Results tagged “Glory of God” from Reformation21 Blog

Don't Waste Your Privileges

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The 2020 Presidential race is underway. Americans everywhere are now sitting back and bracing themselves for tedious recitals of attacks and scandals. The first attack has come in response to Beto O'rouke's statement about sometimes helping his wife raise their three children. Numerous political analysts have insisted that Beto is a prime example of white privilege. Instead of standing by a statement in which he was honoring his wife for her diligent labors as the mother of their children, Beto apologized, saying,

"I'll be more thoughtful going forward in the way that I talk about our marriage, and also the way in which I acknowledge the truth of the criticism that I have enjoyed white privilege."

Without in anyway whatsoever wishing to fixate on presidential candidates, racial theories or the virulent rhetoric of our secular society, I do want to turn our attention to what the Scriptures teach us about the nature of privilege and what ought to be a proper response to privilege.

In Luke 12:48, Jesus said, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." There is such a thing as privilege and we are responsible for how we use the privileges we have been given. God has not given every believer the same gifts or the same measure of faith (Rom. 12:3).We are called to be diligent and faithful with what the Lord gives us for the building up of believers in the church. It is altogether possible for someone to squander the gifts of God by a self-interest, self-indulgence or selfish complacency.

The Apostle Paul explained how we are to respond to the truth about differing measures of gifts and privileges when he wrote to the Corinthians, "Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" The Corinthians were boasting about the gifts and teachers they enjoyed. Instead of exhibiting humility and gratitude to God, they boasted about their privileges. The Apostle repeatedly highlighted the fact that God alone is worthy of glory and boasting. All things come from Him and, therefore, no flesh should boast before Him.

One of the marked features of Israel--the Old Covenant church--throughout redemptive-history is the fact that God's people loved to flaunt their privileges (Matt. 3:9; John 8:39), trust in their privileges (Jer. 7:4) and abuse their privileges (Deut. 8:11-20). God had called a people to Himself merely by grace. When he reminded Israel of their calling, Moses told them, "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery" (Deut. 7:7-8). Israel had done nothing to receive the privileges of God's grace and calling. They didn't deserve them. However they took those privileges and adulterated themselves. After reminding Israel of the way in which God brought them to Himself from a state of death and abandonment and cleansed her for Himself, He brought an indictment against Israel when he said through Ezekiel, "you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his" (Ezekiel 16:15). Israel trusted in the privileges that they had received and lived wickedly on account of those privileges.

All of us have been given differing privileges in this life. Some believers have had the privilege of grown up in loving and doctrinally strong Christian homes. Some have been given more gifts of spiritual knowledge, discernment, faith, etc. Some have been privileged with a greater intellectual capacity. Others have become the objects of the privilege of being given financial resources, craftsmanship and musical ability, etc. No matter what gifts and talents God has privileged you with, you are to take those gifts and use them diligently for the glory of God and the building up of others within the body. On the one hand, we are never to trust in or flaunt our privileges. We are to "count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord" (Phil. 3:8). On the other hand, we are never to neglect or ignore these privileges. We are to acknowledge that "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain;" and, we are, therefore to "work harder than any," by "the grace of God" (1 Cor. 15:10).

Instead of allowing others to put undue guilt and condemnation on your conscience for the privileges God has given you, learn to view them in light of the God who has freely given them according to His own will and for His own glory (Heb. 2:4). Instead of using the gifts and privileges God has given you for personal interest and gain, utilize them for the well being of others. Don't waste your privileges. God has given them to you for your to use them for His glory, the building up of His people and to bless those around you.

