Posts Tagged ‘Pharisaism’
Mr Chantry dissects the Pharisee:
So that is what a Pharisee really is: a moralistic, legalistic antinomian. Too many in our lawless age assume that this is oxymoronic, that legalism and antinomianism are and must be opposites. This is simply untrue. Legalism and antinomianism are instead the twin children of moralism. Here is how it works . . .
Find out how it works here.
My brother has a new job and a new magazine/booklet/bookzine/maglet available. The new job is presenter of Football Focus on BBC1. The new publication is called Sport & Sundays (DayOne). He got the new job not long after the magazine was published. Dan has faced constant pressure – some more, some less overt – with regard to his determination to hold to the Lord’s day as a Christian. The magazine is a brief and readable testimony of God’s kindness to my brother and his convictions regarding the Lord’s day. It is a very personable presentation and an easy read. If you remember, please pray for Dan with the pressures of his job and maintaining a Christian witness with a slightly higher profile. I imagine that today’s obsession with celebrity, a zeitgeist felt no less in Christian circles than in the world, he has much to contend with – the big lizard even has his own Wikipedia entry!
Anyway, one of the features of Dan’s excellent magazine is a series of questions and answers about the Lord’s day. I had an opportunity to discuss some of these with Dan prior to publication, and thought they were excellent; several people have said that they are one of the most useful features of the piece. Dan says:
Over the years I have been asked to do plenty of talks in churches, youth clubs and schools about what I do and how God has worked in my life. When I was asked to put this book together I thought it might be handy to include some the questions I regularly get asked – and some hopefully helpful answers. The two most common questions are ‘Have you ever met David Beckham?’ and ‘What do you and Huw Edwards say to each other at the end of the News?’
Not all of the questions and answers Dan prepared made the final cut. He was kind enough to let me have the full set, which I reproduce below in the hope that you will find them interesting and helpful (you’ll also get a sense of Dan’s personality and style).
Have you ever met David Beckham?
Yes – he was very nice on every occasion. The first time I went to see him he had just had a delivery from Adidas (his sponsor). There were two enormous boxes – one filled with shoes and the other with tops. He wasn’t sure whether he was ever going to wear any of them.
What does Huw Edwards say to you at the end of the News?
It varies. Sometimes we talk about utter rubbish. On other occasions he might say “Shall we just sit here and shuffle our papers and pretend that we are talking to each other?” You have to be careful not to do anything silly though. There was one occasion in Manchester when I had been interviewing a young lad who was being talked about as the next Jonny Wilkinson. The interview ended, we all said goodbye and the director cut to the wide shot of the studio with everyone in shot. For some reason there were still a few seconds left on the programme so we were in shot for seemingly ages. I decided to fill the gap by throwing the young lad the rugby ball he had brought in. Sadly, he wasn’t looking and it hit him in the face. Just as the lights went down you saw me leaning across to see if he was all right.
Do you get free clothes?
I wish. I used to get a clothing budget at ITV but there is nothing like that at the BBC. I was once sent a tie in the post but it was a real minger. I also received a letter from a viewer complaining about a pair of beige shoes I wore. She told me they looked rubbish and that I was a disgrace. Lots of people make comments about what you wear, whether they like a certain tie or not but the only person I listen to is my wife. If I get ‘the look’ from her before I leave the house I know it’s time to go and change.
How do you know what to say when giving a sports report?
There is a big difference between what you do in the studio and what happens when you are out and about. In the studio there aren’t many occasions when you have to make editorial decisions on your own. Most of the time you have an editor and/or producer to look at things with you – sometimes they will write the scripts – but I like to tinker with most of mine so I feel comfortable with them and they are in my ‘language’.
Out of the studio – say at a football match or at Wimbledon – then it’s much more my responsibility. In that instance I find it helpful to have something interesting to say at the beginning and the end and let the middle bit take care of itself by reacting to what is going on around me. It sounds scary but you soon get used to it.
Who was the nicest person to interview and who was the most difficult?
