Whether in Pretense or in Truth, Christ is Proclaimed

Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will;  the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. –Philippians 1:15–18 (NASB)

I came across this video about nine years ago. At that time, I was in the mood for pointing out heretics who wandered around the modern church as if they belonged there. So, when I saw this video, it was easy to identify what Billy Graham says as heretical. There are, of course, two sides to every story. I could point you to thousands of videos (like this one) where Graham proclaims the true gospel.

So, while the nation mourns his death and recognizes the impact he has had on our culture, it behooves us to remember (and I think Graham would appreciate this) that Billy Graham was just a man . . . an imperfect man who may have strayed in his old age . . . but a man through whom God called lost sheep into the kingdom.

Billy Graham and I would have disagreed on many issues. It would have been difficult for us to find much common ground, but that does not change the fact that God most certainly used him to further God’s kingdom. Because of that, I choose to agree with the Apostle Paul and rejoice any time Christ is proclaimed . . . even if the one proclaiming him does so in ways and for reasons that I cannot accept.

There are countless preachers out there who proclaim Christ for selfish motives, out of envy and strife, and in pretense. What then I am to make of them? The bottom line . . . if Christ is proclaimed, in this I will rejoice.

In What Does God Delight?

The following is an excerpt from a sermon preached by Pastor Jason from Galatians 1:10 at TRBC on February 18, 2018 titled “The Pleasure of God.” The full audio of the sermon can be found here.

So, the question at hand is . . . in what does God delight? In what does he take pleasure? What is it that pleases God the most by giving him maximum pleasure, maximum delight and satisfaction and fullest joy?

In order to answer that question, we have to step outside of ourselves. We have to remove ourselves and every other created thing from the equation. A little later we will want to know what we can do that pleases God; but in order to reach that point, we have to consider the question from a perspective that removes all the noise of the created realm . . . because it is too easy to look at the world around us and say, “Well, that over there pleases God, and this thing over here doesn’t.” But if that is our perspective and we only see God in light of what he has created, then we conceive of him as infinitely smaller than he really is.

We have to consider the question from a perspective outside of the created realm. We have to travel in our minds to a place where the created realm does not exist, where it has not yet been created. We have to go to the place where God is the only thing that exists and ask what it is in that place that God delights in. We have to conceive of God in the time and place when and where he has not created anything and ask what it is, in that place, in which he takes pleasure.

Scripture answers this question for us on numerous equations. We are going to observe a handful of them.

Isaiah 42:1, “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.”

Isaiah 53:10–11, “But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.”

Ps 22:8 (My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?), “Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”

Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22, “and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’”

Matt 12:18 (quoting Isa 42:1), “Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased.”

Matt 17:5 (transfiguration), “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!’”

2 Pet 1:17 (Peter’s reference to the transfiguration), “For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.’”

Galatians 1:15–16, “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me.”

Colossians 1:19, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”

Scripture is clear in its claim that God is satisfied, takes pleasure and delight in, the Son. Before God created anything, he beheld the image of himself in the Second Person of the Trinity and experienced infinite satisfaction, pleasure, and delight to a degree that cannot be improved upon. God delights in himself as he beholds the image of himself in the Son.

Consider for a moment what this says about the worth of the Son. God, with his infinite capacity for delight, beholds the Son and delights in him. Jesus Christ is so delightful that he is able to delight the perfect, eternal, amazing God. If Jesus Christ can fill God with delight, then surely the hearts of God’s people can be not only filled but overwhelmed with the same delight.

A Spiritual Disease

Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. –Ps 19:12 (NASB)

In Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, Jonathan Edwards describes the most hidden, and therefore most dangerous, of all sins . . . spiritual pride. He describes it as “the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of religion” and says that it is most dangerous because it is undetectable to the person who suffers from it. The man who thinks too highly of himself is not apt to think that he thinks too highly of himself. Thus, spiritual pride goes undetected in the heart of the spiritually proud. It is a disease that spreads undiagnosed, infecting all other areas of life.

Yet, if the disease is to be cured, it must be diagnosed. The secrecy of this disease, though, makes its diagnosis difficult. However, there are, according to Edwards, ways of exposing spiritual pride–namely, observing its fruits or effects. Edwards goes on to identify seven effects of spiritual pride that can be observed in those who are infected with the disease.

  1. The spiritually proud are eager to find fault in others. Edwards says, “The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints, that they are low in grace and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are and being quick to discern and take notice of their deficiencies.” In contrast, the humble person has enough fault of his own with which to deal that he has no time to get involved in pointing out the faults of others.
  2. The spiritually proud speak of other saints and their shortcomings harshly. Edwards says that they “speak of almost everything that they see amiss in others in the most harsh, severe, and terrible language.” Then, they justify their harshness as “they look upon it as a virtue and high attainment thus to behave themselves. ‘Oh,’ say they, ‘we must be plain-hearted and bold for Christ, we must declare war against sin wherever we see it, we must not mince the matter in the cause of God and when speaking for Christ.’” Claiming to speak for Christ is merely the way they deceive themselves into believing that their harsh treatment of others is somehow pleasing in the eyes of God. In contrast, according to Edwards, “Christians who are but fellow-worms ought at least to treat one another with as much humility and gentleness as Christ, who is infinitely above them, treats them.”
  3. The spiritually proud set themselves up to be viewed as distinguished. In the words of Edwards, “Spiritual pride commonly occasions a certain stiffness and inflexibility in persons in their own judgment and their own ways.” They push their own will and opinion with no regard to the opinion of their fellows. “Spiritual pride disposes persons to affect separation, to stand at a distance from others as being better than they and loves the show and appearance of the distinction.” The humble, though, “is ready to pay deference to others’ opinions, loves to comply with their inclinations, and has a heart that is tender and flexible like a little child.”
  4. The spiritually proud take notice of opposition and often speak of injuries received with bitterness and contempt. The meekness of Christ as a lamb before its shearers is absent in the spiritually proud. They notice the wrongs done to them and are quick to decry any opposition.
  5. The spiritually proud have an un-suitable self-confidence before God and men. They are happy to declare their blood-earned place before God, but they fail to do so with reverence and awe. “They have not rejoiced with a reverential trembling, in a proper sense of the awful majesty of God and the awful distance between him and them.” Such boldness also seeps into their interaction with men as though it became them “to divest themselves of all manner of shamefacedness, modesty, or reverence towards man.”
  6. The spiritually proud behave in ways that make them the focus of others, as though they deserved to be in the forefront of everyone else’s mind just as they are in their own minds. They gladly take all the respect that is given them. Edwards pointedly describes such a man this way, “He is apt to think that it belongs to him to speak and to clothe himself with a judicial and dogmatical air in conversation and to take it upon him, as what belongs to him, to give forth his sentence and to determine and decide . . . [He] is more apt to instruct others than to inquire for himself and naturally puts on the airs of a master.” The humble Christian, on the other hand, prefers to honor others and is quick to hear and slow to speak. “The eminently humble Christian thinks he wants help from everybody, whereas he that is spiritually proud thinks that everybody wants his help.”
  7. Lastly, the spiritually proud treat others with neglect and contempt, viewing them as having nothing to offer. The humble man, though, is eager to condescend even to the most simple minded, engaging with him in discourse . . . always remembering how much further Christ condescended to engage with him.

I doubt there is a Christian alive who does not exhibit at least one of these effects. If one looks in the mirror objectively, surely one of these effects can be observed. And if one is observed, how much more of this wretched disease remains hidden? No wonder David prayed, “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.”

The full text of Edwards’ Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England can be found here. A condensed version of the section on spiritual pride can be found here.

Leviticus 19:28 and Tattoos as an Illustration of the Law’s Application Under the New Covenant

The following is an excerpt from a paper written by Pastor Jason on tattoos and the New Covenant.

The tattoo industry in the United States brings in an estimated one billion dollars in annual revenue.[1] A recent Fox News poll reveals that 20 percent of those questioned have at least one tattoo. What is interesting about this poll is that the number does not change among white, evangelical Christians, 18 percent of whom have at least one tattoo.[2] Permanently marking the body with ink is no longer a practice reserved for the rebels of society. The practice has made its way into the pews on Sunday morning. How should the church respond to this in light of the prohibition against tattoos found in Leviticus 19:28?

Concerning the application of this law, is there a direct one to one correlation from the Mosaic Covenant to the New Covenant? Is there no direct correlation but maybe a principle that can be derived from the law and applied within the New Covenant, or has the law been completely abrogated with no application whatsoever in the New Covenant?

The historical three-part division of the Mosaic Law between moral, civil, and ceremonial may be of some use here. If it can be determined into which category the prohibition against tattoos falls and if it can be determined whether that category of law is still binding within the New Covenant, then it would be easy to determine how the law applies in a New Covenant context. However, as Poythress points out, this is not a failsafe method as it poses two serious problems. First, how can one know with a sufficient degree of certainty in which category this law belongs? Second, simply assigning the law a category that is either binding or non-binding may miss the entire point of the law.[3]

As for the first concern, how can one determine this law’s category? The law is probably not civil as it carries no sanctions and does not deal with any wrong done by one man against another. While some may be eager to cast it into the ceremonial category, distinguishing this law as ceremonial from moral cannot be done based exclusively on the biblical text. This law is surrounded by other laws in Leviticus 19 that certainly include both categories. Stealing and swearing falsely by the name of God are forbidden in verses 11–12. Sexual sins are referenced in verses 20 and 29. Clearly ceremonial laws related to peace offerings and guilt offerings are found in verses 5 and 22. The entire chapter is a collection of both moral and ceremonial laws with no apparent literary distinction between the two categories.

In addition, the prohibition against tattoos does not appear anywhere else in the Old Testament. The command to not cut the body or shave the head for the dead is repeated in Deuteronomy 14:1, but tattooing is not mentioned. The law is not repeated or quoted in the New Testament either. Since it is not specifically abrogated in the New Testament, some would argue that the law must be moral and still apply in the same manner as when it was given. Others would argue that the law must not apply today because it is not specifically continued in the New Testament. While one side may have a higher degree of certainty than the other, definitively assigning this law to one category or the other is a lofty goal that is ultimately unachievable.

Even if one could determine the category in which this law belongs, that may lead the interpreter to miss God’s primary purpose for giving the law. If not tattooing is a moral law, then the interpreter simply concludes that the law must still apply, but he does not learn why it is immoral to mark the body with ink. Similarly, if not tattooing is merely ceremonial, then the interpreter concludes that the law no longer applies and that Christians are free to tattoo themselves, but he never learns why Israel was forbidden from tattooing. While the traditional three-part division of the law may be helpful in some cases, it does not answer every question and falls short of uncovering the primary meaning of the law.

Poythress offers an alternative approach that solves both problems. He rebukes the dichotomy between continuity and discontinuity concerning the relationship of the covenants and instead argues that the interpreter must recognize that there are both continuity and discontinuity with every law.[4] If Jesus is right and the Old Testament testifies about him, then there is most certainly continuity from the Old Testament to the New Testament. On the other hand, if Israel received and applied the laws in a unique historical and cultural context, as is even true of the Ten Commandments,[5] then there is some level of discontinuity from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The job of the interpreter is to determine the degrees of continuity and discontinuity with each law.

Poythress’ alternative approach assumes that there is a general principle in each law that is continuous between the Old and New Testaments. In order find the line between continuity and discontinuity in a particular law, he says the interpreter must “start at the most general level”[6] and then work his way down to the particular context in which that general principle is applied in the text. As the interpreter descends from the general principle to the specific context in which that principle is applied, he will uncover the line between continuity and discontinuity and then be able to determine the way in which the law is to be applied in a New Covenant context.

So, what is the general principle of the law against tattooing? Israel would understand the principle of this law to be that they are not to participate in pagan religious practices. This general principle is applicable at Mt. Sinai and today. So, there is continuity. Just like Israel, the New Testament believer is to worship God alone. As one descends from this general principle to the precise application of the principle in Israel, tattooing is forbidden because it was part of the religious practice of the surrounding pagan nations. This is where the discontinuity is seen. Tattooing does not have the same meaning in a modern, New Covenant context as it does at Mt. Sinai.

With this information, the interpreter can see how tattooing in the Israelite context amounts to engaging in pagan religious practices, a violation of the general principle. At the same time, it can be seen how tattooing in the modern context does not necessarily amount to engaging in pagan religious practices and therefore does not inescapably violate the general principle. So, while tattooing is forbidden in Israel, it is not necessarily forbidden in the modern, New Covenant context.

However, the work of the interpreter is not yet done as the general principle must still be applied within the New Covenant. While it is not necessarily the case, the modern practice of tattooing could be associated with pagan religious practices. Tattoos that give praise or homage to the god of a modern false religion would certainly be banned under the general principle. In addition, tattoos that give homage to or identify the bearer with any idol, whether overtly religious in the modern sense or not, could also be banned under the general principle. This could include tattoos that identify the bearer with a gang, family, tribe, nation or other community or institution other than the church. Just because tattooing is not universally banned under the New Covenant does not mean that the Christian is free to bear any tattoo.

The general principle of Leviticus 19:28 is the same today as it was at Mt. Sinai. God’s people must worship him alone and not engage in pagan religious practices. The application of this principle in Israel prevented them from marking their bodies with tattoos. The same is not necessarily true today. While it is possible to bear a tattoo without engaging in pagan religious practice, the New Testament believer must remember that he is to identify with Christ and metaphorically wear his baptism and Christ-like behavior the way a pagan would wear a tattoo giving homage to his idol. If a Christian can bear a tattoo without hindering his identification with Christ in those two ways, then he may be free to bear that tattoo.

The Christian will do well, though, to keep in mind that Christ has purchased him. Christ has purchased all of him, body and soul, and everything the Christian does with his body and soul ought to be done for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Therefore, the Christian is not free to do whatever he pleases with his body. He must constantly ask how his behavior glorifies God, and asking this question prior to tattooing himself would be good and wise. If a Christian who identifies with Christ through his baptism and moral behavior wants a tattoo, can bear it without engaging in pagan religious practice, and the bearing of that tattoo legitimately gives glory to God, then he is by all means free to mark his body with that tattoo. If, however, these standards are not met, then the ban in Leviticus 19:28 still applies.

 

[1] “Tattoo Artists in the US: Market Research Report,” IBISWorld.com, last modified September, 2016, https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-trends/specialized-market-research-reports/consumer-goods-services/personal/tattoo-artists.html.

[2] Dana Blanton, “Fox News Poll: Tattoos aren’t just for rebels anymore” last modified March 14, 2014. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/03/14/fox-news-poll-tattoos-arent-just-for-rebels-anymore.html.

[3] Vern S. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1991).

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Ten Commandments begin with a reference to Israel being brought out of slavery in Egypt. The fifth commandment contains a promise of long life in the land. The tenth commandment refers to coveting a neighbor’s ox or donkey, items of property that were significant to Israel but not to modern Americans.

[6] Poythress, 338.

 

Marks of a False Teacher

Tim Challies has an article on the seven marks of a false teacher. While the only certain mark of a false teacher is that he teaches heresy, Challies’ insights are still quite useful. I encourage you to read his article for yourself, but I have compiled the list here as well along with my own commentary. Keep in mind, the concern is not about false teachers who are obviously false. Rather, the concern is with false teachers who pretend to be true teachers. Those are the ones for whom we must watch.

