Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Ins and Outs of Grace, Love, and Fellowship

          This morning I was considering what it means to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,”[1] along with, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”[2]
          The real-life context is that I have been watching someone cause significant heartache to a child, and haven’t been able to do much about it except comfort the child. However, this morning, God confronted my attitude towards this person in a surprising, difficult, comforting, only-God-could-do-it kind of way. Since I have heard many stories of people causing heartache and pain in the can’t-do-anything-about-it kind of way, perhaps this work of God is for more than just me!
          I began my morning by telling God how I was feeling about things that were taking place. Let’s just say that tears come easily these past few days. If you know what that feels like, we’re on the same page.
          The question is, how do we see the people who are the primary cause of the heartaches we experience in life? It doesn’t matter whether we watch terrorists killing innocent victims, mother’s killing their babies, or children living with preventable pain. There are always those people who do the inflicting, and who remain after the harm is done. What do we do?
          The strange and transforming thing that happened to me was that, as I described to God what this person was like, I could not escape the fact that I was describing someone who was a captive of sin, and showing the self-protective strategies of someone carrying many heartaches of their own.
          In my experience of the gospel, this meant I had to see the person as a victim of sin. The question now changed from the very personal, what do I think about this one person and the harm they have caused, to the very general, what do I think about people who are still living in bondage to sin, death, and the devil.
          At the same time, in my experience of the effects of unresolved trauma, I knew that I had to see this person as a human being who had experienced enough pain that hiding behind walls of self-protection was the only thing they could do. With no connection to Jesus Christ, the sark does what it does. It creates self-based systems for handling pain, which always requires shutting down the potential attachment to levels of relationship that can cause more pain.
          This reminded me of what Jesus spoke from the cross. In reference to all the people who had called for his crucifixion, he cried out to the Father, “Father, forgive them…”[3]As he had taught us to pray for our enemies,[4]he prayed for his enemies even in the most cruel and wicked thing anyone had ever done.
          However, he included a clarification of what these people were like that was not only important to the way he was praying, but also connects us to anyone who fits the same description in our lives. His full prayer was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
          Now we have to be honest. When dealing with people who are both spiritually “dead in their trespasses and sins,”[5]and hiding behind walls of self-protection, it will always be true that they are behaving in ways that “they know not what they do.” While I firmly believe that we are not to tell God, “Father, I forgive them, for they know not what they do,” there is something that happens to us when we can pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
          The primary thing that liberates the heart from bitterness towards sinful and self-protective people is not something that we do, but something we trust God to do. In the same way as the gospel itself is not about what we do for God, but what we find that God has done for us, so, when dealing with sinful, sarky, and self-protective people, we do not think in terms of what we must do, but what we must trust God to do.
          In other words, we are not released from sarky responses to sinful people by forgiving them while they are sinning against us. We are released from sarky responses to such people when we experientially put our trust in God by praying for them. When we can pray for people to be forgiven, and can pray for those who curse us to be blessed,[6] and can pray for ways to do good to those who set out to abuse us, we are not putting the focus on our own ability to do these things, but on our awareness that God must do something in us and in them.
          When the issue is that we have faith in God, we can then look at things that are clearly impossible for us to do, and ask him to do them. We can pray that God would forgive people, knowing that he will bring that about however he chooses. It will happen when he does it, not when we do it. The apostle Paul was such an answer to Jesus’ prayer. The answer came when God decided, and to whom it was ordained.
          When this comes to applying the two Scriptures I listed above, God is not telling me about “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,” just so that I can know these things for myself, and encourage our little home church with what he is doing for us.
          This is not only[7] about God working in us to have the will to receive the grace so freely given in the intercessory work of Jesus Christ our Lord,[8] and to work the things in our lives that will bring us to stand in this grace,[9] and rest in this grace.[10]
