Archive for the ‘Biblical Basis’ Category

Stop the Train! (Part 3)

Posted: May 9, 2013 in Biblical Basis

In Stop the Train, Part 1, we introduced the idea that human trafficking is a runaway freight train that will only be stopped by the intervention of some imaginary superhero, or, in reality, only by the power of God.  In Part 2, we looked at 2Peter 1:3-8 and saw that God’s power within us is sufficient for “everything,” and we dared to suggest that “everything” includes stopping the train of human trafficking.  We looked at that “divine power,” and how we receive it from God.  We ended that study with a list of eight spiritual qualities that Peter says will “render [us] neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,” if they are ours and are growing. And we concluded that the fruit of this knowledge includes the fight for justice and freedom of the oppressed and enslaved.  In this final chapter of Stop the Train, we will look at those eight qualities, and we will discover a key that will open the door to let them into our lives.   Once we unlock them, we will see how we must fight to hold on to them and see them increase so that we will be useful and fruitful in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and all he has called us to do, including winning the war on slavery.

2Peter 1:5 – Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NASB)

 Again, there are 8 qualities: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.  The list is preceded by two significant clauses. The first is, “For this reason.”  That is, because we have “become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (v.4),” we are able to seek out and acquire these qualities.  Jesus’ work on the cross and the subsequent indwelling of the Holy Spirit sets us free from the power of sin and worldly corruption. The second clause is “applying all diligence, supply,” (which is the word order in the Greek). The grace of Christ which sets us free from the world’s corruption – from our own corruption – does not lead us to a place of idleness and self-indulgence.  God’s grace is not retirement, it’s work; it’s your calling. It’s your dream job – the thing your heart has always longed to do, the work that will energize you, fill you with joy, satisfaction, and a host of other amazing qualities, and will lead you closer to the heart of Jesus.  But it’s hard work, and diligence is required.

The first step is faith and, by the time we reach verse 5, we’ve already taken it.  Peter assumes that his readers already have faith; it’s the one thing on this list that he doesn’t tell them to “supply.”  That’s because faith is necessary for us to believe and receive all the things that are in verses 3 and 4, things we discussed in part 2 of Stop the Train!

  1. God has exercised His divine power
  2. Through that power, He has granted us everything we need for life & godliness (i.e., everything).
  3. “Granted” implies grace; we don’t deserve these things.
  4. He gives us these things through knowledge of Him (i.e., Jesus Christ, see v. 8).
  5. He called us.
  6. His calling proceeds out of His glory and excellence.
  7. This is “so that…” – there is a purpose and an intended outcome in these things.
  8. That purpose is that I can partake of God through the presence of His Holy Spirit within me.
  9. This is for those who “have escaped the corruption that is in the world,” that is, those who have received Christ’s salvation.

All of these things, not just the last one, can be accepted only by faith.  So, if we have made it to verse 5, we already possess the first quality on the list.  We have faith. That’s why faith is the only quality that we are not told to “supply.”  It’s already there.

Far too many quit there.  They hear about Jesus. They accept what they’ve heard by faith. They receive His gift of salvation.  They are set free from sin.  All done.  Mission accomplished.  But that’s clearly not how Peter sees it.  To him, faith is the beginning, not the end, of our journey.  It is the first step in a long and arduous process of applying all diligence to “supply” all of these qualities until they are ours “and are increasing.”

Fortunately, Peter gives us a very powerful strategy for doing this.  Unfortunately, that strategy has been buried in almost every translation other than the New American Standard (which we are using here) or the Greek.  In other versions, we are told to “add to” our faith, goodness, etc., or to “supplement [our faith] with” these qualities.  It’s almost like we are to go out there – somewhere – find some “moral excellence,” bring it back and tack it onto our faith.  That’s a lot of work, and with no mention about how to do it.  Is it any wonder that so many people give up?

But that’s not what the Greek says. First, the word frequently translated “add” or “supplement” here in verse 5 is the same word that appears in verse 11 where the NAS again translates it “supply,” while others use words like “minister,” “provide,” or “given.”  There, in v. 11, it is clear that the source of the object (the Kingdom) is Jesus.  All of the translations agree with that.  Why, then, do so many of them translate the same word in v. 5 in such a way that we are led to believe that the source for these “qualities” is ourselves?

The second key word is the word that is translated “to” or “with” in several other translations.  The Greek, however, is the word, “en,” which simply means, “in.”  In your faith, supply … .  Don’t go “out there, somewhere” to find these qualities.  Don’t reel them in, haul them home, and tack them on to your “faith.”  These things are not found elsewhere; they are not to be found “out there.”  They are found “in” that which you already have!  Instead of running around trying to find these qualities, Peter is telling us to stay “in” your faith, and let your faith, not your self-effort, “supply” them.  Rather than looking elsewhere for something to “add to” your faith, look in your faith – look it in the eye, look at its source – look to the One who has made you a “partaker of His divine nature,” who has given you His Holy Spirit to dwell in you.  Look to the one whom the author of Hebrews calls, “the Author and Perfecter of your faith.”  Stand in that faith which He has authored in you, and permit Him to “perfect it.”

