Beware of Many Lawful Things: A Word of Warning from J. C. Ryle

This morning we considered the lives of Martha and Mary. While silent, Mary gives the world a beautiful example of how we ought to respond to Christ. Simultaneously, Martha supplies us a counter-example of what happens when busy Christians get distracted by many good things instead of seeking the one thing that is needful.

On this subject, J. C. Ryle’s words are especially appropriate.

The fault of Martha should be a perpetual warning to all Christians.  If we desire to grow in grace, and to enjoy soul-prosperity, we must beware of the cares of this world.  Except we watch and pray, they will insensibly eat up our spirituality, and bring leanness to our souls. It is not open sin, or flagrant breaches of God’s commandments alone, which lead men to eternal ruin.  It is far more frequently an excessive attention to things in themselves lawful, and the being ‘cumbered about much serving.’  It seems so right to provide for our own!  It seems so proper to attend to the duties of our station!  It is just here that our danger lies.  Our families, our businesses, our daily callings, our household affairs, our intercourse with society, all, all may become snares to our hearts and may draw us away from God.  We may go down to the pit of hell from the very midst of lawful things (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Lukevol. 1, 386)

May we who feel the effects of distraction and busyness, repent and return to Christ, the only one who is really necessary.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

2 Corinthians 5:11-21: The Overriding Priority of Being Christ’s Ambassador

This is a Guest Post from Garrett Wishall, a good friend, a fellow student at SBTS, and the managing editor for Southern’s Towers Magazine.

Life is full of choices. Should I hit the snooze or get up? Will I go with hazelnut, mocha or Jamaican bean coffee this morning? Do I watch football or have a conversation with my wife? Do I have “the talk” with my son today or do I put it off? When I see my neighbor do I ask him about the yelling I heard from his house last night or do I avert my eyes and comment about the weather?

Our priorities shape how we make such choices. What is truly important to us comes through in what we do and don’t do what we say and don’t say. And it is motivations and heart desires that drive and define our priorities and, in turn, our decision-making.

In 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, Paul discusses a fundamental, overriding priority for every Christian: being an ambassador for Christ. An ambassador is one who represents another, one who acts as an emissary. For example, when President-elect Barack Obama settles into office, he will begin sending ambassadors to foreign nations. Those men and women will go with his commission: they will speak in his place and represent his beliefs. What they say will come with his stamp of approval.

Every believer in Christ serves as an ambassador for Christ, for good or for ill. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says that God makes His appeal through us, through believers. Thus, what we say should align with what Christ would say. What we do should align with what He would do.

In this passage, Paul provides three motivations that shape his prioritization of the role of being an ambassador for Christ.

First, Paul says that he knows the fear of the Lord (2 Cor 5:11). Paul is aware that he once walked in darkness, before the God who called light into existence shined the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ into his heart. Paul says that He thus proclaims Christ as Lord, and himself as a servant for Christ’s sake (2 Cor 4:5-6). Paul knows fearing the Lord centers on submission to Christ and he persuades others to do just that.

Second, Paul says the love of Christ controlled him (ESV) or compelled him (NIV). Paul notes that since one man, Christ, died for all men, all men have thus died. Christ died for all that those who live might then live for Him and not for themselves (2 Cor. 5:14-15). The logic is simple: one righteous man dies for men dead in sin. All who respond to this news with repentance of sin and belief in this one man receive their lives back. How could we not then live for Christ’s sake and not our own?

This touches on the area of Christian freedom. Paul is saying that Christian freedom rightly employed prioritizes the glory of God and exaltation of Christ, not selfish gain. Too often Christian freedom is equated with being able to watch certain movies and drink certain beverages. The central purpose of Christ setting people free is that they might enter His kingdom, be conformed to His image and glorify God. In shorthand: He died that we die to sin and live for God (Rom 6:10-11).

This reality did not simply make logical sense to Paul: it moved him. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul recounts the ways the love of Christ, being an ambassador of Christ, shaped his actions toward the church at Corinth. Through imprisonments, beatings and other afflictions, Paul was insistent in faithfully representing Christ. Paul concludes that the Corinthians believers are not restricted by him, but in their own affections.

The church at Corinth thus knew about the sacrifice of Christ, but it did not shape their lives. They were aware of His death on their behalf, but were not rightly moved to live on His behalf. We, God’s people, today are prone to respond to Christ’s sacrifice more like the Corinthians than like Paul. May we rend our hearts and ask the Lord to do a work in us. May we meditate upon the riches of Christ and may our lives then explode with gratitude and devoted service.

Finally, Paul was motivated to be a faithful ambassador for Christ because this ministry came from God (2 Cor 5:18). The message that every believer is Christ’s ambassador did not originate with your college mentor. It did not originate with John Piper or Mark Dever or whoever your favorite Bible teacher is.  The role of ambassador for Christ originates with the same God who spoke the world into existence and sustains it by the power of His Word. There is no authority that can override this Authority.

The fear of the Lord, the love of Christ and the authority of God thus drove Paul to prioritize his role as an ambassador of Christ. Such a prioritization should characterize the life of every believer, for we are all ambassadors of Christ.

Life is full of choices. But God does not leave us without direction for such choices. Instead, He gives us priorities that make the way clear. Every believer is Christ’s ambassador. Thus, everything we do and say reflects positively or negatively on Him.

In 2 Corinthians 5:11-21, Paul shows how the fear of the Lord, the love of Christ and the authority of God compel him to prioritize his role as Christ’s ambassador. Let us pray that the Lord will give us the grace to respond in a like manner. Then perhaps we can faithfully represent Christ in the words we say, the things we do and the choices we make each day.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss