Tag Archives: Purpose

What is the meaning and significance of Christmas for Christians?

It’s the time of year when we explain what Christianity is about.

God exists

Basically, we know from a variety of scientific arguments that the universe was created and fine-tuned for life by an intelligent agent that existed causally prior to the beginning of the universe, because this agent brought the universe into being. Our purpose as humans is to enter into a two-way loving relationship with this Creator/Designer of the universe. This is the only way that we can ultimately be happy and fulfilled.

We avoid God

Now, when you look at human experience, none of us is interested in finding out about the character of this Creator/Designer, because we are afraid that if we find out too much about him then we will have our freedom to do as we please constrained by the demands of a relationship with an all-powerful, all-good being. Just knowing that such a person exists and has a character distinct from our own is enough to cause us to flee from him so that we can stay autonomous from the obligations of the moral law that he expects us to follow.

Christians believe that this universal desire to avoid an all-powerful, all-good God who will judge us is a result of bad behaviors inherited by us from the very first rebellion against God by our ancestors. Ever since that rebellion, the capability for relating to God has been lost, because we no longer have the ability to stop our rebellion against God. Christians call the first rebellion of our ancestors “The Fall of Man”.

What does this rebellion look like for us today? Well, we want to do whatever we want, in order to be happy, and to ignore God’s demands. We want to have happy feelings, including security, community and being morally good, all without a relationship with God. We want to acquire and rearrange matter for our selfish ends without acknowledging and honoring the Creator/Designer of that matter. And, of course, we would like other people to affirm, voluntarily or involuntarily, that our rebellion against God is really the height of moral goodness.

Additionally, some people imagine that God, if he exists at all, must desire our happiness. And of course when their needs are not met by this invented God, then they become even more bitter at God, and eventually decide that God could not really exist since their selfish needs are not being met by him. It never seems to occur to us humans that some pain and suffering may be permitted by God in order to turn our attention away from pleasure and security in this life, and back towards a relationship with him.

This is the mess we find ourselves in. This propensity for turning away from God and trying to pursue selfish happiness and security apart from a relationship with God is what the Bible calls “sin”. Every single one of us deserves severe punishment for refusing to pursue a genuine two-way love relationship with the God who is there. That is the mess we are in before Jesus appears to address this problem.

Jesus saves the day

I cannot say much about how Jesus solves the problem of rebellion against God, because that is really the story of Easter, and today we are dealing with the story of Christmas. But I can say that the solution to the problem requires that God step into history to communicate with his creatures and to perform actions in order to be reconciled with them. That is the message of Christmas: God is stepping into history to do something to end our rebellion. Easter is the story of what he does.

This is talked about in the Bible in John 1, for example.

John 1:1-5:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2He was with God in the beginning.

3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

You can substitute the word “Word” there for Logos, which really means logic or reason or wisdom. This is a person with a divine nature, identified with the eternal being of God, who exists causally prior to the creation of the universe, who is going to take on an additional human nature, including a human body. (Christians believe that there is one divine “what” being and three divine “who” persons). Software engineers, you can think of Jesus having two natures as multiple inheritance in C++.

And it continues in John 1:10-14:

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here the word grace doesn’t mean like a graceful ballet dancer. It means an instance of mercy received from a superior. A person (a “who”) identified with the divine being (a “what”) has decided to make us a top-down offer of mercy.

The same message of God stepping into history is found in the Christmas carols that people sing at Christmas.

Christmas carols

Here’s the best one, “O, Holy Night“, and it says:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

When we were in rebellion, we had lost our most valuable capacity – the capacity of being in a direct relationship with God. And if the newborn baby Jesus can accomplish his mission (and he did), then we are going to regain that capacity for a direct relationship with God.

Now look at “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing“, which one of my favorites:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”

Basically, as I often say, there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are people who are willing to respond to the offer of a relationship with God, with all the little sacrifices and compromises that a relationship entails, and then there are people who are not willing to respond. For the people who are willing to respond, the appearance of Jesus is the best thing that could possibly happen, because now we are finally going to have a chance to deal directly with God, face-to-face, to find out what he is like, and change ourselves to be more like him, with his help.

