Sunday, December 25, 2016

God's Christmas Gift of Love

Christmas does not begin with what we think of God, but what he thinks of us. As God writes in his Book:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Before God gave his Son to the world, he already “so loved the world”. Now, while our childish view of life may give us the impression that we know better than God what he felt, or what he did, God’s message to us from the center (and outside) of the universe is that he gave us his Son as a specific expression of his love for people the world over.

Since part of this gift to the world was what Jesus did a few decades later, another way of describing God’s love is stated like this:

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Do you see this message: God loved, and so he did what was necessary to save his beloved.

Have any of us experienced things in life that have made us question God’s love? I direct you to God’s hope-filled message to us all, that him giving us his Son in the glorious mystery of the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14), and him giving us his Son to die for our sins, demonstrate his love so undeniably that we cannot continue accusing him of not loving his children.

If you have believed that traumatic experiences and painful losses are good reason to run away from God because he could not possibly love you, take another listen to what he says in his own words. He is the best and safest person to run to with all the pain and heartache we have experienced because of our own sins, and the sins of others around us. He promises to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds (Psalm 147:3); all we need to do is come to Jesus.

Please do not think of Jesus as some legend, or imposter. He has expressed God’s love to the world in both his life and his death. And, his resurrection gives you the hope of living in his victorious life forever. Christmas day is a good time to run to Jesus and know him as fully and as wonderfully as is possible this side of heaven.

I pray a blessed Christmas, and love-relationship with the Christ, to you all.

© 2016 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.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Love Relationships That Complete Our Joy

Last night at our prayer meeting I asked God to give us a Christmas season characterized by him returning us to joy. My present focus in God’s word has been on a pastor’s example in love, and this cannot be understood without its connection to joy.

Jesus’ love and his joy are inseparable. In fact, the fruit of the Spirit, which are the characteristics of Christ God is forming into us, begin with “love, joy…”[1] This means first that these are the things God wants me to experience from him, in the Spirit, but they are also the things God wants me to express to others, also in the Spirit.

As I was preparing to share this, a familiar phrase suddenly popped into my head: “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”[2] There was a joy set before Jesus, something he did not have apart from the cross, which meant securing forever the brotherhood of believers he would have with him for eternity. This joy that was “set before him”, something he did not have until his redemptive work was complete, moved him in his enduring of the shame of the cross.

Why is there such great joy in heaven when one sinner repents?[3] Because the joy that was set before Jesus was that he would bring all his lost brothers to repentance in order that they would enter the kingdom of heaven by faith. This joy that was set before him meant that he rejoiced every time one of these lost brothers was found.

Two things that stood out to me as I considered a variety of Scriptures speaking of the love and joy of God’s kingdom. First, in writing the Philippians, Paul gave them some directions about relating to one another in unity and love, and in the midst of it he asked them to “complete my joy by…”[4] This means that there was some sense in which Paul’s joy could only be completed by the actions of his brothers.

How do I reconcile this with my belief that we can experience everything we are promised in Christ no matter how much we lack in relationships with others?

Answer: by differentiating between our God-sized needs and our people-sized needs. We are not created for relationship with God alone. Just as God does not relate to Jesus or the Holy Spirit alone, but all three relate to the two others all at the same time, us being designed in their image and likeness means we have a social need for relationship with them and the whole family of God at the same time. It’s just that our relationship needs with God are God-sized, and our relationship needs with people are people-sized.

Therefore, we can have the experience of Jesus’ joy filling us, and our own joy brought to the full, because of the words he has spoken to us,[5] while knowing that we also need certain relational things with people to complete our joy. This is why Paul could speak of rejoicing in the Lord always,[6] and yet say that he also had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” for the lost people of Israel.[7] His God-sized need for joy was fully satisfied in his salvation, but his people-sized need for joy looked for the very things that would cause him to rejoice, including seeing his Jewish brothers come to truly know their Messiah in salvation, and experiencing the church acting like Jesus in their relationships with one another.

The second thing that stood out was a Scripture that was shared in our church recently about the church relating to her leaders in such a way that they can do their work “with joy and not with groaning”.[8]  While this has a distinctive application in the church doing all it can to help our pastors enjoy their work with us, it also applies to all of us in relationship where someone else’s quality of participation can affect our joy. When we are seeking to put God’s word into practice, the actions of other believers can affect us with either joy or groaning.

