Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How Samson Making Fools Out of Philistines Points Us to the Cross

Reading: Judges 12-15
The story of Samson is one of the more entertaining and at times perplexing accounts in the Bible. He definitely does not have the resume one might look for in a leader of God's people. In one of his lack luster decisions, a decision to marry a Philistine woman, his parents were confused but the narrator let's us in on a clue.
(His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.) Judges 14:4
After a string of events we arrive at that confrontation, his wife having been killed by the Philistines along with her father. They are out to get Samson now. His own people, the Jews, were willing to hand him over to them out of fear. They were trying to save their own skins. “Don't you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us?” they asked Samson, pointing out that he was putting them in a risky position. They inform Samson that they have come to hand him over to the Philistines.
Of course, Samson could have defeated them, but they were not the enemy, they were the very ones God intended to deliver through Samson. So Samson requests,
Samson said, “Swear to me that you won't kill me yourselves.” 13“Agreed,” they answered. “We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.” So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock. 14As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. 15Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men. 16Then Samson said, “With a donkey's jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey's jawbone I have killed a thousand men.” (Judges 15:12-16)
There is some real humor here, that is probably missed in translation, but not completely. The NIV's “I have made donkeys of them” probably captures the idea about as good as we can, but tames it a bit more than I imagine Samson said it. (A man who just slew a thousand men is probably not going to worry about the saltiness of the word ass, which serves well the double meaning. Young's Literal Translation might help us a bit. The [ ] indicate my expansion to make obvious what is likely to have been intended.
With a jaw-bone of the ass – an ass upon asses [the jawbone of the ass upon the asses I just killed] – with a jaw-bone of the ass I have smitten a thousand men.'
So it seems that Samson was saying that he made an ass (fool) out them with the jawbone of an ass. Donkey seems to loose the flavor a bit, since nobody uses that as a term of derogation. But think about what Samson did, and how he explains it. With the folly of a dead donkey's jawbone, I conquered those into whose hands I had been delivered.” It is here that we see how this story points us to the cross.
Christ was also delivered into the hands of the enemies of God's people, by His own people. Unlike Samson, he did not have to specify, “don't kill me, only tie me up,” for Christ was conquering death itself. In fact, it was into death's hands that he was delivered. And through the folly of the cross, a picture of death and weakness, symbolic of the folly of those who hung there because of their crimes, Christ made an end of death. Christ declared, death to death— death upon death through death.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What Does God's Super-Abundance Toward Us Call Forth in Response?

I spent some time in 2 Peter 1:5 this morning and really appreciated Young's Literal Translation of vs. 5-10. Here they are, as they might encourage you as well.
And this same also – all diligence having brought in besides, superadd in your faith the worthiness, and in the worthiness the knowledge, 6and in the knowledge the temperance, and in the temperance the endurance, and in the endurance the piety, 7and in the piety the brotherly kindness, and in the brotherly kindness the love; 8for these things being to you and abounding, do make you neither inert nor unfruitful in regard to the acknowledging of our Lord Jesus Christ, 9for he with whom these things are not present is blind, dim-sighted, having become forgetful of the cleansing of his old sins; 10wherefore, the rather, brethren, be diligent to make stedfast your calling and choice, for these things doing, ye may never stumble, 11for so, richly shall be superadded to you the entrance into the age-during reign of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It is worth noting that this follows some of the grandest statements about what God has given us in Christ. It would be absurd to read into this some sort of works oriented salvation. Rather, it seems that rooted in what God has done for us in giving us faith, and everything we need for life and godliness and promises to be laid hold of, that vs. 5-10 are a great therefore. These verses can only be effectively applied to those who, through the righteousness of God have received a precious faith. Here are the preceding verses:
To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: 2Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Depth of the Love of Christ

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Paul is praying here, for the Ephesians, a very similar thing as he prayed for the Colossians. “Christ in you,” (Colossians 1:27-29) was the driving force behind all his ministry. Here he is praying that Christ would dwell in the hearts of the Ephesians through faith. Does that seem like an odd prayer to pray for Christians? It shouldn't. The goal of the Christian life is indeed that Christ be formed in us.

Here in Ephesians 3, Paul prays that this dwelling of Christ in our hearts would so root us in His love that we would have power to lay hold of that love, that we too would be filled to the measure of the fullness of God. This isn't merely a prayer that we would know it, but rather than we would live it.

I wonder if Paul placed the word “deep” or “depth” (depending on translation), at the end of the list for emphasis. I am much more inclined to think of how wide and long, or how high the love of Christ is, especially if I am thinking of how I am to live it out in my own life toward others. But it is the depth of the love that I am less amicable toward. But it is the depth of Christ's love that seems to be the crux of the matter. It is almost as if I hear a pause after “deep” so that I might take it in when I go through that verse.

It was from the depth that we needed to be rescued (Psalm 69:14). And it was to the depth that Christ had to descend when He came to “the lower earthly regions” (Ephesians 4:9-10). In fact it is in the depth of Christ's love that the height of His love is really discovered.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name... (Philippians 2:6-9)

We are called to proclaim the glorious love of Christ, and we are called to grab onto the depth of the love of Christ: humbling ourselves, laying down our lives, taking up our cross and following Him. No doubt it is because of this very reason that Paul had finished his previous prayer of Ephesians 1 by asking that we would see “his [God's] incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms...” (19-20). We are indeed going to need to know the power that raises the dead, and see it clearly by faith, if we are going to grasp onto the depth of the love of Christ in our living the Gospel to others.

It is there, in the depth of the love of Christ that we will be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” And it is rooted in this prayer that Paul can immediately say,

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (4:2-3)

It is our grasping on to the depth of the love of Christ that will produce the community life to which the church is called. Without it, we only have the self-life; the self-life somehow enhanced by a religious idea of Jesus, but the self-life nonetheless.

It is our grasping on to the depth of the love of Christ that will bring a harvest of souls through the Gospel. Just as Jesus told Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” I believe Christ is calling us to put out into the depth of the love of Christ, and there we will find our nets being filled with a catch.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel

Monday, May 3, 2010

Musings on How the Gospel Redefines Wisdom

...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places... (Ephesians 1:17-20)

What is wisdom? At one level it is the practical application of knowledge. Not just knowing stuff, but knowing what to do. When we arrive at the book of Proverbs (where we are currently doing a series at Gulf Coast Community Church), we find that it is, in a manner of speaking, how to live out God's rule in the affairs of life; obedience to God, rather than following “the way that seems right to a man.”

In fact, the book of Proverbs is set as a contrast to the lie of the serpent in the garden of Eden. There, “Did God really say...” and “You will not surely die,” are a direct assault on the wisdom of God. There, for the first time, folly masquerades as wisdom by questioning the truth of God's word, and denying the reality of God's judgment. If God actually didn't forbid eating (“Did God really say...”), there is no reason to fear disobedience; if there are no consequences to fear (“you will not surely die”), again, there is no reason to fear disobedience, even if God did prohibit eating. The serpent's attack was directly aimed at the fear of God.

The path to Wisdom begins right where the path to folly began. It is at that same “fork in the road”.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)

Here, knowledge is used to summarize the whole first paragraph of the book. This knowledge is “knowing wisdom and discipline...understanding words of insight...acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair,” it is the “prudence...knowledge and discretion” that the young and simple need. (Proverbs 1:2-4) In short, it is another word for Wisdom. This Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord just as the original folly began by losing the fear of the Lord.

The book of Proverbs begins by describing Wisdom in the ultimate sense... that which saves us from destruction and death. Then it moves toward the practical sense of how to apply its foundational truths to every day life. The Wisdom of Proverbs (in the ultimate sense especially) very strongly points to the Gospel. It really is the kind of wisdom needed for “saving our soul” rather than “gaining the whole world.” (Luke 9:25)

Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1:17-20 brings our understanding of Wisdom up a notch. Paul prays that we would be given a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God. How? By having the eyes of our hearts (of course, not the organ which has no eyes, but our unseen person, our inner person) enlightened to know two things. First, that you would know “the hope to which he has called you,” and then he amplifies that a little, “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Second, that you would know, “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,” and that if then defined as, or compared to, “the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”

The Gospel defines Wisdom, what is practical in walking out our obedience to God, by its relationship to eternity. If I were to view hardship, or suffering, I might not find much “wisdom” in it, if I am merely looking on this side of the grave. Because Paul understood the relationship between his present circumstances and the hope to which God had called him, the riches laid up for him in heaven, Paul could say,

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The Gospel not only defines wisdom by its relationship to eternity, it also defines it in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the same power available to us. For instance, humbling myself before others may not be wise because they may take advantage of me or loose respect for me, if I think in merely worldly terms. Treating another person who has wronged you with kindness, may seem to make myself a rug, which looses all sense of wisdom in the practical sense.

How often, when someone talks about Jesus' instructions to love our enemies, give to those who ask of us, or to forgive those who ask us to repeatedly, do we hear something like, “but we really have to use wisdom in this.” The implication is, “What Jesus said is all well and good, but it surely isn't very wise, so you need to balance this impractical advice of Jesus with some practical advice from some other part of the Bible.” Of course, no one comes right out and says it that way, but that is a rough paraphrase of what we are thinking.

The problem is, we don't yet have the wisdom that sees the exceeding greatness of his power for us who believe... the power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places. We need to see that, because when we see that, it suddenly makes sense of what Jesus said. Yes, humbling myself, treating kindly those who have wronged me, giving to those who ask of me, or forgiving those who continually sin against me, may cause my demise, my suffering, my difficulty, or even my death. But if I know that the power that raised Christ from the dead is there for me, and when I see the outcome for Christ, I realize that there is no folly in Jesus' instructions. Jesus' teaching is not in need of being balanced by wisdom at all, it is in need of being brought into focus through the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

It may be that we are often, wisely called to be “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despair even of life,” wherein “we feel the sentence of death”. But it may well be that “this happens that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (from 2 Corinthians 1:8-9.) That is Gospel defined wisdom! Trust in the Lord with all your heart (even if in means He would have to raise the dead), and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)