Ask Whatever You Wish (John 15:1-11)
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“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:1-11
I wonder if you have heard the story of George Müller, the Prussian prayer warrior of the 1800’s. In the early 1800’s, there were almost no orphanages in England. Müller, who had moved to England in hopes to evangelize to Jewish communities there, was overwhelmed with plight of the orphans in Bristol. Müller was convinced that God had brought him to England to address this problem and provide care for those whom no one else in society cared for. But, he also had another motive. Müller was troubled by the coolness of many people’s faith in and outside of the church. He was frustrated that so many people functionally lived as if God did not care, did not hear, and was not real. He wanted a piece of visible proof that “our God and Father is the same faithful creator as he ever was.”
So, he pursued the goal of creating an orphan-home for the poorest and most destitute of orphans in Bristol all without ever asking for or advertising any financial support, only praying and trusting God to provide.
Müller read Psalm 81:10, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it,” and was moved to pray for a building, one thousand pounds, and a staff who would work in the orphanage. Within eighteen months, Müller had twohomes, sixty orphans, a full staff, and the full thousand pounds (equivalent to about 130,000 pounds in today’s money)—all provided without ever soliciting or asking for donations from anyone, only by praying. At the end of Müller’s life, he had received nearly one and a half million pounds (192 million in today’s economy) and had provided care for ten thousand orphans—all and exclusively by prayer.
Do you pray? What do your prayers look like? If there was a printed transcript of your prayers for the last week printed out before you and you could read back through them, what would it tell you about your prayer life? About what you pray about most? About how much time you devote to prayer?
Would the content of that transcript, what you prayed about, be an accurate representation of what matters most to you? Would it show me what you consider to be the most important things in your life? By reading it, would I discover your greatest joys? Greatest fears? What you’re most thankful for? What your find most praise-worthy in God? If not, then why not?
If you’re like me, you would likely be fairly embarrassed for that “prayer transcript” to get into the hands of someone else. If you’re like me, you desperately want to grow in your discipline of prayer. For as long as I have been a Christian, I have never met any other Christian who felt that they could not grow in their prayer life. It is kind of like flossing, we all know we should do it more often, we all want to do it more, but, for some reason, we don’t.
Why don’t we pray?
We think we are God.
Jesus tells His disciples, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” John 15:4-5. Apart from Jesus, you and I can do nothing. God alone is self-reliant; He is the Creator and we are His creation. Listen to Moses’ warning to Israel as they are about to enter the promised land, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth,” Deut 8:17-18a. God is the one who gives everything, we are dependent, and that dependence drives us to pray. We often don’t pray because we basically believe we are the ones who are in charge, we are the ones who are competent and capable of “taking care of it.” So, like toddlers who keep yanking back at the helping hand of a parent, we burden ourselves with anxiety, stress, fear, and countless frustrations.
We don’t believe God answers prayer.
Did you see that almost scandalous sounding promise Jesus made? He tells His disciples, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you,” John 15:7 (cf. John 14:13-14; 15:16). God doesn’t just maybe answer your prayer—ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. Or listen to Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Friends, do you view prayer that way? This was precisely what Müller was wanting his entire life to testify to. As he read Psalm 81:10, “Open wide your mouths, and I will fill it,” he realized that God was eager provide for His children. John Calvin explains, “It follows, that the reason why God's blessings drop upon us in a sparing and slender manner is, because our mouth is too narrow.” The English puritan Thomas Case wrote in 1655, “You may easily over expect the creature, but you cannot over expect God…widen and dilate the desires and expectations of your souls, and God is able to fill every chink to the vastest capacity.” Or, as CS Lewis famously tells us, “It is not that our Lord finds our desires too strong, but too weak…we are far too easily pleased.” Paul prays, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,” Eph 3:20.
Friends, perhaps our prayer life is so anemic because we just honestly do not expect much from God. Prayer is a kind “discipline” that we ought to do as good Christians, or it is a baptized form of what the world calls “mindfulness”—a kind of self-therapeutic meditation to center our mind and arrive at an emotional equilibrium. Or when we say we will pray for someone, we really are just wanting them to know that we care about them, or that we feel sorry for them. Is that what the Bible describes prayer as? No—prayer is a communication with the living, personal God that brings about actual change in the world.
James plainly tells us, “You do not have, because you do not ask,” James 4:2. So, that verse is saying that there are blessings in your life that you could have had but do not have because you did not ask—it does not mean that if you don’t ask, God will still give it you anyway because He is sovereign. That’s the exact opposite
Certainly, we can all think of plenty of prayers we prayed that weren’t answered. But, of course, that is where all the conditions in those verses must be paid attention to. If we abide in Christ and his word in us, then ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you! If you delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you the desires of your heart. But, of course, if we find our delight and joy in the Lord, then the desires of our heart align with the desires of God’s heart, and our requests change. So we don’t have the same desires an unregenerate person has. In face, James clarifies, “You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions,” James 4:2-3.
We are impatient.
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” – Luke 18:1-8
Sometimes, in the Lord’s mysterious providence, He has decided that the answer to our prayers will only come after a prolonged season of seeking Him. How many of you have prayed long for the salvation of a friend, a family member, a child? Have you felt discouraged that after six months, six years, sixty years it appears that the Lord has not answered your prayers?
Müller recounted a story of his steadfastness in prayer in a sermon towards the end of his life: “In November, 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without one single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God, and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day I continued to pray for them, and six years more passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. These two remain unconverted. The man to whom God in the riches of His grace has given tens of thousands of answers to prayer, in the self-same day or hour in which they were offered, has been praying day by day for nearly thirty-six years for the conversion of these two individuals, and yet they remain unconverted…But I hope in God, I pray on, and look yet for the answer.”
It is our privilege as those in Christ.
Maybe we do not pray because we are unaware that this is our privilege and right as those who are united to Christ by faith. Communion with the Father is our birthright as children who have been adopted into the family of God. We were once enemies of God and the thought of coming into the presence of God made us uncomfortable, fearful, and anxious, the way a criminal would feel coming into the presence of a judge. We wanted to flee the judge, not be in his presence—let alone pester him day and night with our requests! But now, dear friends, because we have looked to Christ and trusted that his death was a sufficient payment for our sins, we now not only feel a peace while in the Father’s presence, we eagerly and actively seek Him out through our prayers.
