Month: February 2019

Pastor's Blog

Law, Covenant, and Mission

Yesterday, we briefly saw how the law of Moses was not the first time that God had given instruction to His people. Instruction had been a part of every covenant up to that point. And it’s pretty clear that these instructions did change and develop from one covenant to the next.

For example, when Adam and Eve were pure and sinless and the only two people on planet earth, all they needed to know was to have babies, subdue the earth, and eat from every tree except for that one (Genesis 1:28, 2:16-17).

When God confirmed His covenant with Noah, the situation had changed: sin was in the world. And so while God did repeat many of the same commands originally given to Adam, He also gave new instruction: Noah was allowed to kill and eat animals, but was warned not to eat blood or to kill other humans (Genesis 9:1-7).

At each of these points, the instruction God gave His people was what they needed to know, at their specific spot in history, in order to fulfill their mission and have a right relationship with God and with each other.

And so the law God gave through Moses was the particular instruction that the nation of Israel needed at their particular setting in history. They were a nation living in the Bronze Age in a predominantly agricultural society, and so we’re not surprised to see that many of their laws had to do with things like farming and community life in that kind of society. Loving one another, at that spot in the story, required knowing what to do when your neighbour’s donkey was injured under your care (Exodus 22:10).

Further to this, Israel had a particular mission to fulfill: they were to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6) in the midst of some very corrupt cultures. And so in order to fulfill this covenant mission, they needed to stick out and be different from the nations around them. Many of the laws God gave Israel were designed to help them think and to act this way.

For example, “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material” (Leviticus 19:19). Laws like this, rather than being silly and arbitrary, reminded the Israelites that they were separate and distinct from the nations around them, and trained them to think in those kinds of categories.

Thus, the law was an expression of the unchanging righteousness of God for Israel in their particular setting. And the reason why New Testament Christians are allowed to wear cotton/polyester blends isn’t because God’s righteousness has changed, or because the rules he gave to Israel were silly. Rather, it’s because our setting has changed.

We live in a different covenant, in which the death of Christ has made things “clean” which were once considered “unclean” (Acts 10:9-16). We also live in very different time in history and have a different mission. Christians don’t all live together in one country; instead, we have been sent out into all the nations. We don’t fulfill our mission by being culturally different from the people around us, but rather by becoming culturally like them wherever possible (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). It’s our good works which should make us stick out (1 Peter 2:12), not the fabric content of our clothing.

These issues can be difficult to figure out, and that’s why we were given the New Testament. It helps us understand how to learn from the Old Covenant law while living righteous lives at our place in the story. I’m looking forward to exploring these ideas more this upcoming Sunday, and I hope you are too.

Pastor's Blog

Family Is Not Nothing

On Sunday, we heard Jesus challenge the idea that “family is everything.” Instead, Jesus told us that He must be everything, and have a higher place in our loyalty and devotion than any other family relationship.

Having let that truth sink in, it’s important for us to clarify a further point. While it’s true that family is not everything, this does not mean that family is nothing. In fact, the New Testament has some important things to say about our legitimate responsibilities to our family.

A key example is when the Apostle Paul tells us that “if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God… if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:4, 8). 

Adult children have a responsibility to provide for their parents when necessary. We see this in action with Jesus Himself. As the first-born son, and with Mary more than likely a widow at this point, Jesus had the responsibility of providing for His mother. And while He was in the midst of the anguish of the cross, He fulfilled this responsibility by tasking John with her care (John 19:26-27).

This example is an important counter-balance to our text on Sunday, in which Jesus ignored Mary in a way that would have been quite offensive in that culture (Mark 3:31-35). While at times it was necessary to keep Mary at arm’s length, especially when she was threatening to interfere with His ministry (see also John 2:4), this did not erase His responsibility to provide for her.

Family is not everything. Family is not nothing, either.

Pastor's Blog

“A Radical Relational Reordering”

These words from John Piper sum up well the truths we’ve been exploring in these past three weeks:

Take heed here lest you minimize what I am saying and do not hear how radical it really is. I am not sentimentalizing singleness to make the unmarried feel better. I am declaring the temporary and secondary nature of marriage and family over against the eternal and primary nature of the church. Marriage and family are temporary for this age; the church is forever. I am declaring the radical biblical truth that being in a human family is no sign of eternal blessing, but being in God’s family means being eternally blessed. Relationships based on family are temporary. Relationships based on union with Christ are eternal. Marriage is a temporary institution, but what it stands for lasts forever. “In the resurrection,” Jesus said, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30).