          This isn’t only about God working in us to have the will to receive the love of God, and rest in the love of God, and accept the wonders of our beloved state in God.[11] This isn’t only about us working out with fear and trembling how much God loves us,[12] and God working in us to work out the beloved realities of who we are in Jesus Christ our Lord.
          And, this isn’t only about God working in us to have the will for fellowship with the Holy Spirit of the Living God, and to pursue the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in the church through the bond of peace we have in Jesus Christ.[13] This isn’t only about God working in us to do the work of receiving this fellowship, and letting this fellowship with the Spirit heal us, and restore us. This isn’t just about us working out our salvation with fear and trembling so that we will keep putting off the sark, and keep choosing the Spirit.[14]
          This is also about God working in us to have the will to show the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord to everyone we meet, and to work out the real relational experiences where we can show the grace of Jesus Christ to the most undeserving, even the people who have come to mind while reading (and writing) this post.
          This is about God working in us to have the will to show the love of God to people, to love them the way that God loves us,[15] to love sinners while they are sinners.[16] And God is working in us to work out the demonstration of the love of God in people’s lives as clearly as God demonstrated his love to the world.
          This is about God working in us to have the will to bring people into fellowship with the Spirit in his church,[17] the kind of fellowship that John talked about so beautifully.[18] And, this is about God working in us to work out real, tangible ways of sharing this fellowship with people. Obviously this means sharing such fellowship with other brothers and sisters in Christ, but it also means seeking the salvation of everyone we meet so they can come into this fellowship as well.
          The way God wants me to think and feel about hurtful people is that he wants to show these people grace through us who are his children. He wants to show these specific people love through us. He wants to use people like us to show hurtful people the kind of fellowship they could have in the Holy Spirit.
          This is what God is working into us, that we would will this grace, love, and fellowship, and work this grace, love, and fellowship. We are to work this out with fear and trembling, not seeking our sarks, and not trying to figure out how to do this. It is all about setting our minds on God’s Spirit, and paying close attention to anything God is working into us individually, and into his church corporately, and into our marriages, and families, and friendships. Everything is about waiting on God to show what he is working into us, so we know what to work out in each situation.
          What we cannot do is decide the things we cannot do! We cannot decide that the Spirit can only work with certain people in certain ways. We cannot decide that certain people are beyond the scope of the gospel, or are the wrong kind of people for our church. At any given moment, what could happen is about what God has in mind to do for his good pleasure, not what I feel ready to do, or what I feel strong enough to do.
          When Goliath came against the Israelites, the Israelite army could not say that the impossibility of the situation was really bad timing on God’s part, since the situation was not impossible to God. It is never bad timing on God’s part when he puts us in situations that can only be accomplished by faith in him, rather than by human ability, ingenuity, or achievement.
          The truly Spirit-filled lifestyle is to always seek to work out what God is working in. God is working in the grace of Jesus Christ, so we are to work out the grace of Jesus Christ. He is working in the love of God, so we are to work out the love of God. He is working in the fellowship of the Spirit, so we are to work out the fellowship of the Spirit.
          It is fairly easy to put my focus on how to work these things out in the life of a hurting child. Showing God’s grace, love, and fellowship to children is a wonderful gift. However, people who hurt others, even children, are in as much need of this grace, love, and fellowship, as those they have wounded. It is to be like Jesus to seek the opportunity to show these things to our enemies, as well as our friends.
          Now, instead of thinking how you can do this for God, ask God to show you who you can share this with, and then ask him how he is already doing this. All you will need to do is work out with fear and trembling what he is working in you to will and to work for his good pleasure.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Philippians 2:12-13
[2] II Corinthians 13:14
[3] Luke 23:34
[4] Matthew 5:44
[5] Ephesians 2:1
[6] Luke 6:27-28
[7] Please note that the “only” in these paragraphs does not preclude that God is working in the ways listed, but that we cannot limit our view to these things as though that were the “only” things God was doing.
[8] Hebrews 7:25
[9] Romans 5:2; Ephesians 6:I Peter 5:12
[10] Matthew 11:28-30
[11] Ephesians 5:1-2
[12] John 3:16; I John 3:1
[13] Ephesians 4:3
[14] Romans 8:5-6
[15] John 13:34; 15:12
[16] Romans 5:6-8
[17] Acts 2:38-39
[18] I John 1:3-4

