Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Understanding the Godhead, or "Trinity"

I have watched several religious debates on YouTube these last few days (as I've completed mindless activities associated with the preparation and distribution of our monthly newsletter) between supposed Christian apologists and Mormon apologists. While these debates have been very interesting and informative for a number of reasons, one issue that has been consistently raised is that of the Godhead, or what many refer to as the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

The Mormons believe that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all divine (or so they claim) and yet they argue that they are three distinct persons and therefore take the position (technically) that there are three gods. Of course, they also believe in a "Mother Goddess" and that we can become gods.

On the other hand, Christians generally believe in what we term the "Trinity" which states that there are three personages within one God. The Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there is just one God.

I'm not as concerned about the Mormon's position on this issue. Mormonism is a false religion and while I am certainly willing to address any of their false doctrines, I am more concerned at this time with the inability of Christians to explain one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Bible: the nature of the Godhead.

Is it possible that we must simply accept a very difficult position on the basis of faith because, whether we understand it or not, it's taught in the Scriptures? Absolutely. Do I have to understand something to believe it? Not at all. There are a lot of things that the Bible teaches that I don't believe any of us can truly comprehend. Also, the Bible is silent about many things (e.g. all of the happenings of the spiritual realm, God's activities before He created the earth, the exact nature of heaven, etc.) that we may waste a lot of time trying to understand. This is a part of what it means to have faith in God. Even when there are things we can't fully explain or understand, we accept humbly what the good Lord says knowing that He's right no matter what.

And so regarding the Godhead, how do we understand the fact that Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God...and yet there is one God? Wouldn't that be THREE gods? This is the argument the Mormons would make as well as many others. It almost seems laughable to many and totally contradictory to good, sound reason. Again, maybe it is that we CANNOT fully comprehend this and that we just need  to accept it.

But maybe there's a pretty simple explanation.

I believe there is, and I believe it has to do with understanding what is meant by "one."

Regarding marriage, God has said that "a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Jesus says that "the two shall become one flesh" (Mt. 19:5). These verses teach us that, in the eyes of God, when a man and woman marry, there is a sense in which they become "one." Do they become one literal person, one physical entity? Or does the term "one" here merely designate a kind of unity that is achieved between the man and woman?

We are also given a lot of insight into oneness in John 17:20-21 when Jesus says in prayer, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me." Here, the "oneness" of God is used as an illustration for the oneness of the disciples. Just as God and His Son are "one" so also are fellow believers to be "one." Again, what are we talking about here? Do disciples coalesce into one homogeneous life-form? Of course not. Jesus is discussing UNITY. In fact, in places like 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:4, we're told that there is "one body" (i.e. church) that consists of many members.

Here's what I'm getting it (if it's not already obvious): I don't believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is some intangible, unexplainable thing. When I articulate that the Father is God, that Jesus is God and that the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there is but one God, not three...what I am referring to is the perfect unity that exists between the three members of the Godhead. They are one in the sense that they are completely and totally unified in mind and purpose.

While our marriages or churches may not always reflect this perfect unity, this is the unity for which we are to strive (1 Cor. 1:10) and thankfully (and beautifully), the Godhead is the perfect model for us in this regard.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

More on a Husband's Role

I preached this past Sunday night on marriage roles. The lesson was based in Ephesians 5:22-33 and was specifically called, "Establishing Headship in the Home." I chose this title for a reason. You see, there is no question biblically that a husband is the "head" of his wife (Eph. 5:23), but as I pointed out in my sermon, the command of "headship" isn't given to the husband, but to the wife. In other words, the man is never commanded to establish headship or to ensure that his wife submits to him. Instead, the command of headship is given to the wife. She is instructed to submit to her husband FOR he is her head, just as Christ is head of the church. 

And so my sermon articulated two primary points:
  1. The wife, by her submission to and respect for her husband, elevates him to the position of leadership and headship in the home.
  2. The husband, rather than focusing on his right to headship, is commanded to "love" his wife just as Christ "loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Eph. 5:25).
Many Christians fail to approach the passage in this light. Women misunderstand the role of submission and men abuse the concept of headship, thinking that it is their right and sometimes even their obligation to MAKE SURE the wife submits to their rule. In my sermon, I tried to correct these misnomers and provide insightful, biblical recommendations on HOW to properly understand this text and fulfill these roles in the home. That sermon can be accessed HERE.

