Saturday, December 09, 2006

Packer on the Significance of the Incarnation

“We see now what it meant for the Son of God to empty himself and become poor. It meant a laying aside of glory... a voluntary restraint of power; an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding; finally, a death that involved such agony—spiritual even more than physical—that his mind nearly broke under the prospect of it. (See Lk 12:50 and the Gethsemane story.) It meant love to the uttermost for unlovely human beings, that they through his poverty might become rich. The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.”[1]

[1] J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 63.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

An Old Neighbour - And My Current Ones

Hockey star mourned by hundreds

Toronto residents will be very aware of Michael Serba's murder last week. I have not said anything about this until now, but Mike grew up in the house next door to me. He was 15 years my junior, but we used to play ball hockey with him and his brother - and they were fine neighbours.

His sudden death after being attacked by a transient has reminded me of my own neighbours today. Life is short, even if God grants us "long life." I am praying that I become a better ambassador of the Good News - especially during the Christmas season - to those the Lord has sovereignly put around me. Too often I think my opportunities for the Gospel are endless.

What to Do When You Disagree With a Brother [Romans 14:1-15:13] (Part 7)

This is a multi-part series. You can catch up and get some context by reading the first six parts here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V and Part VI.


In the last study, we concluded that the brother who is strong-in-faith must hold very firm convictions and an equally firm love for those who do not share those convictions.

The strong, by the fact that they are strong, bear the greater responsibility in these conflicts. They have the most wiggle-room if you like, and need to focus on love and peace at the expense of their freedoms. But, as Paul made clear, this does not mean they should change their convictions to match the weak. No, firm convictions and firm love! Each before the Lord.

Now, in 15:1-6, Paul continues his instructions to the strong, “notching it up” as we like to say, even further. The passage breaks down like this:

1. The command to carry and please the weak. :1-2

2. The motivation or reason we must carry the weak :3

3. An interlude on how the OT gives us hope :4

4. A prayer for God-glorifying unity :5-6

I. The command to carry and please the weak. (15:1)

The first thing to note is that Paul says, “WE” and thereby includes himself with the strong. That is important, for as we have made reference to throughout this passage, it is always better to have strong-faith convictions and that is clear when Paul joins himself to the strong. He is our model in so many things – especially this!

A. Obligated to Carry

These strong ones are under an obligation. If you are tall you under an obligation – to reach things for people. If you are male – under an obligation to give up your seat to a lady.

To be obliged to do something means you are morally bound to do it. It is necessary. This thing must be done. And that which the strong ones must do is “to bear with the failings of the weak.”

Now, one way of reading this makes it sound like the strong are being asked to “put up with” the weak – “bear with their failings!” But that does not fit at all! Didn’t Paul start this whole discussion by instructing the strong to fully welcome the weak without any thought of correcting them?

You endure your Aunt Matilda because she is an ornery old battleaxe. But you are never to merely endure the saints of God. The word means, “to lift up, to carry.”

Moo says: “In this light, what Paul is exhorting the “strong” to do is willingly and lovingly to assume for themselves the burden that these weak believers are carrying. See REB: “Those of us who are strong must accept as our own burden the tender scruples of the weak.” This does not necessarily mean that the “strong” are to adopt the scruples of the “weak.” But what it does mean is that they are sympathetically to “enter into” their attitudes, refrain from criticizing and judging them, and do what love would require toward them. Love demands that the “strong” go beyond the distance implied in mere toleration; they are to treat the “weak” as brothers and sisters.”[1]

“We strong ones [since we are so spiritually muscular] are under an obligation to carry the weaknesses of the not-so-strong ones.” Or, as he adds after this: “not to please ourselves.”

Think about the weak and strong again with me.

