We know that Hymenaeus and Alexander drifted off into false teaching and most likely false living as they swerved from a clean conscience. Paul could have made this admonition specifically because of them, but either way it is a good reminder for all the men in the church. Alvin Reid shares this story in his evangelism textbook,

I have an evangelist friend with a great burden for awakening in our day. Year ago he studied in Edinburg, Scotland. He visited the tiny principality of Wales, which has been visited with mighty revival several times in the modern era. He discovered a lady who had been converted in the Welsh Revival of 1904-05 as a little girl, and who knew Evan Roberts personally. Roberts was a principal human agent in the Welsh Revival. My friend sat in the little cottage of the elderly woman.

“What was the secret of Evan Robert’s power?” he asked. She simply looked into her fireplace, and in her thick Welsh accent, replied, “Mr. Roberts was a very godly man.” “Yes I know that, but tell me more. Why did God use him?” The lady continued to look into the fire, “God used Mr. Roberts because he was a godly man.” She said.

 My friend was frustrated. Pressing further, he said, “Yes I know, but tell me specifics. How did he pray? What did he do?” The elderly lady turned and faced my friend. “Young man,” she said sternly, “The reason God used Mr. Evan Roberts was that he was a very, very godly man.” Finally, he got the point. You can be a gifted as a preacher, an organizer, a leader, but there is no substitute for godliness.[3]

Brothers, God desires us to pray in all places with pure hearts. Let us rise up and be pure hearted men.

Peaceful Men

            Last P of a “3P” man is to the calling to be peaceful. Men are called to pray, with pure hearts, who are at peace with the brethren. “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands, without anger or quarreling.” Anger and arguing has no place among God’s leaders. Men should not be characterized by anger and arguing with one another. “All of us would be wiser if we would resolve never to put people down, except on our prayer lists.” D.A. Carson. Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy, 2 Timothy 2:24-26,

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

Patient. Gentle. It is not our job to force repentance, but model God’s loving and gracious kindness that may perhaps lead them to repentance.

            There were men in Ephesus who were angry and quarrelling with one another. Unity is not only important for joy and comfort within the church, but it is vital for the witness of the church in the world. Remember Paul just reminded the church that God desires all people to be saved. Anger and arguing in the church impacts the mission of God. Missionary Lesslie Newbigin writes,

The world does not believe, because it does not see the signs of an atonement so profound and complete that all mankind in all its infinite variety and contrariety can find there its lost unity. To say that the Church must be one in order that the world may believe is to summon one another to a return to the source of Christ’s being in Christ himself.[4]

Paul taught the people of the vast implications of a unified church. Paul cared about united in the church and expected godly men to pray while being at peace with one another.

A divided church will give a poor reflection of the oneness of the Triune God. On the other hand, a healthy, unified church displays the wisdom of God making the church, as Newbigin stated, a sign, a foretaste and an instrument of the kingdom of God. Unity is essential to make the gospel attractive to the world as it sees the resurrection power on display in a community. Jamie Dunlop and Mark Dever write in Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes the Church Attractive, “The gospel asserts that unity in Christ is stronger than worldly difference.[5]” The unity of the church is precious, but also very precarious so leaders must take notice of those things which cause division and lead the people to see the corporate responsibility of all members for the unity of the church as a display of the power of the Spirit.[6]  Unity within a specific congregation must be cultivated so that the world can see the beauty and power of the Gospel.

Jesus cares so much about our relationships with our brothers that he says this to those who are about to offer about a gift to God,

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

I have often thought of this verse before communion to analyze my own heart, but it would be helpful to analyze even before we pray. God cares about peace. How pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. Let us rise up and seek peace with the all the brethren.

            We do not have the power in and of ourselves to be prayerful, pure and peaceful men. We need God’s help. Wherever we are at along the process, we must always remember that Jesus Christ came in the world to save sinners. Jesus came as the perfect “3P” man. He was a man of prayer making time to get alone with the Father. He was pure and innocent of all evil. He had a heart that was perfectly set on God. And as the Prince of peace he came to make peace with man through his shed blood on the cross (Col. 1:20). He not only lived at peace, but is our peace.

Jesus Christ did not shrink from his God-given role, but chose to give himself for the sake of others. He died as our ransom and was raised for our hope. Beloved, we must follow Jesus and strive to be like him. Through repentance and faith, we are united with Him. The power that rose Jesus Christ from the dead dwells in us. Jesus was the embodied the “3P” man while we different kind of “3P” men under the power, penalty and price of sin. Thanks be to God that he gives us a new identity in him.

            So what kind of men are we going to be? Are we going to shrink from our responsibilities or are we going rise up and build a community on prayer with pure hearts and peace with another? The world needs godly men. Therefore, I say as for me and my brothers, “Let us rise up and build.”

 

[1] http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/05/real-problem-men-face-today-not-rise-women accessed 2.24.16 I would not recommend reading the entire article as it contains profanity, but the principle he puts forward I believe it correct. The shrinking of men is more important to a man’s demise then the rise of women.

[2] Piper, John (“Vision”) pg. 33 as quoted in Christ -Centered Exposition exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

[3] Alvin Reid, Introduction to Evangelism. Pg. 113.

[4] Lesslie Newbigin, The Light has Come: An Exposition of the 4th Gospel. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1982 pg. 231

[5] Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop. Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes the Church Attractive. Crossway, Wheaton, 2015. Pg. 156

[6] Ibid (156-161).

An Exemplary Love

On June 28, 1919 Harry married Bess. Harry and Bess attended school together from elementary to high school, but Harry claimed he fell in love with her when he was 6 years old in a Sunday School class in Independence, MO. Sadly, Bess spurned his advances throughout school. It wasn’t until a “chance” encounter when Harry returned a dish for his aunt to her neighbor and Bess opened the door that their romance began. Their relationship of love grew for one another and after Harry’s service in the war, they married and would spend 53 years together as husband and wife. During their courtship and marriage, Harry wrote 1,300 letters to his beloved Bess almost every night he spent away from her[1]. Harry loved Bess. And Harry was a very busy man, as he was the 33rd President of the United States of America. Harry Truman wrote to his beloved Bess during times of campaigning, diplomacy and war.

            On June 28, 1948 on their 29th Anniversary, Harry was in Washington and wrote to Bess in Independence, “You still are on the pedestal where I placed you that day in Sunday school 1890. What an old fool I am.[2]” Harry Truman did not need to be told how to love his wife, for it was clear to everyone around him that he loved his Bess. There are 1,300 letters documenting various ways he expressed his love to his wife. His love was undeniable. Could the same be said about our love? Is our love undeniable?

            Love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian. If a person does not love, then they do not know God. The Apostle John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8). Love is the undeniable mark of the Christian faith. Therefore love should be the undeniable mark of the Church. Are we known for our love? Is the love in our congregation undeniable to those inside and outside our congregation?

            The Thessalonians were known for their love. If we want to become an exemplary church then we must have a love that is undeniable to others. In our text, we will see one theological aspect of an undeniable love. Then, we will focus on three specific applications on what that love will look like to those around us.

Powerful Love of Others

            Paul is closing the letter with specific exhortations to the church. He begins the final section of the letter with highlighting the importance of sexual purity. The church must have a different sexual ethic than the world. Remember the church would have been full of young believers since it was only a few months old and those young believers would need to be taught and re-taught on how to live for Christ. After addressing sexual purity, Paul makes a sharp transition to address brotherly love. 1 Thessalonians 4:9, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.” The Thessalonians had been taught by God to love one another.

            The first theological truth is that true love is supernatural. It is a gift from God. We cannot love without God powerfully changing our hearts. In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We were born sinners, born in the flesh with a heart against God. Our natural desires were to serve ourselves. Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” Ephesians 2:3 says that we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The fact that the Thessalonians love each other like a family was a demonstration of the power of God, because of the total depravity of the human heart.

            If we understand how sinful our human hearts can be, we will be amazed at the power of God’s regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. R.C. Sproul helps us understand the difference between total depravity and utter depravity. He writes,

The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. Total depravity means radical corruption. We must be careful to note the difference between total depravity and "utter" depravity. To be utterly depraved is to be as wicked as one could possibly be. Hitler was extremely depraved, but he could have been worse than he was. I am sinner. Yet I could sin more often and more severely than I actually do. I am not utterly depraved, but I am totally depraved. Total depravity means that I and everyone else are
depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin.

Perhaps "radical corruption" is a better term to describe our fallen condition than "total depravity." I am using the word "radical" not so much to mean "extreme," but to lean more heavily on its original meaning. "Radical" comes from the Latin word for "root" or "core." Our problem with sin is that it is rooted in the core of our being. It permeates our hearts. It is because sin is at our core and not merely at the exterior of our lives that the Bible says: "There is none righteous, no not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." Romans 3:10-12[3]

We are sinful to the core which is why we need conversion. We need God to teach us how to love for this is exactly what he did with the Thessalonians.

            If you are not a loving person, it may be because you have never experienced the new birth. Churches may not be full of love, because they may be full of people who have not experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Conversion is not a mere modification of behavior, but a radical transformation of the heart. Our passions change. Our desire change. Our very core changes. We no longer are set against God, but are brought into his family. We are changed from enemies to sons and daughters adopted by his grace. We must repent of our sins and trust in Christ. And when we turn from our sins, we are transformed from the inside out.

We even see that in how Paul defines love in saying, “now concerning brotherly love,” he is redefining how we are called to treat one another. We are a family. A family of people who have been born of God whose hearts have been transformed to love another. We are taught by God to love. It is supernatural. One sign of this supernatural love is how we treat all the brothers. The Thessalonians were loving all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)

Do you love all? One of the marks of an exemplary church is when people love those who are not like them. When the rich love the poor and the young love the old, and the singles love the married, and black loves white. An exemplary church is full of undeniable love for all the brothers.

            So the first theological aspect of love is that it comes from God. We must be born again. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” If you want to love, you must believe in Jesus Christ who died for sinners. He died and rose again so that for whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. The first step of love is conversion. We love, because God first loved us.

Peaceful Love of Others

            There is always room to grow in our love for one another. The Thessalonians had an undeniable love, but are told to continue in that love. 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11, “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs.” Christians are called to aspire to live quietly. This is a very interesting phrasing by Paul because he puts to opposite ideas together. We are to aspire or work eagerly to live quietly and at peace. They seem at odds, but Paul’s focus is that the church would live in such a way to make the gospel attractive. Although we could make an application from verse 11 to the church, I think the primary focus is how the church interacts with the world.

            Christianity had a bad reputation in the first century. The Jews were constantly bringing rumors before the Romans that Christians were stirring up trouble and causing dissension in society. Paul wanted Christians to strive to be at peace and lead a quiet life so they would be able to draw more attention to the gospel. Christians are called to engage in our society and live as good citizens so that we give a good witness to the world. Christians are not primarily called to transform the culture, but to be a different culture. The greatest impact that Christians will have on the world will be through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We, therefore, have to be very careful in how we engage with our culture. We are called to promote justice and truth in every area of life, but we do so with wisdom and grace. We must live well before our culture, meaning we must strive to be at peace within our neighbors so that people will listen to our message.

            Who do you think will have a great impact in their workplace for the gospel: the employee who is constantly challenging his boss to change their business practices or the one who faithfully does their job without grumbling? I believe Christians should focus much more on being good and faithful employees than working to transform their work culture because I believe the best way to transform their work environment is by being a faithful employee. Christians do not have a great reputation in our culture. We need to be wise in how we interact with others so that the gospel will be attractive. The main goal of Christians is not social revolution, but to adorn the gospel and draw people to Jesus Christ. It does not mean we should not care about society, but rather societal transformation should not be the main goal.

            The second exhortation Paul gives to the church is to mind their own affairs, or mind your own business. We should be focused on what we are called to do rather than focusing on what we think others should or should not be doing. We do not know exactly the context in which Paul gives this exhortation. It could be a general statement or referring to something specific going on in the community that he knows about from Timothy’s report. Either way, Christians are called to love others by keeping their own affairs in order without meddling into other people’s problems. We should avoid gossip and talking poorly of our brothers and sisters. The best way to enter into the affairs of our brothers and sisters is through prayer. Let us first bring our brother and sister’s needs before the Lord.

            As our culture continues to evolve and drift away from traditional Christian values, it will become even more important that Christians are careful in how we interact with the world around us. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. How should Paul’s exhortation to aspire to live a quiet life and to mind our own affairs govern our cultural involvement? We should think about the various applications of these twin truths for our jobs, our neighborhoods, and our politics. An exemplary church should be known primarily for their love for Jesus, one another and the lost rather than their love for political or social change.

Productive Love of Others

            Paul gives one more exhortation for the church to “work with their hands, as we instructed you.” There were some of the Thessalonian believers who had a heightened eschatology. They believed that the Lord was going to return very soon so they stopped working and were depending on the welfare of other Christians in the church. They were idle.  We read in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12,

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Everyone was responsible to work to care for themselves and to contribute to the needs of the church. Those who were not willing to work (not those who can’t find work) needed to be admonished to get busy.

            Greek culture degraded manual labor thinking it was only fitting for slaves. Christians viewed manual labor as an honorable pursuit. Many Christians probably were slaves and were exhorted to work hard for their master and the sake of the gospel (Titus 2:9-10). Many Christians have adopted the Greek culture’s perspective of manual labor, viewing it as a degrading task, but working with ones hands is a noble undertaking. We should not avoid hard work, but rejoice in the gift of work. Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

            Love should be expressed in being productive for the sake others. Lazy and idle people are not loving others. Proverbs 18:9, “Whoever is slack in his work, is a brother to him who destroys.” There were some among the Thessalonians who were depending on the labor of others and not contributing to the needs of the community. Love for others is an undeniable mark of a Christian, so one’s willingness to work and serve others is an indication of that love. One’s lack of work is an indication of their lack of love. This is not referring to those who can’t work because of physical disability. It is referring to those who have the ability, but choose to remain idle.

Proper Love of Others

            Paul provides the purpose for these expressions of love. The theological principle is that Christians love because God has taught them to love by the Holy Spirit. Those who are born of God love others. He gives three specific expressions of that love to aspire to live a quiet life, to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands. Then he gives the purpose for those expressions in 1 Thessalonians 4:12, “so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

            There is a direct link in how the church lives to how it is viewed by society. Paul cared about outsiders. Paul gave his life so that others would come to faith in Christ. He was beaten, stoned, and suffered a lack of food so that non-believers would come to Christ. Christians have a mission. We are called to go and make disciples of all nations. We want the world to come to Christ and one of the best ways for us to make an impact in the world is to be an exemplary church. When the church is full of love,  the world will know what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world will know us by our love. It is that simple.

            And yet we have to know what love is. Love is aspiring to live a quiet life and to mind our own affairs and to work with our hands so that outsiders will see their need for the gospel. A church should have a love that is undeniable so that those on the outside of the community will realize what they are lacking and be attracted to the gospel. Jesus Christ has taught us to love. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

            Let me close with a story that illustrates this principle from someone’s personal experience. Jason Helopolous writes about how the Lord used the “strange love” of the church to draw him to Christ:

As a freshman college student and self-declared atheist, I attended a campus Christian fellowship to fulfill a promise to a Christian friend. I only had the intention to go once. It was merely duty and upholding my word, nothing more. I went begrudgingly, but I went. My life was never the same.

I walked into a room full of Christians and was struck by what I observed. Here was a diverse group. They were from every walk of life. I remember scanning the room and labeling people in my mind, “There is a jock, over there is a geek, and walking in the door is a boy scout.” But what struck me was that they were together. They weren’t just together in the same room, they were together in every sense of the word. They were actually talking with each other and genuinely seemed happy to be together. There didn’t seem to be division. Even in my atheist mind, I knew what I was seeing: they loved one another.

