Be Worthy of God?

25 11 2009

This article is adapted from the one I wrote for the church newsletter:

As you read through the New Testament, certainly you will come across some verses that are difficult to understand, particularly in the writing of Paul. (You can breathe a great big sigh of relief since this was Peter’s assessment of Paul’s writings as well [2 Pet. 3:16]!) Every once in a while, however, you come across passages in the Bible that make you do a double take and say, “What?!” 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 is one of those passages. Paul writes, “[11] For you know how, like a father with his children, [12] we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” Yes, he said “worthy of God.” The Greek word for worthy is axiōs and is derived from the idea of balancing something in a scale. But certainly Paul isn’t telling the Thessalonians that if God were on one side of a scale, they were to live as though they could balance out the other side! Who could live up to such a demand? Borrowing from the Old Testament idea of glory (Heb. kabōd; “weightiness”), no one is heavier than God!

Interestingly, the word axiōs is used throughout Scripture and is translated in a few different ways. The first (and expected) translation of the word is “worthy.” It is this sense of the word that one would typically understand the idea of worthiness. John the Baptist said that he was not worthy even of untying Jesus’ sandal (John 1:27). The prodigal son confessed that he was no longer worthy to be called a son (Luke 15:19). In the Book of Revelation, again as one would expect, the term is used to speak of God’s worthiness of worship (Rev. 4:11; cf. 5:12 where it is used of Christ).

The second translation of the word is “deserving” and it is translated thus frequently in texts dealing with deserving judgment or punishment (cf. Luke 12:48; 23:15; Acts 23:29; Rom. 1:32). In Luke 23:41, for example, the thief on the cross confesses that, unlike Christ, they were receiving what they deserved because of their deeds. It is not exclusively used in that context, though. For instance, in Luke 10:7 when Jesus is commissioning the seventy to preach about the kingdom of God, He says that the laborer is deserving, or worthy, of his wages. Paul also argues that elders are deserving of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17).

A third use of the word is where it is translated “worthy” in the sense of comparison. In Romans 8:18, Paul writes that the sufferings of this world are not “worth comparing” with the glory to come.

The fourth and final way this word is translated is the way it should be understood in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. It is the idea of “fitness” or “appropriateness.” In 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul says that he should give thanks to God for the church because it would be fitting given the way they had grown in faith and love. In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist rebukes the Pharisees and Sadducees and tells them to bear fruit in keeping with repentance (cf. Luke 3:8). The fruit would be consistent with true repentance. By the absence of fruit in the Pharisees’ lives, their lack of repentance was made evident. This was the same message of repentance that Paul preached to the Gentiles (Acts 26:20).

So, when Paul tells the Thessalonian church to live in a manner worthy of God. He is not saying that they need to balance out the scales. Praise God for that! What seems to be the best way to understand this passage is that if a person confesses that they have God in their life, there is a manner of living that is fitting with that confession. There should be a different look to that person because of the awesome fact that God is with them. This is the same idea behind Philippians 1:27 where Paul tells the church to let their manner of life be worthy of the gospel. He isn’t teaching salvation by human merit. That would go completely contradictory to his understanding that salvation is by faith alone and not by works (Eph. 2:8-9). What Paul is saying is that if a person really understands the truth of the gospel (i.e., God has opened their eyes and illumined their hearts to see) so that they are saved, there is a lifestyle that comes with that saving truth and “salvific” understanding. It affects you so that you do not continue living for the world of the things of this world.

The same question should be asked of each of us: Are you walking in a manner worthy of God? Is your life fitting with the faith you profess? Are your choices in line with the truth that God has saved you by His grace? This sort of thinking and living is concomitant with Christ’s living in us (Gal. 2:20). We cannot accomplish this without His enablement. Still, we must not neglect our responsibility to walk circumspectly in this world. Paul understood this necessity to the extent that he would write it in the most provocative way: “Christian, be worthy of God.” Together, let us strive to look different, think differently, speak differently, and live differently.


