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Entries in Submission (7)

Tuesday
Aug072018

Putting on the "New Man" at Home  II

Colossians 3:22-4:1.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 5, 2018 and is the 2nd part of a sermon that was preached on July 22, 2018.  If you haven’t read or listened to it first then please do so.

Today we pick up where we left off several weeks ago.  In summary this section is about believers in Christ taking off the “old man” and putting on the “new man.”  Of course the old man that we put off is our own nature with its thoughts, feelings, and desires.  The New Man that we are putting on is Christ.

When we stopped in part I, we had begun talking about what it means for a slave to “put on the new man.”  This relationship between masters and slaves was very common in those days and could not be overlooked.  Though western societies may be able to say that they don’t have slaves anymore, we must be careful of discounting these words as no longer relevant, or as morally corrupt.  As I said in part I, the western world has simply taken the slave class and added them to the poor class.  Though they are no longer owned as property by another, they still are at the mercy of those around them who have money and jobs in order to make a living.  Thus these words should be seen as speaking to the relationship of the fortunate and the less fortunate, the haves and the have-nots.

Slaves obey your masters

In verse 22, slaves are told to obey their masters.  In fact, they are challenged and commanded to please God by working hard even when the earthly master isn’t looking.  This is to be done out of a sincere heart that fears God.

In case you haven’t spent time thinking about why even the New Testament emphasizes a positive aspect to a fear of the Lord, I will take a few moments to stir your thinking on this.  It is easy to say something that goes like this.  Fear was proper when people were under the Law of Moses.  But now that we are free in Christ we should no longer fear God.  Besides, doesn’t the Bible say that “Perfect love casts out all fear?”  The problem is that this one verse is not all that is spoken in the New Testament about fear.  We cannot ignore all the other verses, like this one here, and others like Philippians 2:12.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” (NKJV)

The perfect love of God casts out all the fear in regards to His heart towards us.  When you recognize Jesus is on the cross for your sins, you no longer fear that He doesn’t love you.  You know that He has laid down His life for you.  However, this is not what the phrase “fearing God” means in verse 22.  There it is talking about the restraint we should have when tempted to sin.  Like Joseph when he was being seduced by Potiphar’s wife, we must shudder at the thought of sinning against The One who was willing to die for us.  When we are walking in harmony with God we are secure in His love and need not fear that He will change His mind.  However, when we are tempted by sin, we should shrink back from the hideous thought of betraying our Lord’s sacrifice, not because He will quit loving us, but because I might quit loving Him and become an adulterer at heart.  To summarize, the fear that is cast out is in regard to God’s love.  The fear that should remain is in regard to sin’s ability to pull our heart away from the Lord and destroy us.

In verse 23, Paul adds that they should do everything as if unto the Lord.  This verse is not only about slaves.  First of all, all Christians are slaves of God and thus this applies.  However, even contextually, Paul is just stating for slaves what he already stated for all Christians in verse 17.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (NKJV)

Now in verse 23 Paul has added the word “heartily.”  It means that we don’t just outwardly perform the duty.  Instead we put our whole heart into doing it. 

It is worth noting that the effect of what Paul is doing here is not a means of keeping slaves quiet and away from revolt.  Paul is not working for the master-class to keep the slaves in subjection.  Rather, he has just helped the lowest people of society, whose lives and duties give them no obvious sense of purpose and meaning, to see that there is a holy aspect to the thankless and abject station that they have in life.  Regardless of how the world views you and your place in it, God sees you as His servant and that is a high position indeed.  Such an idea lifts our hearts out of the muck and the mire, washes it off, and says, “You serve the King of the Universe!”  It is only our myopic and snobbish elitism that cannot see how many slaves came to find hope in the Gospel that they never found in revolts.  In Christ the Christian slave could lift up his head and know that His true Master loved him greatly.  This in no way supports slavery, but rather supports the slave who had no hope of getting out of their situation.

Paul goes on to explain why a slave, or employee for that matter, should obey this command.  First, they will receive the reward of the inheritance.  The inheritance that Paul is talking about is the one that all believers will inherit from God the Father.  Though they have no inheritance in this world, Christian slaves know that they stand to inherit from God alongside of every other station and class in this world.  This life is simply a testing ground.  The life to come is our inheritance.  No one can touch it or separate you from it.  Thus the slave could be faithful to God because God is always faithful and will reward our service to Him in temporal things with eternal things.

