Eph 5 – Marriage is a Vehicle of Our Sanctification (pt1 of 3)

Today, we are going to continue our study on the topic of marriage and I want to talk specifically about sanctification in the context of marriage. Before we dive into this new aspect of marriage, I want to revisit and tie up some loose ends from my last sermon 2 weeks ago.

After Paul urges all Christians to submit to one another, he talks about gender roles in marriage starting in Eph 5:22.

Women get all hung up with this idea of submission. The first thing I want to ask is, which is harder–is it harder for women to submit, or is it harder for men to do what Christ did and lay down his life for his wife? Which essential means to die. Is it harder to submit or to die? Come on, submission is hard, women, I grant you that, but lay down and die? I vote for die, but then again, I am a man so maybe I am biased.

Sisters, don’t get hung up on this concept of submission. We mustn’t forget that submission is part of what it means to be a Christian. When we first became Christian, we had to submit to the Lord. Before God saved you, you had certain plans, goals, dreams, but all of that, you surrendered at the feet of Jesus when you became a follower of Christ. You never had to submit before to anyone. You were the one who called the shots. You did whatever you wanted to do. Pursued whatever you wanted to pursue. You lived for yourself. But becoming a Christian means you no longer live for yourself, but you live for God and others. A Christian or a Christ follower is someone who continuously lets go of the control over his or her life and tells Jesus, I trust you, I follow you, I submit to you, you can call the shots from now on and I will obey.

Notice that it says that everyone takes turns submitting before one another. Men and women, husbands and wives, ministers and lay persons, parents and children, employers and employees, we are to submit to one another in the fear or reverence of Christ. It would be a gross misinterpretation of this passage to say, women, your job is only to submit or respect your husbands always in every situation and men, your job is to lead and lay down your life for your wives and love sacrificially always in every situation. All of us need to love at times AND respect at other times, submit at times and to sacrifice at times, and we do this before one another regardless of gender or position or spiritual maturity.

Just because I am a man doesn’t give me the right to demand absolute submission and respect from Jackie simply because she is my wife. That would be dictatorship. If I were Jesus and I were perfect and infallible all the time and I never made a mistake, then I could demand absolute submission. Sorry. News flash: I am not Jesus. Just because God has given the spiritual gift and the role to pastor this church doesn’t mean that everyone else in this congregation need to give me 100% trust and submit to my every decision. Even kids have something to teach parents and good bosses listen to feedback from their team because no pastor or parent or manager is omniscient. Even King Solomon, who was one of the wisest persons who ever lived made tons of mistakes.

No one other than Jesus can demand absolute submission so obviously women submitting to their husbands cannot be applied literally in every situation. That’s as ridiculous as saying women never have to lay down their lives and sacrifice for others. All Christians are expected to take up their crosses and deny themselves, right?

Gender roles are not meant to be rigid categories. Love vs. submit. Love vs. respect. Sacrifice vs. submit. We all take turns doing both. A wrong application of this would be to let the husband make every decision, even the small ones. By virtue of being the man of the house, the man ought to have the TV remote in his hand because that is a sacred duty reserved for men and no one else is allowed to touch the remote so the rest of the family has to submit and watch whatever the man wants. Or eat whatever he wants to eat. People who take biblical principles and turn them into rigid categories are missing the point.

Think of gender roles not as rigid categories that are to be followed literally in every circumstance. Think of them as guidelines which provide balance to reel us in from going toward our tendencies. I will get into this next week, but women, post-Fall, have a tendency to want to manipulate and rule over men and so this is a good reminder for women that they need to submit. I’m not a woman so obviously, I can’t speak from personal experience.

But as a guy, I see incredible insight and wisdom in the guideline when God tells husbands to love their wives. Paul is a guy and he knows how men are. We men are simply not good at loving anyone except ourselves. Men are generally passive. Men want to be left alone so that they can watch sports all day in their man cave. Men like hobbies like golf which take them out of the home. If a new gadget is released, men will spend hours reading reviews to determine whether it is worth buying. Men love to work overtime so that they can advance in their careers and so that they don’t have to bother with family issues. But when a man is hungry, he is good at finding food for himself. Or when he has a wart, he is good at researching all the best treatments on Amazon. Men are extremely good at loving themselves. Can I get an Amen?

