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Humble Unity in Christ

“But to each one of us was given the grace according to the measurement of what is given freely by Christ.”

(Ephesians 4:7)

Paul has just been speaking about the unity of the body in the unity of our faith and then puts an exclamation point on what he is saying by reminding the people that the gift that they have been given is based fully and entirely on the work of Christ — that gift that Christ gives freely to God’s elect. It is nothing we have earned, it has been given. It is nothing to which we contribute; Jesus has given it freely. 

The notion of unity in here is a subtle one, but an important one to bring forth. Given that none of us has done anything to be made a part of Christ’s glorious body — it is a work of God’s grace — we all are on the same humble footing before the Lord. There are not kings and princes amongst us in this Kingdom. There is one King — King Jesus. There is one Prince — the Prince of Peace. There are no High Priests amongst us — we are all priests and we have a High Priest in Jesus Christ. And, there are no prophets in our midst — we have one Prophet in Christ Jesus who is greater and fuller than all of the human prophets that came before Him. We are all on equally humble footing and there is no place for arrogance or boasting in our midst.

You see, unity naturally flows out of right doctrine, but so often we humans become rather arrogant in the doctrines we hold — especially amongst those who are leading the church astray. Over the years, people have often opposed things that I have sought to teach and while that can be frustrating at times, I have sought to make it my practice simply to point to the text and say, “But what does the Bible say?” I may be well-read (and Christians — especially pastors — must be!), but ultimately, I don’t care what men have said unless it aligns with what God has said. I have also often said, “If you don’t like this teaching, please don’t get upset with me, take it up with God because He is the one that said it.” These statements are not meant to be snarky or to avoid the debate, but simply to remind all that it is God’s Word that we are called to be stewards of — I confess that I don’t know all things and I don’t always get everything right, but don’t try and convince me by personal preferences; convince me by the Word of God.

There are many in our culture who puff themselves up for their own ends. There is no place for this in the church. There are many who pursue and cherish titles and degrees and status. There is no place for that in Christ’s church. There are indeed, different gifts and those gifts are given in different proportions. Yet, none of these gifts are for the building up of man; they are for the glorification of Christ and the building up of Christ’s body as a unified whole. These words of Paul’s reinforces the notion that there is no room for boasting in Christ’s kingdom…none whatsoever…unless we are boasting in Christ. We are fellow servants, united not just in the knowledge of God, but also united in a position of humble worship before Christ’s throne.

Forfeit Because of Christ

“Although I have confidence — even in the flesh! If anyone else think that he has confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eight day, a descendent of Israel, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee according to the Law, a persecutor of the church as to zeal; as to righteousness under the law, I am faultless! But whatever profit was mine, this I regard as forfeit because of Christ.”

(Philippians 3:4-7)

As Paul recounts his Jewish qualifications, what strikes me is how often, as Christian pastors, we fall into arrogance as a result of our qualifications. No, we are usually not worried about bloodline in today’s world (unless we happen to be related to Billy Graham, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, etc…) but we do present ourselves often as having come from the right seminary, having attended the right church, having served on the right Presbytery committees, etc… How quickly we fall into the trap of desiring to be elevated amongst men.

In contrast to our sinfulness, Paul is not using his credentials to point to himself. Instead, he is using the credentials to point to Christ. Paul is essentially saying that if anyone thinks they have impressive credentials, that he can “one-up” them…but further, Paul still counts everything as loss compared to the work of Christ. Jesus is everything; our human works are nothing in and of themselves.

Think of it, as men we make monuments, but God raised the mountains. As men, we struggle to make it off of this rock we call earth, but God created the cosmos. As men, we create art; but God created the flower and the butterfly. As men, we might make sacrifices for one another; Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice to pay the debt of sin that is owed by all of His elect. Folks, Paul’s point is not only that there is no room for comparison…but it is also, why bother comparing? Everything, Paul says, he counts as loss or forfeit because of Christ.

Does that mean that training, education, seminary, or background is a bad thing? If God is using it for His glory, no, it is not a bad thing at all. If we are using it as a matter of pride and arrogance, it is a bad thing. If we are using it as a measure of personal standing, it is a bad thing as well. If we are not able to say, with the Apostle Paul, that I regard all things as forfeit because of Christ, then even the best credentials can be stumbling blocks. When a mechanic uses tools to repair an engine that is out of tune, one does not praise the tools. One praises the skill of the mechanic. God is the mechanic and we are the tools in his hands. We deserve no praise for he is the one doing the job. We are at his disposal…they key is to be ready for use.

