The Authority of the Risen Christ
It is no accident that modern America fumbles around the concept
of authority. We espouse rebellion as good—for the roots of our
authority do not bear close examination.
It was not always so. Our Founding Fathers found their authority
in the providence of God. They entrusted government to majority
rule—explicitly stating on many occasions that this was possible
only for a Christian nation. We kept the majority rule—for a while.
But lately majority rule has been swallowed by its safeguards. The
court system, meant to check abuse of authority, has become the
source of that abuse.
So where does the modern American go for his source of authority?
If the question is posed, there are a variety of answers. One most
common at the moment is “bioethics.” Shortly put, anything that
increases the chance that your genes remain in the gene pool is, by
definition, good. Our examples for this come from the animals, who
(it is postulated) do nothing without this principle in mind. One
researcher discovered that adolescent chimpanzees commit what would
be for us the crime of rape—and frequently. Harmonizing this new
truth should be an interesting exercise.
The Christian view is completely opposed to this. The matter is
simple: all authority belongs to the risen Lord. It is His,
intrinsically. By command, that authority belongs to the church—for
his purposes. Two such purposes are given; first, evangelization and
second the nurturing of the disciple into mature faith.
The world must react against this. It is no wonder that
evangelism is condemned as the destruction of intrinsically valuable
native cultures (horrors!) But see the contradiction: by what
authority do we know this is so? By the authority of those who claim
that genetic transmission is the highest good?
Take heart, Christian. Christ is the victor; he has overcome the
world. The world and its system are condemned even now. He will
return on the Day of Judgment to pronounce sentence on the living
and the dead. The evil will be no more; indeed, those who pervert
his doctrine will cease as well. Homosexual bishops will take their
well earned place—in hell.
Lord, keep in our minds the fact that we are to do as you have
commanded us. It is our obedience to your authority which is the
sure and certain foundation. Help us to see the turmoil around us
for what it is: a fleeting shadow, chased away by your light.
Sadly, there is an almost complete lack of church discipline in
our time. The church is afraid to discipline her members for fear of
the question: “Just who gave you the authority to interfere in my
life?” The independent church can point to no national or
international body as a source of authority—nor should she. The
authority comes from Christ. We don’t use it because we are
afraid—afraid of what the subject might say, what the world might
say. We forget that perfect love casts out fear; if we loved each
other as Christ loved us it would not matter what “they” say. Church
discipline is for the good of its members.
Let’s take an example: the all too common sex outside of
marriage. Sigmund Freud’s disciples say it’s good for your psyche;
Hugh Hefner says it’s good for your marriage. Any number of public
figures tell us that it is “bold” and “daring” - something which
requires true courage. But ask yourself: who benefits from this
advice? Hefner and his pornography empire? The publicity seekers?
Those wise in their own minds? These are the authorities of the day.
The church answers to a different authority: Christ. Despite all
the legend to the contrary, church discipline is not the expression
of bluenose prudes who can’t get over the fact they were born in bed
with a woman. Church discipline is not the province of the pompous
self-righteous. It belongs to the church who loves those who have
gone astray, and longs to lead them home again. The world’s
authorities gain their own benefit from this; the church does not
gain, but pays a price. Who then has your best interests at heart?
Church discipline is by the authority of Christ, and it must be
administered as he commanded. It is to be done with all gentleness,
starting with a one on one conversation. If quiet words avail, who
needs to shout? It is to be done with all caution, for those doing
it are sinners too, and may fall the same way. It is to be done in
the full authority of Christ, who died for sinners.
Would you like to be really “bold” and “daring?” Then undertake
the soft and gentle correction of a Christian caught in sin. The
world will not applaud your courage, but someone might be eternally
Lord, we are our brother’s keeper. May we always know that our
brother’s soul is worth more than all the sneers of the world.
The Authority of the Apostles
It is a remarkable fact that millions of Christians accept the
collection of writings we know as the Bible as being the word of
God—and know nothing of how they were selected for that role.
The matter occupied the attention of one of the great saints of
antiquity, Athanasius. He was responsible for delineating what we
now know as the doctrine of the Trinity. He was also often at odds
with the popular preachers of his day who held to the Arian heresy.
So often was he reviled that his motto was Athanasius contra mundum,
Athanasius against the world.
He laid down these principles for a writing to be considered
· First, the writing must conform to the rule of the faith. It
can contain no contrary doctrine but must conform to the teaching of
the church as seen in most places in most times.
· Next, it must be of proven usefulness to the church. Is it used
by the great preachers of the faith? Does it bring out the great
doctrines of the church?
· Finally, it must carry within it the authority of one of the
Apostles—either written by him or one who wrote down his thought, as
Mark’s Gospel does for Peter.
Interestingly, being inspired writing was not one of the
criteria. The early church held that many more writings were
inspired—but did not carry apostolic authority.
Why did Christ vest his authority in the Apostles in so strong a
way? First, so that the church might spread more rapidly—twelve
places instead of one. Second, so that the early church might have a
reference point before the Scriptures were written. Even as such,
the Apostles acted together in council, not alone—always seeking the
true thought of Christ.
The church still carries that authority with her today. Sometimes
we must deal with new controversies—by seeking the will of God in
the Scriptures. But more often it is simply this: those who seek
comfort find it more readily in a human being than in the written
word. When that human carries God’s Scripture in his life, the
comfort can indeed be said to come from God.
Lord, there are those we know who are burdened with the guilt of
their lives. Grant that we may bring your authority to bear, so that
they may know who has the authority to forgive sin.
The Ten Commandments
Of all the legal codes in history, none is so often referenced as
the short set of commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Called
the Ten Commandments, they are of such historical importance as to
rate a frieze on the United States Supreme Court building showing
the giving of the commandments. The Anti-Christian Lawyers Union has
It is clear in this passage that we have this instruction “from
the horse’s mouth.” The event is miraculous in nature; it is not
possible for the human body to go without water for forty days. Even
so, it shows the intense devotion required to truly take in the
commandments of God.
The form of this law is said to be a covenant. The word is often
used interchangeably with the word “contract.” They are different
however. Contracts have certain legal properties:
· The first involves the “exchange of consideration.” That is,
each party must provide something of value to the other.
· There is also a presumption of equality between the two
parties—in law, at least, they negotiate on equal footing.
· A contract can be destroyed by its breach; if one of the
parties does not perform accordingly, there are remedies in law.
A covenant often sounds to be the same; it looks as if God will
do thus and such if we, his people, will do this or that. It sounds
like something we might have hammered out on Mount Sinai.
But it is not. It is in fact a supreme condescension on the part
of God! We have nothing of value to bring as consideration; we
therefore have nothing to bargain with. The action of God is one of
his being gracious to us.
We are not standing as equals, but as sinners before
righteousness. We can accept the terms or reject them, but we cannot
modify them. Interestingly, this applies whether you want the
covenant or not. The ancient Israelites often found other gods more
convenient—for a while. Modern man also has selective deafness.
