Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Vision (5/30/13): An Affectionate Admonition: "For I stand in doubt of you."

Note:  Here are some notes from last Sunday’s sermon “An Enemy Because of the Truth” (Galatians 4:12-20) expositing the passage’s closing verses:

 “[19] My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, [20] I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you” (Galatians 4:19-20).

Paul concludes in vv. 19-20 with a deeply personal and affectionate admonishment to the Galatians.  Galatians is sometimes called the harshest of Paul’s epistles because of its serious and polemical tone, but these verses make the argument that it is actually among the most affectionate of Paul’s letters.  He begins by calling the Galatians “My little children (techna mou).”  This is without parallel anywhere in the NT.  Paul then draws a vivid analogy.  His relationship to the Galatians is like a mother who is laboring to give birth to a child.  Terry Johnson notes the irony of this image:

He is their mother.  He calls them his ‘children.’ But because of their flirtations with apostasy he finds himself ‘again in labor until Christ is formed in you—‘  They had been through this before.  He had already been in labor with them.  ‘Labor’ indicates a painful process.  They had been converted.  They had died to self and been united to Christ.  But then they had reverted, making new birth necessary (Galatians, p. 118).

Paul is still there with them in the travails of labor “until Christ be formed (morpho-o) in you.”  Usually birth is an image of salvation (as in John 3), but here it is of sanctification.  If you are a Christian, Christ is being formed in you.  The Spirit of Christ indwells you.  You are being shaped into Christ-likeness.  In Ephesians 4:15 Paul can speak of growing up “into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”

The intimate, personal nature of Paul’s ministry continues in v. 20:  “I desire to be present with you, and to change my voice.”  Paul knew there were some things that paper and pen could not communicate.  Today he’d add that email, text messages, Facebook, blogs, and tweets cannot replace face to face, person to person contact.  For one thing he wants them to hear the tone of his voice.  Perhaps he did not want them to hear it as scolding but as broken, hoarse, and tender.

The final word in v. 20 is perhaps Paul’s most solemn and subtle warning:  “for I stand in doubt of you.”  This is like what he said in v. 11 about his labor among them possibly having been in vain.  What did Paul mean by this?  I think, again, he considered the Galatians to be his “brethren” (see v. 12), but he wanted them to know the seriousness of his concern.  How can one abandon the pure gospel and still be considered a Christian?  It is a warning meant to call the Galatians toward serious self-examination, repentance, and restoration.

If one were objectively to examine our Christian lives, would he have reason to pronounce:  “I stand in doubt of you”?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Vision (5/23/13): Lard or Ice Cream?

Note:  In preaching last Sunday on Galatians 4:8-11, I drew this analogy in the exposition of v. 9 on Paul’s frustration over Galatians brethren who were abandoning the true gospel for a false one.

“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” (Galatians 4:9).


Note how Paul marvels that the Galatians might want to turn from the pure gospel of Christ back to a false religion based on slavish devotion.   The verb Paul uses for “to turn again” is epistrepho, and it means to turn around or to turn back.  How, Paul asks, could you know the riches of Christ, the preciousness of Christ, the joy of Christ and want to go back to the spiritual enslavement under which you suffered before Christ?  How could you make such a 180 degree turn?  This is truly baffling to Paul.

Imagine a child is duped by some cruel guardians to believe that lard is ice cream.  They feed the child lard and tell her how wonderful and how tasty it is.  They explain how everyone else is eating and enjoying it.  Not knowing any better, she eats it too, and even says she likes it (but really doesn’t).  Then, one day someone shows up in town and gives the child a real bowl of ice cream. The moment she puts it in her mouth she knows this is different. How could anyone ever possibly prefer lard to ice cream?  But then, to make our analogy complete, imagine that after some time we return to look in on the child and find that she had changed her mind and now prefers to eat lard instead of ice cream.  In fact, she insists, against all evidence to the contrary, that lard is better and tastier and more satisfying that ice cream.  Would this not bewilder us?  Paul is as baffled over the Galatians as we would be over such a child.

If we have truly found Christ, why would we ever revert back to false religion we had before we were converted?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Vision (5/16/13): An Heir of God Through Christ

Note:  Here are my sermon notes from the closing application of last Sunday morning’s sermon on Galatians 4:1-7:

“Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Galatians 4:7).

Paul lays out in Galatians 4:1-7 what we might well describe as God’s plan of salvation (order of salvation):

1.      He describes where we were outside of Christ and apart from Christ (vv. 1-3). We were immature slaves.

2.     He describes the glory of the incarnation, God moving toward us in Christ (v. 4).

3.     He describes the miracle of both redemption and adoption (v. 5).

4.     He describes the miracle of sanctification by the indwelling Spirit of God (v. 6).

5.     He describes the present reality of our new status as sons, which pushes us to the horizons of this life and to the final stage of glorification (v. 7).  We are the true heirs of God through Christ (dia Christou).  All his riches are available to us now, however clouded, and will be revealed to us fully, as he wills in the future.

