Vision

In Paul's second letter to Timothy he writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) My prayer for this ministry is that by rightly dividing the Scriptures, I might be able to facilitate all those aspects of the Scriptures to the benefit of all those who visit this website.

Mission

The mission of this ministry is to be consistent with Jesus' original command to his disciples: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" Matthew 28:18-20

Personal Disclosure

I am a fellow traveler who doesn't have all the answers and still makes many mistakes. However, I am desperately in love with Jesus Christ, the one and only King of kings, and I am so amazed that he knows exactly who I am and yet still died on the cross for me, then rose from the dead and called me to be His follower!

God's Message To You

"Dear Child,

I wanted you to know just how much I loved you so I sent my only Son, Jesus, to tell you and show you. If you make the decision to believe in Him, then you and I will be able to spend eternity together! I Love You!" (John 3:16 paraphrase)

Method

“Here there is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment.

Here there is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think.

Here is vibrant evangelicalism—freedom to think within the bounds laid down by Scripture.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

This Far And No Farther!


(Audio Version; Music: "How Deep The Father's Love For Us," by Stuart Townend--WorshipMob--Real.Live.Music)






Introduction

I am convinced that the Church is the light in a dark world that is in desperate need of direction and hope. Jesus is Lord and Savior and the Church must reflect his magnificence. That means Christians must practice unconditional love the way Jesus practiced unconditional love—by practicing unrestrictive love as well. I know they sound similar and they are to a certain degree with one major distinction: Unconditional love says I love you just as you are with all your sin and brokenness and unrestrictive love says I love you too much to leave you in your sin and brokenness. You can see Jesus model this in the way He interacted with the woman caught in adultery. Let me just quickly refresh your memory:

3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin (Jn 8:3-11).”

Who doesn’t love this story? I can easily see myself in this story of the woman caught in adultery—obviously not as a woman and not as an adulterer but definitely as one who has sinned and deserves to be condemned. My sin was and is no better or worse than that of the adulterous woman. However, Jesus demonstrated His love for me when he died on the cross and I avoid condemnation for my sins because I have accepted his sacrifice for my sins. Jesus died for me knowing in advance that I would sin. That is the perfect model of unconditional love. However, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide us along the path to live lives according to the Scriptures—the work of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives is God’s conduit for unrestrictive love. We tend to replay the story of the woman caught in adultery all the way up to the point where Jesus says that He does not condemn her because we love the idea of unconditional love. However, note that Jesus’ interaction with her doesn’t end at that point. Instead, He demonstrates unrestrictive love for her by telling her to leave her life of sin. That’s the part that makes so many Christians uncomfortable—they don’t want to be condemned for their sins but they don’t want to leave them behind either. Let me summarize it this way: Unrestrictive love is the selfless act of seeking the best interest of others above all else. It is in no way intended to convey a message of accepting any and all behavior! Let me illustrate this from within my own family; my youngest daughter just turned 21 and my oldest daughter is almost 23. I love them both unconditionally with my whole heart and I know my wife, does as well. However, there have been times in each of their lives when we have had to intervene in their lives and insist that they modify their respective behaviors and/or attitudes. Those times were painful and difficult but they are both now such amazing, godly, young women. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not trying to pat myself on the back. Instead, I share this with you because unrestrictive love for another may in fact mean having a difficult conversation with them or disciplining them even while loving them unconditionally. While this is an extremely difficult relational dynamic that is often neglected within our homes, it is practically absent in our churches. I have only met one pastor, the one who inspired me to pursue a life of ministry, who has had the courage to discipline a church member. It was a beautifully loving act that brought about correction, reconciliation and rehabilitation. It was a biblical practice we rarely see in our churches today. Most churches thrive on the message of grace to the exclusion of virtually everything else. This is particularly true in today’s mega-churches although I have no doubt the attitude is pervasive in many other churches irrespective of size. The thinking behind this strategy is that it is far better for sinners to attend church and continue to hear the gospel message than for sinners to be kept outside the Church. And you know what? I agree! However, please hear what I’m saying, I’m not saying that sinners in need of salvation should somehow “clean-up” before they come to church to hear the gospel message. That would be foolish; the sick don't first get well before they go to the hospital, they go to the hospital to get well! No, I’m talking about those who have already accepted Christ as their savior and consider themselves part of the Church yet knowingly and willingly sin without any real desire or plan to stop their sinful behaviors or attitudes. Church leaders and confessing Christians must be willing to draw a line in the sand established by the teaching of Scripture when it comes to sinful behavior and attitudes by confessing Christians and have the courage to say, This Far And No Farther! If church leaders and confessing Christians are unwilling to do so then it gives the impression to a watching world that we are more concerned with money or being popular or being entertaining or being entertained than we are in reflecting the purity, holiness, and righteousness of God’s character!