As it is offered by God, it is ended by God. The covenant of
grace, given at the Cross, will end on the Day of Judgment. The wise
seek Him while He may be found.
Lord, how often we think we can bargain with you; as if the flea
would bargain with the elephant. May we remember that you are both
sovereign and holy.
The Keys of Death and Hell
There is an enduring theme in romantic fiction. Omar Khayyam gave
us the finest example in two words: “Open Sesame!” The tale of one
who finds the key to great treasure, whether in a magic phrase, a
genie’s lamp or the key to a strongbox, is a commonplace of
literature. It is a very appealing myth; who would not want to be
Suddenly rich—just what does that mean? For most of us, it means
money, but consider: is that really true? If this mortal life is all
that we will ever experience, then the search for the key to the
strongbox is very logical. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we
die. But if we are designed to live forever, as God assures us, then
true riches are found elsewhere. There are no pockets in a shroud.
We should therefore find the key to the riches of eternity. And
that brings us to the choices presented in the Bible. All of our
cartoon caricatures to the contrary, Hell is not just an office
cubicle with no air conditioning. Hell is eternal torment, as Christ
makes very clear. The key is now something of eternal consequence,
and therefore worthy of our full attention.
The Age of Faith understood this better than we do. In 1077,
Henry IV, Emperor of Germany, stood outside in the snow, barefoot,
in penitent’s garb, for three days to obtain the forgiveness of the
Pope. He understood that all his power and wealth would pass from
him in the grave; he believed the Pope controlled heaven and hell.
His actions were logical.
His mistake was in who holds the key: Jesus, the Christ. Note,
please, that John—his best friend during his ministry on earth—falls
at his feet, so awesome is his appearance. John has seen him as he
is—the awesome Christ. We too will see the awesome Christ when he
returns in his glory. But then it will be too late to consider our
The key, however, is available to us now. The one who lived, was
dead and is alive forever holds the keys of heaven and hell, eternal
life or eternal damnation. By his own personal authority he will
judge the living and the dead. What will you hear? “Well done” or
“Depart from me”? The choice is still before you—for a while.
Lord, it is so difficult in our time to take seriously the ideas
of heaven and hell—but you have made it clear that they are very
real. Grant that we may choose wisely and well.
The Authority of the Father over Jesus
It often surprises the new Christian: Christ Himself was a model
of obedience. The Scripture tells us that he was made perfect
through his submission to the Father by his suffering. The point is
not that he was sinful; the word in the original means “shaped for a
purpose.” It is remarkable to note that his submission to the
authority of God the Father is entirely voluntary; as this passage
shows, he wanted to avoid the Cross if possible.
What an example, therefore, He sets for us! Consider:
· He is obedient in the matter of will. We all speak well of
willpower; see how Jesus conforms his will to that of the Father.
· He is obedient in matters of detail. He commands his disciples
to do what the Pharisees command, even though they are hypocrites,
so that not the slightest reproach would be heard.
· He is obedient in trial and temptation. Jesus goes into the
wilderness to be tempted by the Devil—not by accident or force, but
by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
· He is obedient in his heart and passion. He is tender to the
woman in adultery, enraged at those who make the house of prayer
into a shopping mall.
· He is obedient in mind—frequently quoting the Scripture, even
to the point of resting his argument upon a single word.
· He is obedient in physical pain. This scene is just before the
Cross, to which he went willingly.
Do you see how the Son regarded the Father’s authority over him
as being absolute? He could do nothing that the Father had not shown
him to do. In this, he sets an example for us.
Do we follow that example? We are willing to have him as savior;
we love to have him as friend; he is the one who has walked as we
walk. Sometimes that blinds us to the fact that we have taken him
not only as savior but as Lord. Do we even attempt the obedience
that he modeled for us? In our prayers, do we come to give him
advice about our lives or do we report to get our orders? Do we say,
“Lord, lord” and do as we please?
Lord, so often we are taught of your tender care, of your mercy,
of your compassion for sinners. Teach us too that you are the Lord
of our lives; Lead on, O King Eternal!
I Am the Lord Your God
We begin a series of thoughts connected by this phrase: “I am the
Lord your God.” In a variety of commandments God proclaims his
lordship to us and expects that to be sufficient for our
understanding. How so?
· “I Am” - it is the very name of God himself. He is the
self-existent one, the one whose existence must be. The universe
borrows the very idea of existence from him. He commands us from his
· “the Lord” - the one entitled to rule, the ruler of
righteousness by right. His lordship is also a part of his
· “your God” - the giver of all good and gracious gifts, the God
especially associated with you. The God who proclaims you to be his
And what does this God command?
Reverence for father and mother
To my knowledge there is no religion on the planet which does not
command some form of honor and respect for parents. My mother lives
in an apartment for assisted living. We see to her physical needs,
taking her to the doctor and such. We involve her in our social
lives. If it were needed we would provide for her financially as
well. None of this is extraordinary, nor is it unusual. It seems
rather obvious; something built into the universe, that children
should take care of their parents this way.
Exactly. Built into the universe—that is what this phrase means.
The God who spoke and the worlds began put his character into this
universe of his; this is something so obviously right that we should
see it as his command without even asking.
Keep my Sabbaths
If this is so, then, what about the Sabbath? Do we in our time
regard the Lord’s Day as holy, or as a convenient extension of
Saturday? The ancient Israelite was solemnly warned; the Sabbath was
given by God for the blessing of man. It is to be spent in worship
and praise, meditation and prayer. It is built into his universe.
Lord, we acknowledge you as both Lord and God, obedient to your
commands and thankful for your gifts. Give us clear hearts and minds
so that we might see how obvious these things are. Stir us to do
what is right in your sight, taking every opportunity. May our
children see this and know that you are God.
The fact is rather obvious. No matter how it is disguised, or
pushed, or persuaded, the bulk of charitable giving comes from those
who are the rich. In America, that includes most of the middle
class. They, after all, are the ones with the money. So the question
is not, from whom shall charity come? The question is how?
· Some hold that the state should provide this through
taxation—the welfare state. This has the advantage that all the rich
have their pockets picked in a relatively equal way. Its effect on
the behavior of the poor is not so pleasant, as we have seen in
· Some hold that this is a matter for the church—meaning, of
course, the staff in the office. To a slight extent this happens; it
has the disadvantage that the church staff seldom knows if the
recipients are really the poor or simply con artists.
· God’s plan is different. He leaves it to the individual member
of the church. This has the advantage that each recipient must
undergo scrutiny—and each giver must know sacrifice.
For whom, then, is the Christian to provide charity? God gives us
two classes of recipient here:
· First, those who are poor. It is not necessarily a matter of
fault; note that God never asks you to give only to the worthy poor.
Many a working mother is poor because her husband left her with the
· But also, those who are aliens—for we are just passing through
this world ourselves.
See how God commands this charity to be given! It is not by
impulse, but by planning: leave the gleanings. And look at the gift
to the poor and the stranger: not only are they fed, but they are so
by their own hard work. This weeds out the lazy as it keeps them
Would such a plan work today? God loves a cheerful giver, I’m
told, and even rewards such. His love is great—let us therefore
extend that love to the poor and the stranger.