Now, I don’t think there is any particular order to the next seven qualities, nor do I believe they must be sequential.  But I think Peter is telling us that each time Jesus, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, begins to perfect a quality within you, it gives you more to stand in as He supplies the others.

But wait, doesn’t Peter say that we are to diligently supply these things?  If the Holy Spirit is doing it, what is the work we are to be doing?  Quite simply, I think it’s the incredibly hard work of yielding – of giving up on all of the things we have dreamed of, desired, looked forward to.  Letting go of the control we think we must have.  Getting out of the way of the Spirit’s work.  And obeying what He calls you to do.  Verse 10 says, “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”  The work is in knowing, trusting, and obeying your calling, and in “practicing” these qualities.  The Holy Spirit will supply and develop these things in your as you stand in your faith, but you – we – must “apply all diligence” to see that they are put into action.

We can’t produce faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, or love within ourselves.  All of those come from God thorough the mercy of the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit.  But, as He produces these things, we can nurture them, or we can ignore them.  We nurture them when we remain in them, and not only them but also in Christ, in His Word, in fellowship with fellow Christians, in prayer, in truth and in our calling. We nurture them when we put words and hands and feet to them, when we respond to their presence by speaking about them, by doing them, and by going wherever they take us. This, Peter tells is, is how we experience true success.  This is not the success the world desires, rather it is success in “the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

We will recall that this true knowledge of Him is the means through which God’s power flows through us (v.3).  And only by that power can we stop the “unstoppable” flow of human trafficking.  I pray that we will consider the lessons of this passage as we obey this high calling we all share.  Only by doing so will we ever see the success that He alone offers.

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Stop the Train! (Part 2)

Posted: March 26, 2013 in Biblical Basis

In my previous post, I likened the current onslaught of human trafficking to a runaway freight train gaining speed, power and momentum until it becomes Unstoppable.  Like the train in movie that bears that title, the unstoppable train of trafficking needs someone who can overcome all odds, face down every adversary, survive every deadly pitfall and bring it to a stop.  The movie has the advantage of an omnipotent author who can create such a character out of his own imagination.  Those who fight human trafficking aren’t so fortunate – we lack the omnipotence.  But God does not, and if we call on Him and use the tools He has given us, I believe that we can stop this train.

The key that unlocks the power of God is His Word, where we find everything we need for life and true success.  In 2 Peter 1:3-8, we read about “His divine power … [that will] render us neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NASB)

We started to look at that passage in “Stop the Train, Part 1;” lets dig a little deeper this time.  Let’s start at the end – a little bit backwards, I know, but it helps to know where you are going.  The goal of this brief Bible study is to discover how we can be useful and fruitful in the fight against human trafficking.  But wait!  Isn’t Peter talking about being useful and fruitful “in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”?  And doesn’t the rest of this letter deal with the problem of false teachers?  Indeed he is, and indeed it does.  But I think we are still showing respect to Peter by applying his teaching to our situation.  Can we agree that fighting injustice in all its forms, including human trafficking, flows naturally and necessarily from “the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?”  Hearing no objections, I’ll take that as a “yes.”  (Feel free to comment below if you want to discuss this further.)

So, if we are to be useful and fruitful in the fight against injustice which the knowledge of Christ leads us to, what is the key?  Well, Peter says that “these qualities” need to be ours.  What qualities?  He lists them in verses 5 through 7.  But let’s not go there quite yet, because if we look at verse 5, it starts with “Now for this reason … .”  What reason? That pushes us back to verse 4 which starts, “For by these [things]… .”  What things?  Now, we are back to verse 3.  We’ll pick it up from there:

“His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness,”.  Whoa!  Life and godliness.  That’s pretty much covers it, doesn’t it.  There’s not much, at least not much that matters, that doesn’t have to do with life and/or godliness. It’s like saying that God’s power gives us everything we need for, well, everything.   I just checked the Powerball.  Wouldn’t you know it, I missed that $338.3 million jackpot on Saturday.  That would have covered everything I need!  Nope.  Not according to God’s Word.  The jackpot is worthless.  It’s God’s divine power that gives me all that I need.  Period.  End of story.  So, how do I get it?  Moving on …

“through the true knowledge of Him who called us… .”   Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.  We just saw that in our fast forward to verse 8:  “the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Bible study geeks call this an “inclusio;” I think of them as bookends that prop up a small library of ideas that deliver a lesson.  The phrase in verse 3 is the left bookend, and the same (or almost the same) phrase in verse 8 is the other bookend.  The stuff in the middle is the library of ideas that deliver one very powerful lesson!

The first idea is right there in the next three words:  “who called us.”  Have you been called?  I’ve been to seminary, so somebody must have thought I was called, or they probably wouldn’t have let me in.  And I’ve been a pastor.  I’m not employed as one now, but I’ve been told, “Once a pastor, always a pastor.”  I like that.  But I think what’s really true is, “Once you’ve been called by God, you are always called by God.”  Fighting the urge to launch into a long digression about being called, let me just say that if you are reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that you have been called – called into the fight for justice, the fight for the oppressed and the poor, the fight against the trafficking of men, women, little boys and little girls. If you have, then the next phrase will light your fire!

“by His own glory and excellence.” Now get this:  Your calling that brought you here, your calling to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, your calling to take a stand for justice and righteousness, for love and restoration came from the very core of God’s being: two things that we lack, but God possesses completely: Glory and Excellence. I don’t know about you, but when I think of things I would call “glorious,” I think of mountains and waterfalls, or beautiful music, or my granddaughters in my arms and my grandson praying with me.  But I know that all of these things are imperfect; they are but weak reflections of God’s glory.  The same goes for excellence.  There are things that I look at and say, “that’s excellent,” but I know they are just pale reflections of God’s excellence.

But your calling is crystal clear.  It is like God reached into Himself and gave you His glory and His excellence.  Now that doesn’t mean that everything you do with that calling will be perfectly glorious and excellent; it won’t be.  But there will be moments when you step back and you say, “What just happened?  That couldn’t have been me!  That was God, plain and simple.”  If you haven’t had those moments yet, you will. And here’s how:

“For by these [that is, by His glory and excellence] He has granted to us [this is grace; a grant given without consideration of merit] His precious and magnificent promises[of  God’s divine power that comes through the knowledge of Him who called you], so that …Stop there.  “So that … .”  There is a reason God has given us all of these things.  There is a purpose in His grace.  There is a so that.  I confess to having grown irreversibly weary of those who seem to suggest that God’s grace has no expectations; that all He wants is for us to gobble up the benefits of grace and wait for more.  It’s as if all of the “so that’s,” the “in order that’s” and the “Therefore’s” that are followed by commands and plans and expectations matter only to the degree that they ask nothing of us.  But then, you know that, or you wouldn’t be here.  You wouldn’t have asked the question, “Now that I’m Aware… What do I do about it?”  That question is so central to the Gospel.  It’s not just being aware of what is happening in the world, and the needs of persecuted, abused, oppressed, enslaved, hungry, dying and trafficked people.  At its core, it’s about being aware of what God has done for us in Christ, and asking, “Now that I’m aware of His mercy, grace and forgiveness, How am I to live?”  The next phrases answer that question.

 “so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature,”  What does it mean to be “partakers of the divine nature?  There is no universal agreement here, but I see that as a reference to the Holy Spirit; that by all that we have seen thus far, God has given us a piece of His own divine nature to dwell within us.  This we know to be the Holy Spirit.  It makes sense because of the next phrase:  “having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”   There is only one way to have escaped the corruption that is in the world, and that is through receiving Christ’s salvation.  And once we receive His salvation, He immediately comes to dwell in us.  Therefore, Peter is telling us that the first result of God’s power on us is that we have been set free from our own slavery to this corrupt world and its lusts, and have received the Holy Spirit.

But there’s more:  “Now for this reason, also…”.  Again, Now that I’m aware of all that God has given me in His all-sufficient power that comes through knowledge of Him, and carries with it a calling that proceeds, and carries the stamp of, His own glory and excellence; now that I’m aware that Christ has set me free from the corruption and lust of this world, and has given me His Holy Spirit … Are you ready for this? …

“applying all diligence …”  It’s time to get to work.  Knowing what God has done for me, and knowing that He has given me a calling to make a difference in the war against injustice, particularly human trafficking, it’s time to apply some effort.  I don’t like that.  I shun anything that looks like it might be difficult.  I was spoiled as a child, and I have spoiled myself as an adult.  I don’t want to work.   I rather like the easy, pleasy sit-and-soak message of Gospel Lite.  On one hand, I want the joy that comes from making a difference, but I don’t want to “apply all diligence.”