We did a half-hour special with Ricky Hatton once and he made us all a cup of tea but Roger Federer comes across as a real gentleman. He is always polite and gracious even if he’s had a stinker. On the other side of the fence, there are plenty of sporting superstars who are grumpy and painful to talk to. A lot of it depends on what mood you get them in. Serena and Venus Williams make you work hard and Sir Alex [Ferguson, manager of Manchester United] can be a real test – especially if he starts to give you ‘the stare’!
What is your most embarrassing moment?
I was once dragged in to cover the local Manchester elections and had to go to Stretford and Urmston where Jordan (the model) was running for the seat as something of a PR stunt. As she left the hall – in last place I recall – I ran alongside her asking if she had plans to run again. Unfortunately I didn’t see the awkwardly placed wheelie bin in the corridor and went right over the top of it in mid-question . . . still got back up to finish the interview though!
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about a broadcasting career?
Always listen to Des Lynam [who gave Dan advice when my brother wrote to him years ago]! And in addition to that, practice like mad. If you want to be a commentator then commentate: on your dad cutting the grass, on your brother eating a hot dog, on the old lady getting the frozen peas out of the supermarket freezer. If you can make that sort of stuff interesting then sport will be simple. If you want to be a written journalist then get writing! Write a match report and compare it to those in the papers. Set up a weekly blog – you will be surprised by how many people read them. If presenting is more your thing, then sit in front of a mirror and read a bulletin – you will be your own harshest critic. It you’ve got a wobbly head or open your eyes like there is something wrong with you then try and change your habits before you get in front of a camera.
Trust God, don’t be afraid to work from the bottom up, be yourself, don’t put on a ‘sports’ voice, enjoy it and eat lots of cake. You can probably ignore the last bit but I have found it helpful on numerous occasions!
Do you think you take the whole Sunday issue too seriously?
There is a short answer to that one and a slightly longer one. I take the issue of Sunday seriously for a number of reasons. Here are some of them.
- Because I believe that the principle of setting aside one day in the week to worship and honour the God who made me and saved me goes right back to creation. It was a gift to all of us before sin even entered the world (Gen 2.1-3).
- Because I am persuaded that the principle of the Sabbath was laid down in God’s moral law and is still relevant (Ex 20.8-11; Dt 5.14-15). The law of God has been written on our hearts (Jer 31.33 c.f. Heb 10.16).
- Because the Lord Jesus Christ Himself knew it was important. He went to the regular Sabbath meetings in the Jewish synagogue. In his teaching, he never undermined the principle but put it back where it belonged (Mt 12.1-12; Mk 2.28). He rose on the first day of the week setting the pattern for the new covenant Sabbath and the church began to call it ‘the Lord’s day’ (Rev 1.10). Also there are so many direct New Testament references that tell us it’s not just an Old Testament issue: have a look at Matthew 12.1-14; Mark 2.23-3.6; Luke 6.1-11; 13.10-17; 14.1-6; John 5.1-18; John 7.20-24; Hebrews 4.1-10. The gospels are full of it; the rest of the New Testament assumes it, refers to it very naturally, alludes to it and builds on its significance.
- Because it was observed by the New Testament church and should be observed by all the people of God’s new covenant. The pattern of observing the first day goes way back to the start of the church, when Luke tells us in Acts 20.7 that it was the first day of the week – i.e. the day of Christ’s resurrection – when the disciples came together. In 1 Corinthians 16.2, the first day of the week is seen as the natural day for the church to act. It is seen as the proper day for public worship. John received his revelation on ‘the Lord’s day’ (Rev 1.10). John does not need to explain this reference to any of the churches he is writing to.
- Nearly there . . . because I am persuaded it’s a blessing that will be forever enjoyed in heaven. (Heb 4.1-13; Heb 9.11 cf. 1Cor 15.44-49). Revelation 7.9ff. is a picture of a perpetual Sabbath, given to those who rest from their labours (Rev 14.13), and whose eternity is spent in adoration of God in Christ (Rev 21.1-7, 22-3).
- Because observing the Lord’s day is a great privilege and brings with it loads of blessings. Some of the greatest of God’s promises, for example, about knowing the glory of God, enjoying Him and receiving blessing from Him go hand in hand with the idea of the Sabbath (e.g. Is 58.13-14; Psalm 92). Over the years – and I’m talking centuries – keeping the Lord’s day has generally been one of the marks of God’s powerful working among his people.