And when his own mother and brothers asked to see him, Jesus said, “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’” (Matt. 12:48–49). Jesus is turning everything around. Yes, he loved his mother and his brothers. But those are all natural and temporary relationships. He did not come into the world to focus on that. He came into the world to call out a people for his name from all the families of the earth into a new family where single people in Christ are full-fledged family members on a par with all others, bearing fruit for God and becoming mothers and fathers of the eternal kind.

“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” a woman cried out to Jesus. And he turned and said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27–28). The mother of God is the obedient Christian—married or single! Take a deep breath and reorder your world.

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,” Jesus said, “who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29–30). Single person, married person, do you want children, mothers, brothers, sisters, lands? Renounce the primacy of your natural relationships, and follow Jesus into the fellowship of the people of God.

John Piper, “This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence.” Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2009. Page 73.
Pastor's Blog

The Gift

In Sunday’s message I mentioned the “gift of singleness,” sometimes referred to as “the gift of celibacy.” This concept has its origins in 1 Corinthians 7:7: “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” This verse clearly identifies singleness as a gift, and many have taken this to mean that Paul had a supernatural ability to be single or celibate. He wishes that others could have this same special ability, but if they don’t, then they should do what they can to get married.

As I said on Sunday, I don’t believe that this idea is Biblical. Here are several reasons why.

  1. Just like in English, the Greek word for gift (charisma) can mean special ability. For example, “he has a real gift for the piano.” In this sentence, the “gift” is the unique ability to play the piano well. But just like in English, charisma can have a wider range of meaning. For example, “he was given the gift of a piano.” In this sentence, the gift isn’t the ability to play the piano; the gift is the piano itself. We should pay careful attention to a passage before we assume “gift” means “special ability.”
  2. When Paul writes that “each has his own gift, one of one kind and one of another,” he is designating both marriage (“one of one kind”) and singleness (“one of another”) as gifts. The New Living Translation is accurate when it paraphrases this verse as follows: “God gives some the gift of marriage, and to others he gives the gift of singleness.” Nobody thinks that “the gift of marriage” is a special ability to be married: the “gift” of marriage itself is very clearly marriage itself. Thus, according to the plain grammar of this passage, singleness itself is also a gift.
  3. In the rest of the chapter (1 Corinthians 7:8, 25-40), Paul’s whole line of reasoning makes little sense if he thought of “the gift of singleness” as a special ability to be single. Instead, he gives the single Corinthians all sorts of reasons to help them see the benefit of singleness and consider it for themselves.
  4. It is true that verse 9 encourages people to marry “if they cannot exercise self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:9, c.f. vv. 2-6), and later on in the chapter, the ability to keep one’s desire under control is mentioned as a deciding factor in whether or not they should seek marriage (1 Corinthians 7:37). But this does not mean that a self-controlled person has a special ability to be single; they simply are experiencing more of a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:23) which they are then able to apply to their particular situation.
  5. In verse 39, Paul addresses widows, and gives them permission to remarry. But then he says, “Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:40). Paul does not encourage these ladies to try and discern if they have a “special ability” to be celibate, and the very idea is a bit of a stretch given their previously married state. Instead, they’re simply given the freedom to make a decision—remarry or remain single. And we should not ignore Paul’s Spirit-filled, Apostolic advice that one of these options will bring greater happiness. 

Taken together, we can understand that the gift of singleness isn’t a special ability to be single. The gift is being single. It is a gift because it gives one a certain measure of freedom from trouble (1 Corinthians 7:28) and distraction (1 Corinthians 7:32-34) and thus can help them be more undivided in their devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35). In other words, singleness can allow someone to give themselves more fully to the good works for which they were created (Ephesians 2:10).

Two more things need to be said: first, if “the gift of singleness” is not itself a special ability, this doesn’t mean that God will not enable and empower single people to live their lives for His glory. God regularly enables us for what He calls us to do, and the single life—no less than the married life—is dependent upon God’s power (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:8).

Second, none of this means that marriage is bad. Marriage is a gift, too (1 Corinthians 7:7). It can function as a measure of protection against the distractions of sexual temptation (1 Corinthians 7:1-8), and therefore may help some find greater effectiveness in their life and ministry. And marriage to the right person can mean a fruitful life of ministry together (as was the case for at least some of the other Apostles—cf. 1 Corinthians 9:5).

The point of 1 Corinthians 7 is that at our place in the biggest story ever told, both marriage and singleness are gifts, and should be received as such—and esteemed as such by the church.

Pastor's Blog

Singleness as a Sign of the New Creation

In his wonderful book “Redeeming Singleness,” Barry Danylak does much to help us understand the role of singleness within the big story of the Bible. In the following quote, he comments on 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, and explores how Christian singleness has a very important role to play now that Christ has come. You may need to read these paragraphs slowly and carefully, but it will be worth it!