Calling All Troops

17 09 2008

“Life is war.” John Piper expressed this thought in his book, Let the Nations Be Glad. In the calm comfort of San Diego living, oftentimes it is easy to be lulled into a numb passivity where we forget that war rages all around us. A good friend reminded me this week that Satan hates godly leaders and godly churches. The more Lighthouse strives to be a church that upholds a high view of God and His Word, we can be sure that spiritual attacks will abound. But are we in a state of readiness? Are our days reinforced with prayer to withstand the onslaught of attacks? Do we remember Christ’s instructions, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)? Please pray for the church, for one another, for the leaders, and for our pastor. Pray that even though we undergo serious times of spiritual warfare, Christ would see us through. Now is a particular time where the church can rally together in prayer, encouragement, and support.

Meditations from Proverbs 26

27 06 2008

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spoke on the connection between the heart and the tongue this past Sunday. Jesus, speaking in the context of exposing the Pharisees’ wickedness, gives some helpful insight about how the tongue works and how our speech reveals what is going on inside. In Luke 6:43-45, He uses the simple illustration that a tree is known for its fruit. Good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit. This is not a deeply profound thought. It is well-known even today. Why would anyone go to a thorn bush looking for figs? Jesus uses this illustration to show, however, that by examining a person’s speech, you can actually see the condition of their heart. James uses a similar illustration in James 3:9-12:

9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;
10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.
11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?
12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

Our speech reveals what we are inside. If our speech is wicked, deceitful, slanderous, and malicious, it reveals the sinfulness of our hearts. We would do well to remember that sin is not just the behavior of our lives but begins as a condition of the heart. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

The majority of Proverbs 26 is devoted to describing the one who works evil with his tongue. The author writes:

18 Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death,
19 So is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, “Was I not joking?”
20 For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.
21 Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife.
22 The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
23 Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross are burning lips and a wicked heart.
24 He who hates disguises it with his lips, but he lays up deceit in his heart.
25 When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart.
26 Though his hatred covers itself with guile, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.
27 He who digs a pit will fall into it, and he who rolls a stone, it will come back on him.
28 A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

This passage has much more than can be covered in one post, but it does provide some helpful insights that cause us to examine our speech.

1) Verses 18-19 speak of the joker. This passage really hits home to me because of my tendency to find pleasure in the confusion of others. People who have spent enough time with me know that it is often difficult to discern whether I am being serious or joking in certain contexts. This kind of cruel deception does not serve to uplift the body but can actually tear down. Out of a desire not to be like the madman throwing about firebrands, arrows, and death, I need to put a guard over my mouth and consider the person I am deceiving before looking to the pleasure I might receive in deceiving them. It really does lend added meaning to the premise behind “April Fool’s Day.”

2) Verses 20-22 speak of the whisperer. This is the gossip and slanderer who spreads contention and strife through his words. In verse 20, the author makes a direct corrolation between whispering and causing contention. I mentioned this on Sunday, but many would probably dismiss gossip as a sin that “isn’t that bad.” The writer of Proverbs understands its damaging effect and how it really can work to tear down a person and cause contention.

3) Verses 24-28 provide some of the most insightful words in this passage because it reveals the hypocrisy of those who sin with their tongues. They disguise hatred with their lips because they are deceitful in their hearts. They speak graciously but must not be believed because their heart is full of abomination. But this deceit will be uncovered. The hatred will be revealed. Why? Jesus speaks of this in Luke 6:43-45 — bad trees are going to produce bad fruit. If this is what is going on in your heart, it will come out. Just give someone long enough to talk and they will reveal their heart. These are the people who dig a pit for others and then fall into it themselves.

This whole study on the tongue has been eye-opening. There is so much I need to work on myself. I talk a lot! There is no sense hiding what is going on inside in the heart. It will be found out. At the same time, there is no sense just trying to superficially change your speech. If the heart is the source of the problem, the heart is what needs to change. Praise God that He is in the business of changing hearts!

Meditations from Psalm 5

17 04 2008

1 Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Consider my groaning.
2 Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God,
For to You I pray.
3 In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice;
In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.

