On Being a Blessing in Your Local Church

As everyone well knows, this virus situation has been a very difficult and complex issue for churches. It’s difficult and complex because it has to do with a variety of issues, from health to politics to laws to biblical principles to various views on these issues. I don’t want to comment on those things here, but I do want to encourage you, dear Christian, to be a blessing to your church familiy during this time. Be patient, humble, loving, sympathetic, and kind to your brothers and sisters as well as to your deacons, elders, and pastors. Wear these Christian virtues well!

In the last few months of my ministry so many people that I serve here have exhibited much patience and kindness as we’ve tried to navigate through this situation together. It’s hard to explain how comforting and encouraging it is when a Christian says kind and loving words to his or her pastor. Proverbs 16:24 says it exactly right: “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (NIV).

Of course, we should be all be encouraging to each other! Scripture commands members of Christ’s church to be a blessing to his body. For one of many examples, Romans 14:19 says “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (NIV). This very much applies to the situation we’re in today! Rather than grumble, complain, and be critical, we should be peacemakers whose goal it is to encourage one another. In other words, we should build up, not tear down! Matthew Henry’s comments on Romans 14:19 are a good meditation for us all:

Here is the sum of our duty towards our brethren:
(1.) We must study mutual peace. Many wish for peace, and talk loudly for it, that do not follow the things that make for peace, but the contrary. Liberty in things indifferent, condescension to those that are weak and tender, zeal in the great things of God wherein we are all agreed; these are things that make for peace. Meekness, humility, self-denial, and love, and the springs of peace, the things that make for our peace. We are not always so happy as to obtain peace; there are so many that delight in war: but the God of peace will accept us if we follow after the things that make for peace, that is, if we do our endeavour.
(2.) We must study mutual edification. The former [that is, peace] makes way for this. We cannot edify one another while we are quarrelling and contending. There are many ways by which we might edify one another, if we did but seriously mind it; by good counsel, reproof, instruction, example, building up not only ourselves, but one another, in our most holy faith. We are God’s building, God’s temple, and have need to be edified; and therefore must study to promote the spiritual growth one of another. None so strong but they may be edified; none so weak but may edify; and, while we edify others, we benefit ourselves.

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2235.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Health, Conformity, and Renewed Minds (Rom. 12:2-3)

A few weeks ago I mentioned a basic Christian view of health: we don’t worship our health or idolize it. Good health is not our chief end! In fact, if the time comes we’re even called to lay down our life for our brother or sister as Jesus did for us (1 John 3:16).

Speaking of health, it’s important for Christians to realize that some non-Christian views of health are also actually unhealthy and contradictory. For example, one expert might say that abortion is a healthy choice for a woman when in fact it is seriously unhealthy and results in a child’s death. Similarly, another expert might say that homsexuality is a healthy lifestyle choice when experience proves it is unhealthy and Scripture says it is sinful. We need to be discerning when these “experts” tell us what is healthy! We mustn’t conform our thoughts to unbiblical views of health no matter who says what.

This makes me think of Paul’s great words in Romans 12:2: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think….” (NLT).

Here’s how the NET translates it: “Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….”

Colin Kruse has some good comments on these verses:

…Spiritual worship [12:1] involves a refusal to be conformed to this age. The verb translated ‘conform’ means ‘to be conformed to’ or ‘guided by’. It is found elsewhere in the NT only in 1 Peter 1:14 (‘As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance’), where it carries a meaning similar to that in 12:2. In the case of 12:2 conformity to the values of this (evil) age is meant, while in the case of 1 Peter 1:14 conformity to the sort of evil desires that predominated prior to conversion is intended. Those who render spiritual worship to God resist all such pressures to conform.

