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Archive for the ‘Christ’ Category

Over the last few months I’ve been very struck by a theme in the New Testament that I don’t think I’ve properly recognised before:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37)

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me (John 8:42)

If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (John 14:23 cf. 14:15)

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15 cf. v16, v17)

…what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9)

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. (1 Cor. 16:22)

Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. (Eph. 6:23)

Though you have not seen him, you love him (1 Peter 1:8)

I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first (Rev. 2:4)

The most wonderful gospel truth is not that we loved God but that God the Father loved us and gave his Son to be burnt up instead of us (1 John 4:10). And wonderfully, not only the Father, but Jesus himself loved us to death (Gal. 2:20) and loves us still (Rev. 1:5). Jesus loves me this I know…

But there is another, secondary truth which I fear I have downplayed in my concern to lift up the great gospel blessing of God’s love for us. That truth is that there must be a love for the Lord Jesus. Not a love for theology or a love for gospel ministry or a love for what Jesus brings with him, but a love for Jesus himself. This love is not mere emotion – there is an extremely common and tight connection drawn in Scripture between love and obedience – but neither can it be evacuated of feeling and affection. There is in love a desire for the presence of the other and a delight in the presence of the other (SoS 2:3,14; 3:1-2; 5:6-8; Psalm 27:4; 42:1-2). When my love has gone cold then there’s a big problem.

So I’m thinking this year…

How can I increase my love for Christ?

 

  1. Consider how far you have fallen (Rev. 2:5) – This will involve first looking through the spiritual wedding album, remembering the “devotion of your youth” (Jer. 2:2) and then acknowledging the slide – “followed worthless idols and became worthless” (Jer. 2:5) – the stupid double sin – “forsaken the spring of living water, and have dug cisterns, broken cisterns” (Jer. 2:13) – and the disgusting spiritual adultery of forgetting the Bridegroom, giving lip service and pretend-repentance while really loving and running after others (Jer. 2:20-3:10). I need to recognise the tragedy and outrage of this fallen and debased state. As Richard Sibbes puts it, I need”to be first sensible of spiritual wants and misery. The passover lamb was eaten with sour herbs; so Christ crucified, relisheth best to a soul affected with the bitterness of sin.” (Third Sermon on the Song of Songs).
  2. Repent (Rev. 2:5) – As Peter Mead has shown, repentance is a relational thing – it is a turn from God-hating and, crucially, a turn to God himself. In Jeremiah, amazingly, after horrific spiritual adultery, the LORD Bridegroom says:

    “‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord,
        ‘I will frown on you no longer,
    for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord,
        ‘I will not be angry forever.
    Only acknowledge your guilt—
        you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
    you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
        under every spreading tree,
        and have not obeyed me,’” declares the Lord.

    “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. (Jer. 3:12-14).
    So repentance will mean acknowledging/confessing my guilt and idolatry and adultery and returning to the incredibly forgiving, faithful-to-his-covenant Bridegroom.

  3. Behold Christ in the Word – “Do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:5). What are those first things? Well it could include a lot (probably most of the points below) but the very first thing we did was to look to Christ. “Behold the Lamb of God!” To put it another way, the first thing we did was to hear the word of Christ (Eph. 1:13; 4:22; 5:14 Col. 1:6). To hear is to see (Gal. 3:1). “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (SoS 2:14). I need to search the Scriptures to see the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:6). I need to have that heart burning experience of the Emmaus road disciples as they saw Jesus not physically but in the (OT) Scriptures he opened to them (Luke 24). I need to dwell on awesome portraits of Christ like those in the Book of Revelation. I need to be dazzled by the Scripture pictures of Christ as creator, king, warrior, Holy One, radiance of the glory of God.  Before even considering God’s love towards us, God’s people “first see that God is lovely, and that Christ is excellent and glorious, and their hearts are first captivated with this view” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections).
  4. Savour his love – “your love is more delightful than wine.” (SoS 1:2). As Sibbes puts it, “love draws love” (First Sermon on the Song of Songs). This unconditional love which embraces the prodigal and the prostitute and the leper. This covenant love which unites me with the Son of God so that “My beloved is mine and I am his” (SoS 2:16). This sacrificial love with sweated in the garden and endured the searing pain of Godforsakenness. This love which actually, amazingly, genuinely desires and delights in the object of salvation (SoS 1:15; 4:1-14; 5:2; 7:1,10); which sees us as ‘lovely,’ ‘flawless,’ ‘overwhelming,’ ‘captivating’ (4:7; 5:2; 6:5; 7:5; 8:10) and actually wants to be with us for eternity (John 17:24). To the extent that we experience this extravagantly loving forgiving embrace, to that extent we love Christ (Luke 7:47). And we best come to experience this love corporately – “together with all the saints” (Eph. 3:18).
  5. Savour his name – “Your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you!” (SoS 1:3) Notice the logic. The reason for the love is the fragrance of the Name. You know how you feel when the name of your best friend comes up in conversation. “The very naming of a good man casts a sweet savour” (Sibbes, First Sermon). How much more so of Christ. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds… As John Newton, that hymn’s author, explains, the ‘name’ stands for the whole person (Rev. 3:4,5). “The name of Christ includes the whole revelation concerning him, who he is, what he has done – all that we read of his love, his power and his offices make a part of his great and glorious name. The soul that is taught by the Word and Spirit of God to understand a little of these things receives such a sense of love and joy that the very sound of his name is sweeter than music to the ears, sweeter than honey to the taste.” (Newton, Sermon on SoS 1:3) So I would do well to return regularly, as many Scripture authors do, to the great declaration of the Name in Exodus 34:6-7. I would do well to delight in this character of our God as it is unfolded in the stories of Scripture. I would do well to meditate on the great ‘names’ of Christ in the Scriptures – The One Who Sees Me, The Shepherd, The Bridegroom, The Friend of Sinners, The Banquet, The Light of the World, The Life. And I would do well to listen most to the supreme declaration of the Name at the Cross. Newton again: “The precious vessel that contained this precious ointment was broken upon the Cross – the savour of his name, his love, his blood, poured out from every wound [in] his sacred body. See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingling down… When we desire a new savour of this ointment, let us turn our eyes, our thoughts to Golgotha. To behold him by faith as he hung bleeding and dying, with outstretched arms inviting our regards and saying, ‘See if any sorrow was like to my sorrow.'”
  6. Sit under Christ-ful preaching – “Everything that bears the name of preaching – if it does not diffuse the knowledge of this good ointment [the fragrance of the name of Christ] – is dry and tedious, unsavoury and unprofitable.” (Newton, Sermon of SoS 1:3). As Sibbes’ says, preachers, as the friend of the Bridegroom (John 3:28), are to “woo for Christ, and open the riches, beauty, honour and all that is lovely in him” (Sibbes, Second Sermon). Often I can’t, on my own, get my heart excited about Christ, but, in the company of God’s people, with a preacher opening the Scriptures and wooing for Christ, jabbing his finger in the Bible and saying “Look at this thing about Jesus; isn’t he amazing?!” – then I get excited about Jesus. And that seems to be the way God wants it to be.
