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God’s Drunken Men

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” —Acts 2:13

If we would search throughout all of history we would not find anywhere people more sane, more responsible than these disciples. And yet, on the day of Pentecost, these people broke out of their somber state into one of delirious happiness. It is little wonder that the spectators of their own time had only one obvious and succinct explanation for what they saw—these people are drunk, they said.

What was it like for those in that upper room to realize for the first time that there is such a person, such a power like the Holy Spirit? If we could think ourselves back to that situation and recapture the emotions of that day, we might not remain relaxed as we read about the events of the first Pentecost. And so, this article focuses upon the judgment that was passed upon the disciples by an observer in the crowd.

This critic, standing on the edge of the crowd, saw everything that had taken place. He had noticed the fierce, extravagant excitement. He had, no doubt, heard the mighty rushing wind and came running to see what was going on. He could probably see the little tongues of fire resting on the disciples of Jesus. He listened to what he considered to be wild, confusing babbling within the crowd that was gathered all around them. And then with a shrug of his shoulders, he made his remark: “They have had too much wine. They are drunk.”

This criticism may not have been made out of malice. It was probably launched with a touch of mockery or perhaps made in polite pity. But the critic thought himself to be honest in his appraisal of the situation. What was taking place in front of his eyes could be explained to him in only one way. In his view the only thing possible was that these disciples had dipped into the communion wine a bit too much, had passed the bounds of decency and reason, and were now drunk.

On the face of it, it was probably a reasonable and common sense explanation. In any other similar situation it most likely would have been a true explanation. Let us imagine for a moment that we were present with these observers on the fringe of the crowd.

We would stand on tiptoe to watch what was going on. We scan the scene and watch people gesturing like windmills. Everybody talks out loud. We can’t hear the main speaker because we are too far away and there are too many others speaking for us to hear him. But we hear all the others speaking in their own language, languages that we cannot understand, so it all sounds like gibberish. And there seems to be neither rhyme nor reason to the conduct of the people who are behaving in a most unusual way. Wouldn’t you feel inclined to elbow your friend next to you and say, “Let’s get out of here. What a pity to see people behaving like that . . . why, these men are full of sweet wine.”

Outside Judgment

While that may seem to be a reasonable and common sense criticism, it is undoubtedly a criticism from an outsider. It came from a bystander who had no firsthand knowledge of any of the experiences which lie behind the event that was taking place. It was purely a surface judgment from the edge of the crowd, not biased, not wicked, but formed without any knowledge of what was really going on.

It suggests a larger question: a question as to whether the criticism of an outsider was worth any serious attention. In science, for example, we would never let an outsider make any kind of value judgment. Someone outside of the field of astronomy might look out at the stars and say, “You don’t really think that those little twinkling things in the sky at night are actually a million times bigger than the earth, do you?” Would you shrink back and say, “You’re right, that does sound kind of silly. They can’t really be, can they?”

Or in the field of medicine. You have been to the doctor because of chest pains and after some tests your doctor says you need surgery. Then someone with no medical background says, “Oh no, you don’t really think that cutting you open and doing surgery is going to make you feel better. Why, what you need to do is wear garlic around your neck, and when that garlic hangs close to your heart, it will make you feel better.” Would you believe him?

It is the person who has experience whose testimony counts. And yet, somehow we think that in religion we should listen to everybody. We need to consult constantly the man on the street to see what he thinks. Then we think we need to prune our messages according to his tastes. Well, Jesus never did that. The apostles never did that. They believed that spiritual things can be discerned only by those who are spiritual. Religion can be judged only by those who enter into the experience. And the man on the street, the outsider, so long as he stays an outsider, has little or no right to pass judgment on religious facts any more than he does on scientific facts that he knows nothing about.

We know that the person who said this in Acts 2:13 never asked about any of the facts. He didn’t weigh the evidence. He knew nothing about what he was talking about. He didn’t know anything about the character and the work of the disciples. He just saw some things happening, things that he couldn’t understand. Things that didn’t fit into his limited experience, so he brushed them off. He put the incident aside with the lowest materialistic explanation that he could find, and that was that these men had too much wine. That is the outsider’s condemnation that seemed like the only explanation possible for him.

