Fruit of the Church
“And as they did not study to have knowledge of God, God delivered them to a worthless mind to do what is not lawful, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, and evil. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and meanness. They are gossipers, slanderers, and haters of God. They are insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, and disobeyers of parents. They are without understanding, covenant breakers, without affections, and without mercy. They know the decrees of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do them, but also approve of those who do them.”
If one is to judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:16), then the fruit of idolatry in a culture is unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, meanness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, pride, boasting, inventing evil, disobeying of parents, lacking understanding, covenant breaking, lacking affections, lacking mercy, and approving of these things in others. As to our culture: guilty as charged. As to much of the church in America: guilty as charged. The fruit of our culture is bad enough but when the fruit of the church reflects the fruit of the culture we have a major problem that needs to be rectified. And, while at times, reform can be brought from within, there is also a point in time when one must “come out of her lest you take part in her sins” (Revelation 18:4, alluding to Isaiah 48:20).
The Belgic confession drives this point home in Article 28, where it reads: “It is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from all those who do not belong to the Church and to join themselves to this congregation [namely the True Church], wheresoever God has established it.” The True Church, in principle, is referred to in this article as “the assembly of those who are saved.” How can light have fellowship with darkness, Truth with error, righteousness with evil? For the wellbeing of our souls, we must align ourselves with Christ’s church and not with the parodies of it that are so prevalent in society.
Remaining in such a place is at best to content oneself with spiritual mediocrity for the same of what? Tradition? A fancy building to which you are partial? Habit? Safety? Friendships? Fancy dinners? Personalities? All of these are likely answers that would have been given by the people of Laodicea. Yet, when the years of accumulated dust of the false church is finally kicked off the feet, one will discover just how encumbered we were while wearing those old muddy boots. In doing so, one can leave behind the stench of the rotten food described above and taste (maybe for the first time!) fruit that is healthy, good, ripe, and in season for the church. And, while it is true that even the True Church has to face its problems when sin raises its ugly head; when said sin is pointed out, it will be confessed, repented of, and put away; such is not the case of the False Church.
So, as Peter says, judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). Start with self-judgment so that you may not be judged (1 Corinthians 11:31) and separate yourself from the fruit of idolatry that is so prevalent in the pseudo-church all around us.
Through the Church
“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”
How does God make his mystery known to the world? Paul states very clearly that it is “through the church.” How that statement needs to be heard today and echo through the ears and hearts of every believer. Because of the errors the church has made, many have abandoned the church and sought to find their spirituality elsewhere. Yet, that is not Christianity. People will say, “But I don’t need the church to be spiritual.” Indeed, that is true. You can be a new-ager and define your own spirituality outside of the church, but you cannot be a spiritually mature Christian outside of the church. The church is the body of which we are a part and it is the body that is established upon the testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Now mind you, church is not a building nor is it an institution as it is often understood today. Church comes from the word, ἐκκλησία (ekklasia), which refers to an assembled body or gathering of people. By the very definition of the word, it means that we are a people that must gather together. Now, whether we gather with one another in a larger group or in a smaller, house-church model is irrelevant. A gathering is taking place. The gathering, too, shares a common purpose — to be a pillar and buttress of the truth, to tear down the strongholds of hell in our midst, making every thought captive to obey Christ, and to worship. The church gathered is a holy convocation as is often mentioned in the Old Testament.
The challenge today is that too many congregations of people that call themselves Christian churches are not so. That may be a hard word for some to stomach, but it is very much true. Historically, there are three marks that identify the true church from the false church. The first is the “pure doctrine” of the Gospel is preached. If the word of God is watered-down, if it is only taught in part, or if the whole Council of God is ignored (or misapplied for one’s own purposes), then it is not pure. So, ask yourself when you listen to a sermon: “Is the pastor teaching us from the Word of God or is he just talking about his own ideas?”
