Forgiven Much: The Greatest Commandment

Martyn Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 29-31

“The same is true today, and if we are concerned about a conviction of sin, the first thing we have to do is to stop thinking about particular sins. How difficult we all find this. We have all got these prejudices. We confine sin to certain things only, and because we are not guilty of these we think that we are not sinners …the essential point is, that the way to know yourself a sinner is not to compare yourself with other people; it is to come face to face with the Law of God. Well, what is God’s Law? Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal? ‘I have never done that, therefore I am not a sinner.’ But, my friend, that is not the law of God in its entirety. Would you like to know what the Law of God is? Here it is–‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy strength. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Forget all about drunkards and their like, forget all the people you read about in the press at the present time. Here is the test for you and me: Are you loving God with all your being? If you are not, you are a sinner. That is the test… …So the test we apply to ourselves is…not ‘have I done this or that?’ My test is a positive one: ‘Do I know God? Is Jesus Christ real to me?’ I am not asking whether you know things about Him, but do you know God, are you enjoying God, is God the centre of your life, the soul of your being, the source of your greatest joy? He is meant to be…You and I are meant to be like that, and if we are not like that, it is sin. That is the essence of sin. We have no right not to be like that. That is sin of the deepest and worst type. The essence of sin, in other words, is that we do not live entirely to the glory of God. Of course by committing particular sins we aggravate our guilt before God, but you can be innocent of all gross sins and yet be guilty of this terrible thing, of being satisfied with your life, of having pride in your achievements, and of looking down on others and feeling that you are better than others. There is nothing worse than that… …I know of nothing worse than the person who says: ‘You know I have never really felt that I am a sinner’. That is the height of sin because it means that you have never realized the truth about God and the truth about yourself.”


 

For other posts in the ‘Forgiven Much’ series.

Introduction

For a Bucket of Rainwater

Nowhere to Hide

 

Forgiven Much: Nowhere to Hide

The idea of this “Forgiven Much” series is to post short reflections on my sinfulness for the purposing of marveling at how much Jesus has forgiven me. You can read previous posts below:

Introduction

For a Bucket of Rainwater

Also, you might have noticed, but I’m trying to update this blog more regularly. I won’t be advertising via social media so please subscribe on WordPress, by email, or in any kind of reader you use. I hope and pray I can pray this blog can bless and encourage you. Thanks!


During my recent mission trip, I remember sitting with one of my teammates on the Japanese subway. We had just flown in from Beijing where we had spent a week and a half crammed into a small apartment in the hot polluted summer. My teammate and I were talking about some of the struggles and difficulties of the trip. We both shared something to this effect:

“At home, if you’re annoyed and frustrated after a long day, you can go out somewhere. You can go to your room and spend time alone. The difficult part of the trip is that there’s nowhere to hide. You’re being stretched by really long days. But you’re constantly around people so you don’t have time to really rest. There’s really nowhere for your flesh to hide”

My pastor in Irvine is fond of saying, “You never know what’s inside of a sponge until you squeeze it”. I think the reason why we as affluent Americans often have difficulty realizing our sinfulness is that we never get squeezed. For many of us, a good deal of our sinfulness is hidden by our comfort. If we’re feeling angry or frustrated, we can go to some quiet space. We can blow off steam by playing games or surfing the web. But what happens when those outlets are taken away? What are we really like under pressure? For me, I know that’s when my carefully hidden flesh comes roaring out–in the form of irritability, anger, unthankfulness, self-centeredness, and many other sins.

I’ve been seeing a lot more of my sin since moving home to Sacramento. Currently, I am without a room. I  have no quiet space to isolate myself when I feel like being alone. Combine that with a 6 year old sister who loves to talk and play more than any human I’ve ever met, and I’ve been having some growing pains. I’ve been seeing sin in myself that I never really had to deal with when I was away at school. I’ve been seeing how selfish I am with my “free” time, and how frustrated I get when people infringe on my comfort.

I suspect that’s why marriage and family are so difficult. Yes, you get increased privileges, but with those privileges come added responsibilities. A loss of privacy and places to hide our flesh. A loss of the ability to freely use our time as we choose. Before I rush naively toward the benefits of marriage and family,  I pray that God would continue to cultivate in me a heart that is willing to take on the added responsibility. I’ve got a long ways to go.

As I seek to grow in character and love, would I find rest in the truth that God knows my heart. My comfort might hide my sin from others and even myself, but he knows the ugliness of what I’m truly like when the sponge of my heart gets squeezed. Praise God that he loves me in spite of all my shortcomings.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 ESV)

Forgiven Much: For a Bucket of Rainwater

I started this “Forgiven Much” series a long time ago but never got around to writing anything for it. Better late than never though, right? My idea was to post short reflections on my sinfulness in order to marvel at how much Jesus has forgiven me . You can find the link to the introduction below.

Introduction


Oftentimes the sins I struggle with most in daily life seem very ‘ordinary’ and ‘small’–bad time management, laziness, impatience, a lack of discipline, etc. As a Christian, I know I should feel deep thankfulness to Christ for every sin since all sin deserves God’s holy wrath regardless of how ‘big’ or ‘small’ it feels. However, in practice, this is difficult. How can we feel the weight of our ‘small’ sins?

A while back, I was watching a question and answer session. The particular question being answered was: “If someone just told one small lie,  would God be just in sending that person to an eternity in hell?” At the heart of the question is the same dilemma: what’s so bad about a small little sin?  Does it really deserve the full weight of hell?

The pastor told this analogy to illustrate the great sinfulness of small sins which I found to be very helpful.

“If a man is married to a woman, and his wife leaves him for another man. And that man has certain qualities about him which make him attractive, that’s one thing. I mean if a person commits a great sin. But think about the small sins, it’s almost like the small sin is that much more abominably wicked. Because it’s like your wife saying, “I’m going to leave you for 10 dollars. I’m going to leave you for a free meal. I’m gonna leave you for a bucketful of rainwater. Do you see the insult there? You’re gonna tread on the glory of God for something ridiculously small? You’re saying, “I’m going to have my will and I’m going to do it my way even though it’s such a stupid little thing to lie about.”

Traditionally, the answer I’ve heard is that a small sin is infinite because it’s against the glory of an infinite God. That’s true, but it’s more than that. My “small” sin is infinitely heinous because I trade the glory of God for absolutely nothing. I do this constantly in my everyday actions–when I waste time on the Internet and mindlessly find my joy there, when I look for almost any excuse to put off reading my Bible or praying, when I get into an argument with my parents just to win one little silly point. As stupid as it sounds, I choose ESPN and Facebook and having my way as Savior over the Living Christ.

I’m reminded of Jeremiah 2:4-5: Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me,and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? (Jeremiah 2:4-5, ESV). Praise the Savior who forgives me even though daily I trade him for worthless buckets or rainwater.

…You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV)

P.S. If anyone else wants to take up this up with me, feel free to post your own reflections of your sinfulness and how it leads you to be thankful for Christ!

Songwriting and the Spirit of the Text

Sometimes people will ask me, “how do you write songs?” Actually my approach to songwriting is pretty simple. I could sum it up in this single principle: Good songwriting combines lyrics and music to communicate a feeling or moment to your listener. 

Imagine those emotions you feel most deeply. It could be joy, sadness, frustration, anything really. Or imagine a significant moment–picture what you felt, your surroundings, etc. Your job as a songwriter is to capture that emotion or moment in its purest, most concentrated form so that when your listener hears your song, they can understand it as well as you can.

As a musician, you have two tools to convey emotion and feeling: lyrical content and music. In your content, write as beautifully and as precisely as possible. One gripe I have with modern worship music is that it presents truth in such a cliched generic way. It’s filled with stock phrases that talk about the Gospel in the exact same way that every other song does. In my mind, this hinders worship. If you write carelessly and thoughtlessly about the truth, then it’s only a matter of time before we begin to sing carelessly and thoughtlessly about the truth. The Gospel brings about deep emotions of thankfulness and joy. Labor to evoke those responses in your audience by writing well about the beauty of Christ, and by painting a picture of what a heart looks like when it genuinely responds to the Gospel. If you’re looking for examples, look to the hymns. The hymn writers did not just communicate truth, they did so poetically and imaginatively. To quote some of my favorites–from Come Thou Fount: “Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love!” or from Be Thou my Vision: “Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision oh ruler of all!” Those are some darn well-written lines.

Your second tool is music. The music should not be an afterthought, but rather should supplement your lyrics. Most often, your music will support your lyrics. To name a secular example, think of the ultra popular song, “Say Something“. You’re probably sick of it by now, but let me ask you: how did such a simple and clean song become so popular among the normal crop of crass party/dance songs? Because its lyrics and music do such a good job capturing emotion.

Notice how the quiet slow music matches the exhausted speaker as he pleads with his love one last time . Notice how the music continually swells as the speaker builds up to one final plea, climaxing at 3:19. Notice how it quiets again as he realizes that its time to give up. The music plays a crucial part in telling the story of the song and communicating the speaker’s emotion. For some other interesting examples off the top of my head: check out the Adele songs “Someone like you” and “Rolling in the deep”. Notice how the music matches the lyrics.

You can also use music to contradict or complicate the message of your lyrics. For example, taking hopeful lyrics and putting them with minor-sounding chords. For a pretty clear example of this, check out “Joy” by Page CXVI,  or the band Ascend the Hill. . Or think about all the youtube covers which change a fast poppy song to a slow ballad or vice versa. How might music change the message of the song? Singing happy lyrics to a minor melody might, for instance, communicate the speaker’s desire to believe his lyrics, but the struggle of his heart to truly do so.

Well, there you have it. Use your lyrics and music to encapsulate deep feeling.  The difficult (and fun) part, of course, is thinking hard about your lyrics and your music, and using them to complement each other in creative and compelling ways.

