Sacrificing Like Christ

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We must be careful when we are talking about being like Christ. There are ways we can and cannot be like Jesus. His work on the cross was unique. His death atoned. His sacrificed took away our sins. We also must guard against the temptation to view Christ as just a good example and nothing more. Yet we are supposed to look like our Lord in a secondary way.  Ephesians 5:1-2 say this: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” While our sacrifices do not atone we are supposed to show our love for others by sacrificing for them. Here are four ways we can know that we are learning to sacrifice like Christ. What do we sacrifice? It is rarely our lives. What we give up is time, money, energy, and often our own dreams and desires.

1. We are learning to sacrifice without resentment. Sacrifice with bitterness is not sacrificing like Christ.  This ties in closely with #2.  Often we are not sacrificing, but we are buying people with our good deeds. When we do something nice and there is no payoff we get bitter.

2. We are learning to sacrifice when there is nothing in it for us. If we have a “I do this for you, but you will do something for me” mentality we are not sacrificing like Christ. Too many of us function on debt/payment system. When we sacrifice for someone we are putting them in our debt and they now owe us. This is not like Christ. This is a great danger for parents who often give to their children in the hopes that the children will give back to them as well as spouses who sacrifice for each other, but often in hopes of repayment.

3. We are learning to sacrifice for those who do not deserve it.  Let’s state the obvious: Jesus gave for those did not deserve, you and me.  Go and do likewise. So often, before we decided to sacrifice for someone, we evaluate them and weigh them in the balance. Do they really deserve this? It is a great twisting of grace to only give to those who we think deserve it.

4. We are learning to sacrifice with joy.  A sacrifice that is sour is a sacrifice tainted with sin.  This does not mean we ignore the difficulty of sacrificing for others. (See Jesus in the garden.) But it means that we should be glad to lay down our money, time, energy, and dreams for those around us. It is better to give than receive.

Martin Bucer on Caring for the Poor

I really enjoyed reading Martin Bucer’s book Concerning the True Care of Souls. It is pastoral theology at its best. His first three chapters are excellent as he discusses what is the Church and how Christ rules in the Church. Here is his definition of the Church from the first chapter:

“The church of Christ is the assembly and fellowship of those who are gathered from the world and united to Christ our Lord through his Spirit and word, to be a body and members of one another, each having his office and work for the general good of the whole body and all its members.”

He then goes on discuss this definition in more detail.  Here are the last four points Martin Bucer makes in his opening chapter.  He says that Christians should be sharing their possessions and then gives some rules for that sharing. I thought this was helpful in thinking about how to address needs in the body.  His points are in italics and my notes follow.

1. Christians have their fellowship not only in spiritual matters, but also in temporal ones. (Acts 4:32, 34, 35) His point here is a vital one. We often think of sharing in Scripture and prayer, which are of course important, but material possessions matter. Our love for the Church must be expressed in tangible, physical ways.

2. Christians dedicate themselves and their possessions to the help of the poor and the promotion of godliness. (II Corinthians 8:1-5)  Here Bucer puts up some fences around our aid. First, it must actually help the poor. Second it must promote godliness. Our aid cannot be such that it promotes ungodliness.  It is unbiblical to give money to subsidize laziness or drunkenness or any other form of sin.

3. The sharing of Christians takes place in such a way that those in need are helped and the others not burdened. (II Corinthians 8:13-15) Bucer’s point here is not that our giving shouldn’t cost us. Our giving must be sacrificial and that means it should hurt. His point is that by giving we shouldn’t make ourselves poor or others poor. It does no good to replace one poor person with another.

4. Anyone among the Christians who does not want to work and is a burden to the other people is not only not to be fed by the congregation, but also to be cast out as one whose life is disorderly. (II Thessalonians 3:11-13)  Bucer puts up one final fence around our giving. A man who is a financial burden to the Church, yet refuses to work should be kicked out of the Church. Of course, Bucer is assuming the man is physically capable of working.