The weak in faith:

:2 – eat only vegetables (abstaining from certain foods in honour of the Lord :6)

:5 – esteem one day as better than another (in honour of the Lord :6)

:21 – he does not drink wine

:14 – certain items are unclean to him because he thinks they are unclean

:8 – he is the Lord’s and the Lord will make him stand (:4)

But, BECAUSE they are weak in faith, they can be hindered (:13), made to stumble (:13, 20), grieved (:15), and even destroyed (:15, 20)... when the brother with strong-faith convictions exercises his freedom (:21) to eat meat, drink wine or esteem all days alike.

How does the strong one eating, etc destroy the weak? Because the weak end up caving in to the pressure to eat, drink or not observe days – and 14:23 “...whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” You are causing the weak to stumble by throwing up logs in his path!

B. Obligated to Please

Paul has already made clear to the strong: “Do not cause the weak to stumble” and he gave 4 reasons for that:

A. Truth demands it: Everything is clean to the Christian, but not

everything is clean to every Christian :14

B. Love demands it :15

C. Logic demands it :16

D. Kingdom Priorities demand it :17

Now he summarizes those 4 reasons with the phrase “do not please yourself.” The man who is out to please himself says,

· I don’t care if it is unclean to you!

· My freedom to eat is more important than you!

· I value my freedom for eating and drinking above righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit!

· I don’t care what pleases anyone else – including God!

Such thinking is totally out of place to the Christian!

Do older children ever get frustrated by the things their little brother or sister cannot do? Imagine you are a kid again. You go to the beach on holidays, and Mom and Dad have asked you to watch your kid brother for a few minutes. Now, you want to swim in the lake! Little brother says, “But I can’t swim. Stay here on the beach and play with me!” But you answer: “I can swim! See ya!” And off you go...

Little brother knows he shouldn’t.... but wants to be with you... and off he goes... but he can’t swim. Up to his ankles. Now his waist. The waves splash his shoulders. And then... gone.

Was it a bad choice he jumped in the water? Yes. Was it all his fault?....

Paul says that the strong Christian in secondary matters is obligated to carry the weaknesses of his weaker brother and to not please himself.

He then states the command more positively – :2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

Don’t please yourself – please your neighbour! That would be for his good and it would build him up! And that, dear ones, is love! Any other option is like taking bricks out of his house. Nothing happens at first, but soon it will reach a critical mass and collapse. So, make your focus “pleasing the Christians you are in physical proximity to.” This is the priority for those who are strong-in-faith!

[1] Moo, 866.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Top 10 Search Engine Referrals Awards for November 2006!

10. Strangest Connection to My Site: “Flashing Amber Power light on Del

9. Most Visually Revolting: “frog in freezer”

8. Most Odd Referent: “speaking of penguins”

7. Second Most Visually Revolting: “Mats Sundin love life”

6. “Wish Someone Had Told Me That Guy Was Already Dead” award: “who is Pastor Richard Baxter (Toronto Canada)”

5. Most Mellowing: “one day you will die”

4. Best Use of Anglicized Greek: “ego eimi hay anastasis kai hay zoe”

3. Most Linked to Post: “Bono is not a christian”

2. Most Obviously a Late-in-Semester Seminary Student: “mdiv useless”

And the #1 Best Of Show Search Phrase...: “turning 40 is cool”

Monday, December 04, 2006

What to Do When You Disagree With a Brother [Romans 14:1-15:13] (Part 6)

This is a multi-part series. You can catch up and get some context by reading the first five parts here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V.


In the last study, we examined the four reasons the strong-in-faith brother must never condemn or make the weak-in-faith stumble. Today I want to point out how Paul teaches the strong to live with the weak in a unified manner. These are Paul’s most pointed practical instructions to the strong-in-faith, and they can be boiled down into two main statements:

A. Maintain a Firm Love

1. Focus on the weak’s edification

19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

What are things that “make for peace?” Well, the things that promote peace are those actions that foster unity and mutual love. Paul says we are to pursue the “mutual upbuilding” of one another. This is a wonderful word – sometimes translated “edification” in the sense of “building an edifice.” It does not mean we are “to educate” one another and that is why I really like the ESV’s choice of “upbulding.”