So what lit my fuse that inspired this particular teaching? I live in what could be described as a very liberal area of Colorado; politically, socially, morally and spiritually. Consequently, it is not at all unusual to see a bumper sticker that spells out “COEXIST” using various symbols representing the letters. Let me explain each letter in case you are unfamiliar with this particular expression:

“C” Uses the symbol of Islam
“O” Uses the symbol of peace
“E” Uses the symbol for males/females (Given the context of belief systems represented, it could represent humanism or even atheism)
“X” Uses the symbol for Judaism
“I” Is dotted with the Wiccan Pentacle
“S” Uses the symbol for Confucianism
“T” Uses the symbol of the Cross for Christianity

The message advances the idea of harmonious and peaceful coexistence of peoples of all faiths and belief systems because of the inherent equality of all faiths and belief systems. A nice sentiment but that’s not possible with Jesus! For example, what in the world would a Wiccan (witchcraft) Pentacle, which is also the symbol for Satanism, have to do with the Cross of Jesus; are you kidding me!?! Can those two ever exist together in harmony? How about Christianity and Islam—can they live together in harmony? We could ask the Christians in the Middle-East what they think about that but many have been murdered by Muslims and the rest are running for their lives. No, nothing can ever hold a position of equality with Jesus—even humanity that has been created in the image of God. It must be Jesus and nothing and no one else. If that means speaking out against everything that presumes a position of equality with Jesus then we must speak out. Sometimes that means strife and conflict but that’s not necessarily unbiblical. Jesus must be the hill we are willing to die on. Jesus must be the line in the sand; the point at which we say This Far And No Farther! Remember that Jesus Himself said that He did not come to bring peace but the sword; it’s Jesus and only Jesus (Matt. 10:34-36)! Certainly Christians can all agree on that can’t we? We can excuse the ignorance of an unbelieving world, but this should never be in dispute in the Church—right? Well I always thought so but recently while driving home from work, I noticed on the rear bumper of the car in front of me plastered right next to a “COEXIST” sticker, the sticker from a very popular, local “evangelical” church. All I could do is shake my head as the car drove off. I’m not saying the church represented by that sticker has a duty to inspect the car of everyone in their church and legislate who can or can't use their bumper sticker; that would be ridiculous. However, I am familiar with this particular church’s ministry philosophy and they are concerned primarily with getting people, believers and unbelievers, through their doors and thereafter hope they keep coming back every week to hear something that might somehow transform their lives. I wonder what would happen if this church and others (probably most others) would be willing to confront the believers in their own church community about their unrepentant sinful behavior that is on display right before the watchful eyes of the unbelieving community in their midst. What do you suppose would happen if biblical discipline were once again practiced in our churches? I might be wrong but my guess is the term “mega-church” would become an extinct historical phenomenon as opposed to a present reality. In fact, I wonder how many churches would be able to fill a living room let alone a sports arena as some are in the habit of doing now.

The failure of a church to discipline its own believers can serve to impact the local community surrounding a particular church but its failure to deal with the willful sin of its members can reach across an entire country and even around the world. Let me show you. In case you were previously unaware, our President, who professes to be a Christian, has publicly endorsed same-sex marriages. The purpose of this writing is not intended to be political or a dissertation on the politics of same-sex marriage. The purpose is to illustrate how someone who professes to be a Christian can perpetuate sin when the church to which they belong fails in its duty to discipline its members. It will be sufficient for the purposes of this writing to stipulate that same-sex marriage (homosexuality) falls under the biblical category of “sexual immorality.” Homosexuality was considered to be sexually immoral in the Old Testament and is consistently condemned as sexually immoral in the New Testament as well; there is no equivocation or gray area in this respect (cf. Lev. 18:22, 24 and Rom. 1:18-32). Having established that position, the President’s announcement wasn’t, for me at least, the saddest part of this particular issue. No, the worst part was the comment made by his pastor/mentor of an evangelical mega-church in Florida. The pastor said he wished the President would have contacted him before he made the announcement to give him an opportunity to talk him out of it. The pastor said he disagreed with the President. However, he closed his comments by reiterating that he nevertheless supports the President! Really!?! How does that help the President correct an unbiblical, sinful, attitude about a behavior that is clearly considered sinful? What happened to talking him out of it? How did the President’s sinful behavior prevent his pastor/mentor from discharging the duties of his pastoral office? This has absolutely nothing to do with politics as far as I’m concerned. What is the President and his pastor saying to other Christians? The office of the President of the United States of America is perhaps the most powerful position in the world. With that position comes significant influence and persuasion. If the President, a professing Christian, endorses sexual immorality and that position is then reinforced by a prominent evangelical pastor who neglects his duty to discipline a Christian from his community of believers, then what should other Christians think and do? And what is the unbelieving world supposed to think and do? Perhaps this pastor thinks he is practicing unconditional love but he is actually allowing the President, those who are influenced by the President and perhaps those in his own church to destroy themselves because of his failure to at least attempt to carry out his pastoral duties of discipline! If we allow people to destroy themselves, does it really matter if we showed them unconditional love? Wouldn’t unrestrictive love have been better? If your child, or any child for that matter, wants to play in traffic, what kind of love would support their right to do so even though you don’t agree with them because of the possible dangers? The right kind of love, unrestrictive love, would drag them out of the street and discipline them until they understood the gravity of their actions?

