Sunday, May 29, 2016

God Is Able To Heal Fractures

I feel a little like Jude. He sat down to write a letter about one thing, and ended up writing about something else.  I first was going to speak on the book of Philemon, because I see two main points in it, one is greater and one is lesser. But as I thought it over, I felt that the greater point in Philemon had an important foundation behind it, so I decided instead to pursue that foundational issue this morning, and use Philemon as an illustration. I hope it goes well.

It was 1992. It was the most unique and interesting presidential campaign of our modern era – until this year anyway. Admiral James Stockdale was the vice presidential running mate of Ross Perot, and he was on the stage at the Vice Presidential debate. When time came for his opening statement, he began with what would soon become the most parodied words of any debate since:  “Who am I? Why am I here?”  Perhaps his questions are relevant for me this morning.

So, for my church life, my family never even went to church until I was 10. And for the first year, it was only once a month. I was saved and baptized about three years later, in 1982, at Valley Hill Baptist Church in Riverdale, Georgia. As I was adapting and learning to appreciate this new environment, whammo -- a year later, through my dad and his preacher brother, the charismatic controversy arose in our home and church. Dad adopted the charismatic side, while our church stood on the other side. We had only been going to church on Sunday mornings – Sunday School and church service, so dad started going to a charismatic church for evening services by himself. He never tried to twist our arms about the matter, which was good because I really wanted to keep my nose out of it;  I was just 14, and what did I know? But the tinge of tension and isolation was present in our home. I tried to just focus on my own path. What I was really interested in was the end-times – and I assumed at the time that the things I was hearing about it and reading about it was the one correct, long-standing Christian view. Naivety alert!

But it was in my second year of college, at the age of 19, that I experienced my own revival of sorts. I wasn’t looking for it – it found me. But apple carts were turning over left and right. My pre-tribulationism became post-tribulationism. My inherited Southern Baptist eternal security position became a holiness and apostasy position. The charismatic thing went from being avoided to becoming an item of pursuit. Healing became a passion (because my father was fighting cancer by that time). All of this change erupted during one semester. 

Unfortunately, with those changes came attitude shifts. Some of that was my fault for sure. But some of it was learned by watching the examples of others. Suddenly, I viewed my former opinions as useless tradition – not just for myself, but for anyone. And I viewed my new positions as black and white!  And I became doctrinally argumentative.  I tried not to be.  But it happened.  And usually I felt my newfound opponents really deserved what I dished out.  In fact, I brought with me today a 15 page, single spaced typed letter that I wrote, and sent unsolicited, to a number of people in church. It’s embarrassing now, but on the other hand, it is part of the long story that brings me here today.

I won’t go into any more detail than that, except to say that as time rolled on and learning continued, those new black and white positions – didn’t remain static. They, too, kept being modified and adjusted with more information, much of which I likewise did not go looking for. For example, in 1998, I returned to believing in the permanence of salvation, based on reasons that were different from the ones I rejected in 1988.

But one thing I think I have learned by my experiences is that “black and white” matters are very often really about “us and them.”  Anymore, I want to embrace those brethren who are travelling not only where I am now, but those who are where I once was in the past, and those who are in places I have never been brought to. Yet.

Therefore, “loving one another” is what I want to talk about today, because by it, God is able to heal our fractures.

1. The Motivation for One Anothering

I wrestle in my thoughts over where the springs of spiritual power in Christ are, and I keep coming back to the pursuit and experience of Christlikeness.  First off, it really does not help us to view Christlikeness in any way that is synonymous with an asceticism of "do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!"  Colossians says that kind of severe treatment of one’s body appears to be religiously wise, but it really has no value against fleshly indulgence (Col 2:20-23).

We instead must cultivate our hearts to desire to love others through sacrificially representing Jesus among them and to them.  When we stop our self-justifications for turning the other cheek only to a point, we could then live with an expectancy of embracing -- for ourselves -- the fellowship of His sufferings. When our focus is shifted to the noble things of spiritual permanence and away from the perishable things of material temporality, we can then better understand and enter into harmony with Paul’s lifestyle, of which he wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh -- I do my share -- on behalf of His body, …  in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions” (Col 1:24).

You know, as an avid Miami Dolphins fan growing up, I was not merely benefitted by Dan Marino quarterbacking my team, I was motivated by his example to wanna be like him, to improve my own passing skills. In a long passage from 1 Peter 2:17 to 3:9, the Apostle Peter tells us that a Christian is not merely benefitted from Jesus’ example, he is motivated by Jesus’ example to wanna be like Him.

I have ellipsed out various phrases to help us focus on his primary thrust:

17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.  18 Servants, be submissive [even] to masters …who are unreasonable.  19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  20 …If when you do what is right and suffer for it, you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 

22 “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;” [that comes from Isaiah 53] 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats 3:1 In the same way [as Jesus’ example], you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,  2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.  3 …Let [your adornment] be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God 

7 You husbands in the same way [as Jesus’ example], live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker… and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. 

