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Monthly Archives: November 2021

Learning to Love Paul Like He Loves You

“May [Christ] strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones…”

– I Thessalonians 3:13…

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In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians we can see that he not only enjoys spending time with these folks and loves them but also that he is impressed with them…

In particular, this church located the large capital city of Thessalonica in Macedonia – which he helped to found right at the beginning of his Apostolic ministry – had faced intense suffering and persecution but also held strong to the Christian faith….  

Paul writes about them, for example, in the first chapter:

“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia…”

First and foremost, we can see that Paul takes a certain pride in the Thessalonians, like a father might of his children…

Second, we can see here that Paul is indirectly giving voice to something that all of us know is true, and that is that in life… there are certain people who show good character, as we say, and hence are good examples.

They are the kinds of people that we want our children and grandchildren to be….

And the kinds of people also that we want our children and grandchildren to be around!

And, in fact, this concern for good character – for morality – is something that we can find the world over…

People from all over the world, no matter where they live, no matter when the live, have always been concerned about such things. It is not only because people want their children to be socially successful in the world, to be respectable.

That, of course, is no small part of things. What they ultimately want, however, is for their children to be good people.

I mean, to an extent. People want their children to be good… but not “too good” either…

On the one hand, this “not being too good” might have to do with wanting your children to have actual wise character, and not just a legalistic predilection for “following rules”.

On the other hand, this often will have to do with, again, the issue of respectability. Not everyone would necessarily be proud to have a family member whose truly ethical behavior makes them stick out… and just happens to make others around them feel uncomfortable…

For example, in Thessalonica, moral values regarding sexual issues were not of the highest caliber, to be sure. In this Greek harbor town, “the idea of sexual purity was [a] complete novelty…” and a certain level of craftiness would have been regarded as normal and prudent…

Paul also deals with this issue in this letter, reminding the Thessalonians that they are not pagans and that the Lord desires they avoid sexual immorality…[i]

Sometimes – most of the time really – people grow up in environments, in cultures, where what is considered normal and acceptable actually involves suppressing the truth about the real consequences for our actions a great deal, and hence a kind of ignorance of what is good persists as people form powerful false beliefs.

And so here Paul, even as he praises the Thessalonians here for being good examples, is working in this letter to also help them make some adjustments…

And when he does that, he uses family metaphors all over…

This is where, I believe, things get very interesting….

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Let me read a few longer excerpts from this letter. In chapter 2 of the letter, Paul says the following:

“…we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead,we[, myself, Timothy, and Silvanus,] were like young children[a] among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out…

Near the end of chapter 2, Paul goes on to say this:

17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy….”

Now, maybe when you hear Paul say these kinds of things, you don’t find anything unusual. And, if that is the case, I think that would be a very good thing!

At the same time, I think there are some who, at best, might have a lot of questions about what Paul is saying, and others, at worst, who might see some major problems with his words, saying “How can this possibly be relevant for today?”

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Let me explain a bit…

I am under the impression that if the Apostle Paul hired a modern-day consulting firm, they would urge him to adjust his messaging a bit…

Please note, that in the next several minutes, I am intentionally imitating my imagined consultant who seeks to make the Apostle Paul more palatable for today…:

[Begin Consultant]

The first problem here is that with these family metaphors, Paul is not considering the currents of the contemporary world. He is out of touch and out of step.

After all, Paul brings up sexual morality in this letter, as we have already mentioned, which implies that he is concerned with more or less traditional morality.

Paul thinks marriage, for example, should be one man and one woman for life!

So, this creates a wide array of other problems… Paul is thinking about what some have called the traditional family. He is not being sensitive that today, because of the freedom of choice we all have, there are a multiplicity of valid family forms…

People don’t need to be married to have families! And in bringing up children and mothers and fathers, Paul is not acknowledging that someone might have two dads, or two moms, for instance. And what about those who have a mom who decides to become a dad or a dad who decides to become a mom? And what about moms who decide that having three dads, for instance, might be necessary to help make ends meet?

And doesn’t Paul think about all the single mothers and fathers who are doing the best they can? When Paul builds on the ideas of the work mothers and fathers do in order to talk about his own efforts, he is giving every impression that the work of both mothers and fathers is somehow uniquely valuable…. And its not, of course. None of us are replaceable, as we say today… and Paul should recognize that in speaking like this, some who do not have a mother or a father, for instance, are not going to be able to identify with what he is saying.

And they will feel alienated… So, some adjustments are in order…the child and brother and sister language stay – as long as we acknowledge brothers can become sisters and vice-versa – but the other stuff needs to go.

There are more problems too… In chapter 4, Paul says this….:

“…brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus….”

