Friday, April 15, 2011

Quote of the Day: Active vs. Passive Worship

We've just started a new Sunday morning bible study which will go through the entire book of Leviticus. I just ran across this quote on the purpose of the burnt offering in Leviticus 1:
Using a little imagination every reader of the OT soon realizes that these ancient sacrifices were very moving occasions. They make modern church services seem tame and dull by comparison. The ancient worshipper did not just listen to the minister and sing a few hymns. He was actively involved in the worship. He had to choose an unblemished animal from his own flock, bring it to the sanctuary, kill it and dismember it with his own hands, then watch it go up in smoke before his very eyes. He was convinced that something very significant was achieved through these acts and knew that his relationship with God was profoundly affected by this sacrifice.
-- From Gordon J. Wenham's commentary The Book of Leviticus, page 55.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Colossians 05: Steadfast in the Faith

Scripture Text: Colossians 2:1-5

Paul, writing to a group of believers he as not met, has told the Colossians how he rejoices even as he suffers for their faith, and that his ministry is to be a good steward of the deposit of truth given to him, that in Jesus Christ salvation has come to the nations. He also explained to them how his ministry was one of proclamation, and of warning and teaching everyone so that they may appear before Christ as mature believers, sanctified in holiness at the day of the Lord’s coming. We said that the church today is engaged in the same mission – proclaiming salvation in Christ, and warning and teaching disciples so that they may be prepared for the coming of the Lord.

Having described his ministry in more general terms, Paul will now tell the Colossians how he as struggled on their behalf and for the other Christian churches that were planted in the region. Also in this reading, Paul will make his first mention of the false teaching that is making some inroads in the Colossian church.

The question before us today is this: How does the Church maintain the faith when it is infiltrated by false teaching? Answer: By remaining steadfast in Christ who is the Truth.

Any teaching that purports to be “Christian” but does not reflect the beauty and wonder of Jesus’ saving person, work, and teaching is not true!

How Does False Teaching Make It’s Way Into the Church?

What we see in the New Testament, in the gospel and in the epistles, is a constant contention for the truth. Jesus spoke the truth about God and Himself and could quickly see through pretense and falsehood. Paul writes multiple times to contend for the truth of Christ against false teachers. We see this very clearly in our study of Galatians, here in Colossians, and also in 1 Timothy and elsewhere. Jesus himself warned his followers about the deceptions false prophets in Matthew 7:15:
[15] “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Later, in Matthew 24:4-5, Jesus warns his followers, “See that no one leads you astray. [5] For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. In the same chapter, Jesus twice instructs his followers to beware of those falsely claiming to have prophetic knowledge of God.

Jude, the brother of James and of Our Lord, writing to the church at roughly the same time as Paul, says,
[3] Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. [4] For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Notice that the false teaching is here being promoted by people who have “crept” into the church “unnoticed.” That is, the false teaching is coming from within, not from outside, by those claiming the title of brother or sister in Christ. The effect of false teaching on the church was the perversion of “the grace of our God into sensuality” and the denial “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” The denial of God’s grace and the denial of Jesus as Lord and Master are nothing less than a denial of the gospel!

Peter was also called upon to combat false teaching in the church in 2 Peter:
[2:1] But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. [2] And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. [3] And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
Again, the false teachers come from “among you,” from among the body of those claiming to be believers, not from the outside. It’s this insider status that gives the false teaching cache. Notice again how the false teachers deny the Master, Jesus. As a result, their teaching is classified as “destructive,” because those who would persuade people to believe a false gospel are leading people to destruction.

The impetus for Paul’s letter to the Colossians to call them to remain steadfast in the faith in the face of false, deceptive teaching. In Colossians 2:4, Paul writes these words, which also show us this false teaching finds its way into the church:
I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
We can infer from this that there were false teachers in the church of Colossae who were teaching false doctrines. They were persuasive because, as was the case with Jude and Peter, (1) they were “insiders”, and (2) they employed “plausible arguments.” Naturally, those who would deceive the church will employ arguments that at first glance appear “plausible.” Implausible, outrageous arguments from outside generally get no traction, do they? No, it’s the smooth, polite talk from those inside, claiming authority from God, that gets attention and attracts people.

Just as this was the case in the early church, there are those today who would attempt to delude the contemporary church in the same way, making arguments which on the surface seem plausible, but which are in fact a denial of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Multiple New York Times bestsellers have been authored by people making plausible arguments that are deceive the faithful. As I was preparing this week, I read Eugene Peterson’s translation of this same verse (Colossians 2:4) his paraphrase of the bible called “The Message”:
I'm telling you this because I don't want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or "the Secret."
Peterson first published his paraphrase of the New Testament back in 1993, and it turns out he was prophetic in this translation, because thirteen years later a new-age, power of positive thinking book called “The Secret” would be published to great success. Here’s the publisher’s blurb for “The Secret”:
Fragments of a Great Secret have been found in the oral traditions, in literature, in religions and philosophies throughout the centuries. For the first time, all the pieces of The Secret come together in an incredible revelation that will be life-transforming for all who experience it.