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ Would That be Doctrinal Experience, or Experiential Doctrine?

          Right now I am praying through the verse, “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”[1]Of particular note to me is the connection between the “think this way” that is already revealed in the Scripture, and the “God will reveal that also to you,” that applies to anything in which we “think otherwise.”
          Ever since my Bible college days,[2]I have been aware that there is a strong rift between those who live by the extreme of basing everything in the Christian life on experience with little or no connection to doctrine, and those who live by the equal-but-opposite extreme of basing everything on doctrine, with little or no connection to experience.
          Since life had trained me to be a people-pleaser, this has been a difficult thing for me. On one hand, I wondered why we need to keep picking sides over things that are both wrong. On the other hand, I wondered how to have fellowship with fellow believers who are stuck on their side of the extremes, quite ready to blacklist anyone who doesn’t see things their way. I have lost friends who seemed to have very helpful spiritual gifts to contribute to the church, but couldn’t fellowship with me in my concerns about their unbiblical doctrines. I have also lost friends who seemed to have a strong grasp on doctrine, but couldn’t allow for the ways that these doctrines related to real-life experience (even though there are doctrines that teach about experience!).
          And then we come to this amazing verse, yes, just one verse, in which God himself speaks of both sides of the picture as belonging together in all the churches. Paul says, as an apostle speaking the breathed out words of God,[3] that the things he had written in Philippians 3 were the way that “those of us who are mature,” were to “think this way.” Everything to do with God revealing himself through his apostles and prophets is involved in this. This phrase, written down by Paul as a man who was carried along by the Holy Spirit,[4] is God revealing himself and his truth to his people. We are all to live by the doctrine Paul gives in that chapter.[5]
          However, part of this doctrine speaks of something that is beyond doctrine, beyond the direct revelation of the breathed out Scriptures. There is one doctrine that speaks of what Scripture says, and another that speaks of further revelation happening in whatever distinctive and unique ways that people “think otherwise.”  Each possible “otherwise” is not stated here, but the doctrine that God will reveal things to each “otherwise” is clearly stated.
          This is such a beautiful connection between our dependence on what is already revealed in Scripture to know what we ought to think, and also our need for the experiential interactions of God to continue revealing to us how to move from our “otherwises” to full agreement with his word.
          Lately there have been two “otherwises” that stand out to me. One is when people fully agree with a doctrine, but they know that something is broken inside them and it just doesn’t get the reality of what is revealed. In this case, Paul’s words tell us that we can take the revelation in God’s word of what we all should think, and connect it to the things inside us about which we “think otherwise.” From there, we can expect God to reveal to us how to get from where our inner thoughts and feelings are stuck, until we are in the full experience of thinking the way Scripture has revealed.
          A second “otherwise” is when people have already experienced an inner attachment to something that is contrary to what God has revealed. It isn’t just that they can’t connect to what is revealed, but the attachment to God they should have as those who are mature has never happened, and so they have become attached to other things, like food, entertainment, pornography, attention, excitement, and the like.
          Now, when they hear the pastor preach about what we should all think as those who are mature in Christ, the mind gives full agreement with the wonderful calling of obedient faith, but there is an inner battle with things that are “otherwise” from what is revealed.
          There is hope for such people, whether those who believe what God says but simply don’t feel it in their inner being, or those who have become severely attached to something that is holding them in bondage to inferior things. The hope is this: “God will reveal that also to you.” So continue seeking God about your otherwises until God brings you from wherever you are starting from, to whatever he has already revealed.
          Both sides of the doctrine/experience extremes must come together in this. For the extreme experientialists, there is a “let those of us who are mature think this way.” If you think differently from what the apostles teach, including what Paul has written in Philippians 3, it doesn’t matter what else you experience, you are in the wrong. Get in God’s word and make sure you know what to think.
          On the other hand, for the extreme doctrinalists, there is a “God will reveal that also to you,” that connects the clearly revealed doctrines of Scripture with the personal and experiential problems of people’s hearts and lives. Do not deny people the right of experiencing God revealing things to them when it is God’s revelation that says he does this. When we keep together what we expect God to reveal about our otherwises with what he has already said in his word, all will be well. It is only when we deny one or the other of these activities of God that we get into trouble.
          In a world where so many Christians are filled with otherwises that don’t line up with what the mature should think, the personal relationship of God to continue revealing these things to us is a huge and wonderful message of hope. I encourage you to get to know God that way, both in person, and in fellowship with an assembly of believers.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Philippians 3:15
[2] 1977-1981
[3] II Timothy 3:16-17
[4] II Peter 1:21; 3:15-16
[5] I shared about these things in my video message: “The Way the Mature Think” ~

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Home Church Video: The Way the Mature Think

Our maturity level, and what we think, are not identical. For that reason, the apostle Paul identifies that there is a way that the mature people of the church think about the things Jesus was teaching his church. 