But, there’s still some good news. “in your faith supply…”  In other words, even in the pursuit of due diligence, my faith – and its byproducts – remain active. God has called us to action, but He has not left us to work alone. My work is to be done “in my faith.”  In other words, God’s power, driven by the turbines of His Glory and Excellence, the same power that delivers us from the sinful world and into the presence of His Holy Spirit, will also give us all we need to pursue the following eight qualities:

  1.      Faith
  2.      Moral Excellence
  3.      Knowledge
  4.      Self-control
  5.      Perseverance
  6.      Godliness
  7.      Kindness
  8.      Love

And that brings us to our goal: “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” A discussion of these qualities could take another 2,000 words.  Depending on response to this study, I might follow this up with one more just for that purpose. But for now, I will end with these thoughts:

It is not my purpose here to denigrate secular organizations or individuals who pour their lives out for people in bondage to slavery and other gross injustices.  I deeply appreciate all efforts of everyone involved in this fight.  I only want those of us who come from a Christ-centered approach to comprehend the significance of that legacy, and to remember the difference it makes in the way we approach, overpower, and ultimately defeat this enemy.

Stop the Train! (Part 1)

Posted: February 8, 2013 in Biblical Basis

Now that I’m Aware … what comes next?   William Wilberforce nailed it when he said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.”  Choosing to look away is not an option.  But doing something?  Where do I begin?  Sometimes I feel like Denzel Washington in the movie Unstoppable, trying to stop a runaway freight train carrying toxic chemicals, certain to derail and kill thousands.  Plan after plan fails.  Attempts end in death. And the train keeps moving faster, and faster, and faster.

It’s all too familiar.  We thought we had slavery licked 150 years ago.  Now we discover that it’s ripped up the lives of 25 million … no, make that 27 … no, 30 million!   It’s become the #3 largest criminal enterprise in the world.  No, make that #2.  Do I hear #1??  Yes, we are helping children and women and men around the world, but at the same time, it’s like we’re bidding against the devil, and he has more resources than we do!  Isn’t there some way to stop this train, or at least slow it down a little?

Goodness knows, we’ve tried.  Intervention, rescue, aftercare, education are all extremely important parts of the solution.  We do community education and development.  We work with governments to overcome corruption, institute better laws and enforce the ones that are in place.  We seek to hold perpetrators accountable and we plead with men to stop the demand.  More than anything, we stress the three most important words in this fight: awareness, awareness and awareness.  Again, all of that is incredibly important.  The question is: Is it enough?  When enough people are doing all of these things, working together, coordinating with each other, sacrificing to make it all happen – Will that slow down the runaway freight train of human trafficking?  Maybe.  Will it stop it?  I doubt it.

I know.  I’m just some guy with an attitude and a keyboard, and there are thousands of people out there who have far greater knowledge of the situation that I do, who are investing far more than I am, and who are banking it all of the confidence that this evil can be taken down – that this train can not only be slowed down, but stopped dead.  Who am I to say that they are incorrect?

But I’m not saying they – or this strategy – is incorrect.  I’m just saying that it’s incomplete.  I know I’m already on the verge of beating an illustration to death, but if you’ve seen Unstoppable, you know how it ends.  (If you haven’t: spoiler alert!)  Strategy after strategy is employed, and they all either fail or are aborted because they are doomed to fail.  Finally, the hero does what heroes do and overcomes all odds, cheats death repeatedly, gets stupidly lucky more than once, and is able – by some unknown power – to get into the locomotive and stop it from destroying the (fictional) city of Stanton and half the eastern U.S. along with it.  Seriously, this guy would have to be God … .

Exactly.  But you knew that, didn’t you.  You just didn’t say it; you assumed it.  I’m not pointing fingers, here.  I’ve been doing the same thing.  In fact, that’s pretty much why I haven’t posted anything  here for a while.  Once you make God an assumption, He tends to disappear, and on we go without Him, thinking He’s still there, but not really making any headway.  God doesn’t like to be “assumed.”  He wants to be – He expects to be – constantly at the center of all that we do; the periphery is not God’s comfort zone.  He’s either in, or out.

Then it hit me a couple of days ago when I was reading from 2 Peter 1:3-8:

 His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NASB)

Now, I’m aware that this post is getting a bit long.  I also know that giving this passage even a cursory look will make it way too long.  So, I’m going to continue to examine it in my next post.  For now, let’s just look at the first part of verse 3 and set it alongside v.8: His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, …  8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whatever else Peter is telling us in these verses (and he is telling us a lot more), he is assuring us that God’s power in us is sufficient for “life and godliness.”  While there are other “qualities” that render us useful and fruitful, it all begins with the power of God.  Without it, we are “useless and unfruitful.”  We most certainly can’t expect to stop a runaway train.

Now that I’m aware … What do I do?  There are dozens of things you and I can do – probably hundreds.  But before (and while) doing anything, we must be ever aware of our need for God’s power.  The task is too great and the enemy is too strong to take a single step without it.  But with His power, we will win this fight.

NEXT: How do we receive God’s power, and what comes with it?  Stop the Train, Part 2