The End of Summer

Oak at SunsetToday marks an end of sorts: the unofficial end of summer.

Perhaps it’s a mentality ingrained in us from our years at school but for some reason the end of August feels like the end of summer, it feels sad, like the end of something good.

Summer is over. And our hearts experience a profound sense loss.

It’s almost as if God planned the seasons to prepare us for the losses we will inevitably experience in life, as the author of Ecclesiastes wrote,

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:” (3:1 NIV)

Summer falls to Autumn, and Autumn succumbs to Winter. But Winter gives way to Spring, and Spring when it is fully grown blooms into Summer. Life and Death. Death and Life.

Harbingers of the Almighty.

The Seasons are foreshadowings of God’s intentions for his creation. They tell his story, the story of his creation, and they tell our story; past, present, and future.

When the world was new it was like a crisp Spring morning brimming with promise. There was work to be done, and it was good. The rumour of Summer was in the air. Of a world filled with beauty and laughter and love. Of blessing. But Summer was thwarted by the hubris of humanity and the scheming of Satan. Autumn turned quickly, and unexpectedly, to a bitter Winter that seeped down deep into our bones and penetrated our hearts. The world was under a curse, and so it remained.

But it was not to be so for ever.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son…” (Galatians 4:4 NIV)

God did not abandon his world, he did not abandon us, to an unrelenting Winter. In sending his Son Winter began its slow thaw. And soon Spring was once again infecting the air, Jesus was about his Father’s good work. The anticipation of promise fulfilled was palpable. But then he was murdered and it seemed as though Winter would rear its foul head again. But no! Winter’s head was crushed, once and for all, it no longer had power over the world, we were no longer held captive under its pervasive influence because in an explosive burst of Summer Jesus rose from the dead.

In Christ we now stand on the precipice of Summer; we see glimpses of the world as it should be, as it one day will be:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

As Christians we understand the sense of loss that comes with the end of Summer because it reminds us of what we lost when our ancestors sinned against God in the garden by siding with Satan. We know that we are often the architects of our own misery, just like Adam and Eve. And we know we live with the same weaknesses as them. But our hope is in a God who breaks through the Winter and restores Summer. We look forward to the day when God will put all things right, when Jesus will return and never leave, because on that day all our unfulfilled longings will finally come true.

As our Summer comes to an end let’s use it as an opportunity to consider God’s grace towards us in sending his Son to restore not only ourselves to a right relationship with him but the creation as well.

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Demolition or Restoration?

Demolition or restoration?

Whenever it comes to the redevelopment of sites that include very old buildings this is a key question. Many old buildings have beautiful architecture which appeal to us. Yet, practically they are often unusable, dangerous and unkempt. Therefore, developers find themselves asking the question ‘Should it be demolished or restored?’ And there are, of course, meaningful and significant arguments on both sides of that question.

I wonder does a similar kind of question run through our minds when we come across a brother or sister in sin? This was the idea that we began to look at last week as we considered Darwinian Christianity. There is an instinct within us which wants to kill off the weaker brother or sister and be the last one standing. When we find a brother or sister in sin this instinct kicks in – and the answer to our question is demolition!

unityPaul seeks to correct this predatory instinct in the close of his letter to the Galatians. Last week we observed that Paul calls Christians to bear the burdens of their brothers and sisters in Christ. This week we take on the first example of bearing burdens that he offers – restoring brothers and sisters caught in sin.

This is how Paul breaches the subject, ‘Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch over yourself, lest you too be tempted’ (Gal. 6:1 ESV).

Instead of demolition Paul opts for restoration and calls for the Christians of Galatia to do the same.

The first element in this process is that a brother or sister is caught in sin. We must be careful not to misinterpret these words of Paul. This is not a license for us to appoint ourselves to the position of ‘detective’ in the sin police. This is not a command to spend your life trying to catch a brother or sister in sin. Rather, Paul says ‘if’ – if you catch, come across, or find a brother or sister in sin. Practically, this means it is not our responsibility to do this for people we barely know. Instead, we exercise this privilege and responsibility with those we have close, strong and personal ties with.

