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Persevering Joy in Philippians 3:17-4:1

June 27, 2012 1 comment

Earlier this month, I posted my weblog commentary for Philippians 3:1-16. In those verses, the apostle Paul commanded his audience, and the Holy Spirit commands us today, to have a desperate joy in the Lord. We believers are to guard against false teachers’ deception (vv. 1-2), prize Christ above all (vv. 3-11), and strive for the goal of heaven (vv. 12-16). Paul continues to elaborate on practical expressions of joy in Philippians 3:17-4:1, which will be the focus of today’s post. In Philippians 3:17-4:1, we see that we as Christians are to have a persevering joy. We can organize Paul’s thought in these verses as follows:

  1. Exhortation: Imitate the joy of Paul and other trusted leaders (3:17).
    1. Negative Explanation: False believers have no hope (3:18-19).
    2. Positive Explanation: True believers have a sure hope (3:20-21).
  2. Exhortation: Persevere in your joy in the Lord (4:1).

Joy to Imitate

Paul’s joy is joy to be imitated. He should be imitated because he joyfully prizes Christ above all else (vv. 3-11) and thus guards against deception (vv. 1-2) and presses on toward heaven (vv. 12-16). In addition to imitating Paul, other trusted leaders are to be imitated, particularly “those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Paul and Timothy are the “us”; “those who walk according to [that] example” would include such people as Epaphroditus (2:25-30), along with “Clement and the rest of [Paul’s] fellow workers” (4:3).

Remember that Paul is not setting himself up, though, as a perfect example: he has not “already obtained” the resurrection; he is not “already perfect” (3:12). Paul is saying, in effect: “I am following the perfect example of Christ. Follow me in that same path as I walk it.” He gives us even more details in 4:9 when he commands, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things.” What had the Philippians learned, received, heard, and seen in Paul? Acts 16 records how Paul planted the Philippian church. The Philippian believers had seen Paul heal a demon-possessed slave (Acts 16:16-18) and how he and Silas were thrown in jail for doing so (vv. 19-24). They saw Paul’s jailer and his household come to faith in Christ and join the believers of that new church by baptism (vv. 25-34). Although we do not know how Paul “encouraged” the believers after his release from prison (v. 40), we get a picture of what the Philippians learned and received from Paul even in this letter, namely that they should rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 3:1). Paul thus reminds the Philippians in 3:17 to “join in imitating” him in his joy in the Lord.

Hope to Avoid

Verses 18 and 19 of Philippians 3 present Paul’s negative reason for commanding the Philippians to imitate him: “many … walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” (v. 18). These people are not Christians because “their end is destruction” (v. 19). Christians’ end is blissful eternity in the new heavens and the new earth with God. Revelation 21:27 promises that “only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life,” i.e., Christians, will enter eternal heaven. And Revelation 20:15 similarly promises that anyone whose name “was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

These people to whom Paul refers in vv. 18-19 are not Christians because they set their hope in vain things. These people are ruled by their appetites (“their god is their belly”). These people flaunt their sin (“they glory in their shame”). These people, in short, have their “minds set on earthly things.” These false believers are “many,” but though (or because!) they walk off a cliff into hell, Paul warns true believers not to hope in these vain things but to “join in imitating” his joy in the Lord.

Hope to Hold Onto

Indeed, this is Paul’s positive reason for his earlier command: “our citizenship is in heaven” (v. 20)! As Revelation makes clear, our names as believers are already written in the Lamb’s book of life! Our salvation is secure. We “await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” to return for us from heaven. We cling to the wonderful promise of the angels in Acts 1:11, which tells us: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Paul’s words here are similar to the encouragement the writer of Hebrews offers: “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (13:14). And that city does come, in Revelation 21 and 22.

But this eternal bliss in heaven is not merely spiritual; it is physical. When Jesus returns for his bride, the Church, he will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:21). Paul is here condensing his sustained argument in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

And the amazing thing is that our bodies will be like Jesus’ glorious body! The “redemption of our bodies,” for which we “groan inwardly” and “wait eagerly” will finally be accomplished by the Lord at his Second Coming (Rom. 8:23). This is a sure hope; this is a hope to hold onto. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15-17). What glorious hope! We shall be with the Lord, physically, in glorified and resurrected bodies, forever, throughout eternity, in the glorious New Jerusalem!

Joy in which to Persevere

“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Phil. 4:1). Paul comes full circle: imitating Paul’s joy is something to be done continually, something to persevere in. The warning to avoid vain hopes and the encouragement to maintain sure hope were reasons to imitate Paul (and his joy); now the warning and encouragement are reasons for persevering in that joy.