Have you ever noticed that the person on the edge of the crowd, the outsider, is the person who is constantly judging Jesus and His people in these same easy, foolish ways? He finds, for example, that you, as a Christian, are deeply interested in things that have no appeal to him whatsoever. He discovers that you are sometimes passionately enthusiastic over things that he has never noticed. He sees you fiercely indignant at some wrong which he has never thought about. He notices that you will subject yourself to certain pain or persecution for the sake of your conscience or because you want to do the right thing even if it means personal loss. And in all of this the outsider shakes his head and says, “Yeah, good people, no doubt. But somewhat unbalanced. They are full of wine. Man, they’re high on something.”

With Some Truth

And you know what? He’s absolutely right. Although his judgment is foolishly wrong, it is yet one of the finest criticisms that has ever been passed upon religion. Sometimes an outsider blunders unwittingly into the heart of a great truth. I don’t know of any finer indirect testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit than this mocking criticism of the outsider.

Do you know what this outsider here on Pentecost Sunday noticed? He noticed the real essence of any life that is truly touched by the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit had descended upon the young church like a flash of light, throwing the church into amazement and filling it with outrageous joy. And our observer here, with calm eyes, noticed what it all meant. He expressed it rather foolishly, but he saw an amazing truth.

In the first place, he saw something that we often forget. Christianity is a kind of divine intoxication. When it is real, Christianity is a ferment in the human heart. Jesus comes into a person’s heart with a rush, shaking him from his sin, changing all of his values, and swinging him around to look into the very eyes of God.

What else can happen but that the world is suddenly turned upside down for the new Christian? What would something like that look like to an outsider? Exactly what is said here in Acts 2:13: “They have had too much wine. They are drunk. Man, they gotta be high on something.”

If you continue reading in Acts, you will discover a man named Festus examining Paul and this thing called Christianity. And what is the judgment that Festus makes? He has only one judgment of Paul. He says in Acts 26:24, “You are out of your mind, Paul.”

When early Christians went into the arenas about to be devoured by lions, they sang hymns to God. What do you think the observers thought? One of the writers of that time saw it as a strange folly. He wrote, “Truly, these people are deranged.”

The Crusaders gave up home and love and life. And one modern historian is quick to write that they were drunk with a dream. And all these critics of Christianity are right. The real Christian, Paul writes, is a fool for Christ. Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles . . . [but] the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:23, 25, NIV).

We have lost a lot of this today, haven’t we? And much to the church’s peril, I might add. Today we are far too calm, far too cold. We have become reasoned and sedate in our Christianity. It is to our condemnation if we do not find anything amazing in the love and the grace of God. It is to our condemnation if the ordered calm of our praise is never broken by a testimony from some stunned and amazed soul who has been snatched from the mouth of hell and is now brought by the Spirit of God into His church. It is to our condemnation if our casual conversations after church are never filled with praise to God for the great things He has done for us.

“What is all this?” we ask. “What is this noise?” It is only this: some poor soul, like these people at Pentecost, has been drenched by the Holy Spirit of God. He has seen the infinite mercy of God. He has witnessed the marvelous grace of God. And he now knows himself as a forgiven sinner, saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. And he rejoices in ecstasy. Praise to God from whom all blessings flow!

Notice a second thing in this scene before us in Acts 2. The outsider observed not only this strong emotion among the disciples but also its nature. He noticed a strange gladness, a delirious joy that swept them beyond bounds. These disciples at Pentecost were crying out in an extravagant gladness which they could hardly understand themselves. We read that they were praising the wonderful works of God.

Is there anything that is less contained and crushed and crammed into a jar than joy? It runs over. Joy is like a bubbling wine. People do all sorts of foolish things, silly things, when they are happy. They seem almost to walk on air. They burst out into little snatches of song. They giggle at the most awkward times. There is so much excitement, so much joy within them that they can’t contain it.

Think, for example, of children on the last day of school. They are excited! Ask any teacher if he or she can teach a student anything on the last day of school. Of course not. That’s because the students have one thing on their minds: School’s out! It’s done!

That excitement that you feel on the last day of school is nothing compared with the dazzling excitement and joy of a sinner’s soul being redeemed by God. It isn’t a remarkable thing that a redeemed person should sing aloud to God. It is a remarkable thing when he doesn’t. It shouldn’t surprise us that when the Holy Spirit works Christ’s love in a person, that person loves to go to church. He loves to worship God. He will make every effort, morning and evening, to be there. No excuses. That shouldn’t surprise us. No, it should surprise us when a person who claims to have the Holy Spirit in him doesn’t like to go to church.

When we think about God’s great love for a people like us. When we reflect upon the fullness of His magnificent forgiveness. When we look at the sacrifice that brought it to be. When we understand how He has called us to be His children to share in eternal life. There is something desperately wrong with us if we can sit back and take that calmly.