The second reason a slave should obey in this matter is because God will repay those who do wrong without partiality.  Now, this sword cuts both ways.  On one hand the slave, who remains in anger and hatred, and refuses in this matter will also be repaid with judgment from God.  On the other hand, the main purpose is to encourage the slave who tries to obey their master and yet is wronged by the master.  Many harsh, unrealistic, oppressive masters have existed in this world.  But here a play on the word reward is made.  Those who wrong slaves will be repaid by God Himself.  How does a person keep doing the right thing when others treat them wrongly?  Typically we become frustrated, angry, and vengeful.  We throw off the altruistic purpose and take the path of our flesh.  We reject Christ and embrace Satan.  These destructive works of the flesh then pull us down into the slavery of sin.  However, when I recognize that even those who abuse me will have their day of reckoning before God, then I can focus on my part of the situation and let go of theirs.  God is an impartial judge.  He does not say, “It’s okay that you were overly harsh with your slave even though he tried his best to be faithful to your commands.”  No.  The Lord of Heaven that sends Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man into the fire will also pay back those who never seem to have to pay for their sins in this life.  With God, no one is ever “too big” to fail and that should be a shot across the bow for all those in this life who have position over others.  By the way, even if society says it is okay to abuse slaves because they are your property, God will then treat you as you treated your slaves.

Masters treat your slaves justly and fairly

Though chapter three ends at verse 25, verse one of chapter four clearly goes with chapter three.  For those who aren’t aware, no part of the Bible was written with chapter and verse divisions.  These were added later for convenience.  In the 13th century AD several chapter schemes were created and then later in the 16th century verse divisions were added.  The point being that we should be aware that the chapter divisions are not always in the proper spot.  Chapter four verse one is the counterpoint to chapter three’s instructions to slaves.

Notice that if Paul was just trying to prop up a hierarchical system, he wouldn’t say what he does to masters.  He would most likely tell them to obey the magistrates and the king.  But instead, Paul tells masters that if they have put on Christ it will affect how they treat their slaves.  This is critical because it is the tendency to treat slaves as subhuman, property, and undeserving of basic human treatment that makes it so odious and loathsome.  It is too easy for those of the higher class of society to look upon those of a lower station as being something less than human.  This dynamic did not cease with the Emancipation Proclamation.  It continues to this day.  The leaders of our governments have come to see certain parts of our citizenry as less of a human as they are.  This is always used to justify tyranny.  In the 1800’s it was common to hear slaves described as less evolved and thus on par with animals.  Throughout all of history slaves had no redress for any “wrongs” against them.  They were simply property.

Yet here masters are warned that God will take note of how they treat their slaves.  Both the slave and the master are equally human and therefore imagers of God.  Psalm 62:9 says, “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.”  The point is that those of high estate are not of greater substance before God.  If you buy into the idea that they do, or that they will somehow be treated differently then you are deluded.  Many a king, magistrate, judge, lawyer, politician, business owner, etc. will have their eyes opened on that day that they stand before God and give account for treating others as somehow less than human.  All humans should be respected as human beings created by God for His purposes, and created higher than the animals, yet lower than the angels.

The treatment is qualified by the word “justly.”  James 5:4 gives a picture of the lack of justice in those days when it says, “The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts!”  It is easy for masters, business owners, and their management to have unreasonable expectations for slaves or workers.  When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, Pharaoh gave the unreasonable demand that the Israelites continue to meet their quotas while additionally having to get their own straw (see Exodus 5).  The key here is that historically masters have done what is in accordance with the commands and laws of their country.  Such laws cared little for slaves.  But God does care for them.  Thus the justness of a Christian’s actions toward their fellow man is not determined by what is acceptable in their country.  It is determined by God.  Many people today are spouting and perpetrating injustices in the name of justice.  They believe that the end justifies the means.  All such self-justification will melt when you stand before God.  The question is what does God think is just and righteous?  His word makes it very clear.

The word “fairly” is also used.  This could be seen in relation to other servants, i.e. treat all the slaves equally without partiality.  However, it is more likely meant in relation to how the slave serves the master.  It is only equitable or fair that the master treats the slave kindly when the slave’s life consists of the lowly duty of serving you.  The slave’s task is not easy.  It is only fair that the master not oppressively add to that task out of selfish concerns.  In fact it begs the question, “How harsh of a task master is God to the master?”  It is intended to make the master realize that he will be held accountable for how he treats his slaves.

Verse one ends with the reminder to masters that they have a Master in Heaven.  We are all in subjection to God.  Clearly, He is not like we are.  But He will hold all men responsible for their actions in this life.  The ultimate principle here is to focus on your side of the relationship, and do it in a way that pleases God despite what others do or don’t do.  We are serving Him in this life not self or society.  If we can righteously work for a change in society then that is good.  But the end does not justify the means.  The goal does not justify the path that we take to get there.

