Thursday, July 23, 2009

Home Sweet Home!

Alia Lynn Stafford is home! If you have no idea what I mean by that, please see the previous post. Alia was sent home from the hospital this morning and is sleeping contendedly at home (or, at least she was when I last spoke with the contented parents around noon!). The pneuma thorax is much better - if there at all - and her breathing is good enough for doctors to feel completely comfortable for her to be at home. Of course, Brian and Autumn only live 3 miles from the hospital, so that is nice just in case . . .

Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement! Now, please pray with me that Alia will one day put her trust in Jesus as the one who died for her sins and that she will follow Him all the days of her life. I pray this for your children, also! God bless.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My New Granddaughter, Alia Lynn Stafford!

Well, just in case you still check this spot from time to time, let me tell you about my brand new granddaughter, Alia Lynn Stafford, born to Brian and Autumn Stafford on July 19 at 1:46 PM, weighing in at 7 lbs., 9 oz. Alia was clearly in no hurry to get to this troubled world. She came nearly a week after her due date, and only after a long, long labor and delivery. She is a stunning beauty. Really!

Alia came into this troubled world with a few troubles of her own. She was born with a pneuma thorax (collapsed lung) and spent much of her first twenty-four hours under an oxygen bubble (it looked like a space helmet). She is no longer under the oxygen tent, but still not where she needs to be. The problem should resolve itself within this week. There is also an irregular heart beat that shows up every so often. Brian and Autumn are counting their blessings rather than expending energy on anxious thoughts - though at times . . . Please pray that all of this will be behind them soon.

Our prayer for Alia is the same as it is for all of our children/grandchildren/nephews/nieces/cousins, etc.: that she may believe that Jesus died for her sins (of which she must repent) and that she will follow Him all of her days. If you are reading this, thank you for caring so much about our family!

I cannot end without tell you that the family of Cali Moody, the little girl in our church with a brain tumor, received incredible news today. After the most radical radiation imaginable, there are no signs whatsoever of the tumor in her body! PRAISE THE LORD! Is there a chance the tumor will return? Of course, but this is exceedingly good news - a miracle, really! Had there been any signs of the tumor apparent on the scan, it would mean that her days are numbered. Well, we know that all our days are ordered even before one of them comes to pass (Psalm 139), but we long for our precious Cali to be with us for many, many, many blessed years! So, today is a happy day - Alia and Cali - thanks be to God!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #12, Our Great God!

This post marks the final offering in a series about the Trinity that began on January 22 and includes both Sunday morning sermons and small group notes. If you have not been following this series and are interested, you may want to go back to the first post and procede. For those of you who have persevered to the end, I do hope it has been profitable! God bless!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Our Great God!
Hebrews 1:1-14

Earlier this morning, our children’s ministry held its annual Promotion Sunday, complete with breakfast – although when Keisha told me they were having muffins and fruit, I thought maybe it was a Senior Citizen promotion of some sort with bran muffins and apple slices. Hey, promotion Sunday is a big day, especially for the 8 to 10 5th graders that will be moving up to the youth group. Now, that’s big time for those guys! A whole new world is opening up to those moving up to the youth group with activities and adventures heretofore unknown, especially since most of the ones moving up come from such boring families. Just kidding!

Along with the new privileges and opportunities that await these young students, there will be a higher level of expectation for their knowledge and behavior. With maturity comes responsibility. That’s the way it always is, is it not? The more we know the more is expected of us.

This morning will be my last message on this series about the wonder of God found in the Trinity. We will be reviewing some of what we have learned and also thinking about the responsibility that accompanies our newly acquired knowledge. The more we know about God, the more we are expected to apply what we know.

Hopefully today’s message will be easier on your ribs than last week’s message was! Our text will be the first chapter of Hebrews, and while I will refer to it, we will not spend a great deal of time here, although we may revisit it in a few weeks because of its connection to the psalms.

Just a heads up, our next series is entitled, Pain, Praise, and Peace: A Summer in the Psalms. Many of us have experienced a great deal of pain this year, and in the psalms we will find God right in the middle of our mess. For this morning, I chose Hebrews 1 for our text as we review what we have learned about the Trinity because it points to the awesomeness of our great God – God the Father and His Son, Jesus. Even though the Holy Spirit is not mentioned here, He led the author to write these words and He is present in the work of salvation that is expressed at the end of the chapter.

As we read together in just a moment, look for the following truths:

Ø The awesomeness of God the Father (His transcendence)
Ø The awesomeness of God the Son (His immanence)
Ø God’s communication to us through His Word (as the prophets were led by God’s Holy Spirit to write – 2 Peter 1:19-21)
Ø God’s communication to us through His Son
Ø The deity of Jesus
Ø Jesus’ present glorification
Ø God’s gracious salvation to those who believe

I have learned so much about our triune God these last four months – and I already knew a pretty good amount! I imagine you have learned more than you think you have. A lot of our knowledge of God builds upon what we already know, and in many case the new truths we learn are actually making our understanding of God more precise. As your understanding of God has grown this spring, I trust that God Himself has also grown in your mind and your heart. Let’s read about our great God in Hebrews 1. Would you please stand for the reading of the Word?

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
2 but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
4 having become as much superior to angels as the name He inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You”? Or again, “I will be to Him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?
6 And again, when He brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “Let all God’s angels worship Him.”
7 Of the angels He says, “He makes His angels winds, and His ministers a flame of fire.”
8 But of the Son He says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness beyond Your companions.”
10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of Your hands;
11 they will perish, but You remain; they will all wear out like a garment,
12 like a robe You will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.”
13 And to which of the angels has He ever said, “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet”?
14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

Have you ever considered your biblical knowledge and understanding of God to be a burden? Of course not! Wait a minute. Have you ever had a discussion with a co-worker or an aunt or a neighbor about God and had your friend or family member say something like, “Well, I just believe God is love and He is not going to send anybody to hell,” or, “I just believe that God helps those that help themselves”? When you try to point out that God is not that way, they are offended. Even if you show them Scripture to refute their claim, they fall back on, “Well, my God isn’t that way.” Hmm.

This is a good place to start our review. Our God is three, yet He is one. Not only does Deuteronomy 6:4 tell us so, but so does Romans 3:29-30. It would have been much easier for the apostles and early church fathers to declare that we serve three gods – after all, they lived in a polytheistic age where most people worshiped multiple gods. But, the early Christians understood that not only was Jesus sent by God, but He was, as He claimed, God Himself! Jesus also made it quite clear, as did the apostles in Acts 5, that the Holy Spirit is God. Thus, three Persons, one substance, one nature. When someone asks if we all worship the same God as other religions, our response should be, “Only if they worship the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: three in one.”

Three, yet one. This was difficult to swallow for a number of people in the early church who thought deeply about God. You will recall that it was not until the fourth century that the church agreed on an orthodox position about God, about the Trinity. Why did it take so long? Essentially because there was no need for orthodox doctrine until a heresy about God gained enough traction to require a response. Heresies developed because theologians wrestled with the difficulty of explaining three in one. Rather than accepting the teaching of Scripture by faith, these theologians sought ways to explain how “God works.” They ended up with a theology that was based more on “I just think such and such about God,” rather than one based on what God said about Himself in His word. There were two primary heresies in the early church.

The first heresy was modalism. This was the idea that God exists in all three Persons – but since even the NT is clear that He is one God, He can only be Father, Son, or Spirit at one time – it is not possible to be all three at once. This heresy was dismissed fairly early because of Jesus praying to His Father and the presence of all three Persons at Jesus’ baptism and a host of other texts that render this heresy untenable. Amazingly, there are modalists today. In fact, I received a nasty response from a pastor in Mississippi on my blog when I preached and wrote about modalism earlier this year.

A far more dangerous heresy in the early church was a belief that came to be known as Arianism, named after Arius, a 3rd and 4th century North African priest who could not accept the notion that Jesus was co-eternal and equal in nature with God the Father. He believed that Jesus was created by the Father, and thus was only able to remain sinless by the Father’s power. Arius ended up not being the primary spokesperson for his heresy, but his ideas gained a fair amount of support and had to be addressed. God raised up a theologian named Athanasius who fought Arianism through much of the first half of the fourth century. Later in the century, there were three other men known as the Three Cappadocians who helped to bring us to the place of understanding of the Trinity that we accept today and, frankly, tend to take for granted. I hope this study has raised your level of appreciation for those who have fought for truth through the centuries, particularly those in the fourth century.

If you are here today for the first or second time, you may be lost. I hope this short review on the Trinity will whet your appetite to go our website and either listen to the sermons from this series or click on the link to my blog where you can find the written transcripts of the messages to this series. The title of the series has been All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity. Indeed, the idea of the Trinity can seem mysterious when you recognize that God is three Persons, one nature. But the use of the word “mystery” in the title does not refer to that which is mysterious or unknowable.

There is a difference, theologically, between a secret and a mystery. A secret is something we cannot know because God has not revealed it to us. There is much about God we do not know because He has chosen not to reveal Himself fully to us. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” But, a mystery in the NT is different than a secret. A mystery is something that was previously hidden but has now been revealed to us by God. Romans 16 25-27 helps us understand this theological principle: “Now to Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” And, Amen indeed! God has told us much more about Himself than He did before Christ. That is what the author of Hebrews was telling us in our text.

So, can we know God or not? Yes – and no. God is both transcendent and immanent. He is transcendent, or far above His creation. God doesn’t need us to be fulfilled, or for anything else. He is self-sufficient. Furthermore, if God did not choose to reveal Himself to us, we could not know anything about Him. But He did choose to reveal Himself to us. In addition to being transcendent, God is also immanent, or, close at hand. He remains in and interacts with His creation. He has done so in two ways, as we were told in Hebrews 1 – through his Word and through Jesus.