Well, this just kind of builds on what we just said, doesn’t it? It means that “being good” means operating in certain grooves that God means for us to inhabit. We are getting the impression here that we like a train which is built for certain tracks, and that that is the way it is with us…

That we can’t actually be good unless we are taking seriously something we call “the good”! This is a bit medieval. Again, starts with a prior understanding of what the natural family is and why it exists… This is why Paul can say, for example…

“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children…”

This stuff needs to go! Here, by the way, we not only see that Paul persists with the problematic father-language…. But he is also taking about how “holy, righteous and blameless” he and his colleagues were. This brings us to the second issue…

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When Paul talks about being “holy, righteous and blameless” he also piles on later on, as you heard in your reading for today, where he says…

“Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you…”

This is too much. Here, I should add that it is clearly not only the world who is unimpressed with his Christian view of the world that praises things like traditional sexual morality, the natural family, and hard work, but that many in Christian circles are also unimpressed with his condescending attitude….

One commentator puts it that Pauls’ desire is to “correct, restore, and equip them in respect to faith… they had room for additional growth, and Paul felt his presence could foster it…” (Robert L. Thomas, Expositors’s Bible Commentary).

Well, that is one way of putting it… but another is to say that Paul seems to be implying that he is, in some sense at least, holier than the Thessalonians! Somehow better than them; superior to them! Thinking that he is going to be a father to them, perhaps suggesting some patriarchal authority…  

Toxic masculinity!

So here is our second issue really… Why does Paul have to act so self-righteously? He’s one to talk like this![ii] Why does he have to treat the Thessalonians like they are immature children who need his wisdom and guidance? Doesn’t he realize how bad this looks?

And really, Paul should see that even from a practical standpoint, it might make sense to tone things down a bit, by which he might distinguish himself with some of the politically radical persons today who give off an aura of self-righteousness…. That turns people off and a backlash should be expected. Paul could likely gain followers and acceptance from the wide swath of more moderate folks out there….

That brings us to the last part…. The third thing we need to point out is that men tend to not be as emotional as women. They should be more emotionally deep of course, as they shed their toxic masculinity. But in the meantime, as we slowly approach that future goal, it might also make more sense for Paul to lay off his expressions of great love for the Thessalonians…

After all, the 4th century church father John Chrysostom noticed that “Paul’s payers [here] demonstrate a fervent soul unable to restrain his love… Do you see the unrestrained madness of love shown by these words?”

Yes John Chrysostom, that is right — and this kind of thing really won’t do for now… Comparing yourself to a nursing mother is bad enough. You are going to make a lot of men feel uneasy and uncomfortable… 

Yeah, no man should be calling other people their hope, joy, and crown…  Seems too extreme. You should not make yourself sound so needy…. This could make you seem like a high-maintenance person…

[End Consultant]

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OK, enough making light of things here – though I hope you get my point…  

In view of all of the above, let’s seriously reflect as Christians on all of these things…   

The fact is, we need to recognize that it is indeed true that many in the Western world at least do see the Apostle Paul in particular, and the Bible in general, as being out-of-step with the contemporary world. Right now, in Finland, a pastor is looking at possibly two years in prison for talking about what the Bible says about homosexual acts. Elsewhere, in America, University Presses are normalizing pedophilia…

They say that a fish doesn’t recognize the water in which it swims….

We need to recognize the water in which we swim, and the problems which it creates for us according to the Bible.

We need to know who we are at the core of our being, and to focus on the external things that will nurture that inner life and truly bless us and others, and not those things that will bring curses…

And we also need to recognize that there is nothing unhealthy about the fervent desire that the Apostle Paul has for the congregation of Thessalonica.

God does indeed mean for us to be emotionally deep and profoundly aware of who we are and who the others are around us – He means for us to know one another ever more deeply, being more invested in each other… and we do that in part by knowing who we are in Him…

And finally, when it comes to the matter of spurring people on to lives of holiness that are pleasing to God, there is nothing wrong with what Paul implies about himself or the congregation…

Consider, for example, what he says in Galatians 6 where we actually read the words:

“…If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load….

We probably all know people who are self-righteous jerks. Maybe you even felt that way when I was being the consultant… : ) And, yes, listening to Paul, we might have been prompted to think of the country song that says “O Lord, its hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way…”

…but we also know that there is really something to what he is doing….

Character matters deeply, after all…

We do want friends who will treat us well, who will be good people. We don’t just marry anyone, but we should look for a person who is of good character. We know that God means for all of us to indeed “get better,” that is, to go from immaturity to maturity, to completion, which is just another word for perfection…

Yes, again, we are all sinners. Indeed!

None of us “deserves” God’s grace and mercy. Indeed!

But these things are true as well!

So Paul really does think he can say this, and set himself up as a “standard of love to be emulated”. Why? Again, not necessarily because of any self-righteous pride but because of his own very real imitation of Jesus (see 1:6) who is the ultimate standard (John 13:34; 15:12).

That is why he says earlier: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord…” He indeed wants the Thessalonians to continue on with this…

Just like a good father and mother desire the best for their children, for them to eat healthy food and to participate in good activities, so God, through the words of His Apostle Paul, desires the best for us… has high expectations for us!

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Finally, how does all of this fit in with the text that I have chosen for today?:

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones…” – I Thessalonians 3:13…

This doesn’t mean that we are saved by our good character and actions.

That is not true, even if bad character and bad actions will certainly set us up for faith-destroying and doubt-inducing circumstances!

