Christian maturity shows itself in knowledge. We are to be men in understanding.
The apostolic prayer is, that believers may be filled with the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. We are to “go on unto perfection.” We have received the unction from above, from the Holy One, and therefore possess the power to know all things. It is through the truth that the Father sanctifies us. Growth in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is the necessary manifestation of life. This knowledge increases not merely in compass, but in depth; it assumes the character of intense conviction.
In this respect mature Christians form a strong contrast to a peculiarity of our present age. A keen observer thus describes this feature of our day: “A weak generation feels it pleasant to be waved to and fro by every wind of doctrine; a childish and effeminate race deems it an advantage to have no fixed conviction, and would find it tiresome to continue with life-long loyalty in the one truth, and to find peace in the one thought.” It is constant change—the intellectual activity and excitement in the search after truth, and not truth itself—which is their great object. Hence words, brilliant and subtle dialectics, negative doubts, and attacks on old opinions afford the nutriment of many minds.
This tendency affects even Christians; but God has revealed to us by His Spirit Himself and the spiritual realities of His heavenly kingdom. We know the things freely given to us of God. Jesus is the Truth. And the Spirit, whom we have received, leads us into the whole truth, according to the Savior’s promise.
It does not become the Christian, with Christ his light, with the Holy Ghost his teacher, with Scripture his manual, to speak as the children of the age, who possess opinions, but not truth; who, seeking to establish a wisdom of their own, have not submitted themselves to the wisdom of God. But to be established in the truth is the characteristic of Christian manhood, the result of diligent, earnest, and conscientious study of God’s word.
“Therefore…let us go on to maturity.”
Good things to ponder, friends…
Here’s more gold from Alec Motyer. Reading Isaiah 56:1-12, he asks, what are the distinctive marks of God’s people?
First personal decision, (“joined himself to the Lord”, v. 3, 6), and love of his name (v.6), the determination to go the Lord’s way (“choose”, v.4).
And what does it mean to “take a firm grip on my covenant”? Two things: his “covenant” is first and foremost his outreach to us in grace and love, his gracious promises made our personal possession, and then secondly, as a result, our life of obedience, living for his good pleasure (Col. 1:10).
Our hearts, given to the Lord and full of love for all he has revealed about himself (his name); our wills, committed and choosing what we know will please him; our lives, as their basic principle, resting on his grace, living out his Word.
We are joined to the Lord himself in spiritual union; pondering, loving and reveling in his revealed truth; committed to going his way; saved by grace; obedient in life.
Listen to his last point, as he sums up what this all means, and ponder how relevant this is in our day of anxious, spreading division and isolation:
These are the things
that bind us
into the shared reality of being the one, universal people of the Lord,
the blessed company of all believers…
We need to give careful attention to all that unites, and to be wary of things that make differences and divide.
Prescient, wise words.
This follows on a post from a few weeks ago. Here is Francis Schaeffer, speaking life!
God willing, I will push and politic no more….
The mountains are too high, history is too long, and eternity is longer.
God is too great, man is too small, there are many of God’s dear children, and all around there are men going to Hell.
And if one man and a small group of men do not approve of where I am and what I do, does it prove I’ve missed success?
Only one thing will determine that – whether this day I’m where the Lord of lords and King of kings wants me to be.
To win as many as I can, to help strengthen the hands of those who fight unbelief in the historical setting in which there are placed, to know the reality of ‘the Lord is my song,’ and to be committed to the Holy Spirit – that is what I wish I could know to be the reality of each day as it closes.
The other day I ran into this article by Anthony Esolen, in which he translated an old teaching on why we shouldn’t speak badly about others, or, as the author puts it, why we shouldn’t “speak ill” of each other.