What happens when they are found in sin? The second element – you who are spiritual…

This is not speaking of the pastor or minister, and it is not a special class of Christian who is better than everyone else. Those who are spiritual are simply those who are mature. This is undoubtedly a link back to the end of chapter 5 where Paul clearly shows what a spiritual Christian looks like (5:22-25). However, this does not allow us to hold our hands up, confess our immaturity and therefore abdicate our responsibility to confront brothers and sisters caught in sin. Quite the opposite – it is a call to maturity so that when we find brothers and sisters in sin we are capable of restoring them in gentleness (one facet of the fruit of the spirit).

The third element is the restoring of a brother or sister in gentleness. Note the positive atmosphere of this phrase; this is a good thing, a beneficial thing and the right thing to do with a brother or sister caught in sin. The Greek word used for ‘restore’ was widely used when speaking about resetting a broken bone – it has the image of returning something to its original condition. John Stott summarises this helpfully, therefore I quote at length:

“Notice how positive Paul’s instruction is. If we detect somebody doing something wrong, we are not to stand by doing nothing on the pretext that it is none of our business and we have no wish to be involved. Nor are we to despise or condemn him in our hearts and, if he suffers for his misdemeanour, say ‘Serves him right’ or ‘Let him stew in his own juice’. Nor are we to report him to the minister, or gossip about him to our friends in the congregation. No, we are to ‘restore’ him, to ‘set him back on the right path’ (JBP). This is how Luther applies the command: ‘run onto him, and reaching out your hand, raise him up again, comfort him with sweet words, and embrace him with motherly arms’.” (The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Galatians, pg.160-161).

The final element is a warning to the one who would seek to restore a straying brother or sister. The warning is to watch ourselves lest we too become tempted. There is a little debate about what sin the spiritual person would be tempted with – some think it could be the sin that the brother or sister is caught in, and others think it to be the sin of pride. It could be either, although the second option would seem more likely to me. However, what is clearly called for is an awareness of our own sinfulness, and propensity to sin, before we make any attempt to restore a brother.

Paul’s answer to the question is clearly to restore rather than demolish.

We have spent considerable time thinking about the words contained in this verse, and it is very beneficial to do so as we seek to understand this first example of bearing burdens that Paul speaks of. However, we may still be wondering how exactly we should go about doing this? Here are five practical tips to close with on restoring a brother or sister caught in sin:

  1. Pray – After you become aware of a brother or sister caught in sin take time to pray before you approach them. The time taken to pray will vary from situation to situation. For example, if you hear someone verbally abusing their spouse in the church car park after the service you will pray as you run toward the situation, but if you become aware of a lack of love for the church you may spend a couple of days praying before approaching them. Nevertheless, we must take time to pray for God’s intervention, for our own sensitivity and for our brother or sisters restoration before we act.
  2. Examine Yourself – It is foolish to try to take the speck out of your brother’s eye if there is a log sticking out of yours (Mt. 7:1-5)! We must examine our lives – this does not mean we need to be perfect before we act, but we must be careful we are not hypocrites. It is also important to check our motivation in approaching them.
  3. Talk to them – Don’t go running to someone else, don’t turn a blind eye and don’t hope it will all work out in the end. Rather, approach the person and speak to them. This may look different for different people depending on your relationship with them. But, the people you find in sin are likely going to be people you know relatively well. However, no one can be restored unless they are spoken to.
  4. Involve Others – This is not a license to gossip, or tell your mate what is happening. This is the Matthew 18 principle (Mt. 18:15-20). If a brother or sister refuses to confess their sin or seek forgiveness other people must be brought in to help. Read the passage in Matthew and figure out who in your context are the people who should be included in the discussion with a brother or sister caught in sin.
  5. Pray – Finally, pray again. Continue to pray for your brother or sister – pray that they would enjoy restoration to the family of God and that the Holy Spirit would help them defeat sin in their lives.

We must strive to restore our brothers and sisters rather than to demolish them – instead of killing each other of we must keep each other alive by helping one another put sin to death.

