The Only Foundation of True Ministry

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The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. || Luke 10.17-20

In this remarkable passage we have one of the most Gospel-centric statements in the whole of the Gospels. It speaks to the bedrock issue of our identity in the Atonement. It behooves us to pay it mind, and to think about its implications in our day-to-day lives, and in the ministry to which we give ourselves.

The Lord of the harvest had sent out 72 of His disciples at the beginning of the chapter. He articulated the greatness of the need in Gospel missions, the ripeness of the harvest fields, and He bemoaned the fewness of the laborers, leaving us with the charge to pray for the raising up and sending forth of workers. Then He sent these disciples to proclaim the Gospel and to drive out demons in the towns to which they would go.

The 72 “returned with joy,” declaring that demons were subdued and driven out in the Name of Jesus. There was legitimate joy in their hearts, the joy of being vessels in the carrying out of the works of God’s Kingdom. Yet, the Lord of the harvest gives them a startling response, one which ought to be central to our consciousness as those laboring in Gospel mission, but one which, like these 72, is often lacking in the consciousness of who we are as His servants.

According to Jesus, they were not to rejoice mainly in the works that were wrought through them, but rather to rejoice in the glory of their adoption as sons— as those whose names had been written by God in heaven.

Robert Stein, in his commentary on Luke, speaks to the meaning of the Lord’s exhortation:

This picks up the “joy” of Luke 10:17 and points out that their true joy should arise not from missionary accomplishments but from their eternal salvation.
….

That your names are written in heaven. This metaphor for eternal salvation is found in the OT, the intertestamental literature, and the NT. “Are written” is a divine passive meaning God has written your names in heaven.

[Stein, R. H. (1992). Luke (Vol. 24, p. 310). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.]

I want to say that it is indeed “upon this rock” that the Lord means to “build His church,” and only upon this rock-solid foundation will the “gates of Hades” be incapable of “prevailing” against Her.

It should be obvious to the child of God that this present world system, with all its sinful allurements, should no longer be accepted as part of our identity. We are to “reckon” ourselves “dead to sin, and alive in Christ,” and no clearly-thinking Christian would claim that a life given over to sin befits the life of discipleship. We will be battling our own sin until the Day of the Lord comes, but we are battling it because it doesn’t define us any longer. We are disciples, learning to crucify the world in our hearts, and to walk in the way of the Master. This should be clear to us.

Less clear, often, is the fact that we ought to be battling against our tendency to interweave the good things (even things so good as driving out demons in Jesus’ Name, or being engaged in various forms of ministry) with our identity at the root-level. Bearing fruit in ministry is a great cause for rejoicing, but if it is the primary ground of rejoicing, something has been twisted in our understanding of the faith.

Jesus said not to give primacy to the works that are being wrought through us, but rather to rejoice at the deepest level in eternal salvation; that is to say, that we have become sons and daughters of God through the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Here is a simple way to think about it, one which is so simple that I’ve taught it to my children.

Our identity in the Gospel has vertical and horizontal implications.

Vertically, as we look unto Christ, our root-identity has become that of “sons” and “daughters” of God. Horizontally, our root-identity has become that of “brothers” and “sisters” in the family that we’ve been adopted into.

The Scriptures are so thickly threaded with this truth that I haven’t the time to recite all the verses that speak to us along these lines.

Suffice it to say, whatever I may be engaged in with regard to ministry, even God-given ministries that are biblical and line up with my own unique giftings, they will all become distortions if I am not living as a son in the vertical sense, and as a brother in the horizontal sense.

This puts the Gospel-premium on my relationship to the Father through Christ, and my relationship to the church through Christ.

Therefore, the evidence of my failure to “rejoice” that my name is “written in heaven” will show itself by prayerlessness, neglect of Bible-reading, a disregard for the many commands of Scripture pertaining to life and godliness, and the neglect of healthy relationship within a local Church. I cannot be truly rejoicing in the Gospel if these things are neglected, for they are evidence of the fact that I am no longer seeing myself as a son who walks circumspectly before the Father, and a brother who walks closely with the family of God. Without this reality, there is no stamp of God’s blessing upon my ministry, as a missionary, a pastor, a theologian, or any other role.

I cease to see God as my Source through the Gospel when I neglect communion with Him, and fellowship with His people. I begin to see my “calling” as a preacher, a writer, a church-planter, a worship-leader, a missionary, ministry director, or whatever it may be, as being superior to my grace-given calling as a son before God, and a brother to the saints.

Being a Gospel-grounded son infuses me with the grace of Christ, and being a brother in the context of the life of church keeps me footed on the self-same foundation, and guards me from deception. Yes, even from deceptive ways of doing all sorts of ministry.

Variegated kinds of destructive things have occurred in the name of ministry where these foundations are lacking. That’s because the Lord of the harvest never called his people to do things in the “name of ministry,” but rather in the “Name of Christ,” on the foundational truth that our names have been written in Heaven on the basis of the Atonement. Moral collapses, doctrinal deviations, and misrepresentations of church and mission have issued from the want of this reality.

We are simply not living as disciples of Jesus when our ministries take the preeminent place in our souls.

When there is a fracture in the vertical life-line of sonship, we can literally do nothing aright, for “apart from Me you can do nothing.”

