The Joy and Confirmation of Gospel Service

Philippians 1:3-8

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Philippians is rightly called a book of joy and thanksgiving. In his opening section to this church, Paul is writing about his thankfulness to God and his joy for this church because of their partnership in the gospel. Paul was full of joy because this church was helping him to make Christ known to the point where they actively supporting Paul in his imprisonment and were helping him to defend and confirm the truth of the gospel.

 This type of joy and thanksgiving is what I would call a gospel-centered joy and thanksgiving. It flows from seeing the truth of the gospel go forth through His people. It flows from seeing God’s people actively engage in the work of the ministry to the point of it actually costing them something. So Paul, looking at the Philippian church was full of joy because they were doing the work of proclaiming Christ with him even if it was costly and hard.

So for us today we should be over-joyed when we see people working hard for the gospel, proclaiming Christ, and building up the church. But we should also realize that it is a joy and privilege for us to engage in the work of the ministry, the work of proclaiming Christ. Paul was full of joy because the Philippian church was  engaged with him in ministry.

We to receive joy as we partner with others in the work of the ministry as we proclaim the gospel together and as we defend the faith and even at times suffer for it.  As James writes in James 1:2:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

James mentioned various trials, but he surely had persecution in view in this verse. And he knew that persecution and suffering for Christ resulted in joy.  So too, we receive joy as we suffer for Christ as we boldly proclaim the truth of the cross without shame our hesitancy and as we see others partnering with us to make Christ known.

However, there is more…

Paul, also makes it clear to this church that their gospel service comes from God.  God is the one who began a good work in their lives, and it is this good work that is ultimately leading them to join with Paul in his ministry. And it will be God, who of His own doing, will bring that good work to completion when Jesus returns.

This is Paul giving them the assurance of their salvation and what God is doing and will do in them through Christ, but it is also a confirmation of their gospel service to Paul.  Meaning, that Paul can confidently make this statement about the Philippians because He sees God working in them and through them.

In the same way we should take heart that God has begun a good work in each one of us as His people, and He will be the one to complete that work.  Meaning that our growth in godliness has everything to do with God working on our behalf and not on our own efforts.  Yet, this good work should be evident in us and through as we serve God’s people and as we proclaim Christ.

In this way God is calling us to receive joy as we partner together to do the work of the ministry.  And today this is done primarily through the local church as we join together to serve one another and to fulfill the work of the great commission in our communities and across he globe.  But God is also reminding us that our gospel service is a confirmation of the good work God is doing within us and will do until the day Christ returns.

So take joy by serving God’s people and doing the work of the ministry, and be assured that God is doing a good work in you that He will finish.  It is not dependent upon you, but upon His power and Spirit.  And in this may you find the confidence and joy you need to make that good work evident as live and walk boldly for the cause of Christ.

The Electing Purposes Of God

1 Peter 1:1-2

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Anytime we generally come to a beginning of a book there can be an automatic snooze button that gets hit in our head.  We can very easily check out for those two verses until we are past them and actually get to the stuff that we think really matters.  However, I have always lived under the contention that the introduction of these letters contain valuable information on theology that usually helps to setup the rest of the letter.

This is especially true for 1 Peter.  In these two verses there are so many things that we learn about these believers and who they are in Christ that we should not want to rush on from them because the same truths that apply to them also applies to us.  My hope then is that these verses will come alive to you in some small way through this post.

We know that the author of this letter is the apostle Peter who reminds his readers that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ.  He, like other scripture writers, is setting a framework for his authority to write this letter.  In this case his authority is Christ.

