Glory through Suffering: Reflections on John 11

Suffering then Glory2

Over the last few weeks in our Bible study group at church we’ve been quickly working our way through John’s Gospel. Yesterday morning we camped out in John 11. We asked and discussed questions like:

  • What is the meaning of suffering?
  • What is the cause of suffering?
  • What can we learn through suffering?

These are not easy questions. To fully answer and discuss such questions in the short time that we’re together on Sunday mornings is a nearly impossible task. So Sunday mornings are not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of a particular text or topic, but rather a discussion and partial answer designed to encourage further investigation, questions, and conversation throughout the week.

As I’ve continued to think through John 11, I found a couple things to be particularly encouraging and helpful enough to make them worthy of sharing – some of which come directly from John 11, others which come from texts that support and shed light on the questions raised by John 11.

Suffering Falls on the Faithful

Our hearts are hard-wired to be performance-driven. We easily believe that if we are faithful and obedient, God will always bless us – things will always, or at least eventually, go well for us. This mindset, which is unfortunately often encouraged by prosperity gospel preachers, quickly leads us into an attitude of entitlement, as if by our faithful obedience we put God in our debt – that he owes us prosperity if we behave. For people who have fallen into this error, because they believe that circumstances – positive and negative – are directly related to their performance, the natural response to suffering is to assume that God is punishing them for unfaithfulness. As if the experience of suffering were not enough, we add the weight of introspective guilt – searching endlessly for the sin in our lives that has brought about our suffering.

Brothers and sisters, this need not be! In John 11, we see that suffering falls on the faithful just as it falls on the unfaithful.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (John 11:1-3)

Lazarus and his family were close friends of Jesus. In fact, Lazarus is described as being “he whom [Jesus] love[d].” Mary is the one who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and wiped them with her hair as a demonstration and offering of her love and gratitude to Jesus. Martha is the one who worked tirelessly to host a dinner for Jesus and the disciples. These were like family friends to Jesus. But this fact did not spare them from suffering. Despite the fact that Jesus loved them, despite the fact that they served him faithfully, suffering fell upon them.

Be encouraged, brothers and sisters, that suffering falls on the faithful – on those whom Jesus loves, and do not assume that your suffering is directly caused by your failure to perform.

Suffering by Design

Atheistic secular humanism will tell you that your suffering is meaningless. Since there is no God to personally design and guide reality toward a purpose, existence is nothing more than matter in motion – an endless chain of meaningless chemical reactions. Whatever happens happens. Life has no meaning. It just is. There is no hope.

Flimsy, surface-level, top-soil Christianity will tell you that God would never bring suffering into your life. God does not ordain and design your suffering, he simply carries you through it. Much like atheistic secular humanism, suffering has no design – no meaning. If suffering is designed by someone, it is designed by Satan as a form of temptation. In other words, for surface-level Christianity suffering is either designed by Satan for your demise, or it has no design at all. While this perspective offers hope in that Jesus will eventually bring a full and final end to all suffering, it does little in terms of giving hope and encouragement for your present suffering.

Robust, deeply-rooted, biblically grounded Christianity tells you that there is hope in your suffering – yes, because Jesus will fully and finally end all suffering when he returns, but also because your suffering has a good and gracious design. Suffering is not meaningless. It has a purpose. Suffering is designed not by Satan for your demise, but rather by God for his glory and for your good.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:28, 35–39)

God works all things for our good, and we are more than conquerors in suffering through Jesus, because of his love for us.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:7-12, 16-18)

We carry the treasure of the gospel in these weak, breakable bodies of suffering, and this is by design: to show the surpassing power and glory of God. We suffer so that the supremacy of God might be clearly seen, and it is for this reason that we persevere through suffering, namely, because the immense weight of glory being prepared for us by our suffering is immeasurably greater than our experience of suffering.

No matter how heavy your present suffering feels to you now, be encouraged and take heart! Your suffering is preparing for you an eternal glory so real, so joyful, and so weighty that, by comparison, your present suffering will feel light and momentary!

Suffering Because of Love

Despite the fact that we often associate suffering with judgement, the texts considered above help us to see that, for the Christian, suffering is more often a measure of mercy. John 11, in a rather counter-intuitive way, clearly shows us that our suffering is intended by God for our good because of his love.

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:5–6)

The relationship between these two sentences is puzzling. Jesus has just received word that one of his closest friends is sick. Knowing all things, he knows that Lazarus’ illness is life-threatening. Upon receiving such news, we would expect Jesus to immediately go and heal his beloved friend. But this is not what Jesus does. Jesus waits. Knowing the severity of Lazarus’ condition, Jesus stayed two days longer before traveling to visit Lazarus and his family. In fact, it isn’t until Jesus knows that Lazarus has already died that he gathers his disciples for the journey.

John connects Jesus’ intentional delay with his love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus with one shocking word:

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed . . .

That word ‘so’ communicates a very important truth: It is not merely true that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus experienced suffering despite Jesus’ love for them. They experienced suffering precisely because of Jesus’ love for them. This is shockingly counter-intuitive. It doesn’t make sense. If Jesus really loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, wouldn’t he have spared them the grief and pain of Lazarus’ death? Why was it more loving of Jesus to let Lazarus die?

Very early on, Jesus gives glimpses into the purpose of his allowing Lazarus to die. The purpose of Lazarus’ illness was so that Jesus would be glorified (John 11:4), so that the disciples would believe (John 11:14), and so that the people witnessing the Lazarus’ resurrection would believe that Jesus was sent from God (John 11:41-42). In other words, Jesus’ purpose in letting Lazarus die was so that people could see and believe in him as the life-giving resurrecting Lord.

Jesus’ letting Mary, Martha, and Lazarus suffer was more loving than if he had prevented their suffering because it was through that suffering that they saw Jesus’ glory more clearly.

Suffering that Breaks into Glory

Our full and final hope, however, comes in the reality that one day suffering will be done away with. A day will come when Jesus will return, and on that day all suffering will end. The suffering under which we have been weighed down during life here on this fallen earth is not even worth comparing to the glorious and joyful reality that we will eternally experience on that day! By God’s grace, we are granted the gift of suffering to keep us longing for that glorious day.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Rom 8:18-25)

Believe therefore, brothers and sisters, that your suffering is not the wrath of God; for Jesus suffered in your place to rescue you from wrath.

Believe that your suffering is not in vain. Your suffering serves a good and gracious purpose. Your suffering was designed by God and, because Jesus’ suffering was designed for you, is preparing for you an inheritance of glorious joy that far outweighs your present suffering.

Believe that your suffering is an expression of God’s love for you. Through your suffering you will see the glory of Christ more clearly, and that is better than freedom from suffering. Because Jesus suffered for you, seeing more of him is worth the suffering you presently experience.

Believe that a day is coming when Jesus will return to wipe every tear away. Death will be defeated and all suffering will be abolished. Because Jesus was raised victorious over death through suffering (the reality toward which the resurrection of Lazarus points), he has authority to fully and finally do away with death and suffering. Because we are united to Jesus by faith, we too share in his victory.

Believe, brothers and sisters, and wait patiently for that day – holding fast to the hope in which we have been saved – sorrowful, yet always rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God (2 Cor 6:10; Rom 5:1-5). Take heart and believe that, though it is a weight seemingly too great to bear, in Christ, your present and momentary suffering is ultimately designed to serve your eternal joy!

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On God’s Existence: A Conversation Between Friends

God Does Exist

Over the last few days my friend, Jonathan Duckett, and myself have been chatting about existence, particularly as it relates to God, more particularly as it relates to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has been a helpful discussion in a number of ways. It has (hopefully) provided a demonstration of charitable theological interchange between Christians, provided opportunities for thinking more clearly about things we may have said, and provided opportunities to say more clearly things we meant to say. In the end, as we both anticipated, we ended up agreeing. The beauty of the whole conversation is that we both challenged and added to the other’s thought process, such that (hopefully), between all three articles, we came away with a more full picture of God’s state of being than either of us would have painted on our own. That’s the whole point of theological conversation, anyway, right?

Anyway, I was helped by the conversation. Jonathan was helped by the conversation. Hopefully our readers were helped as well. In order to better serve that goal, I thought it might also be helpful if all three articles were located in a central location, so links to all three are available below.

I hope, as I’m sure Duckett does too, that you are helped in reading as we have been in writing.

God is Existence: A Friendly Rejoinder to Jonathan Duckett

God Does Exist

Over at his own blog, my good buddy, Jonathan Duckett, recently posted a wonderful and thought-provoking article entitled, God Does Not Exist. I’ve spent the last few hours over the last day thinking about what was written, and consequently I have some thoughts of my own. Like Jonathan, I enjoy pondering and discussing deep theological concepts (we often do so together). And like Jonathan, I enjoy writing about whatever strikes me as engaging. Jonathan’s article struck me as engaging, and so I’d like to engage it.

Introductory Disclaimers

From the outset, I want to make it exceedingly clear that there is much in Jonathan’s article with which I agree. In fact, I agree with the vast majority of what he says. So my disagreement lies not in what Jonathan has said or the point he is making, but rather in the way he has framed it. Part of me hesitates to even write a response, simply because so much of what Jonathan says is so right. Nevertheless, I’d like to offer my thoughts. What follows, then, should not be necessarily considered as correction or opposition; rather, consider the following to be simply my own thoughts, reflections, and observations, as I’ve mulled over Jonathan’s engaging article.

Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that Jonathan himself recognized and pointed out the potential facetiousness of his article. So it may be the case that I have, in fact, robbed him of is youthful playfulness. However, by the end of the article, it seemed as though whatever facetiousness may have been potentially present in the original title had been resolved by Jonathan’s self-corrective conclusion.