When there is a fracture in the horizontal life-line of brotherhood, even the noblest of ministries become a distortion, for the Lord means to “build” His “church”, not merely to perform a litany of detached and multi-faceted works, however much we might seek to establish them in His Name. Nothing can be established in the Name of the Head in the neglect of His Body. Perhaps the most deceptive form of this neglect of the church is when we bear every kind of ecclesiological language (the priesthood of all believers, biblical eldership, Gospel-centric fellowship), but lack the corresponding reality which belongs to those precious truths. We may, even as the Pharisees of old, have an intensive focus on the truths of Scripture, while being devoid of the grace and life from which those truths ought to find their issuance. We may honor the Head with our lips while our hearts are far from Him, and this is something which we need to be on most diligent guard against.

The Head cannot be detached from the Body. If our works are not building His church, neither are they truly exalting the Head. If we are not experiencing life as members in His Body, neither are we experiencing life as it issues from the Head. When the vertical and horizontal fruits of our belonging to Christ are lacking or being circumvented, we are swimming in sub-apostolic  waters, and sharks abound therein.

So what can be said of your works, saints? Are you rejoicing that demons are subject to you; that your sermon was hailed as great; that the missions work is expanding and doing much good; that your writings are being heralded as ground-breaking; that your theology is ship-shape and confirmed as orthodox by men you esteem; the list goes on. Many of these things, if not all, could either be an expression of God truly bearing fruit in your life, or an expression of that you have become one who is operating in deception.

The question is, are you vitally related to God through your adoption as a son, and are you vitally related to the local church for the ongoing growth of a true rejoicing in the eternal salvation that has come to you in Christ?

Are you living, thinking, praying and laboring as a purchased son? Do the Christians around you truly know you as a brother— in accountability, vulnerability, and godly responsibility in their midst? Or are you more known by your particular gifting or position in the world or in ministry? If the latter, you are standing upon a faulty foundation, however fruitful your ministry may appear to be, with all of its calculated external characteristics. A ministry of that kind may be alive by way of reputation, but God will only reward finally what has been wrought by His Spirit and carried out in accordance with His Word. Jesus would have none of this for the 72, and He will have none of it for us. His love for us is too great and too true to permit it.

No wonder that the most fruitful of apostles in Church history “determined to know nothing among” the saints “except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” He wanted their identity to be founded upon and issuing from the only faithful and immutable foundation. He was eager to preach the Gospel to the sinners and saints, for only in the Atonement can the saints receive and enjoy the familial identity of sons and daughters before God, and brothers and sisters in His family.

Look at your life and ministry in light of the exhortation that Jesus gave the 72. Find and tear out the threads of inferior rejoicing that you’ve permitted to define your identity and drive your decisions and ambitions. Let the cross of Christ bring you to the place Paul boasted in, that cross “by which the world has been crucified to me, and I have been crucified to the world.”

Your joy will be fuller and fuller as you grow in an identity of sonship, and share intimately as brothers and sisters in the grace and truth of the Gospel with “the church, which is His Body.” On this foundation He means to build His church in the nations, and by His zeal He will accomplish this. May we be found in the company of souls who know the preciousness of this truth, carrying out His work upon the only true foundation of life and ministry.

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. || John 1.12-13

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Let love of the brethren continue. || Heb. 13.1

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Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All people are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you. || 1 Pet. 1.17-25

Israel, the Church, and the End of the Age: An Eschatology Seminar

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Greetings, saints.

We have an upcoming eschatology seminar which will take place on four consecutive Sunday evenings at Bellicose Church.

Here are the dates (and subjects to be addressed), times, and the location:

Dates:

November 12th:

“Unto All Who Love His Appearing”: Why Eschatology is Not a Peripheral Issue, but Is Central to the Faith

November 19th

Covenant Pre-Millennialism: A Christ-Riveted, Pre-Millennial, Post-Tribulational, Gospel-Grounded, Israel-Focused, Godliness-Nurturing, Prayer-Stoking, Missions-Inducing, Joy-Increasing, Church-Engaging View of the End of the Age (I aim in this session to give an overview of what I believe to be the harmonious testimony of Scripture with regard to the consummation of the age and the summing up of all things in Jesus Christ.)

November 26th

“Look At the Nation Israel”: The Meaning of Israel, the Theology of Israel, the Crisis of Israel, and the Glorious Destiny of Israel

December 3rd

“What Sort of People Ought You to Be?”: The Character and Role of the Church in the Eschatology of Both Testaments

Time:

7:00 P.M. (all sessions)

Location:

Bellicose Church
207 Westport Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64111

All are welcome. Invite as many friends as you’d like. The doors will open at 6:45 P.M. Coffee and other beverages will be available. Childcare will also be available, space permitting.

We’ll begin promptly at 7:00 P.M. with a hymn, followed by a teaching and a Q & A session with myself and Brandon Quezada. The sessions will be over at 9:00 P.M. (including the childcare), but I will stay longer for those who wish to spend a bit more time dialoguing and praying. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at bryanpurtle@mac.com.

I’m very much looking forward to opening the Word with you, saints. The old poet George Herbert gave us the wonderful line, “Bibles laid open, millions of surprises.” I’m praying that we will share in a rich and fruitful time together as we look to the One “Who was, and is, and is to come.” 

Affectionately,

BP

Treading Wisely Upon Wilderness Grounds

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Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. || Colossians 4.5-6

Paul issues a charge to the saints in Colossians 4 with regard to how we ought to carry ourselves in a world which “lies under the power of the evil one.”