In his book Heirs with Christ:  the Puritans on Adoption, Joel Beeke writes:

God’s child is like a poor peasant who has been taken out of the mire and raised in a position as prince of the realm.  The adopted prince lives in the palace, has free access to the king, and enjoys the king’s favor, love, and protection.  The prince tells the king that he cannot comprehend the greatness of the king’s love; it is unspeakably great to him.  The king responds:  “You have not begun to see the extent of it.  Your inheritance is still coming to you” (pp. 70-71).

Thomas Watson wrote that it would be much for God “to take a clod of dust and make it a star; it is more [however] for God to take a piece of clay and sin and adopt it for his heir” (in Heirs with Christ, pp. 41-42).

I attended the Commencement Service last Friday morning at the FWCC where 19 inmates received their Associate degrees.  One of the guest speakers for the service was Doris Buffet (sister of Warren Buffet), the wealthy benefactor whose Sunshine Foundation had paid for these inmates to pursue their education.  Obviously there was a great deal of gratitude expressed to her, and she was, to her credit, humble in receiving it.  Several said something like, “Who would have guessed that someone would come along and make someone in prison like me a benefactor of her wealth?”  It was very moving.  But friends, today we can stand and say that there is a greater Benefactor than any mere human being.  It is the God of the Bible who has made himself known in the Son.  He has a Son-shine foundation!

Are you aware of your new status in Christ?  Amidst all the vicissitudes of life, do you know you are an heir of God through Christ?  If you hold this status, this position, no man or circumstance may ever take it away from you!

If you do not yet have this privileged status does Paul’s description of it not make you desire it?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

E. J. Young on the Canon of Scripture

Here’s another gem from E. J. Young’s An Introduction to the Old Testament, reflecting on the question of who was responsible for choosing the canon of the Bible:

            By the term ‘canonical writings’ is meant those writings which constitute the inspired rule of faith and life.  Canonical books, in other words, are those books which are regarded as divinely inspired.  The criterion of a book’s canonicity, therefore, is its inspiration. If a book has been inspired of God, it is canonical, whether accepted by men as such or not.  It is God and not man who determines whether a book is to belong to the Canon.  Therefore, if a certain writing has indeed been the product of divine inspiration, it belongs to the Canon from the moment of its composition.

            That this is so appears from the very nature of the case.  If man alone were capable in his own strength of identifying accurately the Word of God, then man would be equal in knowledge with God.  If God is truly God, the Creator of all things and utterly independent of all that He has created, it follows that He alone can indentify what He has spoken.  He alone can say, ‘This is my Word, and that has not proceeded from My mouth’ (pp. 31-32).

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Vision (5/9/13): Can one approach the Bible with a neutral attitude?

I recently began reading Edward J. Young’s classic An Introduction to the Old Testament (Revised Ed., 1964) in preparation for teaching a Survey of the Old Testament class this fall.  Young taught Old Testament for many years at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and was a staunch defender of the traditional and orthodox reading of Scripture.  As the book opens, Young addresses the question of whether or not anyone can be “neutral” when he comes to the Bible:

There are those who apparently think that it is possible to approach the Bible with a neutral attitude.  Their position seems to be, ‘Let us study Scripture as we do any other book.  Let us subject it to the same tests as we do other writings.  If it proves to be the Word of God, well and good, but, if not, let us accept the fact’….  The so-called neutral attitude towards the Bible is in reality not neutral at all, for it begins by rejecting the lofty claims of divinity which the Bible makes and it assumes that the human mind of itself can act as judge of divine revelation.  This is, in effect, to substitute the mind of man as ultimate judge and reference-point in place of God Himself (pp. 26-27).

Indeed, when we come to the Bible and encounter the claims that it makes about who God is (holy, just, sovereign, merciful), who we are (sinners), and how God has worked in reconciling us to himself through Christ, we cannot be neutral.  We either receive the Bible and submit to it as the Word of God, or we fruitlessly try to make it submit to us.

When we come to worship this Sunday and hear the Word of God sung, prayed, read, and preached, what will our attitude be?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Terry Johnson on the true descendents of Abraham (Galatians 3:29)

I paraphrased this illustration in Sunday’s message from Terry Johnson’s new Galatians commentary (Mentor/Christian Focus, 2012) on Galatians 3:29 where Paul reflects on who are the true descendents of Abraham:

“And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).

"Let us use a secular analogy to illustrate.  Imagine, on the one hand, a direct descendent of James Madison, architect and signer of the U. S. Constitution, who is a member of the Communist party, and, on the other hand, a recent immigrant from Poland who fully embraces the U. S. Constitution.  Which of the two is the truer American, the one who shares belief in Madison’s system or the one who, though a direct descendent, wishes to overthrow it?  Of course it would be the former, not the latter" (p. 99).

Paul's exegesis of Genesis 22:18 in Galatians 3:16

Note:  Here's another excerpt from my notes for the sermon I did on Galatians 3:15-22, focusing on Paul's model exegesis of Genesis 22:18 in Galatians 3:16:

"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made.  He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Galatians 3:16).

In v. 16 a Paul reminds us that covenant promises were made to Abraham (cf. Gen 12:1-3; 22:18:  “And in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed.”).  Underneath all this is the implied question: Will God keep his promise to Abraham?  The answer, of course, is, “Yes, yes, he will.”

 Paul then engages in an exegetical examination of Genesis 22:18.  Actually, his focus is on a single word.  He makes the point that in the original text, the Lord does not say to Abraham, “And in thy seeds (plural)” but “in thy seed (singular).”

Notice here:

First, Paul’s concern is for every word of Scripture.  Jesus taught that the Lord would not allow one jot or tittle to pass from his written word till all was fulfilled (Matt 5:18).  We call this the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture.  Paul’s concern here is over whether a single word (“seed”) should be singular or plural.  That distinction makes all the difference in interpretation.

Second, Paul is modeling the importance of studying and expositing the Scriptures.

Third, Paul is making a sophisticated logical argument against the Judaizers.  They had wanted to go back to Moses and law.  But he trumps them by going back even farther to God’s covenant with Abraham.  Furthermore, the promise to Abraham was not that his seeds (plural) would be blessed but his seed (singular).  Not all the physical offspring of Abraham would be blessed but one from his line.  And that one of which Genesis 22:18 is Christ.  Compare the genealogies of Matthew 1 (vv. 1-2) and Luke 3 (v. 34), both of which show Jesus as having descended through the line of Abraham.  The still further implication that Paul will draw later in chapter 3 as the argument unfolds is that all those who are in Christ as the seed of Abraham will also be blessed by virtue of the fact that they are in him (in union with him; see Galatians 3:29).  What matters then is not whether or not you are of the physical descendents of Abraham, but whether or not you are in Christ.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Vision (5.2.13): When God makes a promise....

Note:  Here are my notes from the two closing spiritual applications in last Sunday’s message from Galatians 3:15-22:

“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made” (Galatians 3:16a).

1.      This passage reminds us that we are all prone to fall into the trap of thinking that we can be justified before God by means of our own law keeping.

We are prone to the same kind of thinking that plagued the foolish Galatians.  We are prone to think:  If I follow the right formula, if I do the right things, if I say the right words, if I find the right church, then all will be well between me and my God.

The Scottish minister Thomas Boston observed:  “The law is our first husband, and gets every one’s virgin love.  When Christ comes to the soul, He finds it married to the law, so as it neither can or will be married to another, till it be obliged to part with the first husband….” (Human Nature, p. 121).

Do we need to examine ourselves once again today?  Can we ask:  In whom am I trusting?  Am I trusting in myself and my works, or am I trusting in Christ and in Christ alone?

2.       This passage leads us to meditate on the consistent and faithful character of the God of Scriptures.

He is a promise keeping God. He is a covenant keeping God.  When God makes a promise he keeps it.  He made a promise to Abraham that in his seed all nations would be blessed.  And in the fullness of time there came forth Christ to fulfill that promise.

He promises to save all those who look not to themselves but to Christ.  “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

He promises to sanctify those whom he has saved and ultimately to glorify them.  Jesus’ prayer for the disciples was that they be sanctified through truth (John 17:17).  In the Golden Chain of redemption, Paul wrote that those whom God justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30).

He works all things to our good (Romans 8:28).

He will provide for our material needs.  As Psalm 37:25 says, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”


He will come again to set right all wrongs and to take us to himself.  “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).


Friends, let us rest in this good word today:  When God makes a promise…  He keeps it!


Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

"Gospel Church Government" follow-ups

Gospel Church Government was released by Grace Publications in the UK in April 2012.  It is a simplified and abridged version of John Owen's classic work on ecclesiology,  The True Nature of a Gospel Church and Its Government, which I had the privilege of writing and editing.
Peter Culver wrote this review of the book in January 2013 for Evangelical Times.
You can also now order the book in the US through Grace & Truth Books.