Look at how often Paul has to appeal to husbands to love. Verse 25 – husbands, love your wives. Then again in v28, husbands, love your wives as your own bodies. He appeals to their self-love. I know you are not good at loving others, but you are really good at loving yourself. Now love your wife in the same way that you love yourself. Then, he throws in some encouragement–he who loves his wife loves himself. Happy wife means happy life. If your wife is happy because you are loving her, don’t you know, you are loving yourself because your life will be better? Guys are dense. We are slow learners so in v29, Paul spells what love for your wife looks like.

29 For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it…

Step 1: provide for your wife the same way that you are really good at providing for your needs. This part comes somewhat more naturally for most guys. We see ourselves as the financial provider. Step 2 is harder. Step 2: care for your wife the same way that you care for yourself. Now that is harder. I can provide for my wife and give her money so that she can get out of my hair, but that’s not enough. If you love her, care for her. Then, one final time in v33, again, Paul says, love your wife as yourself and wives respect your husband. These are guidelines which go against the grain of our normal tendencies as guys and girls. Again, these are not rigid categories.

I like what Pastor Tim Keller has to say about gender roles. He describes husbands as having tie breaking authority. There will be times, not frequently, but there will be times when a significant decision needs to be made but you are in a deadlock. You are essentially in a tie. What do you do? You need someone to break the tie. Based on this passage, the husband is to break the tie and the wife is to support his decision. In our 13 year marriage, I think I have exercised this kind of tie breaking authority twice that I can remember. First, what to do after completing our mission work in Tokyo and most recently my decision to be ordained. The decision was hard to make in the moment and it was hard especially for Jackie to support my decision, but looking back, I think Jackie can testify that both times, it was the right decision. This illustrates a spiritual principle. Since God is the one who established this authority structure, when we follow HIS design and do things HIS way, He blesses.

In the past 2 sermons, the Holy Spirit has been an important theme. Even before we can talk about biblical marriage, we have to talk about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us to submit to one another, the Holy Spirit helps husbands to lay down their lives and the Holy Spirit helps wives to submit. As we relate to each other in these ways with help from the Holy Spirit, we are being sanctified. From the moment that salvation comes to an individual, the process of sanctification begins. Salvation occurs when a person is born again, born of the Spirit. Blind eyes are opened. Hardened hearts are softened. Spiritual chains of bondage and oppression are broken. Spiritual life is breathed into dead corpses. This is salvation. But this is only the beginning of the story. True salvation always leads to sanctification. Assuming the Holy Spirit remains present in a believer’s life, verse 27 describes the goal of sanctification and this principle applies to all believers whether you are married or single.

27 He [Christ] did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.

On your wedding day, the bride is dressed in radiant white. Imagine a scenario where the bride-to-be was fully dressed in her wedding dress, but on the way to the wedding ceremony, she was hungry and decided to stop by at In N Out. Sounds far fetched because I don’t think brides are thinking much about food on their wedding day, but work with me, it could happen. And while taking a bite into that juicy double double, a wad of grilled onions covered with their magic sauce mixed with ketchup fell onto her lap and stained her wedding dress. On a normal day, it would be no big deal. But on your wedding day, this would be a serious emergency. The wedding dress has to be radiant white. Have you ever seen a wedding dress that is not white? The tux can be whatever color–black, gray, navy blue, brown, but the wedding dress has to be radiant white. There can be no stain, no wrinkle, no blemish. Only radiant white is acceptable for the bride.

According to Eph 5, this radiant dress that we see on the outside is supposed to be a type, a foreshadowing of what our hearts are eventually going to be on the inside. As we are sanctified, our hearts are restored to our pre-fallen state, made new, we are born into a new creation and we become increasingly like Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes initially to save a person. But anyone who has been Christian for a while can acknowledge that none of us are zapped into Christ’s likeness in an instant the moment we accept Christ. We are all works in progress. We have a long way to go before you and I are like Christ. This is why we need the Spirit continuously. We need to be filled day by day, moment by moment, with the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ.

If you are not filled with the Holy Spirit, stop whatever you are doing because this is where you need to struggle. Don’t get bogged down by the rest of the chapter about marriage or the next chapter about parenting or employer-employee relationships. Focus on coming to God in prayer and asking to be filled with the Spirit. You might have decent relationships if you have a natural personality that is friendly or gentle and you are non-judgmental, but you won’t have spiritual relationships until you are filled with the Spirit.