Very simply, he tells us to “walk with wisdom toward outsiders.” Every believer needs to hear this exhortation. We are not to take lightly our goings and doings in the daily life of discipleship. We are regularly rubbing shoulders with “outsiders,” in our neighborhoods, as we’re running errands, meeting with blood-relatives, and in the natural cycles of employment and entertainment. Outsiders are everywhere about us, and we are to seek the Lord for “wisdom” as to how we see them and relate to them.

We are too casual about this, often seeing men only as a means to our immediate benefit, counting anything beyond utility as an inconvenience and hassle, and this reveals our lack of Godly wisdom. Too often the saints can be found mingling with the world and being stained by their garments, or swinging to the other pendulum-end by disregarding and avoiding them while we tend to our busy-headed life pursuits. The former dilutes and invalidates the brightness of our witness. The latter makes witness impossible, creating a kind of isolated Christian bubble, which ends up being un-Christian altogether.

Our lack of Godly wisdom in dealing with unbelievers has two root maladies which Paul addresses here, and he calls us to repent and reconfigure them, that we might become wise, seasoned with holy salt, and enabled to answer the labyrinth of worldly paradigms with the rock-solid truth of Jesus Himself. We live in a world that is languishing for want of truth, and only the redeemed of the Lord can address it rightly. Are we walking wisely, that we may do it?

The first root malady has to do with how we manage our time. Paul tells us to make “the best use of the time.” That is to say, we must “take every thought captive,” that every moment of the day might become a window through which the glory of Christ freely shines. We must establish the secret place of prayer and Scripture reading firstly, and secondly, we must learn the art of abiding in Christ throughout the day, and prioritizing all things rightly beneath the canopy of His rule. This will affect everything, from our theology, to our responsibility to the local church, to the ways in which we handle our finances, our families, our work ethic, and our management of all earthly pleasures (including food, entertainment, smart phones, etc.).

The second root malady he addresses is the manner of our speech. We are called to let our “speech always be gracious.” That is to say, we must learn to bridle our tongues, and bring them into submission to the Scriptures, and to the very Spirit of God Himself. There are times when we should be silent, and there are times when we should be speaking. Knowing how to discern these times, to be dependent on the Spirit and submitted to the Scriptures, will determine whether or not our speech is “seasoned with salt,” preserving in our hearts a love of the truth, and flavoring our words in such a way that men might “taste and see” the goodness of God in our conversations with them.

Only this kind of wise-walking amongst outsiders will equip us to “answer each person” in their respective mindsets and worldviews. Only this kind of gracious, salty living and speaking will bear ample witness to the crucified, resurrected, and soon-coming King.

Are you walking in this kind of wisdom, or are you neglecting the command to make the most of your schedule and to be careful about how you listen and speak to others? Your answer to this question may mean the difference between eternal life and eternal damnation for the “outsiders” around you. Indeed, it may mean the difference for your eternal destiny as well, for the child of God who is truly justified will find that his soul is on the road to being sanctified in these ways. If we refuse to grow in this, it may be that we do not belong to Christ at all— that we are “insiders” by way of reputation only, living cultural “Christian” lives which can only lead to the Lord’s fatal pronouncement, “Depart from Me. I never knew you.” We must “work out” our own salvation “with fear and trembling,” and as we do, we become vessels for the salvation of “the many” who otherwise could only be called “outsiders.”

This is our privilege and call. Let us be washed afresh and warmed anew in the grace and holiness of Christ, and give ourselves to the wise-walking which the apostle encourages. Thus may we constitute a “city on a hill” which cannot be “hidden.” One which faithfully casts Gospel-light upon “outsiders”, so that a “people dwelling in darkness” may see the “great light,” even Jesus Christ the Righteous. May we walk in this wisdom, and may it be said of our neighborhoods and cities, even of Israel and the nations, that “those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Humble Teachableness Beneath the Canopy of Holy Fear

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Teach me Your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in Your truth;
    unite my heart to fear Your Name. || Ps. 86.11

Humble teachableness befits the true child of God. The children of the world cannot know it, indeed they wish not to know it, for a true knowledge of God’s ways requires the upending “me-firstism”, a total transition and reconfiguration of the man-centered life, until it is suffused with Divine grace and wisdom. “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

The people of the world do not care for enlightenment; they feel no pressing need for it; in all probability they have an instinctive feeling that if enlightened they would know a little more than they wish to know, that their newly acquired knowledge would interfere with their old habits and ways, and this is one reason why all spiritual teaching which goes beneath the surface is distasteful to the majority of men. They cannot bear to be brought into contact with God, in anything but a general way; the particulars of his character may not agree over well with the particulars of their lives! It is the fashion in the present day to talk of man’s enlightenment, and to represent human nature as upheaving under its load, as straining towards a knowledge of truth; such is not in reality the case, and whenever there is an effort in the mind untaught of the Spirit, it is directed towards God as the great moral and not as the great spiritual Being. A man untaught of the Holy Ghost may long to know a moral, he can never desire to know a spiritual Being. || John Hyatt, 1767-1826

To be teachable before God means to make ourselves willing for death; the suffocation of our pipe-dreams and strong-headed aspirations. It does mean a transformation of our moral choices, but the moral change is not the center of the exchange. The center of our becoming teachable is God Himself. It means a radical exchange of our glory for His. Our morals change not because of human preference or opinions, but because we “see the Lord, high and lifted up,” and as Hyatt declared, we are “brought into contact with God,” desiring to “know a spiritual Being.” This brings about not merely a tweaking or improving of our morals, but an exchange of all that we deem moral with the very morality or holiness of God.