For the first 1800 or so years of the church, God’s transcendence was emphasized. Oh, there was a great deal of talk about Jesus, but people had a respect for God that kept Him high above us. The problem was that sometimes people were led to believe that God was so distant that He set the world in motion and has little to do with it because He can’t be bothered with unimportant matters, really. Some of our founding fathers believed that, even though they talked about God.

The last 200 years have seen a shift to an emphasis on God’s immanence, or His nearness. We saw that this morning as we sang worship songs and some of you, I imagine, raised your hands in praise to a God who is near and who loves you deeply and who is concerned about the intimate details of your life. Is that wrong? NO! Unless we lose our awe of a holy and majestic God. It is best to acknowledge and approach God with both His holiness and His accessibility fully in our hearts.

There is danger in emphasizing either extreme. Since the church is currently riding the pendulum on the side of God’s immanence, we need to be aware of potential theological errors about God on that side of center. When God’s immanence is emphasized, there is a tendency to focus on experience. Now, once again, referring back to Hebrews 1, we are told that God has revealed Himself through His word and through Jesus. But, since we were not alive when Jesus was on earth, we must depend on God’s word to tell us about Jesus, who told us specific information about God, the three in one, the triune God. When people begin to rely on personal experience or personal thoughts about God rather than on the truth revealed in Scripture, it is easy to get off course. And though an error about the nature of God may seem small, if it is pursued to its logical end, it can be quite troubling theologically. Is this making sense?

All this leads us to take a few minutes to think about the popular book by William Young, The Shack. Although it is a work of fiction, Young very much wants to teach us about the Trinity. The main character in the book is a man named Mackenzie Phillips whose daughter, Missy, was abducted on a family camping trip while Mack was rescuing one of his other children from a canoe accident. When Missy’s bloodstained dress was found in an abandoned shack in the Oregon Mountains, it was assumed that she had been murdered. As you can imagine, Mack, who is a Christian, struggles emotionally and doubts God’s love and goodness. Three years after his daughter was abducted, Mack receives a note in the mail saying he should come back to the shack for a talk. The note is from Papa, which is the name that Mack’s wife calls God the Father. When he arrives at the shack, Mack is met by an African-American woman who represents God the Father. She calls herself Papa. A Jewish carpenter, naturally, represents Jesus. A mysterious Asian woman, who wisps in and out, represents the Holy Spirit.

Before Mack ever gets to the shack, William Young lets us know that God reveals Himself to us in new ways and He does not limit Himself to the pages of Scripture, especially to the interpreters of Scripture like Athanasius, the Three Cappadocians, and theologically trained pastors around the world today. Of course, Mack has been to seminary so he is qualified to make the following statement as he muses about God:

“In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any covert communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen and follow sacred Scriptures, properly interpreted, of course. God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?”

This stops just short of expressing contempt for biblical teaching by trained pastor/teachers – or, does it stop short? The result is a fictional book about God that has very much the feel of, “Well, I just think this about the Trinity.” Oh, Young uses Scripture and theological terms in the book, but ultimately he has come to specific conclusions about God based on what he wants God to be. It is the classic error of man making God in man’s image.

To be sure, some of the things Young says about God are extremely well said. As someone whose heart has been broken in recent days, I understand why it is so appealing. When Mack first gets to the cabin and sees Papa, before he can turn around and run, she has enveloped him in her arms, saying, “Mackenzie Allen Phillips!” She then pulls back and grabs him by the shoulders and says, “Mack, look at you! Here you are, and so grown up. I have really been looking forward to seeing you face to face. It is so wonderful to have you here with us. My, my, my, how I do love you!”

I understand how that appeals to a broken heart. But, at the same time, there are problems galore, and the ideas taught about God in this book are especially dangerous because when people get emotionally attached to something said about God, it is very easy for truth to take a back seat to emotions. First of all, I have a problem with God the Father being represented by a woman of any kind – or a man like Morgan Freeman, for that matter, but especially by a woman since God is always represented as a male in Scripture. God is said to have characteristics of a loving, compassionate mother, but He is always presented to us in masculine terms.

Second, as appealing as this scene is, it speaks only to God’s immanence and says nothing of His transcendence. Remember how we have studied in this series that God the Father is never clearly seen? He is seen in visions in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4, but both Ezekiel and the Apostle John had trouble describing Him and their visions indicated a great distance between God the Father and man. Thank goodness for Jesus!

The last problem I have with this portrayal is that Papa is entirely too familiar for the role of the God the Father. As much as you want the word “Abba” to mean “Papa,” it doesn’t. It is the Aramaic term for Father, and if anything it is a tad on the formal side, not the other way around. It is a term of respect. Don’t ask me how it got so confused. Within the past year or two, I was going to emphasize the intimacy we can have with the Father and use the term “Abba” in a sermon, but something told me I had better check it out before I used it. I looked at several sources and every one said the same thing – it is a term of respect for one’s father. That is not the sense one gets in the Shack.

So, if you have been using the term “Papa” for God the Father, He has probably been standing with arms folded saying, “Don’t use that term for Me,” right? Of course not! God looks at your heart! BUT – when you have the knowledge, you are responsible to act accordingly. It is like a baby in a family – he or she is quite comfortable coming up to Dad or Mom at anytime with a request. As the child grows, though, respect is learned and he or she approaches with more caution – not out of fear, but out of respect.

Well, in order to keep from going all day, I will just give two more examples of concerns in the book and then we will close, though there is much more about the book and about the Trinity that I want to say. At the shack, Mack notices that Papa has scars on her wrist. He says, “I thought Jesus died on the cross” and she says, “When one of us suffers, we all suffer – I was there.” “But,” Mack protests, “What about when Jesus said, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” Papa answers, “I didn’t forsake Him, just like I didn’t forsake you when Missy was taken. I was at the cross”

This is a problem. As we discussed last week, each Person of the Trinity has a specific role, and these roles include authority-submission relationships. These authority-submission roles are intentionally blurred in the book where mutual submission is the order of the day, even to the point that God is said to submit to us in love. Bizarre. At one point, Mack is having breakfast with all three Persons of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit says to him, “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are a circle of relationship, not a chain of command.” That is just blatantly wrong. Past sermons give ample Scripture to contest the idea of no authority-submission roles within the Trinity.

As for the Father bearing the scars of the cross, think about it. What happened on the cross? Jesus took our sin upon Himself as our substitute to absorb the wrath of God against sin. He bore the equivalent of an eternity in hell for us while He was on the cross. For that time, He was separated in every way from God’s favor. God’s wrath was fully poured out on sin and Jesus was bearing our sin, so the Father’s wrath was poured out on Jesus, and that included turning His back on the Son. Jesus will bear the scars of the cross for eternity, which will serve as a reminder to us of God’s great love for us, but I can assure you that there will be no scars on the wrists of God the Father. In fact, there is no indication in Scripture that we will ever see the Father in a form that allows us to discern where His wrists are.

One last problem with the book, and there are many more that I do not have time to mention. William Young admits that he has nothing to do with the institutionalized church because he has been hurt by the church. In an exchange between Jesus and Mack, Jesus says, “I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. So, no, I’m not too big on religion . . . and not very fond of politics and economics either. And why should I be? They are the man-made trinity of terrors that ravage the earth and deceive those I care about.”

So, Young takes a shot at the organized church by saying that Jesus is against it. Doesn’t add up with Scripture, though. In Matthew 16:17, Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” As we read last week in Ephesians 5:23, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior.” Every time that the church is addressed in the NT epistles, a local church – or, an institutional church, Young would say – is being addressed. Jesus loves the church! He loves this church - Grace Community Church!

Well, I have to stop, and it seems a strange place for me to conclude several months about the Trinity. Our God is an awesome God – but a lot of people do not want Him to be as awesome as He is. When we make God in our own image, it really works for us for a time, but since we are imperfect, when we succeed in making God in our image, the end is always bad. The only way we will ever know the full blessing of this awesome triune God is to know as much as we can about Him and to interact with Him on His terms.

God the Father, the ultimate authority in the universe and the grand architect of the plan of salvation. Jesus, God’s Son, our Redeemer, the perfect substitute, dying in our place and taking all the righteous wrath of God upon Himself for those who believe. The Holy Spirit of God, author of God’s word and servant to the Father and the Son and the primary agent of God at work in the world today. Praise the Father and the Son. Praise the Spirit, three in one. Let’s pray.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Trinity Series - Small Group Notes #12

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Order in the Trinity, Order in the Court:
Applications from the Trinity
Week of May 17, 2009

Ø Order in the Trinity is seen over and over in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:26-28, we are told that God has put all things under Jesus’ feet – except for the Father Himself, that is – and that one day all will come under God the Father’s rule, even the Son. John 14:26 and 15:25 tell us that the Father and the Son sent the Spirit. How does the order in the Trinity speak to order in the home, church, and society?

In addition to thinking about how authority/submission structures in life reflect the structure of the Trinity, consider how our obedience to God in our various roles of leaders and followers points others to Jesus.

Ø Husbands and wives have distinct roles in the home, as described in Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19, and 1 Peter 3:1-7. After reading these passages, carefully discuss tangible ways that husbands can love their wives and wives can show respect to their husbands. DO NOT “teach” your spouse in this time – in fact, list the ways your spouse has wonderfully fulfilled his or her biblical responsibility.

Ø Read the following passages that instruct the Christian with regard to his/her responsibility toward government: Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; and 1 Peter 2:13-17. Remember that these words were initially written to men and women living under a rather heavy-handed government. Discuss the unique challenges we face in a democratic society in which we have a say in who our leaders will be and in the laws and policies that will be enacted. When is it right to refuse to obey government rules and regulations?