Eph 5 – The Mystery of Marriage (pt3 of 3)

That was a very long intro into this topic of marriage and now I want to spend a few minutes circling back to the idea of submission. Submission might be a terribly negative word out in secular society, but for the Christian, submission is a positive thing. Jesus submits to God the Father. We, as the body of Christ, submit to the Head who is Christ. Submission is part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Submission comes with the territory. Even before we talk about wives submitting to otheir husbands in Eph 5:22, we need to back up a verse and read v21. Both men and women, both husbands and wives are to submit to one another. Why? Out of reverence for Christ. Out of an overwhelming sense of awe for who Christ is and what he has done in my life, I submit my life to Christ and I have the ability to submit before others. It’s important that we never lose sight of v21 when we talk about marriage.

Verse 21 is important also because it connects the preceding section starting in Eph 5:15 and ending in Eph 5:21 with the rest of chapter 5 and the first half of chapter 6. Verse 21 contains the participle “submitting.” There are actually 4 participles in this section. 1) Submitting. Then, v19 – 2) “addressing” one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. 3) Third, in the second half of v10 – “singing and making melody” to the Lord with your heart. 4) And lastly, v20 – “giving” thanks.

What do the participles “submitting,” “addressing one another in psalms, hymns, spiritual songs,” “singing and making melody” and “giving thanks” modify? These 4 participles modify the command found in v18–“be filled with the Spirit.” Do you see that?

The Spirit is what enables a believer to submit and to address one another in praise and to sing to the Lord and to give thanks. The Spirit comes initially into a person’s life when he or she encounters Christ and is born again. Blind eyes are opened up and we see the beauty of Christ and what he did on the cross for ME. We repent for the first time and chains are broken and cold, deadened hearts are breathed with new life and changed to hearts of flesh. Overwhelmed by gratitude, we lay down our lives at the feet of Jesus and surrender. We place our faith in Jesus and tell him I’ll do whatever you ask me to do and go wherever you tells me to go. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

But the filling of the Spirit is not a one-time decision. Christian life does not work unless you and I are continually filled with the Spirit moment by moment. Why do Christians stop addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs? Why do we stop singing and making melody to the Lord with their heart? Why do we stop giving thanks? It’s because we are not filled with the Spirit. The Spirit was there before, but it’s gone, they are empty of the Spirit, or running on fumes of the Spirit. Barely hanging onto their salvation.

We need the Spirit most of all to submit before one another. Verse 21 doesn’t say out of fear of Christ, submit to Christ. That would be easy. Even the proudest person can submit before someone they deem greater. I know there are some Caltech collegiate athletes here. You might be the greatest basketball player at Caltech right now and so before everyone else, you are proud of your skills. But if Lebron James showed up at the Caltech gym, you would clearly submit under King James and say, you’re better. Before God, we can all submit. Even the proudest person can submit before the God who spoke the universe into being. But the verse doesn’t say submit before Christ. It says, submit before one another.

It’s much harder to submit before flawed sinners than it is to submit to a perfect God. Our relationships remind us of our desperate need to be filled by the Spirit. Chapter 5 and the first half of chapter 6 of Ephesians is connected because Paul gives various examples of relationships where each party involved in the relationship is in desperate need of the Holy Spirit for the relationship to work. The Holy Spirit is like oil in a car engine. The moving parts of the engine create such friction that without oil, you will destroy the engine.

Without the Spirit, families will be destroyed. Let’s start with children and parents. Eph 6:1-4 shows both sides needing the Spirit. Children need to be filled with the Spirit in order to honor their parents continously. And parents need the Spirit so that they don’t provoke their children to anger. When our kids do something wrong, it’s easy to blow up and discipline our kids harshly. Godly parenting is a spiritual activity. We need the Spirit’s help. Notice that Paul mention only the fathers. Parents are a team. They parent together, obviously. But I think the reason Paul singles out the fathers is because he expects fathers to lead their homes. To bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. If your kids are not trained and instructed in the ways of the Lord, fathers, God will hold you responsible. Take this responsibility seriously.