The Psalmist entreats God in Psalm 5 to hear his prayer. This is one of my favorite passages about prayer in the Bible because the language is so vivid and the heart of David can be felt. There’s much to learn about how to pray in these words.

1. David shows great reverence for God. In just three short verses, he recognizes God’s lordship, kingship, and deity. He understands lucidly that God is in control of his life and he humbly submits to God’s rule. He does not blame God for his problems. He simply understands that God is greater than his problems and that it would be consistent with the character of God to deliver him from those who oppress him.

2. David’s prayer is in the morning. This is such a difficult thing for me personally. Each morning when I arrive at the office, my first inclination is not to open my Bible and pray. There is always so much to get done at the office that my first thought is usually to check my email or go run errands. Twice in the opening verses, David mentions that his prayer would be lifted up in the morning. David could not help but make it the first thing each day because of his incredible need. He is praying for protection from the wicked who are his oppressors, and he knows that without God’s help he would have no hope for salvation. This leads to the next point.

3. David prays because he needs to pray. There is great urgency in his prayer. The phrase “my words” in vs. 1 is emphatic. “Give ear to my words,” “consider my groaning,” “heed the sound of my cry for help.” He makes three appeals to God in quick succession accentuating his dire need. There is a clear sense of urgency in his prayer, and this is a rebuke on my life that I do not regularly sense that same urgency for prayer each morning.

4. David thinks about what he prays. Literally, the sense in the Hebrew is that in the morning he would arrange his words before God. He doesn’t just throw a bunch of words together and haphazardly present them to God. He carefully thinks through the words and arranges them so as to make his best presentation. Too often, Christians fall into the error of thinking that spontaneity in prayer breeds sincerity. The truth is that spontaneity oftentimes turns our prayers into a thoughtless, unorganized clutter of words. Our prayers are too often shallow, unspecific, self-centered, and overly casual. David thinks through his prayers first before addressing the Lord offering quality prayers and still his sincerity is intact.

It’s amazing how much there is to glean about prayer in three short verses. This isn’t even all that is contained in this beautiful prayer passage! It is humbling to think how much more there is to learn…even more humbling to consider how much more there is to apply.

The Glory of Christ

26 03 2008

evening-glory.jpgHow much do you value the glory of Christ? I just finished reading The Glory of Christ, by John Owen, and it was a tremendous blessing to read (and tremendously humbling!). The book was written towards the end of Owen’s life and was a record of his personal devotions before his writings were made public. A man with Owen’s reputation of presenting profound truths from God’s Word was sure to bring some of his deepest thoughts in a work written so late in his life and career, and he did not disappoint! You can literally sense the depth of his love for Christ on every page and the strong desire he has of sharing this satisfaction he finds in Christ with everyone who hears his words.

When you think about the glory of Christ, it is easy to simply think about Christ’s glory which will be manifested in heaven. Perhaps the closest thing that anyone on earth would have witnessed of that glory of Christ came at the Transfiguration, where only the select few disciples were able to see Christ in His divine glory and the rest of us are given a description of it that does not do it justice (understandably so!). But Owen reminds us of John’s words from John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Here, the Apostle John is not speaking about Christ’s transfigured glory or His divine glory. He is speaking about the glory that was revealed in Christ on earth through His life and ministry. To a degree, we are capable of gaining a glimpse of Christ’s awesome glory in the gospels. Certainly, this view of glory will not be as complete as when we stand before Him face to face in heaven, but it is a true manifestation of glory nonetheless. Thus, Owen writes, “No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight in heaven who does not, in some measure, behold it by faith in this world. Grace is a necessary preparation for glory and faith for sight.” Owen’s point is that the measure to which we behold Christ’s glory now by faith will prepare us for seeing Christ’s glory then by sight. If we fail to see it now, we should not expect to see it then, because if we do not desire it now, we will not desire it then.