- Because it makes clear that my Saviour, Jesus Christ, deserves the very best of my time and energy.
Aren’t you missing out on a witnessing opportunity by not going to various events and places on a Sunday?
No. In fact, by making Sunday different, I become a more effective witness, because it is a sign of my ultimate commitment to Jesus Christ. It shows that I value time spent in His presence and worshipping Him above even the legitimate pleasures that this world has to offer.
Didn’t Jesus Christ fulfil the fourth commandment?
Yes, he did. When Christ spoke about the commandments he always raised the bar. He swept away the legalistic limitations that the Pharisees had imposed on them, and showed their true spiritual significance. So, for example, when he spoke of fulfilling the law (Mt 5.17-20) he immediately went on to show that adultery and murder take place in the heart (Mt 5.21-30), and that He is concerned not with mere formalities. In the same way, He has heightened and intensified the fourth commandment: he declared that he was Lord of the Sabbath (Lk 6.5) – he had divine authority over it. Just as the seventh day was set as a pattern in God at the beginning, so Jesus patterned the first day in Himself at the beginning of the new creation. It is the day when He particularly meets with His people as they worship Him: first in His glorified body, and then by His powerful Spirit. It would be a bit dense to disregard what Jesus has given to us for our own good and His glory.
If you read Isaiah 58.13-14 it’s clear that Sunday is a day when we should “honour him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words.” We should be delighting ourselves in the Lord and not focussing on those things that take up our time on the other six days of the week – even if England are playing!
The Lord’s day has to do with God, and not the idols that men worship. In putting up a big screen to watch the football we are making that the centre-piece of the day and sending out the message that football is at least as important as God, if not more so.
Christians do not need to go with the flow. We are meant to be counter-cultural. We do not attract sinners by being just like them in every way, but by showing the difference that God makes to our lives.
Are you not being a big, weird, legalistic Pharisee? (my favourite question)
There is a big difference between legalism and principled obedience. A legalist will try and find favour with God by – in his own mind – living up to or even exceeding God’s standard (have a look at Lk 18.9-14). No genuine Christian thinks that by keeping the Lord’s day they earn special favour with God. It is his pleasure and privilege, not the price we pay to get a round of applause from God.
If you are genuinely asking this question then I would encourage you to carefully consider your own attitude to the authority of God. Some people who accuse others of acting like a Pharisee can be covering up a desire to sail close to the wind spiritually, or even live in outright disobedience to God’s commands.
I do not impose my convictions on other people or judge their standing with God based on their opinion on Sundays. If employing me makes it difficult for others to do their jobs then the employer can find someone else: they have as much right to do that as I do to say that I won’t work on a Sunday.
What about when you film something that goes out on a Sunday?
I rarely have any say in when something I film will be broadcast. Up to a point, that is not my responsibility, and my conscience is clear. So long as I do not directly make someone else work, I am happy to leave those decisions with my boss. If they choose to broadcast my material on a Sunday, that is their decision and responsibility. If I started saying that nothing I ever did could go out of a Sunday I would be rightly sacked for being an impractical gibbon.
Would you go to the shops on a Sunday or watch TV on a Sunday?
It is not as simple as saying “No – never!” to this question. There are other principles to take into account. In general, the Lord’s day is for resting from what we normally do. I go to the shops and watch TV all week – I choose to do differently on Sunday.
Jesus Christ also spoke about that fact that the Lord’s day should be about doing what is merciful (Mt 12.9-14 c.f. Lk 14.1-6; Lk 13.15-17; 1Cor 16.2) or necessary (Mt 12.1-8; Lk 13.15-17).
Let’s talk about mercy first. Jesus used the example of a sheep in a ditch to show the lawfulness of doing good on the Sabbath. If you work for the emergency services, the military or in the medical profession, for example, then that sort of work means Sunday work. It is not wrong to do good on the Lord’s day and there are plenty of things Christians can do like visiting or feeding others.
When it comes to necessity, the two great examples of Scripture are eating and caring for animals. A family must provide food for itself. In our society, you could chuck other things in there as well. A skeleton crew will be needed to keep us all ticking over e.g. gas, electricity, the military.
