Redefining Love

There is nothing more beautiful than the love of God.  The love of God is essential to the Christian faith, yet how often we misunderstand this robust, multifaceted love.  DA Carson was right when he calls the doctrine of the love of God “difficult”.  The reason God’s love is so difficult is because it is actually offensive to most westerners who operate with a reductionistic understanding of love.  Love is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot.  We will within the same breath say we love our children and that we also love pizza.  Love is a word that gets tossed around so much that is has largely lost meaning.  The word “love” itself seems to be ambiguously and subjectively defined by the individual.  For someone love might mean a sacrifice, for another it may mean freedom, for others it may mean restrictions and boundaries, for others it may be an emotion or feeling.  Whatever our personal understanding of love, we tend to reduce love to fit our own personal wants and wishes. To make understanding the doctrine of the love of God even more difficult, we fail to recognize how much our cultural presuppositions influence the way we think about love.  Just as one drop of food coloring can transform the whole color of a bowl full of icing, so does our culture comprehensively influence all our thinking.  To be ignorant of the cultural influences that pressure us and surround us will always result in a convoluted mess.  Although we cannot remove all our cultural influences from our thinking, we must seek to remove the cloudy lens of our present day to see the Scriptures clearly.

One of the great challenges is defining terms.  Since love is such a junk drawer term, is it even possible to come up with a definition? Can there be an objective definition of what love is or is it a fluid word that simply adapts to our wishes? Well to give up the possibility of objective definitions is to simply dive into the chaotic emptiness of the postmodern predicament – meaninglessness.  Yet, though we may be confused about love, we know that love is a meaningful word.  It is an important word.  We should not give it up simply because it is complicated to disentangle bad definitions or to correct grievous misunderstandings.

Who defines love? Or perhaps the better question is this, who is the authority that establishes a definition of love? A scripture that is well known and often quoted is 1 John 2:8 “God is love”.  Although we need to understand what John means by “love”, we all know this, love is an essential characteristic and quality of who God is.  It is essential to his being.  So to provide a definition of love we must not look to our culture, but rather to the very character of God.  Yet, what we will find is that the love of God is actually offensive to our modern times.  The love of God, both at the same time, condemns us and redeems us.  It is a love that both forgives us and sanctifies us.

What is Love?

So what is love? What does the Scripture say about how God loves us and thus how we should love one another? Well to do that we must examine the Scriptures and what we will find is that God’s love is God centered.  It is a holy love, an offensive love.  Let’s examines some key Scriptures.

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

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23–24, ESV)

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8, ESV)

So it seems from these Scriptures that Salvation is solely an act of God’s grace, which it is.  However, it is easy to read these Scriptures and thinks that God merely just wipes the slate clean.  He merely just looks over our sin and just attaches salvation to us.  From our perspective this is what seems to happen, but from the perspective of God something much bigger (and better) is happening.  In order for God to love us, he must make us holy.

God cannot love sinners as they are an offense to his holiness.  So how does God solve this problem? Well enter Jesus.  The son enters into the world and buys our salvation, absorbing the penalty for sin on the cross.  This way sin is not only paid for, but we receive the righteousness of Christ.  Therefore God imputes the righteous beauty of Christ to his bride the church.  When God gifts us with salvation he is not only wiping our slate clean, but he makes us holy.

“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” (John 17:1–2, ESV)

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:” (Romans 3:21–22, ESV)

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,” (Hebrews 2:10–11, ESV)

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:8–10, ESV)

So what do we see from these verses? We see that salvation is given to unworthy recipients because of the worthiness of Christ.  God’s great love for his people is founded in His love for his son, Jesus Christ.  God loves those who are in Christ, because he loves the holy righteousness of himself.  As Jonathan Edwards says “All God’s love may be resolved into his love to himself and delight in himself….His love to the creature is only his inclination to glorify himself and communicate himself, and his delight in himself glorified and in himself communicated”.

A Holy, God-Centered Love

In other words, God’s love has a God-centered aim. God’s love has a purpose, an end to which it is trying to achieve.  He saves us and imputes to us the righteousness of Christ so that we might be like Christ.  God so loves the image of His son that he multiplies this in love to those who are saved.  So why does God save us and redeem us? He does so for His own glory.  So that the bride of Christ, the church, might praise him and make much of Him.  As the psalmist writes, “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins for your name’s sake!” (Psalm 79:9). See God’s passion for his glory in Romans 15:8-9, “Christ became a servant ... in order that the nations might glorify God for his mercy”.

So the love that God has for us is a holy love, a love that is aimed at glorifying God.  It is divinely oriented and motivated.  The cross is the great display of God’s love towards us, but its chief aim is to make much of God.  The glory of God is the chief aim of all creation.

So if the love of God is a God-centered love, it is a holy love.  This means that God cannot love in a salvific way that which is unholy and tainted by sin. For the sinner is the enemy of God, continually attacking and marring the beauty of God’s glory.  But God, zealous to defend, redeem, and manifest His holiness sends Christ to save sinners to the praise of His glorious grace!