In this message we consider what Paul had written about the true gospel, and the effort we put into living for Christ, just before telling the church, "Let those of us who are mature think this way" (Philippians 3:15). 

Because this chapter included a very personal testimony, Paul did not want to leave us thinking that this was good for him, but not for us. All those who are mature in Jesus Christ will think the same things about the gospel, and how much effort we put into working out our salvation with fear and trembling while God is working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

Join us in affirming the message of pure grace, and obedient faith, that lead the church to continue maturing in our Lord Jesus Christ.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Inner Otherwises and the Revelation of God

          I am feeling very excited about what I am reading in this next passage in Philippians. I'm working on this verse, "Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”[1] On Sunday we focused on the way the mature should think,[2] and now Paul is dealing with the fact that there may be those who think "otherwise" from what he has just taught.  The question is, how “otherwise” was Paul talking about?
          I am quite sure he was not talking about the extreme otherwises of the legalizers who were trying to add the law to the gospel. He had already expressed harsh words about them.[3] And he would not have been including clear differences of an immoral nature, as he dealt with in I Corinthians 5. He couldn’t be talking about the church allowing unresolved divisiveness, or unrepentant sin to flourish while everyone waited on God to reveal to the sinning and divisive people that they needed to do what was already clearly revealed.  
          While it seems quite clear what Paul did not mean by the otherwises he was talking about, it didn’t seem so easy to settle on what he did mean. However, as I took another look at the context, I began to think of specific ways I have already seen this happen in churches. The fact that God has a plan to help with this made everything very encouraging.
          Paul’s primary teaching in the previous section is about how we do not rely on the law for anything to do with our standing with God, but have everything by grace. At the same time, even though we now have new life in Jesus Christ, we do not act as if we have already attained everything, but live like a runner straining for the finish line.
          Therefore, to think "otherwise" must be in reference to these two components of what Paul was teaching. On one side, thinking otherwise is to have some sense that we surely must need to do something good (law-based) to win God's approval. It doesn’t mean that someone is in the legalists’ camp, but that they are coming from a good works mindset, and haven’t been able to fully change their minds just by a once-through reading of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
          On the other hand, thinking otherwise could include the thought that, if God has done everything for us by his grace, then we are good enough the way we are, and we don't need to strain for anything at all. This could have been a legitimate conclusion people came to, and now that Paul had presented his example, they realized they weren’t on the same page as him about how much effort they had to put into their walk with God.
          What this reminded me of is a very common quality I have come across in churches. Many people hear what God is saying about everything being about grace through faith,[4] and they fully agree with the doctrine in their minds. However, they also have these inner "otherwises" going on because they have been taught that they need to be good Christians in order to have God's approval.
          At the same time, there are some in the church who have struggled through abuse issues, childhood trauma, or bad circumstances of various kinds, and have developed an inner victim-mindset that says they don't need to try hard at anything because they are too wounded. They are not disagreeing with the doctrine Paul teaches, but something inside them thinks "otherwise".
          The encouragement is that "God will reveal that also to you." Paul has already “revealed” God’s will regarding how we relate to those who try to add the law to the gospel, and how we think about the effort we put into living for Christ. What he is now dealing with is what the church does with the otherwises, the things going on inside of people that do not yet agree with what Paul just taught. What are people to do with these differences between what they hold to be true in their minds, and what feels quite different in their hearts?
