Not Hardening Our Hearts Against the Hard-Hearted: A Pastoral Meditation on Hebrews 3:12–14

heart12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
— Hebrews 3:12–14 —

Until the day when Christ returns, churches will be faced with the mystery of iniquity. And more, we will be faced with the challenge of responding to erring church members with grace and truth.

Hebrews 3:12–14 gives us a number of things to consider when a Christian acts upon their hardness of heart. What follows is a five-fold meditation on how to address the hard-hearted without hardening our own hearts.

1. We must read Hebrews as speaking to Christians.

The threat of Christians being led astray by sin, the devil, and the world is very real. Verse 12 crushes any notion that salvation makes Christians impervious to sin. The author addresses “brothers,” meaning his words are for Christians, not some other spiritually-mixed community.

Accordingly, we learn the new birth doesn’t—in this age—make us sin-free, even as it frees us to fight sin. Even so, there are times when sin deceives us, ensnares us, and we need the help of the church to free us. Conversely, the church needs to patiently endure the words and actions of its members. It must preach the gospel to them and bear with them as God’s truth brings change. Continue reading

All Together at the Lord’s Table

eat[This article also appeared on our church website as a Lord’s Supper meditation]. 

In marriage a husband pledges to love and serve his wife, while the wife responds by promising to love and submit to her husband. The vows are made individually, but in context, they blend together to create a melodic harmony that binds the couple together.

Something similar can be said of our relationship with the Lord. In response to the gospel, each person must individually respond, but not in their own self-styled way. Repentance from sin and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ are the only way we enter into covenant relationship with God.

For this reason, the new covenant is singular not plural; all who find salvation enter into the same covenant. And since the new covenant has been given to the church made up of Jews and Gentiles, it is in the local church where we enjoy and experience the new covenant together. Continue reading

(How to) Let Love Increase: A Meditation on 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13

waterNow may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
 – 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 –

In his letters, Paul often inserts a prayer for the sake of his brethren. And what he typically prays for is twofold—that the church of God would increase in knowledge of God and love for one another.[1] First Thessalonians is typical in this regard. After recounting Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians faith, hope, and love, he proceeds to pray for these people whom he loves with deep affection.

In his prayer, he petitions God to increase their love for one another and for all people. In these three verses (3:11–13), we can learn four things about love for one another. Continue reading

A Debt of Love: How God’s Grace Makes Us Debtors with an Infinite Bank Account

love1Owe no one anything, except to love each other, . . .
 – Romans 13:8a –

Proverbs repeatedly instructs us to reject financial commitments that make us slave to the lender (Prov 22:7). It is good stewardship to buy what we can pay for and not to spend more than we have. But what would happen if you received an infinite inheritance? What kind of moral obligation would you have “spread the wealth”?

Imagine that the unbeknownst to you an oil baron died and left you all of his fortune. Though never communicated to you, your father had saved this man’s life by sacrificing his own. Indebted to your father, this tycoon had promised to one day repay his kindness. With no children of his own, he decided on his death bed to give his “saviors” children his entire estate.

What would you think? Surely, this windfall would provide you an endless supply—more than you could ever exhaust. If such a boon came your way, how would you employ this vast treasure? Would you live a life of unfettered hedonism? Or would you strive to follow in the footsteps of your father and improve the lives of others? Continue reading

Brotherly Affection Must Endure

hebrews 13Brotherly affection protects one another’s purity and provides for those in need. But for it to make lasting impact, it must also endure.

Endurance

In the same context where Paul speaks of doing good to everyone (Gal 6:10), especially to those in the church, Paul says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9).

To exercise brotherly affection is exhausting, and the authors of Scripture know it. To crucify the flesh and resist the pull towards impurity is hard. To give one self for the spiritual and physical needs of another is even more grueling.

For that reason Scripture commands us to “let brotherly love continue” (Heb 13:1). Continue reading

Brotherly Affection Provides For Others

brotherly love

Love one another with brotherly affection.
— Romans 12:10a —

Provision

Brotherly affection not only relates to purity, but also to provision.

When I moved to seminary, the Lord impressed on me the importance of working harder and longer. Impelled by Ephesians 4:28, I realized that I needed to work more hours so I could eat, pay for school, give to others, and not be a “mooch.”

