February, 2015

...now browsing by month

 

Unparalleled Love

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

In ordinary speech, “love” is commonly used in ways that run far afield from its actual meaning. These erroneous usages range from the banal (“I love burritos”) to the self-centered (“Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”) Yet the true meaning of love entails sacrifice: giving, not receiving; focusing on others, not one’s self. The greatest exemplar of love is the Lord Jesus Christ, who demonstrates the reality of the Bible’s teaching that God is love. Christ reveals love in its variegated splendor by showing its generosity, loyalty, and purity.

A Giving Lover

 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13

The great love of the Lord is seen in the unlimited knowledge of God that He offers to those who seek Him. He gives His commandments, thereby revealing the divine will (Jn. 15:12, 15.) “In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), and He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), who manifested God the Father by His every action and word (Jn. 1:14; 5:17-21; 14:9.) Knowing His will offers one entrance into a relationship with the living God (1 Jn. 1:1-7.) He gives this eternal life to those who receive Him as their Lord and Savior (Jn. 1:12.) Most of all He demonstrated the riches of God’s grace when He died for the world – paying the sacrificial redemption price when we were still His enemies (Jn. 3:14-18; Rom. 5:8-11.) When one receives the Lord Jesus by faith, the benefits of His death on the cross are put to their account. Thereafter, they enjoy a living relationship with God, and have full forgiveness and justification through Christ’s shed blood. They also have the Holy Spirit residing within them to sanctify them – that is, they receive new power to live for the Lord’s pleasure, resisting sin and living righteously (Heb. 10:16-18.)

A Loyal Lover

A man of too many friends comes to ruin[i], But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24, NASB

The second word for “friend” in this verse carries the sense of “lover.”[ii] It is a strong word and is elsewhere used to describe Abraham as “the friend of God.” It also depicts the friendship-love of David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:1, 3.) Unlike the latter who ultimately died on Mt. Gilboa with his father Saul, the Lord Jesus remains faithful, and will never leave His beloved friends (Heb. 13:5.) As one author explains:

“Ultimately, however, even the closest of friends may back away when trouble comes. ‘All the brothers of a poor man hate him; How much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but they are gone’ (Prov. 19:7). At such times, only Christ will refuse to abandon us (Matt. 28:18–20; Heb. 13:5–6). Thankfully, Jesus delights to call us not only servants, but His friends (John 15:13–15)!”[iii]

Fallen people do not deserve His love, but in grace, He loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20.) C.H. Spurgeon expressed this beautiful truth in his own inimitable way:

“But our Lord Jesus never can forsake those whom once he loves, because he can discover nothing in us worse than he knew, for he knew all about us beforehand. He saw our leprosy, and yet he loved us; he knew our deceitfulness and unbelief, and yet he did press us to his bosom; he knew what poor fools we were, and yet he said he would never leave us nor forsake us. He knew that we should rebel against him and despise his counsel often times; he knew that even when we loved him our love would be cold and languid; but he loved for his own sake. Surely, then, he will stick closer than a brother.”[iv]

One of his contemporaries added:

“There is no sympathy, no love, no gentleness, no tenderness, no patience, like Christ’s! Oh how sweet, how encouraging, to know that Jesus sympathetically enters into my afflictions—my temptations—my sorrows—my joys. May this truth endear Him to our souls! May it constrain us to unveil our whole heart to Him, in the fullest confidence of the closest, most sacred, and precious friendship. May it urge us to do those things always which are most pleasing in His sight. Beloved, never forget—let these words linger upon your ear, as the echoes of music that never die—in all your sorrows, in all your trials, in all your needs, in all your assaults, in all your conscious wanderings, in life, in death, and at the day of judgment—you possess a friend that sticks closer than a brother! That friend is Jesus!”[v]

During his last illness, John Owen meditated upon this great aspect of the Lord’s love: “Christ is our best friend and ere long will be our only friend.  I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of everything else but converse and communion with Him.”

