Curse or Be Cursed (Galatians 1:6–9)

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” —Galatians 1:6–9

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The church is like a nuclear power plant. In his letter to the Romans Paul says, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The church’s receiving and being entrusted with the gospel is like her being entrusted with nuclear power. To be clear, the church is not the power, but she is the authorized custodian thereof.

There are attacks against the gospel from without, and so we do well to build strong walls of defense around the church, but the greatest potential threat always lies within. It is the spy within the church, tampering with the nuclear core that can cause the greatest devastation. This is precisely the danger the Galatians find themselves on the precipice of—a nuclear meltdown of the church and their souls.

This is why Paul open this letter with rebuke instead of thanksgiving. In nearly every other letter Paul writes, thanksgiving follows greeting. Consider the following example from Philippians.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3–11).

That letter, Philippians, written while imprisoned, is one of Paul’s warmest letters. The tone there is the complete opposite of Galatians. You may reason that this is because there are no serious errors being embraced by the Philippian church at this time. And this is mostly true, but, then what are we to make of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians?

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4–9).

Is there any church to whom Paul writes that had such a diversity of problems as the one in Corinth? Among them were divisions, sexual immorality, failure to exercise church discipline, suing one another, syncretism, disorder in the church gatherings, perverting the Lord’s Supper, and a denial of the resurrection of the saints. All of this and Paul still says, “I give thanks to my God always for you.” 

With the Galatians, thanksgiving is not only absent but replaced with a scathing rebuke. Why? Because the very core is being threatened. They are on the cusp of the worst possible spiritual catastrophe, a Chernobyl of the church; and thus it is that Paul expresses astonishment at the Galatians and anathematizes the false teachers. Concerning his cursing the false teachers, no more severe statement could be made and no lesser statement could be justified. When heretics have made their way to the core, it is curse or be cursed. If false gospels are not damned, men are.

Darkness for Light and Light by Darkness (Exodus 10:21–29)

Why all this darkness? For light. This is a darkness that foreshadows. It foreshadows a greater darkness by which came the great light.

While there is darkness in Egypt light shines upon God’s people. God makes distinction. In covenant love He has chosen Israel. By this darkness, light is shed. By this darkness, the gospel is proclaimed.

Following this wonder, God again hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Why? For another darkness. A deeper darkness. Why? For greater light. God wanted to crest with the death of the firstborn (Exodus 4:21–23). This would be a darkness that not even His people were immune to. They were not immune, but they were provided a substitute. By this darkness, light is shed. By this darkness, the gospel is proclaimed.

On a dark night the disciples partook of the Passover. Jesus changed the liturgy to speak of His broken body and his spilled blood. During darkness, light is shed. During darkness, the gospel is proclaimed.

The next day the sky turned black as the substitute Lamb’s body was broken, as His blood was poured out to ransom His people. By that darkness, light is. By that darkness, the gospel is.

The ninth plague foreshadows. The light for the shadow casted came from the future, and that light came out of darkness. Three hours of darkness at the cross gave way to three days of darkness in the grave, but the Son rose on Resurrection morn as the Light to unfailing shine upon His people. Darkness for light and light by darkness.

The Dogmatician: The Messenger is the Message

The source of his message is himself, not inspiration but incarnation. God did not even speak with him as he did with Moses, face to face, but was in him and spoke through him (Heb. 1:3). He is not one prophet among many, but the supreme, the only prophet. He is the source and center of all prophecy; and all knowledge of God, both in the Old Testament before his incarnation and in the New Testament after his resurrection and ascension, is from him (1 Pet. 1:11, 3:19: Matt. 11:27). The will of God that Jesus came to do further included the miracles he performed. The one work is differentiated in many works (5:36), which are the works of his Father (5:20; 9:3: 10:32, 37, 14:10). They prove that the Father loves him and dwells in him (5:20; 10:38; 14:10), bear witness that the Father sent him (5:36; 10:25), and manifest his divine glory (2:11; 11:4, 40). He not only performs miracles but in his person is himself the absolute miracle. As the incarnate Spirit-conceived, risen and glorified Son of God, he is himself the greatest miracle, the center of all miracles, the author of the re-creation of all things, the firstborn of the dead, preeminent in everything (Col. 1:18). —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

Sticking with the Bible beyond the Kiddie Rides (1 Timothy 6:1–2)

1 Timothy is conducive to squirming. False teaching, male and female roles, church leadership, church discipline—all those politically correct topics—can cause us to shift in our seats. And now, slavery! Squirming saints should be as a young boy on his first big roller coaster, shifting nervously, putting on a face, yet crying, “I don’t want to,” on the ascent, then exclaiming, “Do it again!” at the ride’s conclusion. Saints may squirm, but they must stick in their seats.