He then turns his attention to the recipients of his letter who are the believers that have been dispersed because of the persecution that broke out against the church in Acts chapter 8.  He starts by calling them elect exiles…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

Now, this might not seem like it is encouragement, but Peter is helping them to understand that the persecution that they are facing as exiles is something that is happening because they are elected by God.  This means that they were chosen by God to endure this hardship.  A hardship that was not just planned at random, but was planned according to God’s foreknowledge.  He knew that this was going to happen ahead of time because God chose them and planned this exile from before the foundation of the world.  As Ephesians 1:4 says:

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

This is encouragement because it was all part of God’s plan.  This hardship was not random but it had a purpose.  So what are those purposes.  Paul gives us three:

1. Sanctification 

in the sanctification of the Spirit

Part of God’s plan for these exiles and for us is to sanctify them or make them more like Christ.  The reality is that there is no better way to root out sin in our lives than to make us go through hard times where we are forced to cling to Christ.  When we do this, God uses these sufferings to refine us and show us that Jesus is our greatest treasure.  We then begin to get rid of the filth of our sin as we trust, love, and follow Christ more.  As James writes in James 1:2-4:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Trials test our faith so that we will lack nothing as we live more in more in step with Christ.  This is how God sanctifies us, and He does it by the power of His Holy Spirit.

2. Obedience 

for obedience to Jesus Christ 

Second is that God has elected these believers for exile so that as they are sanctified they would walk in obedience to Christ.  We often forget that God did not just save us from something, He saved us to something.  The reality is that God saved us so that we would walk in obedience to Him.  This means that all the work God does in sanctifying us and making us more like Christ is so that we would walk in obedience to Him and bring Him glory.  So God’s purpose in electing us is so that we would walk in obedience to Him.

3. Cleansing

for sprinkling with his blood:

Lastly, although this may seem backwards, God’s plan in electing His children is to cleanse them with the blood of Christ.  This means that though we are to walk in obedience it is not meant to cleanse us from our sin.  Our works cannot save us, but the electing plan of God was that we would be cleansed with the blood of Christ so that we could become more like Christ and walk in obedience.  This becomes the brick that holds the other ones up.

So God is the one who has elected His people and this was something that He planned from before the foundation of the world.  His purposes in it are so that we would be cleansed with the blood of Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we would become more like Christ and walk in obedience.  It is a reminder that although we are saved by grace, the purpose of our salvation is our obedience to Christ for His kingdom and glory.

You Must Be A Hearer And A Doer

James 2:12-13

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2 in my mind is such a strange and at times hard section of scripture.  It can be hard to correctly interpret it and it can be hard to see how it fits with the rest of the New Testament.  As we read the Pauline epistles we are so often confronted with the idea of Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Our salvation is all grace and no works so that we will not boast as if we have saved ourselves.  This mantra runs through my head almost on a daily basis.  I am free from the law and I am saved by God’s grace.  Yes, I believe this!  But then there’s James 2.

It almost seems like a strange chapter in the grand scheme of scripture.  It feels like it does not fit, as if it is a square peg that is trying to fit itself in to a round hole.  Yet, when we look at it clearly, and in light of the rest of the New Testament, its meaning becomes pretty clear.

At the end of the first chapter James is making a pronouncement that we as believers are not just supposed to be hearers of the word but doers.  This means that we cannot just read God’s word but we actually need to apply it to our lives.  We cannot just feel good about knowing God’s word but, it actually needs to bear fruit in our lives, and if it does not then we must seriously consider whether we are saved or not.

From this, James launches into chapter 2 with the idea that we must not show partiality towards people.  We must treat people equally.  This means that if someone is rich, poor, black, white, Jew, Greek, etc… we are called to treat each person with equal value and that we should show mercy to each person.

This idea is presented by Paul in Galatians 3:28 when he says:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Or by Peter in Acts 10:34:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,

We are all truly one in Christ if we are called according to His purposes, and there is no distinction between us based upon race or social class.  This means that we as believers must treat people as if they are the same and have the same value.  This is why James says in chapter 2 verse 8:

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

The royal law, or greatest commandment, is really what all of the law is trying to tell us.  We must love God, and from that we must love each other equally.  This idea is so important for us to grasp and live out, especially in a day in age when we so easily want to show partiality to one person over another.

We favor one athlete over another, or we like one politician more than another, or we dislike one people group in comparison with our own.  The reality that we are a society of partial people is very clear.  This makes sense for a people who are not bought with a price by the blood of the Lamb.  Yet, for believers this should not be.