No, again, it simply means that God desires you to be ever more fully the man or woman who He has called you to be, particularly in these last days when you can be a good example to those around you…

Yes, you are not in heaven yet, in Paradise, yet, and you have an Old Adam that clings to you, and that will attempt to drag you down this or that dark path…not only in deeds, but words and thoughts…[iii]

Nevertheless, cling to your Good Shepherd and the forgiveness and strength He gives you daily…

Identify with Him always and His work!

…because the person who has learned how to die with Jesus Christ is the person who has also learned how to live!

I hope this kind of talk encourages you.

I hope that each and every one of you, having even only a spark of faith within – given to you by God when you hear about His great love for you in Jesus Christ – can identify with what I am saying…

If you are not sure, know that even now you can be sure though His blood, and be ready to “lift up your head” when He comes!

Even as that fearful Last Day we heard about in our Gospel lessons comes fast and furious, you can know right now that you have real peace with God, that Jesus Christ is for you and not against you!

You can know that when He comes back with His heavenly armies – even today – He would not count you as an enemy or a traitor, but a friend and ally.

As one pastor put it, encouraging his own congregation:

“…what the world cannot see is that even though we are all muddling through this life with our tilted halos, scrappy faith, and scuffed-up Bibles, Jesus nonetheless pronounces us blessed – yes, blessed! We are blessed because He opens our hands to receive continually; blessed: because we are continually given the gift of sorrow for our sins; blessed: because we are given a hunger for the Lord and His gifts. Yes, we are blessed because just like those Saints who have passed away and are with Jesus, we too are clothed in the same righteousness of Jesus….”

As we heard, the prophet Jeremiah says…:

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[a] will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior….’

This is the prophecy of the coming Messiah, the Jesus Christ, the heartbeat of the message of Advent, which we begin today!

This is our Lord Jesus Christ.

The ever-just One.

The ever-powerful One.

The ever-merciful One.

The ever-empowering One….

And so let us all pray, along with the Psalmist:

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good…

Amen


[i] Chapter 4:

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister…”

[ii] And the old Adam in us rebels vs. the person of the Apostle Paul.

Better: the old Adam in us strengthened by particularly American cultural characteristics rebels….

“Paul – you jerk – I’m not so bad!

My faith isn’t any weaker than the next guy! We are all sinners Paul – your love isn’t so hot either!

(and I saw what you wrote about women earlier!)

I suppose you think that you are progressing in holiness and leaving the rest of us behind!

I suppose you think you superior because you have the gift of celibacy!

I suppose you think you are just better than us…

I’ve heard about you rigorous types! I wonder what secret sins, struggles, you are hiding?…

Has this ever happened to you?

Do you find yourself thinking – or even saying such thoughts?

If so, don’t feed the beast…

[iii] The fact of the matter is that no true Christian would talk like our imagined consultant this morning… 

Oh, they might to be sure – for a short while or so…

But then they catch themselves, as the Holy Spirit stirs up within them and reminds them who they really are in Jesus Christ:

Those who are God’s children, all dearly loved by their father in all their uniqueness and glorious particularities!

This is one of the reasons that Paul is so clearly emotionally moved here…

The Thessalonians are those who rejoice in the victories of others, who find great comfort in Christian fellowship, and who desire, even long for, both correction and guidance…

As those who are new creatures in Christ, we have new impulses, spiritual impulses… and one of those impulses is to take on the old Adam in us and tell him to take a hike. Go for a walk, etc…

Go away old Adam! Get behind me Satan!

Don’t you know that the Apostle Paul gave us a model of how to understand what is happening to us? What is going on inside of us? How even as the old Adam remains and our sinful impulses are not fully eliminated until the grave that we have newness of life in Jesus Christ?

He saves us from this body of death!

Don’t you know that God not only declares me to be righteous – perfect in His sight! – because of His own beloved Son but that He also continues to forgive and strengthen me, so that I have the desire and power to live a holy life in His presence?

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

How to Handle Garments Stained by Corrupted Flesh

…show mercy with fear—hating even the garment stained by corrupted flesh.” – Jude 23b (ESV)[i]

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God’s baptized saints: On this last Sunday of the church year, right before Advent, it is fitting we speak of the Last Day…

As we heard the prophet of Isaiah say:

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment
    and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
    my righteousness will never fail.

And in our Gospel reading we just heard:

“Be on guard! Be alert!… What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

The message is this: The day is fast approaching when Our Lord will come again to deliver His people in the ultimate way!

Be ready!

Rise, my soul, to watch and pray,
From thy sleep awaken;
Be not by the evil day
Unawares o’ertaken.
For the Foe,
Well we know,
Oft his harvest reapeth
While the Christian sleepeth.

Know He desires good things for you when He separates the sheep from the goats… The clean from the unclean! The sparkling from the stained!

Why do I put it like that? Well, I’ll get to explaining that in a moment but it is going to take a another moment to provide the necessary background to my explanation.