Scribal Homilies from First Timothy: The Proper Use of the Law

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. 1 Timothy 1:8-11 NIV

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Introduction

One of the most popular television genres is crime drama. From the long running Law and Order (with its countless spin offs) to relative new comers such as Blue Bloods and the BBC’s immensely popular Sherlock, we are not lacking for entertaining police procedurals and legal dramas. In spite of their long history in television we continue to see more and more crime dramas being produced each year with a wide variety of different characters taking different approaches to the administration of justice.

Saint_TimothyWe just can’t seem to get enough!

Justice never gets old, and that is why we come back again and again to the same stories we’ve watched innumerable times before. However, there is another factor involved in our seeming obsession with crime dramas: the characters. Each character brings with them their own interpretation of justice and that is what keeps the genre fresh. From straight shooters, like Frank Reagan, who always do the right thing, to those who operate more in the grey, such as Harvey Specter or Patrick Jane, right along the spectrum to those, like Alan Shore, who manipulate the law in order to justify their illegal actions we are sure to find someone we can empathise with.

In the city of Ephesus, Timothy was combating a group of false teachers who were using the law improperly which is why Paul begins by saying, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” Paul begins by clarifying his position. He agrees with the false teachers assessment of the law: It is good. The law is good. This is what the false teachers believed. For them the law was the very foundation of their theology. However, Paul goes on to clarify his position. He writes, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” If one uses it properly.

What Paul is saying to us is that there are legitimate uses of the law and there are illegitimate uses of the law.

We can’t get into all the legitimate uses of the law here, instead we will consider the false teachers’ illegitimate use of the law and Paul’s corrective on those points. However, what we should bear in mind here is that Paul isn’t giving us his comprehensive theology of the law, rather, he is making use of one point in his theology in order to combat the false teaching that was taking root in Ephesus. We shouldn’t think that what Paul says in this passage is all that Paul believes about the law. Not even close. Paul is far too clever, far too nuanced for that, as we shall see as we consider the ways the false teachers were using the law to further their own agenda.

Illegitimate Uses of the Law

We can see Paul combating the false teachers on three fronts in regards to their use of the law.

Firstly, Paul identifies where the false teachers began to go wrong. Secondly, he shows us the root of their error. And finally, he explains the consequences of their false teaching for the lives of Christians.

Lessons in Missing the Point

Paul has already identified where the false teachers began to go wrong in verses 3 to 4 and 6 to 7 where he tells Timothy, “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies… Such things promote controversial speculations… and… meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (NIV). The false teachers had begun to go wrong because they misunderstood the Old Testament; they were obsessed with apocryphal stories and were reading into the various genealogies looking, no doubt, for something akin to the Da Vinci Code. As a result they were spreading nonsense, but nonsense they were absolutely certain was true, and so they set themselves up as teachers of the law espousing competing forms of The Ephesus Code: How to Understand the Real Meaning of the Old Testament.

In their misinterpretation of the Old Testament they missed Jesus because the key to understanding the Old Testament is the Person and Work of Jesus. The various stories, genealogies, and characters found in the Old Testament all anticipate the coming of a greater Story, a greater genealogy, a greater Character. If the Old Testament contained the end of God’s Story then we would have to conclude that it is an unhappy ending – God’s people are still enslaved, much of their history is shrouded in unresolved sorrow, and God has shown himself unfaithful to his covenant – but if we conclude that the Old Testament, though unhappy in many of its parts, is incomplete and that it’s culmination is found in Jesus and his life, and all that means, then we can say with confidence that the ending of God’s Story is inexpressibly happy! In Jesus we have the person all his people were waiting for: the truly righteous King, the truly compassionate High Priest, the truly courageous Prophet, the truly faithful Son and Brother who through his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return brings us into the family and people of God who will reign with him on a renewed earth where all our unresolved sorrow will come untrue and in its place will be unending joy because finally, in Jesus, we have forever, all we’ve longed for. In Jesus we find the person we’ve always been waiting for.