Let's Make Wisdom Great Again

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Fake news. Social media outrage. Political polarization. Ideological bullying. These are just a few of the centralizing characteristics of our current social climate in the US. It should not surprise us, then, that our collective cultural head is spinning as we simultaneously attempt to hold together a persistent insistence on ideological tolerance and a call for radical justice outrage. One of the clearest examples of this problematic yet ever increasing norm in our society came last week when a group of Roman Catholic High School students--who happened to be on a pro-life trip--became the objects of social bullying and bigotry--and, all under the faulty lens of social media manipulation and slander. There has never been a more opportune time for Christians to reflect on the significance of the truths of the Proverbs than there is at present. In fact, it is long overdue for us to learn how to handle ourselves with wisdom and prudence with regard to that to which we listen and respond--especially when it comes to what is streaming across our televisions, computers and phones.

The acerbic reaction and irreparable harm resulting from the Covington High School fiasco is an example of our dire need to learn to put the Proverbs into practice. The wisest man who ever lived--our Lord Jesus excepted--gave us the following wisdom principles from Proverbs: "The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps" (Prov. 14:15); and, "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him" (Prov. 18:17). While these truths ought to strike us as self-evident, our failure to implement them on so many levels proves why God breathed them out to us in His word. How could the Covington debacle have played out, if there were wise men and women in the mainstream media and on our social media platforms?

A blogger from outside the US propagated false information on a fake twitter account by means of a selective video clip and a punchy tagline full of caustic rhetoric. On account of the ease and speed with which one can do such things in our technological society, we have all the more reason to pause when we first hear any such controversial accounts and remind ourselves of the following questions:

  • Do we have all the facts?

This is, of course, the starting point to wise reaction to such stories. If I was not there, did not see the entire event unfold, have not read court documentation and do not have a double portion of the spirit of Elisha (2 Kings 6:12), then I probably should not be speaking about an issue. It doesn't matter how much i may have convinced myself of the depravity level of people who wear MAGA hats, it is foolish for us to speak without all the facts. Will we ever learn this wisdom principle?

  • Have both sides had opportunity to speak?

Related to the first wisdom principle is a second. In order to have all the facts, we must let both parties speak. Until Nick Sandmann pled his cause before the court of public opinion (the worst court in which to be tried), he was already convicted, judged and tried by the social media jury. Why not rather wait to respond to anything that we hear online until we allow differing parties to speak? What folly to rush to weigh in on matters that do not directly impact us, nor involve our personal witness in any way whatsoever. There are abundant reasons why God's word sets out the evil and harm of slander. It is for our own good. Would we want to be on the receiving end of malicious misrepresentation on a global scale? The reputations of the boys from Covington High School may never fully be repaired in light of what one Brazilian blogger did from the comfort of his living room under a deceitful pseudonym on a social media account. Multitudes contributed to the smearing of these boys' reputations by receiving the story without hearing the parties involved.

  • Is this a matter in which I must invest time or emotional capital?

This is the third wisdom principle that we must seek to apply. Does God require me to speak to each and every issue that springs up online. There is an account in the Gospel of Luke, in which some people had come to Jesus about a matter of social outrage (Luke 13:1-2). Pilate had mingled the blood of some Galileans with pig blood--a scandal of epic proportions among the members of the Old Covenant theocracy. Instead of speaking to that matter, Jesus appealed to two other accounts of injustice and then called everyone present to repent of their own sins. Jesus did not give in to every whim and fancy of the time. He was not lead by this news story or that news story. Instead, he was lead by a zeal to speak the greater truths of God to those around him. This serves as a model of that into which we should be seeking to invest our time and energy.

  • Have I been motivated by a desire to glorify God in my response? Or, am I simply jumping on a bandwagon of outrage because it seems like the thing to do?

This is a wisdom principle that only I can personally answer. Others may speculate as to what my motives are in speaking to any public news story. However, God calls us to examine ourselves and to know why we are speaking on whatever subject we may speak. As Jesus said, "for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment" (Matt. 12:36). This means that I must always pause and ask myself, "What is motivating my speech on a particular subject." Just because I believe that Donald Trump embodies every ungodly principle in Scripture doesn't mean that I should speak in emotional reaction to some news story about anyone wearing a MAGA hat. It may be that I am simply reacting to my feelings and emotions, rather than acting on principle and on a desire to bring God glory in my speech and writing. This also is not wise (Prov. 29:11). It takes time to examine our own motives. It takes wisdom to do so as well. This should, at the very least, slow us down as we seek to know how to respond--or whether we even should respond to some particular story of social outrage.