We can apply those principles to all sorts of things. It may be necessary and merciful to buy painkillers if you have unexpectedly run out; but is it necessary to do your weekly food shop on a Sunday? Doing homework is not a necessity because – if we are honest – it’s normally been put off because we couldn’t be bothered or had something better to do.
We also need to ask whether we are making others work on a Sunday. The Biblical principles (e.g. Ex 20.10; Dt 5.14) show that it’s not just about us but also protecting the same privilege for other people, whether they care about it or not.
You say you don’t work Sundays but you do cover horse racing which is surely against your Christian beliefs?
There is nothing inherently evil about horses running, or even racing. There is nothing wrong with competition. Most people who ask this question are concerned about betting. Well, I understand the concern but all sport involves gambling – wherever people see an element of ‘chance’ they will be happy to bet on the outcome. If I made this an issue, I would not be a sports reporter, and I do not think that is a stance I have to take when it is possible to enjoy sport for its own sake. There are, of course, certain pieces that I will not personally film and I always try and make it clear that the best thing to do it keep your money in your pocket.
How do you like to spend Sunday?
The best stuff is meeting with God’s people to worship Him together and read the bible, sing, pray and listen to the preaching as a church. One of the great things for me is getting together with my family and spending time with friends. Away from church, Sundays normally involve lots of entertaining, food, good conversations and cake.
What happens when your kids want to do things on a Sunday?
Lock them in a cupboard until they listen to me . . . only kidding! I will try and treat them in the same way my parents dealt with me and my brothers and sisters.
First, I will seek to bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6.4). My wife and I will try and set an example of joyful obedience to God and repentance over our sins.
In addition to that I will pray for them, that the things I teach them will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, take root in their hearts, so that they will learn to trust in and love the Lord Jesus.
Finally, while they are under my roof and authority, I will explain that God has given me the authority to ensure that they do what is pleasing to God (Jos 24.15). I cannot headlock them into heaven, but I have a responsibility as a father to make sure they do not live lives without regard for God and his Word while they are under my care. And if all that doesn’t work there’s always the cupboard!
What about Jonathan Edwards, the triple jumper – he thought it was all right? What about all the other Christians who do work on a Sunday?
I do believe that our attitude to Sunday can be a good way of taking our spiritual temperature but I do not think it’s a salvation issue. It is a pretty accurate indicator of how close we are living to God and what are our priorities in life.
If we are Christians then we will have to answer to God for the way we have lived our lives. I really believe that keeping Sunday as the Lord’s day is God’s way of keeping us healthy, happy and holy. Christians cannot afford a shallow and crass perspective on this issue: if it is not a matter of principled obedience, then they must be persuaded of that, because if it is, it is to be wholeheartedly embraced and pursued, for our good and God’s glory.
With regard to Jonathan Edwards, I am not sure it is wise to argue from the example of a man who perhaps began his departure from God with his departure from God’s day. I wonder whether it’s significant that – on his way to rejecting the entire Christian religion as a psychological crutch – Jonathan started by resisting his obligations to God with respect to his time and energy. If you want a better example, what about Eric Liddell – the cool one from Chariots of Fire? He knew he and everything he had – including his time – belonged to God. He was a superb athlete and eventually went to China as a missionary and died in a prison camp during the Second World War. He once said, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ, or we repel them from Christ.” Now that sounds to me like a bloke worth following.
What about going to church and playing football in the afternoon – what is wrong with that?
That itself could be sailing rather close to legalism – the idea that I have done my bit for God and now I can go off and do my own thing for the rest of the day. It sounds a little bit like Roman Catholic box ticking. It’s about the heart. Is worshipping God a dry duty that you go through out of obligation? Is it your tip of the hat to God so that you can go and do what you want for the rest of the day? Be honest: What do you really look forward to? What is the highlight of your day?
Plus – if it’s a day for pursuing God – why would you want to fill it with anything else? It is a day when we put the legitimate fun and games of the other six days on the back burner and are able to glorify and enjoy God.
What are you hoping to achieve?