“Teach me to know Your way.” The way matters because the “Your” precedes it. The majestic King is the One source and aim of sincere, humble teachableness. He is at once the Source:

Christ is our Way, Truth, and Life, because he is Man united to God, and is one substance with the Father. || Christopher Wordsworth.

There is no learning of His way or walking in His truth apart from the Gospel. Jesus justifies us in the immediate and sanctifies us over time. He “is Man united to God.”

The Psalmist did not merely want to agree theoretically with the truth of God, he wanted to “walk” in it, and this is crucial. His desire was that the very ways of God would permeate his very perspectives and actions. This was true orthodoxy wedded to orthopraxy, faith with works, worship with obedience, a heart “united to fear His Name” in all of life.

Do you possess this kind of humble teachableness, child of God? It is a most precious thing to live in this state of child-like circumspection before God. The same light that pierces and kills the pride of our own way is the light which warms our souls and brightens our vision of the narrow path of discipleship. It must be a daily cry for the pilgrim en route to eternal glories. The world, the flesh and the devil would have us to stand erectly in the deception of self-sufficiency and know-it-allness. The Spirit of truth leads us to humble teachableness, moment by moment, bowing again and again before the authority of His Word, panting and believing for the help of His power and grace.

Our aim then is not to walk in our own way, nor even merely to agree with His way as a category, but to “walk.” To “live, move, and have our being in Him.” 

A life lived outside of this kind of experience, despite even accurate credal affirmations, will be “distasteful to the majority of men,” for by nature we do not yearn for this kind of humble teachableness. We want to do it our way, as Frank Sinatra has so eloquently and devastatingly sung. But to cling to our way, even if we have a “reputation of being alive,” is to go from death to death, to be “double-minded and unstable in all our ways,” and the “end thereof is the way of destruction.” The Scriptures must be our guide along the way, and this applies not only to moral actions, but even to the manner of our ministry in the local church and in missions. Those who lack this kind of humble teachableness can only build works that will at the final Day be left in ashes.

Better to humble ourselves before the wise and gracious Judge, and to sink our souls into the prayer of the Psalmist. “Teach me Your way… that I may walk… Unite my heart to fear Your Name.”

Our hearts must be freed from the double-mindedness of seeking the variegated paths of the worldly. To live under the influence of the spirit of the age means to have a thousand paths before us, all of them wide and quite accessible, but leading ever and always to confusion, uncertainty, and godlessness. In fact, they lead to ill conditions precisely because they are godless, for the One True God is the ground of “righteousness, peace, and joy.” The one path of truth leads to holiness and assurance, and it cannot be traversed without the grace which teaches our hearts to fear God— “amazing grace”, as Newton put it.

Forsake your strong-headedness, your hardness of heart, your insistence to walk in your own way. By faith now look unto Christ, and pray that He would tie your heart in the firmly cinched knot of humble teachableness— that He would unite your heart to fear Him, to learn of His ways, and thereby to “walk in newness of life.”

In knots, to be loosed never,
Knit my heart to Thee forever,
That I to Thy Name may bear
Fearful love and loving fear.
—Francis Davison.

The Reciprocal Effect of Christ’s Wisdom in Marriage

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“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” || Eph. 5.25

“…let the wife see that she respects her husband.” || Eph. 5.33b

There is a reciprocal dynamic to be noted in Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5. In the “fearful and wonderful” creativity of God, men and women have been designed with certain impulses and capacities which complement one another, and they can only function healthily when the wisdom of Christ is the centrifugal force which compels them.

When Paul calls husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church,” he is charging the men to take up arms against “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” There is a cosmic war on, one which requires painstaking attention. In the main, he is calling men to die, that their wives might flourish in the grace and truth of God.

Douglas Wilson gives us help on defining the man’s role:

“Biblical manhood is the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility.”

When a married man (or a man aspiring to marriage) sees clearly that the Scriptures call him to a sacrificial kind of love, to gladly assuming the weight of responsibility in spiritual, relational, and practical headship, he is seeing clearly indeed. When he acts consistently upon this kind of clear seeing, he frees his wife up to flourish in her own role as woman abounding in the grace of God.

The children of God, whether we are aware of it or not, are right in the thick of the most ultimate and cosmic war; one which transcends, in intensity and longevity, all of the global and civil wars in the blood-drenched history of men. Our enemy has waged war against mankind since the garden of Eden, and he will be waging war until he is finally cast into the lake of fire. One of his chief aims is to blur and disfigure the unique intentions of God for men and women, and he’s making a devastating show of it in our day. We mustn’t be naive or casual about this. Our failure as men to assume responsibility, and to shoulder it gladly, is to our peril, and to the peril of our wives, our children, and our churches.

Christian men must strap up their boots daily and plant their feet at the front of the battle-line. It is our sacred privilege and call. This battle is on every day. Bullets and arrows are whizzing by, often striking our souls, and as much as we might seek vacations and retreats, the war carries on. Nothing gives the enemy cause for pause or hesitation. He is cutthroat from Eden to Eschaton, wholly engaged in a diabolical fury, with the aim of victory whatever the cost. He will not rest until marriages are destroyed, or he is destroyed. We must look then to the Captain of the hosts, for He is faithfully present in the battle, and He gives us all that we need in the war for “life and godliness.”