While it is a blessing to live in a nation in which we are afforded free speech (for now, at least) and many other basic liberties, the lines of authority and submission can be blurred in such a society. We value our independence and are tempted to think that when we consider laws to be immoral, we do not have to obey them.

Some refuse to pay taxes on the grounds that tax dollars are being spent to fund organizations that promote and practice immoral behavior, such as abortion. Jesus’ admonition to render unto Caesar what he is due seems to indicate that even in a nation that is led by those who think little or nothing of God, we are called to submit to governmental authority.

There is a time, though, when we must obey God over civil authorities. In Acts 5:17-42, the story is told of the arrest of some of the apostles for preaching in the name of Jesus. When they were warned not to speak in Jesus’ name, Peter told the religious leaders (the apostles’ governmental authorities) that the apostles would obey God rather than men in this matter and that the gospel would be preached. Many early Christians were martyred because they refused to say, “Caesar is Lord.” It is not that they were executed because they proclaimed “Jesus is Lord,” but because they refused to also proclaim that Caesar was a god. There can be no compromise on our primary allegiance to Christ, even as we obey our government and live as the best citizens we can be. We are never to seek out persecution, but when we are called to deny Christ (whether outright or in sharing His glory with another), we must refuse and be willing to suffer the consequences. This is the exception, though, not the rule.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #11

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Order in the Trinity, Order in the Court:
Applications from the Trinity

I am a child of the 60’s. I was a teenager in high school in those days, not a college student, but I consider myself, nonetheless, a child of the 60’s. Many times, when my children were growing up, I heard these words: “Dad, turn the radio down!” I am not bragging, nor am I confessing – it is just a fact, I grew up in the 60’s, and like most of us, whether we admit it or not, I was affected by the spirit of the day. What was the spirit of the day? Rebellion and rejection of established authority.

I would say that is the spirit of this age, also. Even though we don’t see protests and riots of the magnitude of the late 60’s and early 70’s, the radical ideas of those days left an indelible imprint on our national psyche. We tend to dislike and/or distrust those in authority. Americans tend to be very individualistic, anyway, and our “I will take care of it myself” mentality also tends to breed a spirit of “leave me alone and let me get the job done my way.”

My way. That, in a nutshell, is why we bristle against authority. We want to do it “my way.” Now, your way may very well be better than your boss’s way or the government’s way, or your husband’s way, or your parents’ way, but there is a problem with insisting on bucking against authority, even if your way is clearly better. Before you turn me off, please know that I am not saying you should always be quiet and let anything and everything go. We are blessed enough to live in a land where opinions of those under authority are often valued. What if we lived in a totalitarian society? Well, whether we live in a free or oppressive society, there is much we have to learn from the structure of the Trinity, and I want to get into some biblical meat before we read our text because after we read our passage we will be thinking about human relationships as an application of our knowledge of God.

There is order within the Trinity. Authority and submission are found within the Trinity without the slightest hint of resentment, jealousy, or bitterness. Bruce Ware said, “One of the lessons of the Trinity is that God loves, exercises, and embraces rightful authority-submission relationships. In the very eternal relations that are true of the Persons of the Trinity, authority and submission are lived out with love and joy.”

We spent a lot of time earlier talking about the order that exists in the Trinity. The Father is the ultimate authority and the Son is submissive to the Father, and the Spirit is submissive to the Father and the Son, though when Jesus was on the earth He was led by the Spirit in all that He did. These roles are eternal, both in eternity past and eternity future, and are irreversible – the Son never exercises authority over the Father, nor is the Father ever submissive to the Son or the Spirit. Does this mean the Father is greater than the Son and the Spirit? No. The three all have the same identical nature, they are equal in divinity and all three are eternal – for, they are one. So, there is no rank in the Trinity that would show that the Father is on a different plane than the Son or the Spirit, but there is clear order.

I will not take time to review the numerous passages we have read that establish this truth, but you can find all of the messages in audio form on our website and the written transcripts on my blog, which you can also access from our website. The truth that we have learned about order in the Trinity serves as the foundation for God’s teaching about authority and submission in human relationships. You will see just a little of that in our text, but the main focus after we read Ephesians 5:15-6:9 will be to think about our responsibility in authority-submission relationships in our lives. Let’s look at our text – please stand for the reading of the Word.

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Himself its Savior.
24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,
30 because we are members of His body.
31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),
3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,
6 not by the way of eye-service, as people pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,
7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,
8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave, or free.
9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with Him.

I suppose one of the first objections we might raise to the prospect of submitting ourselves from the heart, as in children to parents, a wife to a husband, employees to their boss, and as citizens to a government whose policies we consider irrational at best and immoral at worst, is that even though there is order in the Trinity, the three Persons of the Trinity are perfect. We are called to submit to imperfect humans, and, I might add, humans with only half the sense that God has given us! We all get that, don’t we? We see the problem, and God addresses it by saying – well, God doesn’t address it. He just calls for submission to authority, whether it is Christians to whom we are called to submit, or it is unbelievers who are our authority figure. How can we do that when we are, in effect, a rebellious people? By being filled with the Spirit.

It is significant, don’t you think, that the long section about all kinds of authority-submission relationships is prefaced by the challenge to be filled with the Spirit? Interestingly, the Spirit knows how to submit. We refer to the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity, not because He is ranked below the Father and the Son, but because His role is one of submission. He gladly does the Father’s business and glorifies the Son.

As we have repeatedly observed in other NT texts, once again we see all three persons of the Trinity in Ephesians 5:18-21. Notice that when the Spirit is in control of our lives, we will dwell together as a church in unity and with love for one another, love that goes so far that we submit to one another, or, in other words, we live in humility and treat one another with deference.

There is debate about whether verse 21 belongs with the section before it or the section after it. Do we submit to our brothers and sisters in the body, or are husbands and wives called to live in mutual submission to one another? Verse 21 is most likely a bridge between the two passages, but it is more in the sense of, “Submit to one another – and while we are talking about submission, wives, submit to your husbands.”

Now, this is a structure that is widely accepted in society today. Hardly! In fact, what are your emotions when you hear these words spoken – “Wives, submit to your husbands?” Red flags, alarm bells, words of warning. We all have examples that would nullify this command and so we are tempted to make the monumental mistake of wanting to let the exception serve as the rule. “Wives, submit to your husbands – as long as he is a godly man and he loves you like Christ loves the church and he is a good father to your children and he fulfills your emotional needs.” Doesn’t say that, does it? It is amazing how many Christian women want a divorce from their husbands on the grounds that “he keeps me from being all I could be and surely God would not want me to live in a relationship in which I am hindered from being the best Christian I can be. Right?” No, it is not right!

Now, please understand that I believe, though some of you will disagree, that in Matthew 19 Jesus stated that divorce is an acceptable course of action when one’s spouse commits adultery. What you may not know is that in so saying, Jesus was not giving people an out, but rather He was actually seeking to put a stop to the ridiculous reasons men were giving, with rabbinical approval, to divorce their wives. Offenses such as putting too much salt in the food or talking too much were all men needed to put their wives out. God makes it clear that He hates divorce and we are called to do whatever we can to keep our marriages intact. In the cases of infidelity or abandonment, as detailed in 1 Corinthians 7, divorce is allowed, and I understand why! Also, I would not want a woman or children to live in a home where physical or extreme emotional abuse puts them in danger. I say “extreme” emotional abuse because it would be so easy to overstate an unhappy relationship.

If God’s order for the home is the same as it is the Trinity, a leader and a follower, is it any surprise that Satan would want to cause us to question that order? For decades, almost all secular entertainment depicted husbands and fathers as ignorant and/or tyrannical, either buffoons that deserved scorn or bullies that required being put in their place. Guys got tired of such treatment and thus the sports/beer drinking crowd put men back in control. Neither picture is biblical.

What does it mean for wives to submit to their husbands? There is not a whole lot of explanation given here, though other NT texts talk about a gentle quiet spirit, pure conduct, and a godly heart. In verse 33 of Ephesians 5, wives are told to respect their husbands. I suppose the best example I have ever seen of that is my own dear wife. When I doubted myself, she did not. Ever. Not in my worst moments, and believe me, there were times that I made life less than wonderful for her and probably didn’t deserve her respect. It is not that she never raised her voice at me, she did – but, she always, always, always respected me, and her respect made me a far better man, husband, father, and minister.

God’s design for wives is that they submit to their husbands, giving them honor and respect. It is counter-cultural. Bruce Ware says that “we live in a culture that despises submission as much as it does authority.” You know that is true. But, we are not going to answer to society at the end of this age – we are going to answer to Jesus. That’s why, in verse 24, spiritual accountability is brought into the command to submit – in the same way the church is to submit to Christ, wives are to submit to their husbands.

So, husbands are probably feeling pretty good about things right now. Unfortunately, God’s word is quite clear, both here (Ephesians 5:25-31) and in other places, such as James 3:1 and 1 Peter 3:7, that those who have leadership responsibilities have the greater responsibility and are more accountable than those they are called to lead. The kind of leadership to which husbands are called is one of absolute sacrificial love. It is compared to the kind of love that Jesus exhibited for the church when He died for us. We are called to be the spiritual leaders of our homes, just as Christ leads the church.

1 Peter 3:7 is one of those verses that will make you wince, if you care more about what is culturally acceptable than what is biblical: “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.” In other words, if you mistreat your wife, don’t waste your time in prayer. That’s pretty blunt, but it is the heavy responsibility put on husbands as leaders of their homes. Within the Trinity, God the Father’s plan and His love are perfect. Men, as leaders of their homes, must be filled with the Holy Spirit if they are to have any hope of being the kind of husbands God has called them to be.

