The Cost of Unity

Unity is quite an important idea in the New Testament. In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays for unity. We read, I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17: 20-23 ESV) Not only is it important but unity is a good thing. None would argue against it. No one would say, “Let’s cause division in the church.” So why is it that there are so many different schools of thought for those who say they believe in God? We have Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christians, and more. The ones listed are just the well-known ones.

In 1 Corinthians 1:10 the Apostle Paul appeals to the church that “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that [they] all agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among [them] and that [they] may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” So it’s true that we don’t want to be divided. He also tells us in what we are to be united in: mind and thought. We are to be united in our beliefs, in our faith.

How unfortunate is it that unity in our day often comes at the cost of our convictions and our theology! And it is quite easy to appear united. All we have to do is compromise. We have to comprise our belief in being saved through faith alone. We have to compromise our doctrine of Christ’s humanity as well as divinity. The danger lies in our end motive. When our goal becomes unity, when we meet together for the sake of unity, more often than not, that “unity” is short and temporary. It can hardly even be called unity. But unity that comes about because of a pursuit of righteousness and truth. That is a sweet thing. A good and often long lasting thing to have.

Easy though it is to have false unity, true unity is not a difficult thing to attain. Our gracious God in Heaven gives us the means. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV)

If we desire for unity, it must be the right kind of unity. If truth and sound doctrine are at stake, we must be willing to even reject unity. The end goal must be truth. It is only through the process of being truth seekers can we be truly united.

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What is the Mission of the Church?

It’s a topic that is widely disputed among Christians. Some say it is to usher in God’s kingdom; others say it is to uphold social justice. But what does the Bible have to say about the church’s corporate mission?

Before we get there, let’s define the word “mission.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, mission means “a task or job that someone is given to do.” Notice the singularity in the description of mission. In the four Gospels, Jesus gives many commands for us to obey. Yet, there is one that is specifically set aside for the church to be its priority.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

This passage is commonly known as the Great Commission. Jesus gives His authority onto the disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all people. From the beginning of His ministry, His intention for His disciples was to groom them for so that His church would be built through the proclamation of the Gospel (Matthew 16:18). This is evident when Jesus first calls them:

And [Jesus] said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19 ESV)

The Gospel is not only to be proclaimed to coworkers, classmates, family, and friends through evangelism (although that is part of the Great Commission). We are commanded to preach the Gospel to every people, tongue, and tribe. In Revelation, John writes about the end times, when people from all around the world will worship God:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10) 

This is why missions is so important! Whether you go or stay, missions is a vital part of carrying out the Great Commission. I can’t wait for that day when we can all worship the Lord together!

Also take note that disciple-making occurs through teaching them. Fulfilling the Great Commission is not making converts but making Christ-followers. We don’t just share the Gospel with people and leave them to fend for themselves. Jesus tells us to teach them to follow His commands, accomplished through the means of the local church. This is how believers will grow in grace and godliness to become more like Christ.

The other Gospel writers recorded similar messages of making disciples (see Mark 16:15-18, Luke 24:45-49, and John 20:21-23). And it’s even in the book of Acts:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

Christians are still here on Earth to make disciples. If it were up to me, I would want to be in heaven with God. No more sin and suffering sound great! But God has kept all of us in this world for this very reason: to preach the Good News to all mankind, and to teach them how to live according to God’s commands.

Book Review: “Prayer and the Knowledge of God” by Graeme Goldsworthy

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It is an uncontested given of Christianity that Christians pray, and it is not uncommon to hear a fellow Christian say how they, and by extension we, should be praying more. The exhortation has probably been tossed at us enough that it must often elicit our conditioned affirmative response. “Yes,” we go, “I should pray” or, if we feel lacking, “I should pray more.” Often this is where our minds gravitate towards when we think of prayer. Yet, when we evaluate our prayer lives, it is so much more than just increasing it in frequency and fervor.

In Graeme Goldsworthy’s Prayer and the Knowledge of God, Goldsworthy starts by addressing what prayer is and what it is not in order to “get a handle on prayer by asking why it is there in the first place; what its role is in our fellowship with God; and what is involved in praying as a Christian,” (17). Prayer is a reflection of our deepening relationship with the Father. With so many ways we can deviate from God’s intended purpose for prayer, Goldsworthy spends the majority of the book answering these questions before walking the reader through a biblical-theological reading of Scripture to show how God is fulfilling his promises to his people, what our prayers are founded upon. Goldsworthy’s study is wide-ranging, working through the history of Israel as well as tackling prayer as it concerns the eschatology of Scripture all of which points back to the Creator and how he has, in his infinite wisdom, orchestrated the course of history to His glory and, in His abounding love, has delivered us from ourselves and continues to provide for all our needs.