In ________ We Trust

This brings us, secondly, to the root of their error: the false teachers’ doctrine was “contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God” (1:10-11 NIV) and so their hope for salvation wasn’t in Jesus but in their myths, their genealogies, their meaningless talk, their controversial speculations, and their interpretation of the law. They were trusting in their own merit to save them because they had understood the secret meaning of the Old Testament. They had discerned the hidden importance of the Old Testament genealogies. And they appointed themselves teachers of these things to the ignorant who need their help in order to share in salvation. The difference between Paul’s gospel and the false teachers’ gospel was that Paul gave glory and praise to Jesus for freely giving salvation through faith whereas the false teachers gave themselves glory and praise for having earned salvation by their superior understanding. The difference is Grace vs. Merit, Faith vs. Effort. And Paul is emphatic that God’s work of salvation is received by faith (1:4) through an outpouring of God’s grace in Jesus (1:14).

Before we utter a hearty “Amen” we would do well to remember that we are not immune to false teaching, we are not safe from abandoning the gospel, as Paul warns the Corinthians,

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV)

We may have all our theological i’s dotted and doctrinal t’s crossed. We may never waver on the divinity of Jesus or the saving nature of his life, death, and resurrection. But we all too easily stray into the Forgetful Green wherein we understand the gospel but it ceases to move us. The only way to avoid this is to prayerfully meditate upon the gospel in all its multivalent glory. To revel in its scandelous beauty. To be impelled toward adoration of our God who graciously saves.

The Law is Good?

Finally, Paul explains the consequences of this false teaching for the life of believers. Paul begins, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly” (1:8 NIV). Paul tells us that there are legitimate and illegitimate uses of the law, the false teachers were using the law illegitimately because they were looking to it in order to earn their salvation. But the trouble with earning your salvation is that it requires constant maintenance, if you achieve salvation by meeting some requirements, for example by reaching a certain level of knowledge or morality, are you secure? Of course not. You’ve only met the minimum requirements of approval. If you want to be secure you’ll need to go beyond the minimum requirements and continue to build upon whatever you’ve already done but here is what Paul says (1:9 NIV), “We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers…” and he includes an extensive (though by no means complete) list of people who, according to God’s law, are lawbreakers.

Now, what Paul says here is a little confusing. In verse 8 he has just said the law is good but immediately after, in verse 9, he says it’s not for the righteous (i.e. Christians, those made righteous in Christ). And what we have to remember here is that Paul is address a particular heresy which teaches that people earn and maintain their relationship with God by obeying the law. Paul isn’t saying the law has no relevance for Christians (1 Corinthians 7:19, cf. John 14:15; 1 John 2:3) but that just as it isn’t the power behind our justification neither is it the power behind our sanctification:

“[Paul] does not mean that the Christian and the law have nothing in common. [He] means that the Mosaic Law is not the key to righteous living.” (Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, p.34)

The law is powerless to transform us, that’s what Paul is saying here, but it can show unbelievers their need of transformation (cf. Romans 7:7-13) because it has power over them to condemn. However, that is all the power it has over their hearts. They need the gospel to free them from the law’s power of condemnation and to transform them into obedient people who obey God, not to earn or maintain his approval, but because they know he loves them completely and his love for them creates in their hearts a love for him.

Conclusion

The gospel frees us from the power of the law, the power of condemnation. The gospel is God’s stamp of approval on us, not because we have earned it but because Jesus has earned God’s approval for us and given it to us as a gift. The law, whether the Mosaic Law or a perversion of that law as the false teachers in Ephesus espoused or even our own laws, our codes of honour, the things we do to justify ourselves, can never give us the approval of God. They only condemn us because we can never live up to them fully, not even the laws we make for ourselves. So as we live each day, whether we are at school, university, or work, we need to remind ourselves that our approval comes from God and we need to share with our neighbours, our friends, our families, our work colleagues the good news that we don’t need to earn the approval of God, of others, or even our own approval because Jesus has earned the approval of God, the only approval that really matters, for us and offers it to us freely if we only trust in him.

Darwinian Christianity: Are we killing our brothers and sisters?

As I type this blog post I am sitting watching The Great British Bake Off – just one of many programmes on TV where people’s skills are pitted against each other. There seems to be a huge demand for these types of shows.