8 To sum up [Jesus’ example], all of you [follow in His steps and] be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit;  9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead…   1 Peter 2:17 - 3:9 

You can see throughout that passage that Christlikeness is primarily fruited in relationships with people. Our pastor in Shreveport would repeat often that the quality of our horizontal relationships are the measure of the quality of our vertical relationship. His frequent admonition to one another was to always “take your love to a higher level.”

Now, it was the Lord Jesus Himself who originated what Peter said about following Jesus’ example:

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are My friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14  You are My friends if you lay down your life to love one another.

It is this first step of believers loving one another that empowers the second step of loving our enemies. Because even as Christ died for His friends, Romans 5 tells us that He did so while they were still helpless, ungodly enemies. Can we love enemies as though they were future friends?

We, as a people, can personally own the attention-grabbing message of loving one another -- and -- loving our enemies.  By doing so, we will fulfill what Francis Schaeffer called “the final apologetic,” wherein we as Christians have a responsibility to live the gospel in such a way that the dying and hurting world may see it and know it.

Another guy named Francis, Francis of Assisi, is attributed the following quote:

                        Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.

I’ve seen that saying praised, and I’ve seen it condemned. Black and white, right? I’m no expert on Assisi, but it seems to me this phrase was not advocating our silence, but rather the integrity of our words. It parallels how a godly wife could win her husband without a word, by her behavior.

Moreover, more than a millennium before Assisi, the early Christian text of Second Clement made this marvelously piercing statement:

For when the pagans hear from our mouths the oracles of God, they marvel at their beauty and greatness. But when they discover that our actions are not worthy of the words we speak, they turn from wonder to blasphemy, saying that it is a myth and a delusion. For when they hear from us that God says, “It is no credit to you if you love those who love you, but it is a credit to you if you love your enemies and those who hate you,” when they hear these things, they marvel at such extraordinary goodness. But when they see that we not only do not love those who hate us but do not even love those who love us, they scornfully laugh at us, and the Name is blasphemed.
2 Clement 13:3-4

So, if wanting to be like Jesus is the motivation for our loving one another, what will it look like?

2. The Fruit of Our Motivation

1 Timothy 1:5 says that the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart. To help us grasp this, there are a host of one-anothering passages that flesh out that self-sacrificing love-goal for us. I’ve chosen to make something of a top five list for our purposes as we survey the material.

1. So, first, as already mentioned, one-anothering is what Francis Schaeffer called the final apologetic, based on these verses:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.  Even as I have loved you, you also love one anotherBy this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:34-35 

I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.  John 17:23 

About this Francis Schaeffer wrote:

What then shall we conclude but that as the Samaritan loved the wounded man, we as Christians are called upon to love all men as neighbors, loving them as ourselves.  Second, that we are to love all true Christian brothers in a way that the world may observe. This means showing love to our brothers in the midst of our differences -- great or small -- loving our brothers when it costs us something, loving them even under times of tremendous emotional tension, loving them in a way the world can see. In short, we are to practice and exhibit the holiness of God and the love of God, for without this we grieve the Holy Spirit.
Love -- and the unity it attests to -- is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.

2. Second, we follow Christ’s sacrificial example. Christ’s love covered sins. Peter expands Christ’s example to us once more:

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

But Peter immediately continues to flesh out what that love looks like in the very next verses:

Be hospitable to one another, without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 1 Peter 4:8-10

Earlier, we saw Peter quote Isaiah 53 in the context of Christ’s example set for His people. We normally read Isaiah 53 looking for the messianic characteristics of Jesus. But have you ever read it looking for His example in how you are to walk?

3 Can you be a man or woman of sorrows and acquainted with grief for one another?
4 Will you carry the sorrows of one another?
7 When suffering, can you avoid opening your mouth in revenge?
9 Can you be non-violent? 
12 Will you intercede for those who transgress against you? 
10 Might it please the Lord to crush you?

That’s a tough one.

3. Third, we can illustrate these things tangibly in the correspondence of Paul to Philemon. It appears that Philemon, who was a convert of Paul to Christ in Colossae, had a slave named Onesimus, who ran away. Somehow, Onesimus came across Paul, who was in jail either at Ephesus or Rome. Paul converted Onesimus, and Onesimus was proving to be quite helpful to Paul. But not wanting to presume upon Philemon, nor leave their obvious situation unresolved, Paul sent Onesimus, with Tychicus, back to Philemon at Colossae with the letter. In going back, Onesimus was putting himself in personal and legal jeopardy. Although Paul, more than any mortal, could have flexed some authoritarian muscle over Philemon, note how he handled him instead:

8 Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, 9 yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you -- since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus -- 10 I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, 11 who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. 12 I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. 15 For perhaps for this reason he was separated from you for a while [you were crushed by his desertion], that you would have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord
17 If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account; 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well).  20 Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.

In other words, “Philemon, consider:  I see Onesimus as your ambassador to me. So please benefit me, Philemon, and fill my heart with joy by wrapping your own identify in with that of Onesimus.

Note how Paul here fills the role of Christ by reconciling disgruntled parties and bearing another’s penalty. In this we see Paul’s Christlike love covering a multitude of sins. That is real one anothering.