However, I spent so much time introducing the material and then explaining the wife's role that I didn't spend as much time as I had hoped on the husband's role. In this article, I'd like to further explain Paul's comments to the husbands in Ephesians 5:25-33.

First of all, as I mentioned above (and in my sermon), the husband is never directly commanded to BE the head of his wife. Is the husband the head of the wife? Absolutely. That is God's design. But the husband's emphasis, according to Paul, is not on headship, but on love. "Husbands, love your wives..." is the command in Ephesians 5:25. In Colossians 3:19, after telling the wives to submit to their own husbands, Paul turns to the husbands and says - guess what? - "Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them." And again, in 1 Peter 3:1-7, Peter specifically instructs the wife to be submissive to her husband...but then tells the husband, "Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered" (vs. 7).

So many Christian men enter marriage with the mistaken notion that they must take the reigns of leadership and if necessary, force their way to the top of the pyramid. This can be disastrous! Not only do women often resent and rebel against such a pressured approach, but men are often left feeling angry and insecure when any of their "commands" are rebuffed.

Yes, the husband is the head of the wife. But instead of focusing primarily on this concept of headship, husbands ought to focus primary on not only expressing love for their wives, but pursuing a deeper, more scriptural understanding of this Christ-like love. That needs to be the priority! And if men will do this, not only will their decisions be more readily accepted, but the wives will more willingly submit to such sacrificial, selfless leadership.

The second point that I'd like to make regarding the husband's role is that the husband is plainly instructed to model his role after Christ's. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Eph. 5:25). In my sermon, I did discuss this at length, but please bear with me as I elaborate on this here.

Obviously, Paul draws specifically upon Christ's sacrifice as the ultimate expression of His love for His bride, the church. Even when "the bride" was undeserving and far from pleasant, Jesus went to the cross and did what was best, not for Him, but for His bride. He gave His life! Likewise, husbands must have this same sacrificial mindset. Physically, this is certainly true; a husband must be willing to lay down his life for his wife/family. But more than that, this selfless, sacrificial mindset will prompt the husband to preface all major decisions with the question, "What is best for my family?" Not for me. But my family. Headship doesn't grant the husband unlimited access to a life of pleasure and self-service while the wife and family are forced to "submit." Headship is a burden in this sense. It's a position of incredible responsibility.

Even though Paul only specifies Christ's sacrifice as the model of love in Ephesians 5:25, I believe there is great value in exploring ALL of Christ's subtle displays of love.
  • Despite His clear authority, He didn't flaunt it and rub it in the disciples' faces. He wasn't arrogant or prideful or dictatorial. While there were certainly times when Jesus taught on His authority and Lordship, He spent MUCH more time leading by example.
  • He was compassionate and sympathetic towards the struggles and plights of His followers and those He encountered from day to day. In John 11, when Mary and Martha and all the Jews were weeping about Lazarus' death, we're told that "Jesus wept" (vs. 35). And how did Jesus treat the woman caught in adultery in John 8? Did He flaunt His authority over her? No! He recognized her pain and her sorrow and showed her compassion when the Pharisees wouldn't. I am reminded of Peter's admonition to husbands in 1 Peter 3:7: "Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding." Husbands ought not be cold, calloused, unfeeling leaders; they need to make every effort to sympathize, understand and reach out to their wives.
  • My favorite display of love is in Matthew 14:1-21. After Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist, was executed by Herod, He was full of grief and sorrow and sought solitude. He was always so busy. He was always thronged by the people. Always serving and working. So He had a right to some solititude and rest, right? And yet what did His followers do? They followed him. Jesus didn't react by saying, "Give me some space!" Instead, he "was moved with compassion" for the multitudes (vs. 14) and sought to further serve their needs. Husbands can learn a valuable lesson here. Even when they are tired from a long day of work, and even when they are laden with stress, they must rise above their weariness and put their family's needs first even then.
  • And finally (for this article), consider the powerful message in John 13:1-14. Here we find Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord of lords and King of kings, actually washing the disciples' FEET. This was such a humbling undesireable work...and certainly NOT something that the Master would do for the servants. But Jesus did it. And it shocked the disciples! "...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28). Headship is not about "the right to rule." It's the ultimate role of service. Husbands who strut around with the expectation that their wives and families will serve them and bow to their every whim are completely and shamefully abusing their position.
  • Many other comparisons could be made from the life of Christ.
Doesn't this add such meaning and power to Ephesians 5:25? Yes, Christ was and is the "head of the church," but when writing to the husband, Paul instructs husbands to focus specifically on Christ's "love" for the church. This should be every husband's model!