And that is why people celebrate Christmas. It’s the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. It is the story of God stepping into history to be reconciled with his rebellious creatures. It’s the story of the divine Logos subjecting himself to the life of a creature in order to rescue us from our sinful, self-destructive rebellion. This love for undeserving creatures is above and beyond the call of duty. We didn’t love him, but instead he loved us first, and he loved us enough to come down here and suffer with us so that we could be reconciled with God.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Does God pose an authority problem for you?

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

I’m going to steal this entire post from Tough Questions Answered to get a conversation started:

Many of the people I know who reject God or who have crafted a God that makes no demands on them have a fundamental problem with authority.  They don’t want anybody telling them what to do.

For a person who wants complete autonomy, who chafes at the thought of anyone having authority over them, a creator God who makes demands is way inconvenient.

Many people who believe in God, but also have this authority hang-up, create their own version of God.  This God gives them what they want when they want it.  He approves of everything they do, as long as they are just trying to be happy.  He encourages them to follow their desires, wherever they lead.  C. S. Lewis compared this God to a senile, old grandfather who never says “no” to his grandchildren.  You want chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  No problem!

Is this the Christian God?  Philosopher Paul Moser answers the question:

It would be a strange, defective God who didn’t pose a serious cosmic authority problem for humans.  Part of the status of being God, after all, is that God has a unique authority, or lordship, over humans.  Since we humans aren’t God, the true God would have authority over us and would seek to correct our profoundly selfish ways.

If you are “worshiping” a God who makes no demands on you, you’re worshiping no God at all.  You’re just trying to find a deity to make you feel good about your selfish choices.  What’s the point?

I’m posting this because I’m looking for comments. Do you know anyone like this? I’ll help by getting you started with some sample atheists.

Famous atheists agree: God is not the boss of them

Consider the words of Thomas Nagel, a famous atheist philosopher:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”

And what about atheist Richard Lewontin: (and when he says “science” below, he means “naturalistic science”)

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our own a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, not matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.” (Richard Lewontin in New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p. 28)

Interesting. He’s willing to tell people lies to keep the Divine Foot outside the door.

And one last one from Aldous Huxley:

“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantegous to themselves… For myself, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” — Aldous Huxley in Ends and Means, 1937

So this is pretty widespread among famous atheists. How about among ordinary atheists?

Survey says

Arthur Brooks’ survey showed that atheists certainly give less in charity and do less community service as religious people on the right and left.

Quote:

Drawing on some ten data sets, Brooks finds that religiosity is among the best predictors of charitable giving. Religious Americans are not only much more likely to give money and volunteer their time to religious and secular institutions, they are also more likely to provide aid to family members, return incorrect change, help a homeless person, and donate blood. In fact, despite expecting to find just the opposite, Brooks concluded: “I have never found a measurable way in which secularists are more charitable than religious people.”

Consider some examples. Religious citizens who make $49,000 gave away about 3.5 times as much money as secular citizens with the same income. They also volunteered twice as often, are 57 percent more likely to help homeless persons, and two-thirds more likely to give blood at their workplace. Meanwhile, those who insist that “beliefs don’t matter as long as you’re a good person” are not as good as those who do think beliefs matter. The former group gave and volunteered at much lower rates.

Yet even these findings tend to obscure the impact of religion on charity. This is because some of the survey respondents that Brooks classified as secular are indirectly affected by religion if they were raised in a religious household.

Keeping the Divine Foot outside the door has advantages – you don’t have to worry about giving away your own stuff to others.

Atheists also divorce more than committed Christians:

Quote:

It’s a number that is trumpeted from the rooftops — and the pulpit: Half of marriages among Christians and non-Christians alike end in divorce.

But the reality is that Christians who attend church regularly get divorced at a much lower rate.

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, found that among people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, 60 percent have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.

W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, found a nearly identical spread between “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church and people with no religious affiliation.

Professor Scott Stanley from the University of Denver, who is working on the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, said couples with a vibrant religious faith have more and higher levels of the qualities that marriages need to avoid divorce.

“Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said that they were more religious reported higher average levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce and lower levels of negative interaction,” he said. “These patterns held true when controlling for such important variables as income, education and age at first marriage.”

Again, keeping the Divine Foot outside the door has advantages. You don’t have to make a commitment that goes against your self-interest. When you don’t feel good in a relationship, you can get out.

I have found that atheists think that even if Christianity were true, atheists have no intention of changing the way they live. Even if they don’t personally engage in tons of obvious immorality, they frequently advocate for a society where Judeo-Christian values have disappeared completely, e.g. – abortion, same-sex marriage. Atheism, if it means anything, means that the strong should be allowed to pursue their own pleasure at the expense of the weak. And God has to go, because he gets in the way of that unrestrained pursuit of pleasure.

I hope that more atheists look in the mirror and are honest with themselves about what’s really going on. Is it really such a terrible thing to have a relationship with the person who cares the most about you and wants the best for you? Is fun really that important that people have to push away the Creator of the universe just because he requires self-denial? You can’t get the experience of choosing to imitate God in order to be in solidarity with him if you shut him out because you want your autonomy. And that’s what we are all here to do – to know him, to be his friend, to act in a way that allows us to feel what he feels, and to have sympathy with him.

An atheist explains the real consequences of adopting an atheistic worldview

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

If you love to listen to the Cold Case Christianity podcast, as I do, then you know that in a recent episode, J. Warner Wallace mentioned a blog post on an atheistic blog that clearly delineated the implications of an atheistic worldview. He promised he was going to write about it and link to the post, and he has now done so.

Here is the whole the whole thing that the atheist posted:

“[To] all my Atheist friends.

Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this. However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice.

We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself. While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not. Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time. But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past. They got us here. That’s it. All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose. Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.

We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books. We imagine ourselves superior. But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality. Have they allowed life to exist? Absolutely. But who cares? Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me. Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population. They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays. But underneath they know the truth. They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen. Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one. You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all. When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife.

I know it’s not PC to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.”

In his post, Wallace comments on the statement above, but for more, you should listen to the podcast.

This fellow is essentially expanding on what Richard Dawkins has said about atheism:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

And Cornell University atheist William Provine agrees: (this is taken from his debate with Phillip E. Johnson)

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

And what about Florida State University atheist Michael Ruse:

“The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.” (Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

I see a lot of atheists these days thinking that they can help themselves to a robust notion of consciousness, to real libertarian free will, to objective moral values and duties, to objective human rights, and to objective meaning in life, without giving credit to theism. It’s not rational to do this. As Frank Turek said on the latest episode of “Cross Examined”, atheists have to sit in God’s lap to slap his face. We should be calling them out on it. I think it’s particularly important not to let atheists utter a word of moral judgment on any topic, since they cannot ground an objective standard that allows them to make statements of morality. Further, I think that they should have every immorality ever committed presented to them, and then they should be told “your worldview does not allow you to condemn this as wrong”. They can’t praise anything as right, either. This is not to say that we should go all presuppositional on them, but if the opportunity arises to point out how they are borrowing from theism in order to attack it, we should do that in addition to presenting good scientific and historical evidence.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Three thoughts on forgiveness and reconciliation in Luke 15

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

The Bible passage for this post – the last in the series of five – is in Luke 15.

Luke 15:1-10:

1 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.

Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He told them this parable, saying,

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And now we go to C.S. Lewis for this quote:

“It may be possible for each [person] to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another…. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

— C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory”

And then there is this from the biography of J. Warner Wallace:

J. Warner Wallace was an atheist for 35 years. He was passionate in his opposition to Christianity, and he enjoyed debating his Christian friends. In debating his friends, J. Warner seldom found them prepared to defend what they believed. He became a Police Officer and eventually advanced to Detective. Along the way, he developed a healthy respect for the role of evidence in discerning truth, and his profession gave him ample opportunity to press into action what he had learned about the nature and power of evidence. Throughout all of this, he remained an “angry atheist”, hostile to Christianity and largely dismissive of Christians.