He says: “The following is from Alessandro Manzoni … The translation is my own. If we followed its wisdom, our politicians would have more freedom to attend to their business, social media might become social, and our churches might become hotbeds of charity.” That’s a pretty interesting recommendation. I recommend pressing through the older language, and considering this wisdom:
What is the main and common motive that makes us speak ill of our neighbor? That we love the truth? That we wish to draw a just distinction between virtue and vice? And the usual result—is it, perhaps, that we set forth truth in a clear light, that we honor virtue, and abominate vice? A simple look at society should persuade us right away of the contrary, and show the true motives, the true features and the common results of ill speaking.
Consider the idle chatter of men. Each in his vanity wants everyone else to notice him, but he meets an obstacle: all the others in their vanity seek the same thing. So they battle with all their skill, sometimes with open force, to win that attention that so rarely is granted them. Why, then, is it so easy for a man to feel comfortable when he declares by his very first words that he is going to speak evil of his neighbor? Why, if not that it holds forth some wretched relief to so many of his passions? And such passions! There is pride, that in its silent work makes us see our own superiority in the abasement of another, that consoles us for our failings with the thought that others have the same, or worse. A miserable way for man to err! Hungry for perfection, he scoffs at the help that religion offers him for progressing toward the absolute perfection that God has made him for, and he busies himself with a comparative perfection instead; he longs not to be the best, but to be first; he wants not to become great, but to weigh himself against others.
There is envy, inseparable from pride: envy that rejoices in evil as charity rejoices in good; envy that breathes more easily whenever a good name is besmirched, whenever it finds less of some virtue or talent. There is hatred, that makes us so quick to find evil; the self-interest that causes us to hate a competitor of any sort. These and others like them are the passions that lead us so easily to speak evil and to listen to it. They explain in part the ugly pleasure we feel in laughing at someone and condemning him. They explain why we are so indulgent and facile in our reasoning when we find fault, while a good deed has to pass a most severe tribunal before we will believe in it or in the just and pure intention behind it. No wonder if our religion does not know what to make of these passions and what they set in action. For how can such materials, sodden and worthless for building, find a place in the edifice of love and humility, of piety and reason, that she wishes to raise up in the heart of all men?
In ill-speaking there is a cowardice that likens it to secret denunciation, casting in high relief its opposition to the spirit of the Gospel, which is all frankness and dignity. For the spirit of the Gospel detests all things covert and sneaking, whereby you can hurt someone without exposing yourself. In the differences that must arise among men when they defend what is just, the Gospel commands a conduct that requires courage. One man can usually censure another without running any risk; it is to strike someone who cannot defend himself; and often with the censure there is mingled some flattery, as ignoble as it is sly, of the person who is to hear it. Never speak evil of a deaf man is one of the profound and merciful prescriptions of the law of Moses (Leviticus 19:14). Catholic moralists who apply it also to one who is absent show that they have entered into the true spirit of a religion which demands that when we find ourselves opposed to another, we keep our charity and we flee from all baseness and discourtesy.
Many say that ill-speaking is a kind of censure that helps hold men to their duties. As if a court stuffed with judges who have interests against the defendant, where the defendant is neither confronted nor heard, where anyone who might take up his cause will be put off or ridiculed, while all the points for the prosecution will be carefully laid out—as if such a court were well suited to diminish the number of crimes! But we can readily observe that we give credence to ill-speaking based on arguments that, if we had any interest in examining their strength, would never suffice to establish even a slight probability.
Ill-speaking makes a worse man out of him who speaks and him who listens, and all too often it makes a worse man out of the victim, too. When it strikes an innocent person (and of all the many sins there are, to accuse someone unjustly is among the worst), what a temptation it poses for him! Perhaps he has traveled the steep path of honesty, seeking the approval of men—full of that notion, commonplace but false, that virtue is always recognized and appreciated. Then, seeing it not to be so in his case, he begins to believe that virtue is an empty name, and his soul, that had fed on happy and peaceful images of applause and concord, begins to taste the bitterness of hatred; and the unstable foundation upon which he has built his virtue gives way. How much happier he would have been, had it made him think instead that the praise of men is no safe reward—no reward.