On second thought, I think I may need to re-state my title. God did not exist. Then one night he entered into existence and will forevermore exist in the person and work of Jesus as he, the worthy king of all, reigns for all eternity among a ransomed people from every tribe, every tongue and every nation of the earth. So I correct myself. God does exist, even as we do. And his name is Jesus. Oh that we may know him.

So while this article may have the appearance of unnecessary nitpicking to some, know that this is how Jonathan and I discuss theology. Usually we do so face-to-face, often over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer. This time we’ll try it over the interwebs. We enjoy going back and forth – grinding the blade of our own minds against the sharpening stone of the other’s. And usually we come out sharper for it. I trust that, whatever amounts of this particular exchange, the same will be true.

Does God Exist?

In his article, my friend Jonathan provides the necessary caveat that he is not contradicting or departing from orthodox Christianity in favor of Atheism. When framed in the traditional sense, Jonathan would affirmatively answer the above question – of that I am certain. In his article, however, he does answer the above question in the negative, and he does so because he first reframes the question itself. It is around this reframing of the question that my thoughts particularly revolve. Let me say it another way: in so far as the above question can be reframed the way Jonathan reframes it, I agree with him. I’m simply not inclined to agree with his reframing of the question.

But how does Jonathan reframe the question? Well, I’m inclined to simply direct you to Jonathan’s article without saying anything more (if you haven’t read it, you simply must, both (1) in order to understand anything I’m saying here, and (2) because the article itself is fantastic), but for the sake of cogency I’ll give a brief summary of his argument.

Jonathan opens his article by quoting the opening verses of John’s Gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

On the basis of this text, Jonathan reasons through his reframing as follows:

What do you think is meant by “all things” there? I would assume that any rational person would say that it simply means all reality, or, all things that exist. (You may see where I’m going with this.) Certainly God was never created. He has always been, is, and always will be. God is infinite; eternal. So if things that exist are only things that are created, then God does not exist because he never was created.

I want to push back on some of what Jonathan says here. First, I want to push back when Jonathan says that, by “all things,” John is referring to all things that exist. I would actually argue that John himself tells us that, by “all things,” he actually means only some things that exist, namely, all created things that exist. So you could say I disagree with the major premise of Jonathan’s argument. Second, I also disagree with one of Jonathan’s minor premises; I am not inclined to agree with Jonathan when he says, “things that exist are only things that are created.” This doesn’t seem to adequately deal with the idea that the creator of these existing things must also exist in order to bring them into existence. Consequently, then, I do not agree with Jonathan’s conclusion that, “God does not exist because he never was created.”

God is Existence

In fact, if anything, I am pushing for the conclusion that God himself is existence. Or, at least, God defines existence. At the bare minimum, we know that God upholds all things that exist (Heb 1:3), is the source of all things that exist (1 Cor 8:6), is the means by which all things exist (1 Cor 8:6), and is the end toward which all things exist (1 Cor 8:6). These things taken together, we could say that God defines existence. That is to say, the value of your existence is defined by the nature of your relationship with God. At the minimum, then, God defines human existence.

But we must also inquire into existence itself. We know that God has been from all eternity. As Jonathan has rightly said, God “never was created.” He has no beginning. He exists eternally. And if God has always existed, then it must also be true that there was never a time when existence itself didn’t exist – or else God would not have existed. So it is in this sense, then, that I would argue that God himself is existence itself. God is the only truly eternal being, and every created thing that exists proceeds forth from God’s very existence.

Implications

So while I would agree with Jonathan that, “picking apart of terms like ‘exist’ and the making of wild statements about the nature of God’s existential being would be nothing apart from its relevance to the gospel and the making much of Jesus,” I would not say, with Jonathan, that there was a time when God did not exist, and then came into existence through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Rather, I would say that the God who exists eternally, who defines existence, from whom proceeds everything that exists, who himself is existence – this Jesus humbled himself and took on our lowly existence, lived and died in our place, and was raised again to new life, so that we might forevermore enjoy the glory of his eternal existence. In other words, in Jesus – the source of all existence – we find the true meaning of our own existence, namely, the eternal enjoyment of Jesus himself.

In the end, then, I agree with my friend Jonathan when he says, “the word ‘exist’ is not a strong enough term in our language to describe what God is.” But the reason for this is simple: it is not existence which describes God, but rather it is God who defines the reality of existence.

Tear Your Heart Out!

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. (Matt 5:29)

If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. (Matt 5:30)

It is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matt 5:30)

These are harsh, radical words that we hear from the lips of Jesus. Amputate the part of you that causes you to sin or you will not see God.

Eternity rides on these words.

What Does Jesus Say?

Jesus uses graphic language to tell us that if someone’s eye causes him to sin, he should gouge it out. If someone’s hand causes him to sin, he should cut it off. If someone’s tongue causes him to sin, he should rip it out. If someone’s computer causes him to sin, he should throw it away. If someone’s television causes him to sin, he should destroy it.

