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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Truth and Love: A Study of 2 John (part 2)

As we continue in our study of 2 John we are reminded that John is writing to a local church, reminding them of the importance of love and truth. He gets more specific this week as he continues.

“I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth…” John has apparently seen the lifestyle of the people in this church. Their obedience brings him joy. Great joy. This lifestyle is habitual and faithful (noted by the use of the term “walking”). We also note that this joy was found in seeing “some” of then walking in the truth. All of the children had not been walking in this way. This should in some ways comfort us in knowing that when God calls us “children” it means he doesn’t expect us to stand on our own right away. It is also comforting to note that he does celebrate progress.

It cannot be escaped that the Holy Spirit through John is highlighting “the truth.” A fixed, body of eternal truth. Relativism is incompatible with a Christian worldview and incompatible with Christian living. We cannot live out truth if truth is not fixed and knowable- “just as you were commanded by the Father.” Truth is knowable because God has spoken.

With this foundation, John continues with his point in writing. “I ask you dear lady” He begins by pointing two things, first that his exhortation is not given without deep care for them. John models what this book proclaims, truth must be declared in love. He notes first his love for the church (the “lady”). Then he declares that what he is going to exhort them in is truth by saying, “not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning.” By this he is saying that he is not writing a new command (though he could, he had the authority to do so), but that this truth is truth which John himself, and this church, knew well. In fact, it reached all the way back to the days of Moses. His command was “that you love one another.” This command reached back into the book of Leviticus, but certainly its echo was fresh in the ears of the disciples from the Lord Jesus. In His last week of earthly ministry He commanded His disciples to “love one another” and that by doing so the world would be “know that they were his disciples.” Love proclaims truth. But, as John points us next, love does not exist apart from truth.

“And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.” John goes so far as to explain how we love- through obedience to God. Love does not exist outside of obedience, and therefore; love can never be without truth. The most loving thing we owe Christians and non-Christians around us is to live an authentic life of obedience to God. 1 John is all about how this plays out in the Christian life. But, this should be the central point we walk away with from these verses in 2 John; “We must love one another in truth…” Loving one another in truth begins by living as an authentic witness in our life. Obedience is not just done to declare our love for God, but our love for others. We must reminder these essentials as we look next at why he so concerned with love: because deception abounds!  See you next week.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Election Fuels Mission
It is often charged that if you believe in election then you won’t evangelize. But the same Lord who gave is the Great Commission spoke of the “elect.” It is also said that, “If you believe in election then you believe that people are created for Hell, and therefore you have no consistent reason to share the gospel.” A.W. Pink talks more about this in his book, “The Sovereignty of God.” Honestly, this response to the doctrines of grace is partially right and partially wrong. Do those who believe in election believe people are “created for” Hell? If by this they mean that God creates an individual fully knowing their eternal destiny, then yes. I would say that every Christian believes this. If God knows everything, then He knows the eternal destinies of those He creates when He creates, thus He creates people knowing they will not repent. I disagree, as does the Bible, that this leads to fatalism and to lack of evangelistic zeal. In fact, God’s sovereignty in salvation becomes a fuel for Paul in one of the Bible’s most controversial chapter: Romans 9. To this we will turn and see how unconditional election empowers and emboldens personal evangelism.

In Romans 9, Paul is speaking of the glory of God’s sovereign mercy, he also writes of the glory of God’s sovereign wrath. This is usually where people begin to raise issues with the doctrine of unconditional election. But Paul never made it a barrier to his evangelism, but saw it as a boulder that crushes human pride! He begins the conversation in Romans 9 speaking of Israel and of God’s choosing of Jacob over Esau (before either were born or had done good for bad – Romans 9:11-12). Paul, anticipating a heckler responds back, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!” (Romans 9:14). His response? God is God and you are not.