Lord, we live in suspicious times. Keep us mindful that if we
close our ears and our doors to the poor and the stranger, you are
their champion, and will bring the same upon us.
The Name of God
My father was a career military officer. Like most of us, we are
careful to protect the reputation of our family name. Sometimes this
takes an unusual form.
The incident is clear in my memory after 45 years. I was in a new
school (again). The teacher had my name on her paperwork—the wrong
name. It was close;—but it wasn’t my name. She promptly advised me
that if I didn’t stop “this foolishness” about my name, she would
send me to the principal’s office—and my father would have to come
bail me out. Fourth grader or no, I told to her to go ahead. I knew
my own name.
My father showed up in uniform—with name tag attached. The
principal started out just like the teacher until his eye caught the
name tag. He didn’t know what to say. But my dad did.
We’re careful to defend our name. But there is an exception; if
you ever meet a Clarence with my name, give me a call. That boy and
I are going to have a little talk—especially about using me as a
reference for his credit.
God rather seems to be the same about his name. He tells us that
he will uphold those who call on him to vouch for them—and are
honest. He will punish those who are false. But then, the ancient
world understood that God can and will act.
It’s easy to see this as a question of authority. If I take an
oath to prove something is true, using God’s name to buttress my
claim, there are only two possibilities:
· Either I’m telling the truth—and therefore using his name in
the proper way, or
· I’m lying, and therefore misusing the name of God.
The first assumes that God will defend his name; the second
assumes that he won’t notice this minor violation.
To modern man, of course, the sense of taking an oath means
nothing—because we don’t believe God will act. Profanity is merely
vulgar. People say, “I’m not afraid to speak my mind.” In other
words, my anger controls my mouth. This is bad even without the
profanity; how much more so if you misuse God’s name? We need to
think carefully about taking God’s name on our lips.
Lord, the control of the tongue is no longer seen as a virtue;
profaning your name is now desirable. We are among the barbarians.
May our speech be a witness to you.
The Pirate’s Eye Patch
One of the more interesting aspects of my life is that I live
surrounded by educational establishments. One such establishment is
Troy High School. Troy is a magnet school; its students come from
all over Orange County. The students are said to be the leaders of
It happens that I wear an eye patch. I don’t wear it as a fashion
statement, or to impress people; I wear it because I have to. It may
surprise you, but the students of Troy High find the eye patch to be
tremendously funny. If I’m outside when they are there, it doesn’t
take long for the mocking obscenities to start. Sometimes I don’t
even need to be visible.
Complain to the administration? Their attitude is much the same;
complaints from the neighborhood always go to a vice principal who
isn’t in at the moment—and doesn’t return phone calls. He also
doesn’t have a name.
The measure of a civilization is not in its armaments, nor in its
public buildings, but in how it treats the less fortunate. Do you
laugh at another person’s misfortune? Consider the message it sends:
· People are disposable items; they’re not really important.
Laugh at them like you’d laugh at a dog.
· The one laughing is obviously much more important than the
victim. Arrogance is a virtue.
Troy High is not alone in this. If you think not, look into the
matter of how disabled veterans are treated in this state.
God’s viewpoint on this is fairly simple. Christ died for the guy
in the wheelchair too. If you’re a Christian, you should imitate
what Christ does. How did He deal with the crippled, the lepers, the
rejects from polite society? Did he not have compassion on them?
Often the crowd tried to discourage such from coming to so important
a rabbi, but Christ never did.
In our class we have a wheelchair; we have those with walkers.
The love of Christ is for them just as well as the rest of us. Even
a one-eyed man can see that.
Lord, we sometimes sin in our carelessness. Grant that our eyes
will be open to the needs of others. May we always be ready to help,
and to do so with willing hands and a heart that accepts all the
children in your kingdom.
It might seem at first as if the authority of God bears little
relation to the problem of slander. Slander seems such a petty
thing. But consider: is it not a crime even yet to “breach the
peace?” Our police officers are to arrest those whose conduct tends
to destroy the peace and tranquility of the community. God has a
similar concern for his saints.
Slander is something which tends to breach of the peace, for it
sets one brother at another’s throat. It is often the weapon of the
weak and the cowardly; courage is required for virtue, nothing is
required for slander except a fertile imagination. As such, the
saints, like Jesus himself, will often be the recipients of slander.
You need but read the Los Angeles Times.
This does not mean, however, that all that is negative about the
church is false. We are cautioned specifically not to provide an
occasion for slander. We are to be the imitators of Christ.
How does slander breed? Among those outside the church it has a
relatively simple origin. “I know of no conspiracy so sinister as
Christianity,” wrote one of the leading editorialists of the Times.
With that attitude we should expect no less.
The real pain comes from slander within the church. We expect
Satan’s mouthpiece to slander us. It hurts when our Christian
brothers and sisters do. It is well to remember: slander comes from
the evil heart. It is the burning desire to “get’ someone without
fear of reprisal. Sometimes this comes from idleness, having nothing
else to do. Sometimes it comes from the hypocrites’ heart.
What, then, is a Christian to do about it? Write a letter to the
Times? They’d only edit it to make you look stupid. Ignore those
outside the church; God will judge them. Inside the church, remember
that slander must be listened to if it is to survive. Do you listen
with an air of shock—and a heart anxious to hear the latest? If you
won’t listen, the slanderer has no audience. You would not throw
gasoline on a fire; do not listen to the chatter that reaps anger.
The slanderer will be called to account. It is not “just talk.”
It is the fruit of hatred. How can you say you love your brother—and
then slander him?
Lord, we are quick to excuse our tongues. Grant us the patience
to think before we speak in anger.
On Mission Road in Los Angeles there exists one of the more
unusual emporiums in existence: Skeletons in the Closet. It is the
official souvenir store for an agency which is not normally
associated with memorabilia such as bobble-head dolls: the Los
Angeles County Coroner’s Office. Beach towels, key chains, tote
bags—all are for sale with the Coroner’s logo.
But there is one item which has been discontinued. A dark
windbreaker jacket with lettering on the back, it was the same
jacket worn by the Coroner’s personnel. Unfortunately, it was also
worn by too many sightseers wishing to go inside the crime scene
The Coroner, it would seem, guards his locations with care.
Perhaps the assistance of so many amateur sleuths is not
appreciated. I suspect God is of the same opinion when it comes to
the matter of vengeance.
Vengeance. Nothing produces so enduring an anger as vengeance. It
is for this reason that God has claimed vengeance as his own;
“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; I will repay.” (KJV). To take
vengeance is to take what belongs to God.
In ancient times God delegated the task to “the avenger of
blood.” He did so with elaborate regulations, including sanctuary,
so that justice might be served. In our day, this is given to police
and judicial authority. But the principle is the same: impartial,
Personal vengeance is forbidden—even to the point of not holding
a grudge. A grudge is simply vengeance barred in by force, a
compound of hatred and fear. But hatred and fear eat you long before
your enemy is affected.