          Paul turns us to God. The answer to any difference between the clear teaching of Scripture, and the thinking otherwise that we face at different times, is to look to God, because God will reveal things to us in direct relation to what we are thinking otherwise.
          This is what God is doing when we meditate on his word privately, share it together in emails and gatherings of the church, listen to sermons, meet on Sundays, share after church, and interact with each other's sharing. God is working in all these things to reveal to us how the truth we struggle with from his word can be real in our lives when we think otherwise.
          When I think of those who have had a lifetime of training that they can only be accepted by playing the role of a good Christian, we can encourage them that it is God who will reveal these things to their inner being. We can expect that their issue may come up over and over again, and keep pointing them to the transformation that comes through the renewal of the mind,[5] not by trying harder to be the mythical good Christian.
          At the same time, when believers are so reluctant to put any effort into striving for maturity in Christ because they have been shot down so many times, or they feel too wounded, we can draw their attention to what God will do to make things clear to them. Instead of a victim-mindset, we can expect God to reveal the realities of who we are in Jesus Christ, so that people know that they are not only saved by grace through faith, but also that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[6]
          As I considered the two sides to this picture, that there are some people who can’t escape that they must be good in order for God to accept them, and that people can be so wounded by life-experiences that they really don’t think that striving for maturity has anything to do with them at all, I realized that the same painful life experiences can create both extremes.
          What I mean is that, the same inner feelings of worthlessness can cause a person to think they are not accepted unless they are good, and that the drive to strain for a finish line sounds so impossibly hopeless that they cannot find it in themselves to make the effort. The “otherwise” is not so much that they think that the gospel teaches good works as the means of acceptance, or that it teaches there is nothing to do once saved by grace through faith.
          Rather, there is an “otherwise” that is really about not experiencing “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,”[7]and needing this good news that God will reveal such things to the longing heart. It is when God reveals what it is like to experience this surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord that the heart begins to believe that God truly does accept even such people as ourselves. It is when we feel the inner knowledge of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ that we begin to desire to know him more. The thought of running the race starts to feel real within us.
          One reason I am so excited is that God KNOWS that we have these otherwises inside us. So, instead of leaving us beating ourselves up because we have this conflict with what Paul teaches, he tells us that even those things are in God's hands. He will reveal those things to us in our innermost being so that our inner selves will come to fully agree with what Paul has written. We can admit we have an “otherwise” because God has the revelation that will set us straight.
          All this means that we come to Jesus as we are, we share all the otherwises that come to mind, and watch for the ways God reveals these things to us. For me, this is what it was like this morning, coming to God's word not really sure how far these otherwises apply, and now seeing these two very clear otherwises that God is already helping us with (that we need to be good Christians to have God's approval, and that we don't need to strain for anything because we are such worthless creatures). It is no wonder that Paul prayed,
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.[8]
          Such a prayer as this can be answered even when the otherwises inside us leave us wondering how it will happen. If God says he will reveal how to get from our otherwises to what Scripture already reveals, he will do it. He already is.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Philippians 3:15
[2] You can watch the video message at:
[3] Philippians 3:2
[4] Ephesians 2:8-9
[5] Romans 12:2
[6] Ephesians 2:10
[7] Philippians 3:8
[8] Ephesians 3:16-19

