Saturday, July 25, 2015

Thinking and Posting in Christ

“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the LORD will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21,22).

This is from my reading this morning. Whenever I’m reading in the Old Testament, I like to keep my eyes open for places where the text is quoted in the New Testament. These doublets from Proverbs are quoted by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written [in Deuteronomy 32:35], ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. [And, as it says in Proverbs 25:21,22,] ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:17-21). Paul doesn’t quote the last line of Proverbs 25:22, but take note that there’s a promise for obedience: “...the LORD will reward you.” There’s nothing deep or complicated about either the Proverbs passage or how it’s quoted and applied in Romans. I want to draw your attention to what comes immediately after this: Paul’s teaching on living as a Christian and a citizen under the authority of a government (Romans 13:1-7). Sometimes chapter and verse numbering causes us to read sections with more separation between them than the original inspired author intended.

Think about this: Paul’s teaching on living with enemies flows smoothly into his teaching on living as a Christian in an earthly State. I’ve looked at the Greek text – there are no contrastive conjunctions or any hint that Paul intends a separation between Romans 12:21 and 13:1. And, living as Christians in 21st century U.S.A., we would do well not to separate what God has joined together. We need to consider how we treat our political enemies – especially when they are in power. Paul’s teaching on this subject (and that of 1 Peter) was inspired under an Empire which was exceedingly hostile against Christianity. We would do well to listen to the Scriptures more than our own fleshly rage (which we dress up as righteous indignation) or the voices of politicos who are on our side but are sadly Christ-less.

* * * * * * *

I continue to be grieved over how Christians comport themselves in the view of the world (I’m considering primarily social media here). Where is the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I’m not talking about your choices of entertainment or habit or even apparent morality. I reference how you speak of your political enemies – not just the people in public office, but by extension the majority that put them into office (despite the conspiracy theories, our leaders did not steal or violently take their offices, but were put there by your neighbors). What are you saying to them? Let’s listen to Paul again - this time to the Corinthian Church: “...I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified...I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 2:2; 15:1-4). There is an absoluteness to Paul’s statements that we need to have in our lives as believers, especially in the sight of the world. Where is that determination or “first importance” in your posts and re-posts? Where is Christ and the salvation that comes through Him alone?

I am a Southern Baptist. Our confession says this about our work in this world on behalf of the Kingdom of God: “All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, XV). Do you know what’s missing from your words? The “Christ” repeated four times in the above statement on “The Christian and the Social Order.” There are two things I want to say that I’ve said over and over, and will continue saying: 1) If we don’t proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, nobody will. 2) We must not be surprised when lost people act, think, and speak like lost people – it’s the only thing they can do. We should, however, be continually surprised when supposed believers act, think, and speak like lost people. Never cease being surprised by that.

Blood moons, geopolitics, the U.S. Constitution, Senate hearings, political saviors, Confederate flags...none of this will save. If I were “the serpent of old,” though, I would certainly be delighted at your obsession with these things, knowing that only “the blood of the Lamb,” a Christian “testimony,” and “the commandments of God” can successfully resist the ancient adversary (Revelation 12:11,17). It would seem from your speech, though, that these things are not your hope and foundation. But, hypothetically speaking, if the economic system collapses in a few months and you’re right (which I seriously doubt), how does that change the eternal place of the souls of our neighbors and political enemies? If the President resigned tomorrow and the former Secretary of State was thrown in prison the day after that, it wouldn’t change a thing about the reality that hell is waiting for most of the people around us. And some of these things you guys are lifting up as important are barely a step above inflammatory, baseless gossip. Barely. Some of the people you’re touting as worthy of hearing are without Christ, just as godless as the political enemies you seem to hate so much. As is popularly said, only God knows the heart (which ought to break and humble us all), but from what you lift up as important in the sight of all, the only difference between you and your enemy is philosophy. Certainly not Christ and His Father’s Kingdom. It would seem, at least from what you say and don’t say, that you must really hate these people not to give them the only protection from the wrath of God. You must really hate these people to be yelling at them about how stupid they are politically as they are falling headlong into the eternal fires of hell. That’s how it seems. Your posts will only distract from Christ those who already agree with you (and many on your political side need Christ, too!). They will not change the minds of your enemies, who have their own funny pictures mocking your guys, sarcastic statements describing how ignorant you are, and “facts” either interpreting the past or showing that your point of view is dangerous to the future of this country. It’s a stalemate, whether you know it or not.