Instead, God commands that they be replaced. Note that he does
not simply banish them; he knows we are weak. He knows that we
cannot put this aside and ignore it. We bury our hatchets handle up,
convenient for the next time. No, we cannot put hatred aside unless
we replace it—with love.
Love must replace hatred and vengeance. How is this possible?
Consider the supreme example: Jesus on the Cross. You have no
enemies such as he did; yet he cried out, “Father, forgive them, for
they know not what they do.” Sometimes Christianity is obvious.
Obvious, but not easy.
Lord, how can we give up hatred? Only by looking to you. Give us
the strong hearts needed to replace hatred with love.
Rise for the Grayheaded
The picture is still clear in my mind: my father would drive to
the restaurant. Parking the car, he got out, grabbed his cane and
slowly made his way around to the passenger side, where my mother
waited patiently. He opened the door for her. It is a gesture that
today brings scorn. I know, for I open the door for my wife, who
waits as patiently as my mother did.
It is not a matter of her weakness, but of my respect. We have
lost the idea that (for example) age is deserving of respect. Today,
age is scorned and youth is worshiped. The parents in a typical
situation comedy would be lost without their cool teenage children.
Even in the church, the ideal is to make the worship service belong
to the Church of What’s Happening Now. (There actually is such a
church, by that name).
So I must ask you to consider the facts. Go into the high school
or college age ministry of the church. See what things are being
discussed; see what things are being taught. Then do the same with a
class filled with people their grandparent’s age. Despite our
worship of youth, it will be clear to you that the grandparents are
far and away the stronger Christians. Which is as it should be.
I first learned this lesson in the person of Mrs. Esther Brown.
Mrs. Brown (never “Esther”) was housemother to my wife in her dorm
during her freshman year. For many years after that we met with her,
the ladies catching up on old times and old acquaintances. It is
sufficient to say that when I really needed prayer, this woman was
at the top of my list. She portrayed a sweet friendship with Jesus
that seemed to come naturally to one who had been following him for
so many years.
Worthy of my respect? I should think so. More than that, my
respect is commanded for such people. It is very logical, if you
think it through. How are you to respect the awesome power and
authority of the Lord God Jehovah, whom you cannot see, if you have
no respect for his old friends, whom you can see? And if you will
not respect him, how can you know him? If you do not know him, what
will you hear on Judgment Day? “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
Lord, we live in a world where the grey head is considered to be
a liability, a drawback. May we follow you so closely that we never
fail to respect those who have this distinction—and so that our own
children will have this example to follow.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Over and over in the Old Testament God proclaims himself to be
the friend and protector of those who have neither. In particular,
He solemnly warns the Israelites not to mistreat the widow, the
orphan—or the alien. God is their protector; therefore, treat them
as you would anyone else.
It is necessary to state this. To bring up the subject of the
alien in our class is to tap into a deep well of resentment and
anger. People who would be horrified at cruelty to animals are
perfectly willing to muster the National Guard and drive out the
aliens at bayonet point. Perhaps this explains God being so
particular about this point. He reminds the Israelites that they,
too, were aliens, strangers in a strange land—Egypt. Even those who
had never set foot in the place are expected to have an ancestral
memory of the misery of being an alien. Of course, these people
could trace their ancestry back to Abraham and beyond. We are
considered lucky to know our great-grandparents names.
But in a very real sense we are still aliens, ourselves. We are
the strangers in a strange land, for we are “in the world but not of
the world.” We are, spiritually, aliens. Therefore we should know
how it feels, and our natural sympathy should aid us in caring for
the aliens in our land.
Look at it this way: it has pleased God Almighty to allow a horde
of people to cross our southern borders in these recent years.
Whatever our government does about this, we too must know how we are
going to treat them. Are we to receive them with the fire of hatred,
or the love of Christ?
Our marching orders on this are clear. We need no bayonets to
deal with this, for our Lord has given us this command. Just after
proclaiming that all authority is his, he told us to make disciples.
He was very particular about which particular nation, tribe or race
we are to reach: all of them. To the ends of the earth, to the end
of the age, we are to make disciples. By his permission they have
come to us; by his command we must bring them to Him.
Lord, it is hard. We become so accustomed to the ease of this
land that we forget that the command to make disciples is not for
the chosen few, but for the chosen. Open our eyes to see the fields
white with harvest; open our ears to hear the need of the lost; open
our hearts so that we may take of our abundance and multiply it in
your kingdom work.
Weights and Measures
The picture is a Norman Rockwell classic. The grocer’s eyes are
intent upon the scale—while his thumb is pushing down on it. Eyes
equally locked on the scale, the customer has her hand underneath
the pan, pushing up. When Rockwell painted it, this was funny. The
humor has now been lost.
Is it not strange that you never hear a sermon on the subject of
honesty in business? It’s certainly not for lack of need. Indeed,
the matter is sufficiently far gone that MBA schools are now
requiring a course in Business Ethics. I submit to you this: just
having such a course, let alone requiring it, is a sign of
The matter is very simple: businessmen today are not worthy of
our trust—and business runs on trust. The most common form of
contract is one in which one party pays money to another for goods
or services to be delivered later. The cost of inspection has risen
greatly as trust has declined. We have now reached the point where
business transactions resemble a treaty between Hitler and Stalin:
the real question is, who will break the agreement first?
In my lifetime I have seen this issue of honesty in business go
through three phases:
· In the first phase it was assumed that your word was your bond.
If you said it was so, it was so. If you said you’d do it, you’d do
it. Companies built entire product lines and even industries rooted
in ordinary honesty. Dishonesty was not only rare, it was shameful.
· In the next phase inspection replaced personal integrity. You
could still trust the company—because it kept a close eye on its
employees. Dishonesty was still fairly rare—but the shame was in
· We have now reached the phase where dishonesty is expected.
Inspection is still performed, but its main function is to provide
“plausible deniability” for the executives.
Yet through all this the church has been silent. Do not be
deceived; God has not changed. Honesty is still his requirement. Be
sure of this: he knows, and he will act.
Lord, so often we hear that everyone does it. Cause us to
remember that we are not everyone, nor are we anyone—we are your
children. Let honesty run in the family.
I Am Your Help
Each Sunday, it is my custom to stand at the bottom of the stairs
from the foyer down to the classroom level. The layout of the
building can be confusing, and usually one or more people need
direction. While standing there I have noticed something curious:
the way small children come down stairs.
Their arms are usually too short to reach the banister rail, and
the steps are large enough to be a trap for small feet. This is
especially true when mother is in a hurry. Mother grasps the child
by the hand, tells him or her to hang on closely, and proceeds down
the steps at an adult pace. The child’s pace is much slower; often
the adult has neither time nor patience for it.
So, at the bottom of the stairs, the child seeks liberation! She
lets go of mother’s hand and begins to run. Mom usually is carrying
something like the diaper bag, the purse, etc., so this means a run
for mother as well.