This book ends up being more than just a scholar’s romp through the Word, but an encouragement to us in praying faithfully as Goldsworthy shows us how our God is a faithful and loving God that has given us his Word so we can know Him, and has given us the gift of prayer to commune with Him no matter what season we find ourselves as we pray for God to fulfill His promises in His time. “We can say that how we know God will greatly affect the way we approach him in prayer,” (18). Where others may insist on understanding prayer through personal and/or comparative experiences, Goldsworthy’s methodology is aligned with what we know to be true, that wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit enlightening our eyes as we read and meditate on Scripture. Because this book is a survey of the Bible in its execution, it lends itself to pointing any industrious student of the Word towards passages in Scripture for further study.

I appreciated the scholarly bent of this book, because I knew the stirrings in my heart were from the Holy Spirit and not just some plucking of my heartstrings that can happen with a well-told story. While some authors stir one’s emotions, Goldsworthy makes no such attempt with dramatic anecdotes. His analogies and snippets from his time are utilized to help us better understand prayer, not to get us to pray. Goldsworthy is focused in his goal. If after reading a chapter you find yourself desiring to go to the Lord in prayer, that’s the Holy Spirit’s work. I found the conclusion of every chapter, where Goldsworthy recaps the main points of it and posits questions that turn our attention to our hearts, to be apt in stirring my heart towards growth and change.

If you are looking to grow in both understanding and action of prayer, Prayer and the Knowledge of God will be of use in your endeavor. We can keep telling each other that we need to pray, pray more, pray ceaselessly, but if we pray for the sake of praying without knowing who it is we pray to we have missed the wonderful truth of prayer. “The teaching that Jesus gave about prayer should always be seen as one aspect of being caught up in the saving work of God. The act of praying, and the content of the prayer, is part of being saved” (29).

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

Book Review: “Passion and Purity” by Elisabeth Elliot

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“Whom have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;

You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;

I have made the LORD GOD my refuge,

That I may tell of all Your works.”

(Psalm 73: 25-28 NASB)

“I have set the LORD continually before me…”

(Psalm 16:8a NASB)

Premise

Elisabeth Elliot is so much more articulate than I could ever be, so I’ll just put her explanation of the book’s premise here:

“The framework of the book is the story of five and a half years of loving one man, Jim, and of learning the disciplines of longing, loneliness, uncertainty, hope, trust, and unconditional commitment to Christ—a commitment which required that, regardless of what passion we might feel, we must be pure…

“If I can help some to avoid sin, I want to do that. If I can show others the message of the Gospel is the possibility of a new birth and a new beginning and a new creation, I want to do that.

“The love life of a Christian is a crucial battleground. There, if nowhere else, it will be determined as to who is Lord: the world, the self and the devil, or the Lord Christ.

“This is why I take the risk. My own love story might be of more or less interest to a few; the “Dear Abby” sort of letters and my replies might be amusing; but my chief concern is that readers consider the authority of Christ over human passion and set their hearts on purity.” (14)

Elisabeth Elliot was the wife of famed missionary and martyr Jim Elliot, who died evangelizing to the Auca tribe in Ecuador. This book is Elisabeth’s memoirs of her relationship with Jim, interspersed with personal observations on romance and Christianity.

How This Book Helped Me

Let me be vulnerable with you: for the majority of my life, I was a romantic enslaved to an idolatry of romance and the idea of marriage. My thoughts were perpetually bent on how I would find a great woman and have a perfect marriage, even from a young age. Even after I was saved and professed my devotion to Christ, the pursuit of a romantic relationship continued to be a deep-seated desire.

Passion and Purity was the most influential book to me in that respect. It forced me to come face to face with my idolatry and to see it for what it was. It taught me to ask questions that were both incredibly hurtful and wonderfully healing: who is Lord over my life? Can I place my desires in submission to God, or do I withhold them out of fear? What is important to me? What am I willing to let God take from me? Do I trust God to know what is best and to provide it?