My favorite way to capture emotion is through what I’ve called earlier the tension of faith. Basically, the emotion I want to capture is the feeling of believers as we struggle between earthly difficulties and our hope in Christ. Martyn Lloyd Jones writes that the glory of the Christian life is not “the absence of feeling” but that as Christians we “rise above them though you feel them”. I’ve found the most profound music which resonates most deeply with me, is the music which acknowledges earthly struggle, but upholds Gospel hope if we will but have faith.

Let me walk you through this thought process in  “Eternal Weight of Glory”, a song based on Paul’s words 2 Corinthians. Here are the lyrics of the verse and chorus:

Verse:
We do not lose heart, and we are of good courage
And though we cannot see, we will look to what is certain :
This momentary pain is preparing for the day when we shall feel the weight of

Chorus:
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! (What shall we say when we see)
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! (eternal weight of glory?)
“O Glorious King, How great you are!

Bridge:
Here in the body, away from the Lord
We make it our aim to please and adore
Away from the body, at home with the Lord
We make it our aim, to please and adore him
O Glorious King how great you are!

The tension I wanted to capture here is between momentary pain and the eternal weight of glory. The verse captures the reality that Paul is “here in the body, and away from the Lord”. It captures all of our realities as we endure through earthly life as we hope towards heaven. Yet, even though we believe in God’s promise, we still experience real and distressing pain. Notice, as the song reaches the line, “this momentary pain…” the volume and the dissonance of the music builds, matching the reality of earthly hardships.

Once you hit the word “glory” however we move from earthly longing to heavenly fulfillment. We glimpse the reality of  how it feels to be “away from the body, at home with the Lord”. You’re at the height of the crushing dissonance of suffering, and suddenly it’s over. There is a moment of rest and reprieve. You’re standing in heaven. Everything is suddenly quiet except for the chorus of angels and faithful saints singing “glory, glory, hallelujah” And then you see the King. And slowly you begin to realize the weight of the Glorious King.  As real as the weight of suffering was, it does not compare. All you can do is cry our with all of of creation, “Oh Glorious King how great you are!”

Earthly suffering and heavenly hope are held in tension throughout the song. Near the end, they even come together as they’re sung on top of each other, until it fades only to the chorus. It’s expressed in the bridge as we sing about how wherever we are we will praise the glorious King. I think the tension is captured most succinctly in the phrase: what shall we say when we see eternal weight of glory? Oh Glorious King, how great you are! It is both the cry of faith for the struggling believer, looking forward to the day of salvation. It is the joyful shout of the believer in heaven as he beholds the King.

Now, let me shift gears a bit. The interesting thing about this song is that it’s lifted basically verbatum from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, 5:6-9. Even more interestingly, almost all of the songs dearest  to my heart, which have also resonated most deeply with other people, have come directly from the Scriptures. I think this tells us something wonderful about God’s Word. Namely, there is tension in God’s word. There is deep profound emotion in God’s Word. When we come to the Bible with all of our longings and emotions, we don’t find simplistic textbook answers. We find a God of comfort who understands us and is able to meet us in our deepest needs.

Let me ask another question: why does God choose to deliver for instance, the book of 2 Corinthians, through a human author like the Apostle Paul? Why didn’t he just write an instruction manual telling us to hold on because heaven is better than earth?

Do you remember the role of music in songwriting? It is not arbitrary, rather it compliments the lyrical content. I think God does something similar with our lives. On the one hand, there are the words of Scripture, but God gives them to us through a real man, in a real situation, writing to real people. He has endured and is presently enduring real suffering. And so, he says those words with credibility and also with real heartfelt emotion. He speaks from within the tension of knowing the worth of heaven, while also feeling the heavy burdens of life. Paul’s life is the music which compliments the message (And our lives are the music which compliment our message too!). God, in his infinite wisdom, knew that speaking through a real historical Paul would minister more deeply to our souls than a tidy instruction manual.

All to say that, as we study God’s Word for ourselves and communicate it to others, I think it’s helpful at times to think like a songwriter. Yes, first and foremost focus on getting the truth of the text so that we faithfully communicate what God’s Word says. But also, look for the emotion, the spirit of the text. What does it mean for Paul to be able to say what he says in 2 Corinthians? How about in 2 Timothy? Or how would a poor sick man feel when he stood listening to Jesus preach the Beatitudes in the sermon on the mount? Why does Jesus get so angry at certain points of the Gospel? What does it mean when John tells us that Jesus wept? You could go on and on. But I think if we’re careful to pay attention the spirit of the text, we’ll find that the Bible speaks profoundly with weight and emotion to both our own souls and to the souls of our listeners.


Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17 ESV)

Learning to be Me

“I’m bad and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me”

Sometimes we criticize animated films because they always seem to have the same message: self-esteem. Be yourself. Accept yourself for who you are. You’ll find happiness when you do. “Nonsense!” we cry,  “We don’t find our worth in ourselves. There’s nothing worthy in myself. Christ gives us worth.”

But perhaps we should be a bit more nuanced about ‘self-esteem’ (for lack of a better term) . The fact remains that, even after the Gospel, I am still me. That is,  my affections change from the world to Christ and from sin to personal holiness, but my basic personality remains intact. Martyn Lloyd Jones writes this about our personalities (or temperaments in his words):

“Temperament…does make a very great difference in the actual experience in the Christian life…For the fact of the matter is that though we are all Christian together, we are all different, and the problems and the difficulties, the perplexities and the trials that we are likely to meet are in large measure determined by the difference of temperament and of type. We are all in the same fight, of course, as we share the same common salvation, and have the same common central need. But the manifestation of the trouble vary from case to case and from person to person. There is nothing more futile…than to act on the assumption that all Christians are identical in every respect. They are not, and they are not even meant to be.”

The truth is we all have to learn to live with ourselves–our personalities and their particular strengths and weaknesses. Circumstances will come and go, but no matter what, you will always be you. So, if you struggle to understand and accept your own personality, it’s going to be a constant battle and source of discouragement. You cannot escape yourself. You cannot escape your insecurities, and the particular weaknesses your personality is prone to.

As we think about ‘self-esteem’, we should distinguish that there are neutral aspects of our personality, and then there are sins closely tied with our personalities–that is, our personalities make us more prone to certain kinds of sin than others. The latter we must learn to put to death but the former we can learn to accept. God has made us uniquely in his image. Moreover, when he saved us, he didn’t put our personality into a holy cookie-cutter mold; he is making our particular temperament more like Christ. The glory of the Gospel is that many different types of people all choose to love God and find him worthy of praise despite their differences.

For myself, I’ve always struggled with insecurity about these neutral aspects of my personality. I’m more quiet and reserved. I don’t have a boisterous personality or a particularly sharp sense of humor. I’m uncomfortable in large groups. Because of these characteristics, I often feel as if I can never truly belong because I’m not funny, memorable, or outgoing enough to carve out a lasting space in people’s lives. I often feel like I’ll never be truly useful in ministry because I don’t always have a ton to say or I can’t easily connect with people.

This insecurity leads to recurring sins, most notably, self-focus and unthankfulness. Fear of my own inadequacy directs my attention constantly inward. There could be great things happening all around me but instead of enjoying them, I’m thinking to myself: what does this person think of me? Am I fitting in? Why am I weak in this way? This, in turn, leads to unthankfulness. Whatever good thing is eclipsed by the discontent I feel about myself.

I need to be extra diligent in recognizing these sins and rooting them out of my life. Why? Because they’re so closely tied to my temperament, if I’m not careful, they easily become part of the daily routine how I act, think, and feel. Sadly, I’ve had entire seasons of life and ministry be characterized by this self-focus and unthankfulness. If I’m not careful, these sins can rob me both of my joy and my usefulness in ministry. 

Here are a few thoughts about learning to come to terms with my own temperament and its limitations.

wreck-it-ralph

1. Learning to be Thankful

Here is where I’d probably depart from animated films. Pixar, Dreamworks, and Disney will tell you: those worries that you have about your inadequacies? They don’t really exist. You’re perfectly lovable just the way you are. Just believe in yourself!

But I don’t think that’s true, even if we’re talking strictly about the neutral aspects of our personality. Our insecurities aren’t completely unfounded. We feel them because there is some truth to them. Now I’m not saying we don’t blow them way out of proportion. I know I sure do. I know oftentimes when I hear people talk about their weaknesses and flaws, I’m often confused because I don’t see them at all. And I’m sure my insecurities would seem the same way to other people. We should labor to be as realistic about ourselves as possible.

But my weaknesses do exist. As a whole, I can look at my life and know that I am loved by close friends and family and that God uses me in ministry, but that doesn’t take away the sting of disappointments in everyday life when I feel alone or helpless.

Instead of ignoring our limitations, perhaps the best way to come to terms with them, is to acknowledge they exist, but to learn to be thankful for them. It’s true that if I were more outgoing, then I would struggle less with feeling accepted. If I had a better sense of humor, I would be more useful in ministry than I am now. But if I could magically fix everything I didn’t like about myself, I would also lose something crucial to my sanctification.

We often forget in the pain of weakness that weaknesses is crucial to our growth. Do you remember what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9?

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV)

Now, I don’t know what Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was, but limitations of temperament can fit the bill in my life. They are constant. They seem like they’re always with me reminding me of my weakness. Yet, God has used them to teach me the most important lesson of all: I am weak so I need to depend on him. I am weak all the time and so I need his strength all the time. In every conversation, every meeting, every second of every day.

Where would I be if I could hide all the weaknesses of my temperament? Perhaps I could be more popular and more useful, without sacrificing the lowliness that comes with weakness. But more likely, I would trust in myself. I would become conceited, self-sufficient, and would boast in my own abilities.