The word translated ‘mind’ in 12:2 is capable of conveying various nuances of meaning: the faculty of intellectual perception (intellect), the way of thinking (attitude), or the result of thinking (thought, opinion, decree). Paul’s exhortation in 12:2 is that his audience’s way of thinking (and the thoughts they have as a result) ought not to be influenced by the world’s way of thinking but rather be transformed by the renewal of their minds. The word translated ‘renewal’ is found here for the first time in Greek literature. Elsewhere in the NT it is found only in Titus 3:5b: ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit’. Paul’s meaning here in 12:2 would appear to be that believers are to allow their way of thinking to be renewed by the Spirit of God in the light of the gospel. This will mean the reversal of the effects of the fall that resulted in humanity being handed over by God to a ‘depraved mind’ (1:28).

 Colin G. Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2012), 465.

I also appreciate John Stott’s comments on this verse:

This is Paul’s version of the call to nonconformity and to holiness which is addressed to the people of God throughout Scripture. For example, God’s word came to Israel through Moses: ‘You must not do as they do … in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws.…’ Another example is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Surrounded by the false devotion of both Pharisees and pagans, Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not be like them.’ ‘We are not to be like a chameleon which takes its colour from its surroundings.’ And now Paul issues the same summons to the people of God not to be conformed to the prevailing culture, but rather to be transformed. Both verbs are present passive imperatives and denote the continuing attitudes which we are to retain. We must go on refusing to conform to the world’s ways and go on letting ourselves be transformed according to God’s will. J. B. Phillip’s paraphrase catches the alternative: ‘Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within.’

 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 322–323.

As you probably know, Paul goes on in Romans 13 to talk about submitting to the governing authorities. There’s a Christian balance here: we should submit to authorities in this world, but it doesn’t mean we conform our thinking to the ways and customs of this world. Ultimately, we want to please God by discerning his will – what is good, acceptable, and perfect (Rom 12:3). To glorify God and enjoy him forever is our chief end!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Bible Roulette (Willard)

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by [Dallas Willard]

Although I’m a Christian who is Reformed by conviction, I’ve been very blessed in many ways by Christian resources that are not Reformed. From C.S. Lewis to Blaise Pascal to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and others!), I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated books from other Christian perspectives. I certainly don’t (and won’t!) limit my reading to “Reformed-only” books.

One such book I’ve been reading is Hearing God by Dallas Willard. I just finished the third chapter called “Never Alone” and I came away with a lot of good stuff to think about. I don’t agree with everything in it, but everything in it has made me think, contemplate, and reflect on various biblical truths and teachings. Here’s a section from this chapter that I thought was very helpful. It has to do with one wrong way of trying to hear God speak or discern his will:

A misguided expectation of the Bible’s ability to speak specifically to an individual or a situation leads some people to play the Bible roulette mentioned earlier. They allow the Bible to fall open where it will and then stab their finger at random on the page to see which verse it lands on. Then they read the selected verse to see what they should do. This is trying to force God to give you a message.

Despite the fact that some great Christians have used this technique, it is certainly not a procedure recommended by the Bible, and there is no biblical reason why one might not just as well use a dictionary, the Encyclopedia Britannica or the newspaper the same way or simply open the Bible and wait for a fly to land on a verse.

A novel approach was recently suggested by a minister who stated in all seriousness that we should look up the year of our birth to cast light on what we should do. Unless you were born in the first half of the twentieth century (the earlier the better), this method will do you no good, since there are few verses numbered beyond 20 or 30. I was born in 1935, so I thought I would see what direction I could get from Genesis 19:35. I will leave it to your curiosity to see what that verse says, but I shudder to think what instruction might be derived from this method.

…You hear people tell of opening the Bible at random and reading a verse to decide whether to undertake some enterprise or move or to marry a certain person. Many devout people will do such things to hear God because their need and anxiety to hear God is so great—though they may later try to hide it or laugh at it when revealed. Worse still, many actually act on the fruit of this “guidance” to the great harm of themselves and others. They are the losers at Bible roulette. What a stark contrast to this unhappy condition is the simple word of Jesus: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). We have problems when we try to force God to tell us something. We don’t force a conversation. We respect and wait and listen.

Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

On Christian Love and Not Causing a Brother to Stumble (Henry)

Here is something Paul wrote to tell Christians not to use their rights or freedoms to cause other Christians to stumble:

“But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.  For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ”

1 Cor. 8:9-12 NLT

It’s a very important biblical teaching to say the least! Matthew Henry’s comments on these verses are a great help in understanding Paul’s teaching. Note Henry’s excellent emphasis on love:

Note, Those whom Christ hath redeemed with his most precious blood should be very precious and dear to us. If he had such compassion as to die for them, that they might not perish, we should have so much compassion for them as to deny ourselves, for their sakes, in various instances, and not use our liberty to their hurt, to occasion their stumbling, or hazard their ruin. That man has very little of the Spirit of the Redeemer who had rather his brother should perish than himself be abridged, in any respect, of his liberty.

He who hath the Spirit of Christ in him will love those whom Christ loved, so as to die for them, and will study to promote their spiritual and eternal warfare, and shun every thing that would unnecessarily grieve them, and much more every thing that would be likely to occasion their stumbling, or falling into sin.

The hurt done to them Christ takes as done to himself: When you sin so against the weak brethren and wound their consciences, you sin against Christ, v. 12. Note, Injuries done to Christians are injuries to Christ, especially to babes in Christ, to weak Christians; and most of all, involving them in guilt: wounding their consciences is wounding him. He has a particular care of the lambs of the flock: He gathers them in his arm and carries them in his bosom, Isa. 60:11.

Strong Christians should be very careful to avoid what will offend weak ones, or lay a stumbling-block in their way. Shall we be void of compassion for those to whom Christ has shown so much? Shall we sin against Christ who suffered for us? Shall we set ourselves to defeat his gracious designs, and help to ruin those whom he died to save?

 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2259.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Do Not Wound A Brother’s Conscience! (Carson)

 While studying 1 Corinthians 8 today I was reminded how firmly Paul told Christians with stronger consciences to give up their rights for the sake of Christians with weaker consciences.  In fact, it’s based on the gospel (v.11).  I appreciate how D. A. Carson explained 1 Cor. 8 in his devotional, For the Love of God (vol. 1).  Take a moment to read this – and if you don’t have the book, I recommend it!

Apparently some Christians in Corinth, secure in their knowledge that idols are nothing at all, and that all meat has been created by the one true God so that it is good to eat even if it had been offered to an idol, feel wonderful liberty to eat whatever they like. Others, converted perhaps from a life bound up with pagan superstition, detect the demonic in the idol, and think it unsafe to eat food that has been offered to them (1 Cor. 8). The thrust of Paul’s argument is plain enough. Those with a robust conscience on these matters should be willing to forgo their rights so that they do not damage other brothers and sisters in Christ.

It may nevertheless crystallize the application if we underline several elements:

(1) The issue concerns something that is not intrinsically wrong. One could not imagine the apostle suggesting that some Christians think adultery is all right, while others have qualms about it, and the former should perhaps forgo their freedom so as not to offend the latter. In such a case, there is never any excuse for the action; the action is prohibited. So Paul’s principles here apply only to actions that are in themselves morally indifferent.

(2) Paul assumes that it is wrong to go against conscience, for then conscience may be damaged (8:12). A conscience hardened in one area, over an indifferent matter, may become hard in another area—something more crucial. Ideally, of course, the conscience should become more perfectly aligned with what God says in Scripture, so that in indifferent matters it would leave the individual free. Conscience may be instructed and shaped by truth. But until conscience has been reformed by Scripture, it is best not to contravene it.

(3) The “weak” brother in this chapter (8:7–13) is one with a “weak” conscience; that is, one who thinks some action is wrong even though there is nothing intrinsically wrong in it. Thus the “weak” brother is more bound by rules than the “strong” brother. Both will adopt the rules that touch things truly wrong, while the weak brother adds rules for things that are not truly wrong but that are at that point wrong for him, since he thinks them wrong.

