Category Archives: New Testament

Worry: Imagination Used in Futility

“Anxiety was a way of life in the ancient pagan world. With so many gods and goddesses, all of them potentially out to get you for some offense you might not even know about, you never knew whether something bad was waiting for you just around the corner.”[1] But Paul makes clear that the God revealed in Jesus Christ will hear you when you call. Anxiety becomes sinful when it is not delivered into the hands of the God who answers us.  The way you stop worrying sinfully is by handing over your concerns to God. When worry is not followed by petition, it becomes chaotic and generally sinful. Paul is bringing these two similar mental activities to mind: worry and prayer. Worry uses the same faculties that prayer uses. In both our thoughts and words are present, as well as our emotions and imaginations. Ungodly worry is imagination used in futility. a Prayer turns our cares and concerns into fruitful reasons to trust in God. Worry without God’s intervention becomes a pagan habit. We become so consumed with anxiety that we lose our appetite or we make our appetite a god; or we become manically depressed; we make ourselves vulnerable to whatever items or false solutions take away our pain. We hide ourselves, whereas Paul says “reveal all your anxieties to God for he will hear you.”

Since worry and anxiety are such daily exercises of the human mind, Christians are then to react to worry as God would have us.

How Shall We Then Live?

We live by transforming and renewing our minds, according to the Holy Scriptures.

It’s all right to be concerned about a loved one’s health, a difficult financial situation, a conflict with your closest friend in the Church, but Paul’s answer to Euodia and Syntyche’s in Philippians 4 is to find a common mind by asking the Lord for one.

A few simple, perhaps obvious, but hopefully helpful applications to deal with our daily worries biblically:

First, we need to address our anxieties to God. Instead of a vague nervousness, name the worry and concern. “Our Father in heaven, I am worried about my son, daughter, and my relationship with this or that person. Name your worry in prayer. Leave the vague generalizations to those who worship false gods. Our God is deeply interested in hearing specifically about your concern.

Second, turn your worry into a specific request. Once you have identified your worry, then make it known to God. “My God, I am concerned for my son’s relationships. His friends are not leading him to godliness. Help me to communicate that gracefully to him, so that he would seek godly friends instead.”

Specific petitions refine us and cause us to think deeply about the things we pray for as we pray daily.

Third, Paul says pray with gratitude, with thankfulness that our God hears us and that unlike the pagan gods of the ancient world, He is not out to get us; rather He is near us to help us.

Celebrate the kingship of Jesus over our affairs in the body.  Let the world know that the way we go about solving conflict in the Church is with grace and gentleness, not with anger and bitterness, and then turn those concerns about relational or other problems into opportunities to ask for intervention from God himself.

Here is the bad news: You may be faithful in all these things, and still the one with who you are in conflict may continue to dislike you and act as if you do not exist. After all the pastoral intervention, that relationship may never be the same again. That’s the bad news! The good news is that by faithfully dealing with conflict as Paul instructs, God will be pleased with you. You will have learned to live through difficult circumstances by honoring God.

Is worry consuming you to the point where you can no longer see the end of the story? If so, refine your prayers, people of God, and make it known to God even now for He hears us.

[1] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone. Prison Letters.

  1. Some of these thoughts come from Gregg Strawbridge’s sermon notes on Philippians  (back)

The New Perspective on Philippians 4:4

Well, not really. But anything attached to N.T. Wright these days is defined as new. In reality, it isn’t. It simply is unique in our individualistic culture. In Philippians 4, Wright offers a fresh way to avoid a look at Philippians 4:4 that has become a clear case of the internalizing cliche of modern Christians.

Paul tells the Philippians that in the middle of their conflicts they are to rejoice in the Lord, and again to rejoice. Now, context is everything. In Paul’s world and culture this rejoicing “would have meant (what we would call) public celebration. The world all around, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and elsewhere used to organize great festivals, games, and shows to celebrate their gods and their cities, not least the new ‘god,’ Caesar himself.”[1] Why shouldn’t the followers of King Jesus celebrate exuberantly? N.T. Wright says that the “celebration of Jesus as Lord encourages and strengthens loyalty and obedience to him.”[2]

Paul places this command as top priority. We begin the process of healing from or dealing with conflicts by celebrating the Lordship of Jesus! The word “chairo” has been translated as “celebrate.” Our first act in the midst of conflict, no matter how complex or devastating it may appear is to simply celebrate the fact that Christ is Lord. Why is this important? It’s important because the pagan cultures understood that their gods did not intervene in such trivial affairs among the people. Their gods were too high and too distant to deal with his mere creation. Paul says emphatically, “not our God!” Our God is so near that he became man. The reason he is a sympathetic high-priest is because he became like us. In conflict, we can trust in Jesus as the Lord who is over all our church affairs and who desires to see conflicts turned into opportunities for renewal and refreshment in the body. Jesus was Lord over Euodia and Syntyche’s affairs and our affairs. We are then to celebrate that all our relationships in the Church are guided and watched by a faithful and just King.