Not only that, but the Bible tells that upon being received into the family of God, we have been given the Holy Spirit who helps us pray in accordance with the will of God (Rom 8:26-27). And, we are told that after Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He ascended to the right hand of the Father, and now sits enthroned in heaven interceding on our behalf (Rom 8:34; 1 John 2:1). This means that our prayers, as Christians, come from the Holy Spirit at work within us, directed to the Father, through Jesus Christ our mediator. This is why we conclude our prayers “in Jesus’ name.” It is an acknowledgement that the only grounds we have for our prayers being heard in heaven is the fact that we are in Jesus and our prayers are translated through Him and presented before the Father with the same grounds that Jesus’ prayers received. Do you see the confidence this should give you as a Christian when you pray? Do you think the Father listened to Jesus’ prayers? Do you think He answered them?
Pray with your Bible open
Pray by yourself and with others
Pray for your church
My Words Abide In You (John 15:1-11)
My Words Abide in You
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” – John 15:1-11
This week, I want to think specifically what role the Bible plays in abiding with Christ. Jesus tells His disciples that they are “clean because of the word,” that He has spoken to them, John 15:3. And Jesus tells us here, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you,” John 15:7. Abiding in Jesus is related to His Word abiding in us—when we abide in Christ and His Word abides in us, we can pray with confidence. But what is the relation between abiding in Christ and His Words abiding in us? Paul tells the Colossian church to, “Let the word of Christ dwell (abide) in you richly,” Col 3:16.
Here is my main point: You cannot abide in Christ unless you let His Word abide in you.
Why? Our God is a speaking God. The constant refrain of the prophets of God is, “Thus says the Lord…” All throughout the Old Testament the living God is contrasted with false gods because He is a God who speaks. Jeremiah 10 tells us, “Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord… The idols of the nations are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak,” Jer 10:1-2, 5. Over and over again the false gods are exposed as fantasies because they are deaf, dumb, and mute. The prophet Habakkuk writes, “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him,” Hab 2:18-20. Paul carries on this tradition in the New Testament by simply referring to false gods as “mute idols” in 1 Cor 12:2 (see also Isa 41:23; 46:7; Ps 115:5-7; 135:16). What sets God apart from all of the other false gods? Our God speaks.
And when God speaks, He reveals Himself through His speaking. In the book of Exodus, when Moses is interceding for the nation of Israel, he asks God: “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Ex 33:18-23
“The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation,” Ex 34:5-7.
What just happened here? Notice, Moses asks God to show him His glory and God explains that Moses cannot see His face, but will only see His back. Of course, God does not have a corporal body—He is spirit (John 4:24), so “God’s back” is likely a metaphor for an indirect view of God. You will not see Him fully (His “face”). But notice when God passes by Moses He reveals Himself with words. We are not given a description of what the back of God looked like, we are given a proclamation of His name: The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious… Moses “sees” God through hearing God’s Word. This is also what we see in Paul’s admonishment to the Galatians, “1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Gal 3:1-2. Now, Galatia is nearly 800 miles away from Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified. The Galatians were not there to see Jesus be crucified. So what does Paul mean when he says that it was, “before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified”? The answer comes from the question of the second verse: did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? The Galatians were able to “see” Jesus be publicly portrayed as crucified through hearing the gospel proclaimed to them by Paul. They “saw” through hearing.
There will be a day when, as the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13, we shall see God “face to face,” but for now we “see through a mirror dimly.” We are like soldiers away at war, left only with the letters from home that connect us to the ones we love. The letters are not the same thing as being with our loved ones, but they are still a means by which we can commune with them in some way. In the same way, God reveals Himself through the medium of His Word. Which, of course, is seen most clearly in Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Word of God, made flesh; the Supreme revelation of God (Heb 1:1-4).
This means that if we want to experience more of God, we must read His Word, because Our God speaks and in His speaking, He reveals Himself.
Not only that, but our God acts through His speaking. God’s Word creates what it commands. We see this from the very first page of Genesis where God literally creates everything simply by speaking, “Let there be…” His words are not just revealing but they possess power. God creates the nation of Israel by calling out Abraham by His word of promise, He judges Egypt by sending Moses as with His words to speak to Pharaoh, He makes a valley of dry bones turn into a valley of living persons by sending Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones, and He creates His new covenant people, the Church, by the preaching of the gospel. Paul tells us that, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ,” Rom 10:17. God’s Word is the fountain of faith. This is perhaps why Paul takes the preaching of God’s Word with such awful seriousness when charging his young pupil, Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths,” 2 Tim 4:1-4. Do you see what lengths Paul is going to to impress the weight of the correct preaching of God’s Word to Timothy? He is invoking the most high, holy, and sacred witnesses to attest to the seriousness of this task: preach the Word.
The image of Jesus standing at the tomb of Lazarus is a fitting one. Jesus calls out to a dead man who has no ability to hear, let alone to answer Jesus’ call. And yet, wonder of wonders, Lazarus gets up and walks out of the tomb! God’s Word creates what it commands.
God’s Word must be applied. Letting God’s Word abide in us is different than letting God’s Word simply pass through us. You can be near God’s Word, but not actually receive God’s Word. The prophet Ezekiel was told that he would be a watchman over Israel, a prophet who spoke God’s Word to them when they were at the most precarious of places. Israel had been ignoring God’s Word over and over again and it had led them to the brink of total destruction. Listen to this dire warning he gives:
As I live, surely those who are in the waste places shall fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in strongholds and in caves shall die by pestilence. 28 And I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and her proud might shall come to an end, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that none will pass through. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed. – Ez 33:27-29
And how do the people respond to this?
“As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. 32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. – Ez 33:30-32
Do you remember Mark’s definition of a disciple of Jesus from the parable of the sower? A disciple is someone who, “hears the word and accepts it and bears fruit,” Mark 4:20. You can hear God’s Word, and not accept it. That’s the whole point of the parable of the sower—you can have an interaction with God’s word that is only skin-deep.
The fundamental message of the Bible, the gospel, is of no use to you unless you respond to it. Keeping medicine around you is of no use unless you take it.
- Believe the gospel.
- Read your Bible
- Prioritize the preaching of God’s Word
Black Lives Matter: 24 Biblical Considerations
Should Christians Use the Term "Black Lives Matter"?