Live for Christ and Him Alone!

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

(Philippians 1:21)

“In the event of my death, celebrate.” You know, as a pastor, I spend a lot of time with people who are sick and dying and very rarely do I come across a person who is genuinely excited about their impending death…especially when the person dying is younger, at least in a relative sense. We have become accustomed to speak about heavenly things with anticipation but when we face the reality of heavenly things, it seems that we cling to earthly things with vigor…just the opposite of our Lord who did not heaven as something to be clung to but abased himself and became man. While we affirm intellectually that heaven is a far better place for us than earth, our hearts don’t often embrace that intellectual reality.

I believe that our problem with genuinely embracing the second half of this statement stems from our problem with embracing the first half of the statement, for until you become so focused that everything you do in this life is for Christ and to His honor, then the thought of ending those labors here, where we do things imperfectly, and beginning them in glory, where we will do things perfectly, just does not resonate with us. Yet, for Paul, this mindset — that all I do is for Christ — is the only way to live…or die.

As people, particularly in the western world, we have become jaded, self-centered, prideful, narcissistic, greedy, sensualistic, and focused on personal gain. Life, we are often taught, is about what I can achieve, accumulate, and experience. Those things that do not meet our personal “needs” are cast to the side as unnecessary and irrelevant. Striving for virtue has been replaced with striving for vainglory and “Self” has become the Baal and the Ashtoreth of our generation. And, as a result, the culture is collapsing all around our ears.

The solution: Christ and Christ alone! Living for Christ in all things puts the things of this world in their eternal perspective and shows them to be the pale and fleeting things that they really are. Living for Christ and seeing His glory in all things is also the corrective to our view on death. For the believer, indeed, our death is gain, for it is being ushered into the presence of our risen Lord. Yet, we also long to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” For that we must embrace a life that is lived not for self and selfish things, but for Christ and for Christ alone. Then again, for whom better can we live?

Jesus is God!

“For I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your supplications and through the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,”

(Philippians 1:19)

The confidence of Paul in the prayers of the Saints and the strength of the Spirit should not surprise us much as we arrive here in verse 19. Indeed, as Christians, how we rely on the prayers of others. That said, I wonder whether we genuinely pray and make supplications to the Lord on behalf of those who are in distress, in chains, or just in ministry…the leadership of the church that we make wise and Godly decisions when such are set before us.

What is quite significant, though, about this verse is Paul’s use of the phrase, “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” This is the only spot in the Bible where the Spirit is spoken of in this way. We find the phrase, “The Spirit of God,” often enough (25 times), but this is something that stands out, though it should not give us pause. The reality is that Jesus is God and thus it is a natural linguistic transition to make from saying “the Spirit of God” to “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” At the same time, this verse does provide us with an apologetic reminder that Jesus Christ is fully God. We live in a day and an age where many are trying to make less of Jesus than he is, making him look to be some sort of demigod or divine human, seeing him as created and not part of the Triune Godhead. Here, Paul would seem to refute such an idea, reminding us that the Holy Spirit is just as much connected with the Son as he is with the Father.

But also make note of the language applied to the Spirit here…it is the Spirit who strengthens, who provides for Paul, who fortifies him in his time of need. How we need to be reminded sometimes that we do not do things in our own strength as believers, but what we do we must do in reliance on the strength of the Holy Spirit. He empowers, we bring nothing to the table other than obedience…and that is something the Spirit works in us as well. There is no room for personal pride, folks, only pride in our Savior, Christ Jesus.

God Gets the Glory…Great Things He Has Done

“And Abram and Nachor took to themselves wives. The name of the wife of Abram was Saray and the name of the wife of Nachor was Milkah — the daughter of Haran who was the father of both Milkah and Yiskah. And it came to pass that Saray was infertile and had no child of her own.”

(Genesis 11:29-30)


I suppose that there are no great surprises in the various spellings of familiar names — again, transliteration is not a precise science and there are many agreed upon spellings of these names that do not reflect the literal transliteration from the Hebrew into English. Saray, is better known to us as Sarai, whose name means, “My princess.” Milkah is the daughter of Haran, which makes her the sister of Lot. Milkah (or Milcah) means “Queen.” It is interesting that, based on names, both Abraham and Milkah marry women whose names denote royalty. Milkah has a sister named Yiskah, or Iscah in our English Bibles, whose name probably is derived from the word for “to look” or “to look at.”