In this book, you'll learn how to use The Secret in every aspect of your life -- money, health, relationships, happiness, and in every interaction you have in the world. You'll begin to understand the hidden, untapped power that's within you, and this revelation can bring joy to every aspect of your life.

The Secret contains wisdom from modern-day teachers -- men and women who have used it to achieve health, wealth, and happiness. By applying the knowledge of The Secret, they bring to light compelling stories of eradicating disease, acquiring massive wealth, overcoming obstacles, and achieving what many would regard as impossible.
Millions of copies of the book have been sold in multiple languages to millions of buyers, including many Christians.

Where Are True Wisdom and Knowledge to Be Found? In Christ Alone.

So where can true wisdom and knowledge be found? That’s what Paul shows us in verse 1-3.
[2:1] For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, [2] that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, [3] in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Paul first gives an account of his personal concern for the church in Colossae and the other churches in the region on Laodicea. The “for” in verse one connects this personal concern for them with Paul’s larger apostolic ministry.

Given what Paul will say in verse 4 about being deluded by persuasive arguments, Paul states the reasons for his struggles on their behalf. It is so that their “hearts may be encouraged.” Earlier, in chapter one, Paul reported his prayer of thanksgiving to God for the Colossians, because Paul had hear about their faith in Jesus and how that faith had translated into love for the saints because of the hope laid up for them in heaven. This is a group of faithful, loving, Christian believers in Colossae who Paul is addressing. He wants them to stay firm in the faith. He wants those loving hearts to be encouraged and tightly knit together, so that they might “reach all the riches of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery” (2:3).

My heart longs for you to have these same things, hearts of love for one other, tightly knit together so that sin and falsehood might not seep in a corrupt a people who are holy in the Lord Jesus Christ. My heart longs for you to have a kind of built-in radar that is quick to flag falsehoods parading around as truth. My desire is that you also remain steadfast in your faith, obeying God’s commandments and council as those who have been transferred into a kingdom of holiness and righteousness, listening to the divine Teacher whispering in your ear, as it says in Isaiah 30:21
[21] And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
My longing is that our congregation will be a place of grace and truth.

There is still the matter of answering the question, “Where Are True Wisdom and Knowledge to Be Found?” Where are all “the riches of full assurance of understanding and knowledge God’s mystery” to be found? The answer comes at the end of verse 2 and continues in verse 3, where these things are “Christ, [3] in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

It is in Christ that we find all the riches of faith, of understanding and knowledge of God plan of salvation. If you want understanding and knowledge of God’s plan, isn’t that another way of saying you want the truth? John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is truth.

For those who believe, every bit of life should be tested and tried by the person and work of Jesus. Every decision of life, of what to buy, wear, read, listen to, eat, all of it ought to be informed, not just by “What Would Jesus Do?” but by what Jesus has done and who he is. The gospel of grace in Jesus Christ crucified puts to shame all worldly wisdom, all attempts to discover “The Secret” to personal prosperity, sin-excusing liberality and all other kinds self-salvation projects. What does this mean? It means, for example, when I’m considering whether or not to, say, marry this particular person, will that marriage be founded upon the sacrificial love Christ for His Church, or will it be founded on some worldly notion of self-obsessed romance? When my neighbor defrauds me, will I seek revenge, or will I seek to forgive, as God in Jesus Christ has already forgiven me? When I discover that I have committed a sin, will I rest in peaceful assurance knowing that Jesus paid it all for me and rejoice in repentance, or will I succumb to the anxious need to perform some work of penance to demonstrate my worthiness, a worthiness I’ve already received by the blood of Christ? When I see someone who is hungry, will I feed them, as Christ feeds me with his Word and His sacrament, or will that pressing appointment get in the way? The standard of all Godly wisdom and knowledge is found in Christ alone, and nowhere else, no-self help manuals will do, especially those like the one saw earlier in the consignment store entitled “Project Me.” Truth is found when we rest entirely in God’s grace in Christ. Everything else is a mirage, false promises based on false assumptions leading to failure, unquenched guilt and death. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, examine your consciences. How do you evaluate the truth? By looking to the Cross, or by looking somewhere else?

A last word about verse 5, which reads: “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.:

Although he is struggling for the Colossians, Paul rejoices, because the are showing “good order,” which is another way of saying “unity,” and are firm in their faith. People who love each other will tend stick together. But what makes the bond of Christian fellowship unbreakable is nothing we do, but a unity of faith in what Christ has accomplished for his people by his death and resurrection. Such faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Beloved, the pursuit of understanding and knowledge, the truth, is the pursuit of Jesus Christ. Perhaps this day you are hearing a whisper from the Holy Spirit to join this pursuit. If you hear it, don’t delay. Confess, repent, and receive him as Lord, as the Truth that reigns in love over all things, including your life. Receive him, and be at peace. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
April 10, 2011
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew