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Is Your Faith Radical?

May 31, 2012 1 comment

In his book Radical, Dr. David Platt, pastor at The Church at Brook Hills asks us Christians a sobering question: “Is your faith radical?” Radical faith, in Dr. Platt’s words, is “radical abandonment to Jesus” (3). Drawing from the parable of the hidden treasure in Matthew 13:45-46, Dr. Platt explains further,

This is the picture of Jesus in the gospel. He is something–someone–worth losing everything for. And if we walk away from the Jesus of the gospel, we walk away from eternal riches. The cost of nondiscipleship is profoundly greater than the cost of discipleship. For when we abandon the trinkets of this world and respond to the radical invitation of Jesus, we discover the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing him. (18)

And over the next eight chapters, Dr. Platt explores what this radical abandonment looks like in our daily lives. In chapter two, Dr. Platt develops the idea that radical faith hungers for God’s Word and the gospel it contains. It is as Peter commands in 1 Peter 2:2-3, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk [which is God’s word; cf. 1:23-25], that by it you may grow up into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” As Peter explains in these verses, true Christians–those who are abandoned to Jesus as Dr. Platt said in chapter one–are those who long for God’s word with a hunger that is “too hungry for words” (23). Consequently, one of the aspects of Dr. Platt’s “radical experiment” in chapter nine is a challenge to read through the entire Bible in a year. Dr. Platt writes, “Contemplate what you might know about the glory of God after a year of listening closely to his voice” (213). The Casting Crowns song, “To Know You” speaks true when it says, “To know You is to want to know You more.” Seeing God’s glory in the Bible only makes us want to see more of his glory.

Chapters three through eight focus on the other aspects of Dr. Platt’s “radical experiment.” In those chapters he explains the Scriptural basis for the other aspects of his challenge: to pray for the entire world, to give sacrificially and specifically, and to commit to (and then serve actively in) a local church. In chapter three, Dr. Platt emphasizes the importance on relying on God’s grace: we must not be “dependent on ourselves”; rather, we must be “dependent on His Spirit” (48). Why? Because God’s power is infinitely superior than ours.

The church I lead could have the least gifted people, the least talented people, the fewest leaders, and the least money, and this church under the power of the Holy Spirit could still shake the nations for his glory. The reality is that the church I lead can accomplish more during the next month in the power of God’s Spirit than we can in the next hundred years apart from his provision. His power is so superior to ours. (54)

If chapter three explains the how of the radical experiment, chapter four explains the why: “God blesses his people with extravagant grace so they might extend his extravagant glory to all peoples on the earth” (69). Taken together, chapters three and four provide the background to Dr. Platt’s challenge in chapter nine to “pray for the entire world” over the next year (185). (One free resource Dr. Platt mentioned in discussing this challenge is Operation World.)

Chapter five presents Dr. Platt’s discussion of why church involvement is so important and what true church involvement looks like. In his words,

Being a part of a community of faith involves being exposed to the life of Christ in others. Just as we identified with Christ and his church in baptism, we now share life in Christ with one another. So to whom can you deliberately, intentionally, and sacrificially show the love of Christ in this way? This is foundational in making disciples, and we will multiply the gospel only when we allow others to get close enough to us to see the life of Christ in action. (98-99)

Church life isn’t just attending worship services and Bible studies; it is “encouraging one another,” as we read in Hebrews 10:25. It is being involved in one another’s lives. As Dr. Platt elaborates in chapter nine while challenging us to be a committed member in a local community of believers,

If we are going to live in radical obedience to Christ, we will need the church to do it. …The global purpose of Christ was never intended to be accomplished by individuals. We are a global people whose family spans the nations. So first and foremost, I encourage you to be done with church hopping and shopping in a me-centered cultural milieu and to commit your life to a people who need you and whom you need. (206)

Chapters six and seven present the enormity of global poverty (both monetary and spiritual) and the urgency with which Christians must go to the poor of this world and share the gospel, the good news, of Jesus with them. Consider God’s word in James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” This verse seems to be in the back of Dr. Platt’s mind in these two chapters. As we read in Psalm 68:5, God is the “Father of the fatherless and [the] protector of widows.” This fatherly love of God for the Father is our motivation as Christians “to visit orphans and widows” and other suffering people “in their affliction,” and by “visit” James means “reaching out in loving caring service” to afflicted orphans, widows, and all underprivileged, suffering people.

This global poverty is one reason why Dr. Platt urges Christians in his “radical experiment” to “pray for the entire world” and “sacrifice your money for a specific purpose” (185). And as he writes in chapter seven, “We have the gospel of Christ in us, and we do not have time to waste” (159). Apart from faith in Christ, no one is saved (Jn. 14:6). And Jesus has commanded all Christians to share the gospel, making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). Therefore it is both the responsibility and the privilege of us Christians to share the gospel with others, or, as Dr. Platt expresses it, “spend time in another context” (185).

Chapter eight serves as a fitting conclusion to the whole book. In that chapter, Dr. Platt keys in on Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in Matthew 10 and applies Jesus’ words to Christians today. Dr. Platt highlights the examples of John Paton, Jim Elliott, and C. T. Studd from church history to “illustrate one fundamental truth: your life is free to be radical when you see death as a reward” (179).

All in all, Radical was a great book. I agree with many of Kevin DeYoung’s cautions to those who read Radical (and also his hearty commendation of both the book and its author, David Platt!), but I do feel that DeYoung’s comment, “we are made to feel bad for the money we spend on french fries (108)” is unwarranted. The quote DeYoung is alluding to actually reads,

Today more than a billion people in the world live and die in desperate poverty. They attempt to survive on less than a dollar per day. Close to two billion others live on less than two dollars per day. That’s nearly half the world struggling to find food, water, and shelter with the same amount of money I spend on french fries for lunch.