In the process of preparing for this sermon, studying this passage from the end of the book of Jude – which, very confusingly for us, mentions stained clothing or garments from corrupted or unclean flesh —  I came across passages in the Old Testament book of Leviticus about how to handle defiling molds in clothing or leather articles (in chapter 13[ii]) and passages talking about how bodily discharges or emissions (things like seminal discharge, menstrual flow or hemorrhage, or human excrement) – as well as contagious diseases! – should be dealt with as well…

In short, because of the literal stains of uncleanliness, this defilement or corruption caused by things like mold, bodily discharges, and leprosy that contaminated clothing needed to be isolated… quarantined…. For it was unclean….

Keep that stuff far from us! 

And not only this, but this quarantining often involved the people too… The one from who the uncleanliness came, and even others affected by it as well!

Now this might sound a bit familiar to us today but have we really begun to understand the full extent of what was happening here?

Well, in part – even as there were undoubtedly practical considerations with some of these matters – all of this ultimately has to do with the supreme importance of the symbolism of the Old Testament, the “shadows” as the Apostle Paul called them in the book of Colossians, which really pointed to, indicated, the Reality behind such shadows…

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Take the daily sacrifices offered in the Old Testament, for example. These were at times offered on behalf of all, and finally should not be seen as something having to do with God’s Law – even if we sometimes call them a part of God’s “ceremonial laws” – but to the Promises of Salvation through the Coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

You know, as John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”. It is very likely that when the sinner of Luke 18 stands in the court of the temple and will not even lift his eyes before God, beating his chest and saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” that he is saying, “Oh Lord, let these sacrifices be for me!”

This sacrifice, involving lambs, was performed daily at the temple in Jerusalem! Every morning and evening. This lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people (see Exodus 29:38-42, for example)…

But when Jesus comes, no sacrifice for sins is left, as the shadows recede! If it helps, think of shadows like these as the temporary scaffolding for the real Sacrifice, Priest, and Temple, Jesus Christ…

Not only this, but we should also realize this: In the Old Testament, these sacrifices provided safe access to a Holy God.

Sins of course were always an issue here, but then there is also original sin — the sinful infection that we all share from birth. It is like a spiritual leprosy.

Gasoline burns in the presence of fire – God’s holiness is gracious but also destructive. He cannot abide the sin – the leprosy, the uncleanness – within us (Kleinig).

This is why in the Old Testament we see so many of these signs, these shadows, these “divine object lessons”. 

Finally, these externals are often “typological” of the internals of human life.

Therefore, with leprosy, for example, even the external signs of leprosy/infection, like corrupted clothing, are a sign of the *real* inner infection that infects us all and causes the outer infections. The leper or menstruating woman is “unclean” and “unworthy”, but this is really meant to serve as a symbol for the greater uncleanness and unworthiness that infects us all.

For we all, in our fallen nature, are the contaminated who contaminate… And this also, of course, is why we die. The wages of sin is death…

While we are at this stuff, let’s go on. Unclean animals also serve a similar function as a divine object lesson – spiritual holiness is symbolized by physical perfection, not oddities. (what one author called the “no oddballs allowed” principle).

One biblical scholar, Gordan Wenham, expands on the matters these object lessons point to, putting it like this:

Imagine two poles of existence, there is the positive and the negative. The positive has to do with God, life, order, normality and being clean… The negative has to do with chaos, death, disorder, deformity, and being unclean….

So, what finally, to take away from all of this? God’s overall message here, in the Old Testament but especially in the New Testament is this:

I am not like the Gods of the other nations. I am holy. Do not get excited because of your blood descent, ethnic pride, success, or your righteousness…

Instead, be glad because I really am concerned about you – I am yours and you are mine and I desire that you would know true joy and peace in true justice, true mercy and abundant life.

Be invigorated because I want you to be holy as I am holy! Through the pardon and power I give you in the blood of my Son, Jesus, I am separating you out – making you distinct! 

You will not, like the nations, sacrifice your infants, partake in ritualized temple prostitution or disregard the elderly and the poor…

You will live as people who live according to and by my word — because I love you even as you continue to have sin…

Instead, come out and be separate! Be holy, and not unclean!

As the old hymn “My Song is Love Unknown” says:

“Love to the loveless (i.e. because of the leprosy of sin, the uncleanness of sin) shown that they might lovely be”…

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I hope that is some helpful background to what now seems to us like a very foreign and confusing topic…

And let us wrestle with this just a bit more, go on a bit more[!]… to help us get at the multi-layered meaning that we can see here when we look at the Scriptures as a whole….

With Christ’s coming in the New Testament, God rescinds some of these ceremonial practices – things like the sacrifices, circumcision, special holy days and laws of cleanliness and purification – that he Himself had instituted in order to set His people apart from the other nations…[iii]

Now in the times of the Old Testament, the Gentiles… or heathen… or “non-Jews” were certainly invited to find hope in Israel’s God (think of the books of Ruth and Jonah, for example!), and yet these ceremonies also tended to divide the Jews from everyone else…

In fact, many have noted that it was these ceremonial practices themselves that appear to have enabled Israel to resist a loss of identity – and therefore the Messiah really could come from a clearly identifiable people even if one not rich in earthly power – the Jews.

So, by bringing all of these ceremonies to fulfillment in Himself, these were the “dividing wall” Christ came to abolish…

Nevertheless, God is of course still interested in matters of identity – that is why we are now no longer circumcised, but instead baptized into His family!