Jesus is telling us that whatever causes us to sin must be removed, or else we face the fires of hell – eternally separated from the goodness of God.

What Does Jesus Mean?

But here’s the question: What does Jesus mean by these radical words? Is Jesus really encouraging self-mutilation? So often this text is turned into something it’s not – a plea for us to remove temptations from our lives. Avoiding temptation is a good thing – a biblical thing. But that is not what Jesus is teaching here.

Jesus does not mean for us to hear his words and immediately go and cut off a body part. Jesus is teaching us something deeper. Jesus is teaching us something impossible: remove from you the thing that causes your sin.

Do any of the things listed above actually cause you to sin?

No.

The sin we commit with our eyes, hands, tongues, etc., flows from and is caused by the quality of our hearts.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)

Solomon wisely sums this up in the book of Proverbs.

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life. (Prov 4:23)

In fact, Jesus spends much of the Sermon on the Mount showing how sins that are typically thought of in physical and external terms – murder (Matt 5:21-22) and adultery (Matt 5:27-28), for example – are really internal matters of the heart.

Your eyes do not cause you to lust. Neither do your hands cause you to murder or steal. Our sin problem is not owing to bad body parts. Rather, our sinful behavior is owing to dead hearts. And this sin problem is not fixed merely by cutting off a hand; it is not solved merely by throwing away a computer or television. If you cut off your right hand, you would sin with your left hand. If you gouge out your right eye, you will lust with your left eye. Cutting off body parts and throwing away electronics will never resolve your conflict with sin, because these things do not cause you to sin.

Jesus is not teaching us to be engaged in self-mutilation. Rather, he is showing us our need for regeneration.

Tearing out an eye is not enough. We need to have our dead hearts ripped out, and that is exactly the miracle that is promised to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezk 36:26-27)

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have becomes slaves of righteousness. (Rom 6:17-18)

God has not left us to wallow in the hopeless cycle of sin and self-mutilation. He has given us the hope of regeneration – a new life of obedience that flows from a new heart.

Praise him!

Marriage: The Pursuit of Satisfaction through Submission and Sacrifice (B)

This is second of a two-part mini-series unpacking Eph 5:22-33, one of the most referenced passages of the Bible in terms of the way husbands and wives should relate to one another in marriage. In part one, we looked at the first three verses and how they connect the wife’s role of submission to the gospel relationship between Jesus and the church. Specifically, we saw that Paul instructs wives to submit to their husbands, not out of duty, but for their own satisfaction. We saw that Paul gives you wives at least two reasons why you should do this:

  • Submission to your husband is submission to Jesus.
  • Submission to your husband serves your joy in Jesus.

In this second post, we will turn to Eph 5:26-33 to see how Paul applies the gospel to husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:25-33)

Sacrificial Love

In this text, Paul instructs husbands to love their wives – but this is not some vague, ambiguous instruction. We’re not left wondering if Paul is talking here about chocolates, flowers, doing the dishes, or diamond rings. Paul is clear: he is talking about sacrifice.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Eph 5:25)

As husbands, we are responsible to love our wives in the same way that Jesus loved the church, namely, by sacrificing ourselves for the good of our wives.

Now, this is a noble idea. It sounds good, and most of us husbands would probably say that we are willing to give up our lives for our wives.

But do we?

Paul is not talking here simply about sacrificing our physical lives, say, in defending our wives against an armed burglar. Most of us will never face that kind of sacrifice, and most of us – if we did face that kind of sacrifice – would do so willingly. No, this text has a much more practical and difficult application that dramatically effects our everyday decisions.

Husbands, we are to love our wives by daily dying to ourselves – to our wants, perceived needs, desires, ambitions, etc. – in order to love and serve our wives. This might mean literally sacrificing your life to protect your wife. It might simply mean sacrificing your personal relaxation when you get home from work in order to help with the children she’s been caring for all day, or sacrificing you personal peace and quiet in order to talk to her about her day, or sacrificing your favorite TV show or sporting event in order to clean up the kitchen after dinner. It may mean sacrificing your pride in order to apologize when you’re wrong. Even when she is also wrong, it might mean sacrificing your pride by being the first one to apologize. It might mean sacrificing your laziness in order to call her to let her know that you’re going to be home from work thirty minutes later than she’s expecting.

There are a million ways that we, as husbands, can daily die to ourselves for the good of our wives. Listing them all would be impossible, and frankly, not the point. As we reflect on our daily routines and the desires that motivate them, the Holy Spirit will begin to reveal our selfishness; and as we reflect on the self-sacrificing love of Jesus for us, the Holy Spirit will begin to motivate us to similarly sacrifice ourselves for the good of our own wives.