  • Am I truly seeking to better the society in which I live if I engage in lightening fast visceral reactions to each and every politically polarizing social media story that streams across my computer?

The final wisdom principle we ought to be seeking to implement in regard to our social media engagement is that concerning our commitment to build up those around us. Are we encouraging the fruit of the Spirit in our conversations? Are we building others up by pointing them to Christ and helping them grow into loving, joyful, peaceable, gentle, good, faithful and self-controlled men and women? If what we write or say is merely reflecting our own cynicism, sarcasm or disdain for others, we are simply passing that example along to those who read what we right and listen to what we say. This will not be long lived in a society that feeds on division and scandal. As David Brooks has noted, "It's hard to believe that people are going to continue forever on platforms where they are so cruel to one another. It's hard to believe that people are going to be content, year after year, to distort their own personalities in service to a platform, making themselves humorless, semi-blind, joyless and grim."

While we could ask a dozen other biblically formed questions to help guide us in the process of knowing how or whether we should respond to what we hear online on a daily basis, these principles should serve as a starting point for us to use social media in a more God-honoring way. The glory of God, the reputation of others, divine principles of justice and the good of society are on the line. That little snarky tweet in response to news coverage about a group of high school student in MAGA hats may have made your friends laugh and garnered you a few more followers, but it probably also aided in smearing the reputation of these young men--now putting them and their families in the threat of physical danger. Instead of getting outraged by MAGA hats, let's commit to making wisdom great again. We can start to do so by asking God for grace to put in practice the great wisdom principle of the Savior, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

The Disease of Ambition

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Herman Melville's Moby Dick is an intense and rather gothic tale of seaman Ishmael's experience whaling under captain Ahab. It's a well-known story of obsession, revenge, mania, and ruin--the typically edifying material or a great American novel.

As everyone familiar with American literature already knows, the story centers on Ahab's pursuit of the white whale, which is indeed a rather theological beast. The whale is not God; God is an unassailable sovereign throughout the novel, the creator of the land and sky and seas and all that stirs and broods in them, including the leviathan of Ahab's obsession. God not only shapes the course of men's lives, in Moby Dick, but he haunts their profoundly troubled minds--and, according to Ishmael, all people are so troubled or cracked, not just Ahab.

Ahab is Melville's picture of mortal greatness in the world, a man defined by ambition that only he and God seem to know. This is precisely how Melville introduces Ahab. The first we hear about him is from Peleg, a Nantucket Quaker, former whaling captain himself, and now, along with Bildad, majority owner of the Pequod. He describes his captain of choice to Ishmael, the aspiring whaler, like this:

He's a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab; doesn't speak much, but, when he does speak, then you may well listen. Mark ye, be forewarned; Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well as 'mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales; His lance! aye, the keenest and surest that out of all our isle! Oh! He ain't Captain Bildad; no, and he ain't Captain Peleg; he's Ahab, boy; and Ahab of old, thou knowest, was a crowned king!

It's a fantastic description in a book where there is nothing deeper on earth than what lies beneath the waves and no mightier foe to combat than the whales that play in those mysterious deeps.

Ahab is on his own quixotic quest for a kind of greatness that is defined from within him, and it is about much more than wrestling whales or slaying a particularly infamous one in revenge. Like Job, Ahab has a complaint against God; like Jonah, Ahab dares to defy God. Unlike either, however, he refuses to bow before God, even when God turns his fury on him in Moby Dick.

The Disease of Ambition

Like God, Ahab is a mysterious being who "doesn't speak much" but when he does his words are able to upend everything casual and common to men, even the seagoing whaling sort. Neither God nor Ahab is well understood by others yet both haunt and torment the troubled minds of those who encounter them. But Ahab is an ungodly man of demonic dimensions, driven by the very ambition that makes him great and god-like in a most ungodly way.