I would suggest that this attitude of laboring for the sake of others is part of what it means to love one another with brotherly affection. In the context of Romans 12:10, brotherly affection is followed by the command to “Outdo one another in showing honor.” This doesn’t directly apply to money or giving, but certainly we honor one another with our wealth—with the ability to give to others.

With brotherly affection, we are to look out for ways to meet the needs of our family. Continue reading

How the Lord’s Supper Fuels Us to Love One Another

washing feet[This article originally appeared on our church website as a Lord’s Supper meditation].

THE LORD’S SUPPER

In Luke 22 Jesus serves the Passover and calls it his new covenant meal: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (v. 20). Fulfilling the words of Jeremiah 31, Jesus as God’s priestly mediator brought an end to the old covenant and inaugurated the new when he went to the cross (see Hebrews 9:15–17). Anticipating his crucifixion on the next day, Jesus transformed the Passover from an old covenant shadow to a new covenant reality.

When we take the Lord’s Supper, we look back to the legal transaction that resulted in our pardon, and looking forward we see what Christ’s death accomplished— an international multitude gathered around God’s throne. In the immediate, this future reality is lived out in our local fellowship. As members of Christ’s body, we are unified to Christ and to one another.

For this reason, the Lord’s Supper can never be taken alone. It is the church’s meal. Regardless of what the modern elements look like, the symbolism of Jesus is unmistakable. The one loaf represents the unity of the messianic community, while the broken pieces portray the need for every member to receive Christ’s life (Luke 22:19). Likewise, the cup was “divided” such that the Upper Room communicants enjoyed the same wine (Luke 22:17).

For us, the Lord’s Supper reminds us of our partnership together in Christ. As such it marks out those who are his and those who are not. It is a regular reminder of our Savior’s atoning death and of our Savior’s decided accomplishment—the community created by his shed blood. As 1 Corinthians 11:25 says, it proclaims the death of Christ until he comes. But because it is taken by the saints made alive by his cross, it also proclaims the life given to us—a life lived one with another. Continue reading

All the One Anothers: Streams of Light from the Prism of Christ’s Love

lightOn Sunday I preached on Psalm 133, emphasizing how the local church is one body in Christ and individually members one of another (cf. Rom 12:5). While not using the words “one another,” Psalm 133 speaks of the family of God dwelling together in Christian unity. This is the foundation of all the one another commands.

We can’t begin to obey the Lord’s commands towards one another until we begin to see ourselves as united in Christ. But neither can we manage to love one another until we see what that love looks like. This Sunday we will consider John 13:34–35 and Jesus’ new commandment to love another.

To help you consider the content of the one anothers, I would suggest that “Love One Another” is the main command and that all others explicate this first and great command. While the New Testament lists three dozen one another commands, these are not 36 disparate injunctions. Rather, they are various but united manifestations of the love God pours out into our heart. They are the colorful streams of light that shine from the one prism of Christ’s love.

While each command deserves its own consideration, it is worth observing that the multitude of commands can be generally classified under five headings. In what follows I have listed each passage under one of these five headings. In the weeks ahead I hope to look at each passage individually.

  1. Love One Another
  2. Be at Peace with One Another
  3. Show Hospitality to One Another
  4. Do Good and Not Evil to One Another
  5. Edify One Another

Continue reading

One Anothering: How the Church Does Life Together

one another

 So we, though many, are one body in Christ,
and individually members one of another.
– Romans 12:5 –

There are in the New Testament roughly 100 places where the word ἀλλήλων, usually translated “one another,” is used. Beginning with Jesus’ command in John 13:34–35, the apostles develop a vision of church life that presses people of different backgrounds to follow Christ with one another. Using dozens of metaphors, they describe the church as as a body, a bride, a priesthood, a temple, a household, and a family.

In these word pictures, the One Another’s function as the imperatives that call brothers and sisters to get along in the Lord. Elbows and earlobes are called to honor one another in the body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles are taught they who were once divided are now united in the one new man, Jesus Christ.

Still before giving attention to the manifold imperative of loving one another, we must first realize that we are one of another. As Paul puts it in Romans 12:5, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Before we can love one another, forgive one another, or bear up one another, we must realize the One Another’s are set in the context of the local church. Continue reading