I haven’t got any grand plan going on. I don’t want to be king of the world – although a castle would be nice. I am trying to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord Jesus who loved me and gave himself for me. I am trying to demonstrate by my commitment to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God that I am his man, and I live for his glory. The Lord says, “Those who honour me, I will honour, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (1Sam 2.30). I am to live to honour God and leave the consequences of that obedience to Him.
Don’t you think that the Bible and everything to do with it is out of date?
Nice big one to finish on! I think my previous answers have probably already answered this bad boy. How can the one book that points us to Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life, be irrelevant? How can the one book that deals honestly with eternal truths be passed its ‘use by’ date? It is the abiding Word of the living God, revealing his Son and it is through Jesus Christ that we can know salvation from sins through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the truth by which I intend to live with God’s help, and in the hope of which I will die.
In the last couple of days a list of qualities in communities of performance and communities of grace has been floating around the interweb (e.g. here). It apparently comes from an address by Tim Chester at the Total Church Conference, and also appears on Tim’s blog. I recently read Total Church by Tim and his colleague, Steve Timmis, and found much that was provocatively helpful and challenging, and a few things with which I disagreed or about which I had questions (I may try to review this book shortly). Here is the list:
Communities of performance
- the leaders appear sorted
- the community appears respectable
- meetings must be a polished performance
- identity is found in ministry
- failure is devastating
- actions are driven by duty
- conflict is suppressed or ignored
- the focus is on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted)
Communities of grace
- the leaders are vulnerable
- the community is messy
- meetings are just one part of community life
- identity is found in Christ
- failure is disappointing, but not devastating
- actions are driven by joy
- conflict is addressed in the open
- the focus is on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)
We are asked to assess the churches of which we are a part and to which we belong, and to see whether we belong to a community of performance or a community of grace.
However, what we are presented with here is a series of false dichotomies: this is a logical fallacy in which two options are given on the premise that the one is mutually exclusive of the other, and that there are no other alternatives. But it is a false dichotomy because the contrast is either not jointly exhaustive or not mutually exclusive. Put more simply, you are being told that this is an ‘either-or’ choice when it really is not.
So, are your leaders sorted or are they vulnerable? These are not mutually exclusive choices. Is it wrong for leaders to be competent? Is that the same as sorted? What does ‘vulnerable’ mean? Does it mean that their fallen though redeemed humanity is apparent, that they evidently are earthen vessels (2Cor 4.7)? Webster’s Dictionary suggests that a vulnerable person is “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” – what does that have to do with grace? If it means that the leaders of a church don’t pretend to be superhuman, all well and good. But how does that contrast with ‘sorted’? A lot of people who like to appear sorted are actually prone to being wounded – vulnerability is often part of the package, because it’s the very thing that the performer is trying to deny. Furthermore, a leader who is not only capable of being physically or emotionally wounded, but who is constantly wrecked by it and made incapable of serving others through it (e.g. curling up in self-centredness) is not really a demonstration of grace. Only where one’s vulnerability works itself out in, for example, a Pauline dynamic does it prove a demonstration of grace.
The community appears respectable or it is messy? If by this we are called to distinguish between a Pharisaic outward morality and a readiness to acknowledge the realities of remaining sin and the imperfections of sinners wrestling toward holiness, fine. But is messy the opposite of respectable? If we are beacons of gospel light in a fallen world could we not appear – or, indeed, be – ‘respectable’ to a twisted and miserable world without being Pharisees? And does messy require that we not make progress toward godliness, even while we recognise that God’s grace is not always the neat and streamlined thing we would like it to be? Are we being told to oppose messy with orderly? After all, things in the church are to be done decently and in order (1Cor 14.40). Is there something ungodly about being like God?
Again, if a polished performance is the be-all-and-end-all of a meeting for worship, then clearly we are in trouble. But how is that opposed to a meeting that is one part of community life? The whole life of a community could be the pursuit of a polished performance. What does it become then? Again, could a meeting that is decent and orderly be a genuine arena for true grace? Paul evidently thought so.
Is your identity found in ministry or in Christ? Surely and fundamentally, it is in Christ. But is knowing and labouring in one’s calling and service the opposite of finding one’s identity in Christ?