When your pal is hammering a tree fort together, you can hand him wood and nails, or you can hurl rocks at him. One of those actions helps him to build – it is “upbuilding.” We need to have this attitude in our church – “I am here to build up the church. I don’t want to do anything that will harm the structure of the church.”

Not many people think this way – but you must not forget that the church does not belong to you or me. It is Christ’s. And I don’t know about you, but I do not want to do anything that would harm His bride... I know what I would do if you harmed my bride!

2. Do not be a spiritual bully of the weak

20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.

“Destroy” here has the idea of “demolish” or “deconstruct” a building. It is used metaphorically as “abolish.” Paul is referring either to the weak believer or to the church as a whole and saying, do not tear down this work of God, but do what you can to build it up.

I wonder, is that your attitude toward other Christians? Do you arrive at church wondering how it is you can strengthen, encourage, identify evidences of God’s grace, love, and overall build up everyone else? Too many churches are full of people that show up week by week thinking that that is what everyone else should be doing for them! They actually believe that the church exists to prosper them!

Consider your marriage. If the two of you exist to be fed, encouraged, blessed, loved and built up –neither of you will be!

So, Paul writes to the Romans: “it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.” Do not hammer away at the foundation of the church by blatantly eating meat! This is foolishness!

3. Deny your freedoms for the weak

21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.

The Christian who lives with Kingdom priorities, who seeks to do righteous acts and pursues peace and exults in the joy of the Holy Spirit – that person will gladly deny himself. He will happily refrain from those activities that he feels absolute freedom to participate in otherwise! And he does this out of love... not guilt... not spite...

So, the first thing that you have to see is that a church needs to be comprised of folks that have a very firm love for each other. I love you so much that I will stop doing what is perfectly fine for me to do if that action might somehow cause you to stumble. I am so love-driven that if I come to see my actions as possibly causing spiritual harm to another, I will leave them off immediately.

Please notice what Paul does NOT say to those who are strong-in-faith. He does not say, “Change your convictions.”

Spurgeon was a wonderful example of this. As a highly respected and quoted preacher, living in the particular days that he did, he eventually stopped drinking alcohol. Why? Well, to many weak Christians in the greater evangelical community, drinking of any form was a sin. Spurgeon resisted the pressure from them to leave off his nightcap because he knew he had freedom on the matter.

Eventually, he changed his mind. Prohibition groups were in full swing in America and Britain and so he was often asked if he drank. It became a stumbling block to others. He was not trying to make an issue of it, but the time and culture made it an issue. So, CHS quit drinking. Prohibition groups tried to hold him up as some poster boy, but the fact of the matter is he looked on them as weaker brothers with weak faith.

Is Spurgeon our judge in drinking and smoking? No! He is merely an example of one man who loved others by denying himself that which was rightly his.

Can you think of anything you have denied? Any habits or the like that you have stopped for the sake of others? Out of love for them so that you do not throw up logs in their path or trip them into sin. Are you loving the church so much that you would not be caught ever doing anything that would tear down its walls?

Do you have a firm love?

B. Maintain Firm Convictions

1. Test them before God’s face

22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.

Not only do we need to have a firm love, we need very firm convictions. As we have already seen in this passage – each man before the Lord!

“It is before his own master that he stands or falls..

Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind...

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

This is crucial! You must learn to do what you do based on your convictions, not based on what others do, what you have always done or what you think is really popular.

Do you drink wine? Then defend that action from the Word of God to me. Do you eat meat? How do you know this is permissible? Do you treat every day as sacred before the Lord? Then explain to me your understanding of the Sabbath and Lord’s Day from the Word of God.

This is where the wisdom of God is seen. Paul never tells us here to change our convictions. If anything, he alludes to the weak that they need to grow a little. But, even that is guarded by all those statements concerning not changing them. We are to have an opinion – and hold it firmly.