Why does Paul want the Philippians to persevere in joy? He “loves” them. He “longs for” them. They are his “joy and crown.” These are the reasons why Paul wants the Philippians to “stand firm thus in the Lord.” And they are to “stand firm” in the joy of hoping for the Lord’s return, for the redemption of their bodies, to the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. And this same hope is what we are to stand in today. We are to stand firm in the hope that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ could return for us from heaven at any moment. Don’t let your god be your belly, or glory in your shame, or set your mind on earthly things: this is how enemies of Jesus’ cross behave! Rather, persevere in joy by imitating Paul and standing firm in the hope that the Lord will return, as he promises in Revelation 22:12, “soon.”

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)

On Rightly Handling Scripture

June 26, 2012 Leave a comment

In preparing John 5:31-47 for tomorrow night’s youth Bible study class, God has been impressing me with the importance of reading Scripture respectfully. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” because “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16). As D. A. carson warns us in his commentary The Gospel According to John:

No independence is more arrogant and more delusive than religious independence, which reaches its tragic apogee when the central meaning of Scripture is perverted. (264)

Or as John Calvin so helpfully reminds us in his commentary on John’s Gospel:

Again, we are taught by this passage, that if we wish to obtain the knowledge of Christ, we must seek it from the Scriptures; for they who imagine whatever they choose concerning Christ will ultimately have nothing instead of him but a shadowy phantom. First, then, we ought to believe that Christ cannot be properly known in any other way than from the Scriptures; and if it be so, it follows that we ought to read the Scriptures with the express design of finding Christ in them. (218)

Let us also learn from it, that we ought not to glory in the Scriptures without a good reason; for if we do not honour the Son of God by the true obedience of faith, all whom God hath raised up to be his witnesses will rise up against us as accusers at the last day. (224)

The Bible is God’s Word. May God help me glorify him by handling it rightly, that is, respectfully.

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment

June 25, 2012 1 comment

James M. Hamilton Jr. God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. 640 pp.

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment by James M. Hamilton Jr. argues that the center of biblical theology, the main idea of all Scripture, is that God glorifies himself in salvation through judgment. He saves some by judging others, and this dual action of saving and judging gets him glory. It may seem odd to say that salvation comes through judgment, but Dr. Hamilton rightly notes:

When God judges, he enforces standards he himself has set, showing steadfast love to himself and the demands of his character. Further, when God judges, he shows steadfast love to his people. They are saved from their enemies when he judges those enemies. They are saved from their sins when God judges their sins. And they are saved from self-centered thinking when God’s judgment crashes in upon the idolatry of the self and crushes it. (54-55, emphasis original)

Furthermore,

salvation and judgment balance one another. The reality of salvation should likewise keep us from thinking of God in purely sentimental terms as though he were a grandfatherly buddy who just lets things go. The reality of salvation should likewise keep us from thinking of God as merely a terrifying, vengeful judge. Those who flee to him will be saved, but those who do not fear him will be judged. Paradoxically, it is the reality of his terrifying judgment that is meant to send us fleeing to him. (57)

Hamilton ably defends his central thesis throughout the remainder of the book, which he arranges canonically, by the order of the books of the Bible. Interestingly, Hamilton adopts a tripartite division for the Old Testament. Basing his argument upon such passages as Luke 24:44 and the evidence from Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, Hamilton addresses the Old Testament in the divisions of Law, Prophets, and Writings. Thus, Hamilton’s ordering of the OT as he progresses through it in this book is as follows (as in Table 1.2, p. 60):

  1. The Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy)
  2. The Prophets
    1. Former Prophets (Joshua-Judges, 1 Samuel-2 Kings)
    2. Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The Minor Prophets)
  3. The Writings
    1. Psalms-Proverbs
    2. Job
    3. Song of Songs
    4. Ruth
    5. Lamentations
    6. Ecclesiastes
    7. Esther
    8. Daniel
    9. Ezra-Nehemiah
    10. 1-2 Chronicles

(His ordering of the New Testament follows standard English Bibles.) By following the tripartite order of the Old Testament and the traditional order of the New Testament, Hamilton maps out the rest of his book and is able to conclude: “Viewed this way, the Bible is seen to be a unified metanarrative that begins at creation and ends with the consummation of all things” (64).

Thus, the bulk of Hamilton’s book (chs. 2-7) argues that God’s glory in salvation through judgment is prominent in each and every book of the Bible. These chapters consistently prove that God does, in fact, glorify himself in saving some while judging others throughout biblical and redemptive history. Also helpful in these chapters are numerous outlines of many books of the Bible and helpful charts that follow certain themes in each book. Hamilton also cites scores of other books and articles to which I will gladly turn in future years, Lord willing.