But the passage doesn't end in verse 25...

Paul goes on in verses 26-28 to further describe Christ's goals for the church. Not only did He love the church and give Himself for her, but His ultimate desire was the glorification of His bride. He died for her and continues to be a husband to her so that "He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish"  (vs. 28). Many husbands today are concerned about their own appearance. It's pride! But Jesus has always sought the betterment of His bride, the church. Husbands, are you investing in your wife? Are you helping her to become a better person, a better Christian? Do you inspire or repress her?

Then, Paul FURTHER makes the comparison to the Christ-church relationship by emphasizing the church, not as the bride of Christ, but as the body of Christ (vs. 29-30). He says to husbands: "So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church" (vs. 28-29). I always thought that Paul was almost recommending a somewhat vain and selfish approach to marriage here, and was therefore baffled by the language. Why would Paul so definitively encourage an attitude of sacrifice only to turn around and use vanity and self-service to illustrate the same point? Love your wife as your own body. He who loves his wife loves himself. Vain? Selfish? Not actually!

The more that I've studied this passage, the more I've come to realize that Paul is really stressing the unity of marriage here. After all, "the two shall become ONE flesh" (vs. 31). A husband and wife are "one body" together in this sense. In 1 Corinthians 7:4, Paul similarly states that the wife's body belongs to the husband and the husband's body belongs to the wife. A husband and wife are not two mutually exclusive entities that co-habitate. God's plan is that the husband and wife always chase after a greater sense of oneness...and those Christian couples who have been working at their marriage for years know that this is indeed what happens. It's beautiful, really! 

Husbands, your wife is your body! Love her. Cherish her. Care for her. 

If you neglect her or abuse her in any way, you're only hurting yourself. And so don't allow your marriage to dissolve or break apart. Don't allow your relationship with your wife to become detached and distant. Don't allow your selfishness and pride to destroy the holiness and sanctity of your union. Again, care for her and love her just as Christ cares for and loves His body, the church.

And finally, in Ephesians 5:33, Paul says, "Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."

This is critical...

So many times in marriage, we act as if our responsibilities are contingent on our spouse fulfilling their responsibilities. A wife will say that she can't submit to a bad leader or to a jerk. A husband will say that his wife isn't worth leading or loving. We play the blame game and act as if our obligations are conditional. But dear reader, they're not! And that's Paul's point here! A wife, no matter what, must be submissive and respectful to her husband. Likewise, a husband must "see to it" that he loves his wife, even if she isn't the ideal spouse, even if she's hard to love.

Marriage is hard. It's a daily struggle. We're all humans and not only are we full of faults, but we make mistakes every day. However, in Christ, there is hope because we can lay aside our own inadequacies and model ourselves after someone who is MORE than adequate. We can strive for His standard. And His standard works so beautifully because it demands that we give up self, and live and act selflessly...just as our Lord did for us.

I hope that this LONG article has been helpful to you. 

If you're a woman, feel free to share this article with your husband, but don't rub it in his face. Again, YOUR focus needs to be on submitting to your husband just as the church has submitted to Christ. If your husband is unwilling to listen to Scripture, follow the wisdom of Scripture by being a daily example of submission and purity for him (1 Peter 3:1-6).

Men, I hope and pray that this article has helped you to better understand your role in marriage. It helps me to meditate upon these thoughts and to be reminded. I need to be reminded often.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Woe to the Rebellious Children!