  7. Partake in the Lord’s Supper – This is the other main, regular means of grace alongside the ministry of the Word, whereby I feed on Christ in my heart by faith with thanksgiving. This is where I’m reassured (as I recently read in a reformed confession I think) that as surely as the bread is pressed into my hand, so Christ has been given to me; as surely as I am receiving the wine, so surely Christ’s blood was shed for me and atones for all my sins. As Carl Trueman (if I remember rightly) describes it, just as in our marriage we live together and have a continual love relationship with our spouse but we still make special ‘dates’ where we can meet together and express our love for one another and grow in our love for one another and be reassured of our love for one another, so the Lord’s Supper is the time and place Christ has ordained as our ‘date’ where he promises to specially meet with us and reassure us of his love and inflame our love.
  8. Sing of Christ – As many have noticed through the ages, music and song have a special ability to express and inflame the affections. It is notable that the Song of Songs is… well a song! One of the best things for my soul is to be in the congregation of God’s people as we sing to one another and sing to God true words about Jesus. Let’s make the most of the songs that have been written down the ages and more recently that do what the Song of Songs does – address either ‘the friends’ or the Bridegroom and tell of His goodness. How sweet the name, When I survey, I stand amazed, There’s not a friend, Soon and very soon, Sovereign Grace, Emu
  9. Praise Christ – “We rejoice and delight in you; we praise your love more than wine.” (SoS 1:4) As C.S. Lewis would say, the latter (the praising) completes and increases the former (the rejoicing and delighting). As the beloved enumerates the specific, superlative, wonderful attributes of the Bridegroom (SoS 5:10-16) – her joy and love is increased. This works not only in prayer-praise and in song-praise but also in witnessing-praise to unbelievers. Have you ever had that joy of sharing with someone how wonderful Jesus is and as you do that you start thinking, Yes – this really is true – Jesus really is wonderful! Even if the other person wasn’t helped, I go away with a deeper appreciation of the good things I have in Christ (Philemon 6).
  10. Accept suffering as a means of refining love for Christ – God is sovereignly working to perfect us and the older authors (like Cranmer, Sibbes and Newton) recognise that much of that will be through the painful pruning of difficult circumstances. Through suffering he will work to loosen our grip on and weaken our affections for the passing things of this world that we might reach more for and rejoice more in Christ. What is required of us is an acceptance – a patient endurance (2 Cor. 1:6; Heb. 12:7) rather than an impatient rejection; a trust that this is a means of God inflaming my love for Christ.
  11. Be around people who love Jesus – I find this one of the most helpful ones. You’ll have noticed how the corporate, churchly dimension intersects almost all of the points so far. We grow in love for Christ among others who love Christ. As in the old illustration of a coal placed in the fire with glowing coals – the warmth and burning of others stirs me up to glow. To change the metaphor, the Proverbs speak of one man sharpening another. Often we think of this in terms of critical thinking but it is also true of love for Christ. Sibbes talks of “that which hinders the sharpness of the [spiritual appetite], that dull and flat the edge of it… and take away the savour and desire of heavenly things.” The evil and cold banality of the world and the company of those who have no interest in Christ dampens our love for Christ like a wet blanket. On the other hand the “company… of such as ‘labour for that blessed food that endures to life eternal’ provokes” us to a sharper appetite and greater feasting on Christ. I need this every day (Heb. 3:13) and especially need to make use of the Sabbath pattern to meet with God’s people and delight in him together.
  12. Pray – Perhaps this should be the first point. We need the Spirit of Conviction that we would see how far we have fallen. We need God himself to grant us repentance (Acts 3:26; 11:18). Otherwise, like the people in Jeremiah’s day we will not repent, we cannot repent (Jer. 13:23). We need the Spirit to remove the veil and open our eyes to the glory of God in the face of Christ in the pages of Scripture (2 Cor. 3-4). We need to pray that God would enlarge our hearts, give us new desires and new taste buds to crave and enjoy Christ. Sibbes notes from SoS 4:16 that unless the Spirit of God blows on us we do not even want to pray for more of Christ. So let us pray desperate prayers for greater love for Christ – come to his Word and come to church praying for our love to be inflames – knowing that even that desire to pray is a gracious gift and token of his love.
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“When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him” (Job 2:12)

“Just as there were many who were appalled at him
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14)

 

Job

“The more I have bashed my head against the text of Job year after year, the more deeply convinced I have become that the book ultimately makes no sense without the obedience of Jesus Christ, his obedience to death on a cross. Job is not everyman; he is not every believer. There is something desperately extreme about Job. He foreshadows one man whose greatness exceeded ever Job’s, whose sufferings took him deeper than Job, and whose perfect obedience to his Father was only anticipated in faint outline by Job.” (Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross, Crossway, 2014, p. 21)

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It’s a Saturday morning, there’s a somber mood sweeping across the whole village. There I was among the mourners.

Reality is dawning on the mourners that actually they won’t be seeing their loved one again. In a few hours’ time, she’ll be laid six feet under and that is it… gone forever never to be seen in this life again. That’s the moment you realise that however much you, as a mere mortal, love someone so much, you can never bring them back to life again. Death is indeed an enemy!

At this time of bereavement, the family and friends of the deceased need nothing short of comfort, consolation and support. And there’s a way in which if you belong to a church congregation, you can definitely, almost certainly know that the church will be there in full swing to provide this kind of support.

All was going on well, with tribute after tribute pouring in, until something happened; When time came for the ‘church’ to take over and conduct the service and eventually bury the dead, they were nowhere to be seen! They had boycotted the whole thing because apparently the family didn’t play by the rules like no playing of music, no speeches, burial be at 9 a.m. e.t.c. So the best thing they could do was leave. What a disappointment! Is this how the ‘church’ behaves?? Seemingly, the church is more important than the people! But what really constitutes the church if not Christ and people!!

My disappointment wasn’t because they failed to give a proper send-off, we buried my aunt, 2 of us conducted the service. My disappointment was because of 3 things:

  1. Failure to Bear Witness for Christ

Romans 12:15b teaches us to “mourn with those who mourn.” And our Saviour Himself, in John 11:33 “When He saw her [Mary] weeping, & the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His Spirit and greatly troubled. ” He couldn’t hold it in “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

The ‘church’ here failed to witness for Christ. What does the Bible teach us about death & mourning? And how can we represent Christ to a watching world? Jesus is deeply moved & greatly troubled by Lazarus’s death and the weeping of those who were there… He identified with them… He didn’t shut Himself from the realities of the messy world around Him, which death is part of. This is exactly the reason why He came on earth, to restore this fallen world. Funerals provide a huge opportunity to speak of this Christ & His Mission and also to show people what the heart of Christ is. This we do not in theory but in practice.

  1. Failure to Present the True Hope found in Christ

Look at Jesus at Lazarus’s funeral. He would do more that just weep. He went ahead and raised Lazarus back to life. Of course Lazarus died again later but here Jesus was giving us a sneak preview into what He will do. He will later on go to the cross, die, be buried and after 3 days rise again, thus opening the way for us to enjoying eternal fellowship with God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

Funerals are a great evangelistic opportunity. This is the opportunity that the Church has. Use that setting of funeral and death to speak about One who died to defeat death and thus give us hope beyond the grave.

  1. False Teaching

Yes, this is the genesis of the whole saga. The ‘church’ in question here is actually well known. I know in Kenya we don’t like calling by name but we know them- the Jehovah’s Witness. The thing here is not just about refusal to mourn with the family or bury the dead- it goes much deeper. What of causing some of the children to also skip the burial of their own mum!! And how about going and locking themselves in one of the sons’ house to ‘pray’ when people are waiting for you to speak to them!! How about being totally secluded from ‘the world’ and not wanting anything to ‘defile’ you! It has to do with what they actually teach (which is a thing for another day). Is this really biblical Christianity?

It’s either they are representing Christ wrongly and they need to be corrected or the Christ they are teaching is not really the real Christ, or both- if their actions are anything to go by!

Remember Christ’s warning,

“Be careful… Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees & the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6).

A little yeast affects the whole lump of dough and given some time, you’ll see the dough ‘rise up’ never to flatten again. That is what false teaching does.

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My attention has been captured recently by a theme that I’d not noticed much before but I’m now seeing all over Scripture.

  • Gen. 1:2 – ‘the face of the waters’
  • Gen. 1:9-13 – the third day – the separation of the waters and the dry land – interestingly this is the longest day account with the exception of day 6 (which corresponds to day 3)
  • Gen. 6-8 – the great global judgement is the reversal of Day 3, the elimination of dry land and a return to waters covering the whole face of the earth; the flood ending with the long awaited appearance of dry ground
  • Ex. 14 – in a great sovereign salvation-judgement event the LORD divides sea from dry land (‘dry land’ repeated 4 times) while the Egyptians are destroyed by the sea returning to cover the dry land (this Ex. 14 event later echoed in the days of Joshua and Elijah/Elisha)
  • Job 38 – most of the chapter concerns the limiting of the boundaries of the waters (cf. similarly Ps. 33:7; 104:5-11; Jer. 5:22)
  • Jonah 2 – the prophet is cast into the flood waters and then on the third day cast onto ‘dry land’
  • Matt. 8:21-27; 12:39-41; 16:4 – Jesus is the true and better Jonah who will rise on the third day
  • Matt. 25:37-41 – the final judgement is going to be like the flood of Noah’s day
  • Mark 10:38 – Jesus is going to be ‘baptized’ submerged, like Jonah and like Noah’s generation, under the flood waters of judgement
  • 1 Cor. 15:4 – ‘raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures’ – possibly alluding to ‘The Third Day’, the day when the dry land (salvation) appeared?
  • 1 Peter 3:20-21 – linking the flood and ark to baptism and the resurrection of Jesus
  • 2 Peter 3 – linking the coming of Christ to the initial waters (Gen. 1:2) and the flood (Gen. 6-8)

So when we start to see the waters transgressing their boundaries and covering the land we should think ‘Judgement’ and run to the solid rock, the ark, the dry ground of Christ.

solid rock

 

[And for a discussion-provoking reflection on recent flooding in the UK see here.]

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MTC Dec 13 a

Thanks to all those who were praying last week over the ministry training. Perhaps you were even following the Twitter-esque updates on Facebook. Praise God that we had a really good time together, noses in the Bible, chewing on some very meaty theology, wonderful singing (Salama Rohoni is new favourite for me), and a good atmosphere of fun and fellowship.

As promised to the apprentices, here are the notes and links:

And from the 2nd years programme:

And from the closing carol service:

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David & Goliath

Question: What does 2 Timothy 3:15-17 say is the purpose of Scripture? How many aims of Scripture are given in this passage? Are there five or two or basically one?

That might sound like a bit of an obscure academic question but it came up recently at a training conference and it’s actually very important. It boils down to: are we wrong to say that the key purpose of every Old Testament story and song is to lead us to Christ Jesus and an ever-increasing trust in him for salvation? Are we being naïve and simplistic and missing all the other ways we can legitimately use the Scriptures – to teach moral principles, to rebuke immorality, to give people hope in their circumstances, to train people in useful strategies for overcoming problems and making the most of their lives?

I want to argue that there is only really one purpose of Scripture given in 2 Timothy 3:15-17: to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (cf similarly John 5:39-40). All the other uses of Scripture are fit within this as different aspects of this one aim.

The key purpose is stated unambiguously in verse 15. The sacred writings (the Old Testament here) are able/powerful to make you wise for salvation in Christ alone by faith alone. Such a statement cannot be made about any other writings or philosophies. Before moving on it’s worth dwelling on the awesomely wonderful thing this is – to have a book which leads to salvation. Some might be impatient with this as a goal, wanting to find self-help tips or a moral compass or specific guidance or a manifesto for social transformation. But for those who have a right view of eternity, and heaven and hell, and our depravity and lostness and the greatness of Jesus, then this is a wonderful verse.

I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing,—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book] …. I read His book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. (John Wesley, Preface to Sermons)

Then we move on to verses 16 and 17 and the first thing to note is the word ‘profitable’. When Paul uses this word elsewhere (e.g. Titus 3:10; 1 Tim. 4:8) it usually has to do with the profitableness of preaching of the gospel of grace. And he always means eternal profit – not life tips to help me now but what will profit for eternity. There may also be an echo of Jesus’ famous words “what does it profit…” which also have to do with eternity in contrast to this world.

We then move on to what could be four more aims, but perhaps it would be better to see these are just more specific applications or uses of the main statement about Scripture being able to make you wise for salvation. Each one starts (unlike the wording of v15) with a “for”. It’s worth looking carefully at the precise vocabulary here:

  1. “For teaching/doctrine” – When Paul writes to Titus he uses this word to mean “the doctrine of God our Saviour” (2:10) quite apart from (but essential grounds for) the specific ethical implications. The sound doctrine is all about the grace of God appearing in Jesus, God saving us apart from works (2:11-14; 3:4-7). Another interesting place is Romans 15:1-7. Here Paul gives a worked example of how the OT is for our ‘teaching’ (same word). In this passage he reads Psalm 69 as a Psalm about Christ’s sufferings and draws the practical lessons for us who have been welcomed by this Christ. In this way the OT was “written for our teaching… that through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4) – i.e. they are for teaching us Christ, encouraging us in him, teaching us to live a Christ-shaped life, a life of hope, longing for him.
  2. “For reproof” – The noun form is very rare in the NT but its root is ‘proof’ and the verb form means to expose or convict. So it is not simply rebuke (reproof and rebuke are distinguished a few verses later – 2 Tim. 4:2); it is proving wrong on the basis of evidence. It could be in relation either to wrong living (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:19-20) or, as in Titus 1:9 and v13, in relation to wrong teaching. And there in Titus it is by holding to sound doctrine that one will be able to reprove the false teachers (1:9). Again in Titus 2:15, ‘reproof’ is in the light of the gospel of grace and designed to bring people back to this gospel (2:11-14).
  3. “For correction” – The exact word is unique in the NT but its root is ‘to make straight’, also used at Titus 1:5: “For this reason I left you in Crete, in order that you should straighten further the things that are wanting.” And how is Titus to straighten things out? By appointing faithful elder-teachers and by himself reproving false teaching while declaring and insisting on the gospel (1:13; 2:15; 3:8).
  4. “For instructing/training in righteousness” – There is a very close parallel to this phrase in Titus 2:12 where it is grace (in the sense of the historic saving work of Christ) which ‘teaches’ (same word as that translated ‘instruct’ or ‘train’ in 2 Tim. 3:17) us to live ‘righteously’ (again same root word as in 2 Tim. 3:17).

Beyond word studies it’s interesting to note the ways Paul himself, in his letters, uses the Scriptures to teach, reprove, correct and train.

  • The letter to the Romans could very largely be described as ‘teaching’ or ‘doctrine’. When Paul uses the OT Scriptures there (esp. in ch. 4; 8-11; 15) it is to teach about the unrighteousness of man, justification by faith in Christ, suffering in Christ, and the great plan of salvation history centred on Christ. And this is to Christians who already know these things (Rom. 15:14-15).
  • Galatians could be basically described as ‘reproof’ – a stern indictment of the church that they have deserted the gospel – and there Paul uses the OT extensively, to preach justification by faith in Christ who became a curse for us, to show how Promise is more basic to the OT than Law.
  • 1 Corinthians is basically ‘correction’ – they haven’t denied the gospel to the extent of the Galatians but the gospel is assumed and so there are piles of problems to be straightened out. And how does Paul straighten them? By applying the gospel of Jesus as found in the OT Scriptures – the wisdom of God (cf. 1-2), the Passover Lamb (ch. 5), the Rock in the desert (ch. 10), the sin-bearing death and new creation resurrection of Christ (ch. 15).
  • Philippians could be described as a ‘training in righteousness’ letter and notice again how does Paul use the OT there? Most clearly at Phil. 2:10-11 where he stunningly shows that something said in Isaiah of the LORD was about the crucified and risen Jesus and so, in the light of that reality, we should have the same humility as the God-man our saviour and Lord.

To sum up – 2 Timothy 3:15-17 is not giving us 5 aims of Scripture but one purpose – to preach the gospel to us. Paul states that purpose in v15 then goes on to give four aspects of gospel preaching.

So please, please, please, may we hear lots and lots of Jesus-centred gospel preaching from Exodus, from Ruth, from Samuel, from Kings, from the Psalms…

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tower of babel

Schools, NGOs, even politicians and businesses talk about being guided by ‘Christian values’. We want ‘value-based leadership’. Parents want to inculcate ‘good values’. Churches promise ‘kingdom principles’ which will transform your life.

  • Value (in pl.) one’s principles or standards
  • Principle – 1. A general law; 2. a personal code of conduct

The Bible doesn’t seem to be big on values and principles.

A couple of problems with values and principles:

  1. They are cut free from the story line of salvation history and turned into general truths and laws like gravity. I was reading an otherwise very good book on mission recently which was drawing lessons from the mission of the Apostle Paul. Loads of helpful stuff. But then a friend pointed out the flaw in the argument. It was all about getting principles from Paul which we could then follow to achieve the same results (church planting, church growth) as he had. This is turning a narrative into a set of principles which are then treated as laws which can be tested in the laboratory with the same results every time. What it was not considering was whether maybe the early days of the church in the book of Acts might have been a special point in the story of the history of Israel. Perhaps those days correspond, as a number of commentators have noted, to the early chapters in Joshua – the entry to the land. Even by the end of the book of Joshua and the end of the book of Acts the spectacular explosion of victories and miracles seems to be lessening. So maybe we should not demand exactly the same results as Paul (healing hankies, thousands converted) when we preach the same gospel from the Scriptures.
  2. They are cut free from the person of Jesus. Not always but very often you find that people and institutions that talk a lot about Christian principles and values are much less keen to talk about Christ. It’s understandable. Almost everyone, from all religions and none can sign up to Christian values. Just don’t give us Christ. Christ divides people. And yet he is the spring of all the so-called ‘values’. They are organically connected to him. They are the fruit of his Spirit. And crucially they flow from his gospel. Again and again in the NT letters it is the logic of the gospel which gives rise to the new Christian life. At the last MTC we found in Colossians that it is our death and resurrection with Christ which is the reason why we should put off the old self and evil desires and put on the new Christ-like self (Col. 3:1-11). It is as ‘God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved’, forgiven by the Lord, that we are to love and forgive others. Once you cut values away from Christ then you have cut the flower from the root – it begins to wither and die (witness the UK in the last two years since the prime minister made his ‘Christian values’ speech). They become powerless legalism and hypocrisy and then a redundant nonsense. As John Gray argues very powerfully in Straw Dogs, you cannot maintain Christian values when you have rejected a Christian worldview. The only source of true love and humility is a God of love and humility who has acted in history and is in the business of conforming his people to the image of his Son.

What does this mean for preaching?

Is it ok to preach values from Old Testament texts?

That was the question asked by one of the apprentices at the last MTC. And he answered his own question with a very helpful example from Genesis 11 – the tower of Babel. It’s a text often used to preach on the value of unity:

Nothing they propose to do will be impossible for them. (Gen. 11:6b)

So unity is a great value because it allows us to do more together than we can do alone. Indeed nothing will be impossible for us if only we have unity as a school, a church, a nation…

But as Fidel reported in his recent post (here) the point of the Babel story is the big problem of humanity seeking self-praise, self-sufficiency and security. In this context unity is a dangerous idolatrous evil thing. We could mention the Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) – great marital unity but not in a good cause. Or we could think of Nazi Germany in the 1930s – impressively united. So unity in itself is not a great value. I wonder (come back at me) whether any unity outside of Christ (nationalism, ethnocentrism etc.) is dangerous…

True unity is seen in the Trinity and then in Genesis 2 – the man and the woman became one, “and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). And then at the Cross the Second Adam in his death created one new man – Jew and Gentile united to one another and to God (Eph. 2:16). In view of that gospel Paul urges the Ephesians, “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father…” (Eph. 4:3-6)

‘Principles’ are what the world does – in fact they’re part of what Christ saved us from (Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:20) so let’s not go back to them (Gal. 4:9; Col. 2:8). Let’s just value Christ and see what happens…

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