Satisfaction through Sacrifice

Paul has been very clear in Eph 5:25-26 that we, as husbands, are to love our wives by daily sacrificing ourselves for their good. This concept, though difficult, is a fairly familiar one. While it isn’t easy to do on a daily basis, it is fairly easy to understand how sacrificing our selfishness would serve our wives. What is probably less familiar is the idea that this self-sacrificing love actually serves our own satisfaction, but this is exactly what Paul tells us in Eph 5:27-30.

After showing us the self-sacrificing love of Jesus for the church in Eph 5:25-26, Paul tells us that Jesus sacrificed himself for us “in order to present the church to himself.” In other words, Jesus’ sacrificial love is ultimately aimed at his own joy.

Just as Jesus is our example in self-sacrificial love, he is also our example in seeking our satisfaction through sacrificial love. Sacrificially loving our wives is actually for our own satisfaction. It makes sense, then, that Paul would say that, “he who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph 5:28). What good news, that we can sacrificially serve our wives and serve our own satisfaction!

Jesus did not begrudgingly subject himself to the suffering of the cross. Rather, Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). Husbands, let’s love our wives by sacrificing ourselves daily for their joy – but let’s not do so weighed down by a sense of duty. Rather, husbands, let’s do this for our joy!

Husbands, let’s pursue our satisfaction through daily sacrificing ourselves for the good of our wives.

Marriage: The Pursuit of Satisfaction through Submission and Sacrifice (A)

Ephesians 5:22-33 is one of the most referenced texts when in terms of marriage – and for good reason. This text, probably more explicitly than any other, connects the good news of the gospel to the everyday life of marriage. This text shows us how husbands and wives are to relate to one another, namely, in the same way as Jesus and his bride, the church. But not only does this text tell us how we are to live together as husbands and wives – it also tells us why.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph 5:22-33)

Wives, Pursue Your Satisfaction through Submission

In Eph 5:22-24, Paul focuses his attention first toward wives. Paul tells you, wives, how you are to relate to your husband: you are to submit to your husband as to the Lord. In the same way that you submit to Jesus, you are to submit to your husband. There are a couple reasons for this.

Submission to your husband is submission to Jesus.The submission of the wife to the husband described in Eph 5:22-24 is the way God has structured the marriage relationship. God as structured marriage such that two equal partners, one man and one woman, covenant together to display the relationship between Christ and his church by fulfilling different (but equally important) roles. Wives take their cues from the church. This is because – just as Jesus is the head, leader, lover, and authority for the church – the husband is the head, leader, lover, and authority for his wife. Likewise, just as the church submits to and follows joyfully after Jesus’ leadership and authority over her as her loving head, so also the wife submits to and follows joyfully after the husband’s leadership and authority over her as her loving head.

This is by God’s design – God has designed for you, wives, to submit to the leadership of your husband. Therefore, submission to your husband is submission to Jesus.

Submission to your husband serves your joy. This is true both 1) when your husband is kind and gentle, and 2) when he is unjust and unloving.

When your husband takes his cues from Jesus – loving, protecting, and leading your family in a sacrificial way – you should be submissive to him for your own joy. This seems fairly self-evident, and most wives are more than willing to follow this kind of leadership. In fact, many wives are longing for their husbands to begin to provide the sacrificial love and leadership for which they so desperately long. When your husband lives with you and loves you in such a way that it becomes clear that he is seeking your good, it becomes much easier to trust him, and therefore much easier to follow him. When your husband is seeking your joy, submission to him serves your joy.

But even when he is not seeking your joy, submission to your husband serves your joy. This is far less apparent than when the opposite is true – but nevertheless it is true. One place where we can see this in 1 Pet 3:1-6.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Pet 3:1-6)

The key to understanding my argument, here, is found in the ‘likewise’ of 1 Pet 3:1, which indicates we need to look farther back in the text in order to trace Peter’s argument. Peter is saying, “In the same way, wives, be subject to your own husbands.” This forces us to ask the question, in the same way as what?

In order to answer that question, we need to look all the way back to 1 Pet 2:11. Here Peter tells us to live honorably among unbelievers so that they may see our good deeds and give glory to God on the day of visitation. This day of visitation is another way of referring to the second coming of Jesus Christ when he reveals himself in power and glory. Peter also tells us that this revelation of Jesus Christ will not only be to his glory, but also for our joy.

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Pet 4:13)

So Peter is telling us to live lives of obedience and submission to Jesus for both 1) his glory, and 2) our joy.

Then, in 1 Pet 2:13, we are told to be subject to every institution for Jesus’ sake (or, for his glory – which is the apex of our joy). In the rest of chapter two and into chapter three, Peter begins to unpack specific institutions to which we are to subject ourselves: citizens to governing authorities (2:13-17), servants to masters (2:18-25), wives to husbands in respect (3:1-6), and husbands to wives in compassion (3:7).