The cross then is the great intersection of God’s justice and love.  It is the vindication of his holiness and his gracious compassion on sinners.  For at the cross, God’s wrath is satisfied by the blood of his son, and the holiness of the son, which God so delights in, is given to sinners.  So God loves sinners because they are given the righteousness of the son.  Sinners are justified because they possess the righteousness of Christ.  Because the Father loves his holy, obedient son through Christ’s death he loves us who have received the beautiful holiness of Jesus as our own.

You can see how the love of God is surprisingly offensive. The object of God’s love must be holy.  So God’s love not only offers us the gift of salvation, but it states that something is seriously wrong with us.  In our sin we are by nature children of wrath, and it is only through Christ that we can be saved.  It is only those who are in Christ who become the object of God’s holy redemptive love.  If we are united in Christ by faith we receive the same love that God shares in his perfect son, therefore in order to be loved by God we must receive the righteousness of Christ by faith.  We must confess our sin and unworthiness and by faith receive the worthiness of Christ.

A Definition for Love

So what is a good definition of biblical love modeled from the biblical doctrine of the love of God.  I propose this:

True love delights in affection towards its object, giving of oneself for the other’s good in holiness.

To love is to delight in affection.  There is a rejoicing an delighting in the object.  There is strong emotions and a strong desire for the object of ones love. Yet true love not only delights in affection towards its object, but gives for the other’s good.  In this sense, love is altruistic denying the self for the other.  We see this so clearly in the Scriptures, most clearly in the life of Jesus himself who gave of himself on the cross for our salvation.  Jesus loved us and demonstrated that love by his death.  True love is not so much concerned with being loved but with loving, even at great expense to oneself. If you love someone only because you receive benefits from them, then that isn’t really love, is it? If you love your wife only because she cooks you a hot meal and does your laundry, that’s not love, its selfishness.  You are merely loving your wife because you are getting something out of the deal.  True love denies the self and gives to the good of the other.  True love is not a contract but an act of self denial.  All this is for the good of the recipient.

Now, up to this point in our definition few people would have any sort of problem with it.  However the question is this – what is the other persons ultimate good? Here is where the Christian definition of love takes a different turn from the worlds.  True love has at its aim the holiness of the other person.  To reflect God His glory in holiness is the greatest good we can do for one another.  True love does not seek its own good, but another’s. So to love one another means we seek to encourage each other towards holiness.

An Example from Marriage

We can see this in Paul’s teaching on marriage.  In Ephesians 5:25 he charges husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”.  So he charges the husband to this affectionate altruistic love for the good of the wife.  So husbands are to love in a posture of self-denial seeking the ultimate good of his wife.  Now what is that good that true love seeks? Paul tells us in verse 26-27, “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”.

Did you catch it? True love seeks the good of the other which is holiness.  Seeking to sanctify the other is the greatest demonstration of love.  Just as Christ laid down his life on the cross, he did this so that he could present the church perfectly holy and without blemish.  The good true love seeks to accomplish in its object is beautification in holiness.  This not only applies to the relationship of marriage, but within the relationship of the church.

We are to be continually building each other up in maturity to holiness.  We love each other as God has loved us, by making one another holy.  You can see this as we begin to think about our relationship towards one another.  To love you as a member of this church does not mean that I allow you to be in sin and not say a word.  To be silent is not to be loving but to be selfish.  What keeps us from addressing one another in our sin with love? Do we find that we would rather just not handle the conflict and get our hands dirty?  Are we friend of damaging our reputation of or are we fearful that this person may hate us after speaking truth? Does our fear of man hinder our ability to truly love one another?

Redefining Love

When we derive our definition of love from the love that God has for us as revealed in the Scriptures, it is far more beautiful than our modern redefinitions of the word.  Love is more than tolerance and it is more than acceptance. Love is a zealously affectionate desire to sanctify, which is the greatest good we can do to another.  Understanding this way changes the way we think about social engagement, marriage and family, and even church membership.  May our understanding of love flow from the great fount of love, the heart of our redeeming God.

The Reminder of the Cross

Today is the day in the Christian calendar when we remember and reflect on the death of Jesus Christ. There seems to be great confusion over exactly what happened on that cross and why it is such a pivotal event in human history. Many think that the cross is another tragedy of social injustice as an innocent man was executed unjustly. Others think it is a sad case of religious martyrdom, a good man who faced an unfortunate death. Yet the importance of Good Friday is monumental. The tragedy of that day was not that innocent Jesus was hung by violent, barbaric men, but that Jesus was crushed by the will of His Father. As we reflect on the great wonders of the cross – that horrific place of shame and judgement – we must remember why it is Jesus came into this world and why it was that he had to die. As a result there are a few things we must remember carefully as we mediate on the meaning of Good Friday.

The Cross Reminds Us of Our Condemnation

In the 21st Century most of us recoil at the doctrine of sin. We don't want to believe that there is anything fundamentally wrong with us or with humanity. We live in a culture in which we hate to be told we are wrong, let alone that we are deserving of judgement. Yet, the Bible teaches clearly that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) and that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). Despite our modern presumption of naive optimism we have about our lives, the Scriptures speaks the truth that many of us do not want to hear. We are sinners who are condemned before God and deserving of His just and righteous wrath.