Paul gives yet another case study, the Exodus. He draws his readers back to Moses and Pharaoh. Similar to what he does in v. 22-23, he begins by speaking on God’s mercy. It depends not on human will or exertion but on God’s who gives mercy verse 16 tells us. He even quotes from Exodus to further prove his point! He then turns to the other side of the coin- God’s severity. He quotes from Exodus 4:21 to say, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” God’s purpose in the life of Pharaoh was to show his wrath and power through him. This would proclaim his name in all the earth!

Pharaoh was an example of what happens when you rebel against God and God let him rebel. He freely let him pursue what He wanted- disobedience. Disobedience through a hard heart always gives way to further hardening. In fact, Romans 1 makes clear that the judgment for a hard heart is a harder heart. Hard, disobedient, hearts are, apart from God’s grace black holes of God’s judgment, never emptying. Such is the severity of our sin! And God choosing to judge and further harden the heart of Pharaoh’s heart is an example of us of God’s severity and provides a basis for our message. The darkness of our sin only makes his mercy shine brighter! This provides a foundation to declare the sinfulness and emptiness of sin. It also provides a foundation for declaring the judgment of God against sin, without which we cannot understand the mercy of God in Christ!

In fact, later in Moses account of Exodus, God makes this clear to Moses, saying, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.’” - Exodus 10:1-2

Moses is told to preach to Pharaoh “for” God had hardened his heart. For means because. His hardening provided a basis for him to do so. This text gives us two primary reasons which we have seen throughout. First, Moses is told to speak so that God might show signs. Signs of his power. The plagues. He wants the Israelites to know that He was the Lord of power! Second, Moses is told to speak to show “how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians.” Speak so that I might show the severity and vanity of sin! Pharaoh was a test case of the life in the pursuit of sin! It doesn’t end well. It ends in judgment. Pharaoh is what happens when one tastes the bitterness of hatred for God and doesn’t taste deep of humility and kindness of God. This is even given as a foundation for teaching the future generations of Israelites! Flee to God’s mercy where is may be found! The sovereign judgment of God gives the basis and foundation for preaching the bad news- which gives way to the glorious news of God’s mercy and rescue!

Paul continues this theme as he continues in Romans 9. He writes in verse 22-23,

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory

He juxtaposes God’s judgment with God’s mercy showing that God has created a world in which both of these will be displayed to the glory of God. The darkness of judgment makes mercy look brighter. While many will want to point a finger at God for the dark side of unconditional election, they will not rest in the brightness of God’s unconditional mercy. Unconditional election does not just show us the severity of sin, but it shows us the glories of mercy. He chose to extend mercy so that we might know the riches of glory. Those whom He has chosen are the vessels of mercy, and He has chosen for us to know riches. The greatest riches in all the world is the glory of God through redemptive history. Ephesians 1:3-6 brings this truth to the forefront,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

He chose us before the foundations of the world. He chose us knowing all we would be, past, present and future. Charles Spurgeon said it this way, “I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love.”

God’s predestination of us should lead us (the vessels of mercy!) to gaze upon God’s glory and to fall before Him in worship. We are predestined according to the purpose of His will for the praise of His grace. Sovereign grace leads to praise. We treasure His mercy more when we recognize that it wasn’t a response to foreseen faith, but solely out of His kindness. We proclaim what we treasure. Treasuring His grace empowers the proclamation of grace. 1 Peter 2:9 further brings this out when he writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

We have been chosen to proclaim His excellencies. His excellency is declared in His sovereign mercy and His sovereign judgment. Once we wrap out minds around what we can of God’s eternal rescue plan through our election, our purchase through Christ, our calling, our eventual glorification, it will stop our mouths. Not from declaring His gospel, but from declaring our supremacy. How are we to talk back to God? He is the potter, we are the clay (Romans 9:20-21).

Paul continues in Romans 9 to give further hope. In fact Romans 9 is sandwiched between two heartfelt pleas and desire for men to be saved! Paul wished himself a accursed that others may know the riches of mercy (9:3)! His hearts desire and pray that men would be saved (Romans 10:1)! Paul could feel this evangelistic agony not in tension with the doctrine of election, but precisely because of it!