Again, in Eph 6:5-9, Paul outlines the need for the Spirit on the part of the slaves and the masters. Slaves need to be filled with the Spirit in order to obey their human masters with fear and trembling with sincere hearts because they are living before Christ. They are serving the Lord and not men. On the other side, masters need to be filled with the Spirit so that they treat their slaves with dignity, not threatening them or abusing their authority because Christ is Master of everyone. This applies directly to those who have positions of authority at work today and those who are serving under the authority of a manager or boss. Both parties need to be filled with the Spirit.

In marriages, there is potential for a great amount of friction because you are with each other 24×7. Husbands and wives need to be constantly filled by the Spirit so that they can submit to one another. Both parties need the Spirit in order for the relationship to go well. It is important to talk about mutual submission before talking about gender roles and asking women to submit to men. If a husband is not living in reverent fear before Christ and he is not asking for the filling of the Holy Spirit each day and his heart is dead and hardened and he demands his wife to submit, will it work? No, of course not! If the wife is told to submit to her husband and she is not living in reverent fear before Christ and she is not asking for the filling of the Holy Spirit each day and her heart is dead and hardened, will she willingly submit and respect her husband and help him to lead? No, of course not! The Holy Spirit is the oil that creates a buffer to protect the marriage so that the friction caused by the marriage does not destroy the marriage.

Before you and I can be filled with the Holy Spirit, we need to be emptied of ourselves. If you bought a brand new car and you want to park it in your garage, you won’t be able to if your garage is filled with junk. You got to get rid of junk and donate some stuff to make room so that you can pull the car into the garage. The same principle applies to our hearts. You might be praying and reading Scripture, but nothing sticks. You are not being filled with the Spirit. And your heart has grown cold and your mouth has grown silent and you have stopped praising and singing melody to the Lord from your heart and you can’t submit to the Christians around you because you see their flaws. Maybe it’s because you haven’t taken the junk out of your heart. You are too full of yourself.

Before we can be filled, we need to be emptied. If you are not filled with the Spirit, every relationship in your life will eventually fall apart. Only a Spirit-generated selflessness can allow our relationships to flourish in a way that pleases God. We need to be filled with the Spirit. Let’s pray.

In preparation for Lord’s Supper, as some background music is played, I want to lead you through a time of prayer.

Before we come to the Lord’s Table, we are commanded to examine our hearts. Examine your speech. Are you speaking to other Christians in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? Or do you find yourself speaking negative words that discourage others? Do you sing and making music from your heart to the Lord, or has your heart grown silent and you are just paying lip service to God? Are you giving thanks from the bottom of your heart, or do you offer grumbling?

Examine your relationships. Your relationship with other brothers and sisters, your family relationships and your work relationships. Are you submitting to others in the fear of Christ? Or do you stubbornly refuse to bow the knee to others because you think you are always right? In a marriage relationship, if the husband and wife are in standstill and neither side is willing to submit before the other, then husbands, you must follow the example of Christ. He took the first step and laid down his life while the world was crucifying him. Make the first move, die to your pride and lay down your life for your wife as Christ did for the church.

Search your speech, search your relationships and search your hearts before the Lord. Take out the junk from your heart and ask the Spirit to fill it.

If you want to accept Christ or want to rededicate your life to the Lord, please come forward for prayer. Let’s pray.

2 Cor 5-6 – Teaching #5: The New Creation and the Ministry of Reconciliation (pt3 of 3)

The new creation changes the way believer’s view others, it changes their purpose, and lastly…

The new creation changes the character of a believer’s ministry.

Getting at the character of Paul’s ministry, the flavor of his ministry and Paul’s ethos as a minister is important for all Christians since every single believer is called to minister to others. If you study the life of Paul and try to use his life as a pattern to imitate, then you might be confused because Paul seems to contradict himself. At times, he seems to be all truth. Other times, he seems all grace. The pendulum keeps swinging to either extreme, it seems.

Was Paul a legalist? Where everything is black and white and there is no such thing as a gray area. Did Paul have a right answer in every circumstance? It’s my way or the highway approach to ministry. Well, no, I don’t think we would call Paul a legalist?

Then, is he permissive? A permissive person says, there is no black and white. Everything is a shade of gray. Everything is opinion and preference and so I will pray for you and you will pray for me and we will never confront sin in each other lives. And we will all live happy, God glorifying lives together but really apart. I don’t think we would call Paul a morally lax, permissive person.