For example, in a marriage, if one person is pursuing God in sincere faith, while the other is choosing faith in his/her sark,[9] the people-sized need for joy is denied, and there is an element of groaning, of longing for what is missing in the fellowship of joy. The same is true among all of us in families, where the refusal of some to obey God in obedient faith produces groaning, while the expressions of repentance and faith we long for would clearly complete our joy.

Today’s conclusion: since the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy is standard for every believer, I must open my heart 100% to the love and joy God is pouring into my heart by his Holy Spirit,[10] while being completely honest about how I am doing in my people-sized needs. I must first experience God’s “deep personal attachment” [11]  and affection towards me, expressing that same kind of love to everyone no matter how they are treating me. But I must also present to God my longing for the fullest experience of deep personal attachment and affection in my relationships with God’s people, even if facing this need honestly means that it sometimes makes me feel sorrow and anguish that this need is unmet. God satisfying my God-sized need will enable me to experience and express love in an exemplary way even while yearning for the completion of these things in relationships with others.

At the moment, I am preparing for how my place in the body of Christ is to minister to others over this Christmas season. While this time of year often makes people aware of their broken relationships, the coming of Christ into the world is our greatest hope of reconciliation with God, and with one another. This makes me want to seek not only growing in our experience of God’s joy and love, but completing joy and love in one another as well.

What will that look like in our fellowship with one another? Right now I only know that it will require fellowship in God’s words, since it is Jesus’ words that fill us with his joy, and bring our joy to the full.[12]

Bottom line: in church life, and in church holidays, setting our minds on our sarks produces nothing more than fleshly time off, while setting our minds on the Spirit fills us with the fruit of the Spirit, beginning with love and joy. The bull’s eye seems pretty obvious. The question is, how is our aim?
© 2016 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] Galatians 5:22-23
[2] Hebrews 12:2
[3] Luke 15:7,10,20-24 (context: Luke 15:1-32)
[4] Philippians 2:1-2 (context: Philippians 2:1-11)
[5] John 15:11 (context: John 15:1-11)
[6] Philippians 4:4 (context: Philippians 4:4-8)
[7] Romans 9:2 (context: Romans 9:1-33)
[8] Hebrews 13:17
[9] Remember that “sark” is the transliteration of “sarx”, the Greek word translated as “flesh” in English translations of the New Testament. It refers to that disposition in us which can only think of doing what is independent and contrary to the will of God.
[10] Romans 5:5 (yes, God’s love has already been poured into the hearts of his children through the indwelling Holy Spirit; however, while this is a complete gift in one way, through our justification by faith, it is also a growing experience, something that is part of our sanctification by faith. With that in mind, we take God at his word that he has already poured his love into our hearts, and seek the fullest experience of this love as is possible this side of heaven.)
[11] In describing agape love, Hendriksen describes it as, “deep personal attachment to his brothers and in genuine concern for his neighbors (including even his enemies), always seeking to promote the welfare of all.”  Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, p. 158). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
[12] John 15:11

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Pastoral Example of Love

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (I Timothy 4:12)

The Pastor’s responsibility: For the past week I have been praying through the details of a pastor’s job description as Paul expressed to Timothy in I Timothy 4:11-16. Today I focused on the pastor’s responsibility to set an example in love. For some of us pastors, there are lots of sight-based reasons to think this could never happen. However, there are even more faith-based reasons to ask for this in prayer and wait in expectation as God answers according to his good, acceptable, and perfect will.[1]

When I read this exhortation to Timothy, that he set an example for the believers in love, the conclusion is simple: every pastor today has enough in the love of Christ, and in the examples of love set by the apostles, and passed on to us through men like Timothy and Titus, that even if we did not experience love in the church from one other person, including all the ways we may have missed out on older men setting an example of love towards us, we still have everything we need to both know and experience the love of Christ for ourselves as fully as it can be experienced this side of heaven, and we have everything we need to set the same example of love in our lives as we see in Christ and his apostles.

In other words, even if all we have is the example Christ, every pastor can set an example of both experiencing that love, and expressing that love to others. Whatever heartaches may stand in the way of experiencing God’s love, or expressing that love to others, the love of Christ will heal us and bind up our wounds[2] so that we come to experience the love of Christ more than ever before, and are enabled by the Spirit to simply live out the same love we have received from God.

The church’s response: to not only follow their pastors’ example of seeking to walk in love (no matter how limited that example may be), but to look for any other contemporary examples of pastors loving the church and see what God is providing for us to help us do the same. And, whenever we feel stuck in the same place of having no immediate examples of loving one another in the church, and we feel like all our examples of people relating one another in the church are bad examples, we still have every reason to encourage ourselves to walk in love towards others simply because, if nothing else, we have Christ.

