In the case of certain men, whom I could name, I feel a great mistake was made. As soon as they were converted, they were taken right out of their former associations and set before the public as popular preachers. It’s a great pity that many made little kings of these preachers and, in so doing, prepared the way for their fall. You see, they couldn’t bear the sudden change. It would have been better for them if everybody had bucked and abused them for ten or twenty years. It would probably have saved them from much misery later.
Many apologies for my long absence and much thanks for your prayers and support. I didn’t intend to take all October off of podcasting, but it began with extreme busyness and ended on a very high and low point. The low being getting sick, and the high being getting engaged to my wonderful girlfriend. Please continue to pray for both!
This chapter presses in hard on what the character of a preacher must be, but all the moreso it presses in on what every believer must strive after as he walks as a disciple of Christ. Take a moment, think about the sins in your life that you struggle to even see as sins, the ones that plague you daily and persist in tripping you up either because you actually kind of like them or because you find yourself bound to run to them for comfort in hard times.
This chapter is not saying, “if you don’t get those areas cleaned up, you can’t be a Christian.” On the contrary, the fact that we struggle and fight against them rather than walk in them without fear and make regular practice of them mark our lives in Christ. Every day we have to drag these evils to the cross and it seems like they come crawling right back. But by the grace of God, we have the joy and duty to drag them right back to that cross again, to crucify the flesh.
If we hide our sins, if we make practice of them without fear and without concern about their effects on our hearts and on our walk with Christ, that’s what should really bring about fear. There cannot be any such thing as peace between holiness and sin. You cannot be a Christian who holds sin close to his heart in any way. The Holy Spirit will not let us walk in such ways in peace.
I pray this reading is a blessing to you, and that I will walk in this diligently as well. Please feel free to reach out to me with prayer requests, and please do continue to pray for me as well.
Our first consideration should not be, “Now I am here, how can I be comfortable?” but “I am here, how can I please others for their good? How can I relieve the distressed, help the weary, or cheer the sad?” It is a grand thing to do good in little ways. It is a glory to be the sweetener of life at home, the self-forgetting friend of all around. The world before long confesses that Christ is in such a man. The true Christian is Jesus Personified.
This sermon was honestly one of my favorite ones to read so far, and especially so because it’s rooted in such an important passage in my favorite book of the Bible, the gospel of John. Likewise, it has also been a tremendously convicting one in many positive ways, and I would echo my good brother’s words in that I “confess that I have not yet attained all that I have said to you.” Indeed, I feel that I am a lot farther from that than Charles Spurgeon would have been at this time in his life. But it is in pursuit of that, that we all continue to run towards the cross as we do.
And it is of that unified goal and unified struggle that I want to continue speaking on in this podcast. I want to look at two passages that sit heavily on my own heart. As Charles Spurgeon said in this sermon, I as much as anyone else am very sensitive to the ways in which I have fallen short, and must trust to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit for my desire to grow more in step with these words of Scripture. The first passage, like our sermon text, is from John, the words of Jesus:
“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35 CSB
The second is from Romans 12, where Paul talks about the outworkings of this, what it really looks like for the disciples of Jesus to love one another:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
Romans 12:9-21 CSB
Unity in grace
This is why unity has to begin with the gospel and therefore work out into our lives; our works must bear the fruit of our faith. So how is it that we can live in such a way that we may reflect that need, in such a way that we can carry out the words of Paul, while engaging with each other over issues that bring deep divides, in calling for repentance from sin?
We must realize that it is entirely God’s grace that we have what we are able to enjoy in this life. And, we must look to showing that grace out in how we use what we have in light of the human divisions that we still have. I think that it’s important to lay a foundation of love and service. And I have to press myself most of all on this: where am I seeking to directly serve and share with those whom I disagree with, to display our brotherhood that runs deeper than an opinion? Where am I hiding from either my own sin or from speaking to a brother to encourage him to repent of his own? Where am I failing to love a brother or sister? Where am I being lazy in seeking to root out the hypocrisy of my life? Where am I not hating what is evil and not loving what is good?