The doctrine of election gives the hope that even the greatest outcast to be saved. Paul continues in Romans 9,

even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
"And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’
” - Romans 9:24-26

God’s vessels, his chosen ones, are not a select few, but a multitude from every tribe on earth. It was not just the Jews who had the covenant, and the worship, and the Old Testament, (9:4), but God even chooses and calls and saves the furthest from God! God calls the Gentiles. The ones who were not his people are now His beloved. This gives us hope that even the most vile, God-hating, resistant people we know can be offered the gospel. We don’t know who the elect are, and this is exactly why we must declare the gospel to everyone we know! No one is outside of rescuing power of God. Those who freely rebel against Him can be rescued if His Spirit draws. The hope of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is extend to all whom we share-

“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.”

“Such were some of you.” There is much hope found in these words. We pray, we anguish, we labor, because God is sovereign and uses these means to accomplish his saving purpose! All things will be conformed to the “purpose of His will” (Eph. 1:11), but He has chosen the proclamation of the word of truth to be the means by which he rescues sinners. God’s sovereignty does not empty the use of means, but fuels the use of means. Sovereign grace fuels the proclamation of the gospel.

In fact, this is the last point that needs to be brought out. Not only does sovereign grace fuel gospel proclamation, but it fuels long term gospel endurance. We can endure the trials of life and ministry as a Christian because God ensures the success of His Word and the accomplishment of His mission. Sovereign grace fueled Paul in Corinth when he felt hopeless to see results the Lord came to him in a vision. Acts 18 records this event

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent,  for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”  And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. - Acts 18:9-11

He tells Paul to continue to endure in ministry because He was with him, He was sovereign to protect him and because He was sovereign to save those who are “His people.” God can save whom He will save, and this empowered Paul to stay for 18 months teaching the word of God. Election empowered this. Election fuels the fire of Paul’s passion to see souls saved and keeps it burning through the long restless nights of ministry! So election will do for His people today and for endless ages to come. The words of Issac Watts echo the cry of a soul gripped by the doctrine of election. May it be our song as well.

How sweet and aweful is the place, With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays, The choicest of her stores!

Here every bowel of our God, With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon bought with blood, Is food for dying souls.

While all our hearts and all our songs, Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues, “Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice, And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice, And rather starve than come?”

’Twas the same love that spread the feast, That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste, And perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God! Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad, And bring the strangers home.

We long to see Thy churches full, That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul, Sing Thy redeeming grace. 
- Issac Watts. "How Sweet and Aweful is the Place" 1707

Monday, April 18, 2016

Truth in Love: A Study in 2 John (Week 1)

Not sure how I feel about this,
but it will work for this short series. =)
Size matters.  When we are buying clothes, we want clothes of a certain size.  When we are buying food, we want a certain size.  In fact, in the case of the latter, bigger is often better.  I fear we as Christians take this ideal to our Bibles.  The bigger books are not more important.  The bigger books do not contain “deeper truth.”  We often put the shorter books of the Bible on the back shelf for the days we oversleep and need to get our “quiet time” in.  But, if we slow down in these books, and allow the Spirit speak, we will discover God can say much with very little. 

I discovered this recently as I was studying the book of 2 John.  Over the next few posts we will be diving into this wonderful letter from the apostle John.  Today we will introduce it by looking at the author, the audience, and the affection of the letter.

John begins by referring to himself as “the elder.”  A term which obviously would denote age, along with it authority, respect, and wisdom.  John is known to not use his name in his writings (the only time he does is once in the book of Revelation), which I denote as a sign of humility.  In 1 John he remains unnamed, 3 John he is “the Elder” and in the gospel he is “the one whom Jesus loved.”  John seems to desire to exercise his authority, while getting his identity out of the way.