The second mark of the true church is that the sacraments are administered as instituted by Christ. One must ask, what are the sacraments meant to do and how are they received? Are they seen as a mark of the Covenant of God with the congregation or just something that the congregation does? Books can be and are written on the nature of the Sacraments; the question here is whether they are practiced and understood in a manner faithful to the Scriptures or whether they are being conformed to the ideas and preferences of men.
The third such mark is that church discipline is practiced for the correction of sin. Here’s the rub in many cases. It is not just good enough that the pure doctrine be preached; it must be lived out by the believer. Church discipline is designed to train and encourage people to live out their faith faithfully. If sin is ignored in the life of the church and if some are given a “free pass” due to their money, influence, or family relations, then the church is not a true church. The confessions call upon us to flee such places and to seek out a true church.
The sad reality is that many churches function more like social clubs — an expensive one at that! Churches also tend to exist to meet their own needs rather than to build the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Even the worship of many of these churches is more driven by the whims of men than by the direct command of God. People think that things are open game, so long as they are not overtly sinning, but when it comes to worship, if we do not worship as God tells us to worship, are we not in open disobedience? And is not disobedience another way of talking about sin? God has told you, oh man, what he expects from you… Will you do it? The true church is God’s agent to share the mysteries of God with the world.
A Holy Temple
“in whom the whole building, being joined together, increases into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also have been built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
The “in whom” found in each of these verses, of course, speaks of Christ of whom the previous verse spoke. And here we have two parallel ideas that are really Biblical-theological notions. The parallel is simply that we the true church, born again in Jesus Christ, are being formed together not only as a single body, but as stones of a new temple (also see 1 Peter 2:4-5). Notice the emphasis that Paul places here on our being bound and tied together as a single Temple made up of both Jew and Greek to the glory of God. And, as a temple, the church is called to be a holy place — a place set apart for God’s use. Remember, this is not speaking of the bricks and mortar of a physical structure, but of the bricks and mortar of the lives of believers. We are the church building set apart for holy use, not worldly purposes.
This, of course, is where the conversation needs to transition into Biblical theology. When the Temple of Solomon was destroyed, people lost all hope and God promised them that a Temple would be rebuilt that would be greater in glory (Haggai 2:9). Of course, what we know from history was that the rebuilt Temple never rose to the glory of the former. Herod tried with all of his worldly might to do so, but that which made the Temple glorious was the Shekenah Glory of God — the glory of God dwelling with his people in the form of the Glory Cloud. And God’s glory never returned to the Temple…at least, not as the people expected.
The glory of God did appear in the Temple briefly in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ and the Son of God, who is the radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3). Yet, when Jesus entered the Temple, it was for judgment and condemnation at the idolatry that was found therein. This new Temple that was to be of a greater glory was the temple of his body (John 2:21) — a body that would be resurrected to glory on the third day. Yet, the story does not end. As we have already discussed, the church is called the body of Christ, so we are participants in the fulfillment of Haggai’s prophesy. As members of the body we are part (stones) in the new Temple a place wherein God dwells in His Spirit (sounds like the Shekinah Glory, does it not?). In principle, that should be manifested in the church.
The real question is whether we reflect that in our lives, especially when the church is gathered. Are we a holy people, indwelled by the glory of God? Do we live like it? Are our bodies consecrated for God’s purposes and not for the pleasures of the flesh? Truly, this will only be seen in its fullness when the church reaches its fullness in the new creation, yet do we strive to live out this principle in our lives. Sadly, I fear that it is often the case that the church does not. Even more sadly, in some places, this is the last thing that is on the corporate church’s mind.
The Gospel of Peace
“Also, having come, he preached the Gospel of peace to you who are far off and peace to you who are near, for through him we have access, both of us in one Spirit, to the Father.”