2. Learning not to Compare

I’m writing this post sandwiched in between two fantastic ministry opportunities. Earlier this summer, I was privileged to go to China (You can read it about it here!). This next week, I will have the privilege to minister to high school students at Chinese Bible Mission (or CBM as it’s more commonly known).

I am blessed beyond belief to be able to participate in Gospel ministries like these. At the same time, I know how easy it is to waste these opportunities by comparing myself to others instead of serving joyfully. It’s easy to become discouraged because the other counselors are more useful than me. Or to feel that because I’m more reserved, I can never fit in with the team or the other counselors as well as others can.

How sad it is to waste such precious time in envy, wanting what others have instead of being floored that God allows me to serve at all. If you and I are ever going to put to death insecurity, we must put to death our sinful tendency to compare ourselves to others.

3. Learning to Serve

When I struggle with own insecurity, my tendency is to want to retreat. To retreat from fellowship. To retreat from leadership. To retreat from taking initiative and being intentional with others. To retreat from being bold and taking risks for Christ. But this is a wrong reaction. This is essentially saying, because I can’t serve in the selfish way I want to serve or be useful in the way I want to be useful, I won’t serve.

But God has gifted me in many ways. He has gift me with many opportunities. Should I not use the personality, the talents, and the strengths God has given me to bless the church? Paul writes this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-20:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:12-20 ESV)

I may not be a mouth, or a nose, or the eyes. Perhaps I may be something small in the body of Christ. But the church has diverse needs, and God has created a diverse body to meet those needs. The church needs outgoing people and quiet people. The church needs introverts and extroverts. People who can bring laughter to large groups and people who can listen well to the newcomer who still hasn’t quite fit in. Part of learning to be me is to learn how God has gifted me to serve the church and to use those gifts with joy and zeal.

4. Learning to be Loved

Because of our weaknesses we often feel inadequate. We feel inadequate to measure up to the expectations of the people we care about. We feel inadequate to be useful in the ministries and service opportunities that God has placed us in. And our fears are right; we are inadequate. We have limitations in the neutral aspects of our personality. We are disqualified because of the sinful aspects of our personality. If people knew us as we really are, who would judge us as worthy? No one.

God knows everything about us. He knows our weaknesses and sins better than we know them ourselves. Yet, God still loves us. He loves us so much that he sent his own Son to die on the Cross to purchase us. And if that weren’t enough, He still uses us to do his work. He employs broken jars of clay so that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. Praise God for weakness because it brings us to treasure the gracious God who shows us grace.


For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (1 Corinthians 1:26-27 ESV)

The Parable of the Passion

Hello faithful blog followers! Although it may seem like it, the blog is not dead. There’s a lot of stuff I want to write, which I hopefully will write. After the craziness of the quarter, spending winter break as a hermit writing actually sounds quite appealing. So stay tuned.

Anyway, if you’re bored and have nothing to do, take a look at this very lengthy paper I wrote for finals. Somehow, in a literary theory class, I ended up getting assigned to basically exposit the Bible and ended up learning a ton about two passages which were always really difficult for me to understand–Isaiah 6:1-13 and Matthew 13:10-17. Here was the prompt: Taking Isaiah 6:8-13 and Matthew 13:10-17 as your interpretive templates, discuss the trial and execution of Jesus in that gospel: how is the story of Jesus’ passion (“suffering” or “undergoing”) a parable of faith in Jesus’ sense of “speaking in parables”?

Enjoy!

Matthew 13:10-17  ESV10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you,many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Isaiah 6:10-17 ESVAnd I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump

In order to interpret the parabolic significance of Jesus’ passion, we must first understand the meaning of the passages which serve as our interpretive framework—Matthew 13:10-17 and Isaiah 6:8-13. In the Matthew passage, Jesus has just finished teaching a great crowd of listeners a parable about a sower who sows seeds on different kinds of soil. Afterwards, his apostles approach him with an understandable question: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Mt. 13:10). Jesus gives them a peculiar answer. He tells the disciples that there are two types of people who have two very different responses when they hear his parables. The first group, that is, genuine disciples, will be blessed when they hear the parables—they will learn “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” and to them “more will be given, and he will have in abundance” (Mt. 13:11,12). In contrast, the parables will have a very different effect on the listening crowds, who “[have] not” (Mt. 13:12). For them, Jesus says that parables reveal their inability to apprehend spiritual truth and their impending judgment. For someone in this second group, “even what he has will be taken away” because “seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Mt. 13:12,13).

If Jesus’ answer here is read literally, it appears to be both difficult to understand and seemingly unfair. Jesus’ response, itself, is unexpected. As a Rabbi, one would expect the purpose of Jesus’ parables to be for teaching; that is, by giving the uneducated crowds everyday earthly analogies, that they might better understand deeper spiritual truth. However, Jesus response confounds this expectation. He says, in fact, that he speaks in parables so that the crowds might not understand their need to be healed. Not only is Jesus’ answer unexpected, it also appears unfair. One’s response to the parables is determined completely by a factor, which is his completely beyond his control—whether he “has” or “has not”. Whatever this object is, which one has or does not have, Jesus makes it clear that man cannot secure it on his own; it must be “given” (13:11). This appears unfair. How is it fair that one group loses everything they have and is relegated to perpetual ignorance, solely because they have not been given this “something”; while another group receives an abundant blessing and understanding, because they have received “it”? The strangeness of Jesus’ answer and its apparent injustice creates a pressing question for Jesus’ disciples, which is crucial for our understanding of Jesus’ use of parables: What is it that the first group has, which the second group does not have?

The key to this question is found in our other passage in Isaiah 6:8-13 which Jesus quotes to answer his disciple’s question. In that passage, God commissions Isaiah to do what Jesus says is his purpose for his parables: to preach despite knowing that his words will have no effect. He tells Isaiah to preach God’s judgment upon Israel already know that his audience is completely unable to see, hear, or understand his message. The clue to understanding Jesus’ words, however, comes in the context immediately preceding this passage. In Isaiah 6:1-7, before his commission, Isaiah receives a vision of the Hidden God. In this vision, Isaiah sees only a partial view of God—God’s full glory is obscured by the “train of his robe” and the “smoke” which “filled the temple” (Is. 6:1, 14); however, even this partial vision of God in his holiness, leaves Isaiah devastated at his filthiness in the light of God’s perfection. He cries out, “Woe to me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Is. 6:5). God does not deny Isaiah’s self-condemnation; however, rather than punishing him, He purifies the Isaiah’s polluted lips by touching them with burning coals. After this, God declares that Isaiah has been healed and redeemed, saying “behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Is. 6:7).

Isaiah’s vision at the beginning of chapter 6 is crucial to understanding his commission in chapter 6:8-13. The important observation is that God commissions Isaiah only after He purifies him. Isaiah is only able to speak the divine Word as a Prophet, after the sinfulness of his mouth has been atoned for. However, Isaiah’s lament still rings true: he is from a people of unclean lips. These people are polluted not only in their lips, making them unworthy to carry the divine word, but also in their ears and eyes, rendering them unable to understand the message of the divine word. What is the message which they fail to see and understand? Isaiah tells us, and Jesus reiterates it Matthew 13. The effect of the people’s failure to “see with their eyes, and hear with their ears” is that they are unable to “understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Is. 6:10). When Isaiah sees God he immediately understands his unworthiness before Him; as a result of this realization, he turns to God by acknowledging his sin and God heals him by atoning for that sin. The people need this very same divine healing which Isaiah receives. The problem, however, for the people is the hiddenness of God. The reality of one’s sinfulness and need for redemption becomes painfully obvious when he comes face to face with the holiness of God. The people, however, have not seen a vision of God as Isaiah has, and because of that, they do not see their dire need to be reconciled with him. Instead, the people are fixated on the earthly material world. The only thing important to them is what they can physically see. As a result, they are hopelessly consumed with their own lives in which they make themselves, and not the hidden God, the center. Thus, when Isaiah comes bearing the message of judgment by a Holy God against sinful man, the people feel no urgency to turn and receive the same healing which Isaiah has received.

With that, another question arises: how can those who have not seen a vision of the unseen God, look beyond the earthly material realm to realize their sinful condition and turn for healing? The argument of the New Testament writers is that one finds healing through faith. In Hebrews 11:1, faith is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. It is faith which allows an individual to look beyond the physical realm to be convinced of spiritual realities. Faith, as Augustine, says allows an individual to escape the “spiritual slavery” which comes from always interpreting “signs [as physical things]” and gives him the capability of “raising the mind’s eye above the physical creation as to absorb eternal light” (Norton 160). The faith-filled believer looks at the account given by God in the Scriptures, the cultic system of sacrifices in the temple, and Israel’s history, and is able see the reality of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, and thus turns to God for healing. Finally, it is important to notice that faith, just like the purification Isaiah receives is given only by God’s initiative. In the same way, Jesus makes it clear that the faith, which allows the disciples to “know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” has “been given” (Mt. 13:11). Like purification, God provides faith as a gift. One cannot create it himself by human wisdom or will.

Isaiah 6:1-13, then, answers the question of what it is the disciples “have” which the crowds “have not”—namely, faith which allows them to apprehend their hopeless condition before a Holy God, and thus, receive forgiveness. The function of parables, therefore, is not primarily to teach in the Greco-Roman dialectical sense of the word—that is, to present information in such a logical manner that everyone, who exercises their intellect, will be able to understand. Rather, parables serve to reveal what is already inside of a man. Jesus’ parables show either that an individual is preoccupied with the material physical world and thus cannot see the reality of the hidden God, or that a person has faith. Just as in purification, man is completely dependent on God to give this faith which allows for understand. In order for man to even have the capability to look past his sinful delusion to Jesus’ invitation: “he who has ears let him hear”, God must first purify him and give him ears (Mt. 13:9).