The cross is a reminder of our own condemnation. As we remember what Jesus went through on the cross we must remember he did so in our place. It is my sin that nailed him to that tree and it was my judgement that Jesus endured. As we look to the cross we are reminded of the wretchedness of our sin and how costly and deadly the punishment for our sins truly are. Our sin was so detestable and horrid that the only way it could be paid was through the death of His son.

The Cross Reminds Us of our Redemption

The cross not only stands as a reminder of our condemnation but as a reminder of our redemption. It was God's great plan before the foundation of the world to redeem a people for his own possession. It was God's zealous desire to spread his glory through a people that led him to send His son Jesus on the greatest rescue mission the world will ever see. Jesus entered into this world not to be just a moral teacher or a great example, but the savior of the world. The way the Messiah achieved our salvific victory was through his fatal defeat.

The cross became the symbol of Christianity for good reason; it is the a constant reminder of the great love of God towards us in the crushing of his son. It is a vivid reminder of the great cost of redemption.

The Cross Reminds us of the Love of God

There is no greater indicator of the love of God towards us than the cross. The cross is the objective reality of God's love. It cannot be doubted or thwarted. We do not have to guess if God loves us; he demonstrated his love for us at the cross. As His suffocating body hung gargling blood in horrific torture he endured the suffering as joy for us. As Jesus tells us "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13) or as John reminds us "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us" (1 Jn 3:16).

The Sorrowful Joy of Good Friday

The response to the cross should be a sorrowful joy and a mourning worship. At the cross we see our spiritual poverty and we weep over the deadly price of our own sin. Yet we rejoice in worship that God in his unshakeable love for us sent Jesus to die in our place.

As John Stott wrote in his classing book The Cross of Christ, "As we face the cross, then, we can say to ourselves both ‘I did it, my sins sent him there’ and ‘he did it, his love took him there'". Yes, the cross was something done by us and for us. It was our sin that placed him there but it was the love of Jesus that took him to the cross.

As you reflect over these humbling truths this day, remember the treachery of your sin, the lavish expense of your redemption, and the objective proof of God's love for you – the cross of Christ.

Yet also remember that "weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Ps 30:5), and that as his body lay in the grave, resurrection is coming.

An Uninvited Guest - Luke 7:36-50

The Following is a Modified Version of my sermon from Luke 7:36-50 preached at Forest Hills Baptist Church on May 19, 2013.  You can access the sermon audio here. Imagine being invited to a formal dinner and there is a special guest of honor, an up incoming teacher everyone is talking about. You are invited.  You make it on the exclusive list.  It is at a huge house of a respected man in your community.

You arrive at the formal dinner, and it is going great.  You still can't believe you were even invited.  The discusions begin to break out with this respected teacher and you are just soaking it all in.  Then there is a ring at the door. The host with a surprised look on his face gets up and answers.

The all of the sudden, in barges a young woman dressed in a low cut blouse and a mini skirt. She looks like she is a prostitute. She  barges in and runs over to the guest of honor while he is eating and takes of her top and then takes expensive massage oil and begins caressing the guest and massaging his neck.

You are sitting their watching this whole scene unfold and everyone at the dinner is giving each other strange looks.  The guest of honor though doesn't stop this woman.  He is allowing this to happen!  Then you notice something really strange.  The woman is weeping loudly as she messages the guests neck. She is crying her eyes out in sorrow.

This is a bizarre scene, socially taboo, provocative, erotic, and scandalous. What would you do in this situation? What would you think about the teacher who just let the woman massage his neck? What would you think about the woman? How would you expect this up incoming teacher to respond?

Well this sort of scene is almost exactly what we see happen in Luke 7:36-50.  Read through the passage and ask yourself a question. Who are you in this passage? Are you like this sinful woman or are you like Simon the Pharisee?

Based off of Luke's description of this scene, this dinner seems to be based on a Greek Synopsium.  The way these dinners would work, is that a respected, wise host would invite several of the socially elite to have dinner with an important guest.  At this dinner party, they would recline along the table, laying down on their sides to eat.  This formal affair would involve a series of debate over crucial issues, centering around the special dinner guest.

This seems to be the type of dinner recorded in this passage.  Simon, a Pharisee and respected religious leader, invites the up incoming young Rabi, Jesus.  Jesus accepts the invitation and they are reclining at the table discussing and debating a variety of theological issues. This was a formal, socially elite type of an event.

A Sinful Woman Interrupts

The way homes were constructed back then is that in rich people's homes there was a semi-public area of the house. There was a section for the public to stand on the street and look in and observe the conversation and dialogue. With all the commotion going on about Jesus, I'm sure a lot of people were looking and listening intently about what was being discussed at this dinner.

Knowing this, it is easy to see how this sinful woman enters into the scene.  She was probably standing in the public area and then breaks social protocol by interrupting the dinner. All we are told about this woman is that she was a woman of the city, who was a sinner. This probably means that she was known for being a prostitute or at least for being sexually promiscuous. This woman sneaks up behind Jesus who is reclining at the table and began washing his feet with her tears.  She then takes an expensive ointment and anoints Jesus' feet with it.

