Tend the Weeds

As I mentioned before, love is what makes a Christian community grow. Community is like a garden, and gardens contain many growing, beautiful things. But community is also the garden in which grumbles grow. Since the fall of Adam, there has never been a garden without weeds, and this is because our hearts are in such a condition that a garden without weeds would be terrible for us. If sinful men were given weedless gardens, this would simply prove that the garden had been entirely abandoned, and that they were the weeds. So when a Christian community is a growing and thriving place, grumbles will grow, depend upon it. Everything depends on how the grumbles are handled. In ancient Israel, the problem with grumbling ran much deeper, and it was sometimes met with severe judgments from God. But in the New Testament, as the new Israel was growing, complaints sprang up as to how some of the widows were being neglected in the distribution of food (Acts 6:1). They handled it properly, … [Read more...]

Seven Courses

Not only is this a covenant meal, with all the parties to the covenant alive and present, Scripture gives us another image to use with our grasp of the word testament. “For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (Heb. 9:17). Here we have the image of a reading of a will. Our elder brother has died, and we have gathered to hear what He has left for us. Now of course, these images complement each other, and we do this in the full and certain knowledge of His resurrection. But even though He is risen, we remain His heirs. That part of this image is true enough. In thinking about this, we can rely on the insights of the old Scots Reformed preacher John Willison. He points out that the executor of this will and testament in this world is the Holy Spirit. And as we have gathered to learn what we have received, we may learn it under the figure of a meal with seven dishes. This is a seven-course meal, and when you come in … [Read more...]

On Not Threatening the Minister

"At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16: 11) The Basket Case Chronicles #198 “Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you without fear: for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do. Let no man therefore despise him: but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me: for I look for him with the brethren. As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time” (1 Cor. 16:10–12). Paul now gives a series of exhortations concerning two of his fellow workers in the gospel. If Timothy comes to Corinth, they are to make sure that he can work there “without fear.” The reason for this is that Timothy is engaged in the work of the Lord, just as Paul was. If they received Paul, so also should they receive Timothy. What the threat to Timothy would be, what he might have to fear from them, is not mentioned. … [Read more...]

No Faithy Sensation

As we heard in the message today, we are called to live from faith to faith. The just shall live by faith. But living is an all-encompassing verb. Living by faith means walking by faith, singing by faith, fellowshipping by faith, eating and drinking by faith, reflecting by faith, and meditating by faith. And faith requires an object. When you believe, you are believing someone, something. Biblical faith means apprehending, grasping, holding on to what God has spoken to us. To attempt to have faith by cultivating a faithy sensation down in your heart is not dispensing with the need for an object. That is not an objectless faith; rather, it is faith trying to believe in itself. Ultimately, there are only two choices—faith in God or faith in yourself. You know from experience how reliable you are, and so the word of the gospel comes to you as sweet relief. Lay it all down. Set it down. Take off your burdens. Trust in Christ. He is set before you now. He is offered to you now. … [Read more...]

A Cabin by a Pristine Lake

Love is what makes a Christian community grow—people are attracted to it. They gravitate to the fellowship, to the teaching of the Word, to the worship of God, and to the community that all this necessarily engenders. But precisely because love makes a community grow, so also a community growing makes love harder. It is much easier to maintain tight communion in a church of 100 people than in a church of 800 people. And then if you go to two services, it is harder to do what used to be so easy to do. People are attracted to a good thing, which makes it harder to keep it a good thing. A cabin by a pristine lake is a good thing, and it would remain a good thing if there were a second cabin. The only trouble is, 150 people want to build the second cabin. As a church community grows, and loving one another gets more challenging, it is easy to assume the worst. Things aren’t what they used to be. But these challenges are not necessarily signs of love fading, but are rather signs that … [Read more...]

Meditation and Prayer at the Table

As we come to this weekly meal, we are to come in order to meditate and pray. And as Matthew Henry put it, meditation is conversing with yourself, and prayer is conversing with God. Both are necessary, but whenever you converse, whether with yourself or with God, it is necessarily to converse intelligently. In other words, we have a responsibility in these conversations to do more than jabber thoughtlessly, or moan and complain, or accuse. When we converse with our selves, and when we converse with God, particularly around the topic of the broken bread and poured out wine, we should be careful to speak in wisdom. In order to do this, we must hear the echoes of Scripture throughout everything we say. Only this will protect us when we come to the perilous duty of self-examination. “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). Because this duty is positively commanded, many have given themselves over to it. But the standards … [Read more...]

Loving the Truth in Person

Either you love God and His people, or you don’t love God and His people. There really is no third way. The two great commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor. Loving your neighbor includes those who come to the Table with you here every week; it means loving your fellow church member. Now when bitterness or resentment creep in, or sometimes just simple dislike, very few people tell themselves that they are now “not loving their neighbor.” What we tend to do instead is give ourselves a pass because we are still committed to the principle or idea of loving our neighbor, or we consider ourselves compassionate toward people generally. We think we are compassionate generally because we tear up in the right parts of the movie. But there is a difference between being sentimental and being tenderhearted. Sentimentalism is disobedient, and full of resentments, and tenderheartedness is obedient, and filled with compassion. Drifting away from a congregation therefore … [Read more...]

A Wall of Water on Each Side

We are instructed by Scripture to think of this meal in multiple ways. It is not just “one thing.” And four of the central aspects of this meal should be treasured in our hearts regularly. First, it is a commemoration. Jesus Himself established this pattern when He said that we were to observe the meal as a memorial (Luke 22:19). This memorial works in two directions—it reminds us and, like the rainbow, it reminds God. Second, it is a confession. This is not to be understood as a confession of sin, but rather as a confession of our faith. As often as we observe this meal, we proclaim the Lord’s death (1 Cor. 11:26). This meal is a confession of gospel faith. Third, it is communion. When we come to this Table in evangelical faith, we are privileged to commune with Christ, to partake of Him and of one another (1 Cor. 10:16). The word for this is koinonia, and the Lord’s Supper is how God knits us together. And last, it is a covenant. Again, the Lord taught us this when He … [Read more...]