I know a lot of husbands who love their wives – on their own terms. 1 Peter 3:7 commands husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way – in other words, love them the way they need to be loved. With words that would be most controversial today, Peter describes women as the weaker of the two. Probably Peter means that men are stronger physically and emotionally, and certainly they have more delegated authority, so the temptation to abuse is significant. Most men would hurt their wives in a physical struggle, they can damage their wives’ spirits greatly with careless words, and they can take advantage of their spiritual authority given to them by God. If they do, they have forgotten that there is someone to whom they are accountable who is much bigger than they – God. Along with leadership comes great responsibility.

Well, now that we have looked at Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3, you have all the answers you need for a long and fulfilled marriage, right? We have not scratched the surface! I want to recommend a book that I admit I have not yet finished. In fact, I bought it several weeks ago, but because of a very busy schedule and the Carolina Hurricanes’ quest for the Stanley Cup, I have not been able to finish it. I am discovering as I read it, though that what I have heard from a number of people that I highly respect is accurate – this is a great book! Love and Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs, is saying something quite well that needs to be said and that we need to hear. The subtitle affirms what we have been discussing: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs. Rush out to a bookstore in the next few days and pick up this valuable help for your marriage.

Order in the Trinity, order in the home. In addition to wives being submissive to their husbands, children are called to submit – or, more precisely – to obey their parents. Children are called to honor both father and mother. In so stating here in Ephesians 6:1-3, the Apostle Paul looked back to the Ten Commandments and pointed out that this commandment carried a promise with it – a prosperous and long life. Once again, the order in the Trinity is our model. Just as Jesus said that He did what the Father told Him to do, we are called to obedience. Children are called to obey from the heart – that is what it means to honor our father and mother.

This does not mean that parents get a free pass. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” It is the role of the parents – and, especially the father – to point children to Jesus. This requires that we are consistent in our lifestyles – not perfect, but consistent. It means that we instruct them rather than bully them. It means that we love them deeply and recognize that it is our responsibility to prepare them, as we were told in Ephesians 5, to leave our homes ready to serve the Lord and love their wives and respect their husbands.

Before we conclude this text and message in the next few verses, I want to point out that Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-3, and 1 Peter 2:13-17 are quite clear that we are to submit to governmental authorities, thus the title of this message – Order in the Trinity, Order in the Court. Please write these passages down and study these texts. You will think more deeply about this command in Home Fellowships this week. God makes it clear that if we want to be in obedience to Him, we are to be subject to every human institution – even to the point, we are told in 1 Peter 2:17 honoring the emperor. Remember, the Roman Emperor was hardly a godly man when Peter wrote his letter. In fact, many were about to be put to death for their refusal to worship the emperor. Peter – and, thus, God – distinguished, though, between worship and honor. Our submission to government is a matter of our testimony – so says God’s word. That’s hard, as is the call for employees to submit to employers.

Well, OK, Ephesians 6:5-9 says that slaves are to submit to their masters and masters are to treat their slaves with dignity, but since we are thankfully devoid of such in our society, we will make application to bosses and workers. It certainly fits. Once again, both authority and submission are shown to be matters of the heart. Workers submit as unto Christ and bosses lead recognizing that they have a boss in heaven, and this boss shows no partiality. He has no favorites. He is not inclined toward certain personalities or physical appearance. He created us all and He expects us to fulfill whatever role to which we have been called with love from the heart, and we are to live our lives seeking to please Him, not men.

That does not mean that we give no thought to others – indeed, the whole lesson has been that we treat others with love and respect. But, we do not do what we do in order that others will commend us and treat us well. We lead and follow with our eyes on heaven – and that brings us full circle, with our eyes on the Trinity.

We are made in the image of God. As we learned last week, the Father, Son, and Spirit dwell in perfect unity and express perfect love for one another. To be made in God’s image means that as the people of God, we called to live in community with love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have talked today about the authority-submission structure in the Trinity and how it should translate to our human relationships where we gently lead in love and submit, first to Jesus, then to those in authority over us with honor and respect.

I began this message by saying that we are a rebellious people. That is true. When God is absent from our lives and we are allowed to go our own way, we really want to go our own way. But, since we are made in the image of God, there is a part of us that very much craves order, including proper leadership and proper submission. If you think government should stay completely out of our lives, what will you do if and when there is anarchy in the streets? You will desire for order to be restored. Of course, the ultimate answer is for Jesus to be in control of this world. That will happen, regardless of your beliefs about end times – whether it is a thousand year reign on this earth or in the new heavens and new earth. For now, though, we can clearly give people a glimpse of God as we agree with and embrace God’s design for authority-submission and as the Spirit of God fills us with His power to live for Him, not for ourselves. His plan is perfect. Let’s pray.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Trinity Series - Small Group Notes #11

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Loving God, Loving the Body – Applications from the Trinity
Week of May 10, 2009

Ø Love originates within the Trinity and flows to us. (John 15:9; 17:22-26) We, in turn, love God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Read 1 John 4:7-21 and discuss the connection between God’s love for us and our responsibility to love one another.

Ø Over and over in the New Testament, love is singled out as the highest Christian virtue. Discuss the implications of the following verses: 1 Corinthians 13:13; Colossians 3:14; Galatians 5:22-23 (where love is the first and possible primary fruit of the Spirit); and 1 Peter 4:8.

Ø There is great diversity within the Trinity, yet there is perfect unity. Because of the love and unity that exists between the Father, Son, and Spirit, everything that needs to be accomplished is accomplished. The differences that God has built into the body of Christ are sometimes causes for frustration because of the flesh and the negative influence of our enemy, Satan. Look at Ephesians 4:1-16 and 1 Corinthians 12:1-26. Discuss the need for every single person in the body and also the temptation to look down on others or ourselves because of our differences.

In Ephesians 4, notice the significance of “one” at the beginning of the chapter, the importance of teachers in the body, and the need for every single person to function as God has designed him or her (v 16) for the health and growth of the whole body.

In 1 Corinthians 12, notice the feelings of inferiority and superiority that are detrimental to the wellbeing of the body. In all of the discussion we need to remember the diversity within unity that exists in the Trinity.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon # 10

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Love and Unity in the Body – Applications from the Trinity
John 17:1-26

This past Thursday was the National Day of Prayer. It is a shame that I am mentioning this today instead of last Sunday. I was remiss in not encouraging you to participate in the event, whether in Angier, Dunn, Lillington, Fuquay, or Raleigh. I was actually a participant in the program at Fuquay-Varina on Thursday. I was asked to pray for the church, which I was very glad to do. I have never heard so much about Jesus in one hour as I did at the event in Fuquay on Thursday. Apart from standing and sitting in the direct sun for an hour and a half without having applied any sunscreen, it was a great day and a real encouragement to me!

As I prepared for the two minutes I was allotted to pray for the church, I did so with an audience in mind. It was my desire to instruct those who were listening as well as to bring my petition to the Lord. Does that seem strange to you? Sometimes we hear people say things like, “Prayer is simply a conversation with God.” That’s true – but, that’s not all there is to prayer. There are all kinds of prayers – private prayers, small group prayers among believers or non-believers, large group prayers led by an individual in front of secular, religious, or church groups. During prayer we can worship, we may confess, we bring our requests to the Lord, and always we should give thanks to our Creator and Redeemer. Anyone can pray at any level, but not all prayers are exactly alike.

We are going to look at an extremely important prayer in Scripture today – Jesus’ prayer in the garden on the night He was arrested, recorded in John 17. When we read this prayer in a moment, you will think it quite different from the other words Jesus spoke on this same occasion when He passionately asked the Father to allow the cup of suffering that was before Him to pass. In John 17, as we will read, Jesus will consecrate Himself in preparation for the cross. Is this a contradiction? Absolutely not! It is no surprise that Jesus was both resolute and horrified as He considered the burden of taking the whole world’s sin upon Himself! But, that’s another topic for another day. Today we will begin to make application to this long study that we have pursued about the mystery of the Trinity. We will continue to see how the Trinity matters in our everyday lives over the next few weeks.

Clearly, we would not have time to exhaust the truth in John 17 – truth that was given to us in Jesus’ prayer, a case where He taught doctrine as well as communed with His Father. Since our focus is on the Trinity, please look for references to the oneness of the Father and the Son and consider how that makes a difference in our relationship with God and in our relationships with one another. Also, you will notice, when we begin to read, that the first words of chapter 17 are “When Jesus had spoken these words, He lifted up His eyes to heaven” – and, then He began His prayer. What words had Jesus just spoken? The words that we have read so often these last few months, as we have learned about Father, Son, and Spirit, that are recorded in John 14-16 when Jesus taught His disciples about their relationship with the Triune God in His last major time of instruction with them. Even though John 17 does not bring the Holy Spirit into this relationship, we know, based on our understanding of Scripture, the Spirit was facilitating, and intimately involved in, this prayer. So, as you stand for the reading of the Word, please look for teaching about the Trinity in our text. John 17:

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You,
2 since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him.
3 And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
4 I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do.
5 And now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.
6 I have manifested Your name to the people whom You gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.
7 Now they know that everything that You have given Me is from You.
8 For I have given them the words that You gave Me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.
9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.
10 All mine are Yours, and Yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.
11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
12 While I was with them, I kept them in Your name, which You have given Me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that Scripture might be fulfilled.
13 But now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.
14 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.
15 I do not ask that You take them out of world, but that You keep them from the evil one.
16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.
18 As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
19 And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word,
21 that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.
22 The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one,
23 I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me.
24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.
25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know You, I know You, and these know that You have sent Me.
26 I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

“I want, I want, I want!”

“I’m sorry, Justin, I am sorry Nicole – candy will ruin your dinner.” “I want, I want, I want!”

“I said, No.”