And of course in preserving a faithful people for Himself He now brings the Jew and the Gentile, the formerly “clean” and the “unclean”, together in Himself!

That said – and this is where we may begin to feel a bit rankled – even as He has done and is doing this, He also continues to talk about those who do not believe, those who do not receive Him, as being “unclean”.

And, in some sense, He continues to advocate separation! As Paul says II Corinthians 6, echoing the Old Testament again:  

“Therefore come out from among them

and be separate, says the Lord.

Touch no unclean thing,

and I will receive you.”

And:

“I will be a Father to you,

and you will be My sons and daughters,

says the Lord Almighty.”

Now, with this background, I think we are finally ready to jump into our passage from Jude again!

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The passage from II Cor. 6 as well as our chosen text this morning from the book of Jude gives Christians guidance on how to interact with those among them who are turning away from the faith, who are growing distant from the congregation… veering towards “goat-status” or uncleanness…

Interestingly, if we look at our context today, our world today, we increasingly see these formations of separate groups… the phenomenon of people “coming apart”, as one sociologist put it…

Whether it has to with party politics, or generational differences, different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, diverging views within political parties, concerns about carrying things like the coronavirus, or simply “living in different worlds,” as we say today, the separations and polarizations grow deeper and more profound.[iv]

Interestingly, I don’t detect this so much on the part of Christians… Even if Christians are exhorted by the Apostle Paul to “come out from among them and be separate” in 2 Corinthians 6 (which we just heard), devout Christians hardly ever seem to be the ones who desire to withdraw… at least to the point of cutting of ties… There is a real hesitation here…

If someone is homeschooling for example, taking their kids out of the public schools… it is often because they feel that it is something they need to do so that Christian faith is preserved… even as they hope to continue to engage in the wider society…

With our current world, one might wonder how much more a society can take… as we continue to lose our center, our moorings, as things “come apart” more and more and love and trust fracture into a million pieces…

2 Timothy 3:5 says:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…”

Paul then adds: “Avoid such people….”

The 4th century Christian monk St. Anthony, renowned for his wisdom, talked about the full-blown hostility that the disintegrating world would eventually produce:

“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.”

Now, if you are like me, you don’t desire for this to happen! For us to become ever more separated from our non-Christian friends and neighbors, such that they no longer even feel any closeness to us!

Nevertheless, we need perspective. When I was fifteen years old, I attended a “youth gathering” of young men and women of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in Denver, Colorado. I remember singing with some 18,000 other youth (and it was powerful enough for me that part of me wants to sing this!):

“Lord, teach us how to proclaim

all your goodness, your love and your name!

Lord, teach us how to forgive, and in love, teach us Lord, how to live.

Raising our voices in song, help us tell all the world we belong.”[v]

But do we really belong?

How great a worry for us should this be as we seek to “love not the world”… to be in it but not of it?

And here is something else to think about. In mild-mannered Lutheran seminary professor Dr. John Stephenson’s recent essay: “A Quickening of the Apocalyptic Pulse?” he states:

“As I sense that the dramatic developments of the past two years constitute a dramatic intensification of the signs of the Lord’s coming, I would ask whether it is fanciful to suppose that electronically-monitored vaccine passports are at the least a dress rehearsal for the worldwide imposition of of the mark of the Beast that has puzzled interpreters ever since the writing of Revelation 13:16ff. While some detect a marked rise of the mercury in the eschatological thermometer, much of visible Christendom appears sunk in apathy, with leading churchmen preferring to encourage ‘“climate” hysteria and other suchlike chic concerns.”[vi]

Whether or not you agree with Stephenson… whether or not you think the twigs are tender… the leaves are out and summer near…[vii]

…you must know this: If you do not know the Bible you will be in a heap of trouble…

Folks, I am not saying that we should all become Amish…

but there are undoubtedly at least a few things we could learn from them

+++

Again, if you do not know the Bible you will be in a heap of trouble.

This is especially true today – as in the Christian church we have many false teachers just like there were in the days of Jude… those who are powerfully attached to their sin do not fear him (Jude 12).

Going back to what we just heard from the Apostle Paul as well, do we need to be concerned about those who are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…” today?

Perhaps one is a popular mainstream media personality who has recently written a new book to help guide Christians and others in our fracturing world…

I took some time to listen to this person, who we’ll call Kristen. Kristen, like all of us, is loathe to see the continual disintegration of our world, the incessant “coming apart”

For example, she reports:  

“It would be hard to overstate just how much some Americans have come to despise each other, at least in the abstract. In a January 2019 paper, ‘Lethal Mass Partisanship,’ researchers asked Republicans and Democrats if they believed that members of the opposing party were ‘just worse for politics’ or ‘downright evil.’ More than 40 percent in each party chose ‘downright evil.’ Twenty percent of Democrats and more than 15 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement ‘We’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died.’”

Ouch. And I’d add that even if people don’t have such hate in their hearts, a constant stream of fear – along with the felt need to avoid most all risks – is nevertheless influencing many people’s actions today.