In chapter 8, Hamilton defends his thesis against the counter-arguments of respected New Testament scholars I. Howard Marshall and Ben Witherington III. This chapter was interesting and helped me better to understand clearly Hamilton’s thesis. His concluding argument in defending the fact that God seeks his own glory throughout Scripture (and throughout all history!) to Witherington is particularly clear, concise, and helpful:

it is evil and sinful for fallen human beings to seek their own glory. The reason this is evil is that fallen humans do not deserve glory, and if they were to attain their own glory, it would not be what is best for others. By contrast, it is neither evil nor sinful for God to seek his own glory. In fact, it is righteous for God to seek his own glory. He is God and has no other gods before himself. He deserves glory. Humans were created to see and savor his glory. There is nothing better that God could give to humans than his glory—which consists in his display of self-giving love and truth-maintaining justice. (562)

Thus, chapter 8 defends Hamilton’s thesis against those Christians and theologians who would argue against the truth of God’s self-glorification (both Marshall and Witherington lean more heavily toward human responsibility than divine sovereignty). Personally, I wish that Hamilton could have interacted with the objections of theologians who agree with him about God’s self-glorification but who disagree with him that there can be a single, defining center to biblical theology (e.g., Carson and Köstenberger).

Chapter 9 concludes the book with how this center of biblical theology applies to Christians (and pastors, in particular) in practical terms. He specifically addresses how God’s glory in salvation through judgment applies to matters of evangelism, discipleship, corrective church discipline, personal Bible reading, and personal prayer. Hamilton’s statement is spot-on: “Embracing the center of biblical theology as a disciple of Jesus means recognizing that we are on a lifelong pilgrimage whose starting point was a moment of salvation through judgment for God’s glory, and the pattern of growth will be the same” (567). Our sanctification is a continual process of needed pruning and necessary fruit-bearing (John 15:1-11): in other words, our life on earth as Christians is a continual process of salvation through judgment. But it applies corporately as well as individually:

Churches full of people who understand and embrace the glory of God in salvation through judgment will want to see God’s holiness displayed in their congregation so that God’s mercy will have meaning. Members of such churches will take God and his holiness more seriously when they see his holiness applied to the unrepentant. They will live in fear of God and in gratitude for his mercy, and they will press on to holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). God is glorified in salvation through judgment in individual lives in evangelism and discipleship, and he is glorified in salvation through judgment in the lives of churches that obey Jesus and embrace church discipline. (568)

And I could not agree more with Dr. Hamilton’s conclusion to his book, with which I conclude this book review, as well:

From creation to new creation, at the fall and at the flood, in the exodus and the exile, in the new exodus and the return from exile accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in the church’s pilgrimage through the world, and on the last day: God gets glory in salvation through judgment. His praise endures forever. (570)

What’s the Bible about? God glorifies himself in saving some through judging others … and ultimately saving those he saves by judging One Other, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I highly recommend this book to any Christian. Despite its length, I recommend it more strongly than either Radical or Just Do Something. This book will help you grow in the knowledge of God’s Word, will whet your appetite for ever increasing amounts of God’s Word, and will help you “behold wondrous things” (Ps. 119:18) not only in God’s “law” but also in the Prophets, the Writings, and the New Testament.

Why I’m Not All Together with Radical Together

June 21, 2012 Leave a comment

At the end of last month I reviewed Dr. David Platt’s book, Radical. That review was a primarily positive endorsement of Platt’s book. I recently read Radical‘s sequel, Radical Together, and although I thoroughly enjoyed the read and read many points with which I agree, I cannot overlook some disagreements I had with some of Platt’s statements in Radical Together.

Before I elaborate on my disagreements with the book, however, I want to applaud the book for answering this central question: “How can we in the church best unleash the people of God in the Spirit of God with the Word of God for the glory of God in the world?” (3). I 100% agree with David Platt when he writes, “If you and I want our lives to count for God’s purpose in the world, we need to begin with a commitment to God’s people in the church. God has called us to lock arms with one another in single-minded, death-defying obedience to one objective: the declaration of his gospel for the demonstration of his glory to all nations” (5). Amen! The large number of baptized Christians around the world who forsake fellowship with other believers in the context of the accountability of a local church (Heb. 10:25) is an alarming reminder of the truth of Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

The church has lost much of the reality of New Testament church membership, and this is deplorable. I therefore commend Radical Together for stressing the importance of local churches being a group of biblical believers who join together for fulfilling the Great Commission to the glory of God.

That being said, I do have some real reservations about some of Dr. Platt’s statements in Radical Together. Those of you who are long-time readers of my blog may recall that my review of Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something was glowing. Dr. Platt means well, I’m sure, but the following statement seems to contradict some of the biblical ideas that DeYoung expressed in his book:

The gospel compels the church to go to God with everything we have and everything we do and then ask, “What needs to go? What needs to change? What needs to stay the same?”