  1. False teachers are man pleasers. Unfortunately, this is also true of many true teachers, but the point is that false teachers are not interested in pleasing God. They are interested in pleasing men because they hope to get something from the men they please. Tertullus provides a perfect example when he addresses Felix at Paul’s hearing, “Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation,  we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing” (Acts 24:2–4; NASB). Tertullus is not interested in pleasing God in this scenario. He is only interested in pleasing Felix in order to achieve his desired outcome.
  2. False teachers bring their harshest criticism against God’s faithful servants. False teachers will often give you the names of the people to whom you should not listen, and the reason given is usually based in some kind of character attack. “Don’t listen to Jesus. He eats with sinners and tax collectors.” A modern equivalent would be, “Don’t listen to Rev. So-and-so. He went to XYZ Seminary.” When a false teacher attacks a true teacher, he attacks his character because the true teacher’s doctrine is above reproach. When a true teacher attacks a false teacher, he attacks his doctrine.
  3. False teachers expound their own wisdom rather than God’s wisdom. True teachers teach whatever is presented in scripture. False teachers teach whatever is presented in their own minds.
  4. False teachers ignore what is of greatest importance and instead focus on what is of less importance. They have a tendency to place greater emphasis on the passages with lower levels of exegetical certainty while overlooking the simple yet glorious message of the cross.
  5. False teachers mask their false doctrine with eloquent speech and impressive logic. Either by using complex arguments that go beyond the capacities of their audience or by veiling their weak arguments in vague language that presents as intellectually superior, false teachers depend on the strength of their own minds rather than the truths of God. False teachers have a tendency to take simple ideas and make them too complex for the average person to fully understand. In contrast, it is the job of true teachers to take complex ideas and communicate them in a way that can be understood by everyone.
  6. False teachers are far more concerned with winning others to their own opinions than they are in actually helping people understand the truths of God. Even if what they teach on a given day happens to be true, their goal is not to reveal truth but rather to accumulate people who prop them up by affirming their opinions.
  7. False teachers exploit their followers. They see their sheep as resources that are to be fleeced. False teachers want something from their audience. It could be money, approval, fame, praise, power, or just about anything else. The true teacher devotes himself to serving his flock. The false teacher devotes himself to manipulating his flock into serving him.

What is most frightening about this list is that true teachers often have these same traits. Challies’ point is that we should watch for these traits in others, with which I completely agree. However, I am compelled to apply the list to myself first. How many of these are true of me? I have to admit that I have been guilty of all seven at different times. Before I go pointing fingers at others (which I certainly can and should do at times), I should probably first hold myself to the standard by which I judge others.

As a teacher, once I have eradicated all of these traits from my life, then will I begin identifying them in others. Until then, I will embrace the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in my life while remaining on the lookout for that one definitive mark of a false teacher and avoiding it like the plague.

My, How Far We Have Come . . .

When comparing our current economic prosperity with that of the pilgrims and other colonists who suffered so much (think Roanoke and Jamestown) in the early days of the American experiment, the contrast is stark. What we call the First Thanksgiving was really just a harvest festival that was commonly celebrated in many parts of the world. When crops were harvested in the fall, it meant no one would starve to death during the winter . . . something for which thanks should be given. Today, though, most of us don’t even know where our food originates, and we have so much of it in our kitchens that we could probably last the winter without restocking.

In this sense, we have come a long way. We don’t have harvest celebrations anymore because we don’t have to worry about starving in the winter. Our economic prosperity has dwarfed what any other nation has ever seen throughout human history. This is a very good thing. Economic prosperity is a wonderful blessing for which we ought to be grateful.

In another sense, though, we have fallen so far. Thanksgiving has been celebrated off and on since the colonial days, with presidents issuing proclamations most years that it should be celebrated until Congress made it law in 1941. To see just how far we have fallen, look at what President Washington says in his proclamation in 1789.

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor . . . Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be . . . and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually” (Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789).

Who today agrees with Washington, that it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of God and to obey his will? Far from this, we don’t even recognize that nations have the right to acknowledge God and obey his will. In fact, we actively promote the opposite. Our government now defends its people’s “right” to ignore God and disobey his will. My, how far we have fallen!

Thanksgiving is still a holiday during which people give thanks, but the focus has gone from giving thanks to God to giving thanks for blessings. It’s a subtle shift that ultimately flaunts our society’s rejection of the Almighty by focussing on what we have rather than the God who has given it to us. So, this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to give thanks to God for the blessings he has bestowed and to take Washington’s advise and offer “prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”

Are We Dual Citizens?

But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?”