This is the new man: a person who is not trapped in the constructs of today, whether hopelessly furthering them or vengefully rebelling against them.  Even if your flesh and heart wants to identify as homosexual, transgender, white nationalist, black power, ad infinitum, we are called to identify as simply a follower of Jesus.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a 99%’er we are called to see ourselves as a follower of Jesus.  Whatever the distinctions that this world tries to put on you, or you want to take upon yourself, today Christ calls you to drop those things and come follow Him.

New Man II audio

Thursday
Jul262018

Putting on the "New Man" at Home

Colossians 3:18-22.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 22, 2018.

I understand that the imagery used in Colossians three of the “new man” may seem to emphasize gender.  But we should not let our sensitivity to gender issues fog our understanding what Paul is saying here.  The new man is in reality Jesus, and both men and women are to put off their old self and take on a new life that is modeled and led by Christ.  Thus when I use this phrase for how we act at home it is a directive for men, women, and kids of both genders.  We are to all put on Christ live out his directives rather than remaining in our old way of thinking, feeling, and living.

Now, it is important to recognize that the concept of a family or home was instituted by God at the very beginning.  It is he who designed humans with split sexuality that required the union of a man and a woman.  When a man and a woman come together in marriage, they create a unit or a unity before God.  Typically, they will raise up children for the next generation, and in so doing they continue the cycle.  Their children will grow up, find a person of the opposite sex with whom they leave their parents and create a new home together, a new unity before God.  Yes, there are people who identify as homosexual etc. and who reject this.  But this is not the purpose of our time together today.  Here we are listening to what God has to say regarding how each member of the household should approach that unit.

Humanity has often warped this institution of God for its own ends.  In fact, in the fall of Genesis chapter three, God warns Eve that her sin would impact her relationship with her husband, and that effect has echoed throughout each generation.  It is not just humanity that is the problem, but rather humanity in its fallen state or sinful state.  In fact everything that people would point to as bad within marriage and family, can be directly attributed to sinfulness in the hearts of those doing it.  The answer is not to throw aside God’s institution, but rather to become better husbands, wives, parents and children.

In our passage Paul deals with three relationships that were very hierarchical in those days.  They were husband over wife, parents over children, and masters over their house-slaves.

Modern man often judges the Bible and its writers because they did not battle against these hierarchies.  However, they often do this because they do not understand that God calls us to a different battle.  As long as there are humans on this earth, hierarchical relationships will continue to exist.  In tearing down one system, we only find another hierarchy imposed upon us.  The systems of this world use envy and strife as the energy to keep the system moving forward.  As long as everyone is busy trying to destroy the hierarchy or become it, we lose sight of the true battle that will destroy us all; the battle in our hearts and minds.  If we toss aside the system of today and replace it with another system, we will only find another form of tyranny and hierarchy because people have a sin problem.  So instead of stirring up a slave riot, Christianity taught slaves how to break free of the slavery in their hearts and minds, a slavery to sin.  The purpose of this life is to overcome sin’s hold on our heart, regardless of where your place is in the current system.

Wives take your place with your husband

Paul speaks first to the wives in verse 18.  The women of Colosse in the first century were considered to be under their husband’s dominion.  There was a clear hierarchy.  I know that this is heresy in today’s environment.  It sounds like the Bible is supporting the hierarchy and dominance over women.  But that is a corrupt view of the verse and others like it in the Bible.  Instead of focusing on whether the hierarchy is good or not, wives are encouraged to submit to their husbands.  The term “submit” was actually a military term and referred to taking your place within a military hierarchy.  This does not mean a home should be run like a military organization.  Rather, it is a metaphorical usage.  The wife should take her place, whatever that may be (under or alongside) her husband.  I say this because there is more going on here than what this verse implies.

Look back at verse 11 in this chapter.  Paul had just established the reality that the old distinctions of this world are irrelevant in Christ.  “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”  He doesn’t mention male-female in that verse.  But the same argument used in Galatians 3:28 does.  The point is that those distinctions that the systems of this world use to place one side over the other are to become meaningless to believers.  Not meaningless in the sense that we pretend they don’t exist, but meaningless in the sense that those distinctions do not drive our thoughts, feelings, and actions.  That is part of the old life.  The new life looks to Christ to lead us in what we should think and what we should do (of course feelings go up and down all the time).  Thus Paul is not saying that the hierarchy is good.  He is simply telling the women that Christ wants them to take their place (whatever it may be) in the home.  In that day it was clearly a place under the leadership of their husbands.  In 21st century USA it would be to take your place alongside your husband.  Notice this is Christ’s instructions to individual wives, not an instruction to societies or nations on how they should view the wife-husband relationship.  Thus cultures have a variety of expressions of this relationship, though a male-dominated model has been the most predominate.  We should not let our gender, race, economic status, class, or any other distinction drive our life.