And then wait for God to answer. (9)

DeYoung in his book warns against the dangers of “waiting for God,” and while Dr. Platt certainly advocates making decisions to glorify God as a church (that is actually his main argument in this quote’s chapter), I worry that some would latch onto the above quote and use it as an excuse to perhaps go farther than the Bible does in the context of local and global missions.

I have a similar concern with Dr. Platt’s statement in chapter three: “The Bible is not in a church leader’s hands so he or she can give people answers to every question they have and guidance for every situation they face. Instead, the Bible is in a church leader’s hands to transform people into the image of Christ and to get people in touch with the Holy Spirit of God, who will not only give them counsel for every situation they face but will also walk with them through those situations” (49). While I agree that church leaders are to use the Bible in order to transform people into the image of Christ, I do not think that this should be set against the truth that church leaders should use the Bible to answer people’s questions and give them guidance in situations (Ps. 119). Yes, one of the Holy Spirit’s roles is to give people counsel for every situation they face and walk with them through those situations, but the Holy Spirit does this by applying God’s Word, the Bible, to believer’s lives (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14). Surely Dr. Platt would not divorce the ministry of the Spirit from the ministry of the Word, but that quote from page 49 could be read that way.

A final quip I have with Radical Together is simply this: “Brook Hills Bob has been reached for the sake of Brook Hills Baruti” (93). What Dr. Platt is saying, is that the typical person who would come to The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, has been reached for the sake of the typical person who would live in North Africa. But this is not what Dr. Platt means (unless he contradicts himself!) because earlier in that chapter he writes, “We are going to live and plan and strategize and organize and work so that Baruti hears and receives the gospel. … This doesn’t mean we neglect Brook Hills Bob or anyone else who is right around us. Indeed, we are going to reach Bob and all kinds of other people in our community. But as they come to Christ, we are going to encourage them to spend their lives spreading the gospel to Baruti” (89, paragraph breaks omitted). So Dr. Platt’s goal is to reach both Bob and Baruti, both people near and far. But when he says that he aims to reach near people so that he can reach far people, it seems like near converts are a means to the end of foreign converts, and people, I think (and I’m sure Dr. Platt agrees!), are not a means to an end. It’s merely that his phrasing on p. 93 could be construed to seem that way.

So my disagreements with Dr. Platt in Radical Together amount to disagreements over wording and phrasing. But as I’ve already said, on the whole I agreed with Dr. Platt’s main idea. I also thought that much of what he said in the book was excellent! For example, I couldn’t agree more that

Unleashing radical people into the world requires the gospel as our foundation and our motivation. That’s why you and I must embrace a gospel that both saves us from work and saves us to work. (26)

Or that “the Word of God accomplishes the work of God” (45). Furthermore, in regards to getting the gospel to all nations, “There is only one thing God has promised to bless, and that is his plan. He has given us his plan in his Word, and if we want the blessing of God, then we don’t need to come up with something else. Instead, we need to align with the plan he has already promised to bless” (51). As I also positively noted in my review of What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, the church’s mission is to spread the gospel for the glory of God, and this happens, ultimately, by verbally communicating the gospel to people. That is the method God has ordained, and that is the method God will bless.

I also thoroughly agree with Dr. Platt’s de-emphasis on church buildings. Consider this:

Imagine that your church had no building or facilities whatsoever. Could you still make disciples? Certainly the answer is yes. … So how would your church make disciples completely separate from a church building? This is the question we started asking at Brook Hills, and it has led us to some significant changes. …

That’s when [we] began equipping parents, children’s ministry leaders, and small-group leaders in our faith family to host Bible clubs for kids in their homes. We already had homes spread all around our immediate community. Why not make our homes the place of ministry instead of the church building? Why not invite people from our neighborhoods, not to go to a church building with us, but to come across the street and into our homes with us? Home is where we could show the gospel to their children while we also shared life with them. (64)

Church buildings aren’t the be-all-end-all. Agreed. And ministry doesn’t require a church building. Agreed. The early church in Acts and throughout the New Testament met in people’s homes and spread like wildfire across the Roman Empire. And it certainly does seem logical for a church (through its members!) to reach out into its community by offering Christian hospitality. As Dr. Platt concludes, “Let us not, then, be so foolish as to confine the work of the Spirit to one professional, speaking in one place, at one time of the week” (70).

One more quote and then I’ll conclude:

 If we want to multiply the gospel from our faith family to all the families of the earth, it will require not just a pastor or church staff but the entire body of Christ built up in love “as each part does its work.”

