Confess Your Sins II

We’ve covered this topic before on July 2, 2015. This time we’ll explore it from the point of view of community. Google’s second definition for ‘community’ is:

A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

“the sense of community that organized religion can provide”

A church has common interests and goals built-in. And we should have one attitude. However, a church is also made up of a diverse collection of people. As with any group of flawed human beings, they will offend one another. For the cohesiveness of our church communities, we need to do the following more often:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16 English Standard Version (ESV)

The pastor to several church bodies during his tenure, Calvin comments on this verse:

Confess your faults one to another. …[James] had [just] said, that sins were remitted to the sick over whom the elders prayed: he now reminds them how useful it is to [disclose] our sins to our brethren, even that we may obtain the pardon of them by [our brethren’s] intercession.

…Many…think that James [is indicating] …the way of brotherly reconciliation, that is, by mutual acknowledgment of sins. But…his object was different; for he connects mutual prayer with mutual confession; by which he [implies] that confession [benefits us] for this end, that we may be helped as to God by the prayers of our brethren; for they who know our necessities, are stimulated to pray that they may assist us; but they to whom our diseases are unknown are [less likely] to bring us help.

…For the words clearly mean, that confession is required for no other end, but that those who know our evils may be more solicitous to bring us help.

Here, Calvin calls us to vulnerable community. He goes on to elaborate on the nature and quality of our prayer for one another. First, he says:

Avails much. …When others pray for us, [James] expressly mentions the benefit and the effect of prayer. But he names expressly the prayer of a righteous or just man; because God does not hear the ungodly; nor is access to God open, except through a good conscience: not that our prayers are founded on our own worthiness, but because the heart must be cleansed by faith before we can present ourselves before God. Then James testifies that the righteous or the faithful pray for us beneficially and not without fruit.

Then, finally, Calvin says:

But what does he mean by adding effectual or efficacious? For this seems superfluous; for if the prayer avails much, it is doubtless effectual.

…Our prayers may properly be said to be ἐνεργούμεναι (i.e., working) when some necessity meets us which excites in us earnest prayer. We pray daily for the whole Church, that God may pardon its sins; but then only is our prayer really in earnest, when we go forth to [help] those who are in trouble.

But such efficacy cannot be in the prayers of our brethren, except they know that we are in difficulties. Hence the reason given is not general, but must be specially referred to the former sentence.

Puritan Pastor Thomas Manton also commented on James 5:16:

[We should privately confess our sins] to a godly minister or wise Christian [when we are] under deep wounds of conscience. It is but folly to hide our sores till they be incurable. When we have unburdened ourselves [to] a godly friend, [our] conscience finds a great deal of ease. Certainly, they are then more capable to give us advice, and can the better apply the help of their counsel and prayers to our particular case, and are thereby moved to the more pity and commiseration…

[Truly,] it is a fault in Christians not to disclose themselves and be more open with their spiritual friends, when they are not able to extricate themselves out of their doubts and troubles. You may do [so with] any godly Christians, but especially to ministers, who are solemnly entrusted with the power of the keys, and may help you to apply the comforts of the word when you cannot yourselves.

…The weak must pray for the strong, and the strong for the weak. There is none but should improve his interest. When there is much work to do, you give your children their parts… So in the family of Christ. None can be exempted: `The head cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you, 1 Cor. 12:21-22 .

God delights to oblige us to each other in the body of Christ, and therefore will not bless you without the mutual mediation and intercession of one an other’s prayers; for this is the true intercession of saints. And so, in a sense, the living saints may be called mediators of intercession. But chiefly the strong, and those that stand, are to pray for them that are fallen; for that is the intent of this place.

Oh! then, that we would regard this neglected duty. Not to pray for others is uncharitable; not to expect it from others is pride. Do not stand alone; two, yea, many, are better than one. Joint striving mutually for the good of each other makes the work prosper.

Let us, therefore, increase our sense of community in the churches by confessing to and praying for one another.

“Mercy Will Prevail” – Nashville Floods 2010, YouTube, thechoirvideos

One Man

Depending on your theology, you believe something about the Book of Revelation. No matter what you believe, there is one Man who knows the truth; the one Man who is the truth:

…God our Savior…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Furthermore, the Lord Jesus Christ knows His Father’s plans and is coming back soon.

I know of no starker rendering of His urgent warning to us all:

False messiahs and false prophets will come and do great miracles and wonders, trying to fool the people God has chosen, if that is possible. Now I have warned you about this before it happens.

“Someone might tell you, ‘The Messiah is there in the desert!’ But don’t go into the desert to look for him. Someone else might say, ‘There is the Messiah in that room!’

But don’t believe it. When the Son of Man comes, everyone will see him. It will be like lightning flashing in the sky that can be seen everywhere. It’s like looking for a dead body: You will find it where the vultures are gathering above.