Lest you think that I am merely spouting my own opinions, Paul had to deal with an issue of sexual immorality in the church in Corinth that will serve to make my point about what can happen when church leaders refuse to carry out all the duties of their pastoral office. Let’s look at what Paul has to say:

Subject Text

1 Corinthians 5:1-13

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.
2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

Context

As always, it is important to place this text in its proper context. Corinth was a major metropolitan city. It was an extremely influential trade center and the most important city in the region. The church in Corinth was established by Paul during his second journey through the area and consisted primarily of Gentiles. The city was renowned for its idolatry and immorality. It is within this context that Paul addresses a particular form of sexual immorality within the Corinthian church. The Corinthian church had the ability to influence, for good or for bad, not only those within their immediate community but also those who travelled from far away lands to observe the actions and attitudes of her members as they went about their business.

Text Analysis

In v. 1 we learn that there is a particularly serious case of sexual immorality within the church that has come to Paul's attention; a man within the church is having a sexual relationship with his mother (probably his step-mother, based on the text, but that does not mitigate the affront that the sin creates). The force of the Greek makes clear that this is more than a one-time event. Instead, this particular relationship is ongoing. To make matters worse, incest was a sexual immorality that was particularly heinous not only in Judaism, but according to Paul, within the Greek culture as well. Even the Greeks, who tolerated pretty much everything, thought this was heinous! Paul uses the Greek word, porneia, from which the English word pornography is derived, to identify this incident of sexual immorality. However, porneia is a general term that encompasses any sexual immorality. “The word was picked up in Hellenistic Judaism, always pejoratively, to cover all extramarital sins and aberrations, including homosexuality.”[1] “Sexual immorality” is a very broad biblical category that encompasses all sex-based sins. Rather than trying to list them all, a good, basic biblical definition of sexual immorality would be any sexual activity (including, but not limited to, intercourse) outside the context of traditional marriage between one man and one woman.

As bad as the sexual immorality was that Paul describes in v. 1, what really has Paul burning is the fact that no one in the church is doing anything about it. Not only that but they are acting as though nothing has happened; as though grace now mitigates all sin and makes it irrelevant. The Greek word translated by the NIV as “pride” can also be translated as; “self-important,” “arrogant,” or “complacent.” Paul insists that they should have been grieving for the one who had fallen into sin not basking in their new-found graces. Paul then says something that is at the heart of the message I’m trying to convey through this particular teaching. Paul says that they should have removed the sinner from their fellowship. “A formal state of mourning would stamp the life and worship of the church objectively and publicly in a way which it would thereby make it intolerable for the offender to remain, and would then in all probability have made his own choice to leave (or to change his lifestyle). He would know that he blighted the church's life.”[2] In case those who read this part of Paul’s letter were not quite sure what he meant by “removing this sinner from their fellowship,” he makes his point perfectly clear later in this section of verses.

In vv. 3-4 Paul reiterates his authority to pass judgment on this follower even though he is not present with them physically but is united with them in spirit/Spirit. His point is not to be understood as saying that only he has the right to pass judgment on this person because of his position but that he has done so where they have failed to do so.

V. 5 can be very confusing but is one of the two primary purposes behind Paul's instruction to remove this particular sinner from their fellowship. What does Paul mean when he says, “hand this man over to Satan?” It is doubtful that Paul meant an actual physical act of delivering this person to Satan. Instead, “The language means to turn him back out to Satan’s sphere. This does not mean that Satan would not directly attack him in some way, but that is incidental to the language, not its primary intent. In contrast to the gathered community of believers who experience the Spirit and power of the Lord Jesus in edifying gifts and loving concern for one another, this man is to be put back out into the world, where Satan and his ‘principalities and powers’ still hold sway over people’s lives to destroy them.”[3] How, you might be asking, does being separated from the community of believers help this man? Well, according to Paul, it serves the purpose of destroying the man’s sinful nature and making it possible for him to be ultimately saved. “What Paul was desiring by having this man put outside the believing community was the destruction of what was ‘carnal’ in him, so that he might be saved ‘eschatalogically’...In this case, as most often in Paul, ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ designate the whole person as viewed from different angles. ‘Spirit’ means the whole person as oriented towards God. ‘Flesh’ means the whole person as oriented away from God. The ‘destruction’ of the sinful nature would thus belong to the same kind of imagery as in ‘crucifying’ it (Gal. 5:24; cf. Rom. 7:5-6).”[4]