(4) Paul places primary onus of responsibility on the “strong” to restrict their own freedoms for the sake of others. In other words, it is never a sufficient question for the Christian to ask, “What am I allowed to do? What are my rights?” Christians serve a Lord who certainly did not stand on his rights when he went to the cross. Following the self-denial of Jesus, they will also ask, “What rights should I give up for the sake of others?”

 D. A. Carson, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word., vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 272.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Duties in Marriage (Vincent)

 (This is a repost from September 2012)

In Thomas Vincent’s discussion of the Westminster Shorter Catechism he explains and applies the fifth commandment to husbands and wives in their duties to one another.  I’ve abbreviated and edited it slightly.  As you read, remember that solid Christian doctrine leads to solid Christian living: the two go hand in hand.  You’ll see what I mean as you read Vincent’s words:

Q: What are the duties of wives to their husbands?  A: 1) Love them above all other persons in the world (Titus 2:4).  2) Be loyal and faithful in the home and in the marriage covenant (Heb 13:4).  3) Revere them and take care not to offend them (Eph. 5:33).  4) Subject yourselves to them in all things lawful under Christ (Eph 5:22).  5) Please them by living in harmony (1 Cor 7:34).  6) Help them bear their burdens and help them in providing for the family (Gen 2:18, Prov 31:27).  7) Listen to and comply with the husband’s counsel if it is good and profitable for your Christian faith; if not, with meekness, wisdom, kindness, and love, win your husband over to the ways of God (1 Pet 3:1-2).

Q: What are the duties of husbands to their wives? A: 1) Love them dearly, reflecting the love of Christ to his church (Eph 5:25).  2) Live with them, honor them, and delight in their company socially and intimately (Eph 5:31, Prov. 5:18-19).  3) Be tender toward them and provide for them in all things (Eph 5:28).  4) Be faithful to them in the marriage covenant – keep the bed pure (Hos 3:3).  5) Protect them from injuries and cover their infirmities with the wings of love (1 Pet 4:8).  6) Please them in all things and praise them when they do well (1 Cor 7:33).  7) Pray with them and for them, counsel and admonish them, and help them in every way – especially with reference to their Christian walk (1 Pet 3:7).

I suppose one biblical and Christian word could summarize the whole list: Love!  Or, as Paul said, Put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (Col. 3:14 NASB).

For a fuller list with more Scripture references, see pages 159-160 of Thomas Vincent’s The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Hymn: Of A Rebel Made A Son (Newton)

The Works of John Newton (4 Volume Set)  Although this hymn by John Newton might have a few titles, one line in it would be my choice for a title: “…Of a rebel made a son.”  Whatever it is called, here’s Newton’s wonderful hymn that exalts the grace and love of Christ.  Say it out loud!

Saved by blood, I live to tell
What the love of Christ hath done;
He redeemed my soul from hell,
Of a rebel made a son:
Oh I tremble still to think
How secure I lived in sin,
Sporting on destruction’s brink
Yet preserved from falling in.

In his own appointed hour,
To my heart the Savior spoke;
Touched me by his Spirit’s power;
And my dangerous slumber broke.
Then I saw and owned my guilt:
Soon my gracious Lord replied,
‘Fear not, I my blood have spilt,
Twas for such as thee I died.’

Shame and wonder, joy and love;
All at once possessed my heart,
Can I hope thy grace to prove
After acting such a part?
‘Thou hast greatly sinned,’ said he,
‘But I freely all forgive,
I myself thy debt have paid,
Now I bid thee rise and live!’

Come my fellow sinners try;
Jesus’ heart is full of love
Oh that you, as well as I,
May his wonderous mercy prove!
He has sent me to declare,
All is ready, all is free:
Why should any soul despair,
When he saved a wretch like me?

John Newton, “Hear What He Has Done For My Soul”, Book III, Hymn 54.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015