It strikes me as odd that people do not seem to notice that as America moves further and further away from the Christian faith, we have become more violent and more divided than ever. To the Christian, who understands that the Gospel is a Gospel of peace and of reconciliation, the correlation should be obvious. Yet, it does not seem to be. People keep looking for a political solution to our problems; that may, at best, put a bandage on some of the wounds, but it does not get at the heart of the problem, which is sin. That sin separates us from God and from fellow man and if there is a time for the Gospel to be heard, that time is now. So, while I do vote, and commend Christians to do the same, I vote for those who I think will best uphold those Biblical values upon which my life is built, but I am under no delusion in thinking that one politician or another is going to bring a time of revival and overall spiritual wellbeing to our country.
In context, Paul is still addressing the unity that Christ has worked between God and man as well as man and man. It is no longer a matter of being Jew or Gentile or Barbarian; if we are in Christ, we are one person by the work of the Holy Spirit and are presented to God in peace — free from the penalty of sin. Jesus has paid that in full for His elect.
So, whether we were far off (the Gentile nations) or near (in Jerusalem or Israel), God has brought us together through this Gospel that brings peace. We must be clear that the primary sense of this peace is peace between man and God. But, when we are at peace with God, joined together as one body with others, then we will find ourselves at peace with one another. The world is to know that we belong to Jesus by the love we have for one another (John 13:34-35). The easiest way to determine whether a person is a true Christian is to observe how they behave toward other true Christians, for if they do not love those who are in the body, they truly do not have God in their heart (1 John 3:10). This, of course, John has said in the same context as making a practice of righteous living. If you want to know whether someone is a true Christian or just a scoundrel using the church for his own ends, this is as good a starting place as any. So, how does it describe you?
The True Church and being Citizens of Israel
“Remember that you were formerly gentiles in the flesh — called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision in the flesh by hands — that you were at that time without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and a stranger to the covenant and the promise, being without hope and an atheist in the world.”
One more note before we move to verse 13…what is this language about the citizenship of Israel? Is this a reference to becoming part of national Israel as some would suppose? What is Paul referring to here?
First of all, no. In Romans 9, Paul has already distinguished between national Israel and True Israel, the latter being the children of the promise who are the spiritual children of Israel (Romans 9:6-9). This, in context, is a reference to those God elected to save (Romans 9:10-13). In Galatians 3:29, Paul refers to all of those who are in Christ as the ones who are Abraham’s offspring and thus heirs according to the promise (a.k.a… Children of Promise spoken of in Romans 9). And thus, all of the promises of God to Israel find their fulfillment in Christ and are directed toward the Christian church (2 Corinthians 1:20-22).
So, in the absolute sense, this is not just saying to the gentiles in the church in Ephesus that they were apart from the Jewish nation of Israel; this is saying that they were outside of True Israel and hence they lived amongst the sons of disobedience.
This raises an important point as to the significance of the church. Christians are not called to be “Lone Rangers” as it were; they were called to be part of a unified body with Christ as the head. Any time we are outside of that context, we find ourselves in a place of separation from the covenant and promises of God. Within it, those promises are meaningful and true, belonging to us.
Yet, in the west, we have embraced the notion of rugged individualism. And while that is an admirable thing in secular culture, it is an idea that is alien to Christian living. We have also embraced a form of commercial mentality when it comes to our church attendance. We go here for a while so long as the preaching pleases us and then we go there. That does not mean there is not a right time to leave a church, but leaving should not be predicated by whether you enjoy the preaching or the activities of the larger body. Leaving should be based on the question of whether the church which you are attending is a true church. If it is a true church, remain. If it is not a true church, flee to a true church.
What constitutes the true church? What distinguishes the gathering of the Children of Promise? There are three things found in the Scriptures and laid out for us in the Belgic Confession (Article 29): the pure doctrine of the Gospel is preached, the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ, and church discipline is exercised for the chastening of sin. If the whole council of God is not preached or if the doctrines of men are preached instead of the doctrine of God, then it is a false church. If sacraments are treated casually and not with prayerful introspection and commitment, then it is a false church. If church discipline either is ignored or if it is practiced to create a legalistic caste system in the church, then it is a false church. If the church leadership are confronted with their failure in one or more of these areas and they refuse to repent, then you are in a false church from which you must flee.