One thing I really appreciated on my most recent read through the book was what Elisabeth Elliot had to say about the purpose of desires. We’re told to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rm. 12:1, NASB); what we often withhold from God, however, is our deepest desires. Elliot explains that these desires are given to us so that we can offer them to God in submission:

“If the yearnings went away, what would we have to offer up to the Lord? Aren’t they given to us to offer? It is the control of passion, not its eradication, that is needed. How would we learn to submit to the authority of Christ if we had nothing to submit?” (91).

Every time I read this book, I find myself challenged in contentment, in submission, and in single-minded devotion to Christ, and every time I reach the last page I find myself willingly and joyfully offering my life to God again, His worthiness being displayed so clearly.

Recommendation

* Length: The book is less than two hundred pages and is divided into two or three page bite-sized vignettes. Each chapter is weighty enough that I found a lot of value in reading just a chapter per day. You can finish the book at that pace in four to six weeks, or you can read it like a novel and power through over the course of one to three days.

* Readability: Elliot’s prose is exquisite. Maybe she was a fantastic writer, or maybe everyone had that level of eloquence sixty years ago; in either case, between the beauty of the language and the compelling way the book is written, the book is a true pleasure to read.

* This Book Is Good For: Anyone who has, or has had, or plans to have a romantic relationship during their lifetime; anyone who thinks they may have an idolatry of romantic relationships; anyone wanting to learn about contentment; anyone seeking to grow in a single-minded pursuit of Christ; anyone interested in missions; anyone who enjoys biographies or well-crafted prose. (Frankly, I’ve recommended this book at every opportunity. It’s worth a read.)

 

What is Marriage?

As of this month, I have been married to my wonderful wife, Jessica, for a year and a half. If there is anything that I have learned thus far in marriage, it’s that I fall far short as a husband, that I have much, much to learn regarding marriage. So in writing a series on marriage, I definitely do not mean to claim some sort of expertise on marriage. Nevertheless, as I share my thoughts and experiences through these posts, my hope is that I would be able to encourage and inform my brothers and sisters, single or married.

 

God’s Definition of Marriage: Genesis 1-2

To talk about marriage, we must first define it. In order to arrive at a comprehensive, biblical definition, we will take a look at a series of passages from the Bible and let them tell us what exactly marriage is. In this post, we will consider the first two chapters of the Bible.

In the creation narrative found in Genesis 1 and 2, each and every element created by God was deemed good. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” (Genesis 1:3-4 ESV) “God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together to called Seas. And God saw that is was good.” (v. 10) “And God saw that it was good.” (v. 12, 18, 21, and 25) Then, when He created Adam, He saw that “it was very good.” (v. 30)

However, God declared it not good when He saw that Adam was alone. “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” (Genesis 2:18 ESV) This is significant because it was the first time that God declared an aspect of His creation to be less than perfect. This does not mean that God had made a mistake; rather, in His infinite wisdom, God chose to create Adam first, such that he would see his need for a companion and demonstrate His perfect design in a more telling fashion. As God brought to Adam all the different animals to examine their suitability as helpers, Adam soon realized that no animal was found to be apt. So when God finally created Eve and presented her to Adam, he declared, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” (Genesis 2:23 ESV) Adam took one look at Eve and knew that she was the most perfect helper and companion for him.

God’s solution to the problem of man’s aloneness was to create a suitable helper for him. And thus, marriage was instituted: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (v.24) Marriage between Adam and Eve here is described as a one-flesh union – in other words, they figuratively have become one body, one person.

So what does the Genesis account tell us about marriage? Rather than attempting to give a one-sentence definition of marriage (which proves to be very difficult), we will outline three glorious truths that we see in Genesis 1-2 about marriage:

 

Marriage was instituted by God. Marriage is not a man-made social contract or institution. God Himself created it. This means that we can look to His Word for principles and guidance regarding marriage rather than rely on our own perceived needs, wants, or other human experience to define what marriage ought to be. Through Scripture, God has revealed to us all that we need to know in order to have a God-glorifying marriage.

When our society today talks about marriage, it often appeals to one or both of the spouses’ wants and needs in order to define marriage. What God has to say about marriage is increasingly considered irrelevant on issues such as divorce and same-sex couples, especially for nonbelievers but even for an increasing number of believers. In the midst of difficulties, it is especially essential for believing couples to look to Scripture for guidance and obey His gracious design in marriage.

