Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Incisive Words from a Loving Heart

Every part of man was created by God for his glory.
Your hands,
your feet,
your reproductive organs,
your brain.

From head to toe, every part of you were created by him and for him (Col.1:16). But when man fell into sin, we rejected God’s purpose for our body: we use our hands in ways dishonoring to God. We use our feet to go where God does not want us to go. We use our brains for scheming evil or for creative ungodly imaginations.

No wonder when we were redeemed, God demanded that we should use every part of us to serve him. He wants us to remember that we are not our own, we were bought with a price.

1 Cor. 6:18-20: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Our speech components were also redeemed by God. Consider how the bible describes how we use our speech components before we were saved:

Romans 3:13-14 "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." “"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness."

And so now that we are saved and God is in the business of sanctifying us, he is after the transformation of our speech:

Eph. 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”

God wants us to use our lips in such a way that that will bring nourishment and health to others:

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Prov. 16:24).

There is no room for verbal abuse in the life of a Christian.

Prov. 12:18: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Men are in possession of a deadly weapon, and they are all licensed to carry it—that deadly weapon is the tongue.

But we could also err on the other side. We could also misuse our lips when we offer sweet candies when a brother needs a bitter pill. We could misuse our tongues when we give a kiss when what is needed is a surgery.

There are two things I want to address:
1.       On the part of the speaker- we desire to be liked; we want to be adorable. In real life, you want to be admired. You don’t want to play the role of Romy Diaz or Bella Flores in other people’s lives. You want to be as sweet as possible.
2.       On the part of the listener- You like kind people; you like persons who are nice to you.

Because of these factors, both the speaker and the listener may disregard Prov. 27:6

 “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (NIV)

Hebrews 5:11-6:8:
Some time ago, I preached on Heb.5:11-14. That Message titled The Dangers of and Cure for Dullness of Hearing.” I received some good feedback when I preached it. Thanks for receiving it not as my word but as the word of God. One feedback I received was while he was listening was “para akong sinasampal”. You see, these words are sharp-edged. Not even the barrage of jokes I released that morning intercepted the flying arrows from this text. Let us go through the verses and feel the blades:

5:11- “you have become so dull in hearing”
5:12- “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the ABC’s of the faith.
5:13-14 you have become spiritual Bondyings, what you need is not solid food but milk

But the incisive words doesn’t end at chapter 5’s last verse, they kept coming even in the next chapter where he implied that their present condition, if it goes unchecked might end in apostasy

6:4-6  if those who were exposed to the spiritual experiences that you have shall fall away, it will be impossible to renew them to repentance
6:6- he equates the state of these apostates as a re-crucifixion of Christ

These are really incisive words yet there is more to come.
6:7-8- he presents an illustration on what apostasy is.

“Hebrews 6:7-8 "Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Hear what he is saying:It is expected for a piece of land to produce a harvest of useful stuff for the one who cultivates—but after all the rain and cultivation it produces thorns and thistles, it must be rejected. It should be cursed and burned. If after all the blessing of God in your lives, if after all the means of grace that he has given to you like the church, fellowship and bible knowledge, if you life yields thorns instead of useful crop, you are good for nothing. And you deserve judgment.

Words that are:
Pointed… bladed… Sharp… incisive…

Hebrews 6:9-12
Does he lack love for others? No. The word rendered as “beloved” or “dear friends” in verse 9 is a term of endearment. It is a word to express affection. It is also significant that in the whole epistle, it is only used here. The writer knows how heavy his previous statements. Surely, there will be an impression among the readers that he hates them. So he uses this word to send the message that though he has some critical things to say, he loves them.

Does he lack respect for others? No. In fact he has a high view of them. He is very much convinced that they are true converts and that they will not fall away. Though they have reached this sorrowful condition called “Dullness of hearing”, the writer is very much convinced that they will bounce back and recover:

“Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case--things that accompany salvation.” (Heb.6:9)

He knows the sharpness of the words he has used but he says that even though he speaks as harsh as this, he does not really believe they will end in apostasy as described in verses 4-8. They were once at the peak of spirituality. Sadly, their feet slipped considerably down the slope towards this condition called “dullness of hearing”. When this downgrade progresses, they may fall at the lowest level called apostasy. So the author of Hebrews warns them about it, yet though he speaks this way, he is confident that they will slide on that level. He has this certainty that they will continue in this path of salvation.

What makes him so confident that they will not fall away?
1st, he has observed their life and saw works done and the love shown in the service of others for the name of Christ a (v.10, Heb.10:32-34)--- that was in the early days. At present, perhaps it has diminished a little because of their present spiritual condition that’s why he was asking them to remember the earlier days. But it has not totally disappeared and that service continues. (v.10).