–Acts 22:25 (NASB)

When Paul is about to be flogged by the Roman centurion in Acts 22:25, he simply asks if it is lawful to treat an un-condemned citizen of Rome in such a manner. At first glance, I always wonder why Paul claims his Roman citizenship rather than his heavenly citizenship. Why doesn’t he say, “Is is lawful (or wise) for you to scourge an innocent apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ?” That question seems to carry a bit more eternal weight than what Paul actually says.

The problem with my thinking comes from the false presupposition that earthly citizenship and heavenly citizenship are in competition with each other . . . that ultimately the Christian has to decide which one he wants. Will he be a citizen of Rome or a citizen of heaven? Many countries today will allow a foreigner born within its borders to have dual citizenship (that of the country of his birth and that of his parents’ nationality) until he turns 18, at which point he must decide. Will he be a citizen of his parents’ country or of his birth country? The two are in competition with each other, and he must decide which one has more value to him.

However, we ought not think of our earthly and heavenly citizenship in the same way. Philippians 3:20 makes clear that the Christian has citizenship in heaven, but that does not negate his earthly citizenship and the rights and privileges that may come along with it. On the contrary, being a citizen of heaven enhances earthly citizenship in the same way that being a citizen of the United States enhances being a resident (citizen of a State) of Colorado. Being a resident carries certain rights and privileges; but residency is enhanced, or maybe I should say the experience of residency is enhanced, through the connection (citizenship) to the superior institution.

This is the way we ought to think of our earthly and heavenly citizenship. We have certain rights and privileges that are afforded us by our earthly citizenship; but our experience of those rights and privileges is enhanced when we recognize, through our heavenly citizenship, that all of the rights and privileges afforded us by the state are ultimately bestowed on us from God. The state is merely the conduit or instrument through which God grants those rights, whether the state acknowledges this fact or not. And just as a Colorado resident could appeal to his rights in the Colorado constitution without negating the superiority of the US constitution, so the Christian can appeal to his rights as an earthly citizen without negating the superiority of heaven over the state.

So, there is nothing odd about Paul’s appeal to his Roman citizenship because God is the one who has determined that it is unlawful for an un-condemned citizen of Rome to be scourged. In this sense, Paul’s appeal to his Roman citizenship is ultimately an appeal to God. The Christian’s two citizenships are designed to compliment one another, not to be in competition with one another.

Does Loving Those Who Are Like You Meet the Standard of “Love One Another”?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– John 13:34–35 NASB

The commandment to love yourself doesn’t appear in scripture. That you love yourself is assumed in “love your neighbor as yourself,” but it doesn’t require a command because it comes naturally to every human being. What does not come naturally is loving others, hence the command to love one another. It must be commanded because it does not happen naturally.

What falls somewhere between those two is loving others who are like you. This is not as natural as loving yourself, but it is certainly easier than loving others who are different. Loving those who are like you is easy because you naturally see yourself as lovable; and if someone else is like you, he must be somewhat lovable too. This may not be your conscience thought process, but it is what happens.

A friend of a friend of mine recently moved from the Denver area to Casper, WY and was asked how he liked his new location. He answered, “It’s great. Everyone looks like me and thinks like me.” It is easy to love people who remind you of yourself.

It’s easy to love people who are like you, and it’s easy to not love people who are different. What follows from this is that it is easy to accept people who are like you and easy to not accept people who are different. What is dangerous about this, though, is that we make ourselves the standard by which we measure other people. If they are like us, we accept them. If they are different, we easily reject them.

This kind of behavior might be forgivable on an elementary school playground, but the church is called to a much higher caliber of virtue than that of schoolyard clicks. Jesus tells his disciples that all men will know that they are his disciples because of the love they have for one another. These words must have only been for the 11 men (Judas had just left) sitting before Jesus that night because no man can recognize Christians as Christ’s disciples today based upon the love they have for one another. The world of the Protestant church has devolved into a massive playground, divided up into hundreds of clicks that refuse to associate with one another and instead stand around pointing fingers at the faults they see in everyone else.

