Thursday, March 6, 2014

Gentle-men and women

I will be the first to confess, my life has not been one marked with sincere gentleness. I am passive to a fault, I prefer non-conflict merely because it makes me uncomfortable but will be passively aggressive so I can feel better about myself. I ask questions on Facebook that I hope will get people thinking, but never want to see what they say for fear it may be critical of me, or I get defensive and lash out. I desperately want to save lives through the preaching of the Gospel and through directing them to Scripture. Yet I stay silent because I know that the moment I do speak out in an attempt to steer people to the truth I become more like a shaking little Chihuahua with an annoying bark that cannot even rescue himself than a St Bernard whose mere presence comforts the endangered skier. 

I recently listened to a sermon by a most amazing preacher of the Gospel by the name of Mike Riccardi. He teaches at Gracelife Pulpit, which is part of John MacArthur's flock at Grace Church. He also is a contributor at The Cripplegate

His last sermon was from Philippians 4:5 and titled "Gospel Shaped Affections: A Gentle and Forbearing Spirit." The a few of his recent messages have been to show us how to have "spiritual stability", which I find much needed as we Christians look out at the growing tsunami of anti-Christ thinking. After speaking on the many recent newsworthy witch-hunt's of businesses that have been unjustly persecuted over their religious convictions he asks this spirit prodding question.

"And so the question is: In the midst of that kind of devoted hostility to your Savior and His Word, how will you be able to stand firm against the pressures that are sure to come if the Lord tarries? How will you be able to hold your ground? How will you be able to "suffer a good soldier of Christ Jesus," as Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:3?" Good question isn't it? 

Well, what do we have at our disposal to face this hostility? Mike tells us that the answer for spiritual stability culminates in Philippians 4:5 which says "Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;" 

Wait! What? The way to confront this growing hostility is to show how reasonable/gentle we are? Yes, and hopefully you will see that as well as we go along. 

The Christians in Philippi, and for that matter most of the Roman world lived in an ever increasingly hostile environment towards Christians. Everywhere the Gospel went it upset the pagan authorities and disrupted businesses, which thrived on idolatry in many cases. Christianity was also looked on as a form of atheism by Rome, for the new converts no longer worshipped the Roman Pantheon and refused to worship Caesar.

So what are these embattled believers to do? Now days the advice would be to create a "Religious Right" or demand equal treatment under the law (which I thank God we do have that ability in this country to use the court system). But Paul has another way of dealing with it, one that we modern first world Christians must embed into our heart. 

First, let's go back to Phil 1:27, if we read the Greek, it says to "Only behave as citizens worthy of the Gospel" Paul's first remedy in "spiritual stability" as Mike puts it, is for us to remember where our citizenship lays. 

If you go to the website for becoming a citizen of the United States paragraph 2 of the oath states "Renounce and abjure absolutely and entirely all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which the applicant was before a subject or citizen;" Or in other words, you are now a citizen of the U.S. and you MUST renounce allegiance to any other foreign power. This is what happened to us when we were reconciled to God through His Son Jesus Christ. We are no longer citizens of this earth, we are merely sojourners now, soldiers fighting behind enemy lines awaiting the King to call us back to Himself or for Him to invade this hostile country and take it back for His own. 

I understand that we still must abide by those authorities placed over us as long as they do not contradict God's law, but we, as Christians, are now to swear allegiance to God alone. To continue in v.27 " I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel." To tack on to the above thought we can add, to be worthy citizens of Heaven is that we stand firm in one spirit. Of course that sound a bit contradictory, to stand firm makes it sound confrontational yet we are speaking of being gentle, how can you do both? Good question. 

In the words of Mike "But paradoxically, we've been learning that the church stands most firmly and most resolutely against the evil influences of the world when the people of God are the most yielding and most accommodative of one another." 

Notice those last two words? "One another", it is an oft made qualifier within the Bible which emphasizes our relationship within the Church. In the Gospel of John we have the "cause and effect" statements like John 13:34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Or in the epistles like Ephesians 4:2 "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love." From my quick count, there are well over 100 "one another" statements made in the Epistles, most of them go from an indicative phrase/thought to an imperative. Or in other words "because Christ did this (indicative) therefore do this (imperative). 

This is the direction that Paul almost always goes, in that, we as Christians must start with the "one another" and that will inevitably flow out to the "world". 

In v2-3 Paul exhorts the Philippians to reconcile two dear ladies by the name Eudia and Syntyche, that they may "agree in the Lord." There was something going on between these two ladies that was causing so much disunity that Paul had to address it. What was the cause? We are not told, but as Mike reminds us of the letter of James in which he said "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?" (Jas 4:1). The greatest affront to the unity of the Church is when we strive for our own agendas, our own selfish rights. 

Mike continues with what the fix of disunity is, "The antidote to disunity is a relentless pursuit of joy in the Lord! Because when we seek all our pleasure and all our joy in Him, we will be satisfied, and will no longer feel the need to quarrel and bicker about things which, if we could have them, wouldn't bring us as much pleasure as the Lord Himself does anyway!" That's right folks, joy is the explosives expert when it comes to defusing the bomb that has laid waste to many a church. But a superficial, happy-go-lucky joy is not sufficient, it must be a joy that is focused on an object, and that object as we see in Phil 4:4 is Christ, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." As we lay down our "rights" and focus on Christ, those offenses that Susie committed against you become of little consequence when it compares to the unsurpassing joy of knowing Christ. Joy in the Lord is the next step in spiritual stability for as we find our joy in Christ it leads to unity and ultimately to us treating each other in gentleness.

Next post I will show what Mike Riccardi points out are the characteristic of the Christians gentleness. But I'll leave you with this.

Mike speaks of Charles Simeon, a British pastor, who wrote, "It is by a conformity to this latter precept [of gentleness], no less than by his obedience to the former [to rejoice always], that the true Christian will be distinguished. In fact, this precept enters very deeply into the divine life: and it is only in proportion as its influence is exhibited in our lives, that we have any satisfactory evidence of our conversion to God". Next post I will continue on what the characteristics of this gentleness looks like in the life of a believer.

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