Do you see it? God is like that with us. The stairs are hard, the
steps are too big for us. So we reach our hands up to God, grasping
him firmly as we go through our trials. But somehow we don’t like
how tightly God clings to us—so as soon as the trial is over, we let
go of God and run away. We will not take his hand again unless he
catches up to us—and some of us are very determined to run far and
He will catch up with us, of course. His love will not let us go.
We want to be independent but we also want to be loved and
protected. Most of all, we want our wisdom to prevail, not his. We
want to call the shots.
We have forgotten who God is. He is the eternal God, the one who
never changes. His purposes are the same forever; he will work those
purposes through us. His hand holds ours so that we might learn to
walk and grow strong.
But not all children come down the steps hand in hand. When the
day has been too much, or there is pain, the child still comes down
the stairs—in her father’s arms. So it is with us. When the troubles
roll over us, we are safe in our Father’s arms.
Lord, so often we forget that you are God, that you are the ruler
of heaven and earth. In your hands our path is narrow, but clear.
Forgive us when we run away from your hand; gather us back in with
your gentle love. When the troubles mount up, pick us up and hold
us, safe, in your arms.
The Unwelcome Church
1 Peter 2:13-15
In times not long past the arrival of a new church in town was
greeted warmly by the civic authorities. True, the tax base would
decline by some small amount, but the influence of the church on the
order of the community (and the lives of its youth) more than
outweighed this. The church was seen as an ally of the state.
It is no more. Local governments will allow a restaurant to take
over a public park to receive the tax dollars—but work hard to
prevent a church from being established in town. Since the rejection
of urgent necessity by our Supreme Court, cities have treated the
church like a toxic waste dump.
Why? The days when people believed that “character counts” are
now gone. Right and wrong are all subjective; and who wants those
weirdo right wing fundamentalists anyway? The church has not helped
with this either. Troubled youth are often dissuaded from the church
by a youth group which places social events above all else. The
world sees a social club, not the church of Jesus Christ.
The church in Peter’s time had the opposite problem—and the same
solution. Political rebellion was common, and Christians were often
blamed for what we would call terrorism today. To deal with the
problem, Christians were instructed to be visibly obedient to the
authorities of the day.
Note, please, that Peter does not proclaim the authorities to be
right in their judgments. He simply notes that their interests often
coincide with the church’s; submission to them helps advance the
kingdom of God—which is the objective. The church grows well in an
There is more to it. It is God’s will that we do this. Why?
Because our actions speak louder than words. If the church becomes
completely accepted by the world, she has become a part of the
world—and is no longer the church. Conflict is inevitable,
particularly when the state thinks itself supreme in authority. To
make the truth clear to one and all, we are commanded to be
exemplary citizens. At least then the truth about Christians can be
seen if not heard.
Lord, it is frustrating to live as a good citizen and be painted
to be the worst of villains. Keep in our minds that our actions in
our civilization are marked and remarked on; when the world looks at
us, let them see you.
Laugh A Minute
1 Timothy 2:11-12
Teachers’ meetings are not generally known as laugh riots. But I
managed to make that transformation once. I stated that the Bible
(and indeed the church for all but the last 50 years of her
existence) teaches a woman’s submission to her husband.
When the laughter subsided, and everyone realized that I was
serious, a sense of shock came over the room. Where on earth did I
get such an idea? “On earth,” no. Heaven, yes.
How is it, then, that we so commonly believe that the Scripture
teaches modern radical feminism? Consider:
· Feminism proclaims the doctrine that men and women are
interchangeable parts. In some instances this is true; in other
instances it is not so true. The National Football League still
seems to favor men, for instance. But I would submit first that “can
do” and “can do equally well” are not the same. More to the point,
“can do” and “should do” are very different. Only the death of right
and wrong in our society would blur that distinction.
· We cherish a legal fiction: “all men are created equal.”
Equality before the law is absolute fiction (ask O. J. Simpson); it
is, however, the legal fiction most likely to deliver justice. It is
therefore a useful legal fiction—but still fiction.
· The church has responded to our society by making the Bible
“relevant” - in short, proclaiming that the Bible taught feminism
all along. Submission merely means respect.
The trouble with this is simple: it’s false. From Genesis to
Revelation, men and women are different. And in between women are
placed in submission to men. One particular reason for this is to
teach us the relationship between the church—always female—and
Christ. Male and female, Christ and his church, they are bound
Is it any wonder, then, having abandoned Biblical sexuality for
the world’s version, that Christian divorce rates are higher than
the world’s? Worse yet, is it any wonder that the church still says,
“Lord, Lord” but no longer teaches obedience to Christ’s commands?
Lord, Lord—do not let us praise you with our lips alone. Grant
that we may embrace your ways, so far above our own. Teach us that
obedience to you is not drudgery, but joy.
Pray For Those In Authority
1 Timothy 2:1-2
It may seem that prayer for those in authority seems a burden;
some of our authorities have made it a point to be the enemies of
Christ. The problem is not new; Paul knew of it when he wrote this
The explanation is simple: God desires that all men might be
saved, and saved through the work of the Church, proclaiming the
salvation available only through Jesus Christ. To this end, then, we
are instructed to pray for those in authority.
· We are to petition the Almighty on their behalf. If they are
doing as they should, then this is just and right.
· We are to intercede with God on their behalf. Do they face
problems that seem insoluble? Surely not to God.
· We are to give thanks for these authorities. Indeed, a prayer
of thanksgiving for, say, the police department would not seem to be
too great a burden, now would it?
We are to make such prayers on behalf of all in authority, both
the high and the low. Each of these can materially assist or hinder
the church, and God desires that we bring their cause before him so
that he might bless them in their work for us.
It may be argued that some in authority hate the church; others
are indifferent. It is no matter. It befits the followers of the
Prince of Peace that they pray for peace and tranquility in their
time. Should we be concerned with riot and crime? Or should we be
looking after the things of God? If the authorities are doing their
job as God planned, we can do the things of the church with no
hindrance other than Satan.
The children of God should exhibit godliness, for all the world
to see. Let the authorities see the character of such citizens! It
should be clear to one and all that our prayers and our conduct
We are told that we are to live in dignity. Dignity is much
maligned these days, and seldom sought (could our worship services
be called dignified?). But dignity is no shame, nor a reason for
shame. In fact, it is the proper behavior of a child of a king, is
it not? It harmonizes well with godliness, telling one and all the
true nature of the church.
Lord we are more often frenzied than dignified. Grant us the
dignity that comes when humility is clothed in godliness.
Authority of Christ Over The Church
It is not surprising that the church no longer proclaims the
authority of Christ. Nor is it surprising that the church no longer
accepts the authority of Christ. Today, Christ is Lord in name only,
for we desire no Lord but only a Savior.
One reason this has come to pass is our view of marriage. The
Scripture uses marriage as a picture of Christ and the church—and
also uses Christ and the church as a model for marriage. If the wife
is no longer to be in submission to her husband, then the church
need no longer be in submission to Christ. Our buddy, our Savior,
but not our Lord.