In the early days of the church, when God’s love and the Holy Spirit were revealed to His people, the people were carried off their feet. They were filled with an amazed joy. I have no doubt that they did foolish things—or what we would have perceived as foolish things, had we been there to see it as an outsider and not taken the time to understand it. They sang, they laughed, and they spoke of things that made no sense to the non-believer. And to the outsider standing on tippy-toe on the edge of the crowd, a word of disgust: “How shocking, so early in the morning, and here they are filled with too much wine.”

Is this missing from your life today? The vision of laughing, rejoicing, and exciting Christianity? Do you have this picture of unbounded, uncontrollable joy because Christ has saved you from your sins?

I know too many Christians who are incredibly unhappy people. Doesn’t that strike you as odd as you think again on this passage concerning the first Pentecost? Here was a group of early Christians so unrestrained, so effervescent that those who saw them, the outsiders, thought they were full of new wine. How can we be filled with the same Spirit, receiving all the same promises, thinking the same thought as these people at Pentecost, and yet look like we are mourning the end of the world? And that’s the point, isn’t it? Are we thinking the same things as the people at Pentecost? Are we certain of the same hopes, the same promises, and do we share in the same dynamic faith that they had?

If we do, then we of all people should be the happiest in this world. For we were dead in our trespasses and sins, and we have been made alive in Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God has come to us and told us that Christ, God’s own Son, has died for our sins and we are right with God because of Jesus. We need to fill ourselves with these wonderful thoughts of the wondrous work of God.

Those on that first Pentecost declared the wondrous love of God. They thought of their Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen victorious from the grave. They thought of their own poor pitiful sins and how those sins were forever forgiven and forgotten by God’s amazing love. They thought of the Holy Spirit who moved them to speak of the wondrous works of God and who would be with them and who would keep them and who would guide them until they were brought clean and purified into the presence of God. They thought of the infinite sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross and the infinite gain that He gave to His people. And when they thought of all these things, they lifted up their hands and their voices and sang praise to God, rejoicing aloud in this newfound enthusiasm until their joy mingled with the joy of the angels.

And that poor fellow over on the edge of the crowd pulled his companion away and said, “Let’s get out of here. This is rather shocking. They have had too much wine.” He was gloriously right. It was the wine of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus makes the sinner’s heart glad with song. Oh, that He would touch our hearts as well.

Rev. Wybren Oord  
is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.

How to Evade the Worship Wars

 

“The worship wars.” The very term sends shivers down many a church member’s spine. Although the phrase was probably coined with tongue in cheek, “war” is too often an apt description for the grim struggle many congregations have been facing in the past few decades. At the heart of the confrontation lies a debate over the best styles of music for worship. “Contemporary Christian music” is pitted against the “old hymns of the faith.” Guitars and drums are placed in antithesis against organ and piano. The traditional camp groans about the saccharine-sweet lyrics of praise choruses, while the contemporary camp worries that the church is losing its youth with musty nineteenth-century traditions. For months or even years, council room discussions and congregational meetings attempt every possible solution. Often the church splits its worship into “traditional” and “contemporary” services or constructs “blended worship” in an attempt to combine the best of both styles. Either way, the worship wars usually leave feelings hurt, members estranged, and the church’s unity in tatters.

In conservative Reformed denominations like the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), battles over worship music are generally few and far between. At least in the URC congregations I’m familiar with, organ and piano are still the primary instruments and the blue Psalter Hymnal is still the primary songbook. But we can’t escape the nagging thought that it might not always be this way. Organists are getting harder and harder to find. A new Psalter Hymnal with more than seven hundred songs, many of them unfamiliar, will be published within the next year or two. As our churches respond to new realities like these, difficult questions about the nature and structure of worship are sure to emerge. With this in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if you still view the worship wars as a worrisome eventuality in your church.

However, I’d like to make the case that the worship wars don’t need to happen. A consistently Reformed approach to worship can maintain the church’s unity while bypassing the battlegrounds of traditional and contemporary styles. Of course, because I write as a layman, not a professionally trained church musician or even a theologian, my overview of Reformed worship will be just that—an overview. Still, a survey of the biblical principles behind corporate worship can be profitable for the church as a whole and our own spiritual health.

The Regulation of Worship

If you visit a few contemporary churches, you’ll quickly recognize that for many congregations just about anything can happen in worship. The justification for flag services, liturgical dance, and other modes of spontaneous worship usually runs along these lines: any worship is acceptable worship as long as the worshipers are sincere.