What this means, then, is that church leaders are intended by God not to plan events but to equip people. … Realizing this, we who are leaders in our faith family have made a concentrated effort to take resources (most notably our time) away from organizing ministry for people and to invest them more in mobilizing people for ministry. (71)

Amen! Is this not what Paul proscribes in Ephesians 4:12-16? Pastors and other church leaders are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Radical Together, then, is a timely book for pastors, other church leaders, and all Christians. It stresses the importance of active church membership and serving other Christians in your church as well as those around the world. While I would not agree with everything Dr. Platt writes in this book, I agree with the overwhelming majority of what he writes, and the points on which I disagree with him are differences of wording and phrasing. I recommend this book to any Christian wanting to grow in love both for the church and for the Christ who is its head.

Divine Fatherhood, Earthly Fatherhood

June 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Upon finding out in May that I am going to be a father to a newborn baby in less than seven months now (!), I have been taking a fresh look at what all the Bible has to say about fatherhood. So since Father’s Day is this Sunday, I’d like to share how God in the Bible bases human fatherhood in his divine fatherhood. Jesus puts it this way in Luke 11:11-13: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Among other things, these verses tell us that God’s Fatherhood of believers should be the foundation for believing fathers’ fatherhood of their own children. After all, it is by God’s Holy Spirit that we call upon him as our Father (Rom. 8:15). Even good fathers, Jesus says, “are evil” compared to our loving heavenly Father, but they “give good gifts to [their] children” after the pattern of their heavenly Father, from whom “every good and every perfect gift” comes (Jas. 1:17). Each and every command for fathers in the Bible–including commands to discipline children–is grounded in God’s loving fatherhood of us, his children in Jesus Christ.

The Bible commands fathers to discipline their children in passages such as the following:

  • Proverbs 3:11-12 – My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
  • Proverbs 19:18 – Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.
  • Proverbs 23:13-14 – Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with a rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.
  • Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 

Notice how Solomon and the Wise in Proverbs and Paul in Ephesians ground fathers’ discipline of their children in God’s discipline of his children. Solomon does this in Proverbs 3:11-12, in which he teaches his son to “not despise the Lord’s discipline” because God disciplines his children “as a father [disciplines] the son in whom he delights.” Fathers should discipline their children because discipline is an act of love. We know that discipline is loving because God disciplines us his children out of love. As the writer of Hebrews comments on these verses,

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. (12:7-10)

Even the best earthly fathers are imperfect and inevitably discipline wrongly from time to time because they discipline  “as it seem[s] best to them,” and they are not omniscient, as God is. But God’s discipline, since God is perfect and knows all things (even the deep things of our hearts), is invariably “for our good” with the ultimate purpose “that we may share his holiness.” Fathers should therefore lovingly discipline their children because God lovingly disciplines us for our holiness.

This truth that our fathers discipline us because God disciplines us remains true for the commands in Proverbs 19:18 and 23:13-14. Solomon, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, commands fathers to “discipline your son[s].” There is a popular strand of modern psychology insistent that disciplining children scars them for life, but God insists that a father’s discipline is good: “there is hope” in that discipline, and failure to discipline is tantamount to “set[ting] your heart on putting him to death.” As “the Wise” elaborate in Proverbs 23:13-14, children will not “die” or be otherwise grievously harmed by “a rod” of discipline; rather, discipline “will save his [a son’s] soul from Sheol,” from hell. This is how the above verses in Hebrews expound the wisdom of Proverbs 3:11-12. Since God disciplines us in order for us to share his holiness, fathers should discipline their children so that the children will become more holy.

This is where Ephesians 6:4 is key: as fathers raise their children “in the discipline … of the Lord,” they must be careful to “not provoke [their] children to anger.” In disciplining their children, fathers must keep in mind Proverbs 15:1, which warns, “a harsh word stirs up anger.” The Bible clearly teaches that fathers should discipline their children, but the Bible is equally clear that fathers should discipline their children lovingly so as to not provoke their children.

God is wise. He knows our weaknesses. And Satan is crafty (Gen. 3:1). He tries his hardest to pervert good things and make them evil. So God, in his wisdom and knowledge of our weaknesses, gives us verses like Ephesians 6:4. Discipline is good, but it mustn’t provoke children to anger. God knows that we men, in our discipline, can be too harsh (because we aren’t perfect like God). We discipline “as it seem[s] best to [us],” but sometimes we are amiss. I pray that God would write his word in Ephesians 6:4 and other verses concerning discipline on my heart so that when my child has arrived, I will be faithful to discipline him or her, when needed (and it will be needed!), in love. Because I am a Christian, he or she will know that I am disciplining him or her in the Lord, but I pray that I would not defame God’s love by disciplining my son or daughter in anger or anything other than love. Like every earthly father, I will surely fail in this at times, but I pray that God would conform my fatherhood closer and closer to his own. Father God has given me every good gift, even his Holy Spirit–how can I not want to lavish love on my child in a similar way, even in moments of discipline?