For example, I heard the other day about how in one survey of 2,000 vaccinated Americans, 60% of them said that their unvaccinated relatives will not be welcome to join them for Christmas this year! I won’t get started here, but feel free to ask me what I think about that…

In any case, Kristen thinks that she has come up with an answer for some of our harshest divides.

Her answer – which came to her just a couple of years ago – was that she was guilty of an over-reliance on black-and-white thinking, or “binary thinking,” or “dualistic thinking”, and that she had to overcome this. She had to just stop seeing people in black and white terms, as good or evil….

In one sense, of course, this is right: when the great Russian author and political prisoner Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that “[t]he line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts…” he was imperfectly giving voice to something Christians, in their hearts, are deeply aware of.

Even the Christian, who is a new creature in Christ, still contends with his fallen human nature, with original sin… with the “old Adam” that loves evil and remains in part until death…

At the same time, what Kristen does is simply create a new kind of dualism. Redefining the meaning of the biblical term grace, she says “If there is one practical idea that encapsulates grace, it’s the belief that people are doing the best they can with what they have.”

Is that what grace is?

This not only makes grace contingent on what one does, but into something that we, not God, defines…[viii]

Kristen is wrong on several counts here. First of all, if the third chapter of the book of Romans tells us anything, it is that people do not strive to love God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind….

Nor do they even tend to wrestle with the fact that this is the primary think they should be doing….

Writing of societies that were purportedly Christian G. K. Chesterton quipped, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried…”

If Kristen really believes that grace means “people are doing the best they can with what they have,” what will she and those she identifies with do when the going gets really tough and she no longer feels she can say this about someone?

Don’t get me wrong. It is a good thing to believe that our views of good and evil should be intelligent and even nuanced to some degree – even if ultimately, it is only those covered with Christ’s robe of righteousness that God will call “good”.

In like fashion, it is not a bad thing to believe, as one said, “that everyone is fighting a hard battle” and to let such a though spur one on to compassion…

At the same time, we dare not forget that the love of God is otherworldly.

It is, again, “love to the [absolutely] loveless shown, that they might lovely be…”

Jesus came not for the healthy – that is, those who are doing their best – He came for the sick…. For the loveless sinners.[ix]

+++

Do you know what you believe and why you believe it?

Can you give a reason for the hope that is within you?

My dear Christians – you better believe this is important!

Be exhorted by Luther:

“Truly, you cannot read Scripture too much; and what you read, you cannot understand too well; and what you understand, you cannot teach too well; and what you can teach, you cannot live too well.”

First, here, God calls out to you: “Come out and be separate!” Be with me. Spend time with me…

I know we ultimately want to be appreciated by the people around us. We do not want to be ashamed… Socially shamed.

But, above all, we should be more concerned about bringing shame upon our God, and dishonoring Him…

Because He – in spite of the fact that even we who believe just do not understand Him very well! – is the Source of all the love, light, and life that we have ever known and delighted in….[x]

“Help us tell all the world we belong?”

Jesus says:

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place…”

Let’s look take a closer look at this passage from Jude:

“… show mercy with fear—hating even the clothing, or garment, stained by corrupted flesh.”

Here both garment and flesh are figurative in this context, evoking memories of the symbolic actions, items, and realities of Old and New Testaments we have already discussed….

Martin Franzmann also points out that even today though there is relevance: “[t]he garment spotted by the flesh is a strong expression to indicate that even the slightest contact [with these], even an apparently external contact, is to be avoided.”

We need to be honest. Many in the world look at Christianity and find this to be the case with it. Christianity is “stained” itself, or as they say today “toxic”…[xi]

They hate that the Scriptures say:

 “….Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
    holiness adorns your house
    for endless days…”

Yes, the message of the cross certainly confuses and offends the world! At the same time, with its persistent insistence on things natural law, orders of creation, hierarchy, and natural marriage and family. Christianity today is seen as the modern equivalent of “unclean”!

And yet, it is in fact the Christian faith that ultimately helps us escape the toxic… unclean world!

That, in fact, is what Jude is talking about here: deliverance from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Deliverance from these things in fact and deliverance from their influence, power….

As Christians, we should certainly know that all of us are sinners. And at the same time, we need to also remember what Paul wrote to Timothy:

“…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

The external is important… What is happening around us is important. You should not only be concerned about your own fallen flesh, your own sinful nature… but also remember that the Scriptures also teach that bad company corrupts good character….

In other words, while we are all sinners, we can also get caught up in sinful currents more and more, and really go from bad to worse. Men can grow more and more evil – where they, for example, assert that there is no God ; or call evil good and good evil ; or are not even able to detect their sin…

Quite honestly I feel like many of the theologians of the church have evidently become far less concerned – or even aware – of these important truths…

Jude, however, is well aware of this.[xii]

And so he first of all calls out to us in our reading today to “Be merciful to those who doubt” and to “save others by snatching them from the fire”

I am not sure if we can say Jude gives us some sort of definitive taxonomy for dealing with those mired in unbelief (two or three categories!), but I do think that we can see at least three important stages here that we should be aware of…