If sincerity is the primary objective of worship, you’ll hear “That music really led me into the presence of God”—or, on the contrary, “I just can’t worship with that style of music.” Thus, the church’s mission becomes to incorporate enough elements and styles into a service to make everyone in attendance feel like at least part of their worship was truly heartfelt.

This perspective is hard to combat, especially because it often stems from commendable desires to make worship individually applicable and authentic. To be sure, from cover to cover the Bible stresses that we must worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, ESV). Yet we must acknowledge that the first and foremost criterion for worship is not whether the worshipers are sincere but whether worship is conducted according to God’s commands. When Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord (Lev. 10), they may have been sincere, but they were sincerely wrong—and the penalty was death. Lest we think this restriction is limited to Old Testament ceremonial law, the author of the letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28–29).

By nature human hearts are, in John Calvin’s words, idol factories, constantly devising not only wrong things to worship but also wrong ways to worship. As such, they cannot serve as the ultimate arbiters of the worship service. We need a more objective standard—one which, thankfully, God has provided in His Word. Reformed churches, therefore, have historically excluded from their worship anything not explicitly or implicitly commanded in Scripture. This concept, known as the regulative principle of worship, is summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism this way: “that we in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his Word” (Lord’s Day 35, Q&A 96). In the same vein, the Belgic Confession condemns “all human inventions, and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatsoever” (Article 32; see also Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter XXI, Article 1).

When we attempt to build a pattern for worship regulated according to the Bible, we discover elements such as those listed later in the Catechism: learning from God’s Word, participating in the sacraments, praying to God publicly, and bringing offerings for the poor (Lord’s Day 38, Q&A 103). To this list we can add Paul’s command to the Ephesians and the Colossians to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). But in order to determine how to organize and conduct these elements of worship, we need to dig deeper.

The Structure of Worship

Matt Redman’s perennially popular chorus “The Heart of Worship” expresses a desire to bring to Jesus “Something that’s of worth/That will bless Your heart.” But while contemporary Christian worship emphasizes our service to God, it tends to neglect its counterpart: that in corporate worship God also speaks to us through the ministry of the Word and sacraments.

Fundamentally, the worship service is a kind of holy dialogue, a meeting between God and His redeemed people. This dialogical nature of worship is particularly apparent in the elements of the Reformed liturgy: God speaks through the salutation, reading of the law, Scripture reading, preaching, and benediction, while the people respond through their psalms and hymns, prayers, and offerings.

The dialogical nature of worship also reflects covenantal theology. While a particular Sunday morning service will certainly affect some believers differently than others, worship is not the time when God meets with fifty or a hundred individual Christians. It is the time when He meets with His single assembled people, gathered in “from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south” (Ps. 107:3). There are only two parties in this conversation.

Incidentally, that Matt Redman lyric raises a second question: What “worth” do we bring into worship? In Psalm 50, God reminds His people that He needs nothing, least of all their offerings and sacrifices:

“If I were hungry,
I would not tell you,

for the world and
its fullness are mine.

Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?

Offer to God a sacrifice
of thanksgiving,

and perform your vows
to the Most High,

and call upon me in the
day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (vv. 12–15)

We sinners have no right to stand in the presence of a righteous and holy God, much less to expect that our feeble attempts at worship will somehow please Him. And yet we are invited to do so, to approach the throne of grace “with confidence,” because of our Mediator and High Priest Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:16). We gather for corporate worship only because God has made His covenant of grace with us. In the words of one essay on the Reformed liturgy, “Sinners neither stroll nor storm into the Holy Mountain; they come tremblingly, by royal invitation.”1 To be sure, our worship should be filled with joy and praise, but only as a consequence of God’s work of reconciliation in our hearts.

A dialogical and covenantal view of worship acts as a rigorous filter for what goes on in a church service. It prioritizes elements such as congregational singing as means for God’s people to respond to Him and edify each other. It also raises questions about music that is designed for solo performance rather than congregational singing, including genres like Christian rock and worship elements like instrumental special music. The dialogical nature of worship mandates that we strive to avoid distracting from or interfering with the holy conversation taking place.

The Specifics of Worship

As simple as the regulative principle of worship and the dialogical nature of worship may sound, how they apply in the context of worship wars may still seem fuzzy. How do we determine what kind of songs to sing or what musical styles to use? While these principles may not provide a direct answer to such specific questions, they do provide the underpinning necessary for a consistently biblical model of worship.