They may have good intentions in that false body, but of what value are good intentions when the Apostle Paul condemns that church body as “accursed”? If you graft a healthy body part into a body where the whole of the body is diseased and gangrenous, of what benefit is the healthy part? Will it not too become diseased and gangrenous? If you cling to the doctrines of men, will they save you? Of what hope can they bring?
While it is true that no church is perfect according to the standards of God, the question is, for what are they striving? Will they repent if their error is shown to them or are they committed and bound to human traditions? What is preached? What is taught? What is sung? What is their foundation? Shall it not be God’s word in all of these areas? Shall we set aside Divine Writ in favor for the ways of men? Is this honoring to God? I would say, “no,” and I would say that such an approach betrays the fact that you are committed to being outside of the citizenship of True Israel.
If you are tempted to doubt the concept of True and False churches. Maybe you just see me as a grumpy theologian who prefers to sit in his own corner and grump (sometimes I feel like that anyway), then I ask you to look at what has been held by the church fathers through the ages. You will find that they would speak very much like I have spoken. You will find that this notion of rugged individualism is an anomaly when it comes to the history of the church. Look to the confessions, look to the creeds, look to the ancient councils of the church. Over and again you will find that they proclaim the same message, that in salvation we are bound to a body and that there are things that define a true Christian church body, separating it from the false ones. Sometimes it is a matter of doctrine and sometimes it is a matter of practice. But, believe whatever you want to believe “just so long as you love Jesus,” is a notion alien to the church in history and it ought to be anathematized today.
Priorities and Life
“And you, having been dead in your the trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the fashion of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit which now works in the sons of disobedience.”
As we have noted several times already, this letter is not written to people in general, but to believers in the church. Paul’s words once again reinforce that notion when he speaks of the sins “in which you once walked.” One of the most telling marks of a Christian is that the way they conduct their life is different than the way the world functions. This includes, but extends beyond just “good morals” and reflects a change in purpose. Those who live according to the world will live to serve themselves; those who are Christians will live to serve Christ first and foremost.
There is a principle about which I have spoken for years, and that has to do with the way priorities are spoken of in western culture. For example, people most commonly say things like: “this is my first priority, this is my second…” It is my belief that we are not designed to compartmentalize our lives in that fashion. In fact, I would submit that we are only ever able to have one priority in life and that everything we do flows out of that priority. Further, I think that there are ultimately but two options: God or self.
If God is your priority in life, you will still be a good employee, a good parent, a good neighbor, and a good citizen, but you will be all of these things because you recognize them to be aspects of the way you serve and honor God. If self is your priority, then you still may be a good employee, a good parent, a good neighbor, and a good citizen, but only insofar as those things serve your needs. The world says, “be true to yourself.” The Bible says, “be true to God.” which will it be?
Paul is writing of the change that takes place in the life of the believer. “Once we served self, now we serve God,” is the heart of his message here. Once we pursued the fashion of this world; now we pursue righteousness, holiness, and Truth. Once we served the devil, either explicitly or implicitly; now we serve Christ. Once we were numbered amongst the “sons of disobedience;” now we are called “Children of God.”
The Unnecessary Member
In many biology textbooks, especially older ones, they speak about “vestigial organs.” The belief was that, as the human body “evolved,” there were left behind remains of previous stages of evolution and we are thus chock full of parts that are no longer needed. Examples if parts that are or were considered vestigial are things like the coccyx (better known as the tail-bone), the eyebrows, the appendix, and the thymus (a gland just under your breast-bone). In many cases, these organs are routinely removed as one can live without them.