Though our society has embraced the reality that the Bible is actually elevating the status of all underprivileged, it makes the mistake by promoting and inflaming those distinctions.  This only divides us further and keeps us from walking in the unity that God is trying to give us.  Instead of fighting their husbands for dominance, wives need to do their best to work with their husbands as a unit.  Our different gifts will allow for a diversity of expressions for how this would play out.  Today, we do not live in a cultural system with rigid, precise roles.  Husbands and wives have to work out together, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to run the household.  Even if your husband isn’t the Christian that he should be, a wife needs to focus on her obligation before God to work for unity in the home.

In each of these relationships you will find that we are told to do what would be the hardest thing for us to do.  Women had been under a dominance of men for millennia.  With the Gospel’s teaching that those distinctions no longer mattered, it would be easy to “throw off the yoke.”  Instead wives are told to take their place under their husband’s leadership.  Today, women are not in the exact same boat.  But, they still have had to deal with the dominance of men in relationships.  Instead of fighting men for dominance, go into the marriage and ask Christ how to bring peace and unity to it, at least for your part.

Before we move to men, I want to comment on the phrase, “as is fitting in the Lord.”  Again, we can interpret this to mean that it is fitting for women to be under men.  But that is a huge assumption.  He is telling women that it would not be fitting for a follower of Christ to try and take over.  The act of taking your place is what is fitting.  Voluntary submission neutralizes the hierarchical system by refusing to play the game of this world system.  Jesus epitomized this virtue in his life.  He submitted to the leaders of Israel and allowed himself to be crucified.  However, in so doing we are told that He overcame the world.  Thus if we are really following Jesus as our model, and He really is leading us, we will reject the rebel approach and adopt the humble servant model.  It is only fitting that Christians, men or women, who find themselves in a similar situation, should focus on honoring Christ rather than getting something for themselves.  Thus what is fitting in the Lord is to use the power and gifts that we have for others at the direction of Jesus, rather than for our own selfish purposes.  In Christ we voluntarily give up power in order to serve others.  Christ is the power.  When we adopt this attitude we neutralize the attempt of the spirit of this world to play us off of one another.

Husbands love your wives without bitterness

Husbands are also given a command, but notice that the command is not to make sure your wife is taking her place.  Instead husbands are told to love their wife, regardless of whether she “submits” or not, without being bitter.  It is easy for a person to become bitter when they don’t think they are getting what they should.  Christ tells husbands to drop that kind of attitude and instead simply love their wives.

In Ephesians 5, Paul gives the same command, but adds to it that husbands are to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the Church.  Think about how much Jesus loved the Church.  He loved the Church so much that he laid his life down for us.  This is true physically, but also metaphorically.  Instead of using the power system of this world for His own ends, Jesus used his power for the sake of the Church.  So husbands must not use their power of position, physicality, or cultural standing for their own ends.  Rather, whatever the place of a husband in society, it should be used for the sake of the wife, period.  Love her, not love yourself by telling her how to best serve you.

In fact, Paul takes this one step further in Ephesians 5 by saying that the marital relationship is supposed to be a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the Church.  How well is my part of this marital relationship reflecting Christ?  Christ doesn’t verbally abuse the Church, or manhandle the Church.  He isn’t forcing himself upon the Church and overpowering it.  Historically the Church and husbands have muddied the waters of what Christ has called us to do.  But we cannot let the failures of the past direct our actions today.  We must look to Christ and ask Him to teach us how to love. In fact if we insert the concept here about what is fitting in the Lord, we would end up with a statement like this.  It is fitting in the Lord for a husband to use the power and gifts that he has for the sake of his wife at the direction of Jesus, rather than for his own selfish purposes!

Children obey your parents

Children are simply told to obey their parents.  Yes, Jesus expects children to reject the path of their “old man” and put on the “new man.”  Yet, instead of obeying parents because, “I said so,” they are to obey their parents in order to please Jesus.  Some parents cannot be pleased regardless what a kid does.  But kids, take heart.  Your job is not to please your mom and dad, but to do your best to please Jesus.  This can make all the difference and protects our hearts against the poison of rebellion.