Christ is the only Person Who can change the equation. Some day, it will be said, “it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). Where is the Kingdom priority (not conservative political priority) in all you do and say (Matthew 6:33)? Think about who has your ear. Think about what you’re publishing for the world to see. Where is the truth of Scripture (the only thing that God has promised to use to open the eyes of the blind)? Where is Christ (the only name under heaven by which men may be saved)? Think. It is part of the Bible’s greatest commandment, so this is something a believer must do: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your...mind” (Matthew 22:37//Mark 12:30//Luke 10:27, from Deuteronomy 6:5).

“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the LORD will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21,22).
There is only one food and drink our enemies need – the body and blood of Christ, the Savior. Serve Him to them in every way you can.

* * * * * * *

Speaking of thinking, let me strongly commend to you Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, by Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield (Crown & Covenant Publications, 2015). I have not read Dr. Butterfield’s previous book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, and probably wouldn’t have read this one if I hadn’t seen a few quotes from it. I can’t remember which quotes – there are few pages in my copy that don’t have something highlighted. Here are a few possibilities:
  • “Stepping into God’s story means abandoning a deeply held desire to make meaning of our own lives on our own terms based on the preciousness of our own feelings” (pg. 5).
  • “It is not the absence of sin that makes you a believer. It is the presence of Christ in the midst of your struggle that commends the believer and sets you apart in the world” (pg. 8).
  • “If personal testimony does not reflect the Bible’s account of a life of faith and repentance, then for the sake of your friend and for the sake of Christ’s witness, bring the Word of life to bear upon the claim of conversion” (pg. 9).
  • “If God is the creator of all things, then the Bible has his seal of truth and power, then the Bible has the right to interrogate my life and my culture, and not the other way around” (pg. 17).
  • “...Jesus is the Word made flesh, and...‘knowing Jesus’ demands embracing the Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus of someone’s imagination. The whole Bible” (pg. 21).
  • “It is sinful to write people off because they sin in ways that offend you. God holds up the same mirror for us all, and none of us reflects the image of God in righteousness, holiness, and knowledge apart from Christ” (pg. 32).
  • “ personal experience must always be surrendered to what my triune God has done and who my triune God is” (pg. 38).
I’ll stop there, but it was one of those quotes that made me get the book. Dr. Butterfield doesn’t just lift up the Gospel, she thinks carefully about the Gospel and what it means in today’s cultural environment and in our lives as believers. She doesn’t just think “carefully,” but, more importantly, she thinks biblically and confessionally. I did two things with this book I’ve not done in ages: I read it in only two days and shed tears on its pages - the Gospel is a beautiful thing and I can't hear/read it enough. The final chapter on “Community” is one all those interested in evangelism and community outreach need to consider.

We need to have the Gospel in the center of our thoughts and identity. Dr. Butterfield has written a book that leads us in that direction – while writing in a very personal way overflowing with the love of Christ. This is a unique combination in modern Christian books. They’re either all anecdotes and feelings or unreflective theoretical theology. They’re merged here. Read and think. In Christ.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Reading Pluto with Piper

“A sad spectacle. If they be inhabited, what a scope for misery and folly. If they be not inhabited, what a waste of space.”
- Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

While Carl Sagan (1934-1996) paraphrased Carlyle, it is in the movie Contact (Warner Brothers, 1997), based on Sagan’s book, where the quote is most popularly known: “...I guess I’d say if it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

I think of this whenever something significant happens in our exploration and examination of the universe. This week NASA’s New Horizons probe flew by Pluto, giving us a beautifully clear view of this outlying member of our solar system’s neighborhood. Billions of miles away, Pluto and its five moons have long just been a fuzzy dot on the best of our telescopes. To see so clearly something so exceedingly remote is astounding and exciting to me. I am mindful, though, of the fact that Pluto’s massive orbit and distance from us is a pinprick in size compared the vastness of the rest of the created order.

So, is it a waste of space? Only if we’re the reference point.

John Piper helpfully puts Pluto (and all else above us) in a biblical context that I think is appropriate to quote this week. Several years ago, I led a group of men to read through Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2004) at a downtown coffee shop. This is what he has to say concerning this remarkable universe (including little Pluto and his moons):

“The created universe is all about glory. The deepest longing of the human heart and the deepest meaning of heaven and earth are summed up in this: the glory of God. The universe was made to show it, and we were made to see it and savor it. Nothing less will do. Which is why the world is as disordered and as dysfunctional as it is. We have exchanged the glory of God for other things (Romans 1:23). ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’ (Psalm 19:1). That is why the universe exists. It’s all about glory” (pg. 13).