A Pure Lover

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27

The Lord Jesus showed true love by giving Himself to die for His bride, the Church. He purchased her from her bondage to sin’s chains (Acts 20:28) in order to purify her and present her unblemished and spotless to Himself. As Moule says: “What a standard for the man’s conjugal love, in point of elevation, holiness, and self-sacrifice!”[vi] At the consummation of her nuptials, the bride will be arrayed in fine, white linen – suitably arrayed to spend eternity with the “glorious bridegroom of our hearts.”[vii] He wants to cleanse[viii] sinners, so that He can make them beautiful and have them live before His face for eternity. The beautiful life is the one lived in the sunshine of His presence. As a 19th century commentator wrote:

“The love of Jesus for his church, at once the motive and the measure and model of the husband’s love for his wife, is the precious doctrine of our Scripture…In the exercise of that love for his church, Christ gave himself for her that he might set her apart for himself in holiness, having cleansed her with the washing of water by (in connection with) the word, that he might present her to himself all glorious ‘within’ (Psalm 45:13), having no spot, no wrinkle, nor any such thing, but that she might be holy and unblemished. So has his love moved him to prepare his bride for the purity and blessedness of his heavenly home. In every stage of progress in this cleansing and adornment, how profound has been his interest; how wise his agencies; how full of love and sympathy his watchful heart; and how sublime will be his joy in the final consummation—a glorious church, of stainless purity, of ineffable beauty and glory—all due to the love of her great Redeemer!—Let us not omit to note the ravishing view of this adornment of his bride which the revelator John has put (Rev. 19:7, 8): ‘The marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife hath made herself ready; and to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.’ “[ix]

The believer has a loyal lover who gave Himself in unparalleled grace and will not cease working on His beloved until she stands gloriously complete before Him.

NOTES:

[i] Many reliable translations follow this understanding of the Hebrew verb (e.g. JND, ASV, ESV, NET, etc.), as do the KJVmg. & NKJVmg.

[ii]ʾahab likewise describes the deep love that friends can have for each other. This is not sexual in nature, but attests to the deep abiding love that only God can provide. This is the love that Saul has for David (1 Sam. 16:21) and that David shares with Jonathan (18:1, 3). This can be called a familial or brotherly love.”

William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 425.

a friend] Heb. a lover. It is a stronger word than that translated ‘friends’ in the first clause of the verse; and is used of Abraham when he is called, ‘the friend of God’ (2 Chron. 20:7; Is. 41:8; comp. 1 Sam. 18:1; 2 Sam. 1:26). See 17:17. Here again is a proverb which only reaches its goal in Him, who says to His disciples, ‘I have called you friends.’ John 15:15.” T. T. Perowne, The Proverbs with Introduction and Notes, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1899), 127 [boldface original.]

[iii] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary. (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2006), 408.

[iv] C. H. Spurgeon, “A Faithful Friend,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 3. Originally preached on March 8, 1857. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1857), 109.

[v] Octavius Winslow, Christ’s Sympathy To Weary Pilgrims, quoted on the blog: http://octaviuswinslow.org/2010/04/01/what-a-friend-what-a-savior/ Accessed on April 1, 2010.

[vi] H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Ephesians, with Introduction and Notes, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1891), 140.

[vii] C.H. Spurgeon, Hymn: “Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands.”

[viii] E.Y. Mullins defines “sanctify” in Eph. 5:26 thus: “‘Sanctify’ means to set apart to God’s service, or to purify by moral and spiritual cleansing. Here probably the word carries both meanings, since both the beginning and the outcome of the sanctifying process are given, and since also it is described in its ceremonial meaning as well as in the sense of a moral and spiritual process.” Studies in Ephesians (Nashville, TN: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1935), 125.

[ix] Henry Cowles, The Shorter Epistles; Viz: Of Paul to the Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; Thessalonians; Timothy; Titus and Philemon; Also, of James, Peter, and Jude (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1879), 105.

Guest post from R.P. Amos: “What God Looks for in a Local Church”

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

When talking about a local church many will mention its “worship music”, or youth group, or dynamic preacher that leaves them inspired. Some will highlight the liturgy that emits holy feelings, or how their needs are met, or that they feel happy there. Others will focus on friendly care for the hurting or big numbers showing successful growth or gospel mission outreach. In the Corinthian church you will see 9 characteristics the Lord Jesus commissioned Paul to teach. These please the heart of God in His house.

1 – UNITY      1Cor. 1:10-16 – “perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment”

The unity the Lord is talking about is not just the absence of fighting or agreeing to disagree. It’s not just a unity of purpose – all sharing a common goal like fans do for their ball team. It’s unanimity: all speaking the same thing with the same mind by having the same thinking in discerning right and wrong. It’s a unity of truth!   This can only come by owning the Name (authority and wisdom) of the Lord Jesus Christ alone.

