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).

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