 

Marriage is a companionship. As Pastor Chris preached during a recent Sunday service, Marriage is primarily a companionship. Each component of God’s creation was declared to be good, until He saw that it was not good that Adam was alone. God’s purpose for creating Eve, as shown in Genesis 2, is so that Adam would have a companion (and, implicitly, so that Adam would be a companion to Eve as well). It is natural for a man or a woman to desire to be married. It is therefore good for men and women to seek to be married and to pursue marriage.

However, it is important to note that there is an exception to this. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul describes the ability to remain single as a gift and discusses the advantages of being single rather than bound to a spouse. He even declares that “he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (v. 38) than he who marries. Most of us, if not already married, will find a spouse at some point in our lives; however, there are those whom God has called to a lifetime of singleness, whose lives will be dedicated to serve the Lord in ways that married people are unable to do.

Another important addition to this point is that while God has provided marriage as a solution to man’s problem of aloneness, it is unbiblical and sinful to view and treat marriage as a solution to one’s problem of discontentment. If you are discontent as a single person, you will never find contentment and satisfaction in marriage or in your spouse. We are called to find satisfaction and joy in the Lord alone. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26 ESV) If we approach marriage or even a dating relationship with the mindset that such a relationship will finally satisfy our lonely and discontent hearts, we will soon find ourselves disappointed. And by looking to marriage for satisfaction, we are committing idolatry in our hearts against God. On the other hand, in our time of singleness, we are to be devoted to the glory of God and find our satisfaction in it, just as we should in our time of marriage. The season of singleness is not just an interim period before marriage; we are called to love God and pursue His glory fully, whether we are single or married.

 

Marriage is a one-flesh union between a man and a woman. This is a metaphor for the level of physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy that marriage entails. The relationship between a husband and a wife is the closest and deepest relationship that can ever exist between two people. This is both a reality as well as a calling. It is a reality in that when a man and a woman exchange their marital vows and rings, they enter into the covenant of marriage that cannot be ended by anything but death. The union between a man and a woman in marriage is a spiritual reality that cannot be broken by human acts – even divorce. This is why Christ says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11b-12 ESV) A man and a woman remain married in God’s eyes even if they choose to separate. (We will explore the topic of divorce further in a future post) This is why the marriage union is referred to as becoming one flesh – beyond the physical act of sex, there exists a greater spiritual reality that God views a husband and wife as a unit that can only be broken by the death of a spouse.

This one-flesh union is not only a reality that we cannot change, but also a calling. In marriage, we are called to know, pursue, love, serve, and care for our spouse more than any other person in our lives. We can see this from considering various passages from Scripture on marriage, but especially Ephesians 5:22-33. This passage contains a series of commands (directed toward wives and husbands) to relate to and love one’s spouse in a unique way. Both the husband and the wife are called to love each other in such a way that uniquely displays the Gospel. The physical aspect of this calling is the most obvious: sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed exclusively within the covenant of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). However, the calling goes beyond the physical and also encompasses the emotional and the spiritual. A husband’s capacity to care for and love someone ought to be directed mainly (though not solely) toward his wife, and vice versa. This does not mean that a married couple should avoid building any level of closeness with others; however, there should be a level of emotional connection that a married person enjoys exclusively with his spouse. A married man ought to be watchful that the level of emotional and spiritual intimacy that he builds with those other than his wife (especially with other women) does not threaten or thwart his relationship with his wife. The same goes for a married woman.

I know of a brother who refused to pray alone with his girlfriend at the time because he viewed the act of a man and a woman praying together so intimate and special that he wanted to reserve it for marriage. Although I do not completely agree with that particular conclusion for myself (Jess and I prayed together while dating), I wholeheartedly respect the way he sought to live out his convictions regarding marriage. He knew that the intimacy he would one day be called to share with his future wife was to be different from the one he had with his girlfriend. Even as a single man, he sought to respect his future wife by putting a certain spiritual distance between himself and his girlfriend. This is a good example of how a brother sought to obey what we are all called to do, whether married or single: to respect and love our (future) spouse by being watchful of the level of intimacy and closeness that we build with those who are not our spouse.

I have a group of brothers whom I meet up with on a regular basis. I love these men, and they have been a great source of encouragement, correction, accountability, and affirmation. However, as close and comfortable as I am to them, I know that I am not called to develop a relationship with them that is more intimate or closer than my relationship with my wife. This does not mean that I make excuses not to care for my brothers and sisters in the church, but I will always seek to care for and love my wife in ways that I never could another sister or a brother. She is my one-flesh partner in life, the “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23 ESV)

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