But see here what we are abandoning! Intrinsically wrapped within
his authority are these:
· The hope of his calling. By the power of the Spirit Christ was
raised from the dead. With God, power and authority go together. If
there is no such authority, there is no resurrection of the dead.
· The riches of the glory of his inheritance. The description
John gives in Revelation is only what could be seen, and how great
it is. We have traded it for clouds and harps.
· The greatness of his power. If he has no authority over us,
there is no power. If there is no power, then we are fools for
thinking it exists.
Do you see the absurdity of it? To deny the authority of Christ
over the church—whether explicitly or implicitly—cuts us off from
the one Who is over all things, in all things and sustains all
things by his own power and authority. And just who is making this
denial? The church—which is his own body on earth. We have as head
of the church the creator and ruler of the universe—and we’d prefer
to be our own bosses.
His power and authority are perfect; they will not be available
for those who will not acknowledge him as Lord. Is it any wonder,
then, that the church finds itself strong only during spurts of
enthusiasm? That the prayer life of the church has withered? That
the church no longer influences the world, for its authority is no
longer Christ, but the fancy of the moment.
Lord, we live in sorrowful times. What is evil is praised, and
the wicked strut. Lead us, Lord, in the way that we should go. The
remnant is still yours; lead on, O King Eternal.
1 Corinthians 15:23-24
There is an old gag that may serve us here. The lion, full of
dignity, decides to make sure that all the animals in the jungle
know just who is boss. So he goes up first to the giraffe and roars,
“Who’s the king of the jungle?”
“You are, oh mighty lion,” replies the trembling giraffe. So it
goes with the wildebeest, the antelope, the turtle and so on.
Finally the lion approaches the elephant and roars, “Who’s the king
of the jungle?”
The elephant reaches forward with his trunk, grabs the lion’s
tail, whirls the lion around and around over his head and finally
throws the lion into a tree. When the lion comes to, he says, “Look,
just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean you have to get
mad about it!”
Whatever your jungle might be, you can count on it: the lion will
let you know he’s there. But it’s good policy to know where the
elephant walks. We are taught much the same in this passage. We are
now in the time of the end, for Jesus the Christ has come—and has
risen from the dead. That was Step One.
Step Two will be the resurrection of the dead. How or when I do
not know, but in the meanwhile the lion will roar. The authorities
of this earth will let us know of their importance and power. Just
remember: their power is temporary. Step Three is the abolition of
all power and authority except for God. All the other authorities
are strictly temporary. Do not fear the one who can kill the body;
rather fear the one who can send the soul to hell.
And what should we be doing in the meanwhile?
· We should live our lives unafraid. The world will command us to
bow down, and punish us when we won’t. Do not fear them; rather,
accept whatever comes, knowing it is temporary.
· In the meanwhile we should do the work he has given us to do:
seek and save the lost, making disciples. When He returns, let him
find us at our posts.
· Finally, we should watch and pray, knowing that he will come
when the world least expects it.
Lord, the world tries to put your church “in its place.” Give us
the strength to resist, the courage to speak out and the grace to
persevere. If it need be, give us the courage to die for the
faith—for the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.
Mutual Authority in Marriage
1 Corinthians 7:4
At first glance this seems a contradiction of the doctrine held
elsewhere that the wife is in submission to her husband. It is not.
It is not at all uncommon for two people to have a degree of
authority over each other. The mayor runs the town; we elect the
mayor. Who is servant to whom?
This particular instance of mutual (and indeed symmetric)
authority comes from a central fact: the union of marriage produces
one flesh of two. How can this be? Paul tells us here: I have
authority over my wife’s body; she has authority over mine. This
governs the sexual relationship between husband and wife.
Kindly note that this does not make my wife’s body my plaything.
Authority is given in Scripture under the terms of “servant
leadership” - the one in authority has it for the benefit of the one
in submission. We are so accustomed to marriage being described as a
“balance of power” that we forget that Scripture has no such
concept. Marriage in Scripture is a mutual overflowing of love.
How does this work out? On the most obvious level, this is a
prohibition of prostitution and adultery. My body belongs to her;
therefore any other woman who wishes to use it must obtain her
permission first. This tends to diminish the stampede of applicants.
On a more subtle level, it means that I must be constantly aware
and caring of her moods and desires; she, likewise, must be willing
to please. It is a pleasant competition in which each wants what is
best for the other.
More deeply than that, the husband must learn his wife’s passions
and whims, aches, pains and cravings. She must be ever attentive to
his comfort, his passions and be his great companion. They must
reach for the point where “you and me” become simply, “us.”
Each of us has the stewardship of our own body, held in trust for
our partner, accountable to Christ himself for our work in marriage.
My Lord will point out his picture of his love for the church—which
is exactly what marriage is—and ask how well we painted it on the
living canvas of our bodies.
Lord, be merciful. The mystery of woman is great, and my
experience and intellect small. Teach me the ways to please her that
please you, for, as in all things, that which pleases you gives us
the very best of results.
The Evils of Rebellion
Much ink has been spilled on the subject of church and state.
There is no denying that the attitude of government agencies in our
land has changed from one of blessing to one which holds that the
church must not participate in American life. Our religious
liberties have been greatly eroded; the church is now despised by
most of those who function as the state.
In such times a temptation arises: the temptation to rebel. It is
ironic to note that our society now considers rebellious behavior as
the mark of a bold, courageous man—especially if he rebels just like
all the other sheep do. We sense society’s approval of rebellion,
and it is tempting to do a little rebelling on our own. But—as Paul
makes clear—this is not for the typical Christian. The government he
is declaring established by God is one which frequently persecuted
the church. Despite this, Paul tells us clearly that rebellion is
For most Christians of most times the question of church and
state is simple: we are to be the solid citizens, the law abiding
ones. There are many reasons for this:
· First, because such behavior is righteous behavior. We have no
special duty as Christians to rebel. On the contrary, we are
specifically told to behave ourselves properly. Our conduct should
be such that the authorities find no real reason for our
persecution. Unreal reasons they can invent for themselves.
· More than that, we are the guardians of the reputation of the
church—which is Christ’s visible body on earth. He told us to render
unto Caesar, and render we should. This way all will know that we
are what we say we are—ordinary, solid people with an extraordinary
· Indeed, the spread of the Gospel is usually favored by tranquil
politics. Can you imagine planting churches in time of civil war?
No, we seek times of peace so that the church may grow as Christ
The extent of our submission to the state is clear. Money is to
be paid when due. Fear is to be shown to those to whom it is due,
and honor likewise. It is a small price to pay for fertile ground in
which the seed of the church may grow.
Lord, teach us to deal with the state not with weapons of this
world, but weapons of the kingdom.
Authority Over All Flesh
It is a curious phrase: “authority over all flesh.” What does
Jesus mean by this?