Vv. 6-8 Describe the second of the two primary purposes behind Paul’s instruction to remove this sinner from their fellowship. The purpose is to maintain the purity of their community. Paul uses the illustration of yeast to make his point. Just as yeast works its way into and throughout an entire batch of dough, so does immorality work its way into and throughout an entire community of believers (v. 6). Let me illustrate Paul’s point by using a more contemporary illustration. According to a Gallup poll, nearly 80% of all Americans profess to be Christians. However, 51% of all Americans agree with the President’s approval of same-sex marriages. I may not be great at math but that represents a clear majority of professing Christians who approve of same-sex marriage! How could this happen? I suspect that some small sexual immorality was tolerated at some point and has now begun to work its way throughout the entire believing community much like yeast works its way through a batch of dough. Paul implores the church to remove the yeast (the sinful man) so that they can be a fresh batch of dough without yeast (v. 7). Once the sinful man is removed, they can then celebrate community without the contamination of this sinful man (v. 8).

Vv. 9-11 Expand on what Paul intends when he instructs the church to remove this man from their fellowship. We might think that this simply means that he is no longer welcome at spiritual gatherings. But this would necessarily imply that there is a distinction between sacred life and secular life. This would never have been Paul’s understanding of life. Instead, Paul’s instruction “not to associate with” means not, "To ‘mix up together’; in the context of social intercourse it means [not] to ‘mingle with’ or ‘associate with’ in a close way."[5] The past tense grammatical context of vv. 9-10 would seem to imply that Paul had written them previously about either this matter or a similar matter. Whatever the case may have been, Paul makes his point crystal clear in v. 11 when he says that they are not to “associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral (along with a long list of other sinful behaviors and attitudes).” In fact, they are not to even share a meal with such a person. It is quite clear that Paul is drawing a line in the sand that the community of believers are to separate themselves in every way from this man. It is, however, important to note that Paul is only speaking of disassociating with believers who are unrepentant and not unbelievers who don’t know any better. This is an important distinction and a matter of grace as I explain below.

In vv. 12-13 Paul wants to make sure that it is understood that judgment for those outside the Church is prosecuted differently than judgment inside the Church. “If people wonder about those outside, outsiders do not escape responsibility for their lifestyles; they have God as their judge, but it is not for the church to try to impose its corporate house rules upon them. This does not imply that the church should keep silent about what God has ordained for the welfare of humanity. But it places its imposition of ‘rules of conduct’ for the internal affairs of the church and the external affairs of the world on different footing. Against the laissez-faire, consumerism culture of today, Paul asserts that to become part of the Christian community is to explicitly place oneself under the discipline of the Christian lifestyle.”[6]

Application

Some of you who have been reading this might have been asking yourselves this question: Where does grace fit in? Well that’s a great question to ask in the context of faith, discipline and love. Let me try and explain it this way: Grace is the hand that welcomes the unbeliever through the doors of the church to hear the message of salvation. Grace prays diligently and waits patiently for unbelievers to make a commitment to become followers of Christ. Grace welcomes unbelievers to the community of faith through confession, repentance and baptism. Grace is patient with mistakes and setbacks in the believer's life of faith. Grace lovingly removes an unrepentant believer from the community of faith as an act of love for the unrepentant believer and an act of love for believers and unbelievers who remain in the community of faith. Grace prays diligently and waits patiently at the door for an unrepentant believer to repent and return. Grace welcomes an repentant believer back to the community of faith through confession, repentance and forgiveness. This is a picture of true Grace; this is a picture of true love; unrestrictive love.

Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth and for us today is not rooted in hatred for sinners. On the contrary, Paul’s instructions are rooted in love for those who are still lost, for those who have become lost and for the well-being of those who are not lost. If we are to fulfill our mission to go to all corners of the world to make disciples of all nations, it is incumbent on us that we properly instruct the disciples we have already made. Sometimes that’s difficult; sometimes that’s confrontational; sometimes that’s painful; sometimes that requires us to say This Far And No Farther! In the end, however, it will be worth it for those within the Church and for those outside the Church as well. “A holy congregation, which graciously cleans its own house to preserve its purity but which does not expect the same standards of obedience from the unregenerate, can profoundly impact an unholy world.”[7]



[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman's Publishing, 1987), p. 200.
[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000) p. 388).
[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 209.
[4] Ibid., p. 212.
[5] Ibid., p. 222.
[6] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. p. 417.
[7] Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 115.