Men, our call is quite clear— to lead our wives spiritually—- by praying for them, praying with them, and teaching the Scriptures to them (and the children); to point them again and again to the Gospel, being quick to repent ourselves, and to glory in the grace of God; to gently and wisely shepherd them in their weaknesses, that they might be strengthened in their call as wives, mothers, and Titus 2 women in the church; to lead the way in disciplining and nurturing the children (the buck ought to stop with us, and the springs of wisdom ought to flow from us); to bear the primary brunt of work in providing for the family; to lead the way in decision making with regard to all matters, giving appropriate guidance to empower her areas of responsibility and authority, including the education of the children; to lead the way in managing finances and creating a responsible, generous culture in the home; to protecting and nurturing our wives in affection, establishing them more deeply in the love of God by lavishly giving God-centered praise to them, helping them to know that they are beautiful to us and to Him.

This is a tall order, indeed, and impossible order if we seek only to draw from natural means. But “nothing is impossible with God.” Through the grace of the Gospel, with the two-edged sword of Scripture, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul charges us to grow in this reality, and to gladly assume the responsibility of loving our wives in this Christ-riveted way.

In a complementary manner, Paul charges the women, “let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.”

As the helpmeet, the wife is charged joyfully to “submit” to her husband, and to see to it that she respects him. There is something glorious in this kind of godly submission. It is meant to image the very relationship of the church to Her Lord.

When a husband is wayward, or lapsing in his call to take up responsibility, there is nothing more likely to heap grace-infused coals upon his head and to awaken him to his role, than a quiet, peaceful, woman who is secure in God on the basis of the Gospel, and who trusts His sovereignty to bring about His purposes in the context of family.

When a wife is enabled by God to “respect” her husband, though there will always be areas in which he doesn’t deserve it, it has a positively reciprocal effect. Functioning in her role, she is used of God to quicken him towards a loving, sacrificially responsible kind of thinking and living.

If she puts all her hope in her husband, or if her eyes are not upon the Lord, she will resort to nagging, belittling and manipulating, and this kind of unfaithfulness to God often leads tragically to being unfaithful to her husband. The Holy Spirit knew what He was doing when he inspired Paul to issue that command, “respect your husband.”

Nothing could strike more at the root and essence of manhood and womanhood than the command for the man to “love,” and for the woman to “respect.” 

We all desire both love and respect, but there is something about these reciprocal commands which calls us to task profoundly. Paul wouldn’t have issued these commands if it were natural or easy for men to love and for women to respect. He was hitting a touchstone, tapping the bedrock of our malady as the children or Adam and Eve. Hearing and responding to these imperatives will daily require the graces of repentance and faith, both for the husband and for the wife.

When a Christian husband and wife obey the call to fulfill these charges from the apostle, they are reversing the primal curse that is resident within us all, the ruptured condition of sinful humanity. When a man in Christ loves his wife, even when she seems unlovable, the wisdom of the Cross is being demonstrated. When a woman in Christ respects her husband, even when he seems unworthy of respect, the Gospel is being magnified in the earth.

There is a positively reciprocal kind of God-glorifiying power at work in a couple of that kind, and the Lord means for this to image, most profoundly, the sacred union of Christ and the Church. With regard to the roles of husbands and wives, the one affects the other as the years go by, and from faith to faith, an imperfect but increasingly wonderful picture emerges, “to the praise of His glorious grace.”

Conversely, the failure of the husband or the wife to see and carry out their call in these regards has a negatively reciprocal effect on the other— it discourages love from a man and hinders respect from a woman.

In light of these things, what say you, men? Are you clinging to Christ and “gladly assuming sacrificial responsibility” for the good of your wife and the glory of God? Are you loving her in that way, day by day, moment by moment? The answer will be “no” if we’re honest, for none can do this perfectly. But the apostle doesn’t lower the bar for us. He calls us higher, even to the zenith of Christ’s own love for the Church. He calls us to die that we might love. We are charged with leading the way into the battle, bearing the bulk of the assault from the enemy’s firing line; laying down our lives for the woman with whom we’ve been covenantally conjoined. Will you answer your Master’s call today?

Wives, are you clinging to Christ, making Him your source and delight, and out of that place seeing to it that you “respect” your husband? All of your pulling, jerking, nit-picking, and pestering will not produce the man you so ideally hope for. But when you soak your soul in the Bible, hope in the Gospel, keep in step with the Spirit, and show him respect simply because you have heeded the call that God has given you as a wife, it will have a quickening effect on him, and point him to the only One who can refine and shape him as a man.

You can see, then, that the one role encourages the other, and Christ is the center and aim of it all.

So here we are, saints. Let us hear His Word afresh on these matters. Let us take up our crosses and gladly assume our positions in the battle. Our enemy is not our spouse. Our enemies are “the world, the flesh (our own flesh!), and the devil.” Every painstaking movement in the battle, every scar we bear from the war, will be worth it in the end. It will eventuate in our everlasting joy in God, and the hallowing of His Name in our homes, our neighborhoods, and out into the Nations.