Piper goes on to give an example of the vastness of the universe as seen through the Hubble telescope. But let’s consider what the little New Horizons probe has allowed us to do. We see details on a globe smaller than our own moon which is over three billion miles away. It takes light from the sun 5.3 hours to get to Pluto at 187,000 miles per second; it only takes light 8 minutes to get to the Earth from the sun. And we now know that Pluto is merely one of perhaps hundreds of similar worlds that make up the Kuiper Belt (the rural backwoods of our solar system). I got to run part of the Cactus to Cloud 50K last May (I say “part” because I had to drop out at mile 19.5). At mile 10, the race went by the National Solar Observatory near Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Starting at the observatory, there were signs on the road showing the scale of the distance of the planets from the sun. Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars were fairly close to the observatory. Pluto was a long way out. But that little dwarf planet (still a planet in New Mexico according to House Joint Memorial 54 of the 48th Legislature in March, 2007), which is invisible to the naked eye here on Earth, has now been clearly seen! It’s amazing!

Back to Piper: “Sometimes people stumble over this vastness in relation to the apparent insignificance of man. It does seem to make us infinitesimally small. But the meaning of this magnitude is not mainly about us. It’s about God. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God,’ says the Scripture. The reason for ‘wasting’ so much space on a universe to house a speck of humanity is to make a point about our Maker, not us. ‘Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created [the stars...and Pluto]? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of our might, and because he is strong in power not one of them is missing’ (Isaiah 40:26). The deepest longing of the human soul is to know and enjoy the glory of God. We were made for see it, to savor it, and to show it – that is why we exist. The untracked, unimaginable stretches of the created universe are a parable about the inexhaustible ‘riches of his glory’ (Romans 9:23). The physical eye is meant to say to the spiritual eye, ‘Not this, but the Maker of this, is the Desire of your soul’...the ache in every human heart is an ache for this. But we suppress it and do not see fit to have God in our knowledge (Romans 1:28). Therefore the entire creation has fallen into disorder...we were made to know and treasure the glory of God above all things; and when we trade that treasure for images, everything is disordered...the healing of our soul begins by restoring the glory of God to its flaming, all-attracting place at the center. We are all starved for the glory of God, not self. No one goes to the Grand Canyon to increase self-esteem. Why do we go? Because there is greater healing for the soul in beholding splendor than there is in beholding self. Indeed, what could be more ludicrous in a vast and glorious universe like this than a human being, on the speck called earth, standing in front of a mirror trying to find significance in his own self-image? It is a great sadness that this is the gospel of the modern world. But it is not the Christian Gospel...the Christian Gospel is about ‘the glory of Christ,’ not about me. And when it is – in some measure – about me, it is not about my being made much of by God, but about God mercifully enabling me to enjoy making much of him forever. What was the most loving thing Jesus could do for us? What was the endpoint, the highest good, of the Gospel? Redemption? Forgiveness? Justification? Reconciliation? Sanctification? Adoption? Are not all of these great wonders simply means to something greater? Something final? Something that Jesus asked his Father to give us? ‘Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me’ (John 17:24)” (pgs. 13-16).

Seeing Pluto, Charon, Hydra, Nix, Styx, and Kerberos is just another step in the unending riches of the universe. We’ve discovered 484 planetary systems in other solar systems exponentially further away than distant Pluto. We’ll most likely never see them with the detail the pics of Pluto will have in the upcoming days, weeks, and months. This universe will continue to astound us as long as we keep looking up. Mis-read it, and it is Carlyle’s “sad spectacle” because it refuses to make much of us. May we read this story rightly that the heavens are telling, for “the heavens are telling of the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). It is the glory of the Trinity, the one true God Who is eternally three Persons.

“In the beginning God [the Father] created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said [the Son Who is the creating Word, John 1:1-3; cf. Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-3], ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day...then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth’; and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:1-5,14-18).