Alas, if mistrust reigns among men, one of the reasons is the ease with which we speak evil. You see a man shake another man’s hand, the smile of friendship on his lips, and then you hear him run the man down behind his back. How shall you not suspect that in every expression of esteem and affection, some treachery may lie hidden? But trust would grow, and benevolence and peace along with it, if detraction were forbidden. You could embrace a man and be sure that he would not then make you the object of his reproach and derision, and you would do so naturally, with a purer and freer feeling of charity.
Many people think that those who are slow to suppose evil are too simple and inexperienced; as if it shows great perspicacity to suppose that every man in every case will choose the worst! On the contrary: a disposition to judge with forbearance, to weigh each one of a storm of accusations, and to meet real faults with compassion, requires a habit of reflecting on the vast array of human motives, and on the nature of man and his weakness.
When a man hears whispers against him (and informants are the bastard children of those who speak evil), he suffers an injustice that he alone can know, but whose peril everyone else can and therefore are duty-bound to recognize. He has acted in circumstances whose complexity he alone comprehends; his detractor, not privy to the whole, judges him on one bare fact and by rules he cannot apply with any just reckoning; it may be he reproaches the man for not doing what he would have done, perhaps because he does not share the same passions. And even if the censured man is forced to admit that the ill-speaking was no calumny, he will hardly be moved to reconsider his ways. Rather, he becomes indignant. He does not think of reforming himself. He turns to examine how his detractor conducts himself, to find out some weakness in him, to turn the tables. Impartiality is rare enough among men; rarer still among the offended. So do we lapse into a wretched war, the restless business of exposing the faults of others while we neglect our own.
When our interests set us against one another, what wonder is it that wrath and blows are so ready to us, as we pay back evil for evil? We are set up for it, having thought and spoken much evil already. In speech we are accustomed to be unforgiving, to enjoy someone else’s discomfiture, even to tear down people with whom we are not at odds; we treat as enemies people we do not know; how then shall we find ourselves suddenly disposed to charity and calm judgment, when the matter is more difficult and calls for a soul formed by long practice of those virtues? That is why the Church, desiring brotherhood, wishes that men not think evil, that they weep when they see it, that they speak of one who is absent with the same delicacy that our own self-love causes us to use for people in our presence.
If you want to govern your actions, rein in your words, and to govern those, set a watch about your heart.
Here’s one more great quote from J.I. Packer. This seems incredibly relevant…
Optimism hopes for the best without any guarantee of its arriving and is often no more than whistling in the dark. Christian hope, by contrast, is faith looking ahead to the fulfillment of the promises of God.
Optimism is a wish without warrant; Christian hope is a certainty, guaranteed by God himself.
Optimism reflects ignorance as to whether good things will ever actually come. Christian hope expresses knowledge that every day of his life, and every moment beyond it, the believer can say with truth, on the basis of God’s own commitment, that the best is yet to come.
John Frame is one of my favorite authors. For instance, I think everyone should ignore the size of The Doctrine of the Word of God, buy it, and read it. He recently posted a short article with the title, “At 80, I’m more aware of mystery.” This is an especially interesting idea from a guy who’s spent his life writing huge books about theology. Of course, he’s not saying that we can’t know anything (especially the most crucial things for us to know) about God. But he is making a great point about humility in our thinking. He mentions a plant he owns, a Sago Palm, and says:
[God’s] knowledge—even of the things most familiar to us—is vastly different from our own. He and I both know the sago palm in my front yard, but he knows far more about it than I could ever grasp. He knows it as its Creator, as the one who made the whole universe and foreordained its history (Eph. 1:11), as the one who planned from the beginning the process by which that sago palm would grow in my front yard. Further, his knowledge is normative, a knowledge that governs how all his creatures should think about everything. Because God is the supreme King, he has the right to tell me and show me how I should think about that sago palm.