We are called out as a holy nation or royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) to live and act in a way that is in accordance with the word of God, but it countercultural to the world around us.  Part of our countercultural living is to be people who love each other and others with a blood bought impartial love that does not elevate one man over another.  This is why we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and why Jesus says that everyone is our neighbor.  We must love everyone with the same respect, dignity, and care with which we love ourselves.

This type of love is the fulfillment of the law and should be true of those who are set free by Christ or by the law of liberty (James 2:12).  Because if we are shown mercy by Christ then we must also be people who show mercy to others.  However, if we fail to live this way then it is clear that we are still trying to live under the law.  What I mean by this is that if we are not showing mercy to other people then we are proving that we are not really set free by Christ and that we are still going to be judged by the law and ultimately our faith will be shown to be false.

So what is James really trying to say?  If we have been set free by Christ then we will live and act as people who have been given a great mercy.  Meaning that we will love other people equally and we will extend the same mercy to them that we have been given regardless of their status, race, or social class.  So if we are going to claim Ephesians 2:8-9 as something that applies to us then we must also be people who seek to live out the royal law (James 2:9) which commands us to love people as we love ourselves.

This is in-line then with what James is telling us in chapter 1 verse 22 when he says:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

If we say that we have faith in Christ; yet, we refuse to live like we have been saved by His grace, then our faith is not genuine and we are ultimately still condemned under the law.  This means that the mercy we have been given by Christ must flow over into how we live, because it is a sign that Christ has saved us and that His judgment has been overcome by His immense grace.

So let’s live as people who have received mercy from Christ, and let us love one another with the perfect and impartial love of Christ that has been given freely to us.  In this way mercy triumphs over judgment.

Only Lunatics Want to Suffer, Right?

James 1:2-4

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

I read these words and there is an intellectual affirmation that they are true, right and good, and yet there is a real apprehension of the truths presented that I don’t really want to embrace.  It’s as if I am willing to give lip service to these words, but I am going to do whatever I can to make sure that they don’t apply to my life.  Why, you ask?  Bottom line, I DON’T LIKE TO SUFFER.

James, however, does and says something that I never would have thought of had I not read it in the Bible.  He claims that trials should produce joy, and that we should have joy when various trials come upon us.  What type of lunatic would say something like that.  “Oh man, I am so excited to suffer today, I wonder what type of hardship will come my way?  Whatever it is I am looking forward to it.”

This is truly the type of person that we might send to therapy.  We would either think that he is a sadomasochist or we would say that he is living in denial about how hard and horrible these bad things are.   Either way, we would say that this person needs help.

Yet James does not leave us with nothing.  He does not just say that we endure trials with joy even though they are meaningless.  Instead he points us to the outcome of our suffering; that outcome being a faith that is steadfast, perfect, complete, and lacking nothing.  This is James pealing back the veil to show us the work that God is doing in our lives.

It could have been very easy for the believers in James day to lose heart because life was so hard.  They were living lives wrought with poverty, famine, disease, and persecution that was far greater than anything that I have ever experienced in my life.  In fact there persecution was so great at times that it seems a little strange for me to even be writing about these verses while sitting on my comfy couch, drinking coffee in a pretty nice house.  Yep, I am in a persecution free zone.

However, this doesn’t mean that my life does not consist of trials.  It just means that my trials, no matter how trivial in the grand scheme, are different, but are no less valuable in producing a steadfast faith.  God is taking me, and you, through various trials in order to produce within us a faith that is not lacking anything.  Or to put it another way, God wants us to have a complete faith that does not need anything.

Well what does that mean?  That means that we will not lack wisdom (V. 5), and we will not doubt God’s goodness and God’s promises.  We will believe that His daily presence is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can trust Him and walk in His ways on a daily basis.

We will also rejoice when we are humbled or exalted by God, and we will see that the end goal of these trails is a crown of life that God has prepared for us (V. 12).  This is what we would call an eternal perspective, meaning that we can see how our present is preparing us for our future; the future eternity with Jesus that will be ours at the end of our days.

