Sunday, April 18, 2010

Weighing A Message at Corinth

Weighing A Message at Corinth (1 Cor 14:29)

The “weighing” of prophecy in this verse is just the same as our “weighing” of what is said in a sermon: which every congregation does today after a sermon. You have - or should have - an opinion about the sermon, a response. And it would be totally informal, and usually also totally private and personal. So this instruction is as important a challenge to the church of today as it was to the church in Corinth when Paul first wrote it. Paul is saying to us today: Don’t automatically believe everything you hear, not even everything you hear in a sermon! Assess it! Evaluate it!

It is actually easier and clearer to us today to do this, because we have the complete Scripture available and accessible. They would have had their knowledge of true teaching, pure doctrine, from what they had heard from Paul and others like him. But just as they - and we - are to resist evil, so also it is important to resist error. Jesus himself warned (Matthew 7:15) that false teachers would come like wolves in sheep’s clothing, false followers who would be capable of wreaking havoc amongst the flock of God.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 Paul said again the same kind of thing: Put everything you hear (even from prophets) to the test, and hold fast to what is good. Later, to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:29-30) he was to exhort them to guard themselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit of God had made them overseers, for savage wolves are coming to ravage the flock. (What a clear reminiscence of Jesus’s teaching!)

In the same way Peter (in 2 Peter 2:1-3) warns that, as there were false prophets of old, so there will be false teachers invading the church in his day, promoting destructive heresies.

In recent centuries down to present times - as indeed before, throughout church history - there have come false prophets in the church, enemies of the gospel masquerading as children of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). And also quite often there are earnest and genuine followers of the Lord who, in their teaching, simply are sincerely astray, sincerely wrong.

Too often the church of God has been too slow to weigh the teaching of the teachers against the Scripture, and to denounce error for what it is. The combined result is to be seen in parts of the church today: places where believers were previously true to the Scriptures but who now have accepted wrong teaching about the things of God, and wrong moral and ethical standards which are contrary to the Word of God.

And if we ourselves are called to a ministry of prophecy, of preaching - instructing, exhorting, and encouraging the people of God - this underlines the responsibility we are undertaking. James 3:1 reminds us that teachers will be judged with greater strictness. Paul says to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3), “instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine.” And Paul says here, “Weigh carefully what is said.”

Let us do this conscientiously, testing what is being taught against the whole teaching of the Word of God. Isaiah said (8:20) “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no light.” To do this requires that we are diligent and teachable students of the Bible, so that we put ourselves genuinely in a position today to evaluate preaching accurately by biblical standards, and we do not reject something just on the grounds that it is at variance with something else we learnt before. Like the Bereans of Acts 17:11, we must be active in searching the Scriptures for ourselves, as to whether these things are so.

The general teaching of the Scripture is that we are to accept the leadership of our leaders, and give them our loyal obedience (1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Corinthians 16:16; Hebrews 13:17). But this is to be balanced by a healthy scepticism which weighs up what is being said by the preacher: for Paul here puts this into balance. The fact that something is said by a prophet, a preacher, a leader in the church, does not automatically guarantee that it is right and true, and a word from God. Perhaps if those in earlier generations had been more alert to assess, identify, and counter wrong teaching, we may not have to the same extent the doctrinal and moral confusion which exists in many parts of today’s church. Perhaps if we heed now these words of warning from Paul, we may do a better job of guarding the deposit of God’s truth and handing it on faithfully - and accurately - to the next generation, as Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 challenged Timothy to do, and as Jude 3 also exhorts us.


Ward

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Christians and The Law of Christ

Christians and The Law of Christ

There are those who live under the law and to them Paul became, he tells us, as one under the law (“though not being myself under the law”), that he might win them. And to those who do not have the law he became as one “without law” (ἀνομος, anomos) that he might win them also. He cautiously qualifies this by saying also, “not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ”. He is careful to show us that he is not without law, or outside the law, i.e. “lawless”, but he is subject to the law of Christ. So there are those who are under law, and those without law, and those who are subject to the law of Christ.

And what exactly does this “law of Christ” mean?

The New Testament regards the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ as authoritative and definitive. We have seen that Paul has already cited teachings from Jesus as the decisive word of the Lord on a point (7:10 and 9:14). Jesus himself referred on a number of occasions to his “commandments”, and in the ­Missionary Mandate of Matthew 28:20, when commissioning his followers to go throughout the world and make disciples from all nations, he instructed them to teach these converts “to obey all that I have commanded you”.

Paul refers specifically to the “law of Christ” in 9:21 and also in Galatians 6:2. John refers several times to his commandments in his First Epistle. James writes of the “Royal Law” in James 2:18 and of the “perfect law, the law of liberty” in 1:25 and again of the law of liberty in 2:12. And there is, throughout the New Testament, an attitude that in Jesus God has spoken and is to be obeyed at all costs (e.g. Acts 5:32).

Jesus placed his imprimatur upon the two greatest ­commandments as “love God” and “love your neighbour” (Matthew 22:37-40//Mark 12:29-31), and Paul summarized all the commandments of the Mosaic law as “love your neighbour as yourself” (Romans 13:9-10). John emphasized that we are to “keep his commandments and do what pleases him”, and identified in particular that “this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23; cf. 2:8).

Jesus made his commandments definitive of the relation of the disciple to him. “If you love me, you will keep my ­commandments” (John 14:15). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23). And supremely, this is because it is to be recognized that “The word that you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:24). Again Jesus said, “You are my friends, if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). John echoes this: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3.)

The Lord’s primary commandment is love (John 13:34-35). There is a sense in which all the rest of the teaching of Jesus is explicatory of how this commandment is fulfilled in practice, as Paul has said (Romans 13:10). But those “explanatory details” are important for clarifying how we are to behave in day-to-day living.

This does not mean that the commandments of the Old Testament have been abrogated or discontinued in some way, but rather, that they are now internalized and reapplied: and this, initially and primarily through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ himself. Indeed, a major distinction in the New Testament era in which we live is that all the commandments of God are now internalized: for the Christian, they are written by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone (like the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai), but on the tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3). This happens as the Christian responds to the exhortation to “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The Lord himself instructed, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Matthew 11:29).

Paul reminds us that we “are not under law but under grace”, which means that Christians, “who were once slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:14-17).

Then, thus knowing the commandments of the Law of Christ, he and she will keep them because of the motivation of love for Christ. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Paul is not “lawless”: he lives in submission to the “Law of Christ”. So also must all Christ’s followers do.



Ward

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