Here is the will of God for each of us no matter how little we see of love in our pastors’ example, or how we have been treated by any other believers.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

The bottom line here is that all of us can imitate God as his beloved children. Even the fact that many believers do not feel this love from God should not drive them to despair so that they give up on everything and run for self-protective cover. Rather, the fact that Christ loving the church on the cross is so well substantiated both in history, and in the divine revelation, means that we should cry out to God for our share in experiencing this to the full.

We do have the example of God, and of Christ, and his apostles, and many others throughout church history, so we can urge ourselves to not only live in the greatest love-relationship with God and his people that is possible this side of heaven, but to also seek to be an example of love to our church family, our enemies, and to the world around us. Whatever God’s word tells our pastors to exemplify for us is intended to lead the church to exemplify the same things towards others.

Prayer for both pastors and congregations:

    Heavenly Father, I want to experience such a filling of the Holy Spirit with the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord that it not only heals everything that is broken within me, but makes me an imitator of the love of God, one who walks in the same love as Christ expressed to me when he laid down his life for me. I ask that I would so fully experience the love of God that is mine in my Savior that I would also become a shining example of this love to everyone around me. I have no doubt that this is impossible for me, but I ask for it in Jesus’ name because I know that even this is possible for you.

© 2016 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] Romans 12:1-2
[2] Psalm 147:3

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Jesus: the Righteous Friend of Sinners

I have often heard the designation of Jesus as the “friend of sinners” as a justification for accepting sin in the church. If Jesus was a friend to sinful people, surely the church should promote friendships with sinful people, right?

Let’s see if this measures up to what is written in God’s Book about Jesus as the friend of sinners.

Friend of Sinners: A Derogatory Term

First, the designation “friend of sinners” was a derogatory designation given to Jesus by his enemies, the religious hypocrites of his day. Jesus described it like this:

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”[1]

Jesus was confronting the religious elite with their utter hypocrisy in dealing with both him and John the Baptist. They explained away John the Baptist’s ministry by saying he had a demon, therefore they did not need to submit to his baptism of repentance.[2] They explained away Jesus’ ministry by saying he was a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of sinful people, something the true Messiah would obviously never do. With these labels, they could justify their rejection of the gospel Jesus proclaimed since he was clearly (in their minds) acting unrighteously.

The point, for starters, is that the designation “friend of sinners”, was not something Jesus used of himself, nor did his disciples describe him in this way. It was a slur, an insult, a label that allowed the religious elite to justify why they rejected their Messiah. We cannot, then, turn this into a God-breathed description of his Son as someone who hung out with sinful people and made them feel comfortable with their sin.

Friend of Sinners: Offering a Kingdom

Since the religious elite were mocking Jesus as a friend of sinners, justifying in their minds why they could reject both John’s baptism of repentance, and Jesus as their promised Messiah, what did Jesus really do in his relationship to sinners? Were the religious hypocrites correct that their Messiah would never associate with sinners? Are the cheap-gracers of the church correct that Jesus welcomed sinners just as they were and made them feel comfortable around him even while they continued in their sin? Or, was there something between the two?

Here’s how Jesus described his relationship to sinners, first in a parable, and then in an explicit explanation.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”[3]

The parable is simple: the first son, the one who said he would not go to the fields but later went, represents the sinners Jesus befriended. They said no to God, went into their lives of sin (prostitution, adultery, tax-collecting, drunkenness, etc), but when John came preparing the way for Jesus with his baptism of repentance, sinners repented and were baptized. When Jesus then came with his gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the sinners repented and received the gospel.

The second son, the one who said all the right words, but did not actually go and do the Father’s will, represents the religious elite. They were full of outer expressions of acting like they were doing and saying all the right things, but they never actually went and did the Father’s will. It reminds me of a little boy in our daycare who first alerted us to the fact that a child could march around the room singing the clean-up song without doing one thing to clean up!

So, the religious elite were correct that it was the first son who did the Father’s will. The parable gave them a generic picture where the answer was easily admitted. However, they never would have expected the Messiah to explain the parable as Jesus did in his own words.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.[4]

Note that Jesus’ description of these sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes he befriended, was that they “go into the kingdom of God before you.” How does a person go into the kingdom of God?