If you look at 2 Cor 6:14-18, here Paul talks about Christians being in relationship with non-Christians. In this case, Paul brings out the hammer of truth. He doesn’t mince words. Listen to what he says in 2 Cor 6:14-17.

2 Cor 6
14 Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 15 What agreement does Christ have with Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement does God’s sanctuary have with idols? For we are the sanctuary of the living God, as God said: I will dwell among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. 17 Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you.

Harsh words. I didn’t really want to talk about dating and marriage, but it’s here in the text and Paul lays out a pretty strong position so allow me to go on a little digression. For Paul, it was inconceivable that a truly born again Christian would even desire to date or marry a non-Christian. Why? Because a believer and a non-believer have nothing in common. It’s like God’s sanctuary vs. idols–they share nothing in common at all. Or light vs. darkness. There is no fellowship between them. Those two things can’t co-exist. Or Christ vs. Belial, who is a demon. Those two are diametrically opposed to one another.

Paul says it’s the same for a Christian and a non-Christian. Sure, you may get along and have similar interests and like the same foods and watch the same movies. But that’s all surface level. For a Christian, Jesus is supposed to be the most important person in your life. And for a non-believer, Jesus is clearly not the most important person. So if you want to really connect with a person of the opposite gender and you intend to marry this person and you differ about Christ, this means for the believer, you won’t be able to share the deepest thing that defines who you are with your spouse.

You can chit chat with co-workers, but with your best friend, you go much deeper. How much more with your spouse, who is supposed to be your best friend who completes you. Christians share a deep bond with one another because we can share about something in common, namely our love for Jesus, which is so central to who we are. And in a marriage context, the bond is deeper because there are no masks. There is no hiding. You see this person everyday and they see you everyday, warts and all.

Thus, if you live with a person and you can’t talk about the thing that matters to you most, your relationship with Jesus, with your spouse, whom you are supposed to be intimate with in every way, what will end up happening is the Christian will need to keep stuffing his relationship with Jesus and keep his faith private. He or she will have to keep this part of his life to himself or herself and not share anything of real significance with his spouse. And in most cases, over time, the Christian will eventually push Jesus away from the center of his heart because you got to live life as a couple and it’s too painful to be reminded daily that you are living with someone with whom you can’t share the most important thing that defines your life.

In the beginning of your relationship with a non-Christian, Jesus might have been downtown in your heart, he was central. Over time, as the relationship with a person who can’t share the same love for Jesus continues, Jesus will get pushed out to the suburbs of your heart, to the fringes. So that you can go on in your relationship with the non-believer. It happens all the time when two people who do not share the same love for Christ come together.

Regarding this issue, Paul is all truth. He is bringing down the hammer of truth. This is the same gentle and gracious Paul who tells the believers in Rome to not criticize fellow weaker believers because God has accepted them.

How do we reconcile the strong, confrontational, truthful Paul with the gentle, gracious, accepting Paul? I’ve thought about this and studied this for many years. Here is my perspective. When it comes to black and white sin, Paul is in your face truth. He will not allow the gospel message to be compromised. He did not tolerate leaders who led the sheep astray by teaching a distorted gospel or a diluted gospel. He did not allow sinful, unrepentant sin to persist in the community without addressing it. But Paul was not a raging, hot-tempered, self-righteous legalist who wielded the hammer all the time. When it was a matter of preference, or the issue was a gray area and the Scripture is silent about what to do in a particular situation, then Paul practiced grace, especially when he was dealing with people who were immature in their faith.

2 Cor 6
3 We give no opportunity for stumbling to anyone, so that the ministry will not be blamed.

Jesus himself warned that we should handle the little ones with care. In fact, if we are the cause of one of his little ones to stumble, Jesus said, a millstone should be tied around our neck and we should be thrown into the sea. Basically, we should die. That’s how carefully we as ministers are to treat little ones in the flock.

In gray areas, Paul adjusted to whoever was in front of him. To the Jew, he became like a Jew, to win Jews. To the weak, he became weak, in order to win the weak. Paul became all things to all people, so that he may use every possible means to save some. Paul was a flexible minister. He wanted to save as many people are he could. Remember, at Corinth, Paul was trying to save Christians, not non-Christians. Even Christians can get lost and stumble and even lose their faith for a season.