This statement is made in the garden of Gethsemane the night on
which Jesus was betrayed. It is a point of exaltation, as Christ
nears the end of his ministry and mission. To understand this, we
need to understand authority somewhat better.
Say the word “authority” to most of us and the picture arises of
some official, peering over his glasses looking down from his desk
at you, baleful at your interruption. Authority, in our minds, is a
pain. But authority properly understood is a blessing. Read the
preamble to the US constitution and you will see it was devised not
to deal with anarchy but to secure such blessings as domestic
tranquility. Submission to such authority, therefore, is for the
purpose of receiving those blessings.
Authority is meaningless without definition. The nation needs a
constitution. What would a policeman do if there were no laws to
enforce? What would a fireman do if there were never any fires? If
those in authority cannot render their intended blessing, directly
or indirectly, then what good are they? And how can they render
those blessings without a stated purpose?
The purpose stated here is breathtaking: Christ is given
authority over all flesh—which sounds like world domination. But
this authority too is given with a stated purpose: to grant eternal
life to all who will come and accept it. We know that it is God’s
will that not one of his children should be lost, and to that
purpose he has given Christ the authority to grant eternal life by
the road of salvation. There is the benefit: eternal life. Such a
benefit naturally requires such an authority. Whosoever will accept
him, He will grant entrance to that eternal life.
Now we see authority and blessing together—and no one complains
of the authority given! The only objection is that it sounds too
good to be true—why would God do this? One reason is given here:
that his name might be glorified. The name of Almighty God has taken
quite a tarnish in our time; we forget what its right use is.
For His glory God has ordained the authority of Christ: to grant
eternal life. His work is done. We now must embrace it.
Lord, your grace is indeed amazing. Help us to glorify your name
for the salvation you have given so freely.
Authority to Forgive Sins
It was a curious sight. The bailiff was lining up a large group
of men, placing them in alphabetical order. It was quite difficult
for him to explain this order, as he spoke no Spanish, and many of
the men were Hispanic. In the end, though, one wall of the court
room was lined with men.
We were there on behalf of a friend who had been charged with
some very serious offenses. Naturally, we were rather nervous about
the proceedings. We had no set time, only that we were to be in
place by 9:00 AM. It was almost noon before we were heard. Before
that we discovered the meaning of that line.
The judge called each man forward. From a tall stack of manila
folders he read each man’s record, noting whether or not he had
faithfully attended the counseling sessions, kept himself out of
trouble since, and so on. If all was satisfactory, he would then
pronounce, “Sir, you may now say you have never been arrested for
On the face of it, this sounds absurd. But consider: the drunk
driver is a menace to all of us. If he has done no harm, and is
willing to repent, we should be willing to assist and forgive. We do
that through our court system.
This is very much parallel to how God forgives us. He is the
impartial judge; he examines our repentance and assists it—and
forgives us. He is entitled to forgive for two reasons: he is the
one who is offended by our sin, and he is impartial.
In a sure proof of his divinity, Christ takes this power of
forgiveness to himself, for he received it from God the Father. Like
the judge, he is impartial. But unlike the judge his idea of our
repentance and reform has an additional caveat in it.
We must forgive those who have offended us. The New Testament
never grants unconditional pardon. The way to God’s pardon runs
through the gate of repentance. Just beyond that gate is the garden
of forgiveness. This is the way we must walk if we wish to be
Lord, it is true: mercy triumphs over judgment. Your mercy,
poured out for us at the Cross, is all sufficient for the worst of
sinners, if we will but repent. Teach us to go from repentance to
the imitation of the one who forgave us, learning to forgive others
as you have forgiven us. We cannot repay your grace; we can only
pass it on.
Authority of Fathers Over Children
This is a very simple passage. It exemplifies the essence of the
relationship between authority and those in submission. As it is so
clear, we can see some general principles in it.
Situation comedies to the contrary notwithstanding, fathers are
to be the head of the family. In particular, they are to have
authority over children. Paul carefully includes the phrase “In the
Lord” so that we understand this is not arbitrary tyranny but the
fatherly love commanded to the Christian. If the father claims
authority over his children, he does so by acknowledging the
authority of Christ over all. What is he to do?
· First, he is to conduct himself in such fashion that he does
not provoke his children to anger. This is not as easy as it sounds,
but it is necessary. Anger builds up in children, and it is hard to
be frustrated and respectful at the same time.
· Next, he is to raise them in the discipline of the Lord—the
King James uses the word “nurture.” Think of a “disciplined athlete”
in this context. Coach them in Christianity.
· But do not neglect their formal instruction, either. It is
necessary that you coach their performance—but even the dullest of
football players must understand the playbook. Their formal
instruction in Scripture is essential.
For this, the child is expected to give obedience. But see that
Paul describes it not in terms of “or else” but in terms of benefit:
· There is the benefit of doing what is right. Children are more
secure when their place is well known and their conduct approved.
Here is the place they will learn that righteousness is not a burden
but a route to God’s heart.
· Indeed, we are told that they will live long in the land. God
is pleased to bless his obedient children with long life—and much
Over and through all of this there must be the love Christ
intended to grow in the family. It is no surprise that radical
feminism calls for the abolition of the family, for the family is
the breeding ground of solid Christian faith.
Lord, the world proclaims the family to be evil; we know from
your blessing how truly good it is.
Authority of Husbands Over Wives
The argumentative are already noting the fact that these three
verses are picked out of the middle of a stream of thought. Coming
before this, Paul mentions the obvious duty of Christians to be in
submission to each other (we all need accountability). Following
it—and at much more length—is his beautiful description of what the
husband is to do as his part in this relationship of authority and
submission. Indeed, this section is so short because Paul considered
it obvious. He elaborated on the husband’s role because it was
unfamiliar. It was unfamiliar because it was new; it was new because
it paralleled Christ and the Church.
Search as you will, you will find no other example or instruction
for wives which contradicts this. Indeed, it is easy to find
passages which are more “anti-feminist” in view.
Not, of course, that the church would dare teach such a view in
these modern times. The church accepts radical feminism in its
theology; there is no difference between men and women, and we’ve
taken scissors and paste pot to the Bible to prove it. Do you think
· Have you ever heard a Christian lecture on marriage that wasn’t
based on the “balance of power” view?
· Have you heard anyone in the church who actually holds that
divorce, barring adultery, is wrong? Or do we accept divorce as
In short, holy matrimony is no longer holy. If you think not, go
to the reception for the next wedding you attend. Should the
minister be offended at the jokes told from the rostrum? Should
marriage begin with a party that mocks fidelity?
What, then, does the Scripture teach? It certainly teaches a
wife’s submission to her husband. Ladies, remember that he has the
harder task—servant leadership. He must love you to the uttermost,
beyond life itself—as Christ loved the church. He is to be the
spiritual leader, the high priest, of your family.
In thirty years of teaching, I have seen many people “single on
Sunday.” The women number in the hundreds; the men can be counted on
one hand. A man can lead his family to God; a woman has to try to
drag them to Him.