When J. Warner took time to be honest with himself, he had to admit that he never took the time to examine the evidence for the Christian Worldview without the bias and presupposition of naturalism. He never gave the case for Christianity a fair shake. When he finally examined the evidence fairly, he found it difficult to deny, especially if he hoped to retain his respect for the way evidence is utilized to determine truth. J. Warner found the evidence for Christianity to be convincing.

J. Warner founded PleaseConvinceMe.com as a transparent resource that tracks his own spiritual journey. From angry atheist, to skeptic, to believer, to seminarian, to pastor, to author and podcaster, his journey has been assisted by his experience as a Detective. J. Warner wrote, “Cold-Case Christianity” with a desire to share those experiences with you, It’s J. Warner’s hope that his own efforts to detect and articulate the truth will help you to become a better Christian Case Maker.

In a recent podcast, I heard Wallace mention that he is now an adjunct professor in the apologetics program at Biola University. Adjunct professor.

And this from the biography of the fighting pastor, Pastor Matt Rawlings:

Matt Rawlings is a Teaching Pastor at Christ’s Community Church in Portsmouth, OH and State Director of Development for a Christian legal ministry.

Matt has been married since 1998 to Emily Bennington and they have a son, Jackson who was born in 2003.

Matt is a prodigal preacher’s kid who ran away from home at 15, ended up in Hollywood at 17 where, among other things, he directed music videos for Latin MTV. He returned to his home town of Portsmouth, OH in 1991 and after a wasted year of college, he entered politics (which is just Hollywood for ugly people). Matt worked for 2 Congressional campaigns and spent 2 years working on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide during the “Gingrich Years” of 1995-1997.

It was during this time that Matt was diagnosed with cancer and was saved. After graduating from Shawnee State University in 1998 with a B.A. in History, Matt studied New Testament Greek at Kentucky Christian University and then the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University where he earned a Master of Divinity.

Matt then graduated from Cornell Law School in 2004 while pastoring a small church in Ithaca, New York. After a few years working in a large corporate law firm in West Virginia while serving as an interim pastor for small churches, Matt became a Teaching Pastor at Christ’s Community Church in 2006. He then helped launch and lead Revolution, a Gen-X & Gen-Y ministry from 2008 to 2013.

Matt earned a certificate in apologetics from BIOLA University. He also launched Free Seminary to train lay Christians to become disciple makers. When Matt isn’t preaching or teaching, he is hanging out with his family or reading theology or detective novels, watching old movies or listening to really loud music.

Pastor Matt spent a period of time as an atheist, and he wrote about it candidly in several posts on his blog. But look at him now.

So here’s what I want to say about all this.

The first point I want to make is that it’s important to understand what human beings are in Christianity. We are not just lumps of meat who evolved by accident in an eternal, undesigned universe. Every single one of us is made in the image of God. We are embodied minds. When we die, our body stops working, but the mind/soul survives. God loves each of us equally and wants us all to come to know him and to have eternal life with him. Those who resist his loving but non-coercive drawing of us to him will spend eternity separated from him. Our lives do not end at the grave. Every single person you speak to was made to live on beyond the grave. And every moment you spend with them, (as a Christian operator, working as God’s ambassador), is leading them to one eternal destination or another. It’s part of God’s plan for your santification that you participate in leading other people to Christ, and building them up once they’ve been led to Christ.

The second point I want to make is that you can know precisely nothing about what a person can accomplish for God from their present state of rebellion against God. Wallace and Rawlings were bold and determined atheists. To every prim and proper church Christian looking on then, they must have looked as if they would never come to faith in Christ, and certainly that they would never make contributions to the Kingdom like the ones they have. It would have been exactly the wrong thing to do, at that time, to count them out and to refuse to engage them. I meet Christians all the time who are regular church-attenders and Bible-readers who I ask to engage with me to grow some of these lost-sheep or newly-found sheep, and I am so surprised to hear the pride in their voice as they dismiss these people as lost causes. Don’t do that! You are not in a position to know what these people are capable of. And I can guarantee you that God hasn’t given you so many people to mentor that you can just be cavalier about throwing some of them out that you deem to be unworthy of your time. Be careful about having your sins forgiven and then refusing to forgive someone else’s sins. If someone needs your mentoring, you better put in the same effort that God put into rescuing you. God uses people to save other people, and God help the “Christian” who makes excuses for not being faithful when they are called. This is not optional.