“You’re mean! I want, I want, I want!”

“Well, just a little piece – I want you to eat your dinner!”

That kind of scene occurs far too often in our day. And, even though many of us would be appalled when we observe it, or something similar, almost all of us are affected by the spirit of the age. It also subtly influences the way we think about God. For instance, when you think about Jesus praying for the Father to spare Him from the cross, how does that play out in your mind? Do you think of the Father as mean, or at the very least, stern, severely so? Maybe some of you think of His heart breaking as He says, “No, Jesus – I am so sorry, but this is the only way,” but I imagine that many would picture the Father replying, “I said No – don’t ask again!”

If so, it is a classic example of this world shaping our thoughts about God. Instead, we need to allow the truth about who God is to determine and direct our hearts, minds, and actions. Let’s put it into perspective. When your child is threatened, in any way, how do you feel? Afraid, angry, defensive, deeply hurt – the range of emotions. And we are imperfect parents. Our heavenly Father is perfect. And He loves the Son with a perfect love – He always has and His love did not change one bit when Jesus sought another way for the redemption of men and women other than bearing our sins on the cross. Can you imagine the agony of the Father when the Son asked, “Please, let this cup pass from Me?”

No wonder Scripture speaks so much about the Father’s love in sending the Son to die for our sins! And, it is why when we face pain and loss in this world, our best response is to look to the cross. I believe it was John Stott who said, “I could not live in this world of suffering and believe in God apart from the reality of the cross.” In other words, God understands our pain because He endured pain at a much higher level than He ever calls us to endure. “But,” you say, “that agony was temporary and had a very short end in sight – 3 days.” Two responses to that: 1) if, on the cross, the Father poured out and the Son endured the wrath of God that was equal to an eternity of hell for us, there is a dynamic that is so far beyond our comprehension that we should be quiet; and 2) for those who belong to Jesus, our struggles are also temporary. Heaven is our ultimate reality.

Let’s think about the love within the Trinity. Look at verses 22-24:

22 The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one,
23 I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me.
24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

From eternity past, the Father loved the Son and the Spirit, the Son
loved the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit loved the Father and
the Son. Some have said that it was necessary for God to create men
and women in order to be able to love. But, the love that existed in the Trinity was the foundation for His love for us. In the portion of Jesus’ prayer that we have just considered, we see order – the Father loved Jesus; now Jesus wants His followers to know the Father’s love that He has known since before the foundation of the world.

C. S. Lewis addressed this question in Mere Christianity. Quote: “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love.’ But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.”

But, of course, we have just read that God loved the Son before the foundation of the world. There is much more support for this truth throughout the New Testament, as there is support for the truth that there is complete unity within the Trinity. In verses 22-23, Jesus asks the Father to bring unity, perfect unity, within the ranks of His followers, and once again, the request is based on the perfect unity that already existed within the Trinity.

Next Sunday morning we will talk about how the order of authority and submission within the Trinity speaks to order in government, in society, in business, and in families. Our focus today is on the unity of purpose within the Trinity that exists along with the perfect love of the three for one another and for the one, for the three are one. The Trinity exists in a community and part of what it means that we are made in the image of God is that we were created to exist in community. In the process of creation, God repeatedly said, “It is good, it is good.” When He created Adam He said, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make a helper for him.” Community. Love and Unity.

Can you imagine how good it was for Adam and Eve before the fall? Perfect love for their Creator and perfect love for one another. Even though they were different, they had unity of purpose, looking to their Creator for guidance to know what to do and how to live. Then, sin ruined everything. And while there were excruciating consequences for their sin, God immediately began to work toward the redemption of those who would believe Him. He made a covering for Adam and Eve’s nakedness from the skin of animals, thus the first strokes on the canvas that displayed the picture of redemption that would point to the cross where Jesus, the Lamb of God, would die as the perfect substitute and sacrifice for our sins and so bring partial redemption to this fallen world. Full redemption awaits those who repent of their sins and believe that Jesus died in their place.

In the midst of this fallen world, the church is a called out assembly, or, community, of believers. We are called to be salt and light to a dark and decaying world, a part of God’s plan to draw men and women to Himself. Jesus told His disciples “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) And, the value of such knowledge for those who do not believe? They begin to recognize something tangible about the character of God.

The more the community of Christ-followers reflects the true community of the Trinity, the greater our impact on this world will be. Many of us feel that our primary responsibility for love and sacrifice must be toward those outside the church. Scripture, in fact, says the opposite – our first responsibility for love and assistance is to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Though it may seem strange to you, loving one another is one of the ways we evangelize. True community among followers of Christ has a palpable effect on those who observe from without.

Unfortunately, Satan is aware of how important our unity and our love for one another is, and he designs his opposition to God’s plan accordingly. I would say that he is pretty effective in leading us to express true love – for ourselves – and to stand with self-righteous fervor against our brothers and sisters who see or do things a little differently than we do. Now, if you whole-heartedly agree with me, quit thinking about how you hope so and so is listening. The thing about love is that it always begins as my responsibility. It is not based on someone else’s actions or reactions to my love. Linda used to say that when a relationship between two people is at a breaking point, someone has to give 100%. Giving in love doesn’t mean “giving in,” but it does, indeed, speak to the way that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit love us.

I have heard far too often, “I get along with non-believers at my work better than I do with Christians.” That statement represents a host of inconsistencies that seem all too common in our day. Why do we allow ourselves to be caught in Satan’s snare in the way that we treat one another? I think it is the age old problem that when you put religious fervor behind a personal conviction that you have against a particular action or style that someone else exhibits, there is great danger. Something that has deeply impacted me these past few years as we have studied 2 Timothy and Philippians is the biblical principle that while there are some truths that are non-negotiable, such as the truth of the gospel, there is also much room for diversity within our community.

Just think of the diverse roles of the three Persons in the Trinity. Yet, there is perfect unity. I know, there is also perfection in the Trinity. Since some of you are not perfect, that makes my job much more difficult! Just kidding. I am the first to admit imperfections! Even with our imperfections, we are called to represent the nature of God on earth. How can we do that as the sinful men and women that we are? When we yield to the Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus, which is the eternal plan of the Father.

Oh, my goodness – we could stay here until 12 midnight and barely scratch the surface of the truth we have encountered this morning. I wish you could know only half of the Scripture that I considered bringing into this message. We will get to a little more application in the Home Fellowships this week, but I want to end with a word of hope and a word of challenge concerning our call to live in this community of believers, as love and unity identify us with the Savior. The Apostle Peter, writing to first century believers, said “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

All of us have the sin nature within us, whether we are Christ-followers or not. If we are Christians, either the old man, dominated by the sin-nature, or the new man, led by the Holy Spirit, will be in charge of our lives. My problem is that so often it is difficult to discern who is in charge, God or me. When I am in charge but I think that God is in charge, I can really make a mess of things, especially when I want to set someone else straight. The answer? Love. Love others in the community, because love covers a multitude of sins, and there is no way to anticipate the creative ways we can sin against each other in the body of Christ. So, let’s love one another and work together in unity in order that all will get at least a tiny glimpse of our triune God, where perfect love and perfect unity reign in the great three in one. Let’s pray.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Trinity Series - Small Group Notes #10

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Jesus IS God, Week of May 3, 2009

Ø There is a difference in the way believers are called to deal with false prophets in the church and with those who are trapped in a false religion. In 2 Timothy 2:14-26, we see both groups. Read this passage and discuss the prescribed treatment for false prophets and for those who are confused about Jesus.

This passage begins with Paul’s call to Timothy to study the Word diligently (v 15) so that he will be an approved workman before the Lord. It would be necessary for Timothy to recognize truth and error, for there was already error in the body (16-19). That is not surprising b/c in a large house, there are all kinds of vessels, some for good use, some for not so good use! In the church, there will be honorable and dishonorable leaders. Timothy was encouraged to purge the dishonorable (false prophets) leaders from the church (See also 2 Timothy 3:1-9)

In the verses that follow (2 Timothy 2:22-26) however, it is clear that Paul did not want to cut off everyone who didn’t believe just like he believed. Paul urged patience and trust in God to turn them around. When it comes to teaching in our church, there are essentials and non-essentials. It is essential that GCC members believe in the Trinity and the authority of Scripture and that salvation comes by grace through faith. It is not essential that we agree on the mode of baptism in order to commune with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Discuss “essentials” and “nonessentials” if you would like – you can access our Church Constitution on the web to see what our church considers to be in each category.

Ø In the first 18 verses of John 1, the Apostle John makes a clear case for the doctrine that Jesus is God, although many try to point to the Greek of the first verse to deny Jesus’ equal status with God. John used the title “Word” for Jesus to make his point. In 1:14, John makes it clear that the “Word” to whom he is referring is Jesus. This verse could be literally translated, “The Word became flesh and pitched His tabernacle among us.” Read Exodus 33:7-34:35 to see some of the connections John was making between God and Jesus.
From D.A. Carson: “The ‘tent of meeting’ was the place where the Lord ‘would speak face to face, as a man speaks with his friends’ (Ex. 33:11). In Exodus Moses hears the divine name spoken by God Himself, and this is followed by God’s word written on two stone tablets. Now, John tells us, God’s Word, His Self-expression, has become flesh. He donned our humanity, save only our sin. God chose to make Himself known, finally and ultimately, in a real, historical man.

“The Word made His dwelling among us. More literally translated, the Greek verb ‘skenoo’ means that the Word pitched His tabernacle, or lived in His tent among us. For Greek-speaking Jews and other readers of the Greek Old Testament, the term would call to mind the ‘skene,’ the tabernacle where God met with Israel before the temple was built. The tabernacle was erected at God’s command: ‘Then have them make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them’ (Ex. 25:8).”