Squirming is serious. It’s for fear of texts like these that many abandon the Bible as God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. The one thing we mustn’t do is explain away such texts. We must not antiquate them, making them obsolete relics of the past. Small compromises here lead to big falls; gradual slopes turn suddenly into violent plummets. Differ with Douglas Wilson where you will on how slavery should have been addressed, this is a wise word:

If those who hate the Word of God can succeed in getting Christians to be embarrassed by any portion of the Word of God, then that portion will continually be employed as a battering ram against the godly principles that are currently under attack. In our day, three of the principal issues are abortion, feminism, and sodomy. If we respond to the ‘embarrassing parts’ of Scripture by saying, ‘That was then, this is now,’ we will quickly discover that unembarrassed progressives can play that game even more effectively than embarrassed conservatives can. Paul prohibited eldership to women? That was then, this is now. Moses condemned sodomy? That was then this is now.

This isn’t 1+1=2. This is calculus, but the problem is workable. When conditions are similar, and I doubt they will ever be even close to identical, obedience should look similar. Squirming?

We hear words through a filter. A particular word might be thought dirty, when it isn’t the word, but the filter. “Damn” is a word that is oft abused, but it can be used truthfully. To be damned isn’t a good thing (for the damned), but the Bible’s word on damnation is good (for them to hear). “Slavery,” isn’t good (for a man to be in), but the Word’s word on slavery is. When the Bible says, “slave,” don’t think you need to clean the Bible. You need to clean your ears. If a filter were immersed in mud, and then clean water put through it, only a fool would say, “The water here is putrid. This is what it looks like after I ran it through this filter.” God’s mouth never needs to be cleaned, but our ears often do.

If you squirm at the Scripture’s mention of slavery, rememberer that our dark history was their dark present. That ought to alleviate some twitching, but in case you’re still doing the truffle shuffle, let’s do some ear cleaning. Don’t assume you know exactly what Paul is speaking of when he says “slavery.” Ancient slavery was different in many ways. It wasn’t based exclusively on race. Reasons for being a slave ranged from being captured in war, to selling yourself into slavery. Day laborers had the harder existence, living in poverty and doing hard menial labor while slaves acted as cooks, artisans, doctors, and teachers with their needs provided for. It wouldn’t be rare for you to be better educated than your master, or for you master to see to your education. You could be ransomed or you could ransom yourself. Ancient slavery was unique. Hebrew slavery according to the Pentateuch more so. Yet, to the degree that a person finds themselves in a similar situation, even that of employee/employer, they are under similar obligations. The Word stands.

Lap bar now secure and fastened, some jitters should be alleviated, but only one thing can convince you the ride is good. Only one thing can make you shout, “Again! to this ride, “Amen!” to these truths—the gospel that Paul bases all these commands on. We must see the gospel as the more stunning and surprising reality in this dark world. Slavery should appall us, but not as much as the gospel awes us. The more surprising thing isn’t that slavery is, but that the gospel is. In sum, here is Paul’s point, the gospel is to be goal (v. 1) and grounds (v. 2) of all our behavior, even in ghastly situations. One might labor to end human trafficking, upon the grounds and for the sake of the gospel, while another obeys his master, upon the grounds and for the sake of the gospel. When a man so lives, as a slave of Christ, it matters not if he is in human chains, he is free.

For the Love of the Gospel, Love the Law (1 Timothy 1:8–11)

“The law is good (1 Timothy 1:8).” That short phrase could do a lot of bad theology a lot of good. The law is good, and the gospel is glorious (1 Timothy 1:11); and the gospel’s being glorious doesn’t undo the law’s goodness.