Death as a Way of Life

When a person drifts in the context of a sound and healthy church—a church in which very many people are not drifting, but are being nourished and fed—the reason that person is drifting is the direct result of not dealing with sin. And in the Scriptures, dealing with sin is not the same thing as managing or controlling it, or keeping it somewhat subdued and out of sight. No, the scriptural response to sin is always death—mortification. You can live in the middle of a crowd of people who are mortifying their sins, and this unfortunately has no impact on your sins. If ten people sitting around you confess their sins heartily, and you do not, then you get no benefit from what they have done. There is no benefit unless and until you imitate them. And if you do this for any length of time, then outside pressures will ensure that you start to drift. When you start to drift, you will then start making excuses to cover for your drift. So guarding yourself begins with understanding … [Read more...]

Joshua and Julia

Everyone who has ever wanted to grapple with the reality of the human condition has needed to deal with two profound realities. The first is the nature of the Divine personality, what the triune God revealed in Scripture is actually like. The second is the reality and depth of the human apostasy and fall, with all the implications that follow from that. God is infinitely holy, and eternally merciful. The divine attributes are what they are, and are in no way negotiable. God is what He is, and this is what lies behind His great revelation of Himself to Moses when He gave out His name as I Am That I Am. The character of God is constant, without variation or shadow due to change. Man’s nature is mutable, changeable, but one thing about it does not change. It is always fallen. We are always dealing with the disappointing reality of our own selfish choices. We do bad things because we are bad people. Something is wrong, and we would like to be located in our circumstances, but it … [Read more...]

Images We Must Have

Just as it is false to say that the tabernacle in the wilderness had no artistic representations of spiritual things, so also it is false to say that new covenant church has no portrayals in it. From blue pomegranates to cherubim covering the mercy seat, the tabernacle contained such images. But they were prohibited from making certain representations, and whenever the Israelites were faithful, they guarded that empty space above the mercy seat with a jealous and fierce love. In a similar way, new covenant worship is filled with icons—but as committed Protestants, we insist that the icons have to be given to us, assigned to us. For example, this church has hundreds of icons in it—you all are created in the image of God, and this is in fact an image of God. Moreover, Christ is faithfully portrayed in the preaching of the gospel (Gal. 3:1), or in the reading of Scripture (Rev. 1:16). Such portrayals must occur in Christian churches, which means God has decreed that the image of God in … [Read more...]

When Sin Signs a Lease

Drifting away from soundness in the faith is always the result of a peace treaty of some sort. The Bible teaches us that in this world we must always deal with sin outside us in the world and sin within us. In that familiar triad that we call the world, the flesh, and the devil, the first and the third are external to us. The flesh is closer to home. We are tempted to drift in response to suggestions from the world and the devil when we have made some sort of peace treaty, some kind of accommodation with the remnants of sin that we find within us. Our fundamental orientation toward impulses, temptations, urges, or suggestions from within must be adversarial. If it is not adversarial, if you have let a particular sin sign a three-year lease in your heart, then that accommodation within will betray you, and you will find yourself drifting in response to external pressure from the world or the devil. No true Christian has to “deal with” reigning sin within him. To be a slave to sin, … [Read more...]

A Meal With No Biting

Let us begin by acknowledging an unfortunate reality. The apostle Paul warns Christians not to bite and devour one another (Gal. 5:15), and he does this because this is what we are sometimes tempted to do. Christians are never warned off sins that were never going to be an issue. The warning says that we are not to bite and devour because the end result will be that we are consumed. So in this sense, Paul says not to eat one another in this way. The only alternative to this kind of quarrelsome devouring is to learn how to partake of one another in love. In the verse just prior to this warning (Gal. 5:14), Paul says that the entire law is summed up in the command to love our neighbor. We must love our companions, and companions are those with whom we break bread. So Christ eats with us here, and we eat with Him. But the Bible teaches us that when we eat together with others in love, this is a covenant love, and covenants depend on what is called partaking. This is … [Read more...]

Faith as Screen

When Christians drift away from a sound understanding of the faith, it usually begins first with them drifting away from what counts as understanding anything at all. If you believed the earth was flat, that wouldn’t make it flat. More surprisingly perhaps, if you believe it to be round, that doesn’t make it round. If you believe that two and two make five, that doesn’t make it five. And if you believe the correct sum to be four, it is not four because you believed it. True belief is responsive to truth as it is without the belief. Belief does not create the object of its belief. Now in ordinary affairs, like math, normal people understand this. But for a very long time, in religious matters, people have believed that what they believe makes it so. This is the central religious frame of mind, the frame of mind that allows every man his own gods, his own truth, his own views. The Christian gospel always drives out this way of thinking, and the receding influence of the gospel in … [Read more...]

Hot Food or Cold

A popular salvation text is Rev. 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” But this is not the door of an unconverted man, deciding whether to ask Jesus in. This is, in the first instance, the door of the church at Laodicea, and then by extension, any church that has people who have drifted into a lukewarm approach to Jesus. It is not the door of a man’s heart; it is a church door. If we respond to His call, to His voice, we are responding to the one who is the Amen, the faithful Witness, and we do so in a way that strengthens and establishes us. If we do this, we are opening the door of the church. We are inviting Jesus to come in and do what? We are ushering Him in so that He will sit down, it says, and sup with that man, and that man will sup with him. We see here an exquisite balance of the individual and corporate. The faithful believer is not the one who opens … [Read more...]