What this woman was doing was socially taboo.  In fact the act she is performing could be considered an erotic one.  Woman in the 1st century did not take down their hair.  They kept it covered.  The only time you took down your hair as a woman is when you were in the bedroom. This woman taking down her hair in public is the social equivalent of going topless. Then she begins to wash Jesus' feed with her hair which is a very sensual act.  Then she impulsively takes this expensive ointment and anoints Jesus' feet with it. The strangest thing is that this woman is weeping, crying enough tears to wet Jesus' feet with them.

The Heart of the Sinful Woman

What can be said of this woman? She did not know much about Jesus, but she knew that he was a friend of sinners.  What desperation had led this woman to do such an act of love and sacrifice that would expose her to so much ridicule? She had hit rock bottom and had no where else to turn.  She throws herself at the feet of this rabi showing love in the only way she knew how, through sensuality. This sinful woman is broken. She knows she is a sinner. She knows what she has done with men behind close doors.  Her memories haunted her. Her sin always before her. At the end of her rope she had no one else to go to, nothing left to live for, so she throws herself at the only man she thinks she can trust. In her desperation, her shame, her guilt, her hopelessness she falls at the feet of Jesus.

Who are you? Are you this woman? Are you enslaved to the memories of your past sin? Do they haunt you when you lay your head down on the pillow at night? Do you feel used, abused, and totally abandon? Is there no one who loves you and no one you can go to? Are you in surrounded in the black darkness of despair? If so, you can connect with this woman. She is just like you and she throws herself at Jesus.

Oh the risk this woman took! Breaking all social etiquette she threw herself on a rabi she only has heard of not knowing how he would react! Would Jesus rebuke her? Would he threaten her? Would he refuse her love?

Jesus Doesn't Stop the Woman

This woman's risky action of love is not the only surprising thing in this story.  Jesus' response is equally shocking and scandalous.  Jesus doesn't stop the woman, but allows her to continue groveling and weeping at his feet. Rather than kicking the woman off, rejecting her, Jesus allows her to continue to show him deeply sacrificial love.

This is what really throws off the dinner party guests. They can understand a prostitute barging in and doing this.  She is a sinner, she doesn't know any better so they think.  But Jesus allowing this to happen? That is unthinkable! How could a respected religious leader and a man who claims to be a prophet allow such a thing to happen? This leads us to see Simon, the dinner's hosts reactions to this event.

 Simon's Reaction

We are told in verse 39 that Simon was thinking to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." Not only is Simon disgusted by this woman who is a sinner, he is disgusted that Jesus would allow this. Simon then begins to question that Jesus is even a prophet. Men of God don't allow this sort of thing to happen to them, so Simon thinks.  However Jesus is not just a man of God, he is God himself.

Jesus, reading Simon's mind (cause Jesus can do that, he is God), says, "Simon, I've got something to say to you". Simon says, "Say it teacher".  Jesus then begins to respond with a parable of two debtors.  Two men owe money.  One owed 500 denari the other 50.  The lender cancels the debt of both men.  Jesus looks to Simon and asks him, "Which of these two men loved him more".  Simon answers, "I suppose the one who was canceled the larger debt"

Simon answers Jesus' question correctly.  The one that was canceled the larger debt would love the lender more. Then rather than rebuking this woman, Jesus rebukes Simon.

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.” (Luke 7:44–46, ESV)

This sinful woman has shown more hospitality and love to Jesus than Simon did. Here Jesus begins to reveal to Simon his hardened heart. Simon didn't really love Jesus, he was just using Jesus to increase his own reputation. Simon is far more concerned with his own prestige and reputation. Simon, the self-righteous Pharisee does not know what it means to love God, and Jesus helps give us the answer to why.  Jesus sums up his point to Simon in verse 47:

 "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven - for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little".

Why does Simon not show extravagant love like this woman does? Why does this woman love Jesus' so much more than simon does? It is because Simon does not see himself as much of a sinner. As a Pharisee he isn't like this woman, he hadn't whored himself out like this woman did. He was better than she was. He had kept the Law, he had been obedient to God.  Simon does not have a need for a savior and doesn't need forgiveness.

The Heart of Simon

Oh how wretched is the heart of a Pharisee! For they have blinded themselves to the depths of their own sin.  Thinking they can earn God's favor through their own obedience all the while neglecting their very own hearts.  They seem close to God outwardly but in reality their hearts are desperately wicked.  Like white washed tombs clean and spotless on the outside, they are rotting and decaying on the inside. Hypocrites is what they are! Self-Righteous in all their doings, obeying not out of love but in order to boost their own egos! They think they are sinless all the while ignoring one of the most condemnable of sins, the poison and detestableness of Pride!  Is Simon a little sinner? By no means! He is just as much of a sinner as this sinful woman, yet his own self-righteousness blinds him to the actual state of his soul.

The Heart of a Pharisee

Again I ask, who are you? Are you Simon? I suggest most of us, including myself are much more like Simon. Many of us have grown up in the church attending Sunday School going to church every time the doors were open. Unfortunately for many of us our devotion has not been to Christ but to religious tradition. We struggle with feeling morally superior to everyone else who is not like us.  Unfortunately for many of us our obedience has been only to fuel our own self-righteousness.  Rather than becoming aware of our need for Christ, we think we are so good we don't need Jesus.  Who are the Pharisees in our day? Unfortunately they are found in churches scattered across our nation. Many of us, including myself, have a pharisaical heart.

We have become so captivated with tradition, ritual, and habit that we have ignored the world around us.  When we come across sinners how do we respond? We look down in judgement to the homosexual condemning them in hate. We look down in judgement on the sexually immoral. We look down on those who spend their nights drinking away their cares at the bars. We despise the poor and self-righteously walk by the homeless.  So who are you? Do you have the heart of a Pharisee?

Who is Jesus?

The question remains, who is Jesus? In v. 48 Jesus tells the sinful woman, your sins are forgiven".  Then the debate really begins to break out around the dinner table. "Who is this who even forgives sins?"  You see Jesus is no ordinary Prophet.  He is no ordinary teacher.  Jesus is God in the flesh. He is the one true God who has the authority and power to look at this woman and forgive her of her sins. What this woman longed for more than anything was forgiveness and acceptance.  Jesus gives it to her.  Jesus tells us that what has saved this woman is her faith.  It is her faith that has saved her.  Who has she placed her faith in? Well she placed her faith in Jesus.

Just as this woman was forgiven of her sins by trusting in Jesus so you and I are forgiven by placing our trust in Jesus.  It is Jesus who came to earth on a mission, to save sinners.  Jesus would go to the cross, and he would be crucified paying the punishment due our sin.  At the cross Jesus paid not only for the sins of the sinful woman but also for the sins of the Pharisee. Jesus has done that for us!  He has laid down his life for you and for me, and all we must do is respond like this woman.  We must fall at the feet of Jesus putting our faith and trust in him as the savior of our souls.

Who is this Jesus? He is the savior of sinners.  He alone has the power to forgive sins!

So Who are You?

Are you like simon the self-righteous Pharisee? If so do not think of yourself as a little sinner, but a great sinner.  Repent of your self-righteousness and put all your hope on Jesus.  Become a fool like this sinful woman and throw yourself at his feet in desperation.

Are you like the sinful woman? Have you reached the end of your rope.  You do not know what else to try. Your plagued by guilt and you are all alone in this world.  Throw yourself at the feet of Jesus.  Jesus loves you and he died on the cross so that he could forgive you of your sin.  Come and place your trust in Jesus.

Jonah Part 2: Nineveh Repents

Click the link to read the first post in this series, Jonah Part 1

Have you ever seen someone’s life totally turned around? Do you have a friend who has come to Christ and it is like a 180 degree turn?  It is always amazing to me to hear the stories of these amazing testimonies of these people.  God has truly done the miraculous in their lives.  We might not always have such a radical testimony, but they are encouraging to hear none the less.  The people of Nineveh are a people with that sort of testimony.  The whole city makes a 180 degree turn when Jonah comes to preach the Word of the Lord.

Jonah Goes to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-5)

Jonah gets a second chance at obedience.  After deliberately disobeying God and going to Tarshish, God calls Jonah a second time.  He tells him to go to Nineveh again.  God intends to use Jonah to deliver this message to Nineveh, whether he wants to or not.  God is going to use him.  Jonah goes to the city of Nineveh.  It was a big city.  The Scripture says it was three days in breadth, meaning that it took him three whole days to preach his message to the surrounding areas of the city.

What was the heart of Jonah’s message?  In 40 days, Nineveh will be over thrown.

Although I’m sure Jonah’s message was more lengthy than this one sentence, but this one sentence does reveal a little bit about Jonah’s heart.  Notice Jonah preaches the condemnation of the people without calling them to repentance.  Jonah doesn’t invite them to turn away from their wicked deeds, he just tells them.... You’ve got 40 days.

Jonah continues to remain apathetic towards the people God has called him to minister too.  He didn’t care for the pagan sailors on the boat, he doesn’t really care for the Ninevites.  He wants God’s wrath to be poured out on the people.  In some twisted way, Jonah desires that the city perish.  We don’t see that fully here, but in chapter 4 Jonah reveals to us his true heart and motivation.  The wretched hate in Jonah’s heart is despicable and describes the same hate in our own hearts.  We look at people who are different than us.  Who are maybe of a different skin color or a different nationality.  We see those who live in open flagrant sin, and we hate them.  We don’t want them to repent.  We don’t want them to turn to God.  We just want them to burn.

If we are really honest with ourselves, many of us think more like Westboro Baptist Church than we would like to admit.  We refuse to cross the rail road tracks to share the Gospel with another ethnicity.  A heart of racism runs through many Christians.  Although none of us would claim to be racist, many of us live that way.  We joke about racial stereotypes.  We segregate ourselves at our schools.  We even segregate our churches so often.  At the end of the day, we find ourselves wanting God to bring down his wrath on them rather than God’s kindness leading them to repentance.  Westboro Baptist Church is just like Jonah.  They preach condemnation and wrath, but the do not desire repentance.  The do not desire this nation come to Christ.  They hate this country and they hate the people who live here.  You and I must not be like this.  We are not to hate the very people God has called us to reach.  If God shows his love to wicked idolatrous people, so should we.  We shouldn’t hate them, but love them and share with them about Jesus in hopes that they would repent and believe the Gospel!

Yet, even though Jonah wishes ill on the city.  God does the miraculous.  Jonah preaches his fire and brimstone message of coming destruction, and the people begin to repent!  Verse 5 tells us that the people of Nineveh believed God.  The fasted and put on sackcloth, which is a sign of humble repentance.  And this wasn’t just the poor and lowly people who were repenting.  All of them, from the greatest of them to the least of them.  The whole city began to abandon their evil ways and trust God!

The People of Nineveh Repent (Jonah 3:6-10)

The word of God eventually reached the king of Nineveh, and something amazing happens.  He repents too!  He coveres himself with sack cloth and ashes.  The King of Nineveh publishes a proclamation that everyone in the city, including the beasts, fast and be covered in sackcloth.  He commands them to call out to God.  So the whole city, down to the animals fall on their face calling out to God to mercy! Imagine how extravagant this scene must have been to watch!  Seeing a whole city repent and believe God!  Imagine of something like that happened in your city. What kind of transformation would happen?  Can you picture the thousands and thousands of people falling on their face calling out to God. The whole city turned from their evil ways.  They pray that God might spare them from His wrath.  They do not want to perish!

The contrast between Jonah and the Ninevites could not be more stark.  The Ninevites do not want to perish, and Jonah could care less.  He did the same thing with the sailors on the boat.  Jonah is only concerned about number one.  He doesn't want himself to perish by being tossed into the sea, but when it comes to lost people, Jonah doesn’t want to see them saved.  He is completely apathetic towards them.  Then we see something even more amazing.  Not only does the whole city repent, but God shows them mercy (v. 10).  When God sees how the city of Nineveh turned from their evil ways, God has compassion on them.  He spares them from his wrath.  As we will see in chapter 4, Jonah isn’t going to respond to well to this!

Jonah Points us to Jesus

Despite Jonah’s failures, his life points us to the greater Jonah, Jesus.  Jesus succeeds where Jonah fails.  You see, Jesus the jewish Messiah, brings the nations to repentance and faith.  Jonah who has figuratively been raised from the dead after three days in the belly of the fish calls out to the pagan people and they come to repentance and faith.  Jesus who was literally raised from the dead after three days in the tomb calls out to the nations of the earth and they come to repentance and faith.

You see, a major theme that runs throughout all the Bible is God’s passion to bring every nation and people group to praise his glorious name.  He wants all the nations to worship him.  He says in Psalm 46, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth”.  So when God chooses the children of Abraham, the nation of Israel as his covenant people, God never intends to isolate his love and mercy only on them. The people of Israel were supposed to be a nation of priests interceding on behalf of the nations of the earth to the great and powerful God. However, Israel’s election as the people of God bolstered them with pride and ego.  They began to despise the very nations God had called them to interceded for.  They began to look down on all the other sinners, and feel self-righteous and confident.  The tragic mistake of Israel is that they would not repent of their idolatry.  They continued to become like the nations rather than reaching the nations.  The contrast between Israel and Nineveh is astounding.  Nineveh repents and turns to God at the word of the prophet Jonah.  Israel rebels and disobeys God.  The pagan nations repent, Israel rebels.

Israel fails all through out their history.  They are condemned because the do not repent.  This is why in Matthew 12:41 Jesus says, “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”  What is Jesus saying here?  He is telling the Jews that the Ninevites put them to shame.  The pagan nations repent, but the chosen people of God do not.  Jesus tells them the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, and Jesus tells them “I am the greater Jonah and you, Israel, do not listen to me and repent”.  This stiff-necked people refuses to believe the Prophets of God.  Indeed Israel rejected their own Messiah.  They mocked him.  They tried him.  They crucified him.  They rejected THE prophet of God, Yet Jesus tells us that the stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone.  The rejected Messiah of Israel is the Messiah for the whole world and now invites the nations, pagan, gentile sinners like many of us, to repentance and faith.

Jesus is the greater Jonah. I know the temptation for us is to look upon Israel with disgust.  How could the people of God refuse repentance?  How could the people of God reject their prophets?  How could they become so self-righteous and filled with pride?  How could they hate the people God asked them to reach? Be very careful Christian, your thinking indicates that you might very well be like the nation of Israel.  In fact, those of us who grow up in the church have a tendency to be far more like the people of Israel than we may know.   You and I have the Word of the Lord.  We have faithful pastors who preach it to us week in and week out, yet we deliberately disobey.  We look down on others because we think that we are more moral and superior.  We refuse to share the Gospel with others, and do not desire to see our friends come to repentance and faith.  You and I are much more like Israel than we care to admit.

May we be like Nineveh and respond to our sin with incredible repentance!  May we fall on our face and be humbled.  May we turn from our wicked ways and turn to Jesus and be saved!

Is Gossip and Bitterness in your Church?

There is secret sin in the hallways of many churches. A hidden monster that destroys the witness and effectiveness of many churches.  These sins are gossip and bitterness.  These carnal actions have are permissible because they are not as obvious as sexual sin, drunkenness, and other forms of immorality.  These hidden sins are often allowed to continue because they are incredibly difficult for church leaders to enact church discipline.  However, these sins more than any others can destroy the witness and testimony of the local church in its community.

Gossip is the most clearly disguised of church sins.  Often under the guise of women's small groups and emergency prayer groups is the sinful motivation of gossip. Christians often love talking about each other behind the other persons back.  This sin often has a spiritual spin as a prayer request, but in a reality it is just plain gossip. The topics of gossip know no end. Christians gossip about an unpopular leadership decision, sin in another persons life, other people's marriages and children. Many times Christian fellowship looks more like middle schoolers at recess than the body of Christ on mission.

The troubling thing about gossip is that it is often the default way of handling conflict in the church.  When one member has a problem with a pastor or another church member, rather than going to them directly they begin the gossip chain. A church with this sort of culture quickly becomes the petri dish of bitterness. Gossip is the moister and bitterness is the mold that follows.  And as any home owner will tell you, mold is costly to fix.  The best thing to do for the culture of a church is to cut off the cause of bitterness, gossip.

Jesus tells his disciples in John 13:34 of a new commandments which is to "love one another."  Jesus tells them just as He has loved the disciples so too should they love one another.  Jesus continues and tells them "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  You see the love church members have for one another ought to be a visible demonstration of the love of Christ.  If a church is filled with carnal members who spend their time gossiping and tearing down each other, the witness of that church in its community is greatly hindered.  When we make up slanderous accusations against one another, when we are relentlessly angry and mean towards each other, when we exalt our own egos at the cost of unity, we fail in proclaiming the love of Christ to a lost and dying world.  The world will know we are disciples of Christ if we love one another. May we fall on our face and repent from these permissible sins. May we ask for forgiveness from God and also from one another.  May we put to death all carnality in the body of Christ and be visible proclamations of the Gospel by of our love for one another.

 

 

 

 

Why Practice Church Discipline?

Matthew 18:15-20 is a passage that many of us read, but we are so quick to ignore.  In this particular passage, Jesus spells out the practice of church discipline.  Thankfully, Jesus gives us a plan, step by step of how to deal with a church member in unrepentant sin.  In the church in America, the practice of church discipline has largely been ignored or forgotten.  Let’s face the truth, confronting someone takes courage and it is far easier to just ignore the sin taking over our brother than to try to help them.  However church discipline is hugely important! Here are three reasons why church discipline is so important in the life of the church. 1. Church discipline protects the holiness of the church.  The bride of Christ is to be set apart from the world. As a result, the outside world should be able to look at the local church and see that the people in the church are different. The people in the church are to live a moral and pure life.  They are to abstain from sin, and repent of sin when it is committed.  As a result, allowing someone to continue to sin in the congregation ruins the witness of that church. Many non-Christian people complain that the church looks just the same as the outside world, and too often their assessment is correct.  The reason for this, is that we refuse to practice church discipline, therefore the witness of that church to its community is tarnished.

Even in my own small town, you can hear through the grapevine the reputation of churches in our city.  Even some of my students have informed me that this church or that church live their lives as a bunch of hypocrites. A congregations unrepentant sin hinders the ministry of that church and it fails to be a visible representation of Jesus to the world.

2. True love for one another is a love that disciplines. We are told all throughout the scriptures to love one another.  Imagine a parent who always lets there child do and get whatever they want.  If they want candy for dinner, they give them candy.  If they want to stay up late playing video games on a school night, they let them. If they want to go out on the weekends and party with their friends and come back on Sunday, they let them. We would say that those parents are just terrible! Their children will be fat and unhealthy eating all that candy!  Their grades will suffer as they neglect homework and are sleepy in school from gaming all night! They will be in danger as they go out and get intoxicated on the weekends doing who knows what with out their parents knowledge! A parent who truly loves their child will not allow them to do whatever it is they want to do, but will protect them and instruct them on the proper way to live their life. True love is a love that confronts sin.  In fact, true love will provide discipline when necessary.

Just like a toddler who reaches for the electrical outlet, the parent then reaches out and swats their hand leaving a sting on that crying 3 year old. That act is an act of love. It is an act of discipline to protect the child. The same goes for church discipline. It is there to protect a brother's walk with Christ from the schemes of the enemy. It is there to help their relationship with Christ. In fact if we really love our friends, we will confront their sin, not ignore it.

3. Church Discipline Reveals the Fake Christians.  As we see in Matthew 18 Jesus tells us that if the person refuses to repent and turn away from their sin, then they are to be treated as an unbeliever.  How a person responds to church discipline reveals if they even know Jesus. The apostle John tells us in his first letter that a true believer cannot keep on sinning, but he always repents.  He might sin for a little while, but when confronted with his sin he is filled with remorse and returns to Christ. Therefore the neglect of Church Discipline can be catastrophic because so often it gives people a false assurance of salvation. Church discipline reveals whether we are a true Christian our a fooling everyone including ourselves.

Practicing church discipline is incredibly important for the church! We need to read our Bibles and obey Jesus’ words.  We need to study it carefully and then put them into practice in our local church.

Take a read through Matthew 18:15-20.

 How do you think church discipline should be administered in a congregation? 

Are their any dangers to church discipline?

What are your experiences positive or negative on this issue?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, be sure to leave them in the comments!