We divide and judge each other over the age of the earth, the use of various Bible translations, the details of the time leading up to Christ’s return, the ordination of women, the structure of a church service, preaching style, our understanding of the gifts of the Spirit, church polity, whether we use the same terminology when discussing doctrine, the way we pray, the use of this or that confession or no confession at all. The list continues, but I think you get my point. It’s easy to love and accept people who are like us, and it’s easy to not love and accept people who are different.

Unfortunately, this falls well short of the biblical expectation. Christians are to love (and accept) one another . . . regardless of their differences. Charles Spurgeon understood this. His words are a slap in the face and an encouraging exhortation for those of us who judge others based upon how similar they are to us.

“Where the Spirit of God is there must be love, and if I have once known and recognized any man to be my brother in Christ Jesus, the love of Christ constraineth me no more to think of him as a stranger or foreigner, but a fellow citizen with the saints. Now I hate High Churchism as my soul hates Satan; but I love George Herbert, although George Herbert is a desperately High Churchman. I hate his High Churchism, but I love George Herbert from my very soul, and I have a warm corner in my heart for every man who is like him. Let me find a man who loves my Lord Jesus Christ as George Herbert did and I do not ask myself whether I shall love him or not; there is no room for question, for I cannot help myself; unless I can leave off loving Jesus Christ, I cannot cease loving those who love him” (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. XII, 6).

If Spurgeon is right, then there is something desperately wrong with the church today. If Spurgeon cannot help himself but to love the man who loves Jesus Christ (regardless of their differences on non-essential doctrines), if he cannot cease loving all those who love Jesus anymore than he can cease loving Jesus himself, then to cease loving those who love Jesus is to cease loving Jesus himself.

Here is the slap in the face . . . if we have ceased to love those who love Jesus, then Spurgeon says we have ceased to love Jesus. If that stings a little, good. It’s supposed to sting.

Here is the encouragement . . . it is possible to love and accept people who are different and at the same time not accept their non-essential beliefs. Presbyterians and baptists can love an accept one another without accepting the other’s view of baptism. Those who speak in tongues and cessationists can love and accept one another without adopting the other’s view of the gifts. It’s not easy. It doesn’t come naturally, but we aren’t little kids in the schoolyard who make fun of each other because of our differences. Christ has redeemed us to be more than that.

It’s time we change the standard by which we measure others in the church. We must abandon the standard of self. If someone is like you, great. If someone is different, so what? The standard we must use when extending love and acceptance to another person is the standard of Christ. If Christ loves and accepts the person, then we must do the same . . . no exceptions.

The Simple Answer is Glorious

I came across an article this morning titled Texas Church Shooting: God, Evil and a Senseless Act. My interest was peaked. What would Fox News have to say about the problem of evil in the wake of the senseless killing of 26 people in a church on Sunday morning? The article raised some good questions and pointed out that good things can come from bad events.

At the end, though, the author simply says, “I struggle to explain the “why” behind the senseless evil acts that we witness as human beings. Simple answers to complex questions are bound to be wrong.” I have to disagree. Simple answers do not have to be wrong; and in this case, the simple answer is glorious.

There are all sorts of reasons why bad things happen to good people. Augustine argues that good people become better when bad things happen to them. There is, however, one ultimately chief reason why suffering exists in the world. There is one reason why this world forces suffering upon those who live in it, especially upon those who do not deserve such suffering.

The ultimately chief reason why suffering and death exist in this world is so that Jesus Christ could come to this world and suffer and die. In order to demonstrate the glorious wonders of his grace, God came to the earth as a man and suffered and died; and in order to insure that he would suffer and die, God created a world that would be full of suffering and death.

A world without events like what happened in Sutherland Springs is a world unfit to serve as the stage on which God has demonstrated the glory of his grace through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. As horrible as those events are, a world without the death and subsequent resurrection of Christ is a world in which I would not want to live.

Why does evil exist? Evil exists so that Christ could suffer evil. So, every time we suffer evil, remember that we suffer momentarily because we live in a world that was designed to crucify the Son of God as a propitiation for the sins of man. Remember, also, that this world will pass and that all of these things will be put away in the world to come.