Do black lives matter? On the face of it, it seems like a fairly straight forward question that should simply be answered with a resounding: of course. Any Christian who affirms the image of God should be quick to oppose racism in any form. In that sense, Christians should be the first ones to say: black lives matter.
But it doesn’t take long to realize the BLM movement has snowballed into something much larger, and much more complicated. When answering that question today you are now responding to a whole movement. A movement that speaks on policing in America and use of force, the presence of systemic racism, white privilege, protestors, looting, reparations, housing policies, the prison system, the war on drugs, social services, whether or not statues of confederate soldiers should be torn down, and sundry other issues. Even more difficult, the official BLM movement has explicitly embraced ideologies that are contrary to a Christian worldview, such as LGBT perspectives, and critical race theory and intersectionality. So how can Christians partner with such an enterprise without endorsing sin or endorsing something that we really don't know enough about to take a firm stand on?
My burden in writing this is a pastoral one. I am no political nor judicial expert. I do not pretend to know everything and admittedly feel perplexed by much of it. I, along with the apostle Paul, admit that I only “know in part.” How are we to know what to believe? Who are we to listen to? I am reminded of the Father’s admonition to Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my Son, listen to him!” Luke 9:35. My aim in this is to provide Biblical categories for us to think through these complicated issues so that we may first and foremost “Listen to him!”
"Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path"
Imagine a boat trying to navigate through a rocky channel in the dead of night. There are deadly cliffs on either side that could destroy the boat, but there are also lighthouses positioned along the coastline to help ships navigate through safely. The captain may not be able to see precisely where all the rocks are, but he knows if he threads between the lighthouses on each side he will survive. That’s what I am aiming to do with each of these points: place lighthouses on each side of this issue that keep us from veering to an extreme and making a shipwreck of our faith.
24 Biblical Beacons:
1. All people are descended from Adam and made in the image of God and are therefore deserving of respect and protection from discrimination/abuse. Genesis 1:27, 3:20; 9:6; Malachi 2:10; Acts 17:26. Thus, Biblically speaking, there is only one “race,” but numerous ethnicities. For more on this, read here.
2. All people of all ethnicities are sinners, capable of any sort of depravity. Gen 6:5; Rom 3:9-18, 23; Eph 2:1-3.
3. Diverse ethnicities display the creativity of God and should be celebrated. No one ethnicity is superior to another. Rev 5:9-10; 7:9-12. God has always intended for His people to be comprised of many diverse ethnicities. Gen 12:1-3; Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3; John 8:12; Acts 13:47; 26:23; Rom 1:16.
4. Ethnic animosity, racism, tribalism, and xenophobia are sins that have been present from the beginning and must be repented of. Numbers 12:1; Acts 6:1-7; Gal 2:11-14; Rom 15:7; Eph 2:14.
5. The world, the flesh and the devil together can codify any sin into systemic structures, so that economies, governments, jobs, schools—any institution—can perpetuate, encourage, and ingrain sin more thoroughly in the hearts of those participating in it. Rom 1:28-32; 2 Cor 4:4; John 12:31; Titus 3:3; 1 John 2:15; 1 Cor 2:12; Gal 4:3; Acts 19:24-25. For more on this, read here.
6. We are all morally responsible/capable creatures who will answer to God for how we lived. No one will escape this judgment because he was a certain ethnicity or a part of a majority or minority culture. Matt 25:31-32; Romans 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; Romans 2:6-11; Gal 6:7.
7. Governmental authority is a gift given by God. Gen 9:6; Judges 21:25; 2 Sam 23:3-4; Proverbs 29:2; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14.
8. Governmental authority has the right to use force (including lethal force) to punish evil. Gen 9:6; Rom 13:3-4; 1 Pet 2:14.
9. Governmental authority and its use of force can be (and often is) abused. Rev 13:1-8; Daniel 7:1-8; Mark 6:14-29; Mark 15.
10. It is the responsibility of God’s people to practice God’s “justice and righteousness” by defending and advocating for the most vulnerable, abused, and destitute in society. Genesis 18:19; 1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chron 9:8; Psalms 33:5; 89:14; 97:2; 103:6; Proverbs 31:8-9; Isaiah 1:17; Jer 22:3; Amos 5:24; Matt 25:31-46; James 1:27.
11. It is the responsibility of God’s people to not overcome evil with evil, but with good. Matt 5:43-48; Rom 12:14-21.
12. It is the responsibility of God’s people to submit to the governing authorities as long as they are not coercing us to sin. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14; Acts 4:19-20; 5:29.
13. It is the responsibility of God’s people—black, brown, and white—to find their primary identity in their citizenship in the kingdom of God, not in their ethnicity or culture. All cultures must submit themselves to the culture of God’s Kingdom—which is not synonymous with white, Anglo-European culture. Gal 3:28, 6:15; Rom 3:30; 1 Cor 12:12; 1 Cor 9:19-22; 1 Cor 10:32; Eph 2:11-22. For more on this, read here.
14. It is the responsibility of God’s people to overcome racial hostilities within the church. If we do not, we compromise the gospel. Eph 2:11-22; Acts 6:1-7; Gal 2:11-14. For more on this, read here.
15. It is the responsibility of God’s people to both weep with those who weep and mourn the lawlessness of our land. Rom 12:15; Ps 119:136. We should not speak carelessly like Job’s friends so that we sound like we are calloused to those who are suffering nor should act like our personal experience is monolithic. Prov 25:11; Col 4:5-6; Eph 4:29. We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. James 1:19-20. For more on this, read here.
16. It is the responsibility of God’s people to acknowledge the depths of our own sin, which may include the sin of racism, and to repent of it. 1 John 1:8-10. We who have experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ should be more aware of our own sinfulness than anyone else’s and quickest to admit it. This means that we, more than anyone else, should be open to the idea that we may be harboring racism in our heart. Matt 7:1-5; 1 Tim 1:12-15; Luke 18:9-14.
17. It is the responsibility of God’s people not to participate in showcasing our deeds of righteousness simply to earn the approval of men. Matt 6:1-4; Luke 6:26; Gal 1:10.
18. It is the responsibility of God’s people to not bear false testimony, slander, or gossip, nor to rush to judgment hastily when reliable information is insufficient. Eph 4:25; Eph 4:31; Col 3:9; Prov 18:17.