The Apostle John explains that this glory of Christ was revealed in that He was full of grace and truth. In no greater way do we see the marriage of grace and truth than in Christ’s substitutionary work on the cross. Christ, in providing a way for God to be both just and the justifier, in redeeming man from the pit of hell and reconciling man to God, manifests the glory of God greater than in any other way. It is through Christ that walking corpses, spiritually speaking, could ever come to have life. It is through Christ alone that sinners in the direct path of divine judgment could experience forgiveness and enjoy mercy. This is the demonstration of God’s love for His glory and it is all seen in the face of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6).

The glory of Christ is always to be at the forefront of our thoughts and devotion. All believers should strive to say with Owen, “On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy.” It is something for me to concentrate on as I study through the Gospel accounts in the Bible. Not only do we see Christ in the flesh having come not to be served, but to serve, but also we can see His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father. Insomuch as Christ demonstrates divine grace and truth in His earthly life and ministry (culminating in the cross) He manifests to us the glory of God in all its splendor.

The Beginning of Christ’s Ministry

12 01 2008

Last night at College Life Searchlight, I preached from Mark 1:9-13 about the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry. As I considered how Jesus’ ministry began with His baptism foreshadowing the cross to come, it blew my mind to think about the determination of Christ to accept the Father’s will in this way. He willingly went into the water to stand in the place of sinners, to identify with us, and to serve as our representative. In this way, His baptism was necessary “to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus’ ministry began with His acceptance of God’s will that He would be the Savior of the world and that it would be accomplished through His death on the cross. It’s no wonder that as a result, God opened the heavens and declared, “You are my beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” The Son’s humble obedience was well-pleasing to the Father.

It was also amazing that immediately after His baptism, He was impelled by the Spirit into the wilderness where He faced forty days of temptation and testing. What a way to start a ministry! Jesus’ temptation would color the rest of His earthly ministry – it would be a ministry of hardship, trials, and suffering. This is not the beginning to a ministry that you would expect for the Messiah, God’s Anointed. It really sheds light on what Philippians 2 conveys: the humility of Christ in becoming man for us. Of course, Christ was not defeated during this time of temptation. On the contrary, He overcame the temptations of Satan himself and showed us exactly how powerful a weapon we wield in the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word. Certainly all throughout Jesus’ ministry He would continue to demonstrate that Satan and his demons have no power or authority over Him.

Mark’s account of the beginning of Christ’s ministry is brief because he simply wants to make the point that Jesus is who He claimed to be – God’s Son. But even though the account is brief, there is still much to be gained from carefully looking at what Jesus’ baptism and wilderness temptation signified and why these events were important.

Don’t Be an Injured Left Wrist Member!

5 12 2007

injury.jpgIt’s amazing how much a sprained wrist can debilitate your entire body. It’s my left wrist, too! I’m not even left-handed! As a result, simple things like washing dishes or picking up my backback have been made difficult. As I was thinking about my injury, it reminded me of Paul’s allusion to the church, the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul argues that a healthily functioning church body must have each of its members actively participating and exercising their gifts. This sense of belonging to one body promotes unity within the church (vs. 25). If any part of the body suffers, all suffer with it, and if any part is honored, all rejoice (vs. 26). Paul writes, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (vs. 27).

Because God has placed each member into the collective body, there are no parts of the body that are more valuable or less valuable for the healthy functioning of the whole. There is not to be a spirit of superiority from those who have greater gifts (vs. 21). And likewise there should not be a sense of inferiority from those who have lesser gifts (vs. 15-17). All parts are required for the body to work properly.

All this having been said, my injured left wrist reminded me of this principle. Not being left-handed, I really didn’t think this injury would cause much of an inconvenience. But because of this injury, I have to bat left-handed in softball since batting right-handed puts too much strain on my left wrist, I have to sit out from football practices since I don’t want to aggravate the injury, and if I need to pick up something heavy I typically need to ask for help. Individual members in the body of Christ that do not function properly likewise debilitate the body as a whole. Are you a member in the church? If so, how are you actively involved in the life of the body? How are you participating? How are you serving? Don’t be like my left wrist!