It is God’s design that puts children in a loving home of a man and a woman who are working in unity for the good of that child, as directed by Christ.  However, it is our sin that messes up every aspect of that last sentence.  None of us should use the sin of the other people in the family to justify rebellion against the commands of Christ.  This world does its best to stir up kids against the leadership of their parents.  It also demoralizes parents to the point that they either give up trying to train their children, or they buy into the lies of this world system and neglect them.

Let me just say that no kid deserves to be abused by their parents or any guardian for that matter.  It is up to the other adults in their life to be a help when abuse happens.  However, we are headed to the place that to teach your child to serve Christ is labeled as child abuse.  So we need a balance here.  Kids have a need to learn to follow the leadership of their parents before they can take on the leadership of their own life as an adult.

Fathers don’t stir up your children

Though this is addressed to fathers, it would apply to both parents.  In the child-parent relationship, the kid has no power.  Some of that has been moderated with education and CPS, etc.  Here Christ commands fathers not to purposefully stir up their children, or exasperate them.  The word translated here has the idea that you are provoking them to the point that they are angry and wrathful.  Parents should always be monitoring the heart of the child because our job is not to force them into a hierarchical system, but to help them grow up and become like Jesus.

The caution is further defined by the fact that if we go too far, we can discourage the child.  The term translated “discouraged” in verse 21 basically means to break the spirit of the child.  Each child is an image-bearer of God who is destined to take their place in the ranks of God’s people.  In that sense they are your little brother or sister.  Instead of correcting and teaching out of hurt and exercising dominance, we are to correct and teach children out of love and in order to help them become like Christ.  All parents should learn to use their power and gifts, not to spoil a child rotten, but to prepare them for life and help them to become like Jesus, without breaking their spirit and discouraging them away from Him.

Slaves obey your masters

Though I mentioned this earlier, I must reiterate that it is easy to be angry that the Bible doesn’t tell us to throw off slavery and all masters.  However, Christ calls slaves to a different battle.  Over the process of time, Christians were able to see the truth of the Scriptures and come up with a system that removed these social inequities.  However, let us not lose the point of the Scriptures.  What does it profit a slave to be emancipated within society and yet still be in chains to sin on the inside?  Yes, his few years in this world may be happier, possibly.  But, he will be in a world of hurt when he stands before God.

We must recognize that the world’s system always has slaves, whether they are called that or not.  In fact, there is still slavery going on in the USA today.  It has just been swept under the rug and exists in seedy places, where women, children, and men are trafficked in order to satisfy the cravings of wicked people.  We should continue to do our best to remove this blight from our society.  However, that societal battle cannot save a person’s soul.

We should also take note that this passage is not talking about those who are pressed into slavery illegally. 

Slaves are given a hard command just as husbands, wives, and children; obey your masters.  First of all we should notice the qualification that these “masters” are master in regard to the body only.  Men have often bought and sold the bodies of other humans.  But it is up to the slave whether they have also purchased their soul.  A master cannot control your heart and mind unless you let him.  They cannot control your ability to worship God in the holies of holies of your own heart and mind.  Thus slaves can serve their masters as an act of worship to their true master in heaven.  I don’t have time to go into all the ways that the slavery that happened throughout the United States of America, and elsewhere, was actually breaking the commands of Scripture.  But please hear the heart of Paul’s message.  The answer is not in breaking out of the situation, but in first, breaking free from the sins of your own heart.

Secondly, two words are used to challenge how Christian slaves served their masters.  The first word is “eye-service,” and the second is “men-pleasers.”  Eye-service refers to the fact that a worker will tend to be lazy when the boss is not around, and then start working hard when the boss is looking.  This is how the flesh is when we are focused on pleasing people in order to get what we want.  Christians are called to reject being a “man-pleaser.”  Instead we are to please God.

Technically the Bible emancipates all Christian slaves from their masters and tells them to serve their earthly masters as a service to Christ.  Now they are to be the best slave possible, working hard even when they are not being watched.  They are to do a sincere job in the fear of God, not their earthly master.  This may seem to be a heartless command on one hand.  However, how much more heartless is it to encourage people to rebel, and yet leave them in shackles to their own sinful hearts?  Only the Holy Spirit can help us to see the radical call of God to break the hold that the system of this world has on your heart.  Even in choosing the path of the rebel, you are only satisfying the systems need to energize for the next developing system.  Meanwhile people go on not dealing with their own hearts.

In our society we have technically taken the slave class and moved it into the poor class.  Today we are tempted in our jobs to be pit against our employers.  Yes, many employers of this world are taking advantage of their employees.  But, as a Christian it is not my job to rebel against the employers of this world.  Rather, it is my job to give an honest day’s work out of respect for Christ.  The rest is between Christ and my employer.  Christians should be the best employees that the world can hire because we have learned to use our power and gifts for the sake of others, regardless of what we get from them in return.