19. It is the responsibility of God’s people to not endorse or make it look like we approve of what God hates. Rom 1:28-32; 1 Cor 13:6; 1 Cor 6:9-10.
20. While it is possible to be sinning unintentionally (Numbers 15:28), the Bible teaches that individuals are not held morally culpable or responsible for the sins of past generations. Deut. 24:16; Jer. 31:29-30; Ez 18:1-32. For more on this, read here. This, however, does not exclude the category of corporate confession of sin. Dan 9:20; Neh 1:4-6.
21. It is the responsibility of God’s people to use our resources to love our neighbor as ourselves, which includes using our time, energy, and money. Luke 10:25-37; Matt 22:34-40.
22. It is the responsibility of God’s people to pursue this love of neighbor first and foremost within the church, and secondarily in the wider community. John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:11-18; 1 John 4:20; Gal 6:10. This means that before we move to correct injustices “out there,” which often have little to do with our own sin and require little from us, we should first look “in here” and see if there is anyone whom we have sinned against within our community and seek repentance and restoration. Matt 5:23-26.
23. It is the responsibility of God’s people to submit to God’s Word in all matters, whether or not it endorses our perspective, political agenda, or conveniences. 2 Tim 3:16-17.
24. It is the responsibility of God’s people to both be angered and sorrowful over injustice, but to remain joyful and peaceful in the Lord. We do not grieve as others do who have no hope, but know that our ultimate hope resides in our coming King, so we can “Be angry, and…not sin”. Eph 4:26; 2 Cor 6:10; John 16:33; 1 Thess 5:16; Matt 6:34; James 1:20; 1 Thess 4:13.
Let Each One Be Fully Decided in His Own Mind
So, where does this all leave us? Should Christians use the term “black lives matter”? This, of course, is a different question than the question "do black lives matter?" The answer to that is obvious: of course. However, should Christians actively use the term "black lives matter" when it now comes with the attendant baggage? I think using or not using the specific term black lives matter is finally a matter of conscience where “each one should be fully decided in his own mind,” Rom 14:5. We must let God’s Word calibrate our conscience as we examine the situation. That will lead some Christians to feel that their consciences permit them to align themselves more closely with the BLM movement while other Christians do not. In this we must commit to, “not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother,” Rom 14:17. So Christians who have put a BLM logo on their profile picture should not look down on those who didn’t, and those who didn’t shouldn’t assume the worst about those who did.
What isn’t a matter of Christian liberty, however, are the 24 Biblical principles laid out above. To return to our boat analogy, the channel between the rocky shoals may be wide enough for different boats to take slightly different paths, but there are boundaries. If a boat ignores a lighthouse, it will end in the boat destroying itself. If someone is distancing themselves from the BLM movement because they are harboring racism in their heart, they are in danger of making a shipwreck of their faith. If someone is participating in the BLM movement only because they love the approval that comes from the world, they are in danger of making a shipwreck of their faith. Neither of those two are allowing God's Word to be their final authority (even if they think they are).
If someone were to ask me “do black lives matter?” I would likely answer, "Of course, black lives matter. I do disagree with some perspectives the movement as a whole holds, however. Maybe you could explain to me what you mean when you use that term?" And depending how they answer, I may need to clarify my answer in line with the Biblical principles laid out above. The president of the seminary I graduated from recently released an article that does a good job of highlighting the nuance needed by Christians who want to affirm what is good in the BLM movement, while distancing ourselves from what is wrong.
If you’d like some resources to explore this issue further:
- Here is an extremely helpful 17 minute video of Phil Vischer explaining the dilemma of systemic racism in America. It is well worth the time.
- Here is a more critical evaluation of recent views on race from Voddie Baucham.
- Here is a more sympathetic evaluation of the BLM movement from Mika Edmondson.
Pastoral Prayer: On Unity
The pastoral prayer from our gathering on the Lord's Day, June 14th.
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. – Rom 15:5-7
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Your name deserves glory, your fame deserves to be displayed throughout all of Creation, and especially here in your Church.
Father, we lament that so many in the world do not bring you glory, do not know you. But we lament above all that many in your church do not come together with one voice to glorify your name but have robbed you of the glory you deserve by remaining fractured and divided. Father, forgive us for the way we have not pursued unity in your church. Forgive us for not welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed us but instead demanding from others what you did not demand from us. Forgive us for our cool hearts towards each other and our insistence on our own way.
Father, forgive us for the way we make idols out of the same things the world does. Forgive us for making our political commitments primary, and our Kingdom commitments secondary. God, we know that while we are in this world we need to love our neighbor as ourselves and in our country that means being involved in the political process in some way, but oh God please deliver us from thinking we can create the kingdom of God here on earth. Keep us from thinking our primary citizenship is here in America; remind us that we are citizens of heaven, and on this world we are sojourners and strangers. And would this knowledge of our deepest identity and true home bring a profound unity in our church that the watching world simply doesn’t understand.
Make our church a place where black, brown, and white brothers and sisters can come together as one family. Make our church a place where Democrats and Republicans can come together as brothers and sisters of Christ, people who voted for Donald Trump and people who voted for Hillary Clinton can welcome one another as Christ has welcomed them. Wound us so deeply with the beauty of Jesus that inconsequential matters of difference would erect no barriers between your people. Lift up our all our eyes to focus most on what matters most: the eternal, never-changing, full of grace, full of truth, soon-arriving, righteous King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.
Abide in My Love (John 15)
- What stuck out to you most?
- What does it mean to be united with Christ?
- How is marriage similar to union with Christ?
- How would you describe your relationship with Jesus? Do you tend to view Him as aloof and critical, or warm and accepting?
Service video: https://www.facebook.com/QuinaultBC/videos/261497351610364/
Out of a desire to serve our parents (and our children) we have decided to try to shorten our service. Since I will be preaching a much shorter message, we thought it would be wise to take a brief break from the gospel of Mark. The elders encouraged me to focus on preaching a message that centered on contentment in difficult times, how a Christian should respond to frustration and suffering.