He goes on:
Today some thinkers believe the world is largely made of “dark matter” and “dark energy.” But these, by definition, are realities that we don’t know, for they are dark. This is to say that for all our sophisticated philosophical and scientific schemes, the most fundamental reality of the world is unknown to us…
As I get older, I am less and less impressed by people, including theologians, who think they have everything figured out. Theologians readily confess God’s incomprehensibility as a doctrinal point, but often they go on from there to write as if they had that ultimate and final knowledge that belongs to God alone.
In conservative theology, writers tend to confess mystery, but then go on to meticulously explain such things as the order of God’s decrees and the inner activities of the Trinitarian persons without any clear biblical basis.
Liberal writers say that conservative theologians claim too much knowledge of the mysterious God, but then they go on to explain in great detail what government programs God demands of us to help the needy—again, without biblical basis.
At 80, I look at both types of theology with sadness and amusement. God is not here to motivate our rationalistic quest. God is Lord of heaven and earth. He comes to drive us to repent of sin and embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Of course, the whole thing is worth a read.
This month J.I. Packer went home to be with the Lord. He was a teacher, theologian, and author, and was part of a little circle of people the Lord raised up in the 20th Century (like, say, Billy Graham) to guide and bless his church all over the world. If you’ve never heard of him and want a synopsis of his life, there’s a great one here.
His classic work is Knowing God. I highly recommend it.
And finally, I ran across a great post, “40 Quotes from J. I. Packer (1926–2020)” Here are six:
“The Scriptures are the lifeline God throws us in order to ensure he and we stay connected while the rescue is in process.”
“The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God’s word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.”
“Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”
“The Christian’s motto should not be ‘Let go and let God’ but ‘Trust God and get going.’”
“I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is.”
“Readiness to die is the first step in learning to live.”
If you like these, click here and read more…
Monday nights studying through John’s gospel with so many of you have been great. In John 14:27, John records that Jesus said this:
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
There is a lot here—a lot of important truth for us to ponder, and bring into the center of our thinking and feeling about the world and our lives. I think the breakdown of this verse by D.A. Carson is very insightful. Here it is:
Of this peace Jesus says, I do not give it to you as the world gives. The world is powerless to give peace. There is sufficient hatred, selfishness, bitterness, malice, anxiety and fear that every attempt at peace is rapidly swamped. Within a biblical framework, attempts to achieve personal equanimity or merely political stability, whether by ritual, mysticism or propaganda, without dealing with the fundamental reasons for strife, are intrinsically loathsome.
That is why [in Jeremiah, 6:13-15] God denounces “prophets and priests alike” who “practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, where there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.”
The world promises peace and waves the flag of peace as a greeting; it cannot give it.
But Jesus displays transcendent peace, his own peace, my peace, throughout his perilous hour of suffering and death. And by that death he absorbs in himself the malice of others, the sin of the world, and introduces the promised messianic peace in the way none of his contemporaries had envisaged. The pax Romana (“Roman peace”) was won and maintained by a brutal sword; not a few Jews thought the messianic peace would have to be secured by a still mightier sword. Instead, it was secured by an innocent man who suffered and died at the hands of the Romans, of the Jews, and of all of us. And by his death he effected for his own followers peace with God, and therefore “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”
Who is the most important person in the Bible? Jesus, of course. Now—make a list of the other really important people in the story the Bible tells. I bet you won’t get too deep before you name David and Paul.
Here’s an interesting fact about all three: It is explicitly noted in scripture that they all lacked qualities which made people pick them out as important or impressive.
Of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah said:
He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.
When the Prophet Samuel was sent to anoint a king from Jesse’s sons, he assumed it would be the oldest:
So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’S anointed is before Him. But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees…”
The one God wanted, David, was not even considered worth being considered. His father left him out of the meeting when he called his sons to see who would be chosen.