He is confident that they will not fall away because he has observed their lives and recognize good fruit. See how Paul was convinced that the Thessalonians were chosen by God (1 Thess. 4-10).

2nd, he based it on the character of God as just. Because he is just, he doesn’t ignore the works done in his service. I have said this before, and I’ll say it again. Pres. Marcos issued the Labor law as a presidential decree. For all the evil he is known for, he wants justice for the labor sector. God is infinitely more just than Marcos. He will not ignore the labors done for him—works that he himself gave us the desire and the ability to do (Phil.2:13)

Now if he is convinced that they belong among God’s elect, why then does he said those incisive warnings about apostasy?

You see, like the rest of us, our observations about a person’s life and his eternal destiny are subjective. I have some Professing Christian friends. As I observe their lives, I come up with varying conclusions. For some of my friends, I am almost certain that they are indeed true Christians; for some, I really doubt their Christianity; and still for others, I’m not sure. It is all subjective—according to my perceptions only. Only God knows who are truly elect and who are not. I can’t know for sure because God did not leave a visible tattoo on their skins. My only basis is that if they are continuing in the faith.

The author of Hebrews wrote those incisive words with a desired effect in mind. What is it? It is there in v. 11-12 “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” This is a desire so strong that the NET renders it as “But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness…”

This pattern of hard work and love that you have set in the past, we want to see continued until the end. This thing that has convinced me that you are indeed the elect of God, I want to see until the end. I am convinced that you are truly of God, but I must continue witnessing it. If this diligence evaporates, so is my confidence about your salvation. You must continue in your diligence to make your hope sure.  I must say these incisive words so you will not fall into laziness. We want you to hold on to your Faith and patience so that in the end, you will posses what was promised.

His desired effect then for his incisive words is that it may serve as a means of their perseverance in the faith. That is the 5th point of our Calvinistic doctrine of salvation (the doctrines of grace)—those who are elect and are drawn irresistibly by his grace shall persevere  in the faith until the end. But God works through means. As an article in the canons of Dort puts it: “And, just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the proclamation of the gospel, so he preserves, continues, and completes his work by the hearing and reading of the gospel, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises…” (I removed the sacramental part, but to this part, I agree).

We are preserved not just with the comforting exhortations and lovely promises but also by the dreadful threats… and so the Book of Hebrews is full of threats.

John Piper explains the necessity of the word of God for our perseverance:
“We can say that eternal security is certain for the Christian, yet avoid a mechanical view that drains the blood-earnestness right out of the weekly ministry of preaching to the saints. Biblically God uses the earnest application of the means of grace to hold his people secure; one of those means is the preaching of God’s Word. Heaven and hell are at stake every Sunday morning not merely because unbelievers are present, but also because our people are saved “IF they continue in the faith” (Col. 1:23) (The Supremacy of God in Preaching)

BUT THAT is just Dort… that is just Piper. What I want is Scripture—okay, so I will give you Scripture:

Heb.3:13: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.”

As we minister the word of God to each other, we strengthen each other’s resistance against sin. Your brother, your sister who sits beside you is an instrument of God for your perseverance in the faith.

My final words for recipients of rebuke:
1.       Be open to criticism
2.       When you are wounded emotionally, test whether the wound came from the world or from the Scriptures. If it comes from the world, you are a victim. Yet do not retaliate. Leave it to God; he knows what to do.
3.       But if the wound inflicted upon your soul is scriptural, count it as a blessing.
4.       Do not be suspicious about the other person’s motive when he rebukes you. The efficacy of the word of God is not dependent upon the motive of the instrument. Paul can even rejoice about people whose intentions are wrong provided that they have the right message (Phil.1:15-18). God can use a person with wrong motives for your sanctification as long as their rebuke is biblically valid.

For rebuke givers,
1.       Be open to criticism too.
2.       Do not utter incisive words just for the sake of wounding the feelings of the brethren.
3.       Do not utter incisive words just to show that you are right and they are wrong
4.       The wounds must be inflicted by the scriptures, not your personal preferences, opinions, or your vitriolic personality and vocabulary
5.       Lastly, use incisive words sparingly. Do it when it is badly needed. Do not neglect the other means of sharing God’s word like reminding them of the promises of God, testifying about his goodness and acts, encouraging the weary. I do not want to be around people whose exclusive ministry is rebuking.
6.       In short, Make sure first that you love the persons you are correcting. Incisive words must have a definite end, that is their sanctification and their perseverance

Photo Credit: Thanks to Simon Howden who has kindly offered the image I used above at Howden's portfolio is found here

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