Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Preparation

The preachings in the Acts were under such circumstances as to preclude any studied preparation. The preachers were prepared rather than the sermons. An old and honoured servant of the Lord, in answer to the question, What shall I study? said, Study well these four words, "The flesh profiteth nothing"! The preachings in the Acts were "water of the rain of heaven"; the streams flowed down in copious blessing. How definitely the Apostles presented Christ as crucified, risen, and exalted at God's right hand! How wonderfully they quoted and applied the Scriptures! How pointed and powerful was their dealing with men! There was a spiritual naturalness, if we may so say, a simplicity, freshness, sobriety and order in all that they said which made manifest that they preached the glad tidings "by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven". All true ministry is in the power of the Holy Spirit, and it tends to promote fruitfulness in the land. (C. A. Coates, An Outline of Deuteronomy, pp. 123–124, emphasis added)

"The preachers were prepared rather than the sermons" – a good friend shared this quote with me many years ago, I mentioned it in passing to Rodger, who did the spade work to dig up the source. (Thanks, Rodger!)

That quote has haunted me for at least a dozen years. I find myself asking, "am I prepared?"

I've had the privilege of fellowship in a couple assemblies where unplanned and unscripted meetings were the rule, rather than the exception. The assembly would have the Lord's Supper Sunday mornings, followed by a Bible Reading. In the evening, there was an "open meeting," where one or more brothers were expected to stand up and give a word. The rule was "two or at the most three" (1 Corinthians 14:26–35). They were never picked beforehand, and it was assumed they didn't have notes. We would gather to hear from the Lord, and whoever felt led to stand up and speak was expected to do so. Unless someone came through town specifically to minister the word, there were no prepared messages.

I've been to at least one Bible conference where there were no planned speakers, but whoever felt led would stand and speak. There was powerful ministry. A whole weekend of unplanned meetings. If I might say so, those meetings were short on planning, but long on preparation.

These days I remember the Lord in an assembly where the speakers are asked beforehand to speak. I really miss those unplanned, unscripted meetings.

It's difficult for me to stand up and speak in the assembly, because I have no fear of public speaking. I was a classroom teacher for several years, and it's all too easy for me to slip back into that mode. The problem is, people don't need to hear me, they need to be drawn to Christ. When we speak in the assembly, it should be as an oracle of God (1 Peter 4:11). That's easier said than done.

I've heard some amazing sermons that clearly took a whole lot of work. But the ministry that has seemed to me to be the most powerful has consistently been "extemporaneous". There is something qualitatively different about ministry that's given with a great deal of thought, but not a great deal of planning.

H. E. Hayhoe gave a talk on Isaiah 5 in 1969 ("Outline of Scripture"). It's worth a listen (or five). He makes a statement to the effect that, "we learn Scripture by meditation, not by study." That statement has affected me deeply.

Notice how it parallels CAC's claim that we want prepared preachers, rather than prepared sermons. It's not that we need to learn, it's that we need to be transformed. Scripture working in my mind and my heart is very, very different from Scripture analyzed and pushed into sermon notes.

It's possible people groan when they realize I'm standing up to speak in the assembly. It's possible they all wish I'd spend more time writing notes and referring to them. But I've made a point of preparing to speak with prayer, rather than with study. (I suppose, in a way, this blog is a sort of a scratch-pad where I can work things out in writing. It's possible I'm being a little less than honest with myself about that.)

Of course I'm not advocating speaking in the assembly without preparation, but I am absolutely advocating being prepared by spending time in the Lord's presence, rather than having good notes. That puts a much sterner responsibility on us: the responsibility of constant prayer and meditation, so that we can honestly say we're always prepared.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Seeing and Eating

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up; and they saw the God of Israel... they saw God, and ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9–11)

The elders of Israel saw God on Sinai. The story doesn't tell us what He looked like, which seems to be the common theme. As far as I can tell, only Daniel (Daniel 7:9) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26–28) describe what God looks like. Isaiah saw God in the temple (Isaiah 6:1–13), but he only describes the angels. Even the description in Revelation 4:1–7 only describes the One on the throne in vague terms, while it describes the creatures around the throne in detail.

But scripture tells us twice that the elders of Israel saw God on Sinai. I tell my Sunday school class, when Scripture repeats something, it's for a reason. The Spirit of God doesn't ramble on like I do, every word has a purpose. So Exodus 24 is emphasizing the point, that they saw God.

John 1:18 tells us, no one has seen God at any time. I take that to mean, not that no one has actually seen God, but no one has seen God completely. The story in Exodus 33:18–23, corroborates this: when Moses asks to see God's glory, he is denied. But he is allowed to see God's goodness.