I had no categories for this, so I kept returning to find out why they had love like this for one another. Over the course of a few months I found the answer, or more accurately stated, the answer found me. One of the best evangelism programs you can start at your church is to pursue loving one another well. At some point they will have to hear the gospel proclaimed from your lips or the pulpit, but that “strange love” will set the table before them. People will know that you are His disciples, because it is a shocking love. It has a gravitational attraction, because it is a love that is foreign to this world. A love that the inquirer, if seeking an answer, will find comes from heaven[4].

Beloved, God has given us a mission to make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  God will use the undeniable love of a local church to draw people to Christ. Beloved, let us be a church that lives out a faithful gospel witness in word and deed.  

 

 

[1] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/history/harry-trumans-adorable-love-list-to-his-wife-bess-15753530/ accessed on 10.10.2015

[2] http://www.archives.gov/calendar/features/2004/02.html accessed 10.10.2015

[3] http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul/depravity.html accessed 10.11.15

[4] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2014/01/31/simple-evangelism-in-the-church/ accessed on 2.6.14

An Exemplary Comfort

 

            Douglas Maurer was 15 years old was he was diagnosed with Leukemia. The doctors told him that his chances of survival were slim and that he would have to endure three years of chemotherapy. The side effects would be severe. He would go bald and his body would bloat. It was a lot for a 15 year old to take in and the diagnosis sent Douglas into a deep depression. His aunt tried to encourage him by sending flowers to his hospital room. She told the clerk at the flower shop that the flowers were for her nephew who was battling leukemia.

            When the flowers arrived at the hospital there was an additional note from the clerk at the flower shop.  It said, “Douglas—I took your order. I work at Brix florist. I had leukemia when I was 7 years old. I’m 22 years old now. Good luck. My heart goes out to you. Sincerely, Laura Bradley.” Douglas was surrounded by millions of dollars of hospital equipment and the best doctors in the country, but it was the note of a 22-year-old clerk making $160 a week that gave him comfort and the will to carry on in midst of his trials[1].

            What brings you comfort during trials? The Bible promises that we will face trials and persecutions.  “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:13). Acts 14:22 says that Paul and his travel companions went about “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) We know that trials are promised to us, but when trials come where will we look for comfort? Will we find comfort in our bank accounts or health? Will we find comfort in our possessions or accomplishments? There may be more than one place to draw comfort, but God’s Word shows us where we can find comfort. I pray that from this text you will find comfort and the will to carry on in the hope of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Comforted by the Faith of God’s People v. 6-7

Acts 17 shares how Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica preaching the gospel, causing an uproar and forcing them to quickly leave the city. Paul had been concerned for the faith of the Thessalonians, fearing that they had walked away from Jesus because of their persecution. When his grief and worry had reached an all-time high, he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing. Timothy came back with a good report. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7,

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you, for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.

Paul and his companions were suffering emotional distress because they were worried about the church. They were worried that the afflictions they were facing had caused them to abandon the faith and they were worried that their afflictions would cause a break in their relationship. Paul is overwhelmed with joy when he learns that the Thessalonians are standing strong in their faith and that their love for them had not changed. 

            Why was Paul so comforted by the faith of others? He was under his own distress and facing his own affliction. Paul had his own pressing concerns, except that the pressing concerns of his life was the faith of others. Paul lived for others. He did not count his life as anything, but was glad to lay it down so that others would have faith in Christ. This concern was not unique to the Thessalonians, but was the pattern of Paul’s entire ministry.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, Savior; (Titus 1:1-2)

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, (Romans 1:1, 6)

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

Our hope is that as your faith increases, (2 Corinthians 10:15b)

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17-18)

Paul lived his life for the faith of others, so it was only natural for him to find comfort in the faith of others during his affliction. His trials were worth it if others had faith. He said, “Even if I am to be a sacrifice for your faith, I am glad and rejoice!!” Think about that!! He was comforted by their faith because he was consumed by it. The faith of the saints was Paul’s driving passion. Is it yours?

