The Christian Life Apart from The Church?

Sermons on Ephesians Calvin, John cover image

Scripture is quite clear that God’s people are part of his household (Eph. 2:19). Those who trust in Christ are family. They are an essential part of his body. God has gifted them in various ways to serve one another in love (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12, etc.). They are called to love each other deeply and actively (John 13:34, 1 John 4:7-12, etc). However, sometimes Christians refuse to be a living part of a local church fellowship. Or sometimes Christians think it’s not a big deal so they don’t become involved in the life of a church. This type of thinking is unbiblical to say the least.

Speaking of this, John Calvin had some helpful remarks in his sermon on Ephesians 4:6-8. Notice his mention of pride (self-conceit) and rottenness:

…See what reciprocal communication there is among the members of a body. And now God has so called us to himself that he will have us to become one in Christ Jesus…. Does it then follow that each of us should be a whole body by himself? No, for we see on the contrary how God has so dealt to every man his portion, and to all in general, that it is like a bond to hold us together in concord, in order that we should not be puffed up with such foolish self-conceit as to say, ‘I have enough of my own, I do not trouble myself about anyone else.’

God’s will, then, is not that every man should be a whole and perfect body by himself, but that one should be a hand, another a finger, another as an arm, another as a leg, another as a shoulder, and another as a foot.  In short, God has so dealt out His gifts among us that we must perceive that, if each of us withdraws into his own solitude, he will soon be like a rotten member, for he can have no firm continuance in the whole body if he insists on being separate from the rest of the members.  And what will follow from it?  It is bound to perish.  Even so it is with us.  That, therefore, is Paul’s meaning when he says that God’s grace is given to each one of us [Eph. 4:7].

John Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, p. 337.

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

Rescued From the Shipwreck of the Law (Calvin)

In Galatians 2:19 Paul wrote, “For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God” (NET). Calvin’s comments on these phrase are quite helpful. It’s a good Tuesday meditation! Here’s Calvin:

To die to the law, may either mean that we renounce it, and are delivered from its dominion, so that we have no confidence in it, and, on the other hand, that it does not hold us captives under the yoke of slavery; or it may mean, that, as it allures us all to destruction, we find in it no life. The latter view appears to be preferable. It is not to Christ, he tells us, that it is owing that the law is more hurtful than beneficial; but the law carries within itself the curse which slays us. Hence it follows, that the death which is brought on by the law is truly deadly. With this is contrasted another kind of death, in the life-giving fellowship of the cross of Christ. He says, that he is crucified together with Christ, that he might live unto God. The ordinary punctuation of this passage obscures the true meaning. It is this: “I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live to God.” But the context will read more smoothly thus: “I through the law am dead to the law;” then, in a separate sentence, “That I might live to God, I am crucified with Christ.”

That I might live to God. He shews that the kind of death, on which the false apostles seized as a ground of quarrel, is a proper object of desire; for he declares that we are dead to the law, not by any means that we may live to sin, but that we may live to God. To live to God, sometimes means to regulate our life according to his will, so as to study nothing else in our whole life but to gain his approbation; but here it means to live, if we may be allowed the expression, the life of God. In this way the various points of the contrast are preserved; for in whatever sense we are said to die to sin, in the same sense do we live to God. In short, Paul informs us that this death is not mortal, but is the cause of a better life; because God snatches us from the shipwreck of the law, and by his grace raises us up to another life.

 John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 73.

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

On Avoiding People Who Cause Divisions (Calvin)

When talking about people who sinfully cause division in the church, this is what Paul told Titus:

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11 NIV).

This inspired instruction is still very applicable today! Paul wouldn’t have pastors and elders waste their precious time arguing with contentious people who only want to harm the peace and unity of the church. Proverbs 26:4 similarly tells us not to answer a fool according to his or her folly. Speaking of divisive people in the church, here’s an outstanding commentary by John Calvin on Titus 3:10-11. Pastors and elders take note!

…There will be no end of quarrels and disputes, if we wish to conquer obstinate men by argument; for they will never lack words, and they will derive fresh courage from being rude, so that they will never grow weary of fighting. Thus, after having given orders to Titus as to the form of doctrine which he should lay down, he now forbids him to waste much time in debating with heretics, because battle would lead to battle and dispute to dispute. Such is the cunning of Satan, that, by the rude talkativeness of such men, he entangles good and faithful pastors, so as to draw them away from diligence in teaching. We must therefore beware lest we become engaged in quarrelsome disputes; for we shall never have leisure to devote our labours to the Lord’s flock, and contentious men will never cease to annoy us.