What songs should we sing in worship? The URCNA’s official position on this question is rather broad: “The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in the singing of the churches,” but “hymns which faithfully and fully reflect the teaching of the Scripture” may also be sung if approved by the consistory.2 While the debate over whether extrabiblical hymns belong in worship will probably continue until Christ’s return, there can be no question that the Psalms belong in worship (see Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; James 5:13). Moreover, as part of the inspired Word of God, the Psalter clearly deserves the “principal place” in our congregational singing. As Reformed theologians like David Murray and Michael LeFebvre have argued extensively, the Psalms were written with Christ at their center and thus are supremely fitting for the worship of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments.3 With regard to the dialogical nature of worship, psalm singing again proves its merit. After all, what better way to participate in this holy conversation than by singing the words God has given us back to Him? Whether or not other songs are used in worship, then, Reformed church music should be thoroughly immersed in the words and influence of the Psalms.

What about the styles and instruments of our worship music? While passages like Psalm 150 mention a wide range of instruments in the context of worship, there is one instrument far more important than any of them: the voice of the congregation. As beautiful as instrumental music may be, it cannot communicate words like the human voice does. Paul’s comments to the Corinthians seem to reinforce the need for our music to be intelligible, not just beautiful: “I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” (1 Cor. 14:15). Whatever instruments are used in worship, then, must serve to support and encourage congregational singing, not overpower it. Along the same lines, current secular styles of music, which tend to rely heavily on vocal and instrumental solos, are particularly unsuited for strong congregational singing. While I don’t think an amplified rock band belongs in worship, however, I want to point out that poor accompaniment on organ and piano can be just as much of a hindrance to the voice of the congregation. The primary question here is not which musical styles are acceptable but which will best support God’s people as they “come into his presence with singing” (Ps. 100:2).

Is Reformed worship traditional or contemporary? I hope this all-too-brief summary has revealed the false dichotomy behind this question. Worship according to God’s commands, “in spirit and truth,” should be both traditional, rooted in the historic practice of God’s people, and contemporary, just as applicable in the present day as ever. May God bless our efforts to worship Him acceptably and sincerely, as we look forward to “singing a new song before the throne” with the rest of God’s people in eternity (Rev. 14:3)!

___________________

1. Report of the Liturgical Committee of the Christian Reformed Church to Synod 1968, in Psalter Hymnal Supplement (Grand Rapids: Board of Publications of the Christian Reformed Church, 1974), back matter p. 91.

2. Church Order of the United Reformed Churches in North America (2012 edition), Article 39.

3. See David Murray, Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013); Michael LeFebvre, Singing the Songs of Jesus: Revisiting the Psalms (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2010); also Sing a New Song: Recovering Psalm Singing for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Joel Beeke and Anthony Selvaggio (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010).

Michael Kearney
a member of the West Sayville URC on Long Island, NY, studies communication and music at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA. He welcomes your thoughts at mrkearney@optonline.net

 
 
Neighbor Love

Spring is a great season. It cries out, “Get up and get out!” The tulips lead by example with their undaunted determination to press through the cold earth to embrace the warm sun. Soon enough, we will bravely follow suit by packing up our wintroverted1 ways and dusting off all that takes us outdoors. But before you start thinking of all that you want to do this spring, use this time for spring training in how to love your neighbor.

Not everything in this life is great. The word great should be reserved for great things. In Matthew 22 a lawyer asks Jesus a great law question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” His answer came in two parts: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Far from the lawyer being curious, he was quizzing Jesus. The text says, “Then one of them, a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question, testing Him.” It would be a bit like an elder randomly asking a young person from our church, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” It’s a quiz. Jesus passed. He got it right. Not only did Jesus perfectly answer the great question, but also He perfectly lived out the great answer.

Of all the commandments, Jesus says, next to loving God, loving your neighbor as yourself is the greatest expression of obedient gratitude. He even calls it great! The whole of the Old Testament is summarized in this and its companion commandment.

Most of us have been around long enough to know that the word neighbor, biblically understood, leaves us with little wiggle room. We say with New Covenant panache, “Clearly, it’s not just the people next door.” Indeed. Very true. Quiz passed. But before we get all big and broad, think about how you are doing with the narrow definition of the word. If you are like me, there is enough conviction right here, thank you very much. But this has to be more than a tug on a moral heartstring or a poke at false guilt. We need to see the second great commandment as the doorway through which we cheerfully introduce our neighbors to the first great commandment. Put another way, we need to see the second great commandment as the key to the church’s Great Commission. Put yet another way, we need to give up on moanology, the practice of moaning against our neighbors for fill-in-the-blank kinds of reasons, and we need to embrace a missiology that seeks to befriend, come along side of, encourage, and foster neighbor love.