Yet, this does not negate the fact that we are called to have joy now; that we are to count these trials as joy now.  Though these trials are preparing us for something in the future they are also meant to produce something within us now.  Joy can be so elusive in our culture and in our own lives, but the Bible tells us that there is something that can produce joy in our life.

The truth is (even though I don’t like it at times) that trials are a way to show us that Jesus is all we need.  Everything else in this world is passing away and the only thing that will endure forever is God.  So trials one the one hand stripe away all of the comforts of this world and show us that they are vain hopes for salvation, while turning our eyes to Jesus as the author and perfector of our faith.

So do I still dislike suffering? YEP! But I need to live in the knowledge that God is using them, no matter how big and small, to do a work in me that in the end makes me love Him more and the world less.  He is trying to bring me to a place where I will find my greatest joy and my greatest good while I await His glorious return.  The place where my faith is steadfast and is finding its completeness in Him.

The God Who Acts Despite Our Faithlessness

Exodus 6:6-9

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’” Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.

Have you ever heard something that you thought was to good to be true?  Are there things that on the surface seem so fanciful or impossible in light of your own personal circumstances?  I can imagine that this was true for Israel.  Moses had come to them to speak encouraging words from the Lord, that He would deliver them, yet they did not listen to Moses because their spirits were broken.  The reality is that this seemed to good to be true.

Yet, by God’s grace we see in these verses that God says through Moses, “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians…”  These words are important because it gives us the image of a God who is making the fulfilment of His promises dependent upon Himself and not His people.  God does not say, “if you do this I will bring you out…” He clearly is saying that He will bring them out of Egypt by His power, and of His own initiative.  This is a God dependent salvation not a people dependent one.

God’s purposes are sure, and He knew that the plans He had for His people would not be thwarted.  God knew that He would win and that He would redeem His people from the slavery that was upon them.  In the same way Christ is the one who frees us from the burden of our slavery to sin.  He has redeemed His people with outstretched arms as He died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.  He has bought us with a high price so that we would be His forever, and if we are His, we will never be lost out of His hands.

This action on our behalf is fully a work of God through Christ, and is not of man.  However, in our weakness we doubt the goodness and truthfulness of these actions on our behalf.  We lose sight of the magnificence of our Savior, and our sight grows dim to all the ways in which He has fought for us and delivered us.  We lose sight of the goodness, power, and beauty of our God, and become complacent to the feat of everlasting power it took to even redeem one sinner, let alone, millions from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Yes, we often are like Israel in Egypt, forgetful of the goodness, faithfulness, and might of our God.  But God, because of His great love (Eph. 2:4) made salvation fully dependent upon Himself through Christ, so that we as lowly sinners who are prone to brokenness, despair, and faithlessness could be redeemed.  We were like Israel in Egypt, under the yoke of slavery, unable to save ourselves, yet Christ came to powerfully free us from captivity and deliver us to a life and hope that is far greater than anything that this world can offer us.

Praise God for His everlasting faithfulness to Israel and to us.  May our everlasting joy be found in the one who redeemed us by His power and not our own, and may we stand in awe of the one who has done mighty works on our behalf.

Oh God, let our faith be evermore in Your unfailing power, love, and goodness toward us.  Let your goodness always be evident to us, and may we never wander from the one who has bought us and redeemed us.  All glory, honor and praise be Yours forevermore. Amen.

A Gospel Which Does Not Produce Good Works Cannot Save Us

Luke 6:46

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?

Anyone who is a parent has experienced the frustration of telling a child to do something only to have them either not do it or do the complete opposite.  This is truly a maddening affair that can happen multiple times a day.  All the while our continual thought is, “why can’t you just do what I am asking you to do?”