The law is good, if one uses it lawfully. This is like saying that cars are good, if one uses them lawfully. When a drunk, reckless, or irresponsible driver gets behind the wheel, that mass of metal, plastic, oil, and gas becomes a bad thing for humanity; but we don’t outlaw cars. We understand that the problem isn’t the car, but the driver. Likewise, when Paul says the certain persons who are teaching “different doctrine,” want to be “teachers of the law,” we must understand that the problem isn’t the law. Cars are good, but that doesn’t mean we let the immature or blind use them at their leisure. Likewise, when the spiritually blind, or the immature young convert gets behind the wheel of the law  all alone, the best place to be is behind them. Young converts have their permits, but they need a mature Christian to teach them how to drive the law. How then should we use the law? Lawfully.

To make the likening more accurate, when Paul says that the law is to be used lawfully, it is like saying that cars are to be used car-fully. Cars are meant to be used as cars, not kamikaze missiles. How was the law to be used? Protestants have long spoken of three uses of the law. The law is a bridle to restrain sin. It is a mirror to show us our sin. And it is a map for the Christian showing them how to live the blessed life. Amen. But there is something more foundational. How does one use the law lawfully? What was the point of the law?

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. —Jesus, Matthew 5:17–19

Jesus shows us what the point of the law is—Him. The law was never meant to be used without reference to Jesus. Never! When God gave His good law to his people at Sinai, a lamb had been slain first, redemption out of slavery had already happened, and a promise had been made to Abraham generations before. We should be slow to throw away as unnecessary that which Jesus kept perfectly for our salvation. The law shows us how to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus kept that good law perfectly for us, and bore God’s just wrath for all of our law breaking. If you love Jesus, you will love the law. If you love redemption, you will love the law. If you love grace, you will love the law. You will plead with the psalmist, “graciously teach me your law (Psalm 119:29).” You will exclaim, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97).”

The Gospel Needs No Slick Spokesman (Matthew 27:62–28:15)

Some Christians get as sinfully giggly and giddy as a teenybopper over the latest boy band coming to town when the latest celebrity professes Christ. When a celebrity, as when any person comes to Christ, we should rejoice like the angels in heaven, but we shouldn’t be so naive as to think that now the gospel will have some cred before the masses. We should rejoice when a professional athlete converts to Christ, not because they will make the gospel acceptable before men, but because the gospel makes them acceptable before God. They don’t dress up the gospel; the gospel dresses them up.

When Jesus rose from the dead it was first witnessed by women. They were at His cross, they were at His burial, and they were the first to see the empty tomb and witness the resurrection. Compiling the gospels we learn that Salome and Joanna were also with Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Matthew emphasizes only two women though. Why? The number two has a legal sound to the Jewish ear. The law required two or three witnesses to establish testimony, but women were not considered credible witnesses. If the apostles were making this stuff up, these are details they would never have fabricated. If this were a hoax, then the gospel writers would have men, strong credible men of repute, being the first witnesses. Man wouldn’t make something like this up, but God would ordain it so. God chooses the weak to shame the strong.

The power of the gospel is not in those who testify, but in the One testified of. You don’t have to be cool enough, intelligent enough, suave enough, convincing enough, or charismatic enough to share the gospel. You don’t have to be great to share the gospel because the gospel is great enough all on its own.

Tolle Lege: Gospel Deeps

Gospel DeepsReadability: 1

Length: 201 pp

Author: Jared Wilson

I read Jared Wilson not because he pastors a big church (he doesn’t), but because he preaches a big gospel (the gospel that truly builds the church big). Gospel Deeps was a delight to read, one of my favorite this year. As is par, I will let the book speak for itself.

My driving conviction in this book is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is big. Like, really big. Ginormous, if you will. And deep. Deep and rich. And beautiful. Multifaceted. Expansive. Powerful. Overwhelming. Mysterious. But vivid, too, and clear. Illuminating. Transforming. And did I mention big?

It is a sad irony, then, that the ever-fashionable impulse to do justice to the depths of God’s love amount to a very dramatic exercise in one-dimensionalism. This is polyhedronal stuff, man. Woe to the flatteners of what is hyperspatial, multi-dimensional, intra-Trinitarian, eternal in ways awesomer than “one year after another.”

The gospel in fact is scaled to the very shape of God himself.

The gospel announces the fullness of God for the fullness of man despite the fullness of sin.

The tannins of Christ blood contained many hints and strains, a variety of atonement blessings, but they are all pressed for through gods wrathful crushing. When the wrath of God satisfied, the penalty is paid and therefore the victories secured and his love is fulfilled.

He lives a short life and dies that we might die short while and live.

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