Unified in abundance and in suffering
The struggle is real to remember the unifying factor of the cross between believers. What’s the difference between engaging error or heresy, and being a divider of the brethren? It seems to be a fine line, and all the harder to discern when the primary mode of engagement is 280 characters a pop rather than seeking to truly know someone. It won’t be my place to try to establish that in full here (though there will be future episodes of King’s Highway Radio to discuss some of the issues that bring that division). But let’s look at a few of the things from those passages just to get an idea of what I think it should look like:
Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. These words of Jesus lay the standard from the beginning: Himself, and His love. What greater example of the self-sacrificial love is there than Jesus giving Himself up to the horrors of death by crucifixion? And after that, His loving forgiveness and restoration of Peter for his betrayal, displaying the depths of His mercy not as simply an impersonal setting aside of wrong, but of a personal act that transforms the hearts of His people in ways that we can scarcely consider.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. This is truly a challenge in our modern world, where the idea of something being evil or good is convoluted beyond belief. Indeed, the words of Isaiah in “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” echo throughout the world today. But let’s take a moment to think about, how do we apply these words to a situation where sin has entered into the life of a member of our church?
What is evil? This sin is evil, and its destructive power is clearly seen in the impact it’s having on the life of this person and those around them. I don’t think I need to be more specific than that to have anyone listening to me be able to instantly bring to mind an example they’ve personally experienced. We are to detest it, to abhor that sin, to hate it and desire its destruction. Yet we are also to cling to the good, to hold fast to it and not let it go. What is good? It’s what we remind that struggling saint of in calling them to repentance. It’s the foundation that we as believers have to call out sin in the world as a whole: we are made by God, in His image, and it is that image that shines through and demands to be seen in the light of His glory. Sin dims that glory, it takes what is beautiful and turns it into an evil mockery of God’s goodness. We are to hate that evil, but to love the good and call for repentance on that foundation: let your lives be made not on twisted sinful distortions of God, but truly in His image, seen perfectly in the person and work of Jesus.
Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Finally, let’s truly rely upon God in all circumstances. The pain of persecution was fully upon the early church often, yet they endured it in the hope that was rooted in Christ and poured out in them through the Holy Spirit. Their rejoicing was in the finished work of Jesus, but also in knowing that they had a hope that was stronger than any meager temporary reprieve from discomfort the world might offer them. And this is the conviction that rests on my heart, that I’m going to share with you all now: am I truly being patient when affliction comes, or am I griping and groaning under it until it passes? Am I persistently seeking the Lord in prayer, or am I being lazy in exercising this amazing right I have as a child of the Living God to enter His throne room and seek His face?
Brothers and sisters, I think we all need to wrestle with these questions, yet in hope, not in despair. Do we fall short? Then trust Jesus. Cry out with the words of the father of the possessed boy, “I believe, help my unbelief!” God is happy to hear our cries and always gives good gifts to His children.
So here’s my challenge to my brothers and sisters in Christ: let’s apply these words to our walk, to our conversation, to our thoughts. I hope we will all put ourselves into positions to be accountable to our brothers and sisters of our local church in seeking holiness and obedience in showing this love. We cannot separate God’s love from holiness, or vice versa. Let’s encourage one another in showing gracious love through enduring the suffering of this present life, knowing that we have a hope that shines far beyond anything we could ever have in this world.
The Church is not a number of unregenerate people coming together entirely of their own notion to defend such-and-such dogmas. Such persons may form a club, but they cannot make a Church! There must be a coming together of renewed men, in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit–and these must meet for purposes which God Himself ordains–and be joined together after His own fashion.
Charles Spurgeon, sermon 1436: What The Church Should Be
We are returning to the Unity in Christ series with today’s episode. The preceding two episodes on this point I have focused on particular aspects of unity: what it is founded on and what its fruit is to be, and I want to continue in that today. I’ve talked about the foundation of unity, which is the gospel, and the law of love which guides that unity, for God above all and for neighbor as for ourselves. Today I want to talk about another component of unity, one that builds upon and refines the idea of what love looks like in the church: we are unified in our humility.
Right away I know a lot of folks will scoff at this, and certainly I don’t blame them. In the West, in the United States, sadly it’s rare to find a more arrogant and self-important person than one who is outwardly-identifying as a Christian. Years ago when I worked in food service, whenever I encountered someone with a fish on their bumper and terrible Christian t-shirts (think “ABreadcrumb and Fish” or some such other quasi-parody of an established trademark), I knew two things were almost sure to be true: I was probably not going to get a tip, and there was a very high likelihood that this person was going to complain in attempts to get discounts. Sadly, my suspicions were often found to be true.