(John 1:18 goes on to tell us that Christ has declared God. Perhaps that's why the two prophets called "son of man" (Ezekiel 2:1, Daniel 8:17) are allowed to describe God, while the rest are not. Certainly the Son of Man has declared Him (John 3:13).)

I think about Exodus 24 frequently when we're gathered to remember the Lord. We see that the elders of Israel are called to go apart from the camp (v. 1). They saw God (v. 9), they ate and drank (v. 11). We, too, are called to leave, to come into the Lord's presence, to see God, and to eat and drink (1 Corinthians 11:20–34). Of course it's our place to gaze on the glory of the Lord all through the week (2 Corinthians 3:18). We're not called to contemplate Him only once a week... but we are definitely called to gather together to eat and drink and remember Him.

I ask myself, do I really do that? When I gather in the little meeting hall here, I definitely eat and drink... but do I see God? Do I get a really good look at Christ?

Rodger reminded me that our eating and drinking is an announcement of the death of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:26), and that the death of the Lord is connected in Scripture with the end of everything here (Galatians 6:14). Do I allow myself to casually announce that, week after week, without really entering into what it means?

1 Corinthians 11:29 warns about eating and drinking without discerning. I'm not sure that's entirely the same thing, but it is all to easy to eat and drink without seeing first.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Worship and Remembrance

Worship and remembrance are closely connected in my mind. It might be worthwhile to spend a few moments thinking about them.

1 Corinthians 11:23–24 come to mind when we talk about remembrance. The Lord's supper was a matter of special revelation to Paul (v. 23), suggesting some importance in the mind of God. He quotes the Lord as saying, "this do in remembrance of me" (v. 24).

The sign on the outside of the meeting hall advertises that "The Remembrance" is at 11:00 AM Sundays. That's an appropriate name.

We sometimes talk about worship in connection with the Lord's supper, but I don't think Scripture does.

We worship the Lord Jesus because He is eternal God, "God over all, blessed forever" (Romans 9:5). We worship Him because all things were made by Him (John 1:3). It was the Son who laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of His hands (Psalm 102:25).

But when He calls us to remember, we see what might be a deeper truth. The Son who created us, came here to die for us. It's not simply the Creator-creature relationship, it's the Redeemer-redeemed relationship.

We remember that He poured out His soul unto death for us (Isaiah 53:12). We remember that He bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). We remember that He was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), that His soul was made an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10).

These things ought to touch our hearts.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Son of Man lifted up

John 3:12–15

Some people throw around the word "type" pretty carelessly. If scripture doesn't actually say something is a type, I prefer not to call it one. Here in John 3 we have a case where scripture specifically calls something a type: just like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so also must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14).

We tend to worship what has been lifted up. The children of Israe eventually began to worship that serpent, until Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Kings 18:4). Hezekiah understood that the serpent was only brass, it wasn't actually what had delivered Israel.

Well, we're in a slightly different position. The Father wants us to honor the Son exactly the same way we honor the Father (John 5:23). So where Israel was wrong the worship the serpent, we are right to worship the One who was lifted up for us.

We understand that the Son of God became the Son of Man, at least in part so the He could be lifted up for us.

We worship Him because He is God (John 1:1). Hebrews 1:10–12 tells us (quoting Psalm 102) that He laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of His hands. We worship Christ Jesus because He is the creator of all things: not one thing came into being without Him (John 1:3).

We remember Him because He gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20). Of course we don't minimize who He is as God from eternity, but we understand that it was in a sense a much greater thing for Him to give Himself for us than it was to create us. Being made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) cost Him much more than creating the heavens and the earth.

We remember that the Son became the Son of Man so that He could be lifted up for us. He gave His flesh to be food and His blood to be drink (John 6:53) so that lost sinners could have eternal life. He poured out His soul into death, and was made an offering for sin for us (Isaiah 53:10–12).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Eternal Sonship

I should have been a lot more careful with me wording on this post. To be honest, my wording was largely because I wasn't very careful in my thinking. Let me just make this disclaimer: Jesus Christ did not become the Son of God. I've kept the post as-is (excepting this paragraph) so the comments make sense.

A few months ago I was speaking on John 1 in the assembly, and spent a few minutes discussing Eternal Sonship. I've heard several comments on the Lord's Sonship in the meetings, many of which are nonsense. I thought it might be helpful for some of the younger folks in the assembly to lay out what Scripture actually says.