On the one hand, Paul was truthful in matters of blatant, unrepentant sin. If Paul called a person to repent and they didn’t repent and they fell away from God because they had hardened their heart toward God due to sin in their life and their stubborn refusal to own up to it, then Paul would have a clear conscience, and so should we.

But when it came to the gray areas of life, esp. when he was dealing with those who were not yet mature in faith, Paul was gracious. Because our words are powerful. If Paul spoke strongly about a gray area and the Christian who is not yet mature hears those strong words and stumbles as a result, then 2 Cor 6:3, the ministry would be blamed or God would be discredited. If Paul was the cause of a little one stumbling over a debatable issue, then guess what? God would hold Paul responsible. Ministering to others is scary business.

If you recall, the false teachers commended themselves by holding up letters of recommendation and by hoarding money at Corinth that had been promised to the mission field and by keeping the flock in bondage under a heavy load of Jewish traditions and rules. Even to the point of striking someone at Corinth in the face and overall causing many sheep to suffer because of the leader’s self-centeredness and blindness. Listen to how Paul, in contrast, commends his ministry and this will give you a feel for the character of Paul as a minister.

2 Cor 6
4 But as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything… [HOW?} by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardship, by difficulties, 5 by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger, 6 by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, 7 by the message of truth, by the power of God; through weapons of righteousness on the right hand and the left, 8 through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; as deceivers yet true; 9 as unknown yet recognized; as dying and look—we live; as being disciplined yet not killed; 10 as grieving yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing yet possessing everything.

Character comes out when you are tested. Here, Paul shows what came out when he was tested. These verses are so helpful in giving us insight into Paul’s ministry, the character of his ministry, the flavor of his ministry, the ethos of his ministry. When you read this letter, 2 Corinthians, you almost get the sense that Paul is really, really insecure and so he is devastated by the Corinthians abandoning him as their leader and following someone else. We mustn’t forget–this whole letter was written to win the Corinthians, not back to Paul, but back to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was not an insecure leader who needed a great number of people to follow him.

How do we know that Paul did not take their rejection personally? Verses 6 and verse 8. Verse 6 – he had “sincere love.” Paul was the recipient of both “slander and good report.” Some ministers are great ministers as long as you give them good reports. As long as you are loyal. As long as you tell them how great they are and how lucky you are to have them as your leader. But as soon as the sheep slanders the leader, oh boy, the claws come out and the gloves come off. The leader turns on you. If you’ve been in church long enough, you know that many church splits are nasty. It makes you wonder, I thought we were all Christian. How can we part like this?

All the love that the leader had for you turns into hatred. Instantly. This is not sincere love. Sincere love means I love you no matter what you do to me. My kids, they can mess up and do bad things to me 100 times, 1000 times, and I would still love them. My love for them is sincere. It’s genuine. But if I stop loving somebody because they don’t treat me well or they slander me, then this shows I didn’t really love them. My love was insincere.

In ministry, our methodology matters. It’s not enough to say, I preach the gospel. As long as Christ is preached, I’m fine as a minister. Not true. The ends do not justify the means. The fact that Christ is preached does not justify the means through which we administer the gospel. If I preach the gospel and you are bound by me and you suffer because of my leadership, then something in my methodology is off. If I am slandered and I fight back with greater slandering remarks against you, then my love is not sincere. It was conditional love, it was, I will love you as long as you love me, or I will treat you nicely as long as you are loyal to me. That’s not love. Love is, I will love you no matter what you do to me.

A true minister says, I will never be the cause of your suffering. If you are suffering because of sin, then I will call you to repentance because I am seeking your redemption. But if it is a gray area, a true minister says, let me take on suffering for your sake. This is the character of Paul’s ministry. Isn’t this how Christ loved the church? While the church was unlovely, while we were still enemies of God, Jesus died on a cross and suffered. Though he was completely sinless, he became sin for us and suffered the death we deserved. For us to be a true minister of the gospel, this kind of selfless, sacrificial, sincere love that is willing to suffer on behalf of the person whom we love and suffer BECAUSE OF the people we love has to come through. As ministers, we will be rejected, we will be criticized, we will be slandered. This comes with the territory. This is the same kind of suffering Jesus had to go through. As followers of Christ, our greatest suffering will come from people we try to love but who reject us.