Is failure devastating or disappointing? Well, it depends on the nature of the failure. When Peter failed to own Christ, he was more than disappointed. He was, of course, restored by God’s grace, but he was devastated. Are we called to distinguish between the demand for sinless perfection and the recognition that there is a constant battle against sin and for godliness? Amen! But surely it is not the necessary mark of a mere performer to be profoundly grieved over sin (one’s own or that of others), and some of the most gracious men are much more than disappointed by their sin and those of others, while recognising that where sin abounds grace much more abounds?
Are your actions driven by duty or joy? Well, are not a lot of my actions duties? Cannot my duties be driven by joy? What sort of joy? What is the opposite of this joy? Distress? Grief? To be sure, my actions are not to be driven by guilt, or with a view to earning merit, or merely being applauded. But to be driven (motivated?) by joy does not mean that what I am doing is not my Christian duty.
Is conflict suppressed or ignored or addressed openly? What does openly mean? If it means in front of the whole community, then that runs against our Lord’s injunction to go first alone to win one’s brother, and then with one or two others (Mt 18.15-17). “Of course it doesn’t mean that!” you respond. I know, but in terms of the false contrast supplied it could. What does suppression mean? If it means covering a brother’s ignorant offence with a blanket of love (in the longsuffering spirit of 1 Corinthians 13.4) because you do not need to raise it with him unless it becomes a pattern of sin, surely that is a mark of grace? If and when a problem does need to be dealt with, do you do so frankly, transparently, openly? Good, that too is grace.
Is the focus of your local church on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted) or on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)? Why should an affectionate heart full of love to God and persuaded of the sinfulness of sin and the abounding grace of God in Christ lack orthodox belief and righteous behaviour? As Martin Downes points out (just seen this!), orthodoxy is demanded in a true community of grace and a true minister of the gospel of grace (2Tim 1.13-14). There is no necessary exclusivity between orthodox doctrine and righteous living and the affections of the heart (as the parenthetical caveats acknowledge, there is a specific context in which these qualities can become opposed, even if they not mutually exclusive themselves).
If you read Tim Chester’s own blog, you will see that he is much more nuanced than the list suggests. This is a good thing, because the naked list is thoroughly misleading. It sets up a series of unfair contrasts that demand a much more carefully explained context to be genuinely helpful. The categories established and the judgments demanded by them suck the unwary reader into an ‘either-or’ quandary which is simply unnecessary, not to mention unreasonable. The opposing lists feel edgy and radical, but – standing alone – they seem flawed and can be very easily misunderstood. Indeed, almost all of the marks of a community of grace we are offered could very easily be ‘performed.’ I hope that by simply pointing this out, I will not be immediately consigned to one of those terrible ‘communities of performance.’
Some of the things that Tim identifies certainly can mark a community as tainted with Pharisaism and legalism and hypocrisy. Some of the marks he suggests identify a community of grace are – rightly understood – indicative of spiritual health. However, there is a mere surface contrast being demanded by these lists that could betray us into a denial of true grace at work. Martin Downes makes plain that
Christ is enough. His obedient life is enough. His finished work is enough. The imputation of his righteousness is enough. It has all be done by Him for us. Grace has set us free from seeking to establish, maintain and advance our status on the basis of a false righteousness.
Where Christ is enough and known and felt to be enough, grace will reign and our communities will be awash with grace. It will be grace in which we stand (Rom 5.2) and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Such realities are not advanced by false dichotomies.
With my father still away in the US, I had both services again. He returns this week, but then I am away, visiting Emmanuel Baptist Church in Coconut Creek, Florida, for a couple of weekends. On my return, I am preaching almost immediately at a Ladies’ Conference hosted by the church, and then our friend from the Reformed Baptist Church of Chelmsley Wood, Pastor Gearóid Marley, will be preaching on the following Lord’s day (when we shall be having a special ‘Sunday Listen & Dine’ service, inviting unconverted friends).