Desperate Joy in Philippians 3:1-16

June 6, 2012 1 comment

Thus far in his epistle to the Philippians, Paul has modeled joy for his audience by his greeting, thanksgiving, and prayer (1:1-11), by his reaction to preachers with poor motives (1:12-18), and by his tranquility in the face of death (1:19-26). He has instructed the Philippians to be joyfully united (1:27-30) and to be joyfully humble (2:1-11). He has told them to rejoice as they “work out” their salvation (2:12-18) not only because Timothy is coming to them soon (2:19-24) but also because Epaphroditus (2:25-30) is delivering this letter to them, and in it Paul commands them to do so (2:18). Joy has thus pervaded Philippians, first in the example of Paul (1:1-26) and then in Paul’s commands to the Philippians (1:27-2:30). This final section of Philippians (3:1-4:23) maintains the theme of joy by describing various attributes and practical expressions of joy.

The first subsection in these last two chapters of Philippians runs from 3:1-16. We may outline these verses as follows:

  1. Desperate joy is on guard against deception (vv. 1-2).
  2. Desperate joy counts all things as rubbish in comparison to Christ (vv. 3-11).
  3. Desperate joy strains forward toward the goal of heaven (vv. 12-16).

Desperate Joy and the False Teachers’ Deception

Christians who have desperate joy are on guard against deception from false teachers (vv. 1-2). Paul commands the Philippians in v. 1 to “rejoice in the Lord”: that is the central command not only of these verses but of Philippians as a whole. And this joy is “safe for you,” the Philippians and us. This begs the question: How is joy in the Lord safe? What does joy in the Lord keep us safe from? Joy in the Lord keeps us safe from “dogs,” “evildoers,” “those who mutilate the flesh.”

True joy is desperate: it desperately guards against the deception of false teachers. They are false teachers because what they teach is false. In these verses, Paul specifically has in mind false teachers who insisted that people must keep parts of the Mosaic law in addition to believing in Christ in order to be saved. They “mutilate the flesh” by forcing circumcision on Gentiles who had not been circumcised in accordance with the Old Testament law concerning circumcision. And Paul says to watch out for these people!

We don’t see people today who say you have to be circumcised in order to be saved, but we do still see people who argue that we must do something in order to be saved. We must go to church, we must walk an aisle, we must pray a prayer, we must give X amount to the poor, we must read X amount of the Bible each day, etc. And if we do enough of these things to outweigh the bad things we do, we’ll go to heaven! … Or so these false teachers’ argument goes. But these are our modern day flesh-mutilators. And if we are to rejoice in the Lord, we cannot rejoice in our own capacity for “good works.” Desperate joy desperately guards against the deception of false teachers.

Desperate Joy and Christ’s Supremacy

But Paul does not only tell us what do to (look out for the dogs) but why we should do so: “we are the circumcision” (v. 3). By trusting in circumcision to save them, the false teachers were under condemnation; but by trusting Christ to save, believers are made the true circumcision and given eternal salvation! And notice how Paul describes believers, who “are the circumcision”: they

  • “worship by the Spirit of God and
  • glory in Christ Jesus and
  • put no confidence in the flesh.”

“This is what joy in the Lord looks like!” Paul is saying. He’s saying that joy in the Lord is desperate: it worships by the empowering of the Holy Spirit; it glories in Christ Jesus; and it puts no confidence in the flesh. In other words, Christians who have desperate joy long for Christ above all else.

Paul demonstrates this by his own example in verses 4-11. Paul could claim confidence in the flesh more than “anyone else,” even the false teachers (v. 4). Paul was

  • “circumcised on the eighth day,
  • of the people of Israel,
  • of the tribe of Benjamin,
  • a Hebrew of Hebrews;
    • as to the law, a Pharisee;
    • as to zeal, a persecutor of the church;
    • as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (vv. 5-6).

But Paul did not boast in these things, nor did he trust these things to save him, as the false teachers did. Rather, Paul “counted as loss for the sake of Christ” all these things he has listed in addition to “whatever gain [he] had” (v. 7). He did this at the moment of his conversion. When Paul trusted Christ to save him, he counted all these seemingly good things as loss for Christ’s sake. But this attitude continues in Paul: he continues to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8). Although he has “suffered the loss of all things,” he “count[s] them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (vv. 8-9). Silva’s comment on Paul’s word choice of “rubbish” is excellent: “a specific reference to excrement is not uncommon and the KJV rendering ‘dung’ is both appropriate and probable” (157). Paul’s joy is desperate joy: it longs for Christ so desperately that all other things–even the best earthly achievements–are dung in comparison.