When Sinners Enter the Kingdom of God

From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he went everywhere preaching the same gospel message, the very thing the prostitutes, tax collectors, and other sinners would have heard in every town and village he visited. He stated it like this:

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”[5]

Jesus’ message was that the time the prophets spoke about was now fulfilled, bringing the kingdom of God nearby. The people of Israel were not in this kingdom, but all were invited to enter it the same way, “repent and believe in the gospel.”

When Jesus told the religious elite that the sinners were going into the kingdom of God before them, he meant that these sinners had repented and believed in the gospel. They were not hanging around with Jesus because he made them feel comfortable in their sin, but because Jesus showed them that he would deliver them from their sin.

Jesus tells the religious elite that John had come to them “in the way of righteousness,” calling Israel to repent in readiness for the Messiah, but they would not believe him, even though John’s ministry was also prophesied by God.[6] However, “the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.” The sinners understood John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”[7] They didn’t want someone to justify their sins, but to forgive their sins.

Jesus then adds the indictment that, even when the religious elite had the example of these sinners repenting and believing the gospel, they still would not change their minds and believe John. They indeed were the son who said the right answer, but would not go and do his Father’s will.

Gospel Preparation for Kingdom Transformation

We know that Jesus taught things about the kingdom of God that were preparatory for the redemptive work of the cross, the establishing of the church, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. By the time the apostles led the church to carry the gospel to the world, the gospel of the kingdom was thoroughly explained and understood. If someone came into Jesus’ kingdom, they were leaving their life of sin to live in the life of the kingdom instead. Paul expressed it like this:

   He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.[8]

The sinners Jesus hung out with when the religious hypocrites accused him of being the friend of sinners were the people Jesus described as leaving their sin and entering his kingdom. They were the evidence of the work of God to deliver people out of the domain of darkness, including all the sinful things that characterized them in the world, and transfer them into Jesus’ kingdom instead.

Were these people once prostitutes, and tax collectors, and sinners of all kinds? For sure, but not after they entered Jesus’ kingdom. As Paul said,

   Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.[9]

This is what Jesus was beginning to teach in his ministry, that the people had to leave their unrighteousness and come into his kingdom. Those who come into the kingdom come from every sinful background imaginable, but with the clarification, “and such were some of you”, with the emphasis on “were”, past tense.

The description of these same sinners after they entered Jesus’ kingdom was that they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of the Living God. This is what Jesus was doing for the sinners who came to him prior to the cross, and what he is doing through the gospel now that the cross has secured our eternal salvation.

Commissioned for the Kingdom

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, he commissioned his disciples with this description of the gospel.

    “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.[10]

The gospel began with the baptism of John that was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus travelled the road John had prepared by continuing to proclaim the gospel that was for the forgiveness of sins. And Jesus commissioned his church to proclaim the gospel of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

Do the people who enter Jesus’ kingdom enjoy friendship with God? Absolutely.[11] But God takes us beyond friendship into something better: sonship.[12] All who come to Jesus in faith become sons of God,[13] and brothers to Jesus,[14] making Jesus, “the firstborn among many brothers.”[15]

When God’s Book says that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers,[16] it doesn’t mean that he isn’t ashamed to associate with people living in sin. Rather, because his brothers are those who have entered his kingdom through repentance and faith, and the transforming work of the gospel has cleansed us of our unrighteousness, and our sins have been forgiven in Jesus’ name, Jesus can welcome us as his brothers without any violation of his holiness and righteousness and justice.

The encouragement to us is not to make people feel good about their sin, but to feel good about their Savior. Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come, so let us delight in him and his great gift of salvation. And let’s keep proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom that is the power of God for salvation to all who believe,[17] watching for those sinners who want to be delivered from their sin, not approved in their rebellion against God.

© 2016 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] Luke 7:33-35
[2] Mark 1:4
[3] Matthew 21:28-30
[4] Matthew 21:31-32
[5] Mark 1:14-15
[6] Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 1:76-80; 3:4
[7] Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3
[8] Colossians 1:13-14
[9] I Corinthians 6:9-11
[10] Luke 24:46-47
[11] John 15:12-17
[12] Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 3:25-29; 4:5; Ephesians 1:5
[13] Galatians 3:23-29
[14] Hebrews 2:10-13
[15] Romans 8:29
[16] Hebrews 2:11
[17] Romans 1:16-17

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dear Pastor: Your Job Description (and church’s response) ~ Part 1

There is some really messed-up stuff going on in our world. It’s no surprise. Any man in pastoral ministry should know God’s descriptions of what evils will characterize the end times.[1] We have a job to do, and it must be done no matter the cycle of good and bad we are facing.

