Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Doing Nothing to Discredit the Ministry

In the apostle Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, he describes how he sees himself as working together (with God) in this great ministry of reconciliation. God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men's sins against them (2 Corinthians5:19). So, Paul says, in 6:3, he is conscientiously seeking that he would do nothing to discredit the ministry or give offense in anything.

I just read in the introduction to Erwin Lutzer's book, "Who are you to judge?" (a book that actually is about why Christians need to be making judgements - distinguishing "the false from the true, or better, the false from the half true.") how Lutzer wondered aloud about how, at certain points in church history, a little more kindness might have made a difference in making people more receptive to the gospel. For example, Lutzer writes "I have often wondered what might have happened if John Knox had shown Mary, Queen of Scots a bit more courtesy and compassion during his dialogues with her. We can't know, of course, but maybe her heart would have softened to the Reformed faith and the bitter conflicts might have become more charitable."

I have often thought that myself - not about Knox in particular - but about Christian ministry specifically. The Bible does teach that the gospel is an offense to those that are perishing. Yet, I have wondered at times, on occasion when I have heard people boast of enduring persecution, or complain about some people's resistance to the gospel, whether or not it was the gospel that was offensive or the pride or harshness or lack of listening or respect shown by the messenger of the gospel.

In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul makes it clear that he goes out of his way to give "no cause for offense in anything..." (2 Cor. 6:3). Listen to those words carefully. That is an all-encompassing statement - "no cause"- "in anything".

What did that mean for Paul? Here is a synopsis of what he says:

1. A willingness to suffer to bring that gospel to the world (vss. 4-5). One of the ways that we show that we do love people and that the gospel is life-saving, and that we truly believe that God is reconciling sinners to Himself in Christ, is that we are willing to serve people through the hardships of ministry. Paul's numerous words for suffering here describe almost every kind of hardship that comes in gospel ministry. It is hard for people to believe that we love them and want them to be reconciled to God if at the first stage of opposition, or first moment of hardship, we bail out and take our ball and go home. Suffering shows people that we believe our message is true and urgent, that God loves sinners sacrificially in Christ, and that people mean enough to us and to God that we would suffer for their sakes. Paul says in another New Testament letter that he "endures all things for the sake of the elect."

2. A carefulness with his Christian character (vs. 6). In verse 6, Paul is very careful to say that he guards himself from sin (purity), and that he is devoted to knowing the truth clearly, and to ministering patiently, kindly, in the strength of the Spirit, and in genuine love. Always ask the question, do the people who struggle with the gospel, believe that you love them. Have you treated them with respect? Have you been patient with their struggles? Have you shown immense kindness towards them? Don't strive to win the argument, especially if you aren't willing to love the person. Speak the truth in love.

3. A dependence solely upon God's power and resources, and not human means or abilities (vs. 7). Paul could have used his intellect. He could have attempted to use fear and intimidation. But, he had used those options in his pre-Christian days as a persecutor of the church. He, now, like Christ Jesus, uttered no threats. Rather, according to verse 7, he spoke the truth, depended on God's power to change people's hearts, and used righteous weapons (like prayer and faith) rather than worldly weapons (like human wisdon and manipulation). People can tell immediately when we are trusting in the God that we are calling them to trust in - or whether we are telling them to trust God while we are relying on ourselves to persuade them. Do nothing to give cause for offense, Paul says. Don't try to force faith.

4. Seeing His position from God's perspective and not an earthly perspective (vss. 8-10).
I love this section. There are two ways to look at your life - from a human perspective or from a divine perspective. The human perspective sees things according to what people are saying to you or about you. The divine perspective looks at it as God sees it. So, in verse 8, Paul is often shown dishonour -but in reality, he is sharing and will share in the glory of Christ. People are saying evil things about him and calling him a deciever, but he is more concerned about what God and those who love the truth know as true. He is "unknown" in many places where he travels but he is always known by God. In fact, many of us even feel "unknown" by people when they misunderstand our motives and suggest that we are false motives. But God knows us!
Paul has many sorrows and yet He always as solid reason for joy. He is poor from an earthly perspective yet he is sharing infinite riches with those who come to God through faith in Christ

Be very careful that you as a Christian servant don't spend all your time licking your wounds and whining about your troubles as if you can only see things from an earthly perspective. Faith is the God-given gift of being able to see things as they really are for you in Christ. You will hinder other people's understanding of the gospel if you complain about your troubles on your way to eternal reward. We discredit the gospel when we talk like God doesn't care for us when we teach people the promise of His unfailing love. Yes, we sorrow but that sorrow is healed, and limited, by the promise of God in Christ that He will wipe away every sorrow and make all things new. Our momentary and light afflictions are bringing an eternal weight of glory. The troubles are God's instruments and God's environments to show His sufficiency for those who trust in Him.

Are you making every effort to give "no cause for offense in everything."? Are you determined that the "ministry will not be discredited"? Then, be willing to endure whatever to lovingly take the gospel to people for whom Christ died. Keep your character like that of Christ Jesus. Use only the resources of God to fulfill your daily role as God's servant. See things always from an eternal perspective.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Righteousness of, and the Reason for, the Wrath of God

Sermon Outline for Romans 1:18-23 - The Righteousness of, and the Reason for the Wrath of God.

The wrath of God is God’s righteous or just anger against sin.

The question that probably arises in many people’s minds is this: Is it really ever right for God to be angry? Is it really ever good to talk about the wrath of God against sin?

We live in a culture where people often don’t like to talk about the subject of sin, let alone talk about the wrath of God against sin. I can remember a motivational psychology course that I took in university that started out the course by looking at Jonathon Edwards’ famous sermon: “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” and it was obvious that the professor and the majority of the class could not fathom that anyone could even preach that sermon, let alone listen to it and believe it.