When he commands him to avoid such persons, it is as if he said that he must not work hard to satisfy them, and even that there is nothing better than to cut off the handle for fighting which they are eager to find. This is a highly necessary admonition; for even they who would willingly take no part in strifes of words are sometimes drawn by shame into controversy, because they think that it would be shameful cowardice to quit the field. Besides, there is no temper, however mild, that is not liable to be provoked by the fierce taunts of enemies, because they look upon it as intolerable that those men should attack the truth, (as they are accustomed to do,) and that no one should reply. Nor are there lacking men who are either of a combative disposition, or excessively hot-tempered, who are eager for battle. On the contrary, Paul does not wish that the servant of Christ should be much and long employed in debating with heretics.

 John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 340–341.

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

“Satan Blocked Our Way” (1 Thess. 2:18b)

 In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 Paul wrote that Satan hindered the missionary team from going back to visit the new church plant in Thessalonica: For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way (NIV).  There are a few things we could discuss and note about this verse, but it is important to realize that one of Satan’s evil strategies is to keep Christians apart and prevent Christian teaching from happening.  He hates Christian fellowship and he hates it when Truth is taught and preached. There’s much application here!  Below are three different commentaries that I found helpful in thinking about this verse and topic:

Note, Satan is a constant enemy to the work of God and does all he can to obstruct it.  [Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2340.]

He [Paul] tells the Thessalonians that he tried to return on more than one occasion but that he and the apostolic team could not reach their goal because Satan stopped us. So great was their effort that only Satanic opposition could explain why they did not return! Stopped is a term that comes from the military. In order to stop the advance of enemy armies, soldiers would tear up and destroy the road to hinder their passage. Warfare imagery is embedded in the metaphor, Satan himself being their adversary. The battle was over the souls of the Thessalonian believers whom Satan tempted to commit the sin of apostasy (3:5 and comments; 1 Pet. 5:8). One of his tactics was to bar the way so the apostles could not return to the church. In spite of the opposition, they did manage to send Timothy back (3:1), and the church itself continued on in faith and love (3:5, 6). Sometime later Paul was able to return to Macedonia and Thessalonica (Acts 19:21–22; 20:1–6; 1 Cor. 16:5; 2 Cor. 1:16; 2:13; 7:5; 1 Tim. 1:3). God responded to their fervent prayers (1 Thess. 3:10–11). In this spiritual warfare, Satan is hardly an omnipotent adversary. But he is a real adversary. [Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 152.]

…Would to God that this sentiment were deeply impressed upon the minds of all pious persons: that Satan is continually contriving, by every means, in what way he may hinder or obstruct the edification of the Church! We would assuredly be more careful to resist him; we would take more care to maintain sound doctrine, of which that enemy strives so keenly to deprive us.  [John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 263.]

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

“Boasting” in 1 Thessalonians 2:19

 1 Thessalonians is an ancient letter from the missionary team of Paul, Silas, and Timothy to the newly planted church in Thessalonica.  The missionary team and the church plant had a deep bond of Christian love.  Paul and his team wanted so badly to get back to the church plant to be with the brothers and sisters there.  And the missionary team was, in a biblical way, proud of these new Christians.  For example, in 2:19 the missionary team asks the church plant a rhetorical question – and answers it themselves: “For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? For you are our glory and joy!” (NET). 

What does it mean that the Thessalonian church plant is the missionary team’s boast and glory?  Aren’t we to only boast in the Lord and in the cross of Christ?  I appreciate how F.F. Bruce explained this:

And how did glorying in his converts relate to Paul’s resolve not “to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14)? His glorying in his converts, as he saw the grace of God manifested in them, was but a phase of his paramount glorying in the cross. They were the fruit of the preaching of the cross: Christ crucified was demonstrated afresh by their faith to be the power and wisdom of God.

F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, vol. 45, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1982), 58.

I also appreciate Calvin’s comments on this:

When he [Paul] calls them his hope and the crown of his glory, we must not understand this as meaning that he gloried in anyone but God alone, but because we are allowed to glory in all God’s favors [blessings], in their own place, in such a manner that he is always our object of aim…. We must, however, infer from this, that Christ’s ministers will, on the last day, according as they have individually promoted his kingdom, be partakers of glory and triumph. Let them therefore now learn to rejoice and glory in nothing but the prosperous issue of their labors, when they see that the glory of Christ is promoted by their instrumentality.

John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 263–264.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015