And these first two groups are composed of members of the church who are filled with doubts or worse. The former are to be gently persuaded while more forceful action might be required for the latter, pulling them back from the rim of the volcano, so to speak, as they “play with fire…”[xiii]

And then he speaks of a third group, saying: “to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

This category of people seems to be more confrontational, antagonistic, and bellicose… These folks seem to be the libertine heretics Jude spoke of in verse 8 of his letter. They “defile flesh” as their influence on the congregation corrupts…

Again, it likely includes the false teachers described earlier in the book. And yet, Jude speaks of quarantine the contaminating deeds of those so polluted while also showing them mercy…[xiv] The Africa Bible Commentary puts it well:

“As we engage in the rescue operation, we must be vigilant not to be corrupted by the flesh. Cases about where sincere counsellors have been carried away by their concern for those they counsel, and have ended up forfeiting their faith and sinking with them. Jude says: Don’t compromise! We should have contact without contamination.”[xv]

Again, Jesus came not for the healthy – that is, those who are doing their best – He came for the sick…. For the sinners.

So remember your rescue operation.

So when it says….

 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,”[b]

    and “every eye will see him,

even those who pierced him”;

    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”

So shall it be! Amen.”

We know that some will mourn because of their loss, because the great delusion they were under will be revealed to them…

But our mourning – not only because of our realization of how little we loved Him on earth as could have… but for the loss of all those who turned away from Jesus…

…Will be turned into dancing!

As we experience the new heavens and the new earth! No eye has seen, no ear has heard, what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him!

To say the least, as the baptized[xvi] stand with their King, the negative chaos, death, disorder, deformity, and uncleanness will give way to the positive, God, life, order, normality and cleanness, in the ultimate sense!

Because of the blood of the Lamb of God which definitively deals with all of our uncleanness!

Covering us with the pure and white robes won for us in His death and resurrection!

So brothers and sisters, come out and be separate…

Amen.


[i] November 2021 sermon, last Sunday of the church year: (used Isaiah, Jude, Mark readings)

[ii] The passage is summed up by saying: “These are the regulations concerning defiling molds in woolen or linen clothing, woven or knitted material, or any leather article, for pronouncing them clean or unclean….”

[iii] We need to see that the Apostle Paul makes a distinction between what has been called the “ceremonial law” or “ceremonial practices” (Eph. 2:14-15, Acts 10:9-16, Col. 2:16-17) and what has been called the “moral law” (Rom. 13:8-10, James 2:8, Rom. 2:15, Matt. 5:17-19).

While the whole of the law has been fulfilled on our behalf in Christ (Rom. 10:4) – that it may now be fulfilled in the Christian’s own body (Rom. 8:4) – when Paul talks about the law being abolished, in Ephesians 2:14-15 for example, he is referring to these “shadows” we have been speaking of…

[iv] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2021/11/polarization-within-polarizations/

[v] http://orlc.worthyofpraise.org/songs/brothersnsistersinchrist.htm

[vi] Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently speaking at a “Green Pass” protest in Italy said: “It’s clearly an instrument for controlling the money supply, controlling individual movements, controlling our kind of new digitalized economy, that gives these totalitarian elements the capacity to control every aspect, every feature of our lives, and the green pass is the emblem of that.”

[vii] From our Gospel reading: “28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it[b] is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

[viii] Therefore she writes: “Maya Angelou said, ‘You did . . . what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better[,]’” [and so, Powers goes on to say “]Grace tills the ground so that peace, wholeness, and completeness can take root in our burdened bodies, relationships, and the world.[“]

She writes elsewhere: “True grace is otherworldly. It goes against every instinct we have to seek revenge for wrongs or to shame and humiliate people who have acted immorally or unethically. It is what the theologian Dorothee Sölle, who grew up in Nazi Germany, called “borrow[ing] the eyes of God.” It enables us to see the divinity in every person, no matter what they’ve done, what they believe, or who they voted for. Grace is giving other people space to not be you.”

[ix] So you too can see all as someone God dearly loves – as one who was bought by the blood of Christ…

Using your “Christ glasses,” you too can see them as one loved by God and who God means for them to be… who they can be in Him…

[x] I came across this recently, in a review of Eric Metaxas’ new book:

“Eric Metaxas reminds us that despairing atheists have another option than suicide. That option is only foreclosed to those who have closed their minds and hearts. At a time when so many are succumbing to despair, Metaxas reminds us that hope remains in Jesus:

You get to be a part of giving others genuine hope in the genuine God who is the author of life and hope and goodness and truth and beauty. It is what you were created to do, but perhaps until now you didn’t understand this as you do now. That only means that you can now live as the one who made you made you to live. You can begin now. And this is not merely a poetic or a nice idea; it is true. The God of the universe wants you to spread goodness and truth and beauty wherever you go, to his glory. There are people whose lives you will touch, whether you know it or not. So now you know. Have we missed anything? (p.397)”

[xi] Related: https://religionnews.com/2021/11/16/in-catholic-italy-de-baptism-is-gaining-popularity/

[xii] To be sure, Jude, with his relentless focus on “the ungodly and their works of darkness” (Concordia Self-Study Bible), comes off as a bit of a downer to many modern Christians.