All of this is important in understanding how a wife should seek her own joy in submission to her husband – even if he is unjust and unloving, rather than good and gentle. The ‘likewise’ of 3:1 with reference to wives points back to Peter’s discussion of servants and masters. This is not to say that they wife is the servant of her husband. But it is to say that she is to subject herself to her husband in a like manner. What does this mean? Peter tells us with respect to servants and masters.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. (1 Pet 2:18)

Servants are to “be subject” to their masters regardless of whether they are good or unjust. Then Peter says, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands.” Not only does Peter instruct wives to submit in this way, but he also gives motivation for doing so. Peter promises both 1) preciousness in God’s sight that exceeds physical beauty and jewels, namely, the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, and 2) the fullness of joy to be revealed in the glory of Christ when he returns.

Clarification

Perhaps it would be helpful to take some time here to clarify what the Bible does not mean when it instructs wives to submit to their husbands. First, when Peter instructs wives to be subject to husbands who are unjust, unloving, or unbelieving, I don’t think he means for wives to remain in circumstances in which they could be physically (or in some cases, emotionally and psychologically) harmed. This is not grounds for divorce, but rather for church discipline and separation. The church should step into that situation and do whatever needs to be done to ensure that the wife and children (if there are any) are not in danger, and that the husband has access to soul care. Second, when Paul instructs wives to submit to their husbands in everything, he does not mean everything without qualification. In fact, he explicitly qualifies this by saying, “as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). In other words, a wife should submit to her husband’s leadership in so far as it is not sinful and therefore contrary to Jesus’ leadership. But even in these circumstances, it is possible to reject your husband’s sinful leadership in submission and respect without being vindictive and demeaning.

Conclusion

Wives, fulfill your role in marriage to display the glory of the relationship between Jesus and his bride. Take your cues from the church, submitting to your husband as the church does to Jesus. But do not do this begrudgingly and out of a sense of duty. Do this for your joy!

Pursue your satisfaction in Jesus through submission to your husband.

For the Purpose: Unpacking the Reason for My Existence (C)

[This post is part of the For this Purpose: Unpacking the Reason for My Existence series.]

This is the third of a three part mini-series, in which I unpack my personal purpose statement, pictured above. If you haven’t read the first and second posts, you should do that first.

In the first post, I unpacked the first three phrases of my purpose statement:

  • I exist to proclaim . . .
  • . . . the gospel of Jesus Christ . . .
  • . . . for the salvation . . .

In the second post, I unpacked the fourth phrase:

  • . . . [for the] sanctification . . .

In today’s post, I will unpack the final four phrases:

  • . . . [for the] satisfaction . . .
  • . . . of all peoples . . .
  • . . . to the praise of . . .
  • . . . the glorious triune God . . .

. . . [for the] satisfaction . . .

God is the ultimate value in the universe. Beholding his glory is the most satisfying experience in the universe – so long as we are not consumed by his awesome holiness. The only way that we, imperfect creations, can safely behold the perfect glory of our Creator is through the gospel of Jesus Christ, which removes our imperfections and transforms us after his likeness. God’s glory is infinitely complex, infinitely beautiful, and infinitely satisfying. We were made to see and be satisfied by God’s glory for all eternity. It is in and through the gospel that we see the apex of God’s glory. In the gospel of Jesus Christ we see the perfection of God’s wrath, justice, and righteousness. In the gospel of Jesus Christ we see the perfection of God’s love, mercy, and grace. In the gospel of Jesus Christ we see the perfection of God’s wisdom and creativity in putting these seemingly opposing attributes together in such a way that the integrity of each is upheld and magnified, Christ is most glorified, and we are most satisfied.

. . . of all peoples . . .

The gospel is cosmic in its scope. Through Christ, God is reconciling all things to himself – things on earth and things in heaven. The whole creation will be redeemed, renewed, and set at peace with God. This cosmic gospel has global implications. The gospel is for all peoples. God’s purpose to glorify Christ is multi-lingual and multi-ethnic. For all eternity, the worth of Jesus will be celebrated by the global, multi-ethnic church, which he purchased by his blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.

. . . to the praise of . . .

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We praise most highly that which we value most highly. Therefore, as God’s people look deeply into the glory of the gospel and are progressively more captivated by and satisfied in Jesus, they will progressively speak and live in such a way that Jesus’ infinite worth is made evident.

. . . the glorious triune God.

The ultimate goal of the gospel is to create for Jesus a people who make much of him by treasuring him above all things. The gospel is meant to create a people who, through their praising and valuing of him, magnify Jesus, or make Jesus look great. There are two ways, however, in which something or someone can be magnified. We might call the first way microscopic magnification. A microscope takes something that is actually small, and makes it appear as though it were great. This is not the way that we magnify Jesus. A second way of magnification might be called telescopic magnification. A telescope takes something that really is great, and makes it appear as great as it really is. This is the way we magnify Jesus! Jesus is infinitely great and – like a telescope – when we praise and value him as his worth demands, we magnify him in such a way that we make him appear to be as valuable and praiseworthy as he really is!