"Be sure of this, O young ambition," Melville--or Ishmael--warns us just before we first hear of Ahab: "all mortal greatness is but disease."

Ahab's ambition is, for Melville it seems, the defining quality he has in common with the "Ahab of old," the "crowned king." Captain Ahab is an embodiment of the "demonic" sort of ambition that, according to James, upsets the world and is a source of everything vile (3:15). God opposes this kind of ambition and those animated by it--the selfishly ambitious who discover that God, who refuses to bend to our will or reward our arrogance, is their mightiest foe.

The biblical Ahab knew God was against him--could not possibly be for him given his life's ambition--and so does captain Ahab. Not only this, but they both realize their twisted ambition, whatever it may be, will eventually cost them their lives. So Captain Ahab, like king Ahab--and even Satan himself, it seems--gives free rein to this self-destructive disease. Unable to lay hold of God, Melville's Ahab vents the rage of his frustrated passions on the proxy-god that seems to be within reach: The White Whale.

Demonic Ambition

Arrogant, striving, self-serving and self-aggrandizing ambition is demonic. James is quite blunt about this:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice" (James 3:13-16).

Selfish ambition (eritheia) is the opposite of love and meekness; selfish ambition is a kind of passion that insists on its own way in the world and will be met with "wrath and fury" from God (Rom 2:8). It is the disease of greatness, but it is also common to all men. And it must be mortified in the minister of Christ (and everyone else pursuing holiness), or it will be wreaking havoc at home, in the Church, and wherever else he goes.

Yet, not all ambition is demonic. Paul writes to the Romans that he makes it his ambition (philotimeomai) to preach Christ where Christ has not already been named (Rom. 15:20). Paul's ambition, however, is rooted in the particularities of his call to suffer many things for Christ's sake as an apostle to the Gentiles. It is nearly the opposite, in application at least, of eritheia.

Godly ambition does not promote any cult of personality, but selflessly serves Christ and his Church, and seeks no other prize than his glory and what he has promised in the Gospel. Paul's ambition, therefore, drives him to acts of profound and costly self-denial in order to fulfill his mission: To become all things to all people, that he might save some. Paul's ambition--godly ambition--can join John the Baptist in declaring that Christ "must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Godly ambition, in other words, mortifies selfish ambition.

The Subtlety of Eritheia

I suspect we do a poor job distinguishing between the two types of ambition, or of recognizing the perversity of eritheia. Selfish ambition, at least to a certain degree, is not only an acceptable sin in our culture but a seemingly necessary one for success. It may also be incentivized in a church culture caving to the temptation of elevating a public image of success above qualities like quiet, steady faithfulness in relative obscurity; a work-ethic rooted in giving and helping rather than getting and keeping; a willingness to go without and sacrifice for the good of others.

We cannot esteem worldly success without neglecting godliness and overlooking spiritual maturity. Worldly success is not a bad thing, but it is not to be confused with being above reproach or enjoying a good reputation, and it may indicate little more than selfish ambition (the disease of greatness). In ministers and congregations it may even dress itself in claims of kingdom growth, public witness, administrative acumen, evangelistic fruitfulness, entrepreneurial spirit, and so on. These are all highly desirable objects, but sin can twist each one into a pious-sounding cover for eritheia.

Our hearts are slippery things and may permit many things to pass for godly ambition that on closer inspection belong to the selfish, striving sort that stirs up envy and feeds jealousies, rivalries, and "every vile practice." This is the disease of Ahab and of all human striving after greatness by our own design and measure. It comes from setting and pursuing our own agenda in the world rather than submitting to the Lord and one another in Christ.