But this is why it’s important to talk about this, and hopefully to begin to push us all, myself included, towards greater humility and, by extension, greater love and holiness. Remember back to the Beatitudes series: blessed are…who? The meek, the humble, for they shall inherit the earth. So often we believe that we have to win ground by our own doings and wisdom, and then hold it by any means necessary, when what we ought to be doing is trusting our ways and thoughts to the means God has ordained for us.
What does that mean? It means that if you see someone being wrong on the Internet, pulling out the proverbial sword and running them through is probably not the best way to handle it, but rather to remember that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15:1) That even includes situations where we may sincerely believe the other person is deeply wrong and misguided. Certainly we see the way that Jesus responded to the Pharisees. He was never arrogant towards them. He was firm, founded on the truth of the Scriptures, and direct, but he never spoke to them without the end goal being the proclamation of the truth or without their own need in mind.
Yes, even for the Pharisees, what Jesus said was to point to their need first: they believed themselves holy by the nature of their birth and then by their adherence to rules above and beyond the law. That is the starting point of the gospel for everyone: our need in the face of the truth of God’s holiness. Jesus pointed to the truth of their wicked and lusting hearts, their selfishness and arrogance that led them to take what was meant to lead the people of Israel to repentance and hope, and instead turn it into a crushing burden and misery.
The image of Christ: the humble servant
It was humility that led the Son of God to come to live among us as a man. Look to Paul’s words in Philippians 2:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love,if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth— and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:1-11, CSB
We are not to act out of selfishness…yet how often have our thoughts, words, and deeds been marked by them? I know mine have far more often than I would ever care to admit. We are to put conceit to death, yet how often do we prize our own judgments over God’s, and over others’? Again, the weight of conviction presses on my own heart here as much as it may against any other. Our hope lies in the truth that, as His beloved children, we have the right to drag these sins into the light again and again, nailing them to the cross, and trusting to the truth that, in Christ, we have truly died to them in God’s eyes even if in this moment we still feel their scars on us.
Submission to truth
Will we dare to believe that the truth of Christ, then, is not sufficient to serve as the rock upon which the church can be built? I saw recently online an individual proclaiming essentially that, that because those who insufficiently opposed or even supported certain evils of the past also proclaimed the truth of Jesus’ vicarious atonement of our sins, that this is not enough, that we need some kind of further conviction and action in the church. How can we as those who stand in God’s grace dare to find His means insufficient?
Do we know more than our God who sees fit to bring to nothing a man’s mighty work, only to replace it with His own, founded on the work of the cross? Do we know more about the heart of a man for God than God Himself? And dare we forget that each of us in Christ has had the same insurmountable debt paid by the Son? There can be no other standard for us than God’s holiness.
I’ve also encountered the argument, mainly from those in the secular mindset, that to believe in the concept of a set and firm truth at all, let alone to proclaim that truth to the world, is itself arrogant. I’ve been told essentially, “You have your truth, but that doesn’t affect my truth,” as though “truth” is something that can oppose itself. But at its root, this too is a deeply arrogant position. It says that God is unable to make Himself known to His creation, and that revealed truth is the product of men rather than God. But in making that argument, they deny their own claims, because to say such a thing itself demands a sort of foundation of universal truth, albeit a twisted and confused one.
As Christians we don’t simply live with information in our heads. It must transform our hearts, inform our words and deeds, and lead us to become more like the image of Christ each day. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” so let us seek that humble path. This is a hard thing to consider, because it includes things like making peace where enmity reigns, serving a person who shows no love in return, and even giving up our own pursuits for the good of another–all things that are echoes of the life and work of Christ. It is to Him that we look for the image of humility, Him that deserves all glory and worship, and yet chose to become a man and suffer a life of ignominy, and a death of treachery and horror, for the sake of destroying the hold of sin and death over man.
The Lord said to His disciples that the one who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven must be the servant of all. The path to this humility is one that the we must model as the church, and our leaders most of all. Charles Spurgeon said of the path by which we grow in this quality, “God comes into our heart—He finds it full—He begins to break our comforts and make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have because he will be more fitted to receive it.” As we still walk in what we consider wise, God’s wisdom overrides and leads us through what we must, so that we can come to find ourselves before Him with holy hearts that long to love and serve our Lord and our brethren.
We can’t pretend. We can’t hide from that breaking, and if we could we would only miss what would lead us closer to Him–what Romans 8:28 promises will work together for our good, no matter how painful it may be. Obey the apostle Paul when he commends the church of Philippi, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” Let’s embrace this truth with all seriousness, and look for the ways we can best reflect Christ in our words and deeds.