Clearly, Jesus is God and has chosen to speak to us not only through the written Word, but also by the living Word, Jesus, who is God in every way.

Ø During Sunday’s message, we talked about one way to engage Jehovah’s Witnesses through Scripture. Jehovah’s Witnesses seek to establish that in the Greek, the last phrase should read “and the Word was a god” rather than “and the Word was God.” In Jesus’ prayer on the night He was arrested, He acknowledged that the Father is the one true God in John 17:3. Ask a Jehovah’s Witness if there is only one true God. He will almost certainly agree. Then ask how it is consistent to call Jesus a god at all. Look at all of these claims that Jesus made about His equality with God in the gospel of John alone and discuss the implications of these verses: John 8:58; 10:30 (in both cases, the reaction of the religious leaders indicates that they knew He was claiming to be God); 14:9-11

If you are willing to engage in a discussion of the grammar found in John 1:1, you can use the following excerpt from the sermon as a guide – please feel free to call for clarification:

Perhaps you are familiar with the way that those who ostensibly derive their doctrine from Scripture and yet deny the deity of Christ interpret John 1:1. Let’s look again at the way we read this verse in English: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” But, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons like to point out that this is an improper translation from the Greek. They point out that there is not a definite article before the last word in the sentence.

Now, since I do not want to put the actual Greek up on the screen, I will do the next best thing and show you in English how some think this verse should look in the Greek since it is translated the way it is. At the end of the sentence, they say, if we are going to use the English translation, “the Word was with God and the Word was God” that it should say in the Greek “the Word was with God and the Word was the God.” It should have the definite article “the” in front of the word “God.” Since there is no definite article in the Greek text, some say that it should be translated this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was a god.”

I can imagine that what we have been covering for the last few minutes is quite confusing for some, if not many, of you. So, I understand why you are unwilling to engage someone on your doorstep who is telling you all about the Greek structure of this sentence. The fact is, though, that they do not know what they are talking about.

Do you know what a predicate noun is? A predicate noun is a noun that follows a “to be” verb, like “is” or “was.” A predicate noun renames the subject of the sentence. An example of a predicate noun would be to say that Barak Obama is the US President, or, for those of you with different political inclinations, John Roberts is Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. The predicate noun, “President,” is renaming the subject of the sentence, “Barak Obama.”

That is what is happening in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In fact, in the Greek the absence of a definite article in this structure can actually add emphasis to what is being stated, so that we could say “the Word was with God and the Word was absolutely God.”

Ø Spend some time in prayer asking God to give you a heart for evangelism and the understanding necessary to engage those who claim to have a relationship with God, yet deny the doctrine of the Trinity.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #9

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God: Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Jesus IS God
John 1:1-18

You are home on a Saturday morning and you hear the doorbell – the dreaded doorbell. When you open the door, you see two people dressed nicely with literature in their hands. You know that they are either Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. OK, every once in a blue moon a Baptist will show up on your doorstep, but usually it is a JW or a Mormon and they want to talk with you. Problem is, you don’t want to talk with them for one of two reasons – 1) you feel it is a waste of time b/c they are not going to convince you and you are not going to convince them, or 2) you are afraid you will lose the theological debate that is almost certain to ensue.

Now, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have significantly different doctrines, but they find common ground in their denial of the deity of Jesus Christ. This is true, of course, of all cults and other religions. In fact, we talked about the marks of a cult in the first message of this series. All cults deny the deity of Jesus – they all claim that Jesus was and is lower than God the Father. It automatically follows, then, that they also deny that salvation comes by grace alone. There is always a system of works that seeks to impress and obligate God for their salvation. Jehovah’s Witnesses say that we are saved by grace – but, some are not worthy of grace. I think that would be all of us! Another major mark of a cult is that there is always a source of revelation outside of the Bible; thus, the book of Mormon and Watchtower Society publications. Usually an authoritarian figure oversees the writing and dissemination of current revelation being given by God to the faithful.

Why are we afraid of JW’s and Mormons? Because they are so well trained to debate when they come to your door. Indeed, they are! When Jehovah’s Witnesses come to your door, they will use their translation of the Bible that sounds a whole lot like your translation with subtle differences. They will also tell you why these verses should be translated the way they are, even though none of the “scholars” who translated the New World Translation knew much, if anything, about Greek and Hebrew.

When Mormons approach you, they will tell you that Jesus Christ is very important to them. The official name of their church, in fact, is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They speak of salvation through obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It all sounds good, but as we have learned over and over in this study, we can say the same things about God but mean different things. Mormons contend that Jesus was pre-existent in spirit form, but all humans, according to Mormon belief, existed in spirit form before coming to earth. Mormons believe that Jesus was conceived in a literal physical union between God the Father and Mary.

One of the primary differences between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons is that a lot of the false doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses comes from faulty interpretation of Scriptures, though they certainly believe that their leaders are given special revelation from God to this day. Mormons derive much of their faulty doctrine from the book of Mormon. There are excellent books and websites designed to help you witness to people in these cults. I will mention a couple of these resources later. For us to deal with the primary heresies point by point would require a series of studies lasting many weeks. What I want to do today is to reaffirm our belief and understanding that Jesus is God and has always existed as God – He was not created. After we look at our text, John 1:1-18, I will mention specific errors taught by these two churches and how we might deal with the false teaching, but the primary goal is to encourage you to know truth well enough that you can articulate and defend the doctrine of Jesus’ deity. John 1:1-18 is our text – would you please stand for the reading of God’s Word?

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.
4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through Him.
8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.
11 He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.
12 But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God,
13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
15 (John bore witness about Him, and cried out, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me.’”)
16 And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.

John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Is that verse clear to you? Well, if you know what “Word” stands for it may seem quite clear to you. The English word “Word” comes from the Greek word logos. In Greek philosophy, logos stood for the principle of reason that governs the universe. There was no god beyond logos for many intelligent Greeks, even though many in the first century worshiped multiple gods.

For Hebrews, logos represented something much more sacred. It was the ultimate expression of God. The Hebrew word for “word” is dabar. D.A. Carson says that “God’s ‘Word’ in the Old Testament is His powerful self-expression in creation, revelation, and salvation.” Thus, the Jewish mind would understand God’s Word to be, in essence, inseparable from God Himself.

When John begins his gospel by saying “In the beginning,” he was recalling Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In other words, God existed before the world was ever created. Now John is telling us that the Word also existed before creation. If the Word is simply God’s verbal expression, then this is no big deal. But, verse 3 tells us that the Word was responsible for creating everything that exists.

Does that mean God spoke His word and the earth came into existence? That’s what Genesis 1 and 2 tells us. But, in John 1:3, the Word takes on personal qualities – “All things were made through Him – and without Him was not anything made that was made.” John was building a case. From this point he went on to talk about the life that is in the Word and how the Word was a light in the darkness. But, the light was rejected – and, it is clear that it was a Person who was rejected. For those who received Him, we are told in verse 12, He saved and gave the right to be called the children of God. Finally, in verse 14, we are told that the Word became flesh – or, He was born as a human – and, He lived among us.

The person is immediately identified as the Son of the Father, a claim Jesus makes for Himself repeatedly in this gospel. To further confirm that he was speaking of Jesus, the Apostle John went on to explain how John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, and that it is this very Jesus who came from God, who was with God, and who was God. It is very important that you understand the claims that are being made in this prologue to John’s gospel found in the first 18 verses of chapter 1. And, if you understand this very clear and profound statement about Jesus’ deity, then you will be ready for those who claim that Jesus is not God, right? Well, you have to understand that those who would deny Jesus’ deity, or divinity, are prepared to argue about this passage. They “see it another way,” as it were.

Perhaps you are familiar with the way that those who ostensibly derive their doctrine from Scripture and yet deny the deity of Christ interpret John 1:1. Let’s look again at the way we read this verse in English: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” But, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons like to point out that this is an improper translation from the Greek. They point out that there is not a definite article before the last word in the sentence.

Now, since I do not want to put the actual Greek up on the screen, I will do the next best thing and show you in English how some think this verse should look in the Greek since it is translated the way it is. At the end of the sentence, they say, if we are going to use the English translation, “the Word was with God and the Word was God” then it should say in the Greek “the Word was with God and the Word was the God.” It should have the definite article “the” in front of the word “God.” Since there is no definite article in the Greek text, some say that it should be translated this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was a god.”

I can imagine that what we have been covering for the last few minutes is quite confusing for some, if not many, of you. So, I understand why you are unwilling to engage someone on your doorstep who is telling you all about the Greek structure of this sentence. The fact is, though, that they do not know what they are talking about.

Do you know what a predicate noun is? A predicate noun is a noun that follows a “to be” verb, like “is” or “was.” A predicate noun renames the subject of the sentence. An example of a predicate noun would be to say that Barak Obama is the US President, or, for those of you with different political inclinations, John Roberts is Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. The predicate noun, “President” is renaming the subject of the sentence, “Barak Obama.”

That is what is happening in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In fact, in the Greek the absence of a definite article in this structure can actually add emphasis to what is being stated, so that we could say “the Word was with God and the Word was absolutely God.”

So, now that we have cleared up the grammar of John 1:1, you are ready to debate anyone who denies the deity of Jesus Christ based on the structure in the Greek text. Right? Well, I wanted to let you know that not only is there an answer to the technical objection that are made by deniers of Jesus’ divinity, but that, in fact, the argument is problematic, at best, if not entirely bogus. Besides the illegitimate use of the Greek grammar, there is a significant problem saying, from John 1:1, that Jesus is a god, but not the God.

During this series on the Trinity, we have discussed, at length, the non-negotiable belief of both Jews and Christians that we serve one God. It would be unthinkable for the Apostle John, a leader in the 1st century church, to imply that Jesus was a lesser god than the Father. There is only one God, and to say that Jesus is a god rather than God Himself, as John actually says in John 1:18, would be antithetical to all Jewish/Christian thought. In context, the idea that Jesus is “a god” is impossible. Either He was God, or he was an imposter, a false prophet and blasphemer, as the Jews said He was. It was Jesus’ claim to deity that the Jewish religious leaders used to justify having Jesus crucified, though they had to go through Roman authorities in order to have Him executed.

So, how would you deal with a Jehovah’s Witness who denied the deity of Christ and pointed to the grammar of John 1:1 as evidence for his or her belief? First, you must deal in love, not defensively or angrily. There is a difference in the way we deal with false prophets in the church and with those who are mislead in their beliefs – you will discuss that this week at Home Fellowship. Second, please know that if you are willing to engage a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon about doctrine, it will most likely require several sessions together, so you would have to be patient, realizing that they are trying to convert you, also.

In dealing with someone who has been misled on this doctrine, you wouldn’t even have to talk about the grammar. One would have to reject or reinterpret a whole lot of Scripture in order to deny the doctrine of the Trinity. Not that one argument is going to make the difference, but just one example of how you can engage others about their beliefs is to go to John 17:3 and have them read this verse that is a part of Jesus’ prayer in the garden on the night He was arrested: “And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” Ask your friend if he or she agrees with this statement that there is only one true God. Of course your friend will agree with you and in fact tell you that this is what he has been trying to show you, that there is only one God. Then, ask how it is possible for John 1:1 to be saying that Jesus is “a god” if there is only one God and Jesus is not that God?

We do believe that Jesus is God. We worship Him as God, just as the disciples that we read about last week in Matthew 28 did. The goal today was not to teach you how to witness to a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness in three easy steps. That is impossible to do. My goal was to show you how the debate goes regarding this most important truth and to help you see why you need to be able to articulate what you believe. If you have a strong belief system, you will be in much better position to help someone who is in darkness.

I would like to share a couple of resources with you. In preparation for this message, I went to Lifeway a few weeks ago and picked up a copy of Ron Rhodes’ book, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Though the copyright on this book is 1993, I would heartily recommend it as a resource to help you find biblical ways to interact with those who do not believe that Jesus is God.

Another resource is Watchman Fellowship. You may recall that the president of this apologetics ministry, James Walker, spoke here about three years ago. The web address is You will find a number of helpful resources at this site to help you interact with people in all kinds of cults and other religions.

This morning, as we prepare for communion, I want us to reaffirm our belief in the deity of Jesus as we quote, together, the Nicene Creed, which is really an updated version of the Nicene Creed, but we don’t have time to discuss that. In quoting this Creed, we affirm our connection in belief and spirit to our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and who did a great deal of work on the doctrine of the Trinity. Would you stand as we affirm our faith?

I believe in one God,the Father Almighty,maker of heaven and earth,and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,the only begotten Son of God,begotten of his Father before all worlds,God of God, Light of Light,very God of very God,begotten, not made,being of one substance with the Father;by whom all things were made;who for us men and for our salvationcame down from heaven,and was incarnate by the Holy Ghostof the Virgin Mary,and was made man;and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;he suffered and was buried;and the third day he rose againaccording to the Scriptures,and ascended into heaven,and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;and he shall come again, with glory,to judge both the quick and the dead;whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life,who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son];who with the Father and the Son togetheris worshipped and glorified;who spake by the Prophets.And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;and I look for the resurrection of the dead,and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Trinity Series - Small Group Notes #9

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Tongues and the Holy Spirit’s Work in Acts, Week of April 5, 2009

Ø The following elements are almost always seen at conversion in the NT: 1) Repentance of sins, 2) Belief in Jesus, 3) Water baptism, 4) Spirit baptism. Is water baptism an essential element of salvation? Can one be saved if he/she has not been baptized by water?

It is true that some verses seem to make water baptism a requirement for salvation. Acts 2:38 is often used to promote this doctrine. But, other verses (such as Acts 16:31) omit the act of baptism as an essential element of salvation.

If baptism were a non-negotiable element of salvation, then surely Jesus, Who came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10 ), would have baptized converts. We are told, though, that Jesus did not spend His time baptizing His followers (John 4:1-2). In addition, the Apostle Paul, who gave his life for the gospel, went so far as to say that he was glad he had baptized very few believers in Corinth because of the rivalries that had developed in Corinth around church leaders (1 Corinthians 1:14-17, esp. v. 17 )

So, we conclude that baptism is not required for salvation. However:

Ø Though water baptism is not required for salvation, first century Christians could not conceive of a profession of faith that was not followed by water baptism. Discuss the importance of this crucial step in one’s relationship with Jesus.

Time and again in the book of Acts, we see baptism immediately following profession of faith (Acts 2:41; 8:26-40; 16:29-33 - the Philippian jailer from the first point). Baptism is an important step for the believer. It is a symbol of one’s faith and allegiance to Jesus, much like a wedding ring symbolizes total commitment to one person. In some cultures, when a family member makes a profession of faith in Jesus,, a great deal of energy is expended by the rest of the family in an attempt to dissuade the “wayward” member from his/her decision. When the person is baptized, though, the family will reject and cast out the one who has chosen to follow Jesus. Discuss the need for the church (at large – and GCC) to give more attention to this important ordinance of the church.

Ø There is a difference in a personal relationship with God and a private relationship with God. A private relationship indicates that God will reveal new and/or exclusive truth to me. I am not promised that kind of relationship. A personal relationship is not only a possibility, but it is a reality for all Christ-followers. I draw closer to the Lord as the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to point me to Jesus. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. Look for the work of all three Persons of the Trinity in our salvation, spiritual growth, and service.

Ø Our personal relationship with God is made stronger by our commitment to the Word. 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us that believers who behold the glory of the Lord (we behold God’s glory in the Word) are being transformed into the same image (Who do we see in all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation? JESUS) from one degree of glory to another as a result of the work of the Spirit. In other words, when the child of God spends time in the Word of God, he is changed into the image of the son of God by the Spirit of God. This concentration on Jesus is a serious, intense focus on Jesus in the Word. Spend some time, as a group, going beneath the surface on the following passages: Psalm 23; Philippians 4:4-9; Colossians 1:9-14.

For Psalm 23:1, you could read the verse several times and emphasize a different word each time (The LORD is my Shepherd; The Lord IS my Shepherd; The Lord is MY Shepherd, etc.). Just read the passages slowly, picking up truth as you go.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Trinity Series - Sermon #8:

If you have not been following this series, please go to the post for January 22 where an explanation of the format is given. Happy studying!

All of God:
Exploring the Mystery of the Trinity
Tongues and the Holy Spirit’s Work in Acts
Acts 2:1-24

We have been talking about the Trinity, off and on, for the last three months. Today would be a natural day to end this series since next week is Easter, the following week Roy Lyttle, our missionary in Suriname will be speaking, and then the students will be scattering. It is too soon to stop, though. We will spend at least two more weeks on this topic in late April and early May. Unfortunately for those of you who will be leaving, it will be two weeks of solid personal and practical application for all the theology we have learned in these past three months. So, even now, let me encourage you to plan on catching the sermons online at our website after you leave.

Today’s message involves a topic that creates great controversy in the church. You can tell that I spent a long time trying to devise a clever title for the message. After mere seconds of thought, I came up with – Tongues and the Holy Spirit’s Work in Acts – as in, the book of Acts. It doesn’t cover everything, but it will at least be a foundation for understanding this controversial subject with regard to how the Holy Spirit works in our lives.

During the course of our study about the Trinity, we have recognized that there are many aspects of this doctrine that are non-negotiable. For instance, we worship one God, yet we worship Him in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are coequal and coeternal with the Father. You must believe that in order to be saved – it is a non-negotiable truth.

There is a fair amount of difference, however, in the way that committed Christ-followers understand the work of the Holy Spirit in the church’s life today. It is not that those who disagree with us on secondary matters are believing and promoting heresy, but there is no question that there are significant differences in the way believers understand the Spirit’s role in the Trinity and in the church. While we can feel confident in the conclusions we draw from Scripture about the Holy Spirit’s role today, we would do well to deal gently with our brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with us. I doubt any of us would claim that everything we believe about biblical doctrine is 100% correct. Yet, we act as though we are infallible. We would do well to take a lesson from Snoopy.

Maybe you have seen the Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy is sitting on the roof of his doghouse typing away and Charlie Brown says, “I hear you’re writing a book on theology.” A noble pursuit, for sure. “I hope you have a good title.” We all know how important a good title is – as in today’s sermon. As Charlie Brown walks away the ever-confident Snoopy is thinking to himself – “I have the perfect title,” which he goes on to say, is, “Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?” To which many would say, “No!”

Let me say to those of you who would say, “No I am not wrong,” that your confidence is a good thing when it comes to fundamental doctrines that are crystal clear in Scripture, such as the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith, and the authority of Scripture. Be careful, though, about the areas where godly believers differ. Always have a teachable spirit and be open to God’s truth.

As we read today’s text, Acts 2:1-24, you will become aware quickly that there is much about which believers disagree concerning the truths found here, and I do not pretend to have all the answers, though I have a theologically informed opinion. We will not stay in Acts 2, but also look at other key texts in Acts where we see reference to the gift of tongues and to the baptism of the Spirit. Because of time constraints, I will not be able to mention all of the different thoughts about these issues, but rather I will spend the time that we have giving what I think is the proper interpretation of the various texts. So, let’s get started as we stand to read God’s Word together. Acts 2:1-24:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.
2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.
6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in his own native language?
9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,
11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians – we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.
15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.
16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on My male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know –
23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
24 God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.”

Would you have liked to have been in Jerusalem at the temple on the day of Pentecost? What an exciting day that must have been! You will remember that Jesus had told His disciples that the Holy Spirit had been with them, but that He would come to be in them. Pentecost was the time when the Holy Spirit began to indwell believers.

Three supernatural phenomena on that day announced the Holy Spirit’s presence in the church. There was a sound of a rushing wind – not wind, but the sound of a wind. There appeared to be tongues of fire above the heads of at least some of the 120 disciples who had been waiting in obedience for the Holy Spirit to come upon them – not actual tongues of fire, but the appearance of such. Last, and the supernatural activity that is given the most attention, was the preaching of the gospel in the languages of those who were in Jerusalem for Pentecost. These languages were previously unknown to the disciples who were proclaiming the gospel.

It is possible that when the Holy Spirit came upon them that they were in a house, or it could be that the house we read about here was actually one of the many rooms in the temple. We know that when they shared the gospel in the many languages represented that day, they were in the temple. Since these disciples were Galileans and considered to be a bit backwards, the impact of their witness, delivered with what must have been impeccable diction and grammar, was astounding to the hearers.

So, the Holy Spirit came in very obvious power on that day. The primary manifestation of His power to the lost on that day was the supernatural, spiritual gift of tongues to many, if not all, of the 120 or so Christ-followers. Does the Holy Spirit still fall on us in this manner today? Is the manifestation of His presence always the gift of tongues?

First of all, remember that the book of Acts gives us a record of how God established His new covenant with those who will repent of their sins and believe that Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied God’s wrath against their sins. In the same way that Jesus’ divinity was confirmed by miracles, called signs in the gospel of John, so the ability to speak in a language that was previously unknown to the speaker confirmed God’s new work amongst His people. All those who followed Jesus at this point were Jews or Gentile proselytes.

One important fact to recognize is that these were known languages begin spoken, not the ecstatic babblings of people who were practically in a trance. The speakers were sharing the gospel in languages that already existed – but, they didn’t know the languages they spoke, thus, the miracle. And they were telling their lost listeners about Jesus! Remember, the Holy Spirit’s role is to magnify Jesus and that is exactly what was happening here. The proclaiming of the gospel combined with the miraculous use of tongues was confirmation that God was now saving people through faith in Jesus.

I would like to spend a great deal more time here, but we will miss important truth elsewhere if we linger, so let’s move to Acts 8 where we will see a passage that has led to crucial differences in the way Christians understand the baptism of the Spirit. To provide foundation for the verses we will read, we should know that Philip, an important deacon in the early church, had gone to Samaria to preach the gospel. This is the first record of the gospel being preached outside of Jerusalem. That is important. In Acts 8:12, we are told that “When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Then in verse 14:

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John,
15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
16 for He had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
It would appear from this text that these believers were saved when they believed the Word and that they were baptized by water at the same time. Later, the apostles came and laid hands on them, at which time they received – or, were baptized with – the Holy Spirit. Is that so, and is that the norm today?

Please know that while I do not have time to give you the evidence, this is the only time in the NT that we see the baptism of the Spirit occurring separate from salvation. Here is what you always see occurring simultaneously in other places in the NT: 1) Repentance of sins; 2) Belief in Jesus; 3) Water baptism; 4) Spirit baptism. By the way – I have to say that I am guilty of emphasizing numbers 1, 2, and 4, but not number 3 very much. It was inconceivable to the early Christians that a person would repent of sins and believe in Jesus, but not be baptized. Water baptism always accompanied faith in the early church.

So, may I ask you – have you been baptized since you trusted in Jesus? We will be having a baptismal service next week. I cannot emphasize strongly enough what an important step this is in your relationship with Jesus. While I do not believe it is a part of salvation, I will say at the very least that I find it difficult to see how a Christ-follower can advance very far in his or her walk with Jesus and not be baptized. PLEASE talk with me this week if you have not been baptized!

But, the emphasis today is the baptism of the Spirit. Why, in this one NT text, is the baptism of the Spirit clearly at a different time than repentance, belief, and water baptism? For starters, remember that this was the first time that the gospel had been preached outside of Jerusalem. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews, because they had intermarried with Gentiles and were thus considered impure by Jews. While Philip was an important figure in the early church, he did not have the stature that John and Peter did as church leaders. I imagine Peter and John went to Samaria to investigate what had happened with the Samaritans, and when they discerned that their faith was genuine, the apostles acknowledged God’s work by laying their hands on them, and when they were baptized by the Spirit, God confirmed to Peter, John, and the whole church that He had indeed accepted Samaritans into His family. This order would never again be repeated in the NT, so we must conclude that it is not the normative procedure in the life of one who believes in Jesus. Spirit baptism always occurs at salvation in every other NT instance. Those who would say, “Well, at least it happened once,” will often go on to say, “And, that’s the way God always works today.” Do you see the theological inconsistency with such a position?

Let’s go to Acts 10 to see how the gospel advanced from Jews, to Samaritans, to Gentiles. Well, let me just tell you that through a set of visions from God, Peter, who was in the coastal town of Caesarea, went to share the gospel with an important officer of the Roman Army named Cornelius, who was, as you would expect, a Gentile. When Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius, the Holy Spirit came upon him, his family, and all who were present and they spoke in tongues. Peter was convinced and said, “God is doing a work here – you need to be baptized with water,” and so they were.

Peter was excited about what God had done, but some in the Jerusalem Church were not so happy and demanded an explanation from Peter. So, Peter appeared before the Church Council and told them the story of how God had led him to Cornelius. Then, beginning in Acts 11:15, Peter said:

15 “As I (Peter) began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.
16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John baptized you with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
17 If then God gave the same gift to them as He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Do you see how God used the gift of tongues to show the Jews that He was now in the business of saving Gentiles – Gentiles who were not required to become Jewish proselytes before following Jesus? It is interesting that Peter referred back to Pentecost, some ten years earlier, when recalling how they had spoken with tongues. He did not say, “The same thing happened to them as happens to us whenever we get together and worship Jesus.” No, he said, “You remember how the Holy Spirit came on us ten years ago, how we spoke with tongues? Well, the same thing happened to Cornelius’ family!” And the rest said, “That settles it – God has saved them!”

There is only one more place in the book of Acts, in chapter 19, where we read about the gift of tongues. I don’t even have time to put the text up on the screen, but it is at the very first of the chapter when Paul encountered followers of John the Baptist who had evidently left Jerusalem before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and certainly before Pentecost. These were men who were serious about their relationship with God. Paul asked them if they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and they said they had not even heard of the Holy Spirit! When Paul told them about Jesus, they believed and the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke with tongues. Why? I think it was to confirm the message of the gospel – no matter how religious you are, you will not be saved apart from repentance of sins and belief in Jesus Christ.
Every place in the book of Acts where we see the gift of tongues, God is confirming the truth of salvation in Jesus. The only other place in the NT that we see any talk at all about the gift of tongues is in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. In those chapters, Paul is not talking about what a blessing the gift of tongues was, but he was pointing out the problems that had arisen in the church because of the misuse of this gift. Furthermore, he exhorted the Corinthians to seek after more important and useful gifts, such as teaching the Word. He does go on to say, though, do not forbid the use of tongues.

You need to know that from the second century until the beginning of the 20th century, the gift of tongues and other miracle gifts were rarely, rarely experienced in the church. Does God use this gift today? I think so! But, it seems pretty clear to me that many of the abuses of this gift that occurred in first century Corinth are alive and well today. We have seen repeatedly in this last month that spiritual gifts are intended for the good of the body, not for our personal benefit. The use of tongues today, especially here in America, is so often employed for personal benefit – to improve or confirm my personal relationship with God.

A personal relationship with God. We all want that, don’t we? It is a noble desire and pursuit. But we must recognize that there is a difference between a personal relationship with God and a private relationship with God. A personal relationship with the Triune God is available to all who call on the name of the Lord, as we were told in our Acts 2 text. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ and we become the children of our heavenly Father Who loves and cares for us as no earthly father ever could. All Christ-followers have a personal relationship with God.

We are not granted, however, a private relationship with God. A private relationship is one in which God reveals truth to an individual that He does not reveal to anyone else. There is no promise of such a relationship anywhere in Scripture. Everything that God is going to tell me is in His Word. Now, for sure, the Holy Spirit must enlighten my understanding in order for me to benefit from the truth of God’s Word, but it is equally true that the Holy Spirit of God will not reveal truth in my heart and mind apart from God’s Word. I spent a lot of time this past week in the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians where this truth is quite plain.

Apostles and prophets in the first century were given truth directly from God so that it might be communicated to the church. Now that the Scriptures are complete, we have all the truth we need – God will not reveal new truth to us, such as there will be fires in New York. Now, there may be fires in New York and I may have a sense that certain things are going to occur, but it is not because God is telling me the future as a result of a private relationship that I have with Him. Have you ever sensed God leading you in a particular way and it turned out that it was your own desire or conviction that had led you rather than the Holy Spirit?

Please know that when I say what I am about to say that I do not mean to lump everyone who speaks in tongues or believes that the gifts of healing and miracles should be prominent in church life into the one group. Many times, though, the ones who are focused on these manifestations of God are tempted to believe that they have a private relationship with God. When a person believes that he or she has a direct line to God that circumvents what God has revealed in His Word – even though the person would deny such a connection – the potential for theological error and tremendous damage to the church is great. And, the Holy Spirit is not the author of such confusion.

Well, it is an awkward place to stop, but to continue preaching would be even more awkward! Today’s message has been more negative than positive – about the way the Holy Spirit does not work in the church today, but it needed to be said. Even if this has not cleared up all your questions, I do hope it has increased your understanding to a small degree. Let’s pray.