Let me close this by challenging us today.  Don’t let the world dictate what you believe and what you will do.  Instead serve Christ with your life.  Let Him teach you how to quit this system of pitting one group against another.  Let Him teach you how to use your power and gifts to bless others in your life, starting at home, and working outward from there.  Let Christ teach you how to root out those hurts and that bitterness, which keeps you circling the same drain over and over again.  Let His Holy Spirit lift you up out of the bondage to which this world seeks to chain you.

New Man at Home

Tuesday
Jan192016

Believe for Greater Things - Mary

Luke  1:34-38.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 17, 2016. 

This series has been an adaptation of a sermon preached by George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA, on August 6, 2013, at its biennial meeting in Orlando, Florida.

So we first looked at Sarah who laughed when she heard God’s plan for her.  Then we looked at Naomi who simply plodded through God’s plan for her.  Last week we looked at Hannah who wept before God regarding His plan in her life.  Today we will look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, and see how she submitted to God’s plan in her life.

We will pick up the story in verse 34 after the angel has given Mary the news that she is going to have a child that will be called the Son of the Highest, would have the throne of David, would reign over the house of Jacob forever, and whose kingdom would have no end.

The Faith of Mary

We are not told how young Mary is.  We only know that she is old enough to have children and young enough to not have been given to her fiancé Joseph yet.  She is most likely in her mid-teens.  It would not be hard for her to realize that the angel is describing her giving birth to the Messiah for whom Israel had been waiting.  Thus this brings up a question for her.

Mary’s question is not so much about doubts she has about what God is going to do.  Rather her question is about the “how” of the plan.  Doubt can arise anywhere.  But the angel’s response makes it clear that Mary is honestly curious.  True faith always has questions and spends time in prayer asking those questions of God.  However, they won’t be questions that doubt God’s ability.    Mary may simply wonder if she is going to be impregnated by Joseph.  How is this going to be?  Sometimes God gives us answers to the how and to what is next in the plan.  Yet, He doesn’t always give us an answer.  Even the answers that we do receive can dredge up more questions.  Thus faith will have questions and even receive some answers.  But, at the end of the day, it will still have to trust God and believe Him for both the “what” and the “how.”  In fact, the “how” will always take care of itself in the end.  God will make a way.

The angel makes it clear that Mary will not become pregnant by Joseph.  Rather, she will conceive by supernatural intervention from the Spirit of God.  Such a miraculous conception would not be believed by the people around her.  Mary knows that if this happens she will be publically disgraced.  Thus true faith accepts and endures public disgrace.  Mary would know exactly how a girl who got pregnant “early” would be treated in that society.  Kids very quickly understand public disgrace and will go to great lengths to avoid it.  Yet, Mary accepts this.  By doing so, she accepts being labled a harlot, or promiscuous girl, perhaps even an unbeliever.  Who would believe such a story?

On top of this Mary would be risking her relationships with family and Joseph.  But, true faith risks its present relationships for the sake of the Lord.  Mary makes the choice to accept what God wants to do.  But, she could not control how others in her life would respond.  Most likely she thinks Joseph will divorce her, maybe even publically to protect his reputation.  How would her father and mother respond?  This is way too risky a proposition for a young girl, and yet, Mary accepts the risk because she trusts God.  No relationships in this world can mean more to us than our relationship with the Lord.  Jesus said in Luke 14:26-27, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”  Hate in this context does not mean “to despise and desire harm.”  Hebrews used this term to cover a wider range of situations than the English language accommodates.  In this context the point is that none of these relationships can mean more to us than Jesus.  He doesn’t want to ruin these relationships.  But all of them have to make a choice, and some will not like you being a disciple of Jesus.  We have to put all relationships in our life “on the altar.”  We have to love everyone in our life.  But our love for them cannot come between us and God.  Would anyone stick with her?

True faith also embraces the unknown hardships.  She knew the path ahead would be extremely difficult from what she could see.  But, what about what she couldn’t see?  She couldn’t foresee giving birth to her baby in a stable and laying him in a manger.  She couldn’t foresee having to flee to Egypt and living in a foreign land for years because a king wants to kill your baby.  She couldn’t foresee the rejection of the Messiah and his public execution in such a shameful way.  The angel does not tell her all that lay ahead.  However, she received advanced warning from Simeon the prophet.  When Jesus was 8 days old and at the temple, Simeon warns Mary, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against, (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  (Luke 2:34-35).  All along the way Mary would be tested, over and over again.  Would she keep following the Lord or try to save her own life?