The third point I want to make is that in the real world, we have to understand what works in order to convince someone to become a Christian or to return to the faith. Christianity is a truth-centered faith. It has certain propositions that must be affirmed as true. In order for those propositions to be affirmed as true, they have to be demonstrated to be true. The way the founder of the religion did this is by providing miracles to authenticate his claims, (just read the gospel of John). Jesus offered these miracles to unbelievers as evidence for them to then freely choose to believe his statements about himself. Here in this time and place, it falls to us to use logical arguments and evidence from nature and history to prove out these same propositions to unbelievers. If you want to be the one who is able to leave the 99 found sheep and save the 1 lost sheep, then you study apologetics and invest in relationships with people. If you want to be the one who is able to leave the 9 silver coins and save the 1 lost silver coin, then you study apologetics and invest in relationships with people. Christianity is an evidential faith. If you want to share your faith with the lost, you have to study the evidence for it.

Love another Christian just because of the fellowship of the gospel

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

Philippians is my favorite book of the Bible. When I study Philippians 1, I use D. A. Carson’s “Basics for Believers” commentary.

Here is the part I want to talk about today:

Philippians 1:1-11:

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,

in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,

10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Now just read that and reflect on how passionate, and even unstable and emotional Paul sounds about this love he has for this church. Ask yourself this: what is the basis for these feelings? Read it again, and write your answer down. I’ll tell you mine in a minute.

Now here is D. A. Carson.

He writes:

As often in his letters, Paul begins with a warm expression of thanks to God for something in the lives of his readers. Here the grounds of his thanksgiving to God are three in number, though all three are tied to the same theme.

The first is their faithful memory of him. The NIV reads, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (1: 3). But others suggest “I thank my God every time you remember me,” or something similar. The original is ambiguous. For reasons I shall not go into, I think Paul is referring to their remembrance of him. Later on he will thank the Philippians for remembering him so warmly that they sent funds to support him in his ministry. But here the vision is broader: he perceives that their interest in him is a reflection of their continued commitment to the gospel, and that is why he thanks God for them.

The point becomes explicit in the second cause of his thanksgiving: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . .” (1: 4– 5). Their “partnership in the gospel” injects joy into Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving: “I always pray with joy,” he writes. The word rendered “partnership” is more commonly translated “fellowship” in the New Testament. What precisely does the word mean? In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

In the first century, however, the word commonly had commercial overtones. If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15: 26).

The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. Both John and Harry put their savings into the fishing boat. Now they share the vision that will put the fledgling company on its feet. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel” or “fellowship in the gospel,” he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ— from the moment of their conversion (“ from the first day until now,” Paul writes)— rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry— all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel. That is more than enough reason for thanking God.

[..]Implicitly, such an apostolic stance asks us what gives us our greatest joy. Is it personal success? Some victory for our children? Acquisition of material things? “I have no greater joy,” John writes, “than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Paul reflects exactly the same attitude. Paul adds, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart . . .” (Phil. 1: 7). Probably this was written against the background of Stoic influence that was cautious about whole-life commitments, especially if they involved the “passions.” Be cool; do not be vulnerable; do not get hurt. But that was not Paul’s way. “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you,” Paul insists, regardless of what the contemporary culture says. “I have you in my heart”: my whole life and thought are bound up with you.

More:

So strongly does he want the Philippians to recognize his devotion to them that Paul puts himself under an oath: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1: 8). The significance of the oath is not that without it he might lie. Rather, he puts himself under an oath so that the Philippians might feel the passion of his truthfulness, in exactly the same way that God puts himself under an oath in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There the point is not that otherwise God might lie, but that God wants to be believed (Heb. 7: 20– 25). So Paul: God is my witness “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Here is no mere professionalism. Nor is this an act, a bit of showmanship to “turn them on” to the apostle. Rather, it is something that repeatedly bubbles through Paul’s arguments. It recurs, for example, in chapter 4: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (4: 1).