Monday, February 16, 2015

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Otherwise Way of God’s Revelation

          Today I continued moving further into this passage, "Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”[1]
          The issue is that, while the mature are to "think this way," as Paul has just taught in the previous couple of paragraphs, there will also be issues about which Christians "think otherwise." The church can agree on the doctrines involved, while having differences about how those doctrines apply to various issues of life.
          For example, while everyone would agree with Paul that we cannot mix the law with the gospel,[2] and that we should all strive to run the race with perseverance,[3] there might be "otherwise" kind of thinking in how to apply this.
          Someone in the church might wonder what to do when invited to the in-laws for their observance of the Passover. Some would say that Paul made it clear to have nothing to do with law-based things in the church, while others would say that we can participate in an event without interacting with our hearts.
          Everyone could still agree on the essentials, that there is no room for the law in the church, and that everyone needs to strain for the finish line to win the prize of our upward calling in Christ Jesus. And yet there could be "otherwise" thinking that the church legitimately did not know how to handle.
          Paul dealt with something similar when writing to the Romans. All the believers could “think this way” that all idols are of the evil one,[4] and there is no such thing as other “gods” (except for the fact that the demonic spiritual world keeps trying to make the world think such things).[1] However, that doesn’t mean everyone thought the same way about what to do with the meat that was on sale in the marketplace because it had already been offered to these idols.[5]
          Some Christians thought that the doctrines about idols and idolatry in reference to demons meant that Christians should not take advantage of the monetary savings on meat sacrificed to idols. Other Christians reasoned that, because there was no such thing as idols anyway, that taking advantage of the sale prices was a smart thing to do. Paul would never have allowed a difference in doctrine regarding idols and idolatry, but showed that Christians could have two opposing positions about the meat sacrificed to idols, with both sides doing the right thing as long as both sides were doing what they were doing by faith.
          Here in Philippians, Paul does not point to further study of Scripture as the answer to resolving our thinking otherwise (although searching Scripture would be included). Neither did he put the focus on the apostles as the primary teachers of the church (they obviously had their place since Paul was an apostle teaching the church what to do about such things). While Scripture and apostolic teaching were both God-given gifts, Paul wanted everyone's attention to be on God. There is a way that "God will reveal that also to you."[6]
          Personally, I find this very exciting to see how clearly the focus is on God revealing things. I don't need to stand with the pendulum-extreme of those who say that every thought is inspired by God (no matter how much false doctrine it promotes), and I don't need to stand with the pendulum-extreme of the nay-sayers who say that God never speaks to us outside of what he already said in Scripture.
          Instead, I can stand very firmly on the "let those of us who are mature think this way," in relation to the clear revelations of Scripture, and I can look to God to "reveal" things to the church to help us come to unity in those things about which we "think otherwise."
          I believe this applies to what God has taught me regarding how he continues to speak through his word. We never look for new revelations that aren't stated in the Scriptures, but we always expect God to give us insight about things Scripture doesn't talk about. In the same way as we can apply the descriptions of Behemoth and Leviathan to the world of dinosaurs,[7] even though the word “dinosaur” is of very recent invention, so we can take clearly revealed teachings of Scripture and apply them to contemporary problems and scenarios that are not mentioned in the sacred text of God’s word.
          This is what God was teaching me when he firmly established me in listening to him in his word just before being hit with all kinds of childhood abuse issues affecting the church family I was pastoring at the time. Some of those dealing with childhood trauma were also struggling with eating disordered behavior. Even though eating disorders was a brand-new  issue for me, and there was no mention in Scripture of anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive over-eating, that did not mean that Scripture didn’t speak to these things. None of the specifics we were dealing with were found in Scripture, but all the answers were there.
          Along the way, another pastor was also confronted with eating disorders when a family member began struggling through the same things as what I had encountered in the church. At the time, he and I were enjoying a weekly prayer meeting that was of great benefit and encouragement to us both. However, he had such a different “take” on how God wanted the church to handle eating disorders, that he decided we could not continue in fellowship and pray together. As a result, his family member also cut off relationships that had been growing in the Lord.
          I have seen this too many times, that professing Christians seem to be united when it comes to the “let those of us who are mature think this way,” side of the Scripture, but believe it is God’s will for them to cut ties with other believers when they hit the “if in anything you think otherwise” side of the same Scripture. God’s revealed will on the matter is that he “will reveal that also to you,” if his people will only, “hold true to what we have attained.” Since attaining a certain level of fellowship has consistently been part of the picture, letting go of what has been attained is in direct disobedience to God’s way of doing things.
          As I look back at how God led me through these things to do with abuse and eating disorders, and how the other pastor was dealing with the same things in his church and family, I sadly wonder what all God would have revealed to us if we had stayed together in what we had attained. What if we had waited on God to reveal what we were to believe about the things in which we thought otherwise. I am sure God would have revealed to us what to do for many more young ladies with abuse issues and eating disorders if we did  the whole will of God and stayed together. Instead, there was even greater pain and heartache added to relationships that were already tender with the sorrows of childhood trauma.
          I have had enough positive examples of how God leads the mature to think the way the apostles teach us, and people working through their “thinking otherwise” situations by staying together until God makes things clear, that I know God will do the same even now. The negative examples of things done the wrong way also affirm God’s right way of doing things.
          I am encouraged to keep putting high regard on the Scriptures and what they say, while looking for God to reveal things to us in the application of those Scriptures. It is one more way that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling in all kinds of application areas, knowing that God is working in us to reveal what to will and to work for his good pleasure.[8]

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Philippians 3:15-16
[2] Philippians 3:1-11
[3] Philippians 3:12-14
[4] I Corinthians 10:18-22
[5] Romans 14:1-23; Paul also dealt with these things in I Corinthians 8, and I Corinthians 10
[6] Acts 15 gives a very good example of the way the church handled an early issue of thinking otherwise. Everyone stayed together in their differences of opinion, and God led the church to a resolution that everyone was satisfied with because God had used their fellowship to reveal what to do. They had all worked out their salvation with fear and trembling while God was working in them to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
[7] Job 40:15-24; Job 41:1-34
[8] Philippians 2:12-13