The Stoics with whom Paul dialogued in Athens (Acts 17:18) had argued the necessity of marriage on cosmological grounds. The social universe depended on cities, which in turn depended on family units, which in turn depended on marriage. Human being has a duty to marry for the sake of preserving the world and its institutions. Paul counters the Stoic argument by appealing to a more expansive cosmology [i.e. view of the universe]. The survival of the world is not dependent on human marriage since the very form of the present world is already passing away in anticipation of the coming eternal kingdom of God. Something greater than the present age had broken into history, and Christians were to herald its coming.

The cosmological horizon of the Christian subsumes [includes or absorbs] the present age into the eternal one. This means that the plans and purposes of the present age are subsumed [included, absorbed] into the plans and purposes of the anticipated eternal kingdom of God. This is not a denigration of the present world but a radical relativizing of the current age in light of the eternal age, recognizing that one’s true sufficiency and fulfillment will be realized ultimately only in the coming age of the King and the kingdom.

From the standpoint of Paul’s expanded cosmological horizons, singleness is no longer to be considered a liability because it does not further the physical race of humankind. Rather, it can be viewed as a cosmological asset and visible sign of the coming new age [i.e. the New Creation]. However, the fact that individuals may be single and Christian does not necessarily make them vibrant witnesses of the new age. When people choose to remain single for the sake of the kingdom of God because they recognize that their true sufficiency is found only in their relationship to Christ and the coming of his kingdom, and they orient their lives around this conviction, they become in their singleness visible signs of the coming new age.

They serve as signs because the world does not have a category for this kind of intentional singleness. Singles who live with this conviction provide powerful testimony to the sufficiency of Christ for all things—to those both inside and outside the church.”

Barry Danylak,  Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life. Crossway, 2010. Page 207-208.
Pastor's Blog

Men and Women in Marriage

Marriage is about the mission. That’s one of they key points we explored in last Sunday’s message and here on the blog this week. Today we’ll consider some implications of this truth for us as men and women.

It’s plain from Genesis 2:15 and following that Adam was created first, and that he was the one initially given a job to do. Eve was created after this, to help Adam in that mission. This order of operations helps us understand why, at least generally, women seem to be more relationally oriented then men.

After all, the first thing Eve encountered in her life was another person with whom she was already connected. Her relationship with Adam quite literally defined her existence. Adam, on the other hand, began his life alone, tasked with steep responsibilities. His relationship with Eve quite literally came second to his work.

I’ve spoken to several men who are struggling in their marriages and tell me something like, “I don’t get what the problem is—I’m working so hard for her! I leave home early in the morning and I work late every night to provide for her, and I’m never just sitting around, and I don’t get why there’s this distance between us.” 

Those are the words of a fallen son of Adam—a man who can see only his work, and nothing else. A man who has forgotten, or was never taught, that he married a daughter of Eve. And so I tell those men, “You’ve just described the problem. To have a relationship with your wife, you need to sit around a little. As in, sit down on the couch with her and a cup of tea and ask her about her day. Cherish her, just like you promised you would.” And then we go to Genesis 2:15-25 and Ephesians 5:25-33 and talk about what it means to love someone who is inherently different from you.

Pastor Ray Ortlund has helpfully explored these dynamics from a slightly different angle:

God made Adam first and put him in the Garden with a job to do, a mission to fulfill.  In the heart of every fallen man is the self-doubt that wonders, “Am I man enough to climb this mountain God has called me to?  Can I fulfill my destiny?”  A wise wife will understand that question at the center of her husband’s heart.  And she will spend her life answering it, communicating to him in various ways, “Honey, I believe in your call.  I know you can do this, by God’s power.  Go for it.”  In this way, she will breathe life into her man.

God made Eve from Adam, for Adam, to help him follow the call.  In the heart of every fallen woman is the self-doubt that wonders, “Do I please you?  Am I what you wanted?”  A wise husband will understand that question at the center of his wife’s heart.  And he will spend his life answering it, communicating to her in various ways, “Darling, you are the one I need.  I cherish you.  Let me hold you close.”  In this way, he will breathe life into his wife.

Men and women are wonderfully different. Many of the reasons why are found right back in the story of our creation, and we need to understand that story in order to understand, and celebrate, one another today.

Pastor's Blog

Married for the Mission

One of the key ideas we explored yesterday is that marriage is about the mission. But what does that actually look like in real life? Watch below to be inspired by three ordinary couples who are living out this truth in surprising and powerful ways.

God is pleased with a marriage that doesn’t dwell and consume itself and get caught up in its own roots and vines, but is seeking to reach out to the world around it and have an actual, lasting impact for His kingdom.”