So I want to take some time to focus on the fountain of contentment: abiding in Christ. “Abiding in Christ” or “Union with Christ” is one of the biggest themes in the New Testament that we often totally overlook. It is found in all of those phrases “in Christ” in the New Testament—we have no condemnation because we are “in Christ” (Rom 8:1), we were predestined before the foundation of the world “in Christ” (Eph 1:4), redemption from our sins is found “in Christ” (Eph 1:7), and on and on we could go. Union with Christ is the conduit through which every blessing of the Christian life. But it is in John 15 where we see one of the most wonderful descriptions of what union with Christ looks like. Read it now with me:
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. – John 15:1-11
I want to read you something that I came across this week from the missionary Hudson Taylor. Taylor (1832-1905) was the founder of China Inland Mission, a pioneer missionary agency that was the first to penetrate the interior of China with the gospel. In a letter to a friend, Taylor recounts the many burdens he experienced by trying to start this endeavor, but above all he laments the lingering unbelief he senses in his heart. He mourns that he constantly struggles with anxiety, anger, and infrequency in prayer and devotion. Then, one day, the overwhelming reality of his union with Christ broke over him and it dramatically changes him. He writes, “As to work—mine was never so plentiful, so responsible or so difficult, but the weight and strain are all gone. The last month or more has been, perhaps, the happiest of my life.” Notice: Taylor’s work (which was considerable) didn’t go away—he comments that the work is more difficult now than it has ever been. But somehow, he is the happiest he has ever been in his life. How could that be? Taylor goes on to recount how the blessings of be united with, abiding in, Christ have given him all the resources he would ever need. Listen to this:
The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.
Friends, when I read that this week I felt like ten thousand pounds slid off my shoulders. Whatever circumstance I am in, whatever perplexity, however difficult, because He is mine and is with me and dwells in me, I can be confident that He will supply everything I need. Of course, I knew that before I read that from Taylor, but God graciously made that truth glow with a new light and heat this week. God has exposed functionally how little I actually trusted in Him and how abundantly He will provide for everything I need.
Friends, I am jealous for you to experience this joy.
So, I want to take some time over the next few weeks to meditate on John 15 and what abiding in Christ means and my prayer is that out of this passage, the truth’s Taylor describes would likewise glow with a new heat and a there would come over our congregation a collective sigh of rest.
Did you notice that last verse in the passage we read? Jesus said, “I have said these things to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” v. 11. There is a big difference today between our world’s definition of “joy” or “happiness,” and the Bible’s definition of “joy,” and “happiness,” so much so that it can be confusing to read a passage like that because we are spring-loaded to interpret “joy” there according to the world has taught us “joy” means—that absence of difficulty and the presence of comfort. That isn’t the joy offered here. Whose joy is it? “My joy,” that’s Jesus’ joy! You can have the happiness of God in your life. The kind of joy that we see the apostles have when the religious authorities arrest them, beat them, and then grab them by the chin and say, “Don’t you dare talk about that Jesus ever again.” How would you respond to that?
The other week while I was playing with my son at a play ground I racked my ankle against a piece of the playground, just metal to bone, and my goodness it hurt; I fell down and just sat there for a minute till the pain went away. But, I had the thought: what if that didn’t go away, what if someone kept hitting me there, over and over again and threatened that it would be worse next time? I hate pain and I would do almost anything to avoid it. And yet, after the disciples are arrested, threatened with death, and beaten, we are told: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus,” Acts 5:41-42. What kind of joy is that? That’s a joy from heaven that transcends any earthly comparison, and it is a joy available to all who abide in Christ. These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be full. What things? The things he just said: abide in me. The blessing of union with Christ.
So, let’s take the rest of our time in this introductory sermon just briefly consider what Jesus means by “abiding in Christ” here in John 15.
The language that is repeatedly used here is “abide,” which means to dwell in, stay in, or make your home in. We are, somehow, meant to live in Christ, and He is somehow meant to live in us. Jesus says in verse four, “Abide in me, and I in you.” Jesus clarifies this by his image of the branch and the vine: “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me,” v. 4. In the same way a branch “abides” in a vine, so too are we to abide in Christ. Thus our abiding in Christ is like a connection, a union with Him. Of course, this isn’t an isolated teaching. Paul famously tells us, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me,” Gal 2:20. Paul is so intertwined with Christ, so identifies with Christ that when Jesus dies on the cross, he sees himself dying; when Jesus rises from the dead, he sees himself rising. It is a full identification.
The analogy of marriage is actually very fitting. Paul tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Eph 5:31 (Gen 2:24). When two people get married you take two separate lives and intertwine those two lives together so intimately—physically, emotionally, spiritually—that is as if they are now “one flesh,” one new person. Before my wife and I got married, I had a 2004 PT Cruiser with a cracked radiator, some student debt, and $50 dollar sofa with a hide-a-bed I got from Goodwill, but after we got married all of these many blessings became hers! This was now our $50 dollar sofa that smelled kind of funny. In marriage, what was once a division of two individuals and their accompanying lives, now unite together into one new life. But, what’s most shocking, Paul says that this is actually pointing to Jesus and His Bride: the Church. You. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church,” Eph 5:32. When you come to Christ, He takes all of your mess, all your problems, all your sin and says: this is mine now, I’m in this for the long haul. It is a full identification. And what does Jesus give you in this exchange? What do you get in return for handing him your junk? Here is what Ephesians 1:3 tells us: “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” So every blessing, every benefit there is to be experienced, is given to us through our union with Christ. Let’s name just a few:
Full forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7)
His own righteousness (2 Cor 5:21)
Adoption into the family of God (Eph 1:5)
A new heart that loves God and wants to obey Him (Jer 31:31-34)
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5)
The joy of being a member of the body of Christ, the Church (1 Cor 12)
The promise that everything is working together for our good (Rom 8:28)
The certainty that God will never abandon or forsake me (Rom 8:31-39)
The hope of living forever with God in the glory of the new creation (Rev 21-22)
On a first date, you are putting forward the best possible version of yourself imaginable. You spend an inordinate amount of time getting ready, doing your hair, going over interesting anecdotes to make yourself sound interesting. We do all of this because we want to put the best possible foot forward so that we can convince this other person that we are interesting, attractive, and worthy of a second date. I think that’s what a lot of us do with Jesus. We put forward the best possible version of ourselves imaginable to Him. Of course, we don’t consciously think that—if we did we would laugh at ourselves at how ridiculous it is. But, in the quiet of our hearts, deep down we really believe that to keep Jesus interested and committed to us we need to present to Him the best possible versions of ourselves, because if He were to find out how messed up, how sloppy, how bent we are, He might leave us to find someone godlier, someone more committed.