We are then meant, with the minds uniquely created for us, to consider the reality to which this universe points. “For God, Who said [in Genesis 1:3], ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One Who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:6,7). This is the message of Pluto: we see we are smaller than we thought, and the Creator-God Who made this tiny, far-flung world in all its beautiful detail is even greater in glory than we could previously imagine. This same God is not merely concerned with making cosmic artwork. He has stooped down to us in His Son to save us from our self-centered foolishness and rebellion against Him. This is Good News, and it is truly glorious.

Did you hear Piper? “...there is greater healing for the soul in beholding splendor than there is in beholding self.” Marvel at what He has done, then look to the greater glory of His Son Jesus for your salvation, and find the wholeness you’ve been seeking all your life.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

According to My Righteousness

Psalm 18 (paralleled in 2 Samuel 22) is introduced with this title: “For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”

“He brought me forth also into a broad place;
He rescued me, because He delighted in me.
The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all His ordinances were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
I was also blameless with Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.
Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes.
With the kind You show Yourself kind;
With the blameless You show Yourself blameless;
With the pure You show Yourself pure,
And with the crooked You show Yourself astute” (Psalm 18:19-26).

Psalm 7, too, is identified as a Psalm of David: A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the LORD concerning Cush, a Benjamite.”

“The LORD judges the peoples;
Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.
O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous;
For the righteous God tries the hearts and minds.
My shield is with God,
Who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
And a God Who has indignation every day” (Psalm 7:8-11).

How are we to understand David’s appeals to God which seem to be based on his own personal righteousness? There are a few options:
  • We take it just as it seems at first read: David is making an appeal for God to act on his behalf with his own personal righteousness as the basis for the appeal. The problem is the testimony of Scripture concerning the righteousness of sinful humanity (including David). “...we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one’” (Romans 3:9,10). It would seem that David’s own righteousness would not account for his statements in Psalms 7 and 18. The Bible explicitly tells us that our personal righteousness (the farce that it is) has no role in our right relationship with God, and therefore our appeals to Him: “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified [proclaimed righteous] by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
  • David could be prophesying of the Christ, Who alone can make appeals to God based on a perfect righteousness. Psalm 16 is explicitly said to be the work of David the prophet, who “looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:30,31). We also know that Jesus Himself said the Psalms spoke of Him (Luke 24:44). Therefore, if we are to understand Psalms 7 and 18 as appeals from the singer to God based on the singer’s righteousness, we would be justified (pun intended) in considering these words of Christ prophetically given by the Holy Spirit to David. Christ, in His perfect righteousness, appeals to God for rescue and justification (Hebrews 5:7). But is there a way to understand Psalm 7 and 22 not just as the words of Christ (based on His own righteousness), but first as the song of David (a man like us who could not make appeals based on his own righteousness)?
  • Since the Psalms were written under the old covenant, we could postulate that under that covenant personal righteousness was a means of standing before God and making an appeal. I’m sure you’re familiar with this caricature of the covenants: the old was based on works, the new is based on faith. However, the two great statements of salvation by faith are from the Old Testament (Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4b)!

The writer of Hebrews gives us a way of understanding the statements of Psalm 7 and 18 that integrates the appeals of David with the Gospel of justification (being declared righteous before God) by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

[As it says in Habakkuk 2:3,4] ‘For yet in a very little while, He Who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in Him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it [faith] the men of old gained approval...and without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him...and what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of...David...who by faith...performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises(Hebrews 10:37-11:2,6,32,33).

David lived by the Gospel principle summed up in Habakkuk 2:4b. The “acts of righteousness” by which David made an appeal to God in Psalm 7 and 18 were acts done by faith. In other words, David’s righteousness came by faith, not by his own self-efforts. It’s a Gospel righteousness that comes by faith: “...I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:7-9).

And, of course, the Psalmist speaks of God’s righteousness many, many more times than he does his own (Psalm 5:8; 31:1; 35:24,28; 36:6,10; 37:6; 40:10; 51:14; 69:27; 71:2,15,16,19,24; 72:1; 88:12; 89:16; 119:40,142; 143:1,11; 145:7). Understanding the smaller light of references to “my righteousness” as it relates to the greater light of references to God’s righteousness is a vital exercise. It is not just a question of hermeneutical approach (though it is, and this is always an important question). It is not just doctrine (though this is also immeasurably important). It is the difference a Gospel that is true, biblical, and can alone save, in contrast with a hopeless reliance on one’s own righteousness before God (the attempt of every non-Christian religion).

Trust in the righteousness of Christ the Son alone both for salvation and every appeal you make to our Father Who is in heaven.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Windows Open Toward Jerusalem, Beloved

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, Who said [in Genesis 1:3], ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One Who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

I think we repeatedly forget the spiritual element to the conflict the world has with Christ (their conflict with His Church is secondary, John 15:18,19). Paul wasn’t exaggerating when he said, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). I’m sure Bible-believing Christians (the only kind of true Christian) believe Paul, but there seems to be a disconnect between confessing belief in Ephesians 6:12 and our discussions and emotional reactions to world events.

Opponents to the Church – her enemies – are blind slaves. Their only hope is not our vitriol or sarcasm (no one’s ever been saved by being told they were an idiot), but the Gospel and the Gospel alone. We must become a praying people who rely on prayer as our primary armory. I’ve been thinking of Daniel. I preached on Daniel in 2012 to remind our people of the parallel reality between earthly conflicts and spiritual conflicts, and that the Lord God is King and Sovereign over all. After hearing a discussion last night about politics and national events, I wonder if it’s not time to revisit the lessons of Daniel again. The conflicts between Babylon, the Persians and Medes, and eventually the Greeks and Romans are all described in Daniel’s visions, but also the parallel spiritual conflicts engaged by beings described as “princes” (10:13,20,21; 12:1). Daniel’s response is an impressive devotion to prayer (6:10; 9:3) and the Word (9:2). We could all use a little soul-humbling fasting in this generation.

The conflict is a spiritual one, and therefore we are the only humans with the knowledge and ability to engage in it. How? Before the 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 passage I quoted at the top, the apostle Paul gives us a help: “Therefore, since we have this ministry [την διακονιαν, “service”], as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1,2). Let me underline this point: we are the only humans equipped with the knowledge and power to counter this blindness. If we ignore it and attempt to engage in a baptized version of worldly battle tactics (I speak metaphorically), the only effective means of wrestling will be abandoned. Sitting in a prison cell awaiting execution many decades later, we find that Paul hasn’t changed his mind on this topic: “...refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:23-26).

I hear a lot of frustration from my fellow believers. I understand it, but there is a creeping toward “losing heart” in their anger and fear. Paul battles this tendency with a meditation on the service and great mercy God has entrusted to believers. Then he purposes to not fall into the techniques of the world (and worldly false churches): “...we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God.” The sinful motivations of humanity (no different than the desire to be God we inherited from our first parents in Genesis 3:5,6) are at the root of all efforts to redefine, “free” (an illusion), etc. We must be intentional in turning from this foundational sin motivating all human “heart-following” and decision-making. We will not play their games on their terms. We will consider what God has given us and walk in His character (as revealed in the Scriptures alone) by the power of the Holy Spirit given to those who believe in Jesus Christ. We submit to the Scriptures and do not twist them to our agenda. God is observing us as we conduct ourselves in this arena.

After 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (again, quoted at the top), where Paul reveals the spiritual battle and spiritual blindness of our opponents, he gives a key to remaining encouraged: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11). It’s not just Paul’s preaching that is cross-centered (1 Corinthians 2:2), but his attitude – dare I say, his feelings. He embraced opposition because he saw it as embracing the very cross of Jesus Christ.

On the other side of the cross is the resurrection: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Meditate on the Gospel. I’ve said many times before that we need to preach it to ourselves every day (every hour!) to fight tendencies to self-righteousness and Pharisaism, but we also need the Gospel to know how to react to opposition from the world. For the joy set before you, endure the cross, despise the shame, for there is a place beyond all this futile game-play where the true King reigns uncontested (Hebrews 12:2 – go on to read the rest of the chapter for some great application!).

Besides, preaching the Gospel to yourself on a regular basis will make it easier to preach to others. It is your greatest weapon (far greater than legislation, polemical blog-writing, political rant-sessions, or pic-posting on Facebook!). Proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written [in Psalm 116:10a], ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He Who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:13-15).

The battle is spiritual. If we are to stand, we need God’s armor (Ephesians 6:13-20), which culminates in the Bible and prayer (for God’s help in proclaiming that Bible). Please, Church, don’t forget this, but get deeper into it and show by your actions that you take this biblical truth seriously! The goal is “the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” If our focus is on anything less than this, then we’ve lost the battle, no matter what laws we might overturn or elections we might win. Windows open toward Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10), beloved – the one above which is free, our mother (Galatians 4:26).