            My heart has been comforted by the faith of the saints of Park Baptist Church: the faith of those who believe in Jesus despite their bodies being ravaged by cancer, the faith of those who believe in Jesus despite an absent spouse, the faith of those that leads them to sacrifice time in our gatherings to serve our kids in the nursery or children’s church, the faith of those which leads them to labor for hours in preparing Sunday School lessons, and the faith of those which leads them to give sacrificially. I have been comforted by the faith of those who stand up to unethical practices at work and the faith of those who open their lives to the hurting and those who visit the sick. One of the greatest joys of my life is to see the faith of the people of Park Baptist Church. You exemplify a pure and sincere faith in Jesus Christ. Your faith in Jesus has comforted my soul so many times and in so many ways.

I have been so comforted by your faith, but have you been comforted by the faith of these fellow saints? Have you noticed how much our young people are growing in their knowledge of the Word? Have you noticed how much compassion and tenderness our seniors have for one another? Have you noticed the boldness growing in our ladies? Have you seen the steadfastness of our men? Have you noticed how people have started to gather more frequently? When you see the faith of the saints, are you comforted? One of the reasons we are not comforted by the faith of others is that we are not looking to be comforted by their faith. It may be because we haven’t been trained to look, or that we are too consumed with ourselves.

            Do not miss that Paul and his companions were also comforted because of how their faith in God was expressed in love towards them. They were comforted in how people they loved also loved them. Timothy reported that the church always remembered them kindly and longed to see them. (1 Thess. 3:6) Their comfort was connected with their relational unity with God’s people. Their lives were intertwined. This is what I pray for our church. I pray that our lives would be so interconnected that we would experience comfort and joy when we see the faith of others even if our lives are filled with distress and affliction. And I also pray the opposite would be true. I pray that when we see a lack of faith in our brothers and sisters lives, that our hearts would grieve. Does your heart hurt when you see others walking away from the faith? Or withholding love from the body? Or absent from our gatherings? Would your desire for their faith in Christ be so great that you would have the courage to admonish or rebuke them? Would you love them enough to discipline so their soul could be saved on the last day?

            The Christian life is others-focused. If we do not find comfort in the faith of others, it may say more about our own faith than we would care to admit. Be comforted by the faith of God’s people.

Comforted to Persevere for God’s People v. 8-10

If our eyes are looking and longing for the faith of others, then it will be natural for to find courage to press on in living for the glory of God. 1 Thessalonians 3:8-10,

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

I can imagine Paul, Silas and Timothy sitting around a room thinking and reflecting about the Thessalonians faith finding the resolve to continue to press on for the faith of saints.

            Paul and his companions are looking and longing for the faith of others, but it is the faith of the Thessalonians that to pushing them on to persevere. Eunice Smith has been a great encouragement to our church family. She has demonstrated a lifetime of service to the church and a sincere faith in Christ. Over the last several years, her hearing has gotten so bad that she barely could hear what was happening in the service. At 95, she would get in her car and drive to church. She barely heard anything that went on in the service, but that doesn’t mean that she got nothing from the gathering. Her presence and her faith spurred others on to persevere. Her example and presence, and others like her, is a constant source of perseverance for the saints.

            Mrs. Eunice’s faithfulness to Jesus has given the saints of Park faith to press on toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Her faith has spurred the saints of Park to continue in the faith. Beloved, your faith does a lot more than you realize. I hear stories upon stories of how you have been encouraged by others in the church. You will never know how much your life and faith in Christ means to others this side of heaven. We only see glimpses. My friend CAM Wagner died a little over a year ago with leukemia. He had a lot of friends and family visit him in his last months. He told one of his friends, “I am so blessed.” His friend gave him a quizzical look thinking that a strange thing for a dying man to say. He said, “Most people never get to see how much others love and care about you. I get to sit in this hospital room and hear how my life has impacted others. I am blessed.”

Friends, you are blessed. Your life matters to the people of God. Your presence and faith in Christ is a source of joy and perseverance for the saints. Do not let your eyes define the impact for your faith. Things are happening through your faith that you may never see, but one day all will be revealed. Until then, stand firm in your faith for the faith of others. Give others the opportunity to say, “For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.” And this perseverance is not mere drudgery, but done in joy. Listen, “What thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God.”