Dr. Platt doesn’t seem to be intending for this quote to make Christians “feel bad”; in fact, in his response to Kevin, he clarifies that his french fry comment (and others like it!) was “not intended to promote guilt-driven obedience. Instead, my goal is simply to help open our eyes to realities in the world that we would rather ignore and to call us to look at those realities through the eyes of the One who “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9; p. 113 in Radical).”

Admittedly, I wish that we could change the “radical” terminologyand I agree also with DeYoung that Dr. Platt would have included more exegesis to ground his many exhortations in the book. But on the whole, I believe that Radical was an edifying and challenging read for me. I eagerly anticipate starting the small group class this Sunday evening at Calvary (5:30-6:30) doing the Radical small group study published by NavPress.

My advice to future readers of Radical? Read it prayerfully and open to the Holy Spirit applying the Scripture therein to your life. Be ready to have your appetite for more of God’s Word whetted. But read with discernment. You may not agree with EVERYTHING Dr. Platt writes (I didn’t), but you’ll probably agree with the vast majority of it (I did!).

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Honor Those Who Give Their All for Christ

May 23, 2012 1 comment

After giving the Philippians a further incentive to persevere in their faith by promising to send Timothy to them, Paul then mentions a second Christian who exemplifies how Christians should live: Epaphroditus. Paul plans to send Timothy in the near future, but presently he sends Epaphroditus with this letter back to the Philippians. Paul’s instruction to the Philippians concerning Epaphroditus is to receive him with joy, honoring him and others who give their all for Christ.

The backstory

Verse 25 tells us that Epaphroditus is a trusted friend of Paul: Epaphroditus is Paul’s “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier.” That he is Paul’s brother identifies Epaphroditus as a fellow Christian. That Epaphroditus is Paul’s fellow worker identifies him as someone who works to advance the gospel. (The designation”fellow worker” places Epaphroditus on the same level as Timothy [1 Thess. 3:2], Mark, Luke [Philem. 24], and others.) That Epaphroditus is Paul’s fellow soldier indicates that Epaphroditus has suffered for the gospel.

Specifically, Epaphroditus has suffered by being “ill, near to death” (v. 27). Epaphroditus was the Philippians’ “messenger and minister” to Paul. He was the one who had delivered the Philippians’ “gifts” to Paul (4:18). And along the way, Epaphroditus had “nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life” to get the Philippians’ gift to Paul (2:30).

The reasons to send Epaphroditus now

There are three reasons to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians immediately. The first is because “he [Epaphroditus] has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (v. 26). Epaphroditus wants to be back home with his fellow church members, those brothers and sisters in Christ to whom he was closest. He doesn’t want them to continue to be “distressed” on account of his illness: “God had mercy on him,” and he is better (v. 27)! Epaphroditus loves his fellow believers and wants to be reunited with them.

The second reason to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians is so that they “may rejoice at seeing him again” (v. 28). Since the Philippians are concerned for Epaphroditus’s wellbeing, seeing him alive and well would certainly give them great joy!

The final reason to send Epaphroditus back is so that Paul “may be less anxious” (v. 28). Don’t forget that when God had mercy on Epaphroditus, he had mercy “not only on him but on me [Paul] also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (v. 27). Paul is glad that Epaphroditus is better, and he wants to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians so that he “may be less anxious” (v. 28). What is Paul anxious about? He is anxious about the Philippians’ growth in holiness, Christlikeness. Remember that one of the reasons why Paul wanted the Philippians to work out what God was working in them was “so that in the day of Christ I [Paul] may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (2:16). Paul is concerned with the Philippians’ holiness, and that is also why he was sending Timothy later: after Epaphroditus delivers this letter back to the Philippians, Paul was sure that he would be “cheered by news of you [Philippians],” news of their obedience to Paul’s letter, upon Timothy’s return to him (v. 19). So the final (perhaps ultimate) reason for sending Epaphroditus now was for Paul’s letter to reach the Philippians so as to help them grow in the faith.

The appropriate response to Epaphroditus’s return

Concerning Epaphroditus’s return to Philippi, Paul instructs the Philippians to “rejoice at seeing him” (v. 28). They are to “receive him in the Lord with all joy” (v. 29). Because the Philippians love Epaphroditus as a brother in the Lord Jesus, they are to “receive him in the Lord with all joy and honor such men.”

And therein lies the application for us today: there are Epaphroditus-es among us. We all know someone in our church who gives their all for Christ. Maybe, like Epaphroditus, they push themselves so hard that they are ill. Not many people today, at least in American churches, “nearly die for the work of Christ,” but do believers not still “risk their lives” (at least insofar as their reputations) today to serve fellow Christians, as Epaphroditus risked it all to serve Paul? Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40; whatever we do to any “of the least of these [Jesus’] brothers,” we do to Jesus himself. To humble ourselves before other believers and serve them, to unite with fellow Christians in the church even when we don’t have a perfect relationship with them, that is the “giving your all” for Christ that Paul is talking about. This is what denying yourself and taking up the cross daily looks like. And Paul tells us, today, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit who indwells us Christians, today, to honor those Christians who give their all for Christ by receiving them with joy and thus loving them in the Lord.

I first preached these verses in a sermon along with Philippians 2:19-24. You can listen to the sermon here.

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