This magnification of Christ in the gospel is really a magnification of all the persons of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit – who make up the one Christian God. The Son is the perfect image and likeness of the Father (Col 1:14, 19). No one has seen the Father except the Son, and Jesus came into the world to make the Father known (John 1:18). So when we see the glory of Jesus in the gospel, we are seeing the glory of the Father (John 14:9-11). And when we see the glory of Jesus, we are doing so by the power of the Holy Spirit, who glorifies Jesus (John 16:12-15). The glory of the triune God is seen most clearly in Jesus Christ, and the glory of Christ is seen most clearly in the gospel. Therefore, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the apex of God’s glory, and the celebration of the gospel is the celebration of the glorious triune God.

That is the purpose for the universe, that is the purpose for my existence, and that is the purpose of this blog – namely, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ for the salvation, sanctification, and satisfaction of all peoples in and to the praise of the glorious triune God!

For this Purpose: Unpacking the Reason for My Existence (B)

[This post is part of the For this Purpose: Unpacking the Reason for My Existence series.]

This is the second of a three part mini-series, in which I unpack my personal purpose statement, pictured above. If you haven’t read the first post, you should do that first. Access it here.

In the last post, I unpacked the first three phrases of my purpose statement:

  • I exist to proclaim . . .
  • . . . the gospel of Jesus Christ . . .
  • . . . for the salvation . . .

Today’s post is entirely devoted to unpacking the phrase:

  • . . . [for the] sanctification . . .

. . . [for the] sanctification . . .

In the modern Evangelical church, it is fairly common that people view the gospel as being mainly a message that applies to non-Christians for their salvation. Once non-Christians become Christians, they’ve basically “gotten the gospel,” and therefore it becomes necessary for serious Christians to move beyond the gospel and focus on sanctification – living the Christian life. This is not true, however. Sanctification does not take place by moving beyond the gospel, but rather by moving more deeply into the gospel.

Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Jesus – becoming more holy in belief and behavior. In many cases, however, behavior is overemphasized to the neglect of belief. When this happens, progress in sanctification is measured primarily by checklists which gauge external conformity to standards of behavior. Behavior is emphasized and belief is assumed – if someone behaves rightly, it is taken for granted that they believe rightly. But this is not the case, and right behavior which is not grounded in right belief is actually wrong behavior. When the steady diet of Christian teaching emphasizes what the Christian must do without explicitly connecting it to the message about what Jesus has already done (the gospel), quite simply, we forget about the gospel. We naturally begin to put our hope in our own efforts to behave rightly. We begin to believe that God’s acceptance of us is based upon our performance. Regardless of success or failure, this is a tragically devastating mindset. When we succeed at behaving rightly, we easily become self-righteous – thinking that we’ve somehow earned God’s favor, which is essentially to say that we’ve put God in our debt. On the other hand, when we fail at behaving rightly, we easily become despairingly hopeless – thinking we’ve somehow lost God’s favor, and must now work extra hard to make up for lost ground. Our successes cause us to hold ourselves much more highly than we ought, and consequently look down on others who do not perform as well as we do. Our failures often cause us to give up trying altogether. Earning God’s favor is a hopelessly impossible task, after all – even for those who are relatively successful in terms of performance. In either case, our identity is in ourselves – in our own moral achievements. The gospel, however, tells us that our only hope for success is by finding our identity in Christ and his moral achievement in our place. It is on that basis that we are accepted by God. Our identity is not in our personal performance. Rather, our identity is in Christ and his perfect performance.

In other words, the pressure is off.

Christians are still required to obey. The grace of God does not nullify the law. The good news of what Christ has done has implications for everyday life.

But the pressure is off.

Because Jesus obeyed perfectly in my place, I am free to imperfectly obey out of gratitude, joy, and faith. The burden of my spiritual standing is not on my shoulders – it was placed on Jesus’ perfect shoulders. The truth of the gospel is that, everything I need, in Christ I already possess. As I come to a deeper realization of that reality, I am far less likely to sin in order to achieve or gain that which I already have in Christ.

  • I don’t need to lie in order to cover up a wrong that I’ve done because, in Jesus, all my sin has been covered and removed from me.
  • I don’t need to steal in order to have that thing I think will give my life value because, in Jesus, I have been given the most valuable gift of all – himself.
  • I can face suffering and the loss of material possessions because, in Jesus, I am looking forward to an eternal inheritance.
  • I can forgive those who offend me because, in Jesus, I have been forgiven an offense far worse than any I have personally suffered.
  • I can fight against indwelling sin because, in Jesus, I have a Warrior-King who has already decisively defeated Satan, sin, and death.
  • I can overcome temptation because, in Jesus, I have a sympathetic high priest who has faced the same temptations that I face, conquered them triumphantly, and is interceding on my behalf.
  • I don’t have to be a slave to sin because, in Jesus, I have been crucified to sin and raised to a new way of life.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not simply the means by which non-Christians are rescued from God’s wrath, and thereby converted to Christianity. The gospel is not simply the set of propositions which one must believe in order to escape hell and walk the streets of gold. The gospel is not simply for non-Christians. The gospel is for Christians; it is the fuel upon which we feed in order to live the Christian life. The gospel is not the ABCs of Christianity. Rather, the gospel is the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not merely one of the spokes on the wheel of the Christian life. Rather, the gospel is the hub in which all of the spokes of the Christian life are grounded, and from which all of the spokes of the Christian life proceed.