Our strategy is clear enough. Let us follow in the train of our kind and unrelenting Captain. Let us advance with Him at the center. Let us advance, not against, but side by side with our spouses. Let us go to war.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” || Eph. 5.25

“…let the wife see that she respects her husband.” || v. 5.33b

“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” || v. 32

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” || vv. 15-16

 

An Intense & Unquenchable Hope

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“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them….” -Rev. 21.3

We need regularly to be reminded that the Kingdom of God is not some ethereal piece of imagination, but rather a concrete reality- indeed, it is the end and substance of all reality. The Day of the Lord is not an idea created by thoughtful authors who have fancied themselves by writing within the apocalyptic genre of literature, but an actual season at the end of this age, wherein God will bring about His desired consummation. “Believest thou this?”

The Kingdoms of this world will be toppled, the nations that have raged against Him will collapse, and the Son of God will literally return, treading the winepress in judgment, bringing deliverance to His people, and planting His feet on the Mount of Olives. He will set into motion a final millennial period, when the earth will be prepared for the conjoining of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

If we hold a cartoonish and symbolic view of what is to come, we rob ourselves of the foundational hunger and expectation that has driven the saints of all ages; namely, the hope that God Himself would again dwell amongst men, and that His glory would be known and His name heralded to the ends of the earth.

The Day of Yahweh has often been regarded as the very heart of the prophetic eschatology. Wherever it occurs in prophecy, the statements culminate in an allusion to Yahweh’s coming in person. -Gerhard Von Rad

When we feel the breeze, catch the fragrance of a flower, hear the rustle of leaves in the trees, or see the force of waves crashing upon the shore, let us be reminded that the Day is coming when“the glory of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea,” when every portion of the cosmos will be warmed by the light of His countenance. We do not walk upon aimless ground. Our lives are not random and meaningless ventures. God Himself is coming to claim the entire created order and to set it aright, and we have the great privilege of leaning hard into the reality of His love and holiness, even before the Day of the Lord comes in full and uninhibited Divine revelation.

We have been touched by His mercy, and have therefore been touched by His reality. In that Day, we shall not only be touched, but submerged and consumed in the reality of the glorious God, “who was, and is, and is to come.”

The Bible stirs up an intense and unquenchable hope that an age of time is coming on this earth, inconceivably wonderful, when all that we have ever dreamed will fade into silly fancies beside the reality. -Oswald Chambers

Let us taste the powers of the age to come, and walk in this age with the light of His countenance resting upon our souls, until the Day when Jesus Christ shall be all in all!

The Essentiality of a Secret Life in God

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“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” -Matt. 6.6

There is something most holy and precious about obediences and acts of loyalty that are carried out unto the Lord in secret. The real discrepancy in modern ministry is not a lack of activity or enthusiasm, but a woeful lack of true foundations, and this malady stems from the neglect of a secret life with God.

At the end of the day, all our anxieties, fears, compromises, moral collapses, and worldly strivings can be traced back to a threadbare secret life. We may be gifted in some form of ministry, waxing eloquent in spiritual talk, and impressing our friends and colleagues, but when the heat and press of real life strikes our hearts, our best facades wither for want of the reality of Jesus Christ. “Beholding Him, we are changed,” but when we the secret place of prayer is forsaken for other things, we are “mere men” with no heavenly distinctive in the earth.

The Lord has never cared much for religious performances. Feverish and self-conscious attempts at spirituality are ever and always driven by the desire to be seen and approved by men. He has always been the great Purist in terms of a jealousy for reality and “truth in the innermost parts”, and this can only be established and maintained when we are engaging Him in the secret place. It takes time to cultivate a secret life, for we are an inwardly itchy and distracted people, always yearning for recognition and praise. But during Jesus’ earthly sojourn, He left us with the preeminent example of Sonship, living out a seemingly mundane 30 years of submission to earthly parents and carpentry work, while abiding with His heavenly Father when there was no one to pat Him on His back. His identity was found totally in the favor the Father, and so He was able to live in a distinctive manner, “full of grace and truth”, unmoved by criticism and unaffected by flattery.

He did not strive for the recognition of His name or His spirituality, but lived a common life in a radically uncommon way. If anyone had the earthly right to “toot” their own horn it would have been Him, but He demonstrated the wisdom of God by glorying in that which only His Father could see. And when the day of His showing forth came, He emerged from the Jordan waters as One upon Whom the Spirit rested “without measure.”

Dear saint, get your eyes off of men, and cease this deathly cycle of seeking their praise and acceptance. As you fix your eyes upon “Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith,” you will be delivered from strife and brought into the real rest of sonship. All things will be made new. He will bring you into His heart and purpose, and your secret life with God will become your supreme treasure.

The great enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ in the present day is the conception of practical work that has not come from the New Testament, but from the systems of the world in which endless energy and activities are insisted upon, but no private life with God.  -Oswald Chambers

(Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, by David McCasland; Discovery House Publishers, 1993; p. 187)

The Supremacy of Preaching Christ Himself

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“For while I was with you I resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and Him crucified.” -1 Cor. 2.2

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” -Acts 8.5

Every true preaching will lead its hearers to a higher vision of Jesus Christ and the centrality and supremacy of His cross. When we set up camp around superfluities or even biblical doctrines, however crucial they may be, yet fail to proclaim them in a manner that points the hearer Christ-ward, we fail in the high calling of true proclamation.

Nearly every religion on earth has some measure of light and truth; a paradigm or mode of thought that could be beneficial for living, but every one falls short of the glory of God. Religious systems do not impart life, and not one of them can deliver men in the salvific sense. Only the proclamation of “Christ, and Him crucified” brings to bear the truth of God, for “there is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved.”