I have been accused of being too church-centric in my teaching and preaching. Some have said that I focus too much on church, but the Christian life cannot be lived faithfully outside the fellowship of the church. Our lives are meant to be lived for the faith of others. Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) There is an imperative that Christians should meet together in the faith (i.e. go to church), but notice the why we should go. The text begins, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” which will be encouraging one another to persevere as the Day of the Lord is drawing near. Do you notice the reason why you are to go to church? You are to encourage others to have faith until the Last Day. Beloved, you have the great privilege to help others safely enter the Sabbath rest of the people of God, to see Jesus face to face, to enter into the eternal joy of the kingdom of God, and to enjoy the pleasures at His right hand for all time. What a privilege!! Why would you forsake it?

The faith of the Thessalonians comforted Paul and his companions to persevere in the faith and to continue to serve the Lord in the midst of much affliction. Be comforted by encouraging others to persevere in the faith.

Comforted by the Beauty of God’s Plan v.11-13

            God’s plan is so beautiful. There is nothing more precious and more glorious that God’s plan to redeem the world through Jesus Christ creating a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. This is a great prayer to offer to the Lord for the church. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13,

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

We were filthy, unrighteous sinners. We were mockers and rebels. We were haters of God and children of the Devil. We were…But now in Christ, we have been justified through his blood, sanctified by His Spirit and declared blameless before God, adopted as his children and co-heirs of the world to come. Never stop marveling at the gospel. Never stop beholding the glory of our Savior displayed in his death and resurrection.

            Friend, if you are not in Christ, the Bible says you are in sin. And to be in sin is to one day stand before God alone and pay for that sin. The punishment for sin is death in Hell for eternity. Our sin makes us unholy and therefore unfit for heaven. And yet, God sent his Son, the Righteous One, to suffer for the unrighteous to bring them to God. Jesus died for you. He died to bring you to God. His resurrection is a promise of a future resurrection for all those who turn from their sin and trust in Him. Friend, behold the beauty of the Savior and be comforted in Him. Turn from your sins and trust in Christ. You can be declared holy and blameless before God today in Christ.

            One of the greatest things of this letter is that it continues to lift our eyes to the Day of the Lord. Christians live for two days: today and that Day. 1 Thessalonians is a great help to lift our gaze to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to notice how Paul connects our life together now with our holiness on the last day. See how verse 12 and 13 are linked together,

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

There is a connection with the love we have for the saints and our state on the last day. The Lord wants a supernatural love for one another. A supernatural love has to come from Him. The Lord increases our love for one another. The Lord creates love in our hearts for our brothers and sisters. It is not natural. It is a work of God. And that love is a sign that God is working in us to establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father. Do you see how our love for each other and for all is a sign that God has saved us?

If you do not love the church, what confidence should you have before God on the last day? The message of Christianity has not changed since the beginning. 1 John 3:11-14,

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:11-14)

Love is the mark of a Christian. Therefore love should be the mark of a Christian community.

            The love we have for one another is not only for us, but for those watching on the outside. Francis Schaeffer writes,

One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.[2]

As Christians behold the beauty of God’s plan, we will become a beautiful people which will display God’s beauty to the world. Love and doctrine must always be linked. Love without doctrine and doctrine without love are false representations of church. We must be full of grace and truth.

            One night at an evangelistic meeting in Chicago, Booth Tucker preached on the sympathy and comfort of Christ. Someone came up to him after the meeting and said, “If your wife had just died, like mine has, and your babies were crying for their mother, who would never come back, you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.” The man was not comforted with Christ and did not believe Christ was sufficient for his trials and distress. In our trials, will the comfort of Christ be sufficient?

Sadly, Tucker’s wife was killed in a train wreck a few days later. Her body was brought to the same building where he gave his last sermon. After the service, a grieving Tucker looked down at his wife and then turned to those in attendance and said,

The other day a man told me I wouldn’t speak of the sympathy of Jesus if my wife had just died. If that man is here, I want to tell him that Christ is sufficient. My heart is broken, but it has a song put there by Jesus. I want that man to know that Jesus Christ speaks comfort to me today.[3]

Our greatest comfort should always rest on the comfort given to us by Jesus Christ. He is enough. Our greatest distress has already been conquered in the cross. Jesus overcame the grave and promised us a glorious resurrection.