Finally true faith submits to the Lord’s plan.  Mary’s words, in verse 38, point out two powerful things.  First, she makes a powerful declaration that she sees herself as a slave of God.  I know that translations are generally “handmaiden.”  However the word is literally a female slave.  A slave has no choice.  It is their duty to do the will of their master.  Of course, we tend to shy away from such language today because of the history of slavery in our nation.  However, Mary strongly declares she is God’s slave.  Now we might be tempted to say that after the cross we are no longer slaves to God.  However, the apostles called themselves slaves of God.  Paul does it in Romans 1:1.  In Philippians Paul calls himself and Timothy slaves of Jesus Christ.  James the half brother of Jesus says in James 1:1, “James a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Later in James 4:13 he reminds believers that we should not be presumptuous about what we are going to do.  But rather should say, “if the Lord wills we shall live and do this or that.”  He is pointing out that our will is not what matters, but the Lord’s only.  Jude, another half brother of Jesus, also calls himself the slave of Jesus Christ.  How could these men who taught about the freedom we have in Christ call themselves slaves and teach Christians to be slaves of God?  How can we be both slaves of God and His children?  The answer is simple.  We were slaves to sin like Israel was a slave in Egypt.  God sent His deliverer to set us free from that sin (Pharoah).  We were purchased from sin by the blood of Jesus Christ and thus go from being slaves to sin to being slaves to God.  Yet, this master, does not treat us like sin did.  Rather, he adopts us into His family and lets us share the inheritance with His One and Only Son, Jesus.  Being a slave to God is not about being forced to do something.  Rather it is about being free to serve him.  The early believers chose to not entertain a choice.  Mary chooses to not have a choice.  “Look, the slave of God.”  May this same spirit be in each of us.  Submission is never to be forced among God’s people.  It is volunteered by those who love Him and are loved by Him.  Are you submitted to the master or are you trying to master Jesus?  Are you being corrected and transformed by Him, or are you doing the shaping and fitting Jesus into your life?  The latter will never work.  You will only find yourself frustrated and lost.  But when we lay our life down and say, “I am your slave, I submit to your plan,” then we will find the true life of being a disciple of Christ.

Remember believing God involves laughing at the audacity of His plan, plodding through the difficulties when we don’t see the end, weeping before Him over our experience, and submitting to Him.  None of these things are easy, and yet, they are the path that the faithful have taken from the beginning of time.  Let’s believe God for Greater things.

Mary audio

Tuesday
Feb262013

Instructions to the Flock

In 1 Peter 5:5, we move from talking to the elders to talking to the “youngers.”  If God puts elders in authority then those who are not elders need to submit to that authority.  Submission has been a big theme in Peter’s letter.  It started back in chapter 2 when he told the believers to submit to the human governments.  Then he spoke to slaves about submitting to their masters.  Next he spoke to wives about submitting to their husbands.  He even mentions that, after the cross, all angels and spiritual authorities are submitted to Christ.  This last “submission” is for the Church body to its leaders.

Remember that the definition of submission is this: taking your proper place under a proper authority.  This definition hinges on the terms proper.  It is the Word of God that makes something proper.  Thus, we are not called to submit to everything or one that purports it is an authority.  But when we do recognize proper authority, even then, we submit to it in the proper way.  Thus it does not call for the Church body to become slavishly obedient to the whims of Church leaders.  So let’s look at what Peter has to say here.

We Should Submit To The Elders

I recognize, again, that submission has been abused by leaders.  Thus the virtue of submission requires us to use our minds and listen to God’s Word.  Submission to godly leadership does have boundaries.  They are not God and can take unscriptural positions.  However, as a virtue, submission recognizes that I too am a sinner in need of restraint.  Thus it is only proper that God should place proper authorities over me in appropriate ways.  Leaders should not be telling members who to marry.  But we should listen when they remind us of the Scripture’s injunction to not marry unbelievers.  They are the elders who have a more mature spiritual wisdom and understanding.  I am the “younger” and not just in age.  Those who are not put in leadership should carefully follow those who have been put in leadership as a child should listen to its parents.  Again, this is within Scriptural bounds.

The term “likewise” is used to point us back to the elders.  In the same way they are to submit to Christ’s calling on their life, so we too must submit to it.  How were they supposed to respond?  They were supposed to respond willingly rather than being forced into it (vs. 2).  They were supposed to eagerly serve with pure motives rather than for dishonest gain.  They were supposed to serve as examples rather than “lording” their authority over the Church.  Thus the body of Christ also needs to submit willingly without being forced.  We should be eager to submit with pure motives rather than for dishonest gain, i.e. manipulating.  We should be quick to follow the “right” examples rather than those elders who fall into coercive tactics.  When both elders and “youngers” properly respond to the Lord this can be a beautiful environment where God speaks to us in his Word and confirms it with the leading of elders.  This environment is a protective environment that keeps us spiritually safe.