There is one final note before use our two passages to interpret Jesus’s sufferings and that is that the structure of Jesus’ parables themselves mirrors the nature of the hidden God. God throughout the Bible functions under this consistent principle—he is always defying expectations of those who pridefully rely on appearances, while giving redemption to those who humbly trust in God for forgiveness and direction. The form of a parable, itself incorporates this aspect of God’s character into its structure. Parables are told using figures from the earthly realm, which the speaker then infuses with a deeper significance. In Matthew 13:1-9, for instance, Jesus uses the everyday image as a sower sowing seeds on different kinds of soil to show that it only the one who receives God’s word who bears fruit. The parabolic form, itself, is meant to push the audience into viewing reality spiritually rather than by appearances. Even if they aren’t sure of the exact meaning, it is clear to the audience when Jesus tells the parable of the Sower that he is not speaking literally, but aiming for some kind of deeper spiritual truth. By employing the form of the parable, then, Jesus is offering an extra means to encourage his audience to view things spiritually. The form of the parable tells the audience that just as one clearly cannot interpret a parable literally and arrive at its true meaning, similarly one cannot live relying by sight and expect to arrive at a true understanding of oneself and God. The failure of the audience to discern the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ message even with the parabolic form serves as a further condemnation of their fixation on appearances.

With that, we have a working interpretive framework with which to answer the question: how is the story of Jesus’ passion (“suffering” or “undergoing”) a parable of faith in Jesus’ sense of “speaking in parables”? The very question, itself, appears odd at first glance. We do not usually think of an historical event as parables. In a parable, the speaker creates the world of the parable: he chooses the characters, the events, and the plot and structures them in a way that creates an analogy to some deeper truth. A mere man, however, cannot do that with history, because he has no control over history and thus, cannot assign deeper significance to historical events. God, however, is not bound by those limitations. He has providential control over history and can order history to reflect his intended message. Under this God, historical events such as Jesus’ passion can function at the same level as a parable. Just like a parable, the historical event itself is the earthly appearance, and only through faith does one understand its larger significance. Jesus’ passion acts as a parable of faith in two main ways. First, it demonstrates the same message which God commissioned Isaiah to bring to the people—that man stands at enmity with a Holy God and must turn to him to receive the healing which he alone can give. Second, Jesus’ crucifixion, like a parable, reveals what is inside man, either unbelief which clings to earthly appearances and leads to damnation, or faith which sees its need for purification and leads to salvation.

Isaiah 6:1-13 reveals that there is a common message shared between Jesus’ crucifixion and the message at the heart of every expression of the divine word, including Jesus’ parables. That message is revealed when Isaiah stands before God—that man is utterly sinful in light of a holy God. All prophetic language is a plea to man that if he will but realize and acknowledge this fact, then there is healing and atonement for his sin. If, on the other hand, he insists on hubristically making himself the center of the universe, he has only the fearful expectation that “even what he has will be taken away”. Jesus’ passion—his suffering and crucifixion—is the ultimate expression of this message. The divine message centers on the need for reconciliation sinfulness of man and the holiness of God. The Christian gospel, or good news, says that Christ’s crucifixion is the fulfillment of the type of Isaiah’s purification in that it is the actual means by which Isaiah receives his “atonement” (Is 6:7). God redeems man from his sinfulness by punishing Jesus, who is sinless, with the physical and spiritual death which man deserves. Everyone who, like Isaiah, acknowledges their offenses against a Holy God receives the same comforting words which Isaiah received: “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Is. 6:7). Just as Isaiah 6, purification is given by God’s initiative alone and not man’s effort or righteousness. It is God who sends Jesus to atone for man’s sins because man cannot save himself and Jesus, the son of God, who willingly lays down his life to accomplish what man himself cannot.

Second, Matthew 13:10-17 reveals a common purpose which motivates both Jesus’ passion and the divine word of Isaiah and Jesus’ parables. Jesus’ passion, like the parables, reveal what is inside of man—either enslavement to appearance which reflects his fixation on himself, or a faith-filled heart which is able to accept God’s Word and bear fruit. Depending on whether or not faith, Jesus’ passion serves as either judgment of one’s blindness or a means for one’s salvation. The one who has been given faith is able to see the crucified son of God and apprehend that Jesus is expressing God’s message—that he is holy and that man is in need of healing, and he has provided a way for healing in Jesus, if man will but turn to him and trust him in faith. But to the one who has not faith, he looks upon Jesus and sees only his literal appearance—that because this man is pathetic and dying on the cross, God must hate him. Because he appears weak, everything he said about himself as son of God is untrue, and any claim for radical repentance and chance can be disregarded. Because of earthly appearances, the carnal mind thinks it can continue living his life with himself at the center. Thus, like the parables, Christ’s passion increases the guilt of those who walk in an unbelief, but saves those who believe.

 

True Leadership

I had the privilege to speak again this past Friday on 1 Timothy 3:8-13 on the topic of deacons. It was cool,because I picked my passage in Matthew 6 and was assigned this passage, but both dealt with the importance of integrity and character in our faith–something God has really been teaching me this year. I know its long, but if you’re serving in any capacity this coming year, I think this would be a helpful message for you. To him be the glory!

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives–I’m convinced b the argument that this is referring to women deacon– likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. Forthose who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:8-13, ESV)

Introduction

When I read Paul’s letters, I’ve found that it’s helpful for my understanding to ask the question: How does this passage fit into the rest of this book? Paul writes with a specific purpose for a specific occasion. So as we begin to consider our passage on deacons today, let’s ask the question. How does Paul’s discussion of leadership fit into his overall purpose for writing 1 Timothy? The primary problem, which prompted Paul to write 1 Timothy, was the presence of false teachers in Timothy’s church in Ephesus. We see a large part of 1 Timothy dedicated to dealing with these false teachers within the Church. He warns Timothy about them all throughout the letter.

We don’t know a ton about the specific details of these false teachers. If you read chapter 1, you learn that they have a wrong understanding of the law. In chapter 4, you see that their teaching somehow involved a legalistic kind of asceticism. Other than that, though, we don’t know exactly what kind of message these false teachers were spreading. One thing is clear, however, Paul’s main issue with these false teachers was their character. They wanted all the benefits of being leaders, without doing the hard work of having the character of a leader.

I’ve entitled my message today, True Leadership. I want to approach this passage today by showing you the picture of true leadership Paul describes here in chapter 3 and contrasting it with the leadership provided by the false teachers. My hope is that we’ll be able to apply these lessons in whatever type of leadership we’re in. Today, I have four points or principles that a true leader exhibits and which false teachers fail to exhibit. So let’s get started.

1.      True Leaders are Christ-like Servants

Have you ever wondered: Why are the church offices so random? Why did Paul choose overseers and deacons, in particular, to be the positions of leadership? Well, it turns out that, even though we don’t normally use the words overseer or deacon in our normal vocabulary, these offices aren’t random. Both overseer and deacon each follow the example of leadership that Christ himself provided for us when he walked this earth.

Overseers follow the example of Christ by shepherding over the congregation, just as Christ shepherds over his people. In 1 Peter 2:24-25, Peter tells us that Christ is the ultimate leader, the ultimate Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, and Overseer, who watches over his flock. Later in the letter, when Peter tells the human shepherds and overseers how to lead, he tells them to follow the example of the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-3). The false teachers, on the other hand, are the exact opposite of Shepherds. They don’t love the sheep; rather they love themselves. In Acts 20:23, Paul warns the overseers at the church in Ephesus about these false teachers. He says, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock”

Overseers follow the example of Christ in leading like Christ. Deacons follow the example of Christ by serving the congregation, just as Christ serves his people. The word “diakanoi” in the Greek means servant– someone who supplies the needs of others. We find that deacons, too, find their example in Christ. Turn with me over to Luke 22:24-27.

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:24-27, ESV)

What word does Jesus use when he says “I am among you as the one who serves”—He uses the word diakonwn: one who serves. What is a deacon?  The Bible really doesn’t tell us too much about what specifically a deacon should do. But one thing is clear, a deacon is to serve like Jesus served. Jesus served in very practical ways. Washing the feet of the disciples. Healing the sick and providing for the needy. And so, deacons are to serve to supply the needs of the church in whatever way is necessary.

So the first thing we realize about leadership within the church is that it’s modeled after Christ. Christian leaders, whether your job is more in leadership or more in service, are to be selfless, humble, loving, and sacrificial just as Christ was. Let’s turn back to our passage 1 Timothy 3:8 and we’ll get back into the text.

–In my message, at this point, I clarified why I thought “gunaikas” in vs. 11 is probably better translated “women” referring to women deacons. But i’ll leave that part out–

So far, we’ve learned that the positions of overseer and deacon both call for someone who will be a Christ-like servant. Now, my question is: if we’re this kind of leadership, what kind of person is qualified for this role. And how do we find him or her? This brings me to my second point:

2.      True Leaders show Godly Character

The main qualification for church leadership is not what you can do; it’s your inward character.  That’s what Paul is looking to test here in giving these qualifications. Originally, I was going to focus in on each quality individually, but I decided not to since I think most of us have at least a general understanding of what these characteristics mean. The question I want to ask is this: If Paul’s goal is to find men of godly character why does Paul choose these attributes in particular?

I think the reason why Paul chooses these attributes, in particular, can be found in verse 10: “Let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.” Now, imagine we’re in Timothy’s shoes and we’re trying to fill this position of overseer or deacon. Paul just gives us one requirement: you’re looking for is someone with character. The problem we run into is you can’t see someone’s character. I think Paul gives these requirements of deacons—and of elders in the previous chapters—because it provides tangible ways to learn about someone’s character from the way they act.