And now we have the family line laid out before us as well as another tidbit — Sarai was barren and could bear no child. Perhaps that is the reason for Abram taking in Lot, his nephew, when his brother dies. We do not know the answer to that particular question. What we do know is that God is waiting until Abram’s father dies (and thus Abram becomes the covenant head of his home) and then is going to begin doing mighty things in this man’s life. The wait is for another purpose as well — so that the only explanation for this man’s success could be attributed to God.

How we like to have our successes attributed to our persons. Yet, how much better it is when our successes are attributed to the one from whom the success originated! For any good success that I might have is only because of the grace of God and the hand of God working in my life. It is all about God and his work from beginning to end — I am not my own. How often we fall on our faces because we do not recognize that truth and how often we allow our bloated egos to become so puffed up with pride that we become a blight even to ourselves and need be laid low all over again. Oh how the “mighty” have so often fallen. Loved ones, cling to God, trust his leading, but also ensure that you understand that any good credit belongs to God alone. We are but tools in his hand — may we be always sharp and ready for use.

Being Humbled (Mark 14:29; Matthew 26:33)

“But answering, Peter said to him, ‘if all of them are scandalized by you, I will not be scandalized!’”

(Matthew 26:33)

“But Peter stated to him, ‘Yet if all are scandalized, even so, I will not.”

(Mark 14:29)

You almost have to wonder what the rest of the disciples are thinking when Peter makes statements like this. Certainly, this is not the first impetuous and thoughtless statement in the three year ministry, not was it the first on this night, for just a short time ago, Peter was telling Jesus what he could or could not do with respect to washing feet at the last supper. Here we find Peter making another such statement. Essentially, Peter is saying, “No, Lord, you are mistaken. Even though all of the other guys are the type that will fall away, I won’t.” What John must have been thinking. What Andrew, Peter’s own brother, must have been thinking. What James, the other “Son of Thunder” must have been thinking at Peter’s statement. What, of course, Jesus must have thought, knowing what would come next. Were I in their shoes, I would have probably wanted to reach out and smack him…or worse.

There is a lesson to be learned by us on two levels. First, are we not all too often like Peter in boldly telling God how wrong he is about our weak and fragile character? Aren’t we also guilty of saying to God, “I will not fail you! I will not fall away! I will not be scandalized by the cross of Christ or by your name!” Yet then, shortly after leaving the prayer closet our children fall into mischief or our wife says something amiss or our neighbor’s dog digs up our garden again, or a coworker confronts us where we have tried to cut a corner, or the militant non-believer at work jeers at us again, or the person in the pew at church bungles what you have asked of them for the hundredth time, or, or, or. How often we read this account of Peter’s proclamation and say, “no, that wouldn’t be me saying things like that” or “no, I would not have denied Jesus as Peter did” and then found ourselves doing just that very same thing within hours of the thought. While you might want to say, “but that is different,” you must come to confess that, no, the denial is not any different at all, just the circumstances are changed. How we need to humble ourselves and repent of this, our weakness.

The second lesson that can be learned is the lesson from the rest of the Apostles. Though, after the fact, there must have been a sinful desire to rub this event into Peter’s face, they did not—or at least we have no record of them doing so and no indication that such a sinful event ever took place. They chose as Christ chose, to reinstate Peter even after his terrible denial of Christ. It was written of as the Holy Spirit instructed, but the record is not a malicious one, it simply records the events first, so we can see the humanity of these, our fellow brothers in Christ, and second so we can draw instruction from their failures and successes. Yet how often are we want to hold onto people’s failings even in the church. A deacon, for example, champions the support of a local family in need only later to find out that they have been using the church’s money for alcohol, gambling, or worse. An elder begins a new program that turns out to be a flop and ends up costing the church a bunch of money. A pastor engages in ministry in the community, bringing homeless folks into the church and they end up stealing from the congregation. The list can go on and on and the point is not that we make mistakes in ministry, but what we do with them. Do we rub the mistakes of others in, do we pick at sore wounds by reminding them over and over again of their failures? Or do we move forward together in ministry affirming Christ’s call on the person? Beloved, such is the model of the Apostles. They affirmed that Jesus had called Peter to be one of them and this call of Christ was enough.

My prayer, as we reflect on this, is that we would not find ourselves guilty of being on either side of this equation of sin. Let us not create ledgers of the failures of other Christians around us, constantly reminding them of their failings and using those failings to discourage them from trying again or others from supporting them. At least the folks that fail have sought to step out in faith and try some things. Also, do not be so afraid of failure or the commentary of nay-sayers that you are unwilling to try. But secondly, do not fall into Peter’s trap, of thinking that you are the most faithful or even only faithful person in the group you happen to be with or in the church you happen to attend. Beloved, such is most likely not the case and a mindset like that is simply asking God to humble you. Just remember, the humbling is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, much as Christ did with Peter, that your life may honor and glorify Christ and not man.

“But the God of all grace, who has called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, and to a little suffering, will restore, support, strengthen, and rebuild the foundation.”

(1 Peter 5:10)

The Scandal (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27)

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be scandalized by me tonight, for it is written, ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’’”

(Matthew 26:31)

“And Jesus said to them, ‘All of you will be scandalized, because it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the flock will be scattered.’’”

(Mark 14:27)

“Scandalized?” We mean something a little different today when we speak of a scandal than they did two-thousand years ago, but not as different as you might think. The word that Jesus uses here is the Greek word, skandali/zw (skandalizo), which is where we get the English word of the same root.  Today, we refer to a scandal as any action that we feel is morally wrong and that gets folks upset. There are political scandals, celebrity scandals, and social scandals. We consider them both shocking and outrageous, though we are often drawn to them out of morbid curiosity, which is why scandals sell so many newspapers and magazines.

In Greek, the term skandali/zw (skandalizo) means either to cause someone to fall into sin or to be shocked and offended by someone or something. In other words, a scandal could be much like we use the term today, but it can also refer to a case where something is so far outside of societal norms that people simply cannot accept what is taking place. Typically, though, in the Greek language, a scandal was a statement or an event that would cause others to fall into sin, and certainly the abandonment of Christ by the disciples was just that: sin.  But why would Jesus set his disciples up for such a scandal?

Some, I have heard, have suggested that Jesus permitted this to protect his disciples from arrest or harm, but this view seriously underestimates the power of the Son of God who could call down a host of angels with but a word. Likely a better answer is that Jesus is showing his disciples (and us) the nature of man. In fear, we will flee and fall into sin if left on our own. We do not naturally do what is right thanks to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and these disciples will clearly fall into that pattern. And thus, God permits them their sin to show them their own depravity. After the resurrection, not one of them would be able to say to the other, “I stayed behind, I was faithful while you were not!” No, even the spokesman for the Apostles would have to say, “I denied the Lord not once, but three times.”

There is no room for pride of personal achievement in the service of Christ. We, like the Apostles, would have fled and do flee on a daily basis as it testified to by our actions. When the subject of Christian faith is brought up at the store, at a family gathering, or amongst coworkers, we typically hush up or comment that religion is a personal thing and a decision that everyone has to make on their own. Of course, we do not keep our opinions of politics or economics to ourselves in the same settings. What is the difference? Apart from the fact that one is infinitely more important and objectively more correct than the other, like the apostles, Christ often is a scandal to us. Jesus said, “Confess me before men and I will confess you before my Father” (Matthew 10:32). I wonder sometimes at how often Christ is confessing our names before his Father’s throne.

Beloved, this event would show the Apostles their depravity and would break them and humble them, taking them to the very brink of despair. Judas committed suicide over what he had done (Matthew 27:5). Learn from their failure. Jesus preserved his own through this event, but he permitted their sin nonetheless. If pride is seeping into our lives, God will do the same with us; yet, how blessed is the man who learns from those before him and speaks honestly and boldly about the truth of Christ to the glory of God. May we all strive toward that end.

Warnings from Israel’s Past: Angels (Pride)

“And the angels who did not hold to their own office, but deserted their own dwelling place to enter judgment on that great day, are kept, chained eternally in gloom.”

(Jude 6)


Secondly, Jude describes the pride of the fallen angels, who looked to increase their own power and authority above the position that they had been set to by God himself.  They have been cast out of their original place, which is heaven, and have been kept chained in darkness for judgment.  This is a verse that has brought many a misinterpretation because we know that demons, which are fallen angels, travel the earth seeking to destroy.  Two things that we must remember.  First, while Satan and his minions are working to attack us, they are like a lion on a tether.  They are chained and can only go as far as God allows them to go.  God allows them to roam for many reasons (judgment on unbelievers, testing the faith of believers, restraining the pride of believers, etc…), but they can never go further than God allows.  Secondly, these fallen angels once lived in Heaven in the very presence of God.  When you have seen the glory of God face to face, even the brightest day on earth is as black as pitch. 