No other supposed faith can hold a candle to the glory of the Man Christ Jesus, and none can answer the ancient problem of mankind; namely, the universal dilemma of depravity and sin. To preach Jesus in the apostolic sense is not merely to give a “Roman’s Road to Salvation” presentation. It is to declare things which “angels long to look into”- the mystery of God as the merciful Judge, and the remarkable desire of Jesus Christ to restore sinners to Himself. Only the Gospel reveals the eternal God as He is, and only the Gospel deals with the issue of sin.

The missionary message is the limitless significance of Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins, and a missionary is one who is soaked in that revelation.

The key to the missionary message is the remissionary aspect of Christ’s life, not His kindness and His goodness, and His revealing of the Fatherhood of God; the great limitless significance is that He is the propitiation for our sins.

A missionary is one who is wedded to the charter of His Lord and Master, he has not to proclaim his own point of view, but to proclaim the Lamb of God.

(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 15th selection)

Missionary work, ministries, movements, or “revivals” that stray from the proclamation of“Christ, and Him crucified” will ultimately fade into nullity. Even if they flourish numerically in this age, they will be as nothing in the age to come. “That which is born of flesh is flesh,” and only the foundation of Jesus Himself will endure to the glory of God. He must be the center, the nexus, and the capstone of our proclamation and vision. Even other necessary biblical views will end in nothingness unless they are postured in such a way as to lead us to “Christ, and Him crucified.” We need not to set forth our “own view, but to proclaim the Lamb of God.”

A man may preach about eschatology, the issue of Israel, divine healing, or even the cross itself without preaching Jesus Christ. If the message delivered is only categorical and canned, one may even expound on 1 Corinthians 2.2 without actually preaching “Christ, and Him crucified.” There is preaching and there is preaching. Have we come to know the difference between the two?

In contrast to mere human proclamation a man sent by the Lord will expound the same subject matter in such a way that it reveals the centrality and glorification of Jesus Christ to the heart of the hearer. Everything depends on whether or not the proclaimer is ascribing the glory to God in his own soul. If we are puffed up about knowledge, wanting to be clever, hoping to receive a certain calculated response from our listeners, we are disqualified from preaching Jesus Christ. Our own souls must be ever and always ascribing glory to the Lamb of God, or all our speech becomes suspect and dubious.

Thus, a radical and total jealousy for Christ Himself to be glorified is at the heart of true proclamation. Philip preached Jesus. He not only spoke about Christ, but his proclamation was an actual conveyance of the Person Himself. Something of the substance of the Lord was transmitted to the hearers and salvation ensued immediately. For Paul it was the same reality. Even the prophets of old preached Christ in this manner, though they prophesied “in part.” 

We need to see to the restoration of preaching Christ Himself, and not merely speaking of Him in a superficial or skin-deep manner. Down to the “marrow” of the soul we must be suffused with an active jealousy for the glory of Jesus Christ. Preaching and living from that place is preaching Christ indeed.

Have I “resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and Him crucified,” or am I frolicking on the periphery of Christian theology and thought? He must be the center, dear saints. The world shall be in want of a true proclamation of the Gospel unless we give Him the pre-eminent place.

The more the Church holds to its central message- Jesus Christ Himself- the more effective it is.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Fragrance of Christ vs. Self-Conscious Spirituality

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“…. thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” -2 Cor. 3.14

The greatest triumph is not in the establishment of an impressive organization, the saving of my reputation, or the performance of some great spiritual feat before men. The greatest triumph is led by God Himself, and it has to do with wringing out my personality and aura until I am a broken vessel through whom He shows forth “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”

Though I have adapted to the niceties and expected behaviors of Christian culture, though I know how to act around the right people, though I have “stopped doing what I used to do, because now I’m a Christian,” I may yet be bound by self-conscious spirituality. The life of faith does not have to do with conforming to external expectations in relation to the Christian subculture that I’ve been inducted into. It has to do with an ultimate inward surrender to the Lord of history, “who always leads us in triumph in Christ,” over every earthly influence and power. When we are so conscious of the Lord that we are able to love our enemies, resist the lusts of the flesh, and we are no longer moved inwardly to seek glory from men, only then is it evident that we are following the Lamb of God in His holy triumph.

If I am not emanating the fragrance of Jesus Christ, I must still be bound by self-consciousness in some way or another. When the light of heaven shines upon me, it may yet be seen that I am still concerned for my own glorification. The evidence of this is that I am not yet “broken bread and poured out wine”; I am failing to emit the “sweet aroma” of Jesus Christ. When “the least of these” come into contact with me, are they coming into contact with the vitality of the Son of God, or something that smells too much like the work of man?

When we have soulish ties to men, to this earth, or to our own religious ideals and presumptions, rather than a total jealousy for God’s glory, it becomes impossible for us to “triumph in Christ,” and we are incapable of manifesting His “sweet aroma,” which is His very character and nature. His fragrance is always antithetical to our self-conscious attempts at spirituality. I may need to ask myself some questions along these lines.

When challenging or rebuking another saint, am I abiding in the kindness of Jesus Christ? Would the Lamb of God deal as abrasively as I have when addressing that child or that struggling brother? When complimenting or encouraging someone, am I using flattery to gain some end myself, or am I actually expressing His own encouragement? When correcting some faulty doctrine in another brother, am I exhibiting my own knowledge and correctness, or am I speaking out of a true jealousy for the glory of God and the good of that soul?