The Church Should Be Mutually Submitted

Here Peter moves beyond the elder / flock distinction and speaks to the Church as a whole.  The overall or general atmosphere of the Church should be defined by mutual submission.  But under what authority do we submit to one another?  First, we do so under the authority of God’s Word.  But second, we do so under the authority of the demands of Love (i.e. God’s nature).  In love we learn to humble ourselves to serve and to be served.  Elders are simply to lead us in this area of mutual submission and growing in the Truth of Christ.  We need to listen and be led by the “commands” of love.

Next Peter says that they should clothe themselves with humility.  The word used here is one of a servant tying an apron around them.  Humility must be the “uniform” that we tie on ourselves.  It identifies us as one of Christ’s flock.  It is symbolic of the time when Jesus tied on a towel and washed his disciple’s feet.  If we serve without a humble mind it spoils the service.  But, those being washed have to humble themselves, too.  Peter was quick to tell the Lord he couldn’t wash his feet.  But Jesus told him if he didn’t wash Peter’s feet that Peter would have nothing with the Lord.  Oops!  “I take that back, Lord!  Wash all of me!”  We can be too quick to say that we don’t need any leadership.  However, it is God’s wisdom and we should not reject it.  To reject it is to jeopardize our position in Christ because we are rejecting the very Word of Christ.

Peter then quotes from Proverbs 3:34.  Believers ought to humble themselves beneath the “Mighty Hand” of God because God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.  The word resists here could better be translated as “sets himself against.”  If you walk in pride God sets himself against you.  Hmm… I wonder who will win?  Like the angel in the way before Balaam, God will stand against us if we walk in pride.  But if we humble ourselves he will be quick to give us grace.  Thus his hand is called mighty.  It is powerful in judgment to those who in their own wisdom walk in pride.  And, it is powerful in grace to those who are humble.  Which would you rather receive?

Final Instructions To Believers

On top of being submitted to the elders, Peter asks the believers to put their daily concerns upon the Lord.  When we carry around our “stuff” all the time, it leads to increased anxiety.  The picture has been used of rolling your burdens upon the Lord like the people in the middle east loaded up a camel. Let God do the heavy lifting of those daily concerns that tend to weigh us down.  When we do this we are enabled to help each other.  Can you imagine a worker showing up to move your furniture, but he has a 100 pound pack on his back and is holding an arm full of groceries?  If he is going to be any help at all he will need to unload himself first.  Peter shares this concern in the same vein.  We must learn to roll our burden onto Jesus if we are going to be able to help one another.  How do we do this?  First we do it through prayer.  When we talk through our anxieties and then ask God for his help, we begin to unload ourselves of much weight.  However, it also involves faith.  We need to trust that he really is caring for us.  This doesn’t mean he simply has emotions about our situation, but that he is also actually taking care of us.  We can talk to him about it, ask for help, and then quit worrying about it.  This unloading process is too often avoided in our lives.  It causes much pain and grief in our lives and the lives of others.

Next he tells them to be watchful over their souls.  This involves sobriety, i.e. not being drunk on the pleasures of this world.  And, it also involves vigilance.  The watchful shepherd is standing at attention, watching both the sheep and the hills for sign of trouble.  We need to take our spiritual condition serious and not get caught up in living life to please our flesh.  We have an enemy who is an equal opportunity eater.  Like a lion he will eat anything that isn’t ready for it.  So take your stand against the enemy.  Like David of old, do not rely upon your own wisdom and strength.  But, rather, rely upon the power and might of the Spirit of the Lord.  He can only devour those who are not sober and vigilant.  “Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.”

Final Thoughts

We can get so worried about the things of life that we forget; it is God who takes care of us.  Perhaps you are worried about all the things you shouldn’t be, and not worried about all the things you should?  Let the Spirit of God speak to your heart and correct you in this area.

Also, God has given us all the instructions we need to outwit the devil’s schemes.  We just need to trust him.  Godly leadership is a part of that.  Don’t settle for saying it doesn’t work.  Find a place where there are elders who trust God and are caring for the souls of those who attend that church.  You won’t always agree with them.  But humble yourself and let God use them to help watch over your soul.  In doing so you are thwarting the work of the devil in your life.

 

Instructions to Flock Audio