            We are going to face distress and anguish in our souls, but God has provided comfort in Christ. He has comforted us in the gospel and through his church. Therefore let us press on in our faith in Christ, our love for the saints so that God will establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father on the last Day. 

           

           

 

[1]https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1982&dat=19870706&id=H5BRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=pjMNAAAAIBAJ&pg=2685,604423&hl=en accessed 9.24.15

[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/brothers-build-a-gospel-culture accessed 9.27.15

[3] https://bible.org/illustration/christ-sufficient accessed 9.27.2015

Love Displayed

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8)

Beloved,

What does the world want to see in the church? What does the world need to see of God’s gathered people? In his book, The Church before the Watching World, Francis Shaeffer wrote,

One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.[1]

We must display the beautiful interconnectedness of the purity of doctrine in our lives lived out among one another.

            Peter challenges the churches of his day to have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind. These traits should epitomize all individual Christians and thus, should epitomize the gathering of Christians in the local church. Peter arranges these concepts in a chiastic structure showing the middle trait to be the most important aspect of a Christian Community. The family love among God’s people is one of the greatest testimony for the validity of the gospel. One scholar notes,

Harmony and humility belong together, for the primary means by which harmony is disrupted is pride and self-assertion. Sympathy and compassion are closely related and even hard to distinguish from each other. Brotherly love is the middle term, showing that it is the most important of all the virtues and that the other virtues are embraced in the call to love one another as a family.[2]

We are called to love one another as a family. We belong to one another.

            Do you view the church as your family? Are you willing sacrifice for the members of the church as if they were your own flesh and blood? Are you willing to share your own lives with each other? Beloved, we are far more than just a weekly gathering on Sunday morning. We are a family. Let us live like one so that the world can see the beautiful display of the love of God in practice.

 

[1] Schaeffer, Francis, The Church Before the Watchign World. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervaristy, 1971, 62.

[2] Schreiner, T. R. (2003). 1, 2 Peter, Jude (Vol. 37, p. 164). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Disappearing Parts (1 Cor. 12:21-22)

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. 

~1 Corinthians 12:21-22

Beloved,

This fall, 

Back to the Future 

celebrates its 30

th

 anniversary. In that film, Marty McFly monitors a family snapshot while revisiting his parents’ past of  the 1950s. His siblings gradually vanish in the image, a sign Marty has seriously altered time. At the flick’s climax, Marty’s own arm starts to fade, making it impossible for Marty to play his guitar during the Enchantment under the Sea dance.

What if, like Marty’s, our limbs suddenly disappeared?  Imagine if our right hand faded every third week, or our left leg vanished twice a month. We might function, but what a struggle! Also, our body would have no choice but to compensate for those missing parts.  A man can survive without a leg, but would he flourish?

How difficult is it, then, for people or groups to function when participants are absent?   What if they’re missing like McFly’s arm and fingers? What’s the impact on the church and the lost that the church is to serve?

The church is called the body of Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12) As individual parts, we make up the whole body of the church. We’re distinctive, functioning uniquely but we’re one in the body. Some of us are hands while others are eyes. Some are feet. Some are ears. All of the parts of the body are indispensable. They’re essential for us to flourish as a whole.  We cannot say to one another, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, we should say, “I need you for we are not the same without you!” The church cannot function well if its individual parts just disappear.

God’s children are vital to church life. Do you know how indispensable every member is? God gives gifts to his church. God calls individual members to be part of the whole body of Christ. Are you a dependable part? Or are you a disappearing member?

We need you! We need each other! Every person that’s a part of the body of Christ is needed to participate and activate in order to have a well-functioning church. Are you playing your part?  God has placed you in the church body for a reason. We need all our eyes, all our fingers, and all our legs to do all God has called us to do. Make our church gatherings a priority for we need you!!