Book Review: John Calvin’s Sermons on Ephesians

Sermons on the Epistle to the EphesiansSermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians by John Calvin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love the variety in Calvin’s writings. There are really five strains: The Institutes, his commentaries, his polemical writings, his letters, and his sermons. Technically his sermons were not written by him, but transcribed by a faithful man in his congregation. Each of these types of writing shows a different aspect of Calvin’s ministry though they interconnected. I have now read his sermons on Deuteronomy,Micah,the Beatitudes, and now Ephesians. I find his sermons thoroughly edifying. He does a good job of opening the text. He speaks to the people, which gives the sermons a very different feel from his other writings. There are of lot “let us” and “we must”, etc. He is not afraid to take tangents when he feels it necessary. For example,he spends an entire sermon explaining baptism following Ephesians 5:26. The sermons are straight forward and not hard to understand. He repeats himself throughout each sermon to add emphasis. While there are not “points,” he will often say something like “And that is Paul’s point here.” Or “so that is what we need to see for our first point. He will occasionally take shots at the papists or the libertines, but this is not frequent. A good help to anyone preaching through or studying Ephesians.

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Other People’s Dung

John Calvin is known for his spicy language. His polemical writings are filled with invectives against the Pope, the Anabaptists, the Libertines, etc. His sermons are less that way, but sometimes he can’t help himself. I am almost done reading his sermons on Ephesians . The language in his sermon on Ephesians 5:11-14 was striking even for Calvin. He spends a large portion of the sermon talking about rebuking those who do wickedly. That is the context for the following quotes:

“Behold, God has a fatherly care over us, and yet we allow his name to blasphemed, his majesty to be robbed and spoiled of all reverence, his Word to be torn in pieces, all (that he has commanded) to be broken, the church (which is his wife) to be corrupted and misused, and his children to be debauched, and in the meanwhile we keep our mouths closed. I ask you, whether such silence does not sufficiently show that we are not worthy to eat one morsel of bread, nor to be counted in the number of earthworms, lice, bugs, and all the vilest an filthiest things in the world.”

“Therefore when God’s Word is put before men, and we show offenders their faults with such liberty as is necessary, it is as though we show them a mirror and said to them, See what you are: you are as filthy as possible. Are you not ashamed to see yourself? Go and wash your face.”

“Most men and women nowadays wink at all manner of evil and disorder, and stop their ears at the things they might hear, and every man seeks to conceal his fellow’s wickedness, men of men’s, and women of women’s They might remedy a great number of enormities [sins] that are committed, but they would rather go and pollute their gowns and coats with other people’s dung and filthiness, than expose their vices.” 

Equip the Saints to Do What?

Context is king. But we often ignore this king, especially when we are trying to make a point. For example, last week I read an article which stated that the congregation needs to understand that they are supposed to do the work of the ministry and not leave everything up to the pastor. The pastor is there to equip. So far so good. The author used Ephesians 4:11-12 as exhibit A. Here are those verses:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ

The author was particularly concerned that women get their rightful place in ministry. The author understood that women cannot be pastors/elders. But this verse along with some others proved that they could lead book studies, Bible studies, Sunday school classes, etc.  After all, the entire congregation is supposed to do the work of the ministry. And the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers demands that women can and should do whatever men can do unless they are explicitly excluded from it, such as pastoral ministry. To have a church that really honors Christ women need to be fully involved in ministry.

There are numerous problems with this argument, including a faulty understanding of the priesthood of all believers. But I want to focus on the context of Ephesians. For this author when Paul uses the word “ministry” he means “official church work.” It may be mercy ministry or leading Bible studies or serving on the building committee or a host of other things, but ministry means official church work.

But is this what Paul means when he says “do the work of the ministry?” Does Paul mean that pastors are there to equip the saints to lead Bible studies? Does Paul mean that elders are there to equip the saints to serve on building committees or to be involved in official mercy ministry? Does Paul mean that pastor/teachers are there to equip women to be involved in every area of official church work except preaching?