So if we were Timothy trying to figure out who could be a deacon. We could ask: is this person dignified? The word in the Greek means “honorable and reputable”; it also carries the sense of a seriousness. This quality functions like the phrase “above reproach” for overseers. It’s a broad term which the following qualities will flesh out. But if we were looking for a leader that would be a good starting point: Is this person respectable? Does this person have a good reputation? Does he have a sense of seriousness for his faith, or is everything fun and games for him?

1)      How you speak reveals a lot about your character. Being a deacon means you’re going to be involved with the affairs of people in the church, so if you’re not trustworthy in your speech you’re going to cause a lot of problems. So Paul says to consider: is this person double tongued? For the ladies, is this lady a slanderer?

2)      Is this person addicted to much wine? Or, as Paul says for the ladies, is she sober minded? If someone is addicted to much wine, it tells us something about his character. He lacks self-control. He doesn’t think clearly. She’s not sober-minded with a singular focus on advancing the kingdom of God.

3)      Is this person greedy for dishonest gain? What is his or her relationship to money? Is this a lady who is using her riches to glorify herself through her outward appearance (1 Timothy 2:9)? Is he someone who is content or is he always striving for more and more? (1 Tim 6:6-7). Does he put his hope in the uncertainty of riches or does he put his hope in God and use his money generously to do good works (1 Tim 6:17-18)?

4)      We’ll come back to vs. 9 in a separate point because I think this is the most important character trait. Look down with me to verses 12. Here Paul says test the faithfulness of a man’s character by looking at his testimony at home. Is he faithful to his wife and to his kids? Does he demonstrate love, patience, kindness as a father and a husband?  And for the ladies, at the end of verse 11: is she faithful in all things? Is she faithful in her service at church, and to her family?

Let me give you guys a few points of application here. First, your actions show something about your character. Paul says, “when you’re looking for men of character, look for men who live in a way which shows they have character”. On the flip side, Paul uses some of these qualities to reveal the ungodly character of the false teachers. He calls them out mainly for two qualities: for their speech and for their love of money. Paul says, because I see these qualities in your life, I know you don’t have genuine character. Look with me over to chapter 6:3-5

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” then skip down to verse 9: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruins and destruction.”

How was Paul able to tell that these men had rotten character? He simply tested them by our lives. My first point of application is that your actions show something about your character. And how you conduct yourself in public in private, at church and at home, can qualify or disqualify you from leadership. If Paul or Timothy were to test your life to consider you for leadership would your life qualify or disqualify you?

Second, don’t take shortcuts in leadership but rather pursue godly character.  The false teachers here wanted all the benefits of leadership without all the hard work. Character is hard work. It requires you to love the Gospel, to deny yourself and to death sin. Character doesn’t happen overnight. It happens as the result of years and years of following after Christ. Paul tells Timothy, “look at all these guys trying to take shortcuts. Don’t be like them. Do the hard work of cultivating Godly character within yourself.”

Look with me over at 1 Timothy 4:7—“Have nothing to do with irreverent silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Look again to chapter 6:11 where Paul exhorts Timothy, “but as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness”. Don’t take shortcuts like these false teachers. Pursue genuine godly character because that qualifies you for leadership. This brings me to my third point that…

3.      True Leaders are Transformed by the Gospel

In my first point, I talked about how the positions of deacon and overseer call for Christ-like servanthood. In my second point, I talked about how the people who are qualified for these positions are people with godly character. The next question I want to answer: where does this godly character come from? There is one characteristic that I skipped over. Look with me at 3:9: “they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”. Here, I think we have the key to developing genuine character. Let me try and break this down.

First, he says deacons must hold the mystery of the faith. This isn’t the kind of mystery where we don’t understand something about our faith. The word for “mystery” in the Greek is “musterion”. It’s talking about something that was once hidden but is now revealed. Paul uses this phrase throughout the New Testament to refer to different aspects of the Gospel—God’s plan of salvation which was once hidden, but now is revealed to us. Let me show you a few examples of Paul using this word.

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6)

I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully knownthe mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)

I don’t usually use illustrations, but I think this might help us understand what Paul is trying to communicate when he talks about a mystery. So Jon Ginn, as you may or may not know, really likes movies. In particular, he likes movie with an intricate plotline which builds up to a huge plot twist. Throughout the whole movie, there is a crucial detail of the plot which is hidden and then in the plot twist, it’s revealed. And then your mind-blown, because this plot twist changes the trajectory of the whole movie. And so, if you’re Jon Ginn, what do you do?  You re-watch the whole movie and you catch all the seemingly insignificant details and you realize how everything ties together. And then, if you’re Jon Ginn, what do you do next? You run out and tells everybody about how ingenious the movie is.

I think that captures Paul’s sense of amazement and wonder at the mystery of the Gospel. As a Pharisee, Paul knew the story of Scripture really well. And then, he gets hit by the plot twist of the Gospel and it changes everything he knows about God. So Paul is like Jon Ginn. He thinks about it all the time, and he goes and looks through every detail of the Bible, and he sees how Jesus affects everything. And then he’s so excited that he goes out and tells everyone about this mystery—about the plan of salvation which God has revealed. Paul says here that a deacon must hold this mystery. He must be gripped by the Gospel and let his whole life be consumed by it.

The second part of the qualification is that a deacon should hold this mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. Now, what does this mean? The word conscience, like the word “mystery”, is one of those words that you wouldn’t expect to be used very much in the Bible, but which Paul uses actually quite a lot. In 1 Timothy there’s multiple other instances where Paul uses this same word conscience.

Look with me over to 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul writes, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons by swerving from these have wandered away into vain discussion.” Later, in 1 Timothy 1:19, Paul urges Timothy to fight the good fight: “holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith” And again in chapter 4:1. Paul writes, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.”

So, the first thing we notice is that having a clear conscience is really important. Paul says that one of the main goals of his entire charge to Timothy is love that comes from a good conscience. As we saw in those verse, Paul points out that the false teacher’s lack of a good conscience is their big problem. Listen to the serious effects of not having a good conscience: they wander away into their vain teaching, they make shipwreck of their faith. He says because their consciences are seared these false teachers depart from the faith.

So what does it mean to hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience? I think Paul means this: holding the faith with good conscience means having a consistency between your belief in the Gospel and the way in which you live your life.

Turn with me over to 2 Corinthians 1:12 and notice how Paul uses this phrase: For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. (2 Corinthians 1:12, ESV)

Basically, what Paul is saying here is that: “When I think about my ministry toward you guys, I have a clear conscience. I wasn’t someone who preached the Gospel to you but didn’t live it out. But I behaved in a way that was consistent with the Gospel I preached. I had integrity, simplicity, and godly sincerity towards you, and so my conscience is clear.” That’s the idea that Paul wants to get across. A true leader’s life should be one marked by love for the Gospel, and a life in which everything is consistent with that love for the Gospel.

That, in the end, was the false teacher’s biggest problem. Beyond their teaching, beyond their love for money, the false teacher’s biggest problem was that they forsook integrity in their character. They became comfortable with not living out the things that they taught. Paul calls them insincere and liars because they’re preaching isn’t honest about who they really are inside

True leaders are transformed by the Gospel. They are amazed and in awe at God’s plan of salvation, and they let it transform every aspect of their lives. So when they look back over their lives and ministry they can say, with confidence, my boast is this, the testimony of my conscience, that I conducted my private life and my public life in integrity, in simplicity, in godly sincerity.

I’m backtracking a little bit but I want to give you guys a practical point of application here: We see that the formation of godly character comes from a sense of amazement and wonder at the mystery of the Gospel. How can we learn to be amazed at the Gospel like Paul was?

Remember how I used the example of the suspense movie? To extend that analogy, I think, as Christians today, one of our problems is that all we do is watch the plot twist over and over again. And we think because we do that, that we understand the plot twist. Well, actually no, an understanding of the plot twist comes from an understanding of the whole story—all the tiny details, all the setup that built the tension and the drama for the plot twist to happen.

I think Paul was amazed at the Gospel because he understood how it changed everything in the whole story of God’s word. If you check all the references where Paul talks about the mystery of the Gospel, he rarely ever talks about the Gospel in the same way. He’s always connecting it to some aspect of Scriptures. I think the more we understand the whole of God’s story the more we will be amazed at the mystery of God’s salvation plan which he has revealed to us.

We live in a Gospel centered age, where there’s books about the Gospel, and songs about the Gospel, and sermons about the Gospel. But Paul talks about how this mystery is revealed through the Holy Spirit by the apostles and the prophets. Where did they write in? The Bible. If you want be amazed by the mystery of God’s plan then there’s no better book to read.  Read the Old Testament and the New Testament and you’ll see like Paul that the Bible is the perfectly woven together story and the Gospel is the plot twist that links it all together.

4.      True Leaders have a Better Reward

Being a true leader is tough. You’re called to follow the example of leadership that Christ set. More than that, you need to have godly character. And more than that, you need to have a love for the Gospel that transforms everything you do. Many of us are in that process of trying to be better leaders but struggling with our weaknesses and our sin. Some of us are thinking about future ministry and the qualifications that the Bible has.

And we wonder to ourselves, is it worth it? And, we won’t tell it to anyone else, we wonder in our hearts if we can be a little like the false teachers. It likely isn’t as blatant as the false teachers, but maybe we start to wonder: I know leadership is supposed to be Christ-like servant hood, but I wonder if I can get away with sneaking in a little glory for myself. Or I know requires us to have a godly character, but maybe if I do things well I won’t have to address this flaw in my character. If I do well in leadership, or I won’t have to address the fact that I’ve become dull in my love for the Gospel, or that I’m not living of a life of complete integrity.