You say, “How can this be?” I say, “Easy.” Hold your opinions firmly. Hold love just as firmly! Never does Paul tell us to stop discussing our opinions – in fact, I think the picture he draws for us is that of a group of people who know quite clearly where they differ – yet choose to lovingly fellowship with each other.

As I said before, you don’t have to like what your brother does, but you have to like your brother. That is the heart of the matter. And Christians ought to be able to discuss their differences without feeling this pressure to change the other person into someone who thinks exactly like them. Firm love and firm convictions!

How do you get firm convictions? You put them before the face of God. A man who honestly holds his convictions up to the Lord’s scrutiny will hold them with tenacity... and humility. Conflict comes when you are defensive of your convictions – probably because you are not so sure of them or you are holding them as things you have to do in order to be saved.

Two Christians can have meaningful discussion about home-schooling or public schooling in love. When there is division, disunity, the cause of that is not the convictions. The cause is sin. Neither option is universally wrong or right. This is a secondary matter. There are multitudes of factors to be considered. Bottom line: A firm love for each other, combined with convictions that have been worked out before the face of God will allow real discussion... and real differences of opinion. Why? What do you have that you have not been given? If your opinions are from God – they are His gift. They are not a hammer.

This means something. It means that if you get to talking about secondary matters with a brother, and the conversation turns heated or angry or frustrating, you need to ask yourself – do I have a firm love for this brother?

Get that settled first, then ask, why do I believe what I believe? If I feel threatened, it could be that my opinions are wrong. I need to examine them before God. It could be that I am just holding these opinions because they make me feel comfortable – and that they have nothing whatsoever to do with Truth.

I had better be sure!

2. Act according to your faith

Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin

Condemnation comes when we eat while not having the faith to believe that eating is pleasing to God. Bottom line: you had better have thought through your opinions.

Another story is told of Spurgeon: While out on a jaunt with his students one morning, when several of them had lighted pipes or cigars Spurgeon said, “Aren’t you ashamed to be smoking so early!” and they immediately put out their fire. Then he produced a cigar and lit it, and both he and they laughed at his little joke, but his point was that he was in no way ashamed of the practice....”

On another occasion, he stood up after Dr. Pentecost had preached a little post-message to Spurgeon’s in which Pentecost identified cigar-smoking in his own life as something he had to give up in order to follow Christ. Dr. Pentecost made it rather clear that he thought cigar-smoking to be a sin. Spurgeon responded: “Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be a sin. And, notwithstanding what Brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed to-night.

If anybody can show me in the Bible the command, “Thou shalt not smoke,” I am ready to keep it, but I haven’t found it yet. I find ten commandments, and it is as much as I can do to keep them; and I’ve no desire to make them eleven or twelve. The fact is, I have been speaking to you about real sin, and not about listening to mere quibbles and scruples...

“Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” and that is the real point of what my Brother Pentecost has been saying. Why a man may think it is a sin to have his boots blacked. Well then, let him give it up and have them whitewashed. I wish to say I am not ashamed of anything whatever I do, and I don’t feel that smoking makes me ashamed, and therefore I mean to smoke to the glory of God”[1]

Why? How? Because he understood this idea – if we hold our conviction before God, and God does not forbid what we do, there is no reason for guilt.

If I do something and feel guilt? Then what I am doing is not proceeding from my application of faith to life – it is proceeding out of lust or sin or pride or greed. That conviction I feel must not be ignored. Why? Because there is something inherently sinful in the activity? No. Rather, because I am not being true to what I believe. My convictions are not firm.

If they are firm, then I can deny what is mine if eating or drinking or not observing would trip up my brother. Real freedom is the freedom to deny yourself. And that is the essence of real love.


Dear ones: judge rightly. Hold your convictions and your love with an iron grip – and be one.

[1] Both these quotes from Dallimore, Spurgeon, 179-181.