The BBC has just launched a show called Tumble, in which celebrities pit their gymnastic skills against one another. Soon Strictly Come Dancing will be back on our screens. ITV host both Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor. Channel Four have just launched a show called The Singer Takes it All. Not to mention The Voice, Master Chef, The Apprentice and a whole rake of quiz shows!

What is the reason for the success behind all these shows? Without a doubt there is some Darwinian allure. We are drawn to them like a shark to blood. It’s survival of the fittest, in a similar vein to Rome’s Gladiatorial Arena. Everyone is keeping an eye on how the other is doing, and secretly they all want one another to fail in some way. Every contestant is fighting to be the last one standing.

As I examine my own Christian life sadly I find this attitude present. Often I catch myself in the act of comparing myself to other Christians – weighing up where they are stronger than me, and vice versa. And I have a funny feeling that if you were to examine your own life you could find instances of your own cross-Christian-comparison.

However, this is not the image of church life that the New Testament calls for.

As Paul brings one of his toughest letters to a close (Galatians) he leaves the congregation with these exhortations for their life together:

https://i1.wp.com/cdn4.qualitystockphotos.com/b1/12/520/photo-24764091-business-people-with-hands-together-for-unity.jpg

“Bear one another’s burdens” – 6:2 (ESV)

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” – 6:10 (ESV)

Make no mistake; Paul was no soft touch as a missionary, pastor or author. He did not overlook sin, he was not easy on Christians who were shirking their responsibilities and he never entertained those who did not live out the ethical demands of the gospel. We need only to read the opening of the letter of Galatians (Gal. 1:1-9) to see this – he forgoes his usual thanksgiving and prayer to tell the Galatian Christians he is gobsmacked at their behaviour (1:6). Indeed, he comes across as exasperated at a number of junctures in the letter (3:1-6 for example).

Yet, Paul does not end this tough letter by telling those in the Galatian churches to trample the weaker brother, look down in pride on those who are less knowledgeable and forget about the struggles of their brothers and sisters. No! Rather, Paul tells the Galatian Christians to bear one another’s burdens and do good to others, especially to the household of faith. In other words, look out for each other. This kind of behaviour stands in stark opposition to the way in which the world operates – instead of killing each other off we should be striving to keep as many alive as possible.

As we examine our attitudes toward our brothers and sisters we need to consider whether they are ones of comparison or compassion. Do we, in arrogant pride, consider ourselves better than them? Or do we consider how we can better them through the love of Christ poured into our hearts and the gifts he has given us for the building up of the church?

There are many ways that this can be done. Paul gives us three examples at the end of Galatians: restoring brothers and sisters caught in sin (6:1), sharing all good things with those who teach the Word of God (6:6), and doing good (6:10). This reorientation of our thinking must be born out in physical actions!

Over the next three weeks I plan to explore each of these examples Paul gives us at the end of his letter to the Galatians. However, we can start right now to bear one another’s burdens. This incoming week pick a handful of people from your church who you know have burdens – perhaps two or three people. Pray for them every day and on Sunday approach them and encourage them with the knowledge that you have prayed for them this past week.

Check back next week to explore restoring a brother caught in sin.

Comfort Ye, My People

The opening recitative of Handel’s phenomenal oratorio Messiah begins, “Comfort ye, my people…”

The words are taken from the book of Isaiah,

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God. (40:1-3 NIV)

These words were recorded for the benefit of the Israelites who were captives in Babylon; who had learned that the rule of Yahweh didn’t guarantee them comfort, security, or certainty while they lived in a fallen world, especially when they were living in disobedience to his revealed will. And yet, we hear Yahweh speaking words of promised comfort to his people in the midst of their exile.

handel's messiahIsrael had learned the hard way that life in a fallen world is uncomfortable, insecure, and uncertain. They had been violently rooted out of their homes and driven from their beloved country into a strange land with strange gods and hostile neighbours. Though we may never experience anything quite as drastic, in terms of discomfort, as the Israelites we can empathise with their feelings of displacement, insecurity, and uncertainty. Perhaps we’ve had to move to a new city far from loved ones. Or we work in an office where our colleagues are openly hostile to us because of our faith in Jesus, even though our only provocation is that we genuinely care about them and work hard. Maybe we just don’t understand all the changes that are taking place in our culture and consequently feel disarrayed and unsure about how to love our neighbours as we share with them the unchanging truths of God’s Word.