I may claim to be radical for the Lord, carrying the cross and going against the tide of this age, but am I emitting the very fragrance of Jesus Christ in the process? If I am not, it may well be that the “tide of this age” is still sweeping me away, except that I am blanketed in Christian phraseologies and ideas. The only solution to self-conscious spirituality is God-conscious living, and Jesus has rent the veil that we might abide with Him in that holy place. From there we triumph in Christ, and manifest the sweet aroma of the knowledge of God “in every place.”

You are not required to pass through a religious maze to “manifest” the fragrance of the Lord. There is no puzzle involved, no trick up His sleeve, no riddle to unpack. To experience the depths of Christ, you need only to go down into death, taking up your cross and following the Lamb wheresoever He goes. He will inevitably lead you on paths that will wring out your personality and press His glorious image into your person. You will still be unique as an individual, but you will exhibit the wisdom and power of the age to come, which is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

We do not triumph in Christ by boasting in a meeting, seeking favor from men, or finding our way onto some platform of religious fame. We triumph in Christ when the power of self is broken from our lives, and the very fragrance of Jesus flows from our being. When He leads us in triumph, we will bring to bear the knowledge of God Himself upon a world that is perishing for want of that great Light.

His Appearance “For Us”

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“Just as the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you. Abide in My love.” -Jn. 15.9

Some years ago, I was in the home of a beloved servant of God by the name of Art Katz. We were discussing the need for a recovery of the kind of preaching that would not merely inform the people of God, but lift them into a greater inner-awareness of His majesty. He made a comment that struck my heart, and I am feeling it’s reverberations especially today. This is what he said:

The Church is suffering from a chronic sense of inferiority, and they need to be built up in the reality of His love. We need to come into the realization that we’ve been “accepted in the Beloved.”

So many believers are “suffering from a chronic sense of inferiority,” and the opportunities for insecurity, self-consciousness, and anxiety are around every corner, particularly in a Western culture that is so status-driven. The powers of darkness have always worked overtime to keep the saints from a sustained and abiding experience of love of God. They have worked thousands of years at mastering the art of destroying the lives of men, and nowhere have they been more successful than in their schemes to bind men in strife after worldly acceptance, while robbing them of the awareness of God’s desire to secure them in His love.

Billboards and magazines pin women into the corner of striving for external beauty; commercials and other media venues trap men in the pursuit after bigger trucks and better homes. The options are voluminous for all types of searching after acceptance from others. Even- or maybe especially- in the religious world, many are jockeying for positions in ministry that would feed their ‘spiritual’ egos, and so many leaders are eaten up by a desire for numerical growth in their congregations and the popularity of their ministries.

Individual strife for a spiritual reputation is also common in the Body, with jealousy and envy dominating those who are wanting to establish a “form of godliness” without the reality of His power and love. We are comparing ourselves to others, living in an earthbound manner, and our vision of Jesus Christ is suffering as a result of it. We want approval from men, and it is that corrupt desire that robs us from experiencing the heavenly approval that the Father longs to express in His own “kind intention.”

“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (Jn. 5.44)

Across the board, we humans are being consumed by a sense of inferiority to someone or something, and it all stems back to the fact that we have not adequately received and abided in the love of God Himself.

Can we fathom that He does not regret having brought us into the Kingdom? That we are not a part of some “inferior” segment of the Body of Christ? That we have nothing to prove to Him, nothing to perform in the aim of earning His love, and that He is kind and compassionate toward us not because of our spiritual performance, but because that is who He is?

We need to commit the rest of our days to pursuing a greater understanding and awareness of His love toward us. He has declared that He loves us “just as” the Father loves Him. Hear Him, dear saint! His affections are no less profound toward you than they were toward Moses, Paul, Brainerd, Whitefield, or any other great soul. Oh, that we would be awakened to the reality of His constant and unfading love, and that it would be more for us than a theological category. Our Gospel inheritance is an abiding awareness of the glory and love God Himself.

The more I study the New Testament and live the Christian life, the more convinced I am that our fundamental difficulty, our fundamental lack, is the lack of seeing the love of God. It is not so much our knowledge that is defective but our vision of the love of God. Thus our greatest object and endeavor should be to know Him better, and thus we will love Him more truly.

-D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

The pursuit after acceptance from men is a deathly roller-coaster ride, and it will not end until you learn to still your heart before the Lord, and receive the love of God Himself. Jesus Christ has already declared that He loves you just as the Father has loved Him, but your reception of that love is not automatic. You must push your way past the multitudinous voices that press for your attention, “be still and know” that a much profounder love is being poured out from heaven. All other voices lead to the fading glory of self, but the voice of the Lord is “above the waters,” and it leads to His eternal glory, which is “life forevermore.”

If the praise of man elates me and his blame depresses me….then I know nothing of Calvary love. -Amy Carmichael

Dear believer, you need not be jerked and pulled by the opinions, compliments, and criticisms of men. You need not be plagued with a sense of inferiority and a burning desire to be accepted by others. The undying and unwavering love of God Himself is available to you, for the cross of Jesus Christ has torn the veil of separation on your behalf. Turn from sin and strife for acceptance, and let your heart be stilled in the place of prayer. There you will hear His voice, receive from the well of His love, and your joy will be made full. From that holy place, He will give you grace to live amongst men with a whole new consciousness, abiding in the love of God Himself, “accepted in the Beloved One.”