Conclusion

We see this striving ambition surface among the Disciples from time to time as they quarreled over greatness. They were disabused of it, it seems, when confronted by the reality of Christ crucified. There is the death of eritheia, the cure for the disease of striving after greatness on our terms. There the ambition of Christ is disclosed, an ambition that exposes and destroys every other ambition in us.

After the cross, the Apostles no longer quarrel about greatness. Neither did they find the message of Christ crucified nor the vessels of his church ill-fitted instruments for the work of the ministry. If we do, then the issue may well be our ambition rather than some wrong-headed piece of polity we are tempted to blame, much less our dim-witted brothers we cannot bend to our will or way of seeing things.

The ordination vow Presbyterian elders take to submit to our brothers in the Lord, like the call of Christ to take up our cross and follow him, is a call to kill the disease of demonic ambition that aspires to be great in the world, even "a crowned king." And there is some urgency to this: If we are not actively killing Ahab within us, then Ahab will surely carry us out to sea and leave us a wreck adrift on the waves of the deep.

To Be A Diaper Changer

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I recently happened across a picture online, in which a group of young adults were linking arms at a well attended Christian Conference. The person who had posted the picture wrote a caption underneath it that said something along the following lines: "I don't just believe in these young men and women; I believe that they can change the world." A few days later, I came across the self-designation of a girl who termed herself a "world changer" in her Twitter bio. One doesn't have to look far these days to see how ready the better part of young Christians are to embrace grandiose visions about their futures. On one hand, this seems so very noble. After all, as image bearers of God, shouldn't we desire excellence and seek to be a blessing to as many people in the world as possible? On the other hand, it comes across as supremely naive and somewhat narcissistic to think that I am so important that the entire world needs me and that I will most certainly be a change agent for the entire planetPerhaps we need a reevaluation of our own personal worth and calling. 

A "change the world" mentality often ironically serves as a catalyst for discontentment or undue guilt. The common failures and frustrations experienced in the mundane day-in and day-out aspects of life tend to leave those--who had hoped for more importance--jaded or callused as the years progress. Like the person who gains weight over the years and cannot seem to lose it (I know this so well experientially!) has the peculiar temptation of thinking back to the days when they were younger and thinner, the disappointments embraced by those who have misplaced expectations about their own influence can lead to a nostalgic paralysis in later years. 

Such a mentality also has the adverse effect of inadvertantly leading others to dismiss the importance of the work of the mother who faithfully changes her children's diapers, drives them to sporting and music practices, takes them to the doctor, keeps up the organizational aspects of life at home and serves with her husband in many unnoticed capacities at church. It tells the man who humbly hangs a sign for a church plant each and every Friday night and takes it down every Sunday night that what he is doing is insignificant. It implicitly disrespects the man who gets up at 5:30 every morning and who comes home at 7:30 every night (and who then repeats that process 6 days a week for 25 years) from his job in a factory.

A friend once told me the story of a Christian garbage man whose hands were worn from his work. Someone once asked him about his callused and blackened hands. The man responded, "I'm thankful for these hands because they serve as a reminder to me that I believe that I have been called to do the work that I do and that I can pick up garbage to the glory of God." This is what a "change the world" attitude misses. It fails to embrace Paul's admonition, "Whatever we do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col. 3:17). 

To be a diaper changer to the glory of God is a glorious thing. Jesus said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). Among the many things that I regret in the early years of marriage is that I was far to eager too be out with people "doing ministry" and was not home enough helping my wife change diapers and put the kids to bed. I say this without any hesitation whatsoever: Any fruit I have in ministry is directly correlated to my wife's faithfulness in doing what is least to the glory of God.  

The reality is that there was only one true and lasting world changer; and, He had to be mocked by men, nailed to the cross, subject to the powers of hell and fall under the wrath of God in order to bring about permanent and lasting change in the world. Whenever we are tempted to want to "think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think," we must remember that the way up is the way down, that he who would be greatest must become least and that the way to the crown is the way of the cross. We must seek to become a "will of God doer" rather than a "world changer"--even if that means changing dirty diapers for the glory of God.