And like Israel, these feelings can be compounded and multiplied when we don’t expect them. The apostle Peter realised our proclivity to be taken by surprise by such feelings in the introduction to his first letter which is why he begins by addressing his letter, “To God’s elect, exiles scattered…” (1 Peter 1:1 NIV). Peter begins by reminding his readers of who they are by reminding them of whose they are. They are God’s elect, God’s chosen people; they belong to God. He then quickly points out an implication of what it means to belong to God in a fallen world: exiles scattered. As Christians we belong to God but because we belong to God we are at war with how the world presently operates which can oftentimes leave us feeling like scattered exiles: unsure of our footing, disoriented, uncomfortable. But so long as we remember whose we are we will be able to face all the discomfort, insecurity, and uncertainty during our present exile here on earth because our comfort comes from a knowledge, a sure knowledge, that we belong to God no matter what circumstances we may be facing and that he is with us throughout every step of our desert wilderness (cf. Isaiah 40:3).

We know this is true because God himself walked through a far more uncomfortable, insecure, and uncertain desert wilderness that led directly to the foot of a blood-stained, splintered cross upon which he was brutally murdered. In Jesus, God entered into the discomfort, insecurity, and uncertainty of humanity in a fallen world. His tender words of comfort are not empty, they are not unknowingly ignorant of our pains and struggles. He knows them intimately because he has shared in them. Which is precisely why he is able to speak tender words of comfort because with his life Jesus paid double for all our sin by taking the very wrath of God upon himself in our place. He experienced the hard service we deserve so we can receive God’s words of tender comfort as his people, his adopted sons and daughters.

By faith we can know the comfort of God in an uncomfortable world because Jesus took on himself our discomfort. A comfort that comes from belonging to God, of knowing whose we are even while we are scattered in exile.

 

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

The Great War and The Greater Love

A week ago today Tracy (my wife) and I lay on our sofa and watched the service of remembrance which took place in Westminster Abbey – remembering the very day and hour Great Britain declared war on Germany 100 years previous.

The Great War, which later became known as World War One, was a dirty, gritty and bloody affair. There were many casualties, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and the contours of European history are very different as a result of this war. However, this war was one of many in the effort to secure our continued freedom.

The Shrine of Remembrance - Image Courtesy of Kay Adams
The Shrine of Remembrance – Image Courtesy of Kay Adams

In light of that it is unsurprising that people wish to commemorate and remember the huge sacrifice of lives given – the most costly among all the sacrifices made.

It is not only through services of remembrance that the sacrifice of others is commemorated. There are many poems, works of art, memorials and graves which also commemorate the sacrifice made. One in particular is world famous – the Shrine of Remembrance in Kings Domain, Melbourne, Austrailia.

This particular memorial is perhaps most famous for its poignant inscription which reads, “Greater love hath no man”. In addition, apparently the memorial is designed in such a way that once a year (on the 11th November at 11 a.m.) a ray of sunlight shines on the word ‘love’. But, I wonder how many people who visit this memorial know where this inscription is taken from?

It is in John 15:13 that Jesus utters the words which were later inscribed upon the Shrine of Remembrance, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (ESV).

Jesus is just after proclaiming, “I am the true vine” (Jn. 15:1). He proceeds to tell the disciples that they are now to abide in Him, who is the vine (vv. 4-6). The way to abide in Jesus appears to be living a new life in which the disciples live in obedience to all Jesus commands (v. 10). One way in which they do this is by loving one another as Jesus has loved them (v. 12). Therefore, Jesus’ remarkable statement – “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” – is undoubtedly a call for the disciples to exercise sacrificial love for each other.

I believe that this makes it right for us to remember and consider the sacrificial love of others who, in defence of their friends and family, laid down their lives. I think it right that we remember and consider these lives even if we are pacifists or believed The Great War to be unjust.