Of course, from a Christian worldview, evolution is simply a bunch of rhetoric designed to explain the remarkable design all around us (and in us) without having to bow down to an almighty God who created all things. Further, vestigial organs aren’t. The coccyx exists not because we used to have a tail; it exists because it is a point of attachment for ligaments which connect and support the pelvis. The eyebrows protect and shade the eyes, the appendix is part of the immune system as is the thymus. For a more in-depth discussion of how vestigial organs aren’t vestigial, might I commend the book by Dr. Jerry Bergman and Dr. George Howe, entitled “Vestigial Organs” Are Fully Functional.
The idea of vestigial organs, though, struck me in the terms of how some people approach the church and its membership. The Apostle Paul used the analogy of the church being the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. Like a human body, Paul writes, the body of Christ has many parts. No single part is more significant than the other, there are no vestigial parts, and each part needs the function worked by the other parts of the body. True, the body can live without some of the parts, but the body was designed by God to have each part to be whole.
The real question that needs to be asked is not so much whether the parts are necessary; all of the parts of the body are necessary for the body to be whole. Instead, we should be asking first, whether certain members really are true members of the body and second, if they are members of the body, are they diseased in such a way that treatment (minor or serious) needs to be applied.
Think about the effect that a foreign body has when it is trapped as part of the human body. It hurts, it causes infection, and it typically does more damage than good. When my wife and I first got married, we bought an old farmhouse with hardwood floors. As a whole the floors were in pretty good shape but they were in need of refinishing, though that was a low priority given the renovations we needed to make. In the summers, I pretty much live in bare feet and one day caught a two-inch-long splinter from the floor into my foot. It was so heavily embedded that my wife had to get me a pair of pliers to pull it out. But, that is the point, I pulled it out. I don’t know which was more painful, getting stabbed by it or removing it, but nevertheless, leaving it in was not an option. It did not belong in my foot, it was not part of my natural body, and even though my body would have likely built up scar tissue around it over time, leaving it in was an invitation for future disease and problems.
The Scriptures are filled with references to anti-christs in our mist. These are people that become part of the visible church for a season but then leave behind the teachings of the one true church and begin making their own way. Sometimes they leave the church but often they remain (especially in our culture where most churches take an “anything goes” approach to membership). Like that splinter, they are a foreign body in the midst of the true body and that does not belong.
The Scriptures are also filled with references as to what a true Christian is to look like. Jesus tells us to judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20) and that we should be careful lest we be led astray (Luke 21:8). John tells us to examine every spirit to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). Peter reminds us to beware of false prophets that bring in heresies that destroy (2 Peter 2:1). Paul tells us to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:1) and that the children of light seek to discern what is pleasing to God (Ephesians 5:8-10). Solomon warns that those who are prudent examine that which they are told (Proverbs 14:15). Even Moses commands that if there are dreamers and prophets telling the people that they need not fear God or obey his commands, that they should not be listed to, but should be put to death so as that they will not mislead any in the body (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
It is true that only God knows the heart of man (1 Samuel 16:7), but God gives us many indications as to how a true believer is to live. Shall we not examine the life of someone before we acknowledge them as a true believer? Shall we not take time to instruct rather than rushing people onto the rolls of our church just so that we can brag about numbers? Shall we not intentionally look at the fruit of a person’s life and ask the question as to whether someone walks in the Fruit of the Spirit or in the Works of the Flesh (Galatians 5:16-26)? Shall we not take pains to examine the body before we approach the Sacrament of the Lord’s Table so that harm may not come to both individual and congregation (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)?
But what of a diseased body part? Indeed, in many cases, parts of the human body are removed due to infection and disease. And, in some ways, the Christian church works that through the process of church discipline. Jesus lays out very clearly the manner in which the church is to discipline its members (Matthew 18:15-20). At times, this is more minor. One person goes to speak with someone engaged in a sinful practice, the person repents, and fellowship is restored. The loving admonition of a faithful brother or sister in faith is the penicillin of the church body.