This morning, I began praying through one of the sections where Paul exhorted Timothy regarding the way he should handle his responsibilities towards the church. While the relational setup of the early church may be lost in our institutionalized denominational settings, every man who is living in the role of shepherding a congregation must look to the same qualities of life and ministry as the apostles handed down through men like Timothy. They expected these same things to continue through the lifetime of the church on earth, and so should we.

Here is the pastoral job description Paul presented in the first century. I have only begun considering what it should look like in our day, so I will present some thoughts on each distinctive component, along with what the church ought to do in response to the pastor’s efforts to follow this example.

11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (I Timothy 4)

Pastoral responsibilities:

1.  “Command”: In a day when so many people have been hurt by abusive leadership, and so many pastors and their families hurt by abusive boards and power-brokers, and so many church-goers have bought into the pluralism of the world that thinks everyone is free to do as they see fit, the thought that anyone in the church is called to command something of anyone else might seem a little strange, even out of place.

    However, since we are dealing with the church Jesus is building,[2] a brotherhood of people who live by the same realities of the kingdom through every age of history,[3] our marching orders, so to speak, still come from Jesus, and his word, and the apostolic teachings that make up the foundation of the church.[4] Paul was instructing Timothy to continue what Jesus began working into church life through the apostles.

    Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”,[5] and, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.”[6] He then added, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”[7] There are many more statements in this regard, assuring our generation of the church that Jesus’ commands still direct us. We are not saved through the keeping of commands, but entering into love relationship with Jesus by grace through faith turns us into God’s workmanship that is created in Christ Jesus to do the very good works God has planned for us.[8] Doing these good works revolves around obeying what Jesus commands, and pastors ought to command what is commanded. Or, perhaps it would be better to say, pastors must present the New Testament commands as the commands that they are.

    Church response: What should the church do when Jesus’ commands are taught as commands by their pastors? “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”[9] Obviously this is not endorsing the unthinking obedience to a pastor’s personal whims and wishes. This is not talking about agreeing to a building program or a budget, or tolerating immorality.

    Rather, this is the way the church is to respond to its pastors who are showing them from the Scriptures the things Jesus has commanded. As the pastors present the commands of the New Testament as commands, the church responds with the obedience of faith, not serving the pastors in place of Christ, but agreeing with the pastors to serve Christ as God’s own words instruct.

2. “teach”: a pastor’s teaching is to unpack whatever God has given us in his word. The textbook has been written, and the pastor’s role includes keeping the whole counsel of God before the people.[10] This does not limit the pastor’s role to a Sunday sermon, a Sunday school class, or a Bible study group. The point is that God has given us his teachings, and pastors are to teach those things to their generation of the church.

    Jesus set down the pattern of discipleship for the church by including the requirement of teaching all his disciples to obey, or observe, everything he commanded.[11] This requires pastors to teach all these things. The church is to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,[12] so the pastors teach every word God has breathed-out into the Scriptures.[13] The church is to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly,[14] so the pastors are to feed the word of God to the church in all its richness.

    Paul gives a model for teaching in the church that is aimed at caring for every generation of the church’s existence. He wrote to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2). Paul envisioned men like Timothy commanding and teaching the very same things given to the church by the apostles. He also expected Timothy to find other faithful men who would be able to continue teaching others, all the way down through the generations of the church. This model, of men like Timothy taking the apostolic instructions as words breathed-out by God and entrusting these same things to faithful men who could teach others, would ensure that pastors were commanding and teaching the whole counsel of God until the return of Christ.

    Church response: Jesus said that the wise man was the one who heard Jesus’ words and put them into practice, while the foolish man was the one who heard Jesus’ words and did not put them into practice.[15] When the apostles taught the church, the church was expected to put these teachings of Christ into practice. When Paul taught the Timothies to teach the same things to the church, the church was expected to learn and put into practice whatever they were taught.

    While all churches should be like the Bereans who checked out the Scriptures every day to discern whether what they were hearing was true,[16] we also need “to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”[17] The pastors teach to instruct in the life of the kingdom, and the church welcomes these words and puts them into practice in both our beliefs and activities.

    Again, even though there are so many scenarios of pastors abusing their place of preaching and teaching, and so many false teachers and churches everywhere we go, and so many church boards and power-brokers trying to restrict their pastors from preaching anything that would confront the core group with the will of God, God’s way of building his church is still through the commanding and teaching of the men he calls to serve his church as shepherds to the flock.