Both from Paul’s example and from that of the Philippians, then, we must learn this first point: the fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers. That is the burden of these opening verses. Paul does not commend them for the fine times they had shared watching games in the arena. He doesn’t mention their literature discussion groups or the excellent meals they had, although undoubtedly they had enjoyed some fine times together. What lies at the center of all his ties with them, doubtless including meals and discussion, is this passion for the gospel, this partnership in the gospel.

What ties us together? What do we talk about when we meet, even after a church service? Mere civilities? The weather? Sports? Our careers and our children? Our aches and pains? None of these topics should be excluded from the conversation of Christians, of course. In sharing all of life, these things will inevitably come up. But what must tie us together as Christians is this passion for the gospel, this fellowship in the gospel. On the face of it, nothing else is strong enough to hold together the extraordinary diversity of people who constitute many churches: men and women, young and old, blue collar and white, healthy and ill, fit and flabby, different races, different incomes, different levels of education, different personalities. What holds us together? It is the gospel, the good news that in Jesus, God himself has reconciled us to himself. This brings about a precious God-centeredness that we share with other believers.

Does what Carson writes make you think of the Lord of the Rings book 1? (“The Fellowship of the Ring”) It sounds like Christians are supposed to band together in common purpose in order to complete a quest. They are not supposed to just be hanging out to pass the time. There is planning. There is cooperation. There is danger. There is achievement. There is adventure. I think that he loves the church in Philippi because they have entered into this fellowship of the gospel with him.

More:

Already in verse 4 Paul has insisted that whenever he prays for the Philippians, he does so with joy and thanksgiving. Now he gives us the content of his prayers for them: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— to the glory and praise of God” (1: 9– 11).

[…]Second, what Paul has in mind is not mere sentimentalism or the rush of pleasure spawned, for example, by a large conference. “I pray,” Paul writes, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” The kind of love that Paul has in mind is the love that becomes more knowledgeable. Of course, Paul is not thinking of just any kind of knowledge. He is not hoping they will learn more and more about nuclear physics or sea turtles. He has in mind the knowledge of God; he wants them to enjoy insight into God’s words and ways, and thus to know how to live in light of them.

[…]Third, for Paul this prayer has a further end in view. He lifts these petitions to God, he tells the Philippians, “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (1: 10). Clearly, Paul does not want the Philippian believers to be satisfied with mediocrity. He cannot be satisfied, in a fallen world, with the status quo. He wants these believers to move on, to become more and more discerning, proving in their own experience “what is best.” He wants them to pursue what is best in the knowledge of God, what is best in their relationships with other believers, what is best in joyful obedience. For ultimately what he wants from them is perfection: he prays that they “may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”

Now for my thoughts.

I want all of you reading this to do one thing for me. I want you to completely abandon the criteria you are currently using for who you will be friends with and adopt Paul’s criteria. I want you to put your gospel-related activities at the center of your life. Do not neglect your other practical duties like making money and saving money and so on, but when it comes to your passion, where you take risks, where your long-term goals are – I want you to put the gospel at the center. And I do not mean mere proclamation of simple statements, I mean apologetics and Christian worldview – including politics, economics, etc.

Now, that’s not my main point. My main point is that I further want you to stop choosing who you will associate with based on worldly criteria. I want you to think about the people around you who are the most willing to put the gospel first and I want you to take up those people as friends. I want you to talk to them, to share with them, to encourage them, to confide in them, to listen to their confessions and to generally love them in the traditional ways that Christians love, e.g. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. You need to fellowship with them – invest in their enterprises, and let them invest in yours, too. This is real love according to the Bible.

We need to stop looking at other people on the surface level – age, skin color, wealth, clothes, etc. – and start to dig deeper underneath to find out where each person stands with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our criteria should not be present ability. We should choose those with desire, intensity, and willingness to learn hard things. The first person you should invest in is the person who wants to learn to defend their faith to non-Christians using the best available evidence. If that person can demonstrate their desire to do grow in knowledge and depth of insight, you should be spending your time, money and effort with that person first.