Friday, March 04, 2011

Imitating His Exceptional Love, Part II

harvest

In the previous post I addressed just one implication of God’s particular love for His people. Experientially speaking, we have a sense of such distinguishable love when we consider the unique love between a husband and a wife. Their love for friends and other family members can be quite strong, but it cannot be compared with the unique love and affection between a man and wife. Parents understand such a distinguishable love as well. As a father, I love children very much and delight in the opportunity to visit with little ones of any family. But the unique love that I have for my own children is simply not the same. If I were to declare that my love for my own children was no different than for any other, you would think that I was a fairly shallow parent – and you would be right. God has given us the kind of natural relationships that help us to understand the essence of His distinguishable love for His people who are called His children and His bride. As the members of His kingdom, we can thank the Lord for His distinguishable, unfailing love.

But there is also another dimension to this thought of distinguishable love, and it has to do with the Christian’s first love of all. Out of every love relationship that we will ever have, our first love must always be Christ Himself. Without this principal affection, all other relationships are lost within the morass of corrupted human affections. This even applies to the matter of evangelism. We may (and should) ask: what is the Christian’s motivation for evangelism, and does a view such as particular redemption corrupt the believer’s proper drive to witness to others? Many will answer yes to this question; but I would suggest to the reader that their understanding of things is very much off-base. Whatever doctrinal cliches that they have learned in the past, I can say this: it has little to do with Scripture itself. To present this point here at The Armoury, I would like to offer, yet another, excerpt from my book – All Nations Under God on The Exceptional Love of God’s Messengers:

The Exceptional Love of God’s Messengers

Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 2 Timothy 2:10

Of all the contentions ever raised on behalf of universal atonement, the argument of Gospel motivation is perhaps the most divisive one of them all. The line of reasoning in this argument usually includes accusations of a disingenuous Gospel message: after all, if God has foreordained that not all should be saved, then the Gospel messenger cannot genuinely offer the Gospel call to all men without exception. But such thinking is the product of human reasoning, as discussed earlier. While there are other facets of this poor line of thought, we will address the core charge of a disingenuous Gospel ministry. Once again, we can only calibrate our thinking by going to the Word of God on this important matter. By looking at the example and teaching of the Apostle Paul, we can better understand if such a charge has any credibility to it, or not. Remember, it was Paul who taught us that it does not depend upon him who wills, or him who runs, but upon God who has mercy – for the Lord will have mercy on whom He desires and He will harden whom He desires. How did this immovable doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty effect Paul's motivation to proclaim the Gospel? Answer: wonderfully! When Paul wrote his second epistle to Timothy he prefaced his letter with a reminder concerning the nature of our salvation:

2 Timothy 1:8-9: 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity

Paul was offering Timothy a very important anchor for the soul. It is the anchor which is grounded in God's sovereign grace and immutable promises, for it was according to God's purpose and grace that any are saved; and His gift of salvation was granted in Christ Jesus from all eternity. What else does an intimidated soldier need to hear but that his Commander in chief will never leave him or forsake him, but will keep him until the end! God is faithful to bring those whom He chose from all eternity, according to His gracious purpose and choice, to saving faith and to final glory. Timid Timothy needed such a reminder so that he might endure the hardships which faced him in the ministry. For Paul, and for Timothy, the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty provided a very practical hope; one that brings about endurance in the believer. Rather than destroying their motivation, the truth of God's sovereignty supplied an important impetus to press on, in what was a very difficult battle of faith.[1] But Paul's encouragements to Timothy did not end in chapter 1. In chapter 2 he offered to Timothy a very important piece of instruction that would help him to remain motivated in his Gospel ministry, if even in the face of horrific opposition:

2 Timothy 2:8-9: 8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned.

Paul was being treated as a criminal for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and yet he was able to endure it all. He rejoiced because even though he was imprisoned, the Word of God was not! As we see in his epistle to the Philippians, Paul understood God's sovereign purposes, even in his imprisonments.[2] The Apostle comprehended that the Lord was spreading the Gospel, through him, and bringing many to faith in the city of Rome and ultimately, within Caesar's own household.[3] God's sovereign work and purposes made it so that he could rejoice greatly, rather than despair.[4] But what Paul said next in 2 Timothy 2:10 is even more profound as it relates to God's sovereignty and our labor of evangelism:

2 Timothy 2:10: 10 For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.

Paul clearly tells us here that he endured all his sufferings for the sake of those who are chosen! Paul uses here the word chosen or elect, the root of which is eklektos. This same word was used by Peter to speak of Christ as being choice and precious in the sight of God;[5] and a similar form is used in Ephesians 1:4 which tells us that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world. Very simply, plainly and significantly – Paul endured great hostility in his Gospel ministry for the sake of God's elect, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. Dr. Owen gives us some important thoughts on this matter:

“The ministers of the Gospel, who are stewards of the mysteries of Christ, and to whom the word of reconciliation is committed, being acquainted only with revealed things (the Lord lodging His purposes and intentions towards particular persons in the secret ark of his own bosom, not to be pryed into), are bound to admonish all, and warn all men, to whom they are sent; giving the same commands, proposing the same promises, making tenders of Jesus Christ in the same manner, to all, that the elect, whom they know not but by the event, may obtain, whilst the rest are hardened.”[6]

The doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty did not dampen Paul’s enthusiasm for preaching, rather it upheld it entirely. Paul understood that as he proclaimed the Gospel, those who were Christ's elect sheep would hear the Savior and believe unto salvation. Like Lydia, who was given the gift of faith[7] such that her heart was opened to receive the things spoken by Paul, so too will all of Christ's sheep hear the voice of the Good shepherd and obtain the very salvation that was granted to them in Christ Jesus from all eternity. Such knowledge did not quiet Paul's spirit; instead it further inflamed him to proclaim the powerful Gospel, trusting that God would accomplish the work of Salvation. The very Apostle who declared, in Romans 9, that the Lord will have mercy on whom He desires and will harden whom He desires, is the same man who said:

Romans 9:1-3: 1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh

Paul understood that only the Lord knows who are His.[8] He also knew that salvation depended upon God’s sovereign choice and not the efforts of man; and yet Paul was in no way silent, or dispassionate, concerning his hunger for the lost to be saved. The doctrine of God’s gracious election gave him a confidence that there would be an abundant harvest of souls, and Paul knew that he could trust the Lord for the outcome. Thus, he knew that what was a secret to him (the number of the elect), presented no secret or contingency to the Lord. For the child of God, such ignorance is a blessing, and leaves us with the great privilege of broadcasting the Gospel to all flesh, indiscriminately and passionately; therefore, when the Philippian jailer came and inquired "what must I do to be saved?" the Apostolic response was not: "are you elect?" This would be the product of foolish, human reasoning. Rather, the Apostle’s passionate reply was delivered, imperatively: "Believe! In the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Because of his God-centered confidence, and exceptional love for Christ, Paul could simply discharge the Gospel of Christ and leave the redemptive results to Him. The foundation of God's absolute sovereignty helped Paul remember that while he was an instrumental soldier for the Gospel, it is the Lord alone who is the sovereign Captain of our salvation.


[1] 2 Timothy 4:7-18.
[2] Philippians 1:12-14: 12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.
[3] Philippians 4:22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
[4] Philippians 1:3-4, 18, 2:18, 3:1, 4:4.
[5] 1 Peter 2:4-6.
[6] Owen, The Death of Death, p. 313.
[7] Philippians 1:29.
[8] 2 Timothy 2:19.