Now, it is true, right at the beginning and also at the end of the book, we hear some very beautiful and encouraging stuff, but other than that, Jude might strike us as an angry scold of sorts, just eager to pile on words of condemnation for awful unbelievers.

The Lutheran Study Bible, however, help us better understand the seriousness of the issue and helps us to see the practicality of the book even for us today…

“Jude warns his fellow Christians that false teachers behave ‘like unreasoning animals’ (v 10). They are instinctively driven to what is wrong and destructive. Jude uses numerous examples from the OT, Jewish literature, and the prophecies of the apostles to illustrate his warning. He admonishes his readers to rescue those entrapped by the ungodly (vv 22-23).” (Lutheran Study Bible, 2187)

Do you see yourself as trying to help the ungodly escape the snares of the devil?

Jude says, you should… And he is right.

So, knowing this firmly, “knowing the One whom we have believed,” (see Barfield, Newbigin, often….) be built up in our most holy faith and consider this excerpt from the writing of our Lord Jesus’ dear brother, Jude….

[xiii] Those described here would be people who have possibly even lost their faith but still continue to identify with it in some way. Perhaps they still attend the congregation externally even as they deny Christ in word and deed…

Curtis Giese: “…this describes a forceful act of rescue… where the person who is being rescued from the fire might be reluctant or even hostile to the rescuers….”

Perhaps we can think of this person as being like Lot, from the story of Sodom where God destroys that city because of their sins (see Jude 7).

The fire from which we are to snatch them is “the fire of God’s judgment that is threatening to destroy them.” (Franzmann)

From a Biblehub.com commentary: “Pulling them out of the fire.—Better, snatching them out of the fire. We have here another reminiscence of Zechariah 3:1-3 : we had one in Jude 1:9. (Comp. Amos 4:11.) The fire of the judgment to come is probably not meant; rather the imminent danger (as of one who is asleep in a burning house) in which the fire of their sins keeps them. This is the second class: those who can still be rescued, but by strong measures….”

Barnes Notes on the Bible, from Biblehub.com: “Pulling them out of the fire – As you would snatch persons out of the fire; or as you would seize on a person that was walking into a volcano. Then, a man would not use the mild and gentle language of persuasion, but by word and gesture show that he was deeply in earnest….”

Clement of Alexandria understood “the fire” here to have to do with sexual passion and indulgence.

On the brink, people who are right on the edge and need to be snatched back before fall into it… (see Matt 18:15-17; Luke 17:3; Gal 6:1,2; 2 Thess 3:15; I Tim 5:20; Titus 3:10; Jas 5:19-20)

[xiv] Barnes Notes on the Bible, Biblehub.com, adds this helpful comment:

“Hating even the garment spotted by the flesh – The allusion here is not quite certain, though the idea which the apostle meant to convey is not difficult to be understood. By “the garment spotted by the flesh” there may be an allusion to a garment worn by one who had had the plague, or some offensive disease which might be communicated to others by touching even the clothing which they had worn. Or there may be an allusion to the ceremonial law of Moses, by which all those who came in contact with dead bodies were regarded as unclean, Leviticus 21:11; Numbers 6:6; Numbers 9:6; Numbers 19:11. Or there may be an allusion to the case mentioned in Leviticus 15:4, Leviticus 15:10, Leviticus 15:17; or perhaps to a case of leprosy. In all such instances, there would be the idea that the thing referred to by which the garment had been spotted was polluting, contagious, or loathsome, and that it was proper not even to touch such a garment, or to come in contact with it in any way.

To something of this kind the apostle compares the sins of the persons here referred to. While the utmost effort was to be made to save them, they were in no way to partake of their sins; their conduct was to be regarded as loathsome and contagious; and those who attempted to save them were to take every precaution to preserve their own purity. There is much wisdom in this counsel. While we endeavor to save the “sinner,” we cannot too deeply loathe his “sins;” and in approaching some classes of sinners there is need of as much care to avoid being defiled by them, as there would be to escape the plague if we had any transaction with one who had it. Not a few have been deeply corrupted in their attempts to reform the polluted. There never could be, for example, too much circumspection and prayer for personal safety from pollution, in attempting to reform licentious and abandoned females. ]”

What else is going on with these clothes? Zechariah 3:1-5 helps:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan[a] standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by….

This above passage gives us hope for their salvation, even if it seems unlikely….

The garment here is called a tunic, that is an undergarment, and so it is the first item to become discolored and filthy from the sinful flesh or nature… It is to be despised… (see Leviticus 13:47-59 and Leviticus 15)

Note also Isaiah 64:5, Amos 4:11-12, Num. 16:1-35; Ps. 106:17-18

[xv] Giese: “Even in the case of severe and contagious defilement, Jude still encourages the beloved to seek to bring such polluting people back to the communion of saints,” yet with extreme caution.

[xvi] Say I am baptized!

Do not forget the “previous cleansing of [your] sins” (2 Pet 1:9) but put off the spotted and soiled garment of your sinful nature and return to your baptism…

Be clothed in Christ and put on the new purified self, created in Christ, l like a new baptismal garment (Giese)

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2021 in Uncategorized