When we ask this question in context the answer is no. There are two reasons for this: First, most of those things did not exist when Paul wrote. He cannot be telling us that women really can lead Sunday school because Sunday school was not around. Were there Bible studies or building committees in 58 A.D.? The most probable answer is no. Second, this is not his point in Ephesians. We must ask what does the word “ministry” mean in Ephesians? Not what does it mean in my mind and how can  I make Paul’s words flexible enough to include what I want it to include.

Ministry (or service or building up the body) in Ephesians has nothing to do with “official church work.” Paul does not lead up to or follow the exhortation in 4:11-12 with a description of official church work and how the members of the body can get involved. He begins chapter 4 with a calling for us to walk worthy, which means loving one another, bearing with one another, and keeping the unity of the peace. He then reminds his readers that Christ has given them the gift of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers to help them in this calling. The leaders are there to equip them for this ministry work. He then goes on to describe this ministry work: doctrinal faithfulness (4:14), speaking the truth (4:15), putting off the old man and putting on the new (4:17-24), which means not lying, guarding your anger, working hard and giving, watching your speech, putting away evil, being kind and forgiving each other (4:25-32).

Chapters 5-6 contain the same types of exhortations.

In other words, when Paul says that the leadership is there to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry he does not mean anything official. He means that pastors are there to equip the saints to love one another, bear with one another, submit to one another, forgive one another, speak kindly to one another, give to one another, teach one another through singing, etc. In Ephesians doing these things is ministry. And thus in the end, reading Ephesians 4:11-12 in context actually expands the ministry of the saints. A woman does not need to teach Sunday school to do ministry. A man does not have to serve on a building committee to be building up the body. When we love on another, when wives submit and children obey, when husbands die for their wives, when we put on the whole armor of God, when we obey at work, when we forgive, we are doing the work of the ministry, serving one another, and building up the Body of Christ.

A New Creation in Ephesians

Four things are created in Ephesians:

First, we are created for good works (2:10).
Second, God created one new man from the Jew and Gentile (2:15).
Third, God created all things (3:9).
Fourth, God created a new self in his likeness (4:24).
Our salvation is viewed as a new creation, a making something new which is equal to the making of the world. By His Word and Spirit the worlds were made. By His Word and Spirit we are remade. By His Word and Spirit Heaven and Earth made. By His Word and Spirit Jew and Gentile are made into one new body. By His Word and Spirit Adam and Eve were made in the likeness of the living God. By His Word and Spirit we are remade into the likeness of express image of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. By His Word and Spirit that which was formless and void was made into the stars, sky, Sun, moon, and earth. By His Word and Spirit our dead souls are made alive in Christ. 

We should stand amazed at the beauty of the world, the stars hanging in the black heavens. But we should also stand amazed at the 4 year old who loves to lift her voice like the children in Psalm 8 in praise to her Savior.  And we should stand in awe of the 94 year old whose body is broken, but whose soul is being remade in the likeness of Christ. The new creation of a fallen human is no less a feat than the original creation of the world from nothing. 

A Good, Firm Support

“We have already seen how God has sufficiently declared to us that if we have and possess his only Son, Jesus Christ, we have the full perfection of all good, so that if we cast our eye upon him, we may see all that can be desired. And thus, although there are many blameworthy things in us, and even though we find nothing but frailty in ourselves, yet we have a good, firm support to lean on, in that our Lord Jesus Christ call us to him an tells us that the things he has received from God his Father are for us all, and that although we do not yet enjoy them  to the full, we cannot come short of them.  In short, our Lord Jesus Christ is set at the right hand of God his Father, in order that we might be sure that all things are under his control, and that he rules the whole world, and that all good things are from him and he is able to prevent all injuries, so that if we are under his protection, we may defy the devil and our enemies.” (John Calvin, First paragraph of a sermon on Ephesians 1:19-23)