Today, we are tempted to move out of our congested neighborhoods so that we don’t have to deal with people. The isolation that is produced by our modern technology is perhaps only the natural outworking of a more primitive attitude that hates being bothered by incarnated inconveniences, that is, people. But the second great commandment assumes contact with our neighbor. It assumes activity and connectivity. It assumes messy interaction where love is hard and needs to be invoked lest you become a sermon illustration (see Matt. 5:46ff.). It assumes that the church is going to take the fruit of the gospel and live it from narthex to neighborhood.

So let me get you thinking about this with some tips for your spring training regimen in neighbor love. So that we’re clear, I write this as a man who is woefully out of shape myself and in desperate need of training.

First: Pray. We have not because we ask not. It is that simple. Go for a walk and pray your way through your neighborhood. Pray for the households as you pass by. Confess your sin of disinterest among those God has placed you next to. With every step, acknowledge that you are treading on the mission field where God has placed you to shine for His glory. Repent of the tunnel vision that enables you to think that your street is merely the pathway to your home. Cry out for strength that you’ll quickly realize you do not have of yourself. Pray to be used.

Second: Live. Be seen. Get off your back deck, with the back fence protecting your back yard where no one can see you. Make your driveway the launch pad from which you live out the second great commandment. Throw a football with your kids. In the midst of a world that is suffering from the breakdown of the family, be a family that honors Christ before the eyes of all men. Show the practical benefits of a life hidden in Christ by not being hidden from the world. The world desperately needs to see what Christ lived out looks like! And when there is an opportunity to talk with someone passing your home, don’t be so busy loving your blessings that you cannot love that person and be a blessing.

Third: Cut strings. We don’t love with ulterior motives. We do not only love our neighbors so that they will be converted. We love them because we are converted.2 In other words, we love our neighbor expecting nothing in return. Of course our desire in showing the love of Christ is to be winsome. Our desire should be that everyone we meet would know the love of Christ through faith and repentance. But our love for our neighbors is not contingent on their embrace of Christ. We don’t give our neighbors the first thirty days of our love for free, but after the trial period ends, the deal expires if they haven’t signed up for membership. Our love is of the no-strings-attached variety. We love because we have been loved. This is the kind of love that mystifies. It’s a love unlike anything in this world, where everything is something-for-something. This love fosters trust. It is faithful. We are not fair-weather people who divorce ourselves from everyone who doesn’t believe what we believe. While we were enemies, we were loved. With this lesson ever before us, this is the love that we show. This is the love that conquers. We know this, because this is the love that conquered us.

Fourth: Fear not. Get in the mess of your mission field without fear. First John 4:4 says, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” This is important for us to remember. It is easy to pretty up our fears, make them sound sanctimonious, and never interact with the world. “It has a corrupting influence, you know.” Of course it does, but “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” When we forget this, we quickly become introverted and fail to meet our neighbors where they need to experience our Christian love the most. Perhaps this explains why many of our churches have seemingly grown only through controversies. Don’t you long for growth through conversions? Don’t you long for an increasing number of adult baptisms? That requires all of us to get into the messy business of loving our messy neighbors in our manicured subdivisions. And who better to do this than us—messy sinners saved by extravagant grace! In His greatness, without fear, we seek to fulfill the Great Commission by living out the great commandments.

He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world! Let the greatness of this thought prepare you for the season that springs you out of your home and into the great outdoors. In the midst of being set free after a long winter, let us remember why it is that God makes us visible in His world. We are His witnesses, His workers, and windows of His love. “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Are you ready to live with the implications of this great commandment? 

____________

1. An indoor life necessitated by cold West Michigan winters.

2. For more on this, read The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door by Jay Pathak, Dave Runyon, and Randy Frazee (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012).

Rev. Jason Tuinstra 
is the pastor of Bethel URC in Jenison, MI, where he has served for the past six years. He previously served congregations in Indiana and California.

 

 

 

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Listen to a 42-minute audio lecture by Dr. Carl Trueman
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This lecture was given at the annual meeting of Reformed Fellowship held November 7, 2008, at Trinity United Reformed Church, 7350 Kalamazoo Ave SE, Caledonia MI.

 

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