Sometimes, though, the disease of sin is more persistent and is not constrained to a localized area. When the first admonition is rejected, another admonition is given (again in love and seeking repentance and reconciliation), and this time with one or two witnesses. Here is the presence of a stronger dose of antibiotics or perhaps the hands of a skilled surgeon working to restore function in a body part. And, if the person repents, the disease can be either killed or driven into permanent remission.
Yet, sometimes the disease is more deeply rooted still like a stubborn cancer that is seeking to spread. Thus, the appeal is made to the church. In the case of most Reformed circles, that is understood to be an outworking of the role of the Pastor and Elders. Where again the sin is confronted with the authority of the Word of God and the authority of the Overseers of the congregation. If sin (again) is not repented of, the person is to be put out of the body, just as one would remove a cancerous tumor. It would be hoped that the absence of the body will drive a person to repent, though very often, because it needed to go this far in the process, it became clear that the person was never a true member of the body — one who genuinely feared the Lord and sought to be obedient to the Word. Here is the dreaded word, “excommunication,” which is simply the pronouncement by the authorities of the church that a person is not a genuine believer and thus is not in communion with the body.
Yet, even still, such members are not truly “vestigial.” To be vestigial, they would have to have once been a part of the body. Yet, they weren’t truly ever a part of the body (1 John 2:19). They might have departed from the visible church, but they were never part of the invisible church — they were never actually a part of the body.
Thanksgiving and Ordering our Way
“You shall understand this, ones who forget God, lest I tear you and there be nothing to deliver: he glorifies me who makes a sacrifice of thanksgiving and who orders his way; I will show him the salvation of God.
It comes across as a broken record, but lest we forget the significance of this psalm for us today, recall that these words are spoken to God’s covenant people — not to the pagans. Yet, God calls his own, “those who forget God.” How have they forgotten God? As we have seen, they are going through the motions of sacrifice and ritual but their hearts and their lives to not reflect their devotion to the one they claim to serve and their actions look like the actions of the pagans.
How appropriate these words are for the church as well. How often the church behaves as if they do not believe that God exists. How often non-believers in our communities act with more compassion and morality than folks in the church? How often the old axiom is true that the Church kills its wounded rather than caring for them. How often it is that the conservative church rightly protects its doctrine and utterly neglects living that doctrine out in life. How often the people of God behave more like goats than sheep.
And so, God issues a warning in these final verses of the psalm. Do this, he says, lest you be torn to shreds and there be nothing left of you to redeem — fearful words spoken by God on high. They are a reminder of the unfaithful prophet who was not to eat or drink in Israel yet disobeyed (see 1 Kings 13) or of the young boys who mocked Elisha (see 2 Kings 2:23-25) and it is also a reminder of the punishment for failing to fulfill the covenant (Genesis 15:7-11) — that is, one’s life be forfeit. God is saying that if your life does not reflect these two things that you are an imposter amongst the people of God’s grace and are thus deserving of death for your wickedness. Ought then we not pay close attention to what these two things are?
What are those two things? We are called to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving and to order our ways. The latter command is the more obvious of the two. How do we order our ways but than by obedience to the law of God. Of what is our sacrifice of thanksgiving? While the book of Leviticus does prescribe thanksgiving offerings (see Leviticus 7:12-15; 22:29), more often than not, especially once we are in the New Testament context where altar sacrifices have been abolished by the sacrifice of Christ, you find the sacrifice of thanksgiving in the context of giving God praise. And thus, twice in this psalm we are called to praise God with thanksgiving as well as in Psalm 107:22 and in Psalm 116:17. Jonah too, speaks of making a sacrifice of thanksgiving with his voice (Jonah 2:9) and thus the author of Hebrews instructs us that we are to offer a sacrifice of praise as the fruit of our lips (Hebrews 13:15).
The question with which we are left then, is, “Are we doing those two things?” And recognize that this is a question to be posed to the church as a whole. Are we doing that both individually and corporately. And if not, then shall we repent? If we are the true church, we will.