"'Woe to the rebellious children,' says the Lord, 'Who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who walk to go down to Egypt, and have not asked My advice, to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt'" (Isaiah 30:1-2).
The prophet Isaiah is relating to the children of Israel a message from their Father and God. It is clear based on the greater context of the book that Israel had drifted away from the Lord. In Isaiah 1:4, God called them a "sinful nation." Of course, their spiritual apostasy resulted in a variety of problems. Not only does sin lead to natural consequences, but God's hand of chastisement comes down upon us as well, and no doubt, Israel was feeling the effects of both.

But here, God expresses disappointment that they were adding "sin to sin." How so? According to verse one, they were trying to remedy their problems by their own means, and by the means of Egypt when they should have been seeking the advice and counsel of the God against whom they had sinned.

The lesson here is simple.

All of us sin, and we all have to deal with the consequences of our sins. Perhaps we are faced with discouragement, depression, guilt, stress, resentment, or bitterness because our poor decisions have left us with baggage. How should we react when these problems mount in our lives? Should we turn to self-help books, worldly counselors, drugs or alcohol? Should we flee for refuge to a modern-day "Egypt" or apparent safe-haven?

I'm not saying that there is no value in some of these things. However, if we learn anything from history, and if this passage teaches us anything, it's that we need to turn first and foremost to the Lord. We need to seek His will in prayer. We need to approach His throne of grace, asking Him for help and mercy in our time(s) of need (Heb. 4:16). He wants us to humble ourselves in such a way.

And the fact is, if we DO NOT turn to Him for help, He calls us "rebellious children" who are only adding "sin to sin." By seeking to resolve our problems (many of which we've created for ourselves) by turning to worldly counselors and self-help books (modern-day "Egypts") instead of the Lord, we're basically saying to Him, "Lord, you're not good enough. Your counsel is not as good as Dr. Phil's."

Just so that it's clear - and I can't believe I feel the need to clarify this point - I'm not saying that it's wrong to read books or seek counseling, nor am I saying that you're not really a person of faith if you can't find all of the answers to life's problems in the Bible and in prayer. My only point, based on Isaiah 30:1-2, is that God expects us to turn to Him for help, and is frustrated when we do not.

And most of all, let's not elevate or think more highly of the world's counsel than God's.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

By the Strength of My Hand

When faced with questions about how God intervenes in the affairs of men, and especially of governments, I have always used Isaiah 10 as a teaching tool. Here in this chapter, we learn that God used Assyria to punish (militarily) the nation of Israel. In fact, God called them the "rod of [His] anger" (vs. 5). He had said to Assyria, "I will send him [Assyria] against an ungodly nation, and against the people of my wrath I will give him charge" (vs. 6). The Lord was providentially working through Assyria to accomplish His purpose, and this is just one of many such examples in the Scriptures.

Of course, I also like to point out how these nations (and leaders) maintained their free-will throughout the unfolding of God's providence. Regarding Assyria, Isaiah writes, "Yet he does not mean so, nor does his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and cut off not a few nations" (vs. 7). Did Assyria know that it was performing God's purpose against Israel? No! Assyria had a completely different motivation and mindset. God was using that mindset to fulfill His will against Israel.

But here is where the lesson comes in...

Notice Isaiah 10:12-13...
"Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Lord has performed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, that He will say, 'I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his haughty looks.' For he says: 'By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent..."
God was using Assyria for His purpose and was certainly blessing them with the tools and opportunties they needed to do so, but Assyria refused to acknowledge the Lord's work. Instead of praising the Lord, they praised themselves. They saw their own strength and wisdom as the source of their success.

Dear reader, God doesn't just work providentially with nations and governments. He is working providentially in our lives as well. Like Assyria, we maintain free-will, and like Assyria, we may not realize that the Lord is presently using us, or working through us; we may think that we're pursuing a completely natural course that we've chosen for ourselves. 

And it's true that we don't typically see God's providential work in our lives until after the fact. However, let's not be so ignorant of God's involment in our lives that we foolishly pat ourselves on the back. As we learn in Isaiah 10, God may work providentially through us only to punish us after the fact for failing to give Him the glory, instead glorifying ourselves.

Be ever watchful for God's hand. Always praise Him for the blessings and opportunities you've been given. And through prayer, always make yourself available to God. As Isaiah himself declared in Isaiah 6:8, "Here am I! Send me."