True leadership is hard. And the temptations to compromise a life of integrity are great. But our passage ends with a reminder that, though it may be hard, it’s far more worthwhile. In verse 13, Paul promises two kinds of rewards that a true leader receives:

First, he says those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves. Basically what Paul is saying here is that if you serve faithful as a deacon you will gain the respect of the church and those following you. Oftentimes we think of the praise of man as a bad thing and it certainly is a bad thing if that’s the driving factor which motivates our leadership. But as a leader it’s absolutely vital to have the respect of those under you. Paul says, “if you strive after a life of character and integrity, you won’t have to trick people into following you. People will see your example, and they’ll want to follow you.” I think we all understand this. The people I respect most, I respect not chiefly because of their abilities, but because of their character.

Second, Paul says that those who serve well also gain a great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. Objectively, we’re saved by grace and noting we do can add to our salvation or make us any more secure. But subjectively, our confidence in our faith varies. If our conscience is not clear, if we feel guilty and far from God, then we have little confidence in our walks with Christ. But  Paul says here if you’re deacons who has served well can have a great sense confidence in your walk with God. You know that you’re striving to please him by having godly character, you know that you love him for what he’s done in the Gospel, and you’re living out that love for him in your life. If that’s you, you can have a great sense of boldness—not the self-righteous kind—but an inward confidence  that you’re doing God’s will and honoring him, and that God is pleased with you because your life glorifies Christ.

The Roots of Hypocrisy

Hey readers! My apologies for the long hiatus and for all the promised but failed series. This isn’t much, but it’s something! I had a chance this past Wednesday to speak for my guys group back home from Matthew 6. Here’s the manuscript. I know it’s long but  if you guys have time, I’d encourage you to read it. Personally it was a very convicting study for me which highlighted the extent of my sinfulness and need for a Savior. I pray it would do likewise for those of you reading.

For my message, I drew this diagram of a tree on the whiteboard to make my points, I don’t have a scanner, so I remade it in paint. Check out my super ghetto chart. Feel free to refer to it before/as you read. I know it looks really lame, but this actually took me a really long time…

Matthew6Diagram

1. Introduction

As I open today, let me ask you guys a question. As Christians, we sometimes use ‘Pharisee’ as a negative term to describe certain types of people. My question is: what does it look like to be a ‘Pharisee’? What kind of characteristics does a Pharisee have?

For me, when we say someone is a Pharisee, I think we usually mean someone 1) who is proud, 2) someone who is confident because of what he knows and what he does, and 3) someone who looks down on other people who aren’t as good as he is.

I think these characteristics describe the Pharisees well. And we ought to be on the lookout for any signs of pride, self-righteousness, or condescension in our actions. But I think, if we stopped there, we would be oversimplifying the Pharisee’s problems. The Pharisee’s problems were deeper and more complex than that. Today, I want to look beyond the outwards signs of a Pharisee into the heart of one. It’s true, the Pharisees created a system of empty religion and self-righteousness. But today, I want to ask: what sort of heart led them to think and act in the ways they did? And I want to challenge you guys to ask yourselves, “Do I have the same sort of heart?”

If you guys have your bibles, could you open with me to Matthew 6:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-6, ESV)

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18, ESV)

1.      The Pharisees Big Problem: Hypocrisy

If you read through the Gospels, Jesus is extremely harsh to the Pharisees. He welcomes sinners, he eats with the prostitutes and tax collectors, and he spends time with the outcasts. But there is something about the Pharisees which stirs up a fierce anger in Jesus. What is it?

Is it what they taught? When we think about the Pharisees, we usually highlight how they had wrong teaching, namely, they believed in a works-based salvation; that you can earn your way to God. Is that why Jesus rebuked them so frequently? I don’t think so. The Pharisees certainly had many holes in their theology, but even Jesus said in Matthew 23:15: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you.”

So if it’s not primarily their theology, then what is the Pharisee’s big problem? We see the answer in our passage in Matthew 6. Look with me at verse 1 and notice with me how Jesus characterizes the Pharisees:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do.

Now, skip with me down to verse 5:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.

And finally, look with me at verse 16:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites

Jesus’ main grievance with the Pharisee’s was their hypocrisy. It was not primarily an issue of their bad theology or works-based righteousness—that was a result produced by their hypocrisy. But I think that many of the sinful outward actions performed by the Pharisees, came from the fact that, in their hearts, they were hypocrites—that there was a gaping distance between the religion they professed to believe and love with their mouths, and what they really believed and loved in their hearts.

In case, you’re not convinced. If you read the book of Matthew, Jesus hammers the Pharisee’s for their hypocrisy again and again. Turn with me over to Matthew 15:7-9. Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees, says:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:7-9)

And, if you’re still not convinced, turn with me over to Matthew 23:13 and this should do it. In this passage, Jesus spends a whole chapter blasting the Pharisee’s for their hypocritical religiosity.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child ofhell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:13-15, ESV)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous,saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:23-33, ESV)

The Pharisee’s big problem was their hypocrisy. I would argue that from their hypocrisy flowed all their actions of legalism and self-righteousness. But I want us to dig a little deeper. I’m sure that the Pharisees didn’t plan on becoming religious hypocrites. I’m sure they were normal people like you and I, and I’m sure that they were genuinely convinced that they were followers of God. The next question I want to ask is is this: 1) what leads someone to become this kind of hypocrite? 2) If hypocrisy is the root that leads to all this empty religion and self-righteousness, what are the roots of hypocrisy?

This is not an extensive list but today, I want to highlight two “roots”—two sinful heart motivations—which if we’re not careful, will produce in us the same hypocrisy that the Pharisees had.

2.      Root #1: Love of Man’s Praise

The first root of hypocrisy which we see in our passage is the love of man’s praise. Look with me back at our passage in Matthew 6:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.

Again, look down at verse 5:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.

And finally, in verse 16:

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others

Jesus tells us not be like the Pharisees because all their religious acts of righteousness are done to be seen by other people. This desire—to be seen by others—is a central motivation which underlies their hypocrisy.

But let’s think about this for a second. What is it about loving man’s praise leads to hypocrisy? Remember, how I said earlier that Pharisee’s problem wasn’t primarily their teaching. Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you.” The Pharisees knew the Scriptures way better than you and I do. Now, I could be wrong here, but I think that if the Pharisee’s goal was to genuinely please God and to earn salvation through their acts of righteousness, then I think they would have been okay. They would have tried to earn their salvation but would have realized very quickly through their sinfulness and through the Scriptures that it is impossible. And so, when Jesus came, preaching his message of repentance they would have been the first one to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Their self-righteousness, while still wrong and sinful, would have led them to God.

So, I don’t think it was wrong teaching which was their primary problem. Look what Jesus says in John 5:42-45:

“But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me”

Basically what Jesus is saying here is: I know you think you genuinely love God, but I know that you don’t. How do I know? Because I’ve come in my Father’s name and you reject me, and yet you receive other leaders who act, think, and do things just like you guys do. I’ll go a step further and tell you why you don’t believe: because you seek favor from one another and you don’t seek the favor of God.

Then Jesus addresses their teaching. Jesus tells them that the problem is not that they believe in Moses. It’s that even though they appear to believe Moses, they don’t believe in Moses at all. Jesus is saying that the very law that that they’ve put their hope in, is the law that condemns them. This is why the love of Man’s praise is so dangerous: because the Pharisee’s goal was never to genuinely please God at all. Their goal was to use God and religion, as a way to be seen by others. They performed their actions of righteousness so that they might have man’s praise.

Self-righteousness with the genuine intent of pleasing God is wrong but it can be led to the Gospel of grace. But a heart set on pleasing man instead of God will never be led to the Gospel of grace. Why should I care that Jesus died to make me right with God, if all I care about is being made right before other people? Further, a religious person, who loves the praise of man, can only produce hypocrisy. Why? Because he’ll be doing all these actions supposedly for the praise of God when all he cares about is being seen by others.

3.      Root #2: Unbelief

The first root of hypocrisy, seen in our passage, is love of Man’s Praise. The second root of hypocrisy is very closely tied to it—the second root is unbelief. Look with me back at our passage in Matthew 6, starting from verse 1:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Look down again to verse 5:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

Jesus says that when you love man’s praise instead of God’s praise. When you’re seeking glory from people instead of from God, then you should just be honest with yourself.  You’re going to reap what you sow. You’re going to get back what you put in. It’s not like you won’t receive a reward but you’ll receive the reward that you’re looking for.

The Pharisees performed their righteousness to be seen by other people. They might have been able to fool everyone else, but they can’t fool God. When you give, or pray, or fast and other people praise you, then you’ve gained the reward that you wanted: the praise of people. But Jesus that’s all you’re ever going to get. God sees everything. He sees past our actions into our hearts. Don’t fool yourselves into thinking God will reward you just because you’re going through the motions.

What is it that God rewards? It’s not our actions, it’s our faith.

If you pay attention to Jesus’ ministry in Matthew, you’ll notice that Jesus rewards people who are the exact opposite of the Pharisees: the Pharisees look outwardly impressive, but have no faith. Jesus rewards those who are outwardly weak—the diseased, the Gentile, those with sinful pasts—but who have great faith in Jesus.

Right after our passage in chapter 6, in chapter 8 Jesus is approached by a Gentile Centurion with a sick servant. Jesus rewards him for his faith.

When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith… “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matthew 8:10-13, ESV)

In chapter 9, a woman who has had a bleeding flow for years, comes and touches Jesus’ robe. Jesus rewards her for her faith:

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Matthew 9:22, ESV)

In chapter 15, Jesus is approached by a Canaanite woman who begs for her daughter to be healed. Remember? Jesus tells her it’s not fit to give bread to the dogs, but she asks for the crumbs from the table. Jesus rewards her for her faith.

Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith!Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Matthew 15:28, ESV)

Now, listen to Hebrews 11:6, here’s the principle I want to draw out.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, ESV)

Faith is living for a heavenly reward that you hope but you don’t yet have. Unbelief is living for an earthly reward that you can see and have right now. Faith puts its hope in an invisible God and trusts in him. Unbelief puts its hope in visible things—the praise of people, money, career, fame, pleasure. Faith is hard because you have to believe in something you can’t see. Unbelief is easy because you can have an immediate and tangible reward right now. But God does not reward unbelief because unbelief does not seek its reward in God, but in other things.

Unbelief is at the heart of hypocrisy. An unbelieving heart seeks the reward of man’s praise, because it doesn’t have the faith to believe that God’s praise is better. It doesn’t have faith to believe that God exists—I’m not talking about just intellectually, but that he really exists in our world, our lives, our problems—and that he rewards those who seek him with a greater reward than anything we could ever have here. And so, it produces hypocrisy. A religious person, without faith wants all the benefits of religion, but when it comes down to it he really doesn’t believe, and so all he can do is be a hypocrite.

4.      Application:

Reflect on your motivations:

Many of you guys just came back from camp; it’s cool because a lot of my close friends in college are actually guys from camp. A lot of my friends are from CIBC. Sometimes we’ll joke about it, and I’ll tell them that the CI guys were the heathens at camp, and they’ll tell me that the CG guys were the Pharisees.

I’m not sure if your generation of guys is still like this. But that’s been the stereotype of CG, especially CG guys in the past. That we may know our Bibles, we may know our theology, but we’re proud and we look down on other people. Sadly, I think it was true of my generation. I want to let you guys know: take pride seriously. When you guys go to camp, don’t be puffed up because of what you know. Don’t separate yourself from other churches because you think you’re better than them. We have to put that stuff to death.

But I don’t want you guys to just stop with outward actions. If we just change our outward actions—say we stop talking badly about other churches or we stop bragging—but we fail to address the root cause, then, our sin will just appear in different areas. It’s like pulling out a weed but leaving the root. The weed will just grow back, just in a different place or in a different form.

I know for myself I addressed many of the outward signs of being a Pharisees, while inwardly I still had the heart of a Pharisee. So even though I appeared more religious, my religion was still as empty and hypocritical as it was before. If anything, I just became even better in my hypocrisy. I learned that the appearance of humility is able to better win you the praise of man than boastfulness. So, just remember, you don’t have to be outwardly prideful to be a Pharisee. In fact, humanly speaking, you can appear very humble. So I encourage you guys to reflect on your motivations. Ask yourselves:

  1. Where in my life am I being hypocritical?
  2. How much of my ‘love for God’ is really a desire for man’s praise?
  3. How much am I seeking my reward in earthly things? (Litmus test: how is my faith when I’m alone?)

I encourage you guys to check on your motivations often. I think the temptation for hypocrisy is especially strong in groups like ours, where, just like the Pharisees, there’s a lot of knowledge and lot of church involvement. Slowly, we can begin to think that knowing something is the same thing as living it out. Or that coming to church is the same thing as doing it for God. It’s not.

Repent of our sinful hearts

If you read the Gospels, the hardest thing for the Pharisees to do was to recognize their sinfulness. Prostitutes and Tax collectors came to Jesus for forgiveness of sins because they understood they needed him. The Pharisees thought they were righteous, so they never realized how much they needed Jesus.

Personally, this is a big struggle for me. Day to day, it’s hard for me to really feel the weight of my sinfulness and my need for Christ. I feel guilty if I commit a ‘big’ sin, like lust or blowing up at my parents. But for the most part, it’s hard for me to understand that I’m a sinner deserving of hell.

For those of you who might be like me, this passage should hit us like a train about why we desperately need Jesus. Jesus isn’t harshest to the prostitutes or tax-collectors; he’s harshest with religious people who had hypocritical hearts. Jesus hates all sin but he really, really, really hated the sin of the Pharisees. Just think about it. Remember Matthew 23, Jesus devotes an entire chapter to rebuking the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Not only that, he started every other line with the line, “Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites” Imagine if Jesus spent a whole chapter of scripture rebuking you—“Woe to you,                 , hypocrite…”—That’s crazy. Nothing like that happens in all the rest of the Gospels.

I want you guys to think for a moment why is this? What was it about the Pharisee’s sin that angered Jesus so much? Why was the Pharisee’s sin so bad? While you’re thinking about that, turn with me over to Matthew 22:34. Now, consider the context of this passage. This is in the last week of Jesus’ ministry before he goes to die on the cross. This passage is sandwiched between chapter 21 and 23. In chapter 21, Jesus directly calls out the Pharisees in the parable of the Two Sons and the Tenants in chapter 21 to the point where the text even says, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables they perceived that he was speaking about them” (Matthew 21:45 ESV). And we read chapter 23 earlier, when Jesus gives seven woes to the Pharisees. Let’s read what it says:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40, ESV)  

This is pretty crazy. Why is Jesus so angry with the Pharisees in chapter 23? Why is the Pharisee’s sin so heinous? I think we find the answer here in chapter 22. In this passage, Pharisee’s come to ask Jesus about the most important commandment in all the Scriptures.  Jesus tells them to love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Now, follow with me here, what sin is the complete opposite of the greatest commandment? Is it lust? Is it anger? Nope. It’s the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus tells them to love the Lord with everything they have. The Pharisee’s love the praise of man and they don’t love God at all. They think they have a reward with God, while all they’re trying to do is gain favor with people.

Now, check this out. Jesus doesn’t have to answer the Pharisee’s question. Just earlier in chapter 21, the Pharisee’s ask Jesus a question and Jesus just asks them a question right back that they can’t answer. This is just my speculation, but I think by answering their question, Jesus is offering them grace. Jesus is trying to show them that they’re not righteous. When the Pharisees heard the greatest commandment, it should have broken them. It should have brought them to sorrow and repentance with tears, because, even though they were supposed to be the teachers of the law, they had broken the greatest commandment. That was their sin.

But remember what it says in vs. 34: “when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.” The Pharisees were so blinded by their hypocrisy that they just want to stump him. They don’t care about Jesus’ answer. Jesus is giving them the words of eternal life, a chance to see their sinfulness and turn to him. And it goes right over their heads, because they’re not even listening. They just want to see if it’s a good answer or not. Do you see why hypocrisy is so evil? It is completely against the greatest commandment. Not only that, It hardens them to the grace of God. And it is that hypocrisy, their unbelief, it is their love for man’s praise, and jealousy against anyone who might take that away that leads them to crucify the Son of God.

Now, we may not completely hypocritical like the Pharisees, but, I don’t care who you are, hypocrisy, unbelief, and love of Man’s praise still exist in our hearts. For many of us, we really struggle with this. It’s scary because I understand the Pharisees. I understand why they acted the way they did, because I see those same motivations in myself. And so, when we see those sins in our hearts, it should break us. We should be humbled, knowing  that on our own we had no power to escape our hypocrisy. We had no answer to Jesus’ question to the Pharisees, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:33, ESV)”. We should hate those sins when we see them in our hearts, realizing that it was those very sins which led the Pharisees to harden their hearts and crucify Jesus. And, as we realize that we’re not good, that we’re deeply and profoundly sinful, let us we come again in gratitude that Jesus has shown us grace. He died for us. He has not left us blind and hardened to our sinfulness like the Pharisees, but he’s given us eyes to see how much we need him.

Refocus our Righteousness: Live for the Praise of God by faith

My last point is to refocus our righteousness. I’ve focused so far, almost exclusively, on the negative example of the Pharisees. But in our passage, Jesus actually tells us about how he wants us to follow him. And so I’ve entitled my last point.

Look back to our passage, starting in verse 3:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Now look down at verse 6:

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And finally at verse 17:

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Jesus tells us to be the exact opposite of the Pharisee’s. The Pharisee’s practiced their righteousness in public so that their good deeds might be seen by other people. Jesus tells us to practice our righteousness in private so that we might not put our hope in being seen by people, but in being seen by God. The Pharisee’s lived by sight for an earthly reward: the recognition and glory that comes from man. Jesus tells us to live by faith for the heavenly reward that comes from God.

I love the words of Jesus because they’re so simple, yet so profound. I think if we understand what Jesus is saying here and we apply it to our hearts then it will change our lives. Jesus’ teaching here is definitely one of those gems that I’ve taken away and made one of the foundational principles of my life. If I could sum up Jesus’ point here into a principle, it would sum it up like this: Live for the praise of God by faith. Simple right? This has two parts to it. Let me break each of them down quickly.

Live for the praise of God: What I mean here is that we should care about what God thinks about us more than what anybody else thinks about us. We need want to please God more than we want to please anyone else; more than our friends, more than any girl, or any dating relationship, or any spouse, more than our parents, more than our teachers or our bosses. When we care most about what God thinks about pleasing him, then we’re empowered to do anything, even if nobody else sees or cares. Like Jesus said, we can give to the needy, we can pray, we can fast without anybody knowing because we’re doing it for God.

By Faith: This sounds great, but you and I know that this is really hard to do. Why? Because when we do things to be seen by people, we feel an 1) immediate and 2) tangible reward: their approval. When you work at your job you receive an immediate and tangible reward: money But when we do things for God, because we can’t physically see or hear him, sometimes it feels like our good deeds are being wasted, or that there’s no point. That’s why we need to live for the praise of God by faith. Hebrews 11:1 says. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” By faith, we let go of our earthly rewards—of people’s approval,  money, fame, pleasure—to trust in God for a heavenly reward in Christ. By faith, we trust in God’s character, that even though we don’t have any immediate reward, that he will be faithful to fulfill his promises and that the reward of knowing Christ is far better than any sinful pleasure we have here.

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2, ESV)

Thanks for reading! I hope it was as encouraging and convicting to you as it was for me as I was preparing.