Lord, impress upon all husbands what a treasure they have in her;
a treasure to be cared for as a gift from God.
Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, of World War II fame, was once
asked why battleships are referred to as “she.” His reply is
classic: “Because it costs so much to keep them in paint and
One Sunday morning, long years ago, I realized that I was to do
the communion meditation that morning—and I had nothing prepared.
One thing about preparation: your insults are premeditated. This
particular morning the insult was off the cuff.
As I left the building that morning, two senior battleships hove
into view, the turrets pivoted in my direction, and I was sunk
without trace (except flames) in thirty seconds. I dutifully
apologized the next week.
Now, the ladies in question were not the people I had offended.
So what right did they have to let me have it so vigorously? It’s an
old question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer in the church
We see this most publicly in the form of church discipline. But
remember that the first step in church discipline is for you to
speak to the offender—even if you are not the offended. Indeed,
someone who is neutral often has a more powerful message, as there
is no self-interest perceived.
It’s deeper than that. We, as Christians, should have the sense
that we are in mutual submission to each other. That means, of
course, that I am in submission to all my Christian brothers and
sisters (that includes my wife), any of whom may have a word of
admonishment or encouragement. (That also includes her). I need to
be ready to hear their correction or praise, or both.
Now, if that is true for me, then there is a symmetric
responsibility: I am to perform the same service for them. Had you
thought of yourself as being responsible for others? Take a simple
example, please. Who is responsible for seeing to it that the pastor
hears how well he is doing? He will be notified of his failures
quite diligently; what about his encouragement? Who is responsible
Look around you at your Christian friends. They are in mutual
submission with you; have you been doing your part?
Lord, our lives are busy and our minds frantic. Grant that we may
see through the trivia of the day to the brothers and sisters around
us—and that we may indeed “keep” them.
Authority on Display
1 Peter 5:1-3
Ask the typical Christian today what an elder does, and he is
likely to reply with one word: “meetings.” It is as if God had
ordained a special class of men whose entire function in life was to
meet on Wednesday nights and debate fine points—such as
predestination, the return of Christ and whether or not the church
should purchase a lawn mower.
That is not the function of the elder as given in Scripture nor
is it (truth be told) the practice of most elders today. If you will
back up a few verses before, you will see that Peter has been
talking about suffering and judgment. He is himself an elder; he
knows all about suffering for the faith—and he knows about the glory
to come. Putting it in that context, he warns the leadership of the
church that God begins his judgment in his own house. When Christ
returns, should it not be to a church led by men of purity and
So then we see the common example of church leadership. If you
want to know how leadership is to be done in the church, look to the
elders. They are commanded to shepherd the flock willingly. True
Christian leadership is not easy, and those who undertake it should
do so in high morale. They are going to be visible to one and all,
and therefore should model the tender care of our Lord.
It is sad that it must be stated, but there are always those who
want the title because it’s good for the business. The King James
Version identifies this (exquisitely) as doing it for “filthy
lucre.” Rather, they should want to do it for the sake of the task
itself, and the glory it will bring to God.
Which brings us to the method: the elder is not to “lord it over”
the flock. Rather, the elder is to be an example. It is the very
imitation of Christ himself, who, though divine, became like one of
us—and a very humble one at that. Now, if this is how the elders of
the congregation conduct themselves, what example is set for the
husband seeking to lead his family? What example is set for the
teacher in his classroom? What example is set for the preacher in
his ministry? The Christ I cannot see; the Christian I can.
Lord, open our eyes to the examples around us. Give us eyes to
see the labor and diligence of these men, and the humility with
which they work. So many pick examples from the loud and obnoxious;
teach your children to choose their examples from those whose
example is you.
The Eternal Dominion of Christ
Those who love America know that some of its most hallowed ground
is outside a little town in Pennsylvania: Gettysburg. It was the
high water mark of the Confederacy. Much blood was shed afterwards,
but the issue was no longer in doubt.
Suppose you had been given a prophetic vision of Gettysburg many
years before the event. Would it not seem strange to you? You would
have a picture of two armies, both made up of God fearing men. You
would see carnage on a scale completely unknown to you. You would
see war being waged with railroads, telegraph and aerial observation
balloons—all unknown to you, the prophet. Would you not be like the
prophet Daniel, deeply troubled with your face turning pale?
But some things would be clear to you in your vision. You would
see slavery abolished; you would see wounds taking many generations
to heal. So it is with Daniel’s vision here. There are many theories
of this, but there are three facts which are clear:
· Christ is given all authority. For this reason we go to the
ends of the earth to make disciples. It is not politically correct
to do so, but that is man’s command. We render to Caesar the things
that are Caesar’s and God the things that are God’s.
· His is a glorious reign. Glorious? The generation of Gettysburg
would have understood the word. Glory came through suffering and
sacrifice, by triumph. Glory also comes in loving kindness—homes
mended and lives redeemed, banners to the glory of God.
· His kingdom has no end. It has been rightly said that the
church is but one generation away from extinction. This thought has
caused a number of “great thinkers” to announce that—after the world
has understood their genius, of course—the church would cease to
exist. So it might seem to some in America today. But see God’s
power and method: to the land of dying churches he sends
missionaries from Korea.
Consider it well: the authority of Christ will never end; its
glories will always be seen. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it!
Lord, yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. We
see things now very dimly, but you are still there. Your works are
before us; your truth never changes. Give us stout hearts and sound
minds to stand firm to the end.
From ancient times men have written and produced plays. In many
such plays there is a chorus—the invention goes back to the ancient
Greeks. So common a device must have a reason; it is simply this.
There are some facts, some lines, which need to be said—but don’t
fit into the mouth of any of the characters. So the chorus sings
them (think of the sisters, cousins and aunts in HMS Pinafore).
Something like that is going on here. The elders, the four living
creatures, even the throne itself command the praise of God—but the
chorus (the multitude) tells us why. We are to praise Him for His:
· Salvation—the victory of the Cross, salvation for all who will
accept it. What can compare to this?
· Glory—glory is to God as style is to an artist. His sunsets and
sunrises are beautiful; so are the renewed lives of those he has
· Power—which is made clear to us in the universe he has made,
and clearer still in the new heaven and the new earth.
Finally, we are to praise him because his judgments are true and
righteous. It is so because:
· He alone can see the heart and know the intentions of man. I
often bump into other people on my blind side. Before they see the
eye patch, they may be angry. After seeing it, they realize my
intentions and quickly calm down.
· He alone is completely pure in heart, so his judgments are not
prejudiced by the assumption we often make, that because we are evil
so must be the other guy.
· His judgments are made with wisdom. For each one who says that
he had no choice but to sin, God will show how he would provide a
Last, we praise his judgments because he has the power to enforce
them. People often mistake God’s patience for weakness. It is not
so, and he warns us of that here. We may not understand all that
this prophecy means—but we know Who triumphs.
Lord, you alone are indeed worthy of our praise. You are far
above our thought and above our ways. Grant that we, with this
multitude, may praise your name in heaven—and on earth.