We don’t know a lot about the fall of the angels, for scripture does not tell us much.  We know of Satan’s fall from Revelation 12 and how he took one-third of the stars (a symbol regularly used to describe angels) with him.  These are his minions.  And, there is no forgiveness for fallen angels.  You see, the angels understood the full glory of God and chose to reject it.  Our rejection is a rejection based on sin and ignorance, not full knowledge of the truth.  Even Adam, who walked with God, did not quite understand the fullness of God’s glory—that would be revealed in Christ’s work.  As Augustine wrote, “more is gained in Christ than was lost in the fall.”

If we understand Ezekiel 28:11-19 as a statement of the fall of Satan, as many hold, then we understand that reason that was underlying the fall of Satan and his angels was pride.  Jude builds on this when he says that the angels “did not hold to their own office…”  The word that we translate as “hold” is the Greek word, thre÷w (tereo), which means “to keep”, “to hold”, “to guard”, or even “to cherish.”  The word that we translate as “office” is the Greek word aÓrch\n (archan), which refers to a sphere of influence (note that the word also can mean “from the beginning” and is the word we get “arcane” from). 

These angels demonstrate for us what pride looks like.  They were unsatisfied with the place in the created order that God had given them, thus they despised that place, and sought to elevate themselves above God.  This was also the sin of Adam and Eve.  And, as Paul writes, it is the pride of a debased mind that leads to unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, mean-spiritedness, gossip, slander, God hating, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, inventions of evil, disobedience to parents, covenant breaking, lacking of affection, and lacking the ability to show mercy (Romans 1:29-31).  Friends, pride gives birth to this.  This is the result of the fall and these things reflect the general disposition of the Devil.  When we chase after sin, choosing it over righteousness, we chase after these things.  Christian, seek the righteousness of God and the fruit of the Spirit; reflect God in your daily living and not the devil.


Warnings from Israel’s Past: Egypt (Idolatry)

“Now I want to remind you, though you have known all these things, that the Lord once saved a people from the land of Egypt and afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

(Jude 5-7, ESV)


Within this section that offers warnings from the history of Israel, we find three sins that are being addressed:  Idolatry, Pride, and Sexual Perversion.  In the context of the letter of Jude, these sins are likely the sins that these false teachers have brought with them.  Jude wants the church of his day, and by extension, the church of all ages to understand just how dangerous these sins are and that God will not permit these sins to flourish in the life of his people.  These are sins of the world and Christians are not to be of the world.

These are also extraordinarily dangerous sins.  The medieval church developed what they called the “Seven Deadly Sins” which were wrath, avarice, sloth, pride, lechery, envy, gluttony.  One pastor friend of mine argues that all sins stem from the sin of pride—as pride was at the heart of the first sin.  I would argue that Jude is laying out a trio of sins that God deals most harshly against.  There are certainly some sins that God is a bit more lenient towards when you read the ancient law, for example, but these three sins are sins against which God’s heaviest wrath is poured out.  And, I would suggest that the reason for this is two-fold.  First, these three sins will surely and rapidly take you out of fellowship with God.  Second, these sins produce other sins in a person’s life. 

Remember well the Apostle Paul’s argument in Romans 1.  The reality of God can be seen in his natural revelation—Creation itself—but people chose to chase after their own desires, “exchanging the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25).  Their punishment for their denial of God was to be left to their sin.  Sin destroys—it corrodes our souls.  But Paul emphasizes three sins in particular:  Idolatry (vs. 25), Sexual Perversion (vss. 26-27), and Pride (vs. 28).  These are the same three sins that Jude is bringing out, and from these three sins, flow all other sinful living (Romans 1:29-32).

The greatest problem that the Israelites had in their wilderness wanderings was Idolatry.  Over and over again, the people are contending with Moses about how things were so much better in Egypt.  They made the golden calf, and as they approached the promised land, they also engaged in idolatry with the pagans of the region.  Because of this, God kept them in the wilderness for forty years so that none of the original people who left Egypt would enter the Promised Land.  Many of these were even killed directly with sickness, war, or natural disaster.  Yet, even in the midst of such idolatry, God preserved a faithful remnant for himself.

We may be tempted to wonder about what God was doing, rescuing his people and then killing off those who were unfaithful.  Yet, what happened in the wilderness is a picture of what will happen in judgment.  There are many who have entered into fellowship with the visible church, but not all of these people are born again believers.  There will come a time when we will all stand before God’s throne of judgment and whether we are redeemed or condemned will have nothing to do with which membership card we held in life.  It will have everything to do with whether we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Anything that has captured our hearts other than Jesus—whether that be our money, our careers, our families, our accomplishments, etc…–this is idolatry.   And idolatry is not something that God tolerates in his body.