Another important thing to note in his opening is his audience.  “…to the elect lady and her children.”  Commentators are divided on who exactly this lady is.  John MacArthur and Matthew Henry both comment that John is writing to a godly matron (perhaps one who hosts a church in her home) desiring to encourage her in the face of false teachers.  Others argue that John is using the language of a “lady” and “her children” to denote a local church.  Four reasons I take the latter view:

1) John uses the image of the church in feminine terms in his writings (Revelation 21:2).  Also, throughout his first letter John refers to believers as “children.”
2)  It is very odd for John to command a woman and children to “love one another.”  This seems to fit better with the idea of a church.
3) Commentators note that John is using the second person plural throughout his letter.  Thus he is writing to many people who were able to understand his words (and thus “children” could not have been primarily in view).
4) The last verses of 2 John seem to denote children of an “Elect sister” language which fits a church better.  Notice, the children greet the lady, not the sister. 

All this seems to point to the fact that John has the local church in view.

Looking at the author, then the audience, we can jump into the rest of his greeting which is focused on his affection.  He writes of his “love” for the church “in truth” and this love is not simply his, but “also all who know the truth.”  Truth and love are at the heart of John’s message in this letter.  In fact, John is communicating that Christian love is always defined by truth.  One does not exist without the other.  Even when John states the reason for his love, it is “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever.”  Christian love is not based on social class, or race, or economic level.  Christian love is based on eternal unchanging truth.   We’ll close by looking further at why this is.

First, our relationship to God is based on love and truth.  Look in verse 3.  
“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son, in truth and love.”  

The little words are important here.  First we must notice that grace, mercy, and peace come from God (both the Father and the Son).  These promises only come by the Father and through Christ.  Without them none of these blessings are yours.  Second, we notice that they “will be with us.”  Future tense.  God’s unmerited favor, his unconditional forgiveness, and his incomparable peace are not simply realities for this moment, but reach forward into every step we take.  Not a moment for the Christian is without access to grace, mercy, and peace.  Thirdly, we must notice the means by which we access these gifts.  “In truth and love.”  The means of truth and love are how we access God’s infinite well of grace, mercy, and peace.  Truth and love are continuous means of accessing the gospel treasures of grace, mercy, and peace.  Truth and love bind us to God, but they also bind us together.

Notice, in closing, verse 1 again.  If the “lady” is the church, and the “children” are the congregation, than certainly all Christians share the same identity together. We are all children together.  Each of us have received grace, mercy, and peace through the Christ, so that we as fellow children can extend grace, mercy, and peace to each other.  We love each other in truth- yes perfectly- but we do so grounded in our identity as children.  This means Christian community should expect imperfection.  It should be the hallmark of Christian community- we haven’t got it all together yet.  Also, notice the sort of commitment this should give us to the local church.  We are children together of God and of “the elect lady” the church.  Sure, mistakes will be made, people may mistake “care” for many other things, but truth stands and unites and love emboldens us to go forward both in our relationship with God, and our relationship together.

Continue with me the next three Mondays as we continue through this amazing letter from John.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mark Webb Quote on Election

“After giving a brief survey of these doctrines of sovereign grace, I asked for questions from the class. One lady, in particular, was quite troubled. She said, ‘This is the most awful thing I’ve ever heard! You make it sound as if God is intentionally turning away men and women who would be saved, receiving only the elect.’ I answered her in this vein: ‘You misunderstand the situation. You’re visualizing that God is standing at the door of heaven, and men are thronging to get in the door, and God is saying to various ones, ‘Yes, you may come, but not you, and you, but not you, etc.’ The situation is hardly this. Rather, God stands at the door of heaven with His arms outstretched, inviting all to come. Yet all men without exception are running in the opposite direction towards hell as hard as they can go. So God, in election, graciously reaches out and stops this one, and that one, and this one over here, and that one over there, and effectually draws them to Himself by changing their hearts, making them willing to come. Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams. That kind of response, grounded as I believe that it is in Scriptural truth, does put a different complexion on things, doesn’t it? If you perish in hell, blame yourself, as it is entirely your fault. But if you should make it to heaven, credit God, for that is entirely His work! To Him alone belong all praise and glory, for salvation is all of grace, from start to finish.”