Imagine, you sit down on a first date with someone who is totally out of your league. And as they sit down they plop a manila envelope on the table. They tell you that inside this envelope is a catalogue of every shameful thing you’ve ever done. Inside is a record of web browser history, every text you ever sent, recordings of every conversation you’ve ever had, and every moment of compromise, selfishness, laziness, and anger written out. And they sit there and begin reading it all. What would you do? Date’s over! There’s not a chance anyone is going to read through that file will want to even be around me! But dear friends, don’t you see? This is but a dim parable of exactly what Jesus Christ has already done. Before you knew it, He knew all of your sin, down to the very depths, deeper than you even know. He saw your mess, He saw you sin, He saw your compromise, your lack of commitment, your divided heart, your selfishness and still said: I want you. I love you. I’m staying here and I’m not going anywhere. I will abide.
Friends, do you see the joy that should be flowing in your hearts from this truth? Do you see the resources now made available to you? Why should we be afraid, why should we be anxious? We have the love of our Savior in which we can make our home.
Order of Service for Sunday, June 7th
Take time throughout the week to be prayerfully reading through these passages of Scripture to prepare you and your family for worship on Sunday morning.
Order of Service for Corporate Worship
Sunday, June 7th
- Call to Worship: Psalm 150
- Great is Thy Faithfulness
· Pastoral Prayer: Romans 15:1-7
· Sermon: Abide in My Words (John 15:7; Ps 119)
· Lord’s Supper
- Amazing Grace
- Sing Doxology
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
- Benediction: Numbers 6:24-25
- Quinault Baptist Church published a newsletterReadSermon and Order of Worship for Today
No Sermon Manuscript this Week
Sermon video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlVYYQnVZ_k
Order of Service for Sunday Family Worship, May 31st
Take time throughout the week to be prayerfully reading through these passages of Scripture to prepare you and your family for worship on Sunday morning.
For guidelines on how to conduct family worship on Sunday morning, read here.
Order of Service for Family Worship
Sunday, May 31st
Sections with **asterisk to be done at home.
- **Call to Worship: Psalm 150
§ Why These Songs? Our sermon text today focuses in closely on our own hearts as the source and fountain of our sin. This leads us to long for the day when we will be fully and totally removed from the presence of sin. Both of these songs look forward to the day when we will be freed from sinning and will only enjoy the One who is worthy.
§ If you prefer, feel free to find other songs that exalt Christ, flow from Scripture, and prepare your heart to receive the Word.
- **Scripture reading: Colossians 2:16-23
o Think: Here we see the regulations surrounding the old covenant (dietary restrictions, festivals, Sabbaths) were only shadows that pointed towards Christ and His work. Trying to keep these regulations may have an “appearance of godliness” but they ultimately lack any power in stopping the sinful desires of our hearts—the true source of defilement.
- Word of Exhortation (video)
o Pastoral Prayer: Ezekiel 36:22-27
o Sermon: The Source of Evil (Mark 7:14-23)
- Benediction: Rev 22:20-21
- **Sing Doxology
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
- Quinault Baptist Church published a newsletterReadSermon and Order of Worship for Today
Watch Sermon Video Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKYt9MhlBDI&t=1s
Find Sermon Discussion Questions and Manuscript Here: https://qbc.org/blogs/2523161--tradition-and-the-bible
Find the Order of Service Here: https://qbc.org/blogs/2517547--order-of-service-for-family-worship-may-24th
Tradition and the Bible (Mark 7:1-13)
Watch Sermon Video Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKYt9MhlBDI&t=1s
Sermon Discussion Questions:
1. If there was something that had functional authority over your life besides the Bible, what would it be?
2. What would Christians who have a more politically conservative bent use as “traditions” as having equal authority as the Bible? How might this lead to self-righteousness?
3. What would Christians who have more politically liberal bent use as “traditions” as having equal authority as the Bible? How might this lead to self-righteousness?
4. How does the message of the gospel prevent tribalism among Christian brothers and sisters? Read Luke 18:9-14.
5. What traditions do you have in your life that are a blessing and increase your joy in the Lord? Do you have any that may have begun to sneak towards ignoring the Bible? Contradicting the Bible?
What is your functional authority in your life? What do you give final say to when making decisions? I’m not referring to what you believe your authority is or what you think the authority should be. I’m referring to day-in day-out, what is it that makes you say: this is right, this is wrong, this is good, this is desirable?
It could be friends, spouse, vacation—whatever holds the most weight in swaying your decisions. In our text today we will see Jesus interact with the scribes and Pharisees and reveal that their functional authority resides not in God’s Word, but rather in the traditions of men.
1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother’; and, Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” - Mark 7:1-13
After a period of seeming absence from Jesus’ narrative, the Pharisees and the scribes reenter our story. In particular, we have not seen the “scribes who came down from Jerusalem,” since Mark 3:22, where they proceeded to accuse Jesus of being possessed by demons. So, they obviously are not big fans of Jesus and His ministry. However, here we stumble upon what seems like relatively mundane, domestic issue. Some of Jesus’ disciples are not washing their hands before eating. We read, “Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed,” Mark 7:1-2.
This, however, has nothing to do with hygiene and has everything to do with ritual purity. They were not washing their hands to remove dirt or germs, but to symbolically cleanse themselves from anything that was ritually unclean that they may have come into contact with. The issue of clean/unclean has been a reoccurring theme in Mark thus far with Jesus’ regularly coming into contact with individuals who were ceremonially unclean (Mark 1:40-45; 5:25-34; 5:41-42) and his labelling of demons as “unclean spirits” (Mark 1:23; 5:1-13; 6:7). One of the reasons why Jesus is seen as being such a scandalous figure in the religious authorities’ eyes is due to his regular association and contact with those who are unclean. As we continue to read Mark 7 we are going to see Jesus bring about a radical shift on the understanding of clean and unclean. But it would be wise for us to understand where this idea comes from.
In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, Moses is given detailed instructions about what makes one clean or unclean. To be “unclean” was to come into contact with something that represented the realm of death—blood, disease, corpses, bodily discharges, etc. God is holy, which in the Old Testament, is contradictory to anything that is unclean or common. God’s holiness includes his ethical perfection, His righteousness, but it also includes His purity, His total separation from anything that represents death or impurity. If you remember, “death” and all its attendant counterparts of disease and decay, is solely the by-product of sin (Gen 2:17; Rom 6:23), which is in essence rebellion against God. God’s holiness cannot allow what is unclean to come into His presence.