However, remembering human sacrificial love should never be where we stop as Christians. Indeed, this is not where Jesus’ remarkable statement stops either. John’s Gospel is rich with theological imagery, and in many plain and simple statements we see a foreshadowing of a greater reality. This statement is one such instance of a plain and simple statement foreshadowing a greater reality.

This statement is found right at the centre of a section of teaching where Jesus is teaching and preparing his disciples for future events – In chapter 13:1-20 John recounts the evening that Jesus washed the disciples feet, foreshadowing the great service Jesus would execute on the cross, and John 17 Jesus then prepares his disciples for life without him. Therefore, Jesus is undoubtedly nodding toward the cross in which greater love will be displayed as he lays down his life for his friends. Barrett captures the mood with his comment, “The eternal divine love reached its complete and unsurpassable expression in the death of Christ, which was at the same time the death of a man for his friends” (quoted in D. A. Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John, pg. 521).

In fact, Jesus love is greater in that he not only laid down his life for his friends, but also for his enemies (Rom. 5:10). What we observe here in this short statement then is a greater love. In light of this, all remembrance and commemoration must look beyond the human sacrifices to the divine sacrifice which is the greater love. We must beware of only appreciating the laying down of lives by mere men, when there has been the laying down of life by the God-man.

Over the next four years there will be many events, services, artworks and memorials marking 100 years since events during The Great War took place. I think it our duty to take a moment and remember these things. However, our gratefulness for the sacrifice of a life must not end with those people who died in World War One – our gratefulness must go beyond that to the One who died for a world at war with Him.

“Greater love hath no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”

Book Review: Wendy Horger Alsup’s “Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference In Our Daily Lives” by Tracy Ellison

Although this post is a review of a book for women, it is my hope that the male readers of the blog will continue to read, for their own benefit and in the hope of being some help to females they know!

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As the wife of a theology student, I have had the privilege of observing the formal study of theology for four years.  During that time, we have acquired a lot of theology books, had many theological discussions and I have been challenged to think about things I’ve never though about before.  I have often looked at Davy’s theology books and thought how great it would be to have read them all, to know and understand all the content!

practical theology for womenHowever, the book being reviewed here is one of my theology books!  A book written by a woman for women, with the aim of helping women to see the importance of knowing theology for themselves and not to be put off by seeming complexity or the perceptions in some circles that theology is written by men for men or that you need to be on a pastor or Bible College student or on a special spiritual plain in order to know and understand.  At its most basic level, ‘theology’ is “the study of God – who He is and what He does” (p.27) and “we study theology that we may know God and be enlightened to the benefits of our relationship with Him” (p.27).

As I read, and re-read this book, I was challenged by Alsup about how practical theology actually is.  What we know of God should not just be for the sake of knowing it, but we should “know Him and then act like you know Him” (p.61).  This is where faith and theology interact – “it is not what you say that demonstrates faith in your life.  It is what you do and how you respond in the moments of crisis” (p.49).  I would like this thought to have been extended to include not just crisis, but ordinary moments, in our day to day lives, in private when no one but God sees us, and in the happy, exciting times of our lives.  Do I act like I know Him also in these moments?

Alsup goes on to teach about God, Father, Son and Spirit, explaining various attributes and posing questions for us to answer in relation to how we live.  Do you claim to believe God is Sovereign and then become fearful and anxious when circumstances spiral out of your control? (p.73)  Are you still working to earn your own position before God? Or do you grasp daily all that Christ’s death on the cross has purchased for you?  She then concludes with the importance of communication – prayer and Bible Study – in order that we might not just know about God, but grow and deepen in relationship with Him.

This book puts the basic truths of who God is in easy to understand language and could be a helpful springboard for readers into further reading and studying of God’s Word, to grow in their knowledge of Him.  But the main thrust has been to help us see how we should not just know theology, but live it out.  I have been most challenged and provoked not just to know God more, but to live like I know Him.  In the ordinary moments, on happy days, in the hidden depths of my own heart, in disappointment, pain and suffering to live out the truth I claim to believe.

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You can purchase your own copy of Practical Theology For Women by Wendy Horger Alsup at ICM Books for £5.99 (includes free delivery within the UK).