4. Fourth, let’s quickly look at a grab-bag of some other things Paul had to say to the churches, beginning with Paul’s letter to the church of Colossae – Philemon’s church – a letter perhaps delivered near the same time as the one to Philemon:

bear with one another, and forgive each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Colossians 3:13 

And to the Ephesians:

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, show tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace   Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:2-3, 32 

Compare that with what he wrote to the Philippians:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; Philippians 2:3 

And although there are several passages to consider in Romans, I’ll just give this:

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor…  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Romans 12:10, 16 

Complaining, empty conceit, intolerance, a haughty mind, and being wise in your own estimation, expose the path to what I will call the Dark Side of one-anothering.

5. So for our fifth item, let’s watch as Paul spends some time in Galatians 5 dealing with this Dark Side of one anothering. Let’s begin in vs. 15.

But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:15

The "take care that you are not consumed by one another" places responsibility on the original biter and devourer. By initiating that sort-of feedback loop, you are introducing a tempting gangrene that spreads to others to bite you back. Thus the little leaven leavens the whole lump, so to speak. 

Four verses later, Paul begins his famous list of the deeds of the flesh found in vss. 19-21. We are familiar with how the list begins and ends: 

The deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:  immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities…, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you…that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But let’s pay special attention today to the mid-section of that list:

strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying.

This section of the list is all about failures of one-anothering, isn’t it. That’s sobering.

You will also notice that the fruit of the Spirit in vss. 22 and 23 are predominately of the one-anothering variety:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…

That is following Jesus’ steps. Ponder the contrast between that, and “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.”

Well then, Paul then concludes this Dark Side section with verse 26 when he writes:

Let us not become boastfulchallenging one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:26 

That those three characteristics are placed together is telling. To be boastful is to show excessive pride and self-satisfaction in one's achievements, standing, or abilities. Since envy arises from lacking a desired attribute enjoyed by another, who would the boastful envy enough to challenge – and why? It could be over things big or small, but I think overall we are looking at Paul here addressing motivations of personal prominence, perhaps even preeminence (think about Diotrophes over in 3 John), in the life or direction of a congregation or group. Not surprisingly, this is the stuff behind a lot of church splits or other fractures.

That’s why it is God’s intention that the spiritual fruit of love, service, care and humility would kill division:

God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lackedso that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 

That, my friends, is worth fighting for. But not by fighting according to the typical worldly custom; but instead, by being eager to be the more wronged.

In 115 AD, Ignatius of Syria wrote the following to the church at Ephesus:

Allow [worldly men] to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds.  [The final apologetic. What will that look like?]  In response to their anger, be gentle; in response to their boasts, be humble; in response to their slander, offer prayers; in response to their errors, be steadfast in the faith; in response to their cruelty, be civilized; do not be eager to imitate them. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers and sisters, and let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord, [In what way?]  to see who can be the more wronged, who the more cheated, who the more rejected, in order that no weed of the devil may be found among you.  Ignatius to Ephesians 10:1-3

This “being eager to be the more wronged” brings Paul back to mind, who rebuked Corinth for failing to abandon the Dark Side way back in 55 AD:

Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?  1 Corinthians 6:7

A generation after Paul wrote to Corinth, Clement of Rome wrote to them in 95 AD. Even though Clement wrote Corinth to correct a coup of leadership perpetrated by a few young guns there, observe how Clement describes the spiritual stature attained by the Corinthian congregation prior to this coup episode:

You were all humble and free from arrogance, submitting rather than demanding submission..., content with the provisions that God supplies...and you kept His sufferings before your eyes  You were sincere and innocent and free from malice toward one another. Every faction and every schism was abominable to you. You mourned for the transgressions of your neighbors; you considered their shortcomings to be your own.  1 Clement 2:1, 5-6

It seems that Paul’s arduous laboring over the first generation of Corinthian Christians -- until Christ was formed in them – ultimately succeeded. Why do we give up so easily with one another today?

Let me close with this.  A minute ago, I quoted Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians.  I want to close with another quote from that, and I hope you will quickly see why. Ignatius wrote his letters while in chains, being taken from his home in Syria all the way to Rome for martyrdom. While en route, representatives of other churches, including from Ephesus, visited with him. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, we find the following:

For when you heard that I was on my way from Syria in chains for the sake of our shared name and hope…, you hurried to visit me. Since, therefore, I have received in God’s name your whole congregation in the person of Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love who is also your earthly bishop, I pray that you will love him in accordance with the standard set by Jesus Christ and that all of you will be like him.  Ignatius to the Ephesians 1:2-3

Is that the Onesimus, now elderly?  Might it be Onesimus Jr.?  Or even a namesake? There are good chances that this leader of the church of Ephesus was, or was closely linked to, Philemon’s young slave. Imagine! Philemon’s one-anothering bore such incredible fruit in the end, even after Philemon himself was long dead.

You may not live to see all of the fruit of your one-anotherings. But there will be fruit. And the world will know.

Go forth and Be In Christ, and Do Christ.

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