And when the Corinthian church thought of Paul, who had founded their community and written scripture for them, the best they could say was, “His letters are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”
David, the future king—too young, not really part of the conversation. Paul the missionary—nice letters, but really, in person, not too impressive. Jesus himself—nothing really to make him stand out. But all three, the exact kind of people of people God wanted to use, and did use—in big ways.
I’ve been thinking about these stories lately, because they have so much to speak to our age—with all its obsession over image, success, and standing out from the crowd. One of the sicknesses distinctive to our culture is the desire to be special. Something inside of us knows that there are a few people out there who are actually impressive—you know, the Ceasars and Da Vincis of the world and all that—and that knowledge has a way of making us think that that kind of exceptionality or notoriety is the measure of human worth. To really matter, you’ve got to be something, and probably, you’ve got to be something that sets you apart from the crowd.
Our culture has made it into a mantra for children. Is there anyone left that knows how to make a message for kids that isn’t some version of “you’re unique and special and have all kinds of qualities that make you part of the 1%”? And social media hasn’t helped this little nagging voice we all have to fight with. I’d say it’s only amplified it and made it worse. Now, everyone can curate an image of themselves and show the world that, they too are special—they are beautiful and creative and unique.
Of course, almost none of us are actually distinctly any of those things. Only 1% of people are in the 1%. Which means there’s a 99% chance that nothing about me sets me apart from humanity in these specific ways we’re all so enamored with. Of course—I am distinctive, because God makes us all unique. But that’s God’s truth, not Disney’s. We can’t read the beauty and power of our uniqueness through Disney’s lens. We’ll misunderstand it, and weight everything incorrectly. Why? Because the uniqueness the world worships (which currently is almost all physical beauty, artistic ability, or athletic ability) has almost nothing to do with the kinds of things God cares about. For instance, the world thinks of uniqueness as something to set you apart from everyone else. It only sees value in separation and isolation. Stand apart, so that people can gaze at you, and that’s how you’ll find your fulfillment. But if you know your bible, you immediately see the flaw in that kind of thinking. Human fulfillment is not found in isolation and having many eyes pointed at us. Those things are called death and idolatry.
Human fulfillment is found in connection and inclusion—connection to God, and inclusion in the body of Christ. Connection to God doesn’t set you apart, it brings you together with Him. And inclusion in the body of Christ doesn’t make you a singular thing to be seen, it makes you part of something bigger than yourself, where Jesus is center-stage. It’s within the reality of the body of Christ that uniqueness is a powerful, useful, God-honoring reality. Just read 1 Corinthians 12 to see how it all works—everyone has a unique role to play in the big family God is growing. But this goes so far beyond acting ability or a jump shot or a photogenic smile that it boggles the mind.
Those things are very, very small. The plan of God we’re called to play a role in is very big.
And our modern culture has no way of capturing the things related to God’s plan. In fact, it is totally uninterested in those things. They don’t photograph well (or at all). They don’t get clicks. They don’t typically make money. They ignore and transcend the things the world cares so much about—the money and looks and grappling for power.
So what about us?
God has called us to follow in the way of Christ. We can expect to be more like David and Paul than Kim and Kanye. We can live free of the burden of trying to make an image. We can stop worrying if we’re beautiful. It doesn’t matter at all. We can waste no more effort trying to push ourselves forward or get noticed. God sees us. He’ll makes sure anyone who needs to know us takes notice. We can step off the exhausting highway of self-promotion, and onto paths of peace and walking with Jesus.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, and you struggle feeling unimportant, or unspecial, take a deep breath, and relax into the love and eternal plan of God. Put the devices away (they drive these feelings of inadequacy) and spend time drinking in God’s words.
God doesn’t need you to make yourself anything. He made you. Trusting in the blood of Christ, and finding forgiveness of sins, you have his love.
He has his place for you, and it’s full, connected, and eternal.
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