What I am going to dare suggest to you today – is that not only should we be willing to listen to and accept the reality of the wrath of God, but we should also be willing to give thanks for the wrath of God. I say that carefully, but I do say it sincerely. We ought to give thanks to God for His wrath, because His wrath actually helps us realize His righteousness and goodness. This in turn, helps to fuel and focus our faith in God and His wonderful saving provision in Jesus Christ.

So, here is how understanding the wrath of God, helps to teach us to trust God.

A couple quick contextual thoughts:

1. Vs. 18 is an explanation of verse 16 and 17. Paul writes “ For the wrath of God.” Why is Paul not ashamed of the gospel? It is because the gospel does two things – It teaches us that the only way to be saved is to trust in God and for those who trust in God, they will continue to see and experience the revelation of the righteousness of God. If you trust God, you will see continually how right God is in all His ways and you will live on account of the fact that you have trusted in God.

2. Paul emphasizes the word “reveal” . In vs. 17, Paul says in the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed.” In verse 18, Paul says “for the wrath of God is revealed.” What we need to see is that this is not a major subject change – but rather, Paul is arguing that the wrath of God is one of the ways that God reveals His righteousness. The gospel is the announcement that God is saving us from not just sin but the wrath of God that comes on account of sin. If you trust in God, and follow Him you will understand the absolute rightness of God’s ways. (Follow God and you will always discover how right and good He is and loving He is to direct you in His ways.)

I. The Present and Ongoing Reality of the Wrath of God – God’s wrath “is revealed from heaven.” This is not a past tense act. This is a present reality. God’s wrath is being revealed right now in our time. The word “reveal” indicates that God is purposefully letting us see how He feels about our sin.

i. The reason for wrath – ungodliness and unrighteousness. What God is just angry about is the determined, continuous, and universal involvement in humanity in lifestyles characterized by dishonourable, unjust, sinful behaviour. The two words used by Paul are not that distinct but they do carry with them the notion of a lack of reverence towards God and a lack of justice towards one another. In other words, God’s wrath is towards the wickedness that exists amongst humanity when we act in a way that shows total disregard for God and for the good of one another.

ii. The source of God’s wrath – “from heaven”. It is a simple statement – but what we need to see is that in our days, we are observing God’s direct involvement from heaven in the lives of human beings on earth. Paul is about to point to the consequences of living a godless existence. However, we must acknowledge that this is more than simply a matter of “cause and effect.” This passage is not simply teaching that humanity is suffering the consequences of our sin. It is teaching that God has deliberately acted from heaven upon the affairs of men. How so?

iii. The scene of God’s wrath: Vs. 24 teaches that God’s wrath is expressed by God giving humanity over to its wickedness. In other words, in the normal affairs of God’s loving providence for humanity, God restrains evil. When God reveals His wrath, He removes His restraining hand.

Main Point: When you look at the world, and ask the question – how can God, if there is a God, permit such evil – the Bible answers and declares – God is deliberately removing His restraining hand from humanity so that we might see the consequences of our ungodliness and unrighteousness. God’s wrath demonstrates God’s righteousness. God’s wrath proves to us that God is good, wise, loving, and just when He tells us to trust Him and follow His ways obediently. When we fail to follow Him, we end up living in a very unmerciful world (see how things progress to Romans 1:31)

God’s wrath is a merciful demonstration to us of the consequences of not trusting in Him. He is showing how that when we don’t trust in Him, we die. When we do trust in Him, we are saved from the brutal world that we create for ourselves.

God is angry with sin because He knows without this demonstration how evil our sin actually is! He continually reveals this wrath so that we can see it for ourselves! So that we will realize that those who trust in God will truly live.

II. The Present and Ongoing Reason for the Display of God’s Wrath – We hate it when people knowingly suppress truth when it has disastrous effects on the lives of others (ie. environmental issues). It angers us when we know that they have knowingly done so for some evil selfish agenda. That is exactly what angers God. What angers God is that human beings deliberately refuse to trust Him, even though He has shown that He is pre-eminently trustworthy. It is the deliberate refusal (against all reason) to trust God and to follow God’s ways that has led God to reveal His anger.

The steps to suppression of truth –
1. Unequivocal Revelation of God’s righteousness: God has gone out of his way to make it known to human beings not simply that God exists but that God is good, wise, righteous, and therefore trustworthy (vs. 20-21).

a. An inward conviction – “is evident within them”
b. An outward display – “God made it evident to them.” Creation is an enormous display not just of the existence of God – but of His eternal power and divine nature.

2. A progressive Rejection of God
a. Stubborn refusal to honour God and to give Him thanks. Give God no place in our lives. Don’t honour Him by letting Him be who He is for us – our kind, benevolent Creator, Sustainer, and friend.

b. Silly alternative speculation – We deliberately attempt to explain what exists, why it exists, and how it works by our own conjecture rather than accepting divine revelation. We chose human postulation over clear revelation.

c. Inner Corruption – Our hearts are darkened. We become committed to what is wrong rather than embracing what is good and right. We actually become anti-God. Choose evil over good, our selfish ambition over God’s will.

d. Created Substitution – When we eventually make a mess of things by not trusting God, we then have to create things that we hope will rescue us from the destructive world that we have made. Idols can be carved objects of wood or stone or sophisticated theories like technology and scientific exploration. Technology and exploration are not evil in themselves. They become evil when we hope that they might save us instead of returning and simply trusting God and believing that He will give us life in His Son.

Application: God revealed His wrath because we intentionally ignored the revelation of His righteousness through the good things that He has made. God offers us in the gospel a path back to life –the good, abundant, and eternal life that comes through trusting Him. Jesus Christ fixes the mess not only of this world – but of our offence against a good, righteous, and deserving God.