As ministers, take comfort from Paul’s words to the Romans 12:17-21. READ.

Based on these 2 chapters, the new creation changes 3 things in the life of a believer. First, the new creation changes the way they view others. No longer seeing them through fleshly eyes. Through eyes of race or competition or appearance. But seeing others with spiritual eyes. Second, the new creation changes their purpose. Before you met Christ, you lived for yourself. Now that you are saved, you live for the One who died and was raised. You live to persuade people, ministering to them and pleading with them to be reconciled to God. Lastly, the new creation changes the character of their ministry. We are not domineering. Nor are we doormats. We are truthful when it comes to black and white sin. We are gracious in the gray areas. Overall, we do not cause others to suffer. Rather, we suffer for the sake of the people whom we love, and often, we suffer as a direct result of the slander and dishonor and mistreatment of the very people we are trying to love.

Who can live like this? Only those who have experienced the new creation in their hearts.

Incarnation: Longing to See Jesus (pt2 of 3)

Now, I’d like to share 5 things that we learn about God through the incarnation. The incarnation is a theological term which basically refers to God sending His Son to earth to become a man. The Son of God became a man, He became flesh and dwelt with us. He lived among us. Your first reaction might be, why do I care? I don’t want to study theology. I’m not a seminary student. Why should I care about the incarnation? I’ll tell you why. Because the incarnation demonstrates that God is madly in love with you. This is why the Bible uses the metaphor of marriage to describe our relationship with Jesus. He is the bridegroom, we are the bride. He is passionate in his desire to be with you. And he will stop at nothing to have you.

Why should you care about the incarnation? Because if you leave it out, all you have is religion. And we too easily settle for religion instead of a love relationship. And because we too often settle for religion, deep down inside, you and I don’t really believe that God loves us. God loves me–yeah, I believe it the same way that I believe in gravity or that I believe that the sky is blue. It’s there. It’s descriptive. But it’s just a fact. A principle. Not something that radically re-orients my view about life, and God and my self-identity. It is my prayer that these 5 things will give you a new framework to know without a shadow of a doubt that God loves you.

1) The incarnation starts with the love of God, not our love for him.
2) The incarnation demonstrates that everything in Scripture points to Christ.
3) The incarnation did not end with Christ’s resurrection and ascension, but now as believers, Christ dwells, tabernacles with us.
4) The incarnation goes beyond this life and points to future glory.
5) Lastly, because of #1-4, the incarnation produces in us a sense of longing.

1) The incarnation starts with the love of God, not our love for him.

Please turn with me to 1 John 4:8-10.

1 John 4
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Let’s stop there. 1 John 4 defines the essence of God as love. And John says, if you don’t know love, then you don’t have a clue who God is. Because love and God are the same thing. Love is the definition of God. How did God show love to us? v9 – by sending his one and only Son into the world–that’s the incarnation.

And in case there is any confusion, John adds v10–

1 John 4
10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The starting point is that God loved us first, NOT that we loved God. The order is critical. Why? We want the verse to read, this is love, we loved God and He took notice. We loved God and therefore He rewarded us with love in return. We loved God and therefore we are worthy of salvation. We want to be in control. We want to come to God on our terms. We want to build a tower that reaches the heavens. Through our efforts and our sacrifices and the goodness in our hearts, we want to extend our hands and touch God.

But John sets us straight. He says, you and I are hopelessly lost in your sins. Even if God allowed us to live for a million years, we would never be able to find our way to God. From the beginning, the only way that we could be saved is God had to come down to our level. He had to descend down to the pits of hell and pluck us out by His mercy and grace.

Why did God send His Son into the world? Why was there an incarnation? What purpose did it fulfill? God’s Son was sent to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Jesus was born into the world to die on a cross. For your sins and mine. He came to reconcile sinners with God. This is the gospel. As sinners before a Holy God, we deserve death. Yet, Jesus died in our place as an atoning sacrifice. His blood was shed so that we could be spared.

The incarnation starts with God’s love for us. Period. God loves us. Not the other way around. Our love for God was insufficient to save. Our love for God was too weak and our sin too great. Our love for God is only a response after we realize that God loved us first.

2) The incarnation demonstrates that everything in Scripture points to Christ.

