I had the privilege of preaching from 1 Timothy 2 on Sunday evening. It was a humbling experience because it reminded me of how little time I, and the church I serve, give to prayer and in particular prayer for the world.
Philip Graham Ryken’s Reformed Expository Commentary on 1Timothy had some challenging things to say on Paul’s charge to pray for the nations and their leaders. Here is Ryken on prayer;
Pastoral prayers ought to be large, expansive, and wide-ranging. They should include the great issues of the day and the vast nations of the world. Intercession should be made for renewal, revival, and reformation in the church. Prayer should be offered for missionaries, evangelists, and church planters. The sufferings of the persecuted church and the desperation of unsaved humanity should be brought weekly before the throne of grace.
The God who rules the world wants his peopel to pray for the world. Therefore, every church should locate itself at the center of something God is doing in the whole world.
What is of special importance in Paul’s instruction to Timothy is that the church should pray for world leaders who are NOT Christians.
The early church took this responsibility seriously. Consider how Clement of Rome prayed for the rulers and governors of the earth in the early second century: “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, that they may blamelessly adminster the government which you have given them….Lord, direct their plans according to what is good and plasing in your sight, so that by dievoutly administering in peace and gentleness the authority which you have given them they may experience your mercy.’
These world leaders, at the time of Paul’s writing to Timothy were without exception non-Christians and often hostile to Christianity. Calvin notes of the leaders at the time of Paul’s writing that they were all ‘enemies of the Gospel, persecutors of the poor Christians, murderers and wicked men.’
So by praying for the nations and the leaders of the nations we fulfil Christ’s command of Matthew 5:44
‘I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’
And when we do pray in this way? We remember that ‘this is good and pleases God our Saviour. Who wants all men to be saved.’ v.3-4.
So why not recommit to prayer for the nations. Prayer in church services, in your small groups, with your family and in your own personal prayer life. Operation World is an obvious resource and now a new resouce called ‘The World Prayer Map’ provides an interactive map of the world with detailed prayer points.
That God should be pleased when we pray is reason enough to pray. That the nations need our prayers is further reason still.
The God who rules the world wants you to pray for the nations of the world.
When churches think of evangelism they usually mean running outreach events in the church, guest-services, mission weeks and explorer courses. These approaches are effective in reaching out to some people.
But are we really reaching outside the church if we think our job is done when our evangelism strategy means we put on an event in our building?
In the ambitiously titled Breaking the missional code Ed Stetzer and David Putman argue that we need new approaches to reach increasing numbers of people for whom traditional church is simply a non-starter. Our authors in this book are urging churches to act ‘among their local communities as missionaries would in a foreign land.’
How do we develop a program for evangelism that reaches our entire communities
Quite simply it begins by recognising that there are different types of non-Christians we are seeking to reach. In the book they identify four types as set out in the diagram below.
Those who are churched are either those who are currently attending our meetings (the churched/reached) or those who perhaps have a church going backgroun (the churched/unreached) and therefore could be more easily persuaded than others to come along to an event.
For the churched our structures and traditional methods probably still work. For them running church events are probably an effective strategy.
What about the other fifty percent?
The unchurched could be defined as those for whom our present structures and present approaches are never likely to work.
For them attending a church can be as intimidating, sobering, and irrelevant as it would be for many of us evangelicals to walk into a bar or club on Saturday morning at 1.00am.
We need new ideas and approaches that reach outside the church to reach the unchurched.
Why is it so hard to make the unchurched a prioirty
1. Challenge. Quite simply it takes more work in every way to reach out to people who are very different from ourselves. Like cross-cultural mission it takes more thought, more time, more prayer, more money and so on. When a busy pastor leading a busy church full of busy church activities is asked to consider more innovative and radical forms of outreach that is asking a church to step up another gear.
2. Comfort. It’s less messy, less risky, requires less skill to run something for people like us. We don’t find it easy to go outside the church with the gospel.
3. Sacrifice. For many churches reaching out in this way would have to be at the expense of other church activities because there is not the time or people-power to do both.
4. Examples. There simply aren’t many churches doing it well. At least not yet. It’s hard to be amongst the first who have to be most innovative and creative.
Stetzer and Putman are honest enough to admit that churhces that make this work a priority ‘are paying a high price. They are discovering that churches that focus on the unchurched/unreached often create a degree of discomfort among some churched/reached.’
It takes a change of mindset to get churches to consistently and with urgency ask ‘what about the other fifty percent?’ how can we reach them. That change comes through the gospel. It comes when we, like the apostle Paul, begin to say ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel‘
In a future post I want to take a look at what it might mean for a church to reach outside the church.
In an interview in the Guardian yesterday Stephen Hawking confirmed his belief that ‘There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark‘
Hawking also argues that ‘Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing‘ a claim that is widely disputed within the scientific community.
For a Christian response to the idea of an uncaused universe see William Lane Craig’s Cosmological argument
An Oxford University Philosopher and atheist has written an open letter suggesting that Richard Dawkins might be running scared for refusing to debate Dr. William Lane Craig, arguably the greatest Christian apologist and debater of our time.
Dawkins has consistently refused to debate Craig even though Craig has debated just about every atheist debater out there. Why when Dawkins will debate lesser men without any hesitation does he continue to avoid Craig? It certainly looks as if he is trying to dodge a debate!
In his letter Dr Daniel Came from Worcester College writes,
“The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.
“I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House.”
For the full story see the Telegraph report.
For a great expose on Dawkins His Grace has some very interesting insights.
Speakers included Mark Driscoll, Steve Timmis, Neil Powell and Jonathan Bell.
The audio is now available to download and enjoy.