3. “these things”: this is the safeguard to both pastors and churches. Churches know that the things their pastors teach them are the “these things” given to the church through the apostles and prophets of the first century. On the other hand, pastors know that they can confidently teach whatever is in the breathed-out words of God to the church since God’s will is good, acceptable and perfect in all matters.[18]

    Now, Paul does allude to the fact that there will be times when the word is in season, and when it is out of season,[19] and there will be times when people in churches only want their ears tickled with some new fancy teaching.[20] However, those who seek to live by the whole counsel of God come back to what the apostles taught us, and seek to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”[21]

    I won’t elaborate further on the “these things” since the whole New Testament gives us the doctrines and commands we must teach. The point is that we need both the commanding and teaching to go together, as well as the “these things” to direct what is commanded and taught. We are also to guard against what Paul called “going beyond what is written”,[22] so that we are not puffed up as authorities on things God’s word does not say, and not leading the church astray with our own thoughts and interpretations of what we wish God meant. We can remain with what is written, and make sure all the things given to the church by Christ and his apostles is taught to the church until Jesus’ return.

    Church response: to treat everything given to us in the Scriptures as the “these things” our pastors must command and teach in the same way they are already commanded and taught in God’s breathed-out words. We are not to exaggerate nor deny anything clearly taught in the New Testament as God’s revealed will for the church. While we may like to hear these things taught in ways that relate to specific things we are going through, we must not show preference for one teaching of Scripture over another, but encourage our pastors to feed us every word that comes from the mouth of God. There may be times when churches are going through things that require a specific admonition from God’s word, but the aim of the church is to receive the whole counsel of God, and encourage our pastors to be faithful to give us everything God presents in his word.

While this has only processed the first sentence of the paragraph, we can see that pastors are to command and teach the same things that the apostles commanded and taught, and the church is to follow and obey the teachings of God’s word as faithfully presented by the faithful men who continue to teach us what God has spoken. I don’t have time or means to consider every possible way pastors and churches can mess this up. I simply want to begin by identifying the plumbline we are aiming for no matter what church issues need to be addressed along the way. I believe that a people who want to know the mind of Christ on all things will not fail to find it, but it will always include the pastors and teachers faithfully commanding and teaching what is written in God’s word, and the church faithfully putting everything into practice, knowing that it is Christ we are following in all things.

© 2016 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] The end times, or the last days, refers to the last great period of human history, the building of Jesus’ church between his first and second comings. God’s description of what will happen during this age includes the description of evils as listed in places such as Romans 1:18-32 and II Timothy 3:1-9.
[2] Matthew 16:18
[3] Note that Jesus spoke of the gospel of the kingdom that would be proclaimed until the very end (Matthew 24:14). There is one body of Christ that shines the light of Christ to the world until his return. Everything he gave the first century church about the realities of his kingdom still guides the church of our day.
[4] Ephesians 2:19-22
[5] John 14:15
[6] John 15:10
[7] John 15:14
[8] Ephesians 2:8-10
[9] Hebrews 13:17
[10] Acts 20:27, 31
[11] Matthew 28:18-20
[12] Matthew 4:4
[13] II Timothy 3:16-17
[14] Colossians 3:16
[15] Matthew 7:24-27
[16] Acts 17:11
[17] I Thessalonians 5:12-13
[18] Romans 12:2
[19] II Timothy 4:1-2
[20] II Timothy 4:3-5
[21] II Timothy 4:2
[22] I Corinthians 4:6

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Beloved Who Love

Consider these expressions from God’s book:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8).
 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).

We are told to love one another earnestly because that is what it looks like to imitate our Father who is loving us earnestly.

We can only imitate God if we know what he is doing towards us to give us something to imitate.

First, we are “beloved children,” meaning that we are beloved by God, earnestly loved by him. Then we live as “imitators of God”, doing for each other what God is constantly doing for us.

To make sure we do not miss this cause-and-effect relationship with God, his Book clarifies, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). Why do we “walk in love”? Because Christ has already “loved us and gave himself up for us”.

Or, as another part of God’s Book clarifies, “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19).

If any of us are struggling with the, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly” part of God’s will, the problem is in the area of our love-relationship with God. We must know what it feels like to be loved by God, to be his beloved children, in order to know how to imitate him in earnestly loving one another.

Since it is Sunday, pray through these verses from God’s Book and ask God to make both sides of the love-relationship as real in your life as is possible this side of heaven, and then join with a God-honoring, Bible-believing, Jesus-following, gospel-exalting congregation of believers where you can continue receiving the Father’s love, and seek ways to share that same love with others.

© 2016 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.)