Celebrate in the Lord in the middle of conflict!

R.C. Sproul, in his famous Holiness of God series, references the idea that when something is repeated in the Bible, it is there for emphasis. The Spirit knows that we have a natural tendency to think that God is not interested in our day-to-day affairs. We keep his Lordship over only a few issues of tremendous importance like a new job, or whom to marry, etc. But a conflict with a fellow, redeemed parishioner, why would God care about that? Paul says, I command you to celebrate his Lordship over all things, including the dispute between two sisters in the Church, and again celebrate. This is true joy!


[1] Wright. Philippians commentary

[2] Ibid.

Geerhardus Vos on the meaning of Rabboni

At first sight these words may seem a contrast to those immediately preceding. And yet no mistake could be greater than to suppose that the Lord’s sole or chief purpose was to remind her of the restrictions which henceforth were to govern the intercourse between himself and her. His intention was much rather to show that the desire for a real communion of life would soon be met in a new and far higher way than was possible under the conditions of local earthly nearness. “Touch me not” does not mean: Touch is too close a contact to be henceforth permissible; it means: the provision for the highest, the ideal kind of touch has not been completed yet: “I am not yet ascended to my Father.” His words are a denial of the privilege she craved only as to the form and moment in which she craved it; in their larger sense they are a pledge, a giving, not a withholding of himself from her. The great event of which the resurrection is the first step has not yet fulfilled itself; it requires for its completion the ascent to the Father. But when once this is accomplished then all restrictions will fall away and the desire to touch that made Mary stretch forth her hand shall be gratified to its full capacity. The thought is not different from that expressed in the earlier saying to the disciples: “Ye shall see me because I go to the Father.” There is a seeing, a hearing, a touching, first made possible by Jesus’ entrance into heaven and by the gift of the Spirit dependent on the entrance. -Geerhardus Vos a

  1.  (back)

The False Promises of the Early Church

Make no mistake: the early church was glorious! She was glorious like a child is glorious. She was but a babe. She breathed, moved, and had her being in God. She was a nursing infant. She had to trust in God from the beginning. But it has become almost a common practice to look to the early church as some paragon of perfection. “If only we could go back!’ The nostalgic sentiments echo through the corridors of sentimentalists. The truth is the early church was a relatively unstable body. Paul strives to offer detailed instructions. Sometimes these instructions are simple: love one another. Sometimes Paul bombards them with rebuke, as in I Corinthians. But if the early church was such a model, why then did Paul chastise and treat them as little children again and again? The answer couldn’t be simpler: because the early church was never meant to be an example to be followed in all ages. She was meant to be a foundational model. She was meant to give us the essential ingredients of life together (Acts 2:42), but not a detailed account for how the 21st century church ought to function.

James Montgomery Boice summarized well this sentiment:

Whole denominations are founded upon the idea that the prime duty of contemporary Christians is to be as much like those who lived in the age of the apostles as possible. But this is a false idealization; it is an attempt to make the early church into something it never was. It is an attempt to escape the problems of our day by looking back to something that exists only in the Christian imagination. a

This prevailing idea opposes strongly the maturational intention of biblical revelation. We were not meant to remain infants, but to grow into mature men, as Paul says. To be sure, Acts provides helpful themes of charity, mercy, communion, and more, but she was a seed, not the tree itself. The tree itself is what God is accomplishing through all ages: to form one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. The Spirit of God, who has hovered over the church throughout the ages, continues to hover even today bringing the Church to greater glory and might; strengthening and building her to be that indestructible rock that will shatter the heads of the enemies.

We are not called to put faith in the Church of the past, but in the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, who reigns over his Church now, world without end, Amen.

  1. An Expositional Commentary, Boice, 56  (back)

The Gospel of the Resurrection

Richard Hays offers a few of the implications of proclaiming a resurrection gospel:

…if we deny the resurrection, we will find ourselves turning inward and focusing on our own religious experience as the matter of central interest. That is what some of the Corinthians were doing, and it has also been the besetting temptation of Protestant theology since Schleirmacher. This inward turn can take the form of pietistic religion interested only in soul-saving, or it can take the form of “New Age” religion interested only in cultivating personal “spirituality.” …The gospel of the resurrection of the dead…forces us to take seriously that God is committed to the creation and that God has acted and will act in ways beyond our experience and external to our subjectivity.

The Stoning of Saint Stephen

Rembrandt, The Stoning of St. Stephen

Acts 7:55-60
7:55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

7:56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

7:57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.

7:58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

7:59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

7:60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

3,000 Baptized

In Acts 2, 3,000 people are baptized. This takes us back to the Exodus narrative when Moses received the two tablets of the Law and the people committed idolatry in the sight of God. Moses destroyed their idolatrous idols and scattered it on the water and made the people to drink. On that day 3,000 people were killed. But on Pentecost there is a reversal. The Spirit is poured out on the people and 3,000 are baptized. In one scene, the waters represent death and idolatry, and on Pentecost, the waters represent life and loyalty to God.