Any and every attempt at personal change which is not explicitly rooted and grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ will eventually fall flat on its face. The gospel of God’s grace is the only ground and motivation for lasting personal change.

Tomorrow’s post will conclude the series by unpacking the final four phrases:

  • . . . [for the] satisfaction . . .
  • . . . of all peoples . . .
  • . . . to the praise of . . .
  • . . . the glorious triune God . . .

For this Purpose: Unpacking the Reason for My Existence (A)

[This post is part of the For this Purpose: Unpacking the Reason for My Existence series.]

Do you have a personal purpose statement? Probably not. Most people don’t. Until about a month ago, neither did I. But, after a women’s conference in which a speaker challenged the attendees to have one, my wife began drafting hers and suggested that I do the same. I was slightly hesitant at first, but as I continued to think about it, I decided it could be a valuable exercise. Having done so, I am glad that I did, as it provided a way for me to process and express what I see as the purpose, mission, and vision behind my existence. In this article and the two that follow, I will be unpacking my personal purpose statement phrase-by-phrase. The purpose statement that I came up with is pictured above.

In today’s article, I’ll be unpacking the first three phrases:

  • I exist to proclaim . . .
  • . . . the gospel of Jesus Christ . . .
  • . . . for the salvation . . .

I exist to proclaim . . .

My life (and this blog) operates on the assumption that I really do exist, that I was brought into existence by the triune God of the Bible, and that, as his creation, my life is designed to proclaim a message to others concerning him. As it relates to my life as a whole, this proclamation takes place most often by the use of words (both spoken and written). The way that I live my life, however, also demonstrates the truth of the message that I exist to proclaim. While my lifestyle does not, in itself, proclaim that message, it does lend support to, and raise questions about the truth of the message.

. . . the gospel of Jesus Christ . . .

The message around which my existence centers is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The word “gospel” simply means, “good news.” The gospel is good news – good news about a person: Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the second person of the triune Godhead, who came to earth in the flesh as a man, lived a perfect and sinless life of inward and outward devotion to, and worship of God – the life which is required by God of us. Though innocent and blameless himself, Jesus suffered the penalty which is rightly due to us for breaking God’s law and rebelling against him, namely, God’s infinite wrath. Jesus was tortured, crucified, and buried, but after three dayshe was raised from the dead, declaring his victory over Satan, sin, and death, and announcing that his atoning sacrifice on our behalf was acceptable to God. Over the next forty days, Jesus appeared to and taught his disciples, and then ascended to heaven where he presently rules and reigns will all power and authority as sovereign Lord and King of the universe. One day Jesus is coming again to restore fallen and sinful creation, destroy Satan and those who follow him in rebellion, and he will rule in righteousness for all eternity. And those who by faith put their trust not in their own righteousness, but in the righteousness of Jesus on their behalf for their acceptance before God, following Christ as their Lord and King, will share in Jesus’ victory and receive the reward of eternally enjoying Jesus’ righteous rule.

That is the good news about who Jesus is, about what Jesus has done, and about what Jesus is going to do. This message is good news because the Lord and King to whom we owe our existence, and who we have infinitely offended, has graciously and mercifully given himself to be punished in our place so that we, who deserve only his anger and vengeance, can eternally enjoy his goodness and grace. This message is good news because it is extended to all people without distinction. This message is good news because people are included into Christ and his blessings on the basis of faith alone. We must do nothing to earn God’s favor – it is already ours in Christ.

. . . for the salvation . . .

Through faith in the gospel – through trust in Jesus alone for our acceptance before God – we are saved from God’s wrath.

Because God is infinitely holy, infinitely valuable, infinitely beautiful, and infinitely satisfying, our rejection of him (in favor of the things he created) as our ultimate source of perfection, value, beauty, and satisfaction, is an offense of infinitely wicked proportions. Because God is holy, righteous, and good, his character demands that he punish any offense against his character and worth. Because our offense against God is infinitely wicked, we deserve an infinite punishment, namely, eternal separation from the goodness of God, exposed forever to his unrestrained vengeance.

This is what we are saved from through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus suffered and died under the unrestrained vengeance of God, those who are united to him by faith are saved from the same, and saved to the alternative, namely, the eternal enjoyment of his goodness and grace.

The next article will be entirely devoted to unpacking the next phrase:

  • . . . [for the] sanctification . . .