A major part of the covenant that God makes with Moses after the Exodus is a lengthy detailed account of how Israel can remain clean and holy so Yahweh may dwell with them. Leviticus 19:2 summarizes it well, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” So all of Israel was bound to abide by these purity laws, otherwise they ran the danger of coming into the presence of God as one unclean, which would have killed them, or having God no longer dwell in their presence. By the times of Jesus, it had become a common tradition for very religiously devout Jews to undertake a handwashing process similar to what priests in the tabernacle and temple were required to do, “When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn a food offering to the Lord, they shall wash with water, so that they may not die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die,” Exodus 30:20-21. Though this command was exclusively for priests and had nothing to do with eating food, in time Jewish tradition morphed this command into a requirement for all Jews to undertake before eating. Mark explains, “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.,” Mark 7:3-5 (NIV).
Notice that Mark tells us that they observe “many other traditions.” By the time of Jesus there was a large body of oral traditions that were handed down from generation to generation that people believed were first given by Moses and then added to by rabbis offering their own interpretations (what is today known as the Mishnahfound in the Talmud). The apostle Paul tells us prior to his conversion he was, “extremely zealous…for the traditions of my fathers,” Gal 1:14. These “traditions” were usually expansions on the laws we find in the Old Testament and how to apply them in varied situations. The Pharisees and scribes scrupulously followed these traditions and are shocked that Jesus’ disciples aren’t following along. The ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Mark 7:5.
Now, our typical response when we read the gospels is to view the scribes and Pharisees as kind of ridiculous examples of self-righteous rule followers. While Jesus does expose their hypocrisy and hollowed out religion, we should be slow to rush to a cartoonish depiction of them. If we were living in Jesus’ day we would have all likely looked up to Pharisees—they were exceedingly devout men who take adherence to the Law very seriously. When one reads the Old Testament, you are struck by how much of it is a story of failure. There are certainly high points (Abraham, Moses, David), but the overall story is ultimately a downward spiral. God saves His people, but they consistently and constantly rebel against Him, break the covenant, and worship other gods. The entire section of the Old Testament that we call the “Prophets” is dedicated to repeatedly warning the nation of the danger of ignoring God’s Law. God, however, repeatedly promises that if Israel will just follow the Law and worship Yahweh alone, then He will bless them and establish them. This is what the Pharisees mission is—they want to correct the failure of their fathers by meticulously and scrupulously following the Law.
Jesus’ response is surprising: “And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men,” Mark 7:6-8.
Now, just to avoid any confusion, we believe that traditions are a blessing. In the classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof, we see a modern critique of tradition. The story revolves around a Jewish family who slowly sees their traditions stripped away from them by the daughters of the family rejecting the traditional hierarchy of listening to their father’s advice in who they marry. Tevye, the father, opens the musical with the song Tradition.At one point, he mentions the prayer shawl he wears and says: “You may ask, how did this tradition get started? Well, I will tell you…I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” While this is trying to show some of the silliness of traditions, the conclusion that Tevye reaches I think is actually very important: traditions help us understand who we are and what God wants from us. Traditions are a part of God’s common grace for societies. Their danger comes from when these traditions contradict or ignore Scripture.
Even though the Pharisees have a seemingly righteous motive they are ignoring Scripture and contradicting Scripture. Jesus says the Pharisees “leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” They are abandoning what God has said in His Word and are looking to these traditions about hand washing as being more important.
But then, Jesus tells us, they actually contradict Scripture: “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, Honor your father and your mother’; and, Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Jesus cites Isaiah 29:13 to describe the Pharisees. Isaiah 29 is describing a faithless Israel who will still go to Yahweh’s temple to offer lip-service, but then go off and proceed to worship other gods. Surely, the Pharisees would have been the last people you would have associated the people Isaiah is describing. They didn’t take their faith seriously enough, the Pharisees take their faith very seriously! But, this is critical, you can look like you are very devout, even like you are serving God, but have hearts that are far from the Lord. This means that the people that Isaiah is describing, people who pay lip service to Yahweh but then go and worship pagan gods, actually match the description of the Pharisees, people who believe they are zealously pursuing pure worship of Yahweh.
But, Paul similarly warns us of those who believe they are zealous for the Lord but have missed the boat entirely, “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes,” Rom 10:1-4.
What “traditions” are a part of your life?
Church traditions: the classic example of tradition in the church would be the Roman Catholic church. The Roman Catholic church officially holds to two sources of authority: the church’s tradition and Scripture. Further, the church’s magisterium provides authoritative and binding interpretation of Scripture, so if at any point one wants to correct the church’s tradition by Scripture, the church can overrule you by saying, That isn’t what that Scripture means. Just as the Jews believed there was a body of oral teachings that Moses gave that was handed down and was eventually codified in the Talmud, so too does the Catholic church teach that there was a body of oral teaching given by Jesus to His apostles that was never written down, but simply passed down from generation to generation in the Church.
In the 16th century, when a German monk named Martin Luther began to criticize the church’s teachings and practices on indulgences, justification, its priesthood and other abuses and teachings in the church that clearly ignored or flat out contradicted what the Bible taught, he was eventually summoned to the Diet of Worms where he was asked to recant his views. He responds famously,
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
“My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” That is our inheritance as Protestants, sola scriptura—Scripture alone is our authority. We can appreciate and learn from church traditions—you would be a total fool to ignore the historic creeds, confessions, and catechisms of church history. We are not the first Christians who have ever read our Bibles; there are many giants of old who have produced excellent expositions of Scripture that have stood the test of time as invaluable guides. Nevertheless, there is nothing outside of Scripture which has the authority to silence or contradict. Jesus here is clearly laying out the authority God’s Word has to rule over the traditions of men.
Now, of course, we are not Roman Catholic, but friends this does not mean that our church is not prone to fall into this same error. We should be reminded that the Pharisees did not one day say, “Let’s contradict the Hebrew Bible!” Rather, the way barnacles can slowly form on the hull of a ship that is left at dock for a hundred years, slowly pulled under by the growing weight, so too do the gradual accumulation of traditions that are not under the scrutiny of Scripture gradually ignore, sideline, silence, and then eventually contradict Scripture. Traditions, remember, are not a bad thing! We are just always to be careful never to get the cart before the horse—we keep our traditions under the watchful and authoritative eye of God’s Word.