Cupid vs Jesus

It is February and that means Valentines Day is right around the corner. For many this is a day of great joy, for others it is a dreadful holiday better known as “single-awareness day”. I remember being in high school on the dreadful day. For some reason our SGA came up with a great idea to let students buy roses for those special somebody’s. As a result, all the popular people received a ton of these roses while those losers (including myself) received zero. Although this little fundraiser sounds so trivial it was devastating to so many students. We were finding our worth and our significance in how many roses we could collect. Many of us still try to find our worth and significance from the roses we can collect from the opposite sex. Everyone is looking for love and romance. In fact, if we don’t have love and romance in our lives we think that in some way we are less than complete. So many of us have turned cupid into an idol we worship. Have you ever thought the following?

  • If I just had a girlfriend I wouldn’t feel so lonely.
  • Maybe if I have sex with him, he would love me more.
  • Why Can’t I find a guy like the one in the movie?
  • Once I am able to get married, then I won’t feel unwanted.

If those four statements sound anything like your thoughts, chances are you are worshiping cupid. In Romans 1:25, Paul tells us that we desire worship created things rather than the creator God. This means that by nature we look to the things the world has to offer to satisfy us. For many of us this idol we worship become some mythical prince charming to save us from our circumstances. Now don’t get me wrong, romance and love are not bad things. In fact what Satan tends to do is to take good things that God created and make them into god things that we worship. Romance and love are great as long as they do not become your god. Listen very carefully, no man or woman will be able to satisfy the longing of your soul. You are looking for earthly things to fill what only Christ can! Many single and married people alike fall victim to this mistake. Even in marriages, we look find our joy and hope in our spouses rather than in Christ. Jesus is the only one who can satisfy the longing of your soul. He alone can make you complete. He alone can give you joy and peace. Don’t make to the mistake of believing the lie of Cupid. Romance will not bring you peace, only Jesus.

My prayer for you is that you would repent of your idolatry and worship Jesus. That you would ask him to forgive you of your vain pursuit of Cupid and give yourself totally to Jesus Christ. After all, He is the one who loved you enough to lay down his life for you. He is the one that went to the cross to bear your sin and punishment. No other man or woman will ever be able to do that for you. So Cupid vs Jesus. Who wins? Jesus every time.

Some Marriage Advice: Out Serve One Another

As a man who has only been married for a little less than two years, I'm still a little hesitant to teach and instruct on marriage. Many older married couples still think my wife Kaitlyn and I are in some magical honey moon stage and that a day will come when that will no longer be the case (It is my goal to make sure that never happens).  As a result, I have felt slightly inadequate teaching on a subject I'm still learning about.  I'm still learning how to be a Godly husband and a best friend to my beautiful wife, and I know I will spend the rest of my life learning to love her and cherish her more. However, I must be honest. I absolutely adore my relationship with Kaitlyn Deeter.  I love our marriage.  I look forward to going home every night to see her and spend time with her. She is my best friend, companion, and helper.  The success of our first few years of marriage is all attributed to God's grace and mercy.  However, I wanted to share with you some wisdom that was given to us by Kaitlyn's Aunt and Uncle before we were married.  In fact, it is some of the best marriage advice I've ever received.  Here is what it is:

In your marriage try to out serve one another.

It is that simple, and it has made all the difference.  That simple sentence of wisdom is more than just a command in action, but a change in attitude of how must people think about marriage.  Most of our culture thinks of marriage as nothing more than a contract in which the other is to meet person is expected to meet their needs.  For example, I'll clean up the dishes and take out the trash, and you better have sex with me tonight.  Most people think of marriage as a balance between give and take.  In our minds we constantly keep score on who is giving and whose taking more.  We keep a score card and have our expectations on what our spouse needs to do for us, and when they begin to not measure up, we become bitter, vengeful, angry, and hostile.

This attitude of "what can you do for me" is a virus that will destroy a marriage, because your spouse will never perfectly meet your expectations.  However, when we take the "what can you do for me" and flip it to "How can I best serve them" the score keeping stops.  You are no longer thinking about your own needs or wants but the needs of your spouse.  So a husband cleans up the dishes and takes out the trash, not to necessarily get anything back from his wife in return.  Rather, he does it simply because he loves his wife and wants to serve her.  When both the husband and wife begins to think this way, we become less like the world and more like Jesus.  Listen to His words from Matthew 20:28

even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

When Jesus came to the earth, he had no concern for what other people could do for him.  He didn't come to earth to get anything in return, but came to serve us and lay down his life for us.  A Godly marriage seeking to honor and glorify Christ must have this kind of attitude.  We must cast aside a self-centered view of marriage and try to out serve our spouse.  This means keep taking out the dishes even though you don't get anything in return.  Keep serving your spouse as Jesus has even though you receive no immediate benefit.  Serve your spouse because you love them, not to receive anything in return.  In my own marriage, this has been an incredible help as we both strive to be more like Christ and out serve one another.

In your own marriage, how can you imitate Jesus like this?  Does your marriage reflect the mind and heart Jesus had?   Do you treat your spouse as a slave to satisfy your own desires, or do you love them through unconditional service?  What can you do today to serve your spouse?