This is one of those topics where we have to be very cautious. When we talk about the Person of the Son, we need to understand from the outset that our very best understanding falls short. There's a hymn in the Little Flock that says:

The Father only Thy blest name
Of Son can comprehend.
There's a lot of truth in that statement, and we do well to approach this sort of thing fearfully. Better men than I have run aground here...

The Lord Jesus has several titles that infer sonship:

  • Son (John 5:19–23)
  • Son of God (John 5:25)
  • Son of Man (John 5:27)
  • Son of David (Matthew 1:1)
  • Son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1)
  • Son of His love (Colossians 1:13)
There are others, but this list serves for our purposes.

We understand that an eternal Person can have a non-eternal title. We'd look askance at someone who called Christ "the eternal Son of David." The Person is eternal, the relationship is not. Christ was Son when there was no David. He was Son when there was no Abraham, and He was Son when there was no man.

The question of Eternal Sonship revolves around exactly this question: we agree that Christ is eternal and uncreated: He is God blessed forever (Romans 9:5). But the question remains, is the Father-Son relationship in the Godhead eternal?

Let's pause to be sure we're very clear about this. I've heard preachers talk about Eternal Sonship who seemed to think the question is whether Christ is eternal. Nothing could be farther from the truth! C. A. Coates denied Eternal Sonship, but did not question Christ's essential and eternal Deity:

In reply to your letter I may say, in the first place, that the question raised in regard to the expression "the eternal Son", as applied to our Lord, is not at all a question as to His Deity, or His eternal personality. The dear brethren are all, thank God, perfectly clear as to these great and vital matters of revelation and of faith. The Son was eternally God (John 1:1), and subsisted in the form of God (Philippians 2:6); before Abraham was He was "I am", John 8:58. Whatever inscrutable blessedness and glory and power belongs to the Godhead belongs in the fullest and most absolute way to Christ; He is "over all, God blessed for ever", Romans 9:5.

(Letters of C. A. Coates, pp. 191–195)

Having made that clear, let's consider the Father-Son relationship in the Godhead: There are at least three times where Scripture takes us back into past eternity and names the Father and the Son: John 5, John 17, and Hebrews 1. There may well be others. These three passages convince me of Christ's eternal Sonship. The Lord clearly speaks of His relationship with the Father as Father before the world began.

That being said, C. A. Coates is correct that scripture doesn't use the title "Eternal Son." We try to be very careful to use the words of Scripture, especially with regard to Christ – we should be careful about using a title Scripture doesn't use. We don't want to make a person an offender for a word, but we realize it's extremely easy to fall into error when we touch the Person of Christ.

If we examine what Scripture says about the Father-Son relationship in eternity, we find it consistently uses the title "Son" to refer to Christ. I know a lot of "brethren" who believe that the title "Son of God" is eternal, but I can find no evidence of that in Scripture.

I admit when I hear someone talk about "the Eternal Son of God" I wince a little. As far as I have been able to find, scripture talks about "the Son" in eternity past, it doesn't talk about "the Son of God" in that context. And yes, I have said "the Eternal Son of God" many times.

Scripture connects the title "Son of God" with national Israel (John 1:49), while it connects "Son of Man" with the Gentiles (Daniel 7:13–14). I don't see in Scripture that either title is eternal.

Yes, I do believe in eternal Sonship. No, I don't believe the eternal title is "Son of God".

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Self-Improvement a Snare

A buddy of mine told me to read "Self-Improvement a Snare" by J. B. Stoney (New Ministry, Vol. 8, pp. 397–402). I did, and I'm passing it on.

Thus the question is, not as to whether you are improved or not, but whether you are in Adam or in Christ; if in Christ you can say, I have "crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts", (Galatians 5:24) and you not only know that He lives in you, and that thus you are governed by a new Person, but as you behold His glory - the very beginning of the gospel - you are transformed into His image, and you are the expression of Him here, whether in your individual circumstances, or in the circle of His interests. (p. 401)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Image of God

There is a connection between Exodus 20:4–5 and Colossians 1:15. The children of Israel were commanded to have no images to worship. An image eventually becomes an idol. Indeed, when God specifically commanded Moses to make an image (Numbers 21:8–9), it became an idol to them (2 Kings 18:4).

But God has specifically given us one Image to worship: Christ, who is the image of the invisible God.

In fact, when we consider John 3:14, we learn that the brass serpent was actually a type of the Son of Man lifted up. The children of Israel were committing idolatry when they worshiped the serpent that was lifted up for them, but God Himself invites us to worship the Son of Man who was lifted up for us. It is explicitly the Father's will that we should honor the Son as we honor the Father (John 5:23).

Isn't that cool? God knows we have a tendency to worship images, and He has given us an image to worship.