So, in our church it is our tradition to end each service with singing the doxology, we take the Lord’s Supper every week, we have a certain liturgy each service, our services are in English, I wear a tie (sometimes)—none of these things are necessarily commanded in Scripture. They do not silence or contradict Scripture. In fact, we think for the most part these elements actually help us worship together more effectively. But, we are not claiming that these traditions have the kind of authority that God’s Word has. And we certainly wouldn’t look at other churches that practice differently and think: You aren’t obeying God because you don’t sing the doxology at the end of your service! No, like Luther, we want our consciences to be captive to the Word of God—not our tradition.
So, before we criticize someone else in our church or some other church for doing something that seems to run roughshod over our traditions, let’s ask ourselves: is this something that Bible actually teaches, or is this just my personal or church’s preference?
Cultural traditions are a wonderful gift. I love many of our cultural traditions—blowing up fireworks on the 4th of July, getting popcorn and candy when going to the theatres, the excitement and camaraderie you feel with other fans when you attend a sporting event together, decorating your house with Christmas lights in December. But, there is also a great danger in cultural traditions—perhaps even greater than our church traditions. Cultural traditions can have far more functional authority in our life than we realize and influence what church’s teach.
You don’t have to look very long in a history book to see abuses from cultural traditions—particularly traditions that are centered on viewing another group or class of people as sub-human. Whether you are looking at the caste system in India, or the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, or the Apartheid of South Africa. In many places, it is the cultural norm, tradition, to treat people who are different from yourselves with hostility, fear, and degradation.
Flannery O’Connor, the great novelist from the 20th century, wrote a short story called Revelation describing the way racism, arrogance, self-righteousness can all be hidden under a veil of Christianity. The story is basically O’Connor taking the story of the Pharisee and tax-collector from Luke 18 and turning it into an expanded short story, set in the South in the 1940’s. It follows a Mrs. Turpin, a middle aged white woman who owns a pig farm in Georgia, as she goes to a doctor’s appointment with her husband Claud. As she is sitting in the waiting room, we hear what she is actually thinking and then hear her subtle, thinly veiled criticisms of everyone else in the waiting room. But as she is sitting there, all the while constantly thanking God that she is a devout Christian and isn’t like the poor colored people who works on her pig farm or isn’t like that white trash family sitting in the room (who she thinks to be more repulsive than colored people). But there is also a college-aged girl in the room named Mary Grace reading a book, but keeps staring angrily at Mrs. Turpin. With every subtle racist comment, every self-serving comment, every condescending look Mrs. Turpin gives, the girl is getting angrier and angrier, till her knuckles clenching the book are white and her face is purple.
Eventually, Mrs. Turpin thinks to herself, Girl…I haven’t done a thing to you! The girl might be confusing me with somebody else. There was no need to sit by and let herself be intimidated. “You must be in college,” she said boldly, looking directly at the girl, “I see you reading a book there.”
The girl continued to stare and pointedly did not answer.
Her mother blushed at this rudeness. “The lady asked you a question, Mary Grace,” she said under her breath.
“I have ears,” Mary Grace said.
Mrs. Turpin, so thrown off by the sudden and strange anger of this strange girl, begins to talk condescendingly to her mother about the importance of a cheerful attitude and good disposition. Eventually, Mrs. Turpin says with feeling, “If its one thing I am…its grateful. When I think who all I could have been besides myself and what all I got, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides, I just feel like shouting, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is!’…At the thought of this, she was flooded with gratitude and a terrible pang of joy ran through her. “Oh thank you, Jesus, Jesus, thank you!” she cried aloud.
The book struck her directly over her left eye. It struck almost at the same instant that she realized the girl was about to hurl it. Before she could utter a sound, the raw face came crashing across the table toward her, howling. The girls fingers sank like clamps into the soft flesh of her neck.
People eventually pull Mary Grace off of Mrs. Turpin and sedate her, but before she becomes unconscious, Mary Grace locks eyes with Mrs. Turpin and yells, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog.”
You might be thinking, what on earth is that story about? Remember, the girl’s name is grace. O’Connor was taking the story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector and setting it in a contemporary setting. The Pharisee loudly thanks God that he is so righteous and not like other people, certainly not like that tax-collector over there. What had happened? He had let his cultural traditions of defining “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad” have more authority in his life than God’s Word. Had the Bible held most authority, he (and Mrs. Turpin) would have responded like the tax-collector before God: “have mercy on me, a sinner.” Our cultural traditions that lead to dividing us into tribes and groups have an insidious power to make us self-righteous, self-justifying—to lead us to forget that we are sinners like everyone else and our ONLY hope is in Jesus, like everyone else. How do we know that we are “good”? We aren’t like them. We vote for the progressive candidate, we vote for the conservative candidate. We aren’t like those backwards fundamentalists over there, or we aren’t like those crazy liberals over there. We know we are justified before God because our skin is a certain color, because we have a certain view of how our economy should work, because we stand up for the rights of the victims and downtrodden or because we champion the importance of a work ethic and not exploiting the system.
Mrs. Turpin’s revelation:
"What do you send me a message like that for?" she said in a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force of a shout in its concentrated fury. "How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?"
“Why me?" she rumbled. "It's no trash around here, black or white, that I haven't given to. And break my back to the bone every day working. And do for the church.”
"How am I a hog? she demanded. "Exactly how am I like them?" and she jabbed the stream of water at the shoats. "There was plenty of trash there. It didn't have to be me.
"If you like trash better, go get yourself some trash then," she railed. "You could have made me trash. Or a nigger. If trash is what you wanted, why didn't you make me trash?"
“Go on,” she yelled, “call me a hog! Call me a hog again. From hell. Call me a wart hog from hell. Put that bottom rail on top. There’ll still be a top and bottom!”
A garbled echo returned to her.
A final surge of fury shook her and she roared, "Who do you think you are?"
At last she lifted her head. There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls
were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who , like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away.
What did Mrs. Turpin learn? She learned what Jesus taught the Pharisees, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you,” Matt 21:31.