This morning I preached from Luke 5.27-32, on Christ’s calling of Levi, under the title, “Follow me”. The structure was very simple. On the one hand, we considered Christ’s call: it was sudden, almost random to the eyes of men; surprising, because Levi seemed to have no expectation or desire of Christ, was in a business for collaborators from which you would not expect disciples to be drawn, and was in the grip of wealth which he was in the process of collecting; gracious, for the same reasons, and yet Christ is pleased to speak to him; personal, as the Lord bids Levi come into relationship with him; simple, being crisp and clear – leave your sin and life of sin and come after me; absolute, issued with no qualifications or options, demanding an absolute renunciation of his old life and absolute commitment to Christ; purposeful, because though men might have imagined Levi a waste of space, yet our Lord would use him to bring others, and would make him the Spirit’s scribe to record the gospel of the kingdom; and, effectual, working a response in Levi by the power of God.
Then there is Levi’s response: fundamentally, it is obedient – called to follow, Levi got up and followed; furthermore, it is immediate – there is no delay, he neither denies nor defers; sacrificial, for he leaves all behind, the unqualified call receiving an unqualified response; joyful, without regret for what is left behind, and honouring Christ with a great feast; public, for Levi did not so much leave his friends behind as seek to draw them with him, demonstrating a missionary spirit without leaving home; shocking, for such men and women as this to be found keeping company with Christ, and he with them – but this is just where we should expect to find the Great Physician; and, encouraging – if then, why not now? If them, why not you?
We paused with the two enduring images of Christ: the Son of God looking at Levi, and – with authority, integrity, and tenderness, bidding him “Follow me”; and, the Saviour among sinners, the Redeemer among the lost, the light shining in the darkness, the Lord Jesus about his saving business.
With these images before us, we asked the believers to remember Christ’s gracious dealings with us, contrary to our deserts, expectations and desires. Has he captured our hearts like he captured Levi’s? Do we have the disciple’s grateful and missionary spirit?
Or has the spirit of the Pharisees crept in, whereby we preach for the pleasant but dismiss the perverse, look for the worthy and despise the unworthy? Do we receive the righteous, or sinners? How much we need confidence in this Saviour for all sinners, to call men of all sorts to follow him, and pray for the Spirit to make the call effectual. Out and out Pharisees, too, need a Christ, but they must first humble themselves and confess themselves sinners: the church is not a moral club for the socially acceptable and outwardly upright, but a joyful gathering of black-hearted wretches saved by grace and made followers of the Saviour of sinners like us.
Then, this evening, I continued in Colossians: Beware the predators. Paul now launches into battle on behalf of the Colossians, proceeding by way of admonition and affirmation – exposing error and affirming truth, applying Christ’s personal, saving and sovereign fullness to the errors being pushed on the church.
We began with a clear warning given. Paul calls the church to be always on their guard. Though danger is clearly implied and alertness demanded (a vigilance modelled by Epaphras), he does not merely give a general directive.
There is also a real danger identified. A person or persons in the Colossian church is seeking to carry Christians off captive, to take them as prey. This is a real danger, the very opposite of walking in Christ. To false teachers, Christians are prey, and so we need to recognise that there are such enemies of our souls who have such designs; pastors must issue specific warnings as appropriate; and, the saints, once warned, must be on their guard.
Finally, there is a seductive method exposed. The tools of the predator are “philosophy and empty deceit.” Such weapons, used cunningly, are effective against all manner of Christians, striking at every weak point. Philosophy here is (not a genuine love of wisdom but) the elevation of the human mind above revelation, a blanket term for claimed mystical, intuitive, imaginative ‘insights’ into the divine nature and natural phenomena. By definition, such philosophy is empty deceit – seductive, impressive, even intimidating, but really just high-sounding nonsense, a pretty poison. It is that which pleases fancy and ruins faith. I gave some examples of this kind of material from hypercovenantalism (the Federal Vision), the emergent church, post-modern Gnosticism, the Lakeland revivals, and current philosophy of science, to take but a few. Though a wide spectrum, they share characteristics of style or elements of untruth that put them firmly under this banner. It is a mask for old errors, the garb of neo-paganism, and altogether dangerous. Phil Johnson posts some words from Charles Spurgeon that echo some of the same issues.
The three marks by which such empty deceit can be identified are its being according to the traditions of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. While intending to consider these marks in more detail, we paused simply to note that an accurate knowledge of Christ, in whom is all fullness, and in whom we are made full, is the antidote to such error. This is why it is so vital, having received Christ Jesus the Lord, to go on walking in him.