Matthew 24:24-28 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

We know our Redeemer has come to earth in the flesh to suffer, die, and rise again. Don’t be misled. Be ready. Believe Him. Hear Him and obey.

Children Of Time, The Choir, YouTube, The Choir Videos, Lyrics

Do Justly

The ends don’t justify the means any time. The news brings more tales of injustice to our doorsteps every day. The Middle East, the regulatory explosion, crime in the inner cities… So much that we forget what it is we’re here to do. To this point, 27 centuries ago, the prophet Micah spoke the word of the Lord:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,

and bow myself before God on high?

…He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8 English Standard Version (ESV)

The following discussion comes from Calvin’s Commentaries – General Introduction, in a section collecting together his comments on the topic: Ethics and the Common Life. First, Calvin summarizes the prophet’s argument at a high level:

Now the prophet assumes the people’s role and asks what it is that he ought to do. But, [in his role as the prophet,] he answers the question by citing the law, and so deprives [the people] of the excuse of ignorance. …He does [this] in the hope that they may be induced to confess their guilt.

Delving deeper into the passage, Calvin says:

…Now let us consider the prophet’s counsel. When he begins, “With what shall I come before God?” we are to understand that God has come down as if to meet men in a court of law. When men go to law with one another, there is no good cause which the other side cannot obscure with caviling and technicalities. But the prophet shows that when God himself brings them to trial, their evasions only make them ludicrous…

Then, arguing from our common experience, he says:

…In our own day we know well enough, and if our eyes are open, common experience shows us clearly that the wicked, who have no real and sincere relation to God, exhibit great anxiety and pretend to be wholly intent upon worshiping God correctly.

But, [instead,] they run off in all directions and seek innumerable [indirect routes], to avoid being forced to present themselves before God. Now we see how such pretense can be exposed; God has already shown in his law what he approves and what he demands of men.

Calvin then explains the importance of God’s requirements:

…Now when the prophet says do justly, seek mercy (or kindness) and walk humbly before God, it is clear enough that the first two points refer to the second table of the Law… Nor is it strange that he begins with the duties of love of neighbor.

For although the worship of God has precedence and ought rightly to come first, yet justice which is practiced among men is the true evidence of devotion to God. The prophet therefore names here justice and compassion, not because God omits the first essential of religion, his worship, but because he is here defining true religion by its manifestations.

Finally, he explains the consequence of those requirements:

…It is worth noting that he says, to walk with God, men must be humble. Here he condemns all pride, all confidence in the flesh. For whoever claims anything at all for himself [turns his back on God.] The true way to walk with God is to surrender ourselves wholly, making ourselves as nothing. The beginning of worshiping God and glorifying him is to think humbly and modestly of ourselves.

With that, we double back to our subjects from a few weeks ago. We must labor with His might and must accept the outcomes He’s ordained. The way of man is not in himself.

The ChoirMercy Will Prevail, YouTube, Sept. 17, 2016, thechoirvideos

Is the Race to the Swift?

Why do things turn out the way they do? Yesterday you were winning; you finished everything you started. Everyone cooperated. Things fell into place. Today, not so much. And it started with that fellow who cut in front of you. Of what could this be a sign? Returning to our disgruntled king this week, he says:

Again, I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11 English Standard Version (ESV)

Matthew Henry gives us insight into the meaning of what King Solomon, also known as “the preacher,” offers us. First, Henry puts the verse in context of what preceded it:

The preacher here, for a further proof of the vanity of the world, and to convince us that all our works are in the hand of God, and not in our own hand, shows the uncertainty and contingency of future events, and how often they contradict the prospects we have of them.

He had exhorted us (v. 10) to do what we have to do with all our might; but here he reminds us that, when we have done all, we must leave the issue with God, and not be confident of the success.

Note that the first lesson of such an outcome at odds with our expectation is to rely on God. Henry drives home this point with:

We are often disappointed of the good we had great hopes of, v. 11. Solomon [had observed] that events, both in public and private affairs, do not always agree even with the most rational prospects and probabilities…

The [outcome] of affairs is often unaccountably [counter] to everyone’s expectation, that the highest may not presume, nor the lowest despair, but all may live in a humble dependence upon God, from whom every man’s judgment proceeds…

So, God deals equanimously with us all. Then Henry clarifies the meaning of “time and chance” in the context of the scriptures:

He resolves all these disappointments into an over-ruling power and providence, the disposals of which to us seem casual, and we call them chance; but really, they are according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, here called time, in the language of this book, Ecclesiastes 3:1; Psalm 31:15. Time and chance happen to them all.

A sovereign Providence breaks men’s measures, and blasts their hopes, and teaches them that the way of man is not in himself, but subject to the divine will. We must use means, but not trust [in] them; if we succeed, we must give God the praise (Psalm 44:3); if we [are thwarted], we must acquiesce in his will and take our lot.

This gives us a different perspective on causality and human agency. Finally, such turns of events should not, ultimately, catch us off guard:

We are often surprised with the evils we were in little fear of (v. 12): Man knows not his time, the time of his calamity, his fall, his death, which, in scripture, is called our day and our hour.

…It is not for us to know the times, no, not our own time, when or how we shall die. God has, in wisdom, kept us in the dark, that we may be always ready.

…Men often find their [trouble] where they sought their blessing, and catch their death where they thought to find a prize. Let us therefore never be [falsely] secure, but always ready for changes, that, though they may be sudden, they may be no surprise or terror to us.

Our end is always approaching. Our Judge is at the door, knocking. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so you too can say: “Our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”

Nobody Gets a Smooth Ride, The Choir, Lyrics, More Choir Videos

Assurance

After I was saved from the death penalty that hangs over us all, I memorized a different translation of this verse very early on:

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:10-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

This is a key verse of assurance. Self-sacrifice in service to our brothers and sisters is both a marker and builder of our confidence in His promise of eternal life. And that service is not directed only to those professing faith, but those especially; while not forgetting our duty for service to all.

Every day shows us how futile this world is. Our faithful actions can show us to have a different destiny.

What does Calvin say about the passage here and here?

For God is not unrighteous, etc. These words signify as much as though he had said, that from good beginnings he hoped for a good end.

But here a difficulty arises, because he seems to say that God is bound by the services of men: “I am persuaded,” he says, “as to your salvation, because God cannot forget your works.” He seems thus to build salvation on works, and to make God a debtor to them…

…God does not pay us a debt, but performs what he has of himself freely promised, and thus performs it, inasmuch as he pardons us and our works; nay, he looks not so much on our works as on his own grace in our works. It is on this account that he forgets not our works, because he recognizes himself and the work of his Spirit in them…

…God is righteous in recompensing works, because he is true and faithful: and he has made himself a debtor to us, not by receiving anything from us; but as Augustine says, by freely promising all things.

And labor of love, etc. By this he intimates that we are not to spare labor, if we desire to perform duty towards our neighbors; for they are not only to be helped by money, but also by counsel, by labor, and in various other ways. Great [diligence], then, must be exercised, many troubles must be undergone, and sometimes many dangers must be encountered. Thus let him who would engage in the duties of love, prepare himself for a life of labor…

By saying that they had ministered and were still ministering, he commended their perseverance; which in this particular was very necessary; for there is nothing to which we are more prone than to weariness in well doing. Hence it is, that though many are found ready enough to help their brethren, yet the virtue of constancy is so rare, that a large portion soon relax as though their warmth had cooled.

But what ought constantly to stimulate us is even this one expression used by the apostle, that the love shown to the saints is shown towards the name of the Lord; for he intimates that God holds himself indebted to us for whatever good we do to our neighbors, according to that saying,

“What you have done to one of the least of these, you have done to me,” (Matthew 25:40)

and there is also another,

“He that gives to the poor lends to the Lord.” (Proverbs 19:17).

And we desire, etc…“You have made,” he says, “your love evident by many acts of kindness; it remains, however, that your faith should correspond with it; you have [diligently] labored not to be wanting in your duties to men; but with no less earnestness it behooves you to make progress in faith, so as to manifest before God its unwavering and full certainty.”

Now, by these words the Apostle shows that there are two parts in Christianity which correspond with the two tables of the Law…Let us then remember, that the life of a Christian is not complete in all its parts, unless we attend to faith as well as to love.

To the full assurance of hope, or, to the certainty of hope, etc. As they who professed the Christian faith were distracted by various opinions, or were as yet entangled in many superstitions, he bids them to be so fixed in firm faith, as no longer to vacillate nor be driven here and there, suspended between alternate winds of doubts. This injunction is, however, applicable to all; for, as the truth of God is unchangeably fixed, so faith, which relies on him, when it is true, ought to be certain, surmounting every doubt. It is a full assurance, πληροφορία, an undoubting persuasion, when the godly mind settles it with itself, [which] it is not right to call in question what God, who cannot deceive or lie, has spoken…

But followers, or imitators, etc. To sloth he opposes imitation; it is then the same thing as though he said, that there was need of constant alacrity of mind; but it had far more weight, when he reminded them, that the fathers were not made partakers of the promises except through the unconquerable firmness of faith; for examples convey to us a more impressive idea of things…

Faith and patience, etc. What is meant is, a firm faith, which has patience as its companion. For faith is what is, chiefly required; but as many who make at first a marvelous display of faith, soon fail, he shows that the true evidence of that faith which is not fleeting and evanescent, is endurance. By saying that the promises were obtained by faith, he takes away the notion of merits; and still more clearly by saying that they came by “inheritance”; for we are in no other way made heirs but by the right of adoption.

Beautiful Scandalous Night from Flap Your Wings by The Choir