Friday, February 13, 2015

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ The Best and the Worst of Examples

          The thing that really stood out to me this morning was that Paul talks about his previous life in Judaism as the best example anyone could find,[1] and he talks about his life prior to Christ as the “foremost” of sinners.[2] If being good by the law counted, Paul was the best. But if Paul was judged by the law as a sinner, then he was the worst.
          As part of his argument as to why Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile believers, are not to include the law in the life of the church, Paul itemizes the things that he would have relied on prior to coming to Christ. He says, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:”[3] He then lists these things that would have caused him to put his confidence in the flesh,[4] to be sure we understand that he truly meant his whole Jewish heritage.
          His point is that, if anyone should be telling the churches to add the law to the gospel, it should be him. Instead, he refers to the Judaizers, the ones who wanted all the Gentiles to add observance of the law to their faith, not as men who were honoring the law’s requirement of circumcision, but as dogs who were mutilating the flesh.[5]
          So, on one side, Paul can tell us not to rely on the law because he was the best law-keeper going, and he would never rely on the law since he discovered the finished work of Christ. On the other side, Paul can tell us not to rely on the law because he was the very worst of sinners, and the law could do nothing to help him.
          Paul winds up his testimony of good behavior under the law by declaring, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”[6]  This is the contrast he wants the church to remember: the perceived gain of keeping the law has been “counted as loss,” because it is now of no value. In fact, it is of deadly value, like good medication that has turned bad and now would be toxic to the system.
          In fact, to the Galatians, who had already succumbed to these false teachers of the law, Paul wrote this stern warning (like the label on a bottle of poison):
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.[7]
          Paul’s foundation-laying teaching for the church was that adding the law to the gospel is “a different gospel.” It is distorting the gospel of Christ. It is contrary to what Paul received and taught, and that the Galatians had received and followed. Anyone who taught that believers needed to keep the law along with the gospel deserved to be under a curse. That is how clearly Paul denied the place of the law in the life of the church.
          He then adds to the Philippians, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…”[8] Paul is very clear that everything he once considered a help to righteousness, he now considers a loss, like a storehouse of money he thought was gain, but now discovered is counterfeit, and so he counts it as a loss and moves on to the real thing.
          What is clear is that the old things of law-keeping are “rubbish,” and the better thing is “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Law-keeping and knowing Christ Jesus, do not go together, and Paul was very clear in fighting against those who tried to combine the law and the gospel. We come to know God by faith, not by works of the law.[9]
          Paul concludes his testimony to Timothy by saying, “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”[10]Paul knew that what happened in his life was not for him alone. Other sinners would look at God’s grace, and mercy, and “perfect patience,” towards someone like Paul, and realize that his grace could reach to them as well. And what was put on display almost two thousand years ago, continues on display for us today.
          Since Paul was both the best of law-keepers, and the foremost of sinners, his life is an amazing testimony of God’s wisdom, that anyone can look to Paul and know that no amount of good works will make us righteous to God. At the same time, we also know that the gospel of Jesus Christ has already redeemed and transformed the worst of sinners, so God can surely do the same for any of us who come to Jesus Christ by faith.
          There is much more to say about this, both on the side of how Paul’s example shuts down any claim that Christians need to keep the law, including the Ten Commandments, and in displaying God’s incredible wisdom in choosing Paul to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. A Gentile guy telling me why us Gentiles don’t need to keep the law along with the gospel just wouldn’t say as much as this amazingly good, as-Jewish-as-they-come, kind of guy telling me that the redemptive work of Jesus Christ is so complete and perfect that the law is not only no longer necessary, but it is in the way of the faith that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Philippians 3:1-14
[2] I Timothy 3:15-17
[3] Philippians 3:4
[4] Philippians 3:5-6
[5] Philippians 3:2
[6] Philippians 3:7
[7] Galatians 1:6-9
[8] Philippians 3:8
[9] When we combine John 3:16, that we receive eternal life by faith, with Jesus description of eternal life in John 17:3, where he said that it is this eternal life that is knowing God, Paul’s testimony adds another apostolic witness that we come to know God by faith, and, rather than simply not needing the works of the law, we now find the works of the law as a hindrance (deadly hindrance) to knowing God.
[10] I Timothy 1:16