Generous Justice by Tim Keller is subtitled ‘How God’s Grace makes us just’ and the subtitle is itself very telling because the book is not just a biblical defence of the idea that Christians should be concerned to uphold justice in our communities by sharing God’s concern for the needy or vulnerable. The book is also written to measure our grasp of the gospel and our desire to live in obedience to it.
The main argument of the book can be summarised in the following statement;
A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.
For Keller the gospel both shows that Christians have unique motivations for social justice and also that Christians alone have unique power to demonstrate this justice in a radical way that is made possible by the gospel. Keller comments;
The Bible gives us not just a naked call to care about justice, but gives us everything we need – motivation, guidance, inner joy and power – to live a just life.
Elsewhere he comments
We can see what an important and powerful resource the Bible gives us when it provides not merely the bare ethical obligation for doing justice, but a revolutionary new inner power and dynamism to do so. The Bible gives believers two basic motivations – joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.
If Keller is right it seems inevitable that the Christian ought to be more engaged in Generous Justice than his non-Christian neighbour because he has both unique motives and a unique power.
My goal in this post is not to rehearse all of Keller’s arguments. But I would like to highlight a few examples of what it looks like when the gospel is applied to our attitudes to the poor and to matters of justice.
Keller says that Micah 6:8 as ‘a summary of how God wants us to live’. The Chrsitian is ‘to do justice (mishpat) and love mercy (chesedh).’
Justice is at it’s most basic meaning ‘to treat people equitably’. And God is concerned to defend those for whom justice is hard to come by. So
‘if believers in God don’t honor the cries and claims of the poor, we don’t honor him, whatever we profess, because we hide his beauty from the eyes of the world.’
But justice also calls for radical generosity.
Keller cites Matthew 6 and Jesus description of giving alms as ‘acts of righteousness’.
‘Not giving generously, then, is not stinginess, but unrighteousness, a violation of God’s law.’
How does the gospel dynamic work to renew our minds and transform our lives so that the gospel leads to generous justice. I want us to briefly look at five examples from the book.
1. The gospel empowers us to be radical neighbours.
If we are to be committed to our communities we need our care and concern to be motivated not by pity for the poor or guilt because we’re more affluent but we need our compassion to be motivated by the conviction that we ourselves have received from Jesus the love that we are seeking to share. As Tim Keller writes reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan
‘According to the Bible, we are all like that man, dying in the road. Spiritually, we are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:5). But when Jesus came into our dangerous world, he came down our road. And thought we had been his enemies, he was moved with compassion by our plight (Romans 5:10). He came to us and saved us, not merely at the risk of his life, as in the case of the Samaritan, but at the cost of his life. On the cross he paid a debt we could never pay ourselves. Jesus is the Great Samaritan to whom the Good Samaritan points.
Before you can give this neighbour-love, you need to receive it. Once we receive this ultimate, radical neighbour-love through Jesus, we can start to be the neighbours that the Bible calls us to be.’
2. The gospel changes the identity of the well-off so they have a new respect and love for the poor.
Again a powerful motivator for compassion and respect is that the gospel teaches us to identify ourselves with the poor as Jesus did. We share not just a common humanity but we share even the status ‘the undeserving’ poor.
My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor.
And what this means is
To the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.
When we see that we too have bankrupted ourselves spiritually if not financially and we recognise that it was our own fault and that we too are in need of great mercy it will lead to Generous Justice.
3. The gospel declares that God identifies with the poor.
Where would we be if God had not identified himself with the poor? Physically he choose to become poor and marginalized in that he came as a working-class Palestinian Jew not a King or a Lord. He chose not to own a home or to seek the comforts of life.
He stood in the place of us all when he recognised our own spiritual poverty and bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3) and paid our debt.
4. The gospel enables the Christian to sacrifice, take risks and even disadvantage themselves to the advantage of others.
Keller reminds us that the real love that we have received in Christ entailed risk and sacrifice. For the Christian it is a Christ-like love that we offer in return.
The Christian is ready to give not out of his riches but even out of his poverty. He quotes a section from a sermon by the great Jonathan Edwards to demonstrate;
We in many cases may, by the rule of the gospel, be obliged to give to others when we can’t without suffering ourselves…If our neighbour’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not like to be relieved, we should be willing to suffer with them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves.
5. The gospel enables us to overcome racial bias.
The Bible provides deep resources for racial rapprochement. Its depiction of creation cuts the nerve of racism at its source.
And the gospel of grace also serves to kill off any racist instinct.
Racial prejudice is wrong because it is a denial of the very principle that all human beings are equally sinful and saved by only the grace of God. A deep grasp of the gospel of grace, Paul says, should erode our racial biases.
What is at stake?
1. The glory of the gospel in transformed lives
What should we conclude when Christians fails to engage in acts of social justice? Keller would argue we should conclude that Christians have failed to grasp the gospel in all its dimensions and that we need to relearn and reapply the gospel in our attitude to the poor.
I would like to believe that a heart for the poor ‘sleeps’ down in a Christian’s soul until it is awakened.
2. Our witness to the world
Surely the gospel would have a much greater impact if the world saw the power of the gospel at work in the lives of Christians who are motivated to do justice? An awakened heart is a powerful witness.
Deeds of justice give credibility for the preaching of the gospel. When our deeds contradict our words, our words have no power.
The book Generous Justice is a great example of what happens when we allow the gospel free reign to do its work into all of our lives and every aspect of our thinking.
A true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to seek justice in the world.
This very honest and deeply moving account of losing a child and yet refusing to blame God is a story to read. Holding onto hope in the most severe trial is a testimony to the power of Christ in us.
‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ Job. 1:21
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