Now, I am not here to discuss the specifics of why children have a hard time obeying apart from the grace of God upon their lives, but I want to point out that this is exactly what Jesus is asking the disciples and us in Luke 6:46.  Luke 6 is filled with imperative to love our enemies, to not judge or condemn, to forgive, and to bear fruit.  This culminates with Jesus talking about building a house on a solid foundation that will not wash away.  But before He talks about building a solid foundation He asks a very important question, He says, “why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”  If I were to put this in parent language it would sound like this, “why don’t you listen to me?”

Jesus is getting at the heart of an issue that was not just a problem for the disciples, and the crowds of people that followed Him, but is a huge problem for us today.  We say that we believe Jesus is Lord, meaning that we believe that He is the ruler of our lives, yet we are so often unwilling to do what He says.  It’s as if we want Him to be Lord with out the Law.

I realize that using the word Law can rub some people the wrong way.  Especially when you fall into the gospel-centered camp like I do.  However, I think we miss that Jesus came as the fulfillment of the law, and as that fulfillment He has laws and imperatives that He wants us to live by.  Do I believe that this can only happen by God’s grace, yes?  Do I believe that as we rightly understand the grace of the gospel it will become the fuel for our obedience, yes?  But I also believe that it is important to hold the imperatives, the instructions, out to people that they would live by them.

We cannot say that we understand the grace of God in Christ if we don’t live out the instructions that He has given us.  This is exactly what Jesus I saying in Luke 6:46.  You can’t call me Lord if you are unwilling to do what I am telling you to do.  This isn’t some form of legalism, it is the good fruit of the gospel (Luke 6:45).

So we must always be willing to ask ourselves, “what kind of fruit are we bearing?”  What does that fruit say about what we believe to be true about Jesus?  Do we want to call Him Lord without actually following Him?  Because Jesus not only desires faith, but He also desires the fruit of that which is obedience.

If the gospel within us does not produce obedience, then it also, by the same token, cannot save us.

Book Review: Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper


I recently just finished the book, “Rhythms of Grace” by Mike Cosper.  Though there are other worship books like it I believe that this is book does something unique that I have yet to find in other books.  Most worship books that are any good talk about how our liturgy is a reflection of the gospel, which is true, but Cosper does a good job of connecting our worship with the whole story of the Bible.

He shows how our worship is a reflection of Genesis 1-3 with the idea of creation, the fall of Adam and eve, and the need for pardon and covering as God covered Adam and Eve with animal skins.  It is also a reflection of temple worship or the worship that Israel did in the wilderness that all build to their final consummation in the person and work of Christ.  This type of thinking not only connects our worship to Christ, but it also helps us to see how are worship and songs are a reflection of the whole Bible and it’s metanarrative or over-arching them; the song of Christ that echoes through every page of scripture.

Cosper points to the reality that our gathering is a continual rehearsal of this gospel message and it serves as spiritual formation to teach us the gospel and the story of scripture over and over again (because we need that).  He even talks about what a formal or informal liturgy should contain in order to communicate this message every Sunday (This has less to do with specific songs or reading but more with themes: adoration, confession, assurance, pardon, instruction, etc…).

There are also some great philosophical ideas that this book presents.  The reality that we are both a church gathered and scattered and that our gathered worship is supposed to propel our scattered worship.  The reality that we need to think about the people we have coming, the people who are apart of our church’s history, and the people who are not yet in our church when planning a service and music.  Also, the benefit of musical diversity for our congregation and how that can make our people less dependent upon a specific style.

Finally, He ends the book with some practical appendices that walk through service orders of other churches in order to show how they are communicating the message of Christ and to show how that message is contextualized within their setting.  Also, there is a resource section for further reading and websites to use that I have found very helpful over the past several weeks.  All I all I think that  this is a very helpful worship book that gets us thinking about how to be intentional in our worship service and it helps us to understand how our liturgy (the songs, readings, prayers, scriptures, etc…) within our service are meant to teach our people and point them either directly or indirectly to the main theme of all of scripture, Christ.

I would recommend this book to any worship leader or pastor at any stage of development.  He writes in a style that is both compelling and easy to read and I believe that anyone can benefit from a book like this, even the lay churchman.