All the Sad Things: In Joyous Disbelief

I know I’ve been slacking on the “Forgiven Much” series, but I wanted to take some time to write a three-part series called “All the Sad Things”. This is another series meant for those who struggle with doubt  and sadness. In each post, I hope to establish something about the Christian’s relationship to sadness and doubt. In the first post, “In Joyous Disbelief”, I want to show that our doubt offers a unique opportunity for us to humbly worship God. In the second post, “The Resurrection and our True Reality”, I hope to explain how Christianity provides profound and satisfying answers to the sadness we see in ourselves and in the world around us. Finally, in the third post, “Broken by the Good Shepherd”, I want to argue that God, in his breathtaking love, often uses trials and seasons of sadness and doubt for our good. As an overarching goal, I hope to make clear that God does not exclude those who experience doubt or sadness;  he welcomes as we are and restores us to know and love him. I hope and pray that through this series, you will be refreshed to see anew the unsearchable wisdom and love of our God.

The title for this series comes from a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. After seeing Gandalf return from the dead, Sam exclaims, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

A while back, I wrote a post called the “Tension of Faith”. In it, I talked about how faith is the tension between God’s promises and our circumstances. What makes faith so agonizing is that our circumstances often make God’s promises seem impossible and downright foolish. Here, in Sam’s quote, we witness that profound moment when the tension of faith is resolved; when the distance between the difficulty and the promise is bridged by an unexpected miracle. What does it look like to be in that moment? when everything seems like it’s crashing down, only to be transformed into something beautiful at the last moment? We get a glimpse of it in Sam’s question. When the tension of faith is resolved, we stand in joyous disbelief.

What do I mean? Sam’s question to a living Gandalf expresses disbelief that such a wonderful thing could happen and joy that such a  wonderful thing has in fact happened. On the one hand, Sam is so shocked to see Gandalf that he can only respond in the form of a question. He sees Gandalf with his own eyes, but everything else that he has seen and experienced tells him the exact opposite. And so, he’s afraid to be sure. After all, endings like this only happen in fairy-tales for the naive, not in real life. But, on the other hand, there Gandalf is right there before him. We can feel the joy bursting forth from the question. “I don’t believe it, but here you are. Talk to me and reassure me I’m not dreaming. If I can just know that you’re really here and really alive, I won’t be able to contain this joy.”

Now, I know this is just a fantasy story, but you can probably already see all the parallels to our true life stories in the Gospel. I don’t know for sure, but perhaps this is what Luke wanted to capture when he wrote in chapter 24 of his Gospel that after seeing the Risen Jesus, the disciples “disbelieved for joy and were marveling” (v. 41)

Do you see how beautiful this is? I can’t think of anything more beautiful that the moment of joyous disbelief. For the Christian, there is no greater worship than in this moment. When we realize how lost we are in our sins and how the just wrath of God is coming upon us, and then we hear how Jesus loved us so much that he took hell in our place, we stand in joyous disbelief. We ask, “Amazing love, how can it be? That thou my God shouldst die for me?” When we endure trials and seasons of struggle that almost drive us to despair, and then we look back and see how God used them to keep us from making shipwreck of our faith, we stand in joyous disbelief and say, “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” It is in these moments, where we give God the worship he desires. There is no pride, only humble thankfulness and brokenness. There is no thought of self, only amazement at the wisdom and grace of God.

When you’re struggling with doubt and sadness, it’s easy wonder if you’re even a Christian. If I love Christ, then why do I feel this way? Why do I feel so little? Why do I have these questions? It’s easy to feel helpless and to want to give up. It’s easy to despair that we’ll ever have certainty in our faith or genuine love for Christ. What should we do in those moments? When the distance between God’s promises and our weakness feels as wide as the Grand Canyon? We should press on.

My point here is a simple one. There is no beautiful moment of joyous disbelief, without agonizing through the tension of faith. Sam cannot experience that moment of unspeakable joy, unless Gandalf dies and the whole journey of the Fellowship of the Rings seems utterly hopeless. There is no joyous resurrection without the Savior first hanging on the tree and crying out in utter darkness, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

If you are struggling with doubt or sadness, no matter how small or great, know this. Your struggle does not exclude you from the love of God, nor does it render you useless for God’s service. Rather, think in this way: God is faithful, wise, and loving and, if I will but trust him, he will use whatever struggle I am experiencing for a greater good than I can even imagine. If I will but trust him, I know he will certainly use this to give me the greatest good of all—to stand humbly and willingly before Him in worship. Therefore, I will press on by faith through every struggle, through every feeling and doubt. To the praise of his glorious grace. Amen.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18 ESV)

Dating, Career, and our Self-Destructive Self-Righteousness

There are two main questions burning in the minds of most collegians:  Whom should I date (and eventually marry)? and what career-path should I choose? These two great unanswered questions loom over our lives as we transition from the comfortable carefree atmosphere of college to the scary realities of the “real world”.  The stakes are high since how we choose to answer these questions will alter the rest of our futures. Failure in either area leaves us in the dreaded  categories of single, unemployed or if you’re especially unlucky, both (And that’s not even mentioning the possibility of being unhappily married or unhappily employed!). Unfortunately, many collegians, myself included, feel confused, lost, and inadequate in both of these areas. As a result, worries about dating and career leave us trapped in cycle of heartache and fear.

In this post, I wanted to ask the question: does God save us apart from our works, but make us earn our dating relationships and our careers by our own self-righteousness? Should we view our success in dating and career as dependent upon our own efforts?

The reason I ask is that for myself it oftentimes feels that way. In Christian college culture, most of us seem to treat dating as if it were dependent on our works. Our confidence in regards to dating grows the more “righteous” things we do and the more other people perceive us as “righteous”. Our confidence falls as we consider our shortcomings, be it flaws in our looks, our personality, or our character.  Likewise, our success in schoolwork and career seems largely dependent on ourselves. If we don’t study hard, get the right internships, and choose the right career path, then we’ll crash and burn in an increasingly competitive work force.

I think if we honestly uncovered the fundamental attitude of our hearts it would look something like this: If I want to date this guy/this girl, or want to enjoy success in my career then I have to be good enough. I have to be more, do more, work harder and outperform everyone else in order to find the happiness that I long for. If I don’t, I’ll fail.

We know that trying to earn our way to heaven leads either to prideful self-righteousness or crushing despair, but doesn’t trying to “earn” our dating relationship or our career leave us in the same dilemma? Either we will be confident for all the wrong reasons, or we will be paralyzed by our own insecurities of whether we measure up.  All of this, of course, doesn’t seem quite right. Would God gives us salvation as a gift, but then make dating and career dependent on works?

I don’t think so. The Gospel not only revolutionizes the way we see salvation, but it also reaches, transforms, and brings freedom and peace to the areas which we hold dearest to our hearts, including our fears about dating and career.

Our salvation tell us this. First, we have been justified. This means that God has given us the righteousness of his Son so that when he looks upon us, he sees Jesus’ perfection. Second, it tells us we have been adopted. Because Christ has bridged the gap between sinful man and holy God, we can now be welcomed into God’s family as sons of God. We need not fear that God will ever cast us out from his family. We have Christ’s righteousness, so we know that just as God will forever love Jesus, so too he will forever love us.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Enough with the theology Chris. You say the same things in every post (Yes, I know I do). Tell me what does that mean for my future dating relationships and career?”

It means this: Jesus has secured God’s love for us and allowed us to become members of His family. This means that in our dating relationships and in our careers, we no longer have to base our confidence in ourselves. Instead, we can trust that our Father in heaven, who loves us with the same love with which he loves  Christ, knows our needs. He knows the future, he loves us and will provide what’s best for us, whether that’s singleness or marriage, unemployment or a job. Do you see how this logic is inevitably tied back to salvation? It’s common advice in these things to hear people say “Trust God, he has a plan for you” but how can we be sure? How can we find real peace in these things? The power and confidence we have in God’s provision for us in dating and career comes from beholding his provision for us in Christ. As Paul says, “he who did not spare his Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also give us all things?”

Praise the Lord. Because of the breathtaking love God has shown us in the Gospel to save us and become our Father, we can find real rest from our anxiety. We can trust in Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink’ or ‘What shall we wear’  you could insert ‘Who shall we marry’ or ‘What career should I choose’]? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you”. We can live in Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4:6-7 : “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requsts be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we should stop refining our character so we can be the best husband or wife we can be. It doesn’t mean that we should stop taking the necessary steps to have a successful career. What it does mean is that we ought to live by the words of 1 John 4:18-19: “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to with punishment and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us”. We are free from the paralyzing fear that we’re on our own and that unless we measure up, we’ll fail.  When we’re saved it doesn’t stop us from doing good works, but we no longer do them because we’re terrified we’re going to go to hell. We do them because we love God and want to honor him. In the same way, we still prepare ourselves for marriage and for our careers, but the perfect love of Christ frees us from the fear of failure. We can pursue our relationships and our careers trusting that whatever comes, comes from a Heavenly Father who knows what is best for us.

I think if you uncovered many of our beliefs about dating and career, the first thing you would find is idolatry. For all intensive purposes, these things are our functional salvation. The second thing you would find is a self-destructive self-righteousness.  The freedom of the Gospel tells us this: First, your salvation is not here, it’s in Christ. But second, God knows our hearts and knows how we long for a godly spouse and a career in which we can honor God. The good news of the Gospel tells us this: you no longer have to fend for yourself. You are cared for, loved, and provided for.

Despite our good theology and Biblical literacy, I think if you wanted to know how we as collegians are really doing you’d take a look at how we view dating and carer. After all, that’s where the rubber of our faith meets the road. Do we still live like we’re fending ourselves? Like we have to earn our future spouses or our jobs with our works? Or do we trust in the Gospel that says that because we have been justified and adopted, we have absolute confidence that our Gracious Heavenly Father will provide everything we need to be like our Savior?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6)