 2 – GLORY     1Cor. 1:29 – 4:21 – “That no flesh should glory in his presence”

The church is to glory only in the Lord. As condemned sinners we by grace alone have been given (not earned) every spiritual blessing. So since all was given to us by grace there is no reason to “glory in men”. The Lord censures identifying our ‘Christianity’ by a man’s name – or – giving special titles to a man based on his gift or calling. Clerical vestments for the “ordained” that marks one out as more educated than other brothers and sisters are found not in NT Scripture. This would give a measure of glory to man. All believers are equally called “brethren” in Corinthians, matching the teaching of the Lord Jesus when on earth, (Matt. 23:6-12). The only one who gets a title is Jesus: the Lord Jesus. Things like a clapping ovation for man’s “performance” in the church would be strange when the Lord says, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord”.

 3 – PURITY (HOLY)     1Cor. 5 – 6 – “put away from among yourselves that wicked person”

A major characteristic of God’s house is holiness. We tend to focus on happiness. “Holiness becometh thine house, O LORD, forever” says the OT. And the NT says, “for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are”. Holiness is a separation from sin and consecration to what is right. That’s why a “brother” living in certain sins is to be dealt with by excommunication, not toleration. That is not “shooting your wounded” but removing a cancer so health can be restored. Also, joining our body in an immoral sexual union is to be fled from for we are the Lord’s temple and His Holy Spirit lives in us.

 4 – FIDELITY   1Cor. 7 – “remain unmarried, or be reconciled – let not the husband put away his wife”

Faithfulness in the marriage union until death is to characterize a man and a woman in God’s house. The Corinthian letter to His church instructs a believing woman not to depart from her husband. But if she does separate (perhaps for some safety reason, etc.) from her husband, she is to remain unmarried or seek to be reconciled says the Lord Jesus. Only her husband’s death frees her to remarry, (1 Cor. 7:39).   And the believing husband (though he has marital authority) is commanded by the Lord not to put away (divorce) his wife. For the husband as head is to mirror Christ and the church. Will Christ the Head ever put away His church from His body because of our failure?

5 – CHARITY (LOVE)           1Cor. 8 – 10, 13 – “charity [love] edifieth”

Charity of course means to give. Charity or love is more than words but the giving of self for the welfare of others. Charity in matters of liberty is willing to give up personal freedoms before the Lord when it might offend another person’s conscience in his walk before the Lord. Charity will foster edifying over dividing. Paul said, “if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth …”. The Lord taught, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”.

 6 – AUTHORITY 1Cor.11:1-16 –“the head of every man is Christ – the head of the woman is the man”

Based on creative choice, the Lord has established man as the authority over the woman. This will demonstrate itself among the churches of God with the woman being covered and the man uncovered when praying or prophesying. Also to show God’s choice, the man is to have vocal responsibility in the churches while the woman is to be silent there. Submission is not stating inequality in value for “the head of Christ is God”. However, the man is not without a head for his head is Christ. Therefore, whatever man does in relation to the woman needs to come from Christ and not his own personal desires.

 7 – MEMORABLY     1Cor. 11:17-34 – “this do in remembrance of me”

The Corinthians had turned the “Lord’s supper” into their “own supper”. What was meant to focus on the Lord in the church was abused and turned into meeting their social needs. They are reminded when they come together in the church that a primary purpose is the remembrance of the Lord. The Lord’s Supper is a continual object lesson to show forth the Lord Jesus Christ’s great redeeming death till He comes. It is a time of mutual fellowship in Christ when thanksgiving is offered as the Lord did. In a memorial service one in love focuses on the person who died, not his or her own personal needs.

 8 – PLURALITY    1Cor. 12 & 14 – “ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn”

Because the Spirit gives all believers various gifts, there is to be the liberty of a plurality of brothers involved in a church meeting. This will provide a varied and full spiritual diet to help the believers learn and be comforted. It will also help keep the brothers in the Word as they (not just one professional man) have some responsibility in contributing to the growth of the church. It’s not just sitting in the “pew” to take in. However, this liberty of gifts is an orderly plurality controlled by the Lord’s written commandments for His churches to promote learning and His headship protocol.

 

9 – VERACITY (TRUTH)      1Cor. 15 – “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received”

While charity (love) is a key characteristic, we learn that charity “rejoiceth in the truth”. Truth gives the right understanding of God. Truth sets free from satanic deceptions to entice one away from the Lord’s ways. So in chapter 15 the Spirit guides Paul to correct the doctrinal error that the resurrection is past. He does not keep silent so as not to offend. But he reveals truth to encourage the church as “the pillar and ground of the truth” in a dark world. He did not use opinion or popular consensus but the Word from the Lord.

Notice this all starts with the unanimity of chapter one of having the same mind in God’s wisdom – “the mind of Christ”. If this is off, the rest will be harder to reach. Are we seeking a church with these characteristics and helping such with our involvement?