How do I know this? Jesus says it himself in John 5. He is addressing the Jewish religious leaders when he says in v39-40–

John 5
39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

This is so important. You can diligently study the Scriptures and completely miss the point. You can be a biblical scholar or a seminary professor, but if you’re goal is off, then at the end of your career, all that you have is some lifeless trivia and facts. Why do we study Scripture? What are they pointing to? Christ. They testify about Christ. They encourage us to draw near to Christ as he has already drawn near to us. When you read Scripture, you have to have the right lens. How do I see Christ through this passage? The lens is Christ. You always have to be on the lookout for Christ as you read Scripture, or you are missing the point.

Take for example the tabernacle, the movable tent in Moses’ day, or the temple, the permanent structure in Jerusalem in Solomon’s day. These were pointers or types of heaven and ultimately to Christ. In Exodus, why are there 10-20 chapters about how to build the tabernacle? Because this is going to represent heaven on earth.

Do you know what you see when you go into the tabernacle? Deep blue, some scarlet, some purple, and you would see angels. Smoke from the sacrifices outside. Incense burning from inside. Think about the scene as you walk in. There would be smoke, it would be cloudy, misty, hazy, it’s like the set of a low budget B movie. No special effects because there is not enough money to add CGI and 3D. Walking into the tabernacle, you were meant to be transported to heaven on earth.

The tabernacle was always set up in the center of the camp. God was trying to communicate, I dwell with you. I will be a God to you. And you will be my people. God dwelling in the midst of his people. God has always been interested in incarnation.

Connecting this imagery of the tabernacle as heaven on earth, Jesus says in John 2:19–

John 2
19 …“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Jesus is speaking about his own body. He is the new temple. He made his dwelling with us.

Every time we open Scripture, we are trying to get a glimpse at Jesus, we are trying to hear from Jesus.

Related to this, Jesus is more than a temple out there. He’s more than the external Other.

3) The incarnation did not end with Christ’s resurrection and ascension, but now as believers, Christ dwells, tabernacles with us. Actually inside us.

In Col 1:26-27, Paul reveals that the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations is now revealed and it is this. The Christ who incarnated, the Christ who left the glory of heaven to take on human flesh, the Christ who is the new temple, the Christ who died for your sins and mine, THIS Christ is now in you. Meaning, he has tabernacled with you. He dwells in your heart. What a radical concept that the God of the Universe, Christ, is in us. It’s hard to get our minds wrapped around that concept. It’s awesome. It should blow us away.

In 1 Cor 6, Paul adds that our bodies are now the temple of the Holy Spirit. Christ is in us, and also the Holy Spirit is in us, not only is Christ the temple, but we, too, are the temple. In addition, the incarnation can be seen in the language of the Holy Spirit being given to us as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. The Holy Spirit’s job is to remind us of Christ, His death and His work on the cross. The Holy Spirit constantly, continually points us to Jesus.

But in the context of 2 Cor 1:21-22 and the Holy Spirit being given to us as a deposit, the Holy Spirit has another function. The Holy Spirit is a guarantor. He guarantees what is to come. You put down a deposit when you are about to purchase something or you are making a reservation. And you are basically promising, this deposit is my commitment that I am going to make good on this promise to give you the rest of the payment later on.

What does this deposit of the Holy Spirit guarantee? It guarantees Christ’s return. It guarantees that Christ is going to return for you. It’s like an engagement ring. You give an engagement ring to your fiance as a promise, I will marry you. In Revelation, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the church is referred to as the bride of Christ. It’s a big, cosmic wedding feast. In preparation for that day, Christ has given his bride-to-be a deposit to ensure that he will return for everyone who has repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ. He will return for us because he is madly in love with us.

The incarnation is all about love. The Word became flesh. There are times when the Word of God is spoken or read and it’s like the words leap off the pages. It happens at important times in your life. A critical juncture, a big decision, a tragedy and the Word of God comes alive. That’s Jesus incarnating in your life. The Word becoming flesh. It is in those moments when Jesus reminds us, don’t worry, I know it’s tough, but hang in there, trust me, I love you. I dwell with you. I’m coming back for you. Here, in case you don’t believe that I’m coming back, here’s the Holy Spirit. Here’s my deposit. That’s incarnation.