I made mention to this in recent Spurgeon Audio episodes, but it’s finally here! My friend and fellow worker in the faith Jarod Grice sat down with me and we recorded the first episode of King’s Highway Radio. Our hope is to develop this into a format that lets us have more informal discussions about current events, theological thoughts, good books, as well as hopefully be joined by guests from time to time.
For now this will be shared on the same RSS feed as Spurgeon Audio, so if you are already subscribed you’ll receive these episodes automatically. I’m hoping to eventually create a second feed for it, but for now it will be right here. Please also consider following the podcast’s Twitter feed. If you enjoy what you here, share it with your friends and drop us a line to let us know what you would like to hear us talk about.
At this present moment, who is the mightier? Caesar with his legions or Christ with His cross? We know who will be the victor before long–Mohammed with his sharp scimitar or Christ with His Doctrine of Love. When all earthly forces are overthrown, Christ’s Kingdom will still stand. Nothing is mightier than meekness. And it is the meek who inherit the earth in that sense.–Charles Spurgeon
This week I got to teach some of the little kids at my church, and had the opportunity to talk to them about what it meant for Jesus to humble himself, to go from His glory upon the throne of Heaven, to becoming a man of low status and submitting to a life of a servant, and an ignominious death. As I did I thought about this sermon I would be recording, and it seems that the text that lesson was based on is incredibly fitting to it, so I want to first read this passage:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing,that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.—Philippians 2:1-18
Now of course, I didn’t exactly exegete this whole text for the 4 year olds, but rather I concentrated on the main points and tried to make it clear to them in a way they could understand and talk about with their parents later. This passage, however, is such a deep and rich one, that it truly deserves to be read alongside Jesus’ words of promise to the meek, as the way by which one who desires to have such a title attached to himself can achieve such a thing.
Christ the servant King
The Son of God gave up all, for the sake of glorifying God, for the sake of salvation for His people, and for the sake of showing the way by which one can walk in peace with God. It is in this way that the Christian shows his love, and it is by our love that we are known–love for each other, and love for God. There cannot be love without this heart of service, without meekness setting the tone of life.
On a personal level, to be quite honest, it is one of those things that drives me to my knees. I know exactly how much my heart does not want to be meek, how self-seeking I can be, and how much love I do not show. My desire is to put self-seeking away, and that means daily battle with the flesh. Many days I feel so very distant from that goal, and yet the Lord has patiently and lovingly led me along each day. He has heard my prayers and shown me grace in new ways every day. That, I think, is something every Christian can praise His name for daily.
Meekness, real humility, is something that a man on his own cannot fully appreciate. It is only in the great shadow of the throne of God that it truly reaches its greatest meaning. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us as Christians, to truly represent that attitude. It is humble, first and foremost, to go to God and wait upon Him in our greatest and least needs. It is humble to serve others with a loving heart, not expecting payment but wanting to benefit them. And it is humble to confess your sins, before God and before your brothers and sisters, and let them die of exposure nailed to the cross.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that every Sunday you need to get up before the pastor speaks with a laundry list of offenses. But as Christians, I believe that one of the deadliest things we can engage in is allowing any sin to take even the smallest root and be hidden away from anybody who can truly speak truth into our lives. God certainly knows, and He will not be mocked. Certainly we are seeing the results of God upending hidden sin, throughout the world and throughout the church, right now.
We need to be humble before God with our sinfulness, meek and gracious to others as servants, and yet also trusting to God for provision and for truth. I recently encountered a quote from one of John Piper’s books that has stuck with me hard: “Oh how rare are the pastors who speak with a tender heart and have a theological backbone of steel.” To be meek is not to be a doormat, it isn’t to be halfhearted or to refuse to engage in discussion. Too often, however, true patience, tenderness, and love seem to be absent by those who claim the name of Christ.
I will close with greetings to my brothers visiting my area for the SBC 2018 convention. Hard things have come to light and I implore you to heed the words of Dr. Al Mohler as you get ready to come together. Do not let Baptist politics or fear of losing face keep you from seeking after the Lord in obedience. Do not let a fear of liberalism infiltrating keep you from exposing sin to the light, and likewise, do not fall for the claim that because sin has been exposed, the antidote to it is biblical compromise. Heed the words of the apostle Paul:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.–Romans 12:9-21