And Paul is kind enough to give us the reason why he is so desperately enthralled by Christ: Paul wants to “know him [Christ] and the power of his resurrection”; Paul even goes so far as to say that he wants to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10). These are extreme words from an extreme man for an extreme reason: “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (v. 11). Paul desperately longs for Christ. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Ps. 42:1). That is Paul’s confession; is it ours?

Desperate joy desperately longs for Christ. Paul exemplifies this truth for us. Are we rejoicing in the Lord, desperately longing to know him–not only in the power of his resurrection but also in the suffering and death that inevitably precede it? Desperate joy desperately longs for Christ and esteems him above all else.

Desperate Joy and Your Actions

In both Philippians 3:17 and 4:9, Paul commands his readers to follow his example. So as we examine Paul’s actions in verses 12-16, we can apply Paul’s actions to ourselves. In verses 12-16, we see that desperate joy desperately strives toward heaven.

In verse 12, Paul insists that he has not “already obtained this,” referring to the resurrection from the dead that he had mentioned in verse 11. He insists that he is not “already perfect.” Since Paul has not yet reached perfection (and won’t until he dies and goes to heaven), he “presses on” to make the resurrection his own “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Christ’s saving grace motivates Paul’s active, obedient desperate joy. Paul “forget[s] what lies behind and strain[s] forward to what lies ahead” (v. 13). Paul is pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). And this attitude/action of Paul applies to us today: “Let those of us who are mature think this way” (v. 15). And again, it’s all by God’s grace: “if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” In short, our responsibility as Christians who desperately rejoice in the Lord is to “hold true to what we have attained” (v. 16).

Are we, like Paul, consumed by this joy that desperately strains toward heaven? Are we growing in holiness “because Christ Jesus has [already!] made [us] his own,” or are we just going through the motions of uninvolved church attendance, insincere prayer, and reading the Bible just to be reading it? Is our joy desperate? Do we desperately guard against being deceived by false teachers? Do we desperately prize Christ above all else? Do we desperately persevere toward the goal of heaven? May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with our spirit (Phil. 4:23) so that we will have this desperate joy that his Holy Spirit commands through Paul in these verses.

My Thoughts on “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”

June 5, 2012 1 comment

On May 30, 2012, several Southern Baptist leaders issued online “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Tom Ascol is currently writing a thorough response to this Statement at the Founders’ blog, so I will not go through the Statement article by article; rather, I will respond to this Statement briefly and focus on the continued need for unity among Southern Baptists.

A Brief Response

“A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” is rife with falsehoods, contradictions, and slanders.

Before the numerous theological falsehoods of the ten articles, the Statement’s Preamble includes numerous factual errors. The authors define Calvinism in terms of “the doctrines of grace,” TULIP. Calvinists, then, (according to this Statement) are those who believe these things. Calvinism is NOT, as this Statement claims, anti-missional. Both John Piper and David Platt are two prime examples of people who believe “the doctrines of grace” and who are also very missional. As Platt writes in Radical,

God gave his people his image for a reason–so that they might multiply his image throughout the world. He created human beings, not only to enjoy his grace in a relationship with him, but also to extend his glory to the ends of the earth.

Simple enough. Enjoy his grace and extend his glory. This is the twofold purpose behind the creation of the human race in Genesis 1, and it sets the stage for an entire Book that revolves around the same purpose. In every genre of biblical literature and every stage of biblical history, God is seen pouring out his grace on his people for the sake of his glory among all peoples. (65)

How could Platt there be more “Calvinistic”? How could Platt there be more missional? God’s meticulous sovereignty doesn’t undermine missions: it gives missions its ultimate purpose–to glorify Him! This being said, how can it possibly be true “Without ascribing to Calvinism, Southern Baptists have reached around the world with the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone”? Adoniram Judson, the first Southern Baptist missionary to Burma (modern Myanmar), believed in God’s meticulous sovereignty. Earlier in church history, before “Southern Baptists” existed, Paul of Tarsus was so engrossed by God’s glorious grace that he spread the gospel all over the Roman Empire!

In addition to those factual falsehoods in the Preamble and too many theological falsehoods for me to list here, contradictions redound in this Statement. The most glaring contradiction is in the Preamble:

We propose that what most Southern Baptists believe about salvation can rightly be called “Traditional” Southern Baptist soteriology, which should be understood in distinction to “Calvinist” soteriology. Traditional Southern Baptist soteriology is articulated in a general way in the Baptist Faith and Message, “Article IV.”

The beauty of Article IV of The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) is that whether or not one believes the Bible’s declarations of God’s meticulous sovereignty, one can accept it. Article IV in its entirety reads thus:

Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.

B. Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.

C. Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person’s life.

D. Glorification is the culmination of salvation and is the final blessed and abiding state of the redeemed.

This Statement in its Preamble affirms that this Article articulates “in a general way” their “‘Traditional’ Southern Baptist soteriology.” But they later contradict the BF&M Article IV in their own Article Five: The Regeneration of the Sinner:

We affirm that any person who responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith is born again through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is a new creation in Christ and enters, at the moment he believes, into eternal life.

We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel.

Did you catch the contradiction? Article IV, BF&M, says that regeneration “is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). According to the Baptist Faith and Message, regeneration comes before (prior to) repentance and faith (responding to the Gospel). But what does this new Statement, which claims to affirm the BF&M, deny? “We deny that any person is regenerated prior to … responding to the Gospel” in repentance and faith. This is a logical contradiction. Regeneration cannot come both before and after repentance and faith. It must come either before or after since regeneration is an event that occurs at a single moment in time. Although the writers of this Statement accuse “Calvinists” of departing from traditional Southern Baptist soteriology, it is the authors of this Statement who are departing from established Southern Baptist (and more importantly, biblical) belief concerning regeneration, which is the first aspect of salvation “in its broadest sense.”

Finally and saddest of all, slanders crop up at various points in the Statement. Not only is the statement, “Without ascribing to Calvinism, Southern Baptists have reached around the world with the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone,” factually false, but it is also a slanderous blow to genuine Southern Baptist believers who affirm God’s sovereignty in addition to human responsibility because it implies that they are anti-missional and uninvolved in missions. And as Tom Aschol has noted, the Statement’s insistence that “The Southern Baptist majority has fellowshipped happily with its Calvinist brethren while kindly resisting Calvinism itself” is demeaning toward those whom the authors identify as Calvinist, almost relegating them to a second-class status as Southern Baptists. These slanderous labels and statements are divisive, and it saddens my heart to see such a display of divisiveness by fellow Southern Baptists, brothers whom I and every other Southern Baptist have partnered with in order to fulfill the Great Commission to spread the gospel to all the nations.

The Need for Unity

The Southern Baptist Convention has always included “Calvinists” and “Arminians.” Southern Baptists have always differed as to how many points of TULIP to believe, but Southern Baptists have always unified despite these differences in order to cooperate together to spread the gospel to all nations. I want to see this cooperation continue. I want to see this unity continue. Surely heaven will be composed of both “Calvinists” and “Arminians,” so I want to see these different groups of believers cooperate on earth! And they have in the Southern Baptist Convention for nearly two hundred years. I would hate to see this cooperation stop.

Yes, there was a decline for most of the 20th century among Southern Baptists, both individuals and churches, who taught both God’s meticulous sovereignty and man’s responsibility, but there was also a simultaneous decline in Southern Baptists who taught the inerrancy of Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ. Since the conservative resurgence in the SBC in the late 1980s, an increasing number of Southern Baptists, both individuals and churches, have found themselves believing anew not only in the inerrancy of Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ but also in God’s meticulous sovereignty. Why is this necessarily a bad thing, even to those Christians who do not believe in God’s meticulous sovereignty? The Southern Baptist Convention is just that: a convention. Its churches are autonomous. Let individual churches decide what to believe as a local body concerning God’s sovereignty. Since this Statement could unnecessarily divide the SBC, it is unwarranted, sad, and ultimately, I believe, unbiblical.

Never mind the fact that I disagree on biblical grounds with at least something in every Article of this Statement except Article Ten. This Statement is unbiblical because it seems to be fostering disunity and disharmony in Christ’s church as represented in the SBC. (One need only look at the comments on the Statement’s web page to discern this.) Such disunity directly defies God’s Word:

  • This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. – John 15:12
  • I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through your word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  – John 17:20-21
  • I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. – 1 Corinthians 1:10
  • Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel – Philippians 1:27
  • complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. – Philippians 2:2

These and other verses are commands from God that Christians love one another and unite around the gospel for the sake of spreading the gospel and making God’s name known throughout the whole world. The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) is helpful; “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” is not helpful. Fellow Christians who believe in God’s meticulous sovereignty, do not be consumed by anger at this incendiary Statement; rather, let us pray for our brothers and sisters who disagree with us on this matter, so that we may continue to join together in spreading the gospel around the world. Fellow Christians who do not believe in God’s meticulous sovereignty, do not sign this Statement and lend it your support; rather, continue to unite with us believers who disagree with you on this matter.

Doctrine is important. So is unity. May the Southern Baptist Convention continue to grow in both, to the glory of God.

Update: On June 6, Dr. Albert Mohler posted his thoughts on “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” I thoroughly recommend it to all of you.

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