The Church Oppressed and Subjugated
“And the nose of Yahweh burned against Israel and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Sons of Amon. They subjugated and oppressed the Sons of Israel in that year — even for eighteen years all of the Sons of Israel who are beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is Gilead. And the Sons of Amon crossed the Jordan to also wage war in Judah and in Benjamin and in the house of Ephriam. And Israel was enveloped.”
Just as the idolatry of the people during this cycle was excessive, so is the punishment of the people. God brings down the Philistines from the north, the Amorites from the north-east, and the Amonites from the east to subjugate and oppress Israel, this time for 18 years. And so, for nearly as many years as Jair had brought peace to the land, now there is oppression and misery. And why? God’s people had turned from serving their God to serve the gods of the pagan nations. And, if there is one thing that makes God angry, this, my friends, is it.
While the anger of God toward sin is always justified, the patience of God toward our sin never is — but is given entirely as a matter of God’s grace. He suffers long with his people so that when we do fall into sin for which discipline is necessary, we are left without excuse. And indeed that can be said of the people of Israel.
What is sad is that as I look over the landscape of the church in the west, I find myself wondering whether we are not in exactly the same situation and whether we are overdue for judgment and even wrath. Many times people like to apply this in the context of nations, and I agree that there is a place for that, but it is in the life of Christ’s church that God has deemed proper to work. Yet, when the church imports pagan ideas, tolerates practices that are contrary to the Bible, and condones human invention rather than divine decree, what else should we expect but the hand of God to bring discipline?
How often the church remains silent when it comes to matters of truth. It does not matter the reasons why. It might be done in the name of ecumenicity, tolerance, courtesy, tolerance, liberty, or plurality, but all of these things are the idols of the nations. If we genuinely believe our Bibles that God is the God of the heavens, that he created all things, and that he alone is God, then why put up with such nonsense? And if we really believe that it is under the name of Christ alone that we can be saved from eternal judgment, why would we not tell others and proclaim it from the mountaintops no matter the costs? We too (as the church) are worthy of the judgment of God and the oppression of the pagan nations, and I think that this is what it is that we are seeing as people from our congregations are fleeing to the Synagogues of Satan in our midst where their ears can be tickled and their lusts for entertainment can be slaked. What is the solution? Truth and truth without compromise. Will we champion that? Can we do anything other?
A Meal-Ticket or A Ministry?
“On one hand, there are some who proclaim Christ from jealousy and contention while others do so in good will; the latter from love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel; the former preach Christ out of contention, not genuinely, intending tribulation to arise while I am in my chains.”
At the first reading of these words, it would be natural to be shocked at what it is Paul is saying. Indeed, there are some people who, being jealous of the attention that Paul is getting, begin preaching Christ…not with any sincerity, but in the hopes that they will bring Paul grief while he is imprisoned and can do nothing to stop them. Surely this must not be the case! Are there some who are so wicked and brazen that they would do such a thing? The sad thing is that there were such people in Paul’s day and there still are such people today, who use the pulpit and the ministry to serve their own ends and care nothing about the state of Christ’s church.
So, how does Paul react to that? Does he rail against those who preach ingenuously? No, he doesn’t, but we will get to that. God is indeed clear that he has a judgment awaiting those who are shepherds who are only interested in feeding themselves (see Ezekiel 34 and Jude). And, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:9; Hebrews 10:30). God will bring judgment and great will be their fall, we need not fret over the end of the wicked.
At the same time, it should grieve us that there are so many in our world today that would make the Gospel their meal-ticket rather than a ministry. Even mores, it ought to grieve us that so many people would be so ignorant of the teachings of scripture that they would fall into such traps…people desperate to have their “ears itched” instead of being instructed in the Word of Truth. May we pray for a generation that will be so committed to the scriptures that they would see through the thin veneer of the prosperity gospel, the liberal gospel, and the heretical teaching that such contentious preachers would find no welcome in our communities. May God’s word be lifted up, not the greed or pride of men.