Tag Archives: humility

Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, Naked

15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot.

16 ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

17 ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,

18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

19 ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.

(Rev. 3:15-19)

We have a rich heritage. On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church on the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. This courageous act sparked the Protestant Reformation. Soon, John Calvin followed by publishing his great work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. The Reformed Churches were formed. Creeds, catechisms and confessions were written.

Today we have the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, and the little book that has such a cherished place in our hearts: the Heidelberg Catechism.

A rich heritage is a tremendous blessing. But a rich heritage does not leave us immune to the attacks of Satan. It does not leave us immune from the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. There is a great danger that is lurking for churches with a rich heritage.

To warn each of us away from this danger, Jesus speaks to the church of the Laodiceans. They also had a rich heritage. They were founded by the apostles. It is likely that Paul himself preached there. They had embraced God’s word and embraced Christ. They were part of a rich circle of churches that were the bulwark of Christianity in the area now known as Turkey.

They were also very wealthy in material things. God had greatly prospered the city, including the church within the city. Laodicea was a tremendously influential and wealthy Roman city.

But now something is very wrong. Jesus himself addresses them. There is something so wrong here that Jesus says that he is about to vomit them up.

He uses a metaphor to explain to them what their problem is. He calls them “lukewarm”. Perhaps He is referring to the mineral waters that were piped in from nearby hot springs. Perhaps he is speaking of the drinking water piped in from the nearby fresh water springs. By the time Laodicea got these waters, they were lukewarm and disgusting.

Hot water is good. Cold water is good. Tepid water is disgusting – especially tepid mineral waters. It is good for nothing but to be spat up. It makes the stomach sick.

It is tempting to simply exegete the word “lukewarm” and to ignore the rest of the text. Many sermons on this text do just that. A sermon on this text generally involves telling the congregation that they need to be hot for Jesus. Either be passionate about God or an outright unbeliever, but tepid Christianity is sickening.

They are right to a certain extent. But the text itself does not define what “hot” is, or what “cold” is. “Hot” and “cold” are simply used to contrast with “lukewarm”. Lukewarm water is neither therapeutically hot, nor is it refreshingly cool. It is simply sickening. Since the text is silent on the meaning of cold and hot, it would do no good to speculate. It is not actually necessary to know what hot and cold are in order to understand the message of the Lord, for the text does tell us clearly what is meant by “lukewarm”.

The reason, Jesus says, that Laodicea is “lukewarm” is because they say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.”

The problem is this. The Laodiceans have lied to themselves. They said that they were rich and didn’t need anything, when the reality was far different. They weren’t rich. They were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.”

Jesus is probably referring to a recent event as an illustration of the problem. In 60 AD, Laodicea had suffered a tremendous earthquake. The Empire had offered assistance, but the town refused. They said, “We have need of nothing. We are rich”.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. We should try not to be a burden to others. It is a good thing to labor so that we have enough to give to those who have need (Eph. 4:28).

But here was the problem: this attitude crept into the church. They began to think of themselves as rich, in need of nothing. They were all “good Christians”. The preaching of the gospel that the preacher does is good – but it is good for those “others”. “We, of course, are rich. The sinners need to hear it. A sinner is a poor unfortunate that really needs Christ – not like us, of course. We are rich.”

A rich heritage is a blessing. But too often it turns into pride. We begin to think that we are somehow a little holier, a little wiser and a little better that those “others” out there. Soon we begin to sound like the Pharisee in the front of the church, looking boldly into heaven and saying, “I thank God I am not like other men”.

Soon, like the Laodiceans, we begin to believe what every child of Adam believes deep in his heart: I am rich, and have need of nothing. “I’ve accepted Jesus into my heart. I learned the catechism when I was a kid. I was baptized. I am in church every Sunday. I really don’t need anything. I am rich.”

But this is a lie. And Jesus is about to vomit them out of his mouth.

For the reality is that the Laodiceans were not rich. They were wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked – just as all of us are.

Learning the catechism is a good thing. Learning theology from the wise pastors who have gone before is a good thing. Being reformed is a good thing. But these are only good things if they constantly remind us that we are NOT rich, but in continual, desperate need of a savior. We have never gone a moment – even AFTER we became Christians – when we have not deserved God’s eternal wrath against sin. And our misery is such that we are blinded to our own sins – even now!

This is why God put us all in churches – because we need to be constantly reminded that we are not really the cat’s meow. We are not “all that”. We are not the pinnacles of virtue and wisdom that we like to think we are. God is not “lucky” that we came to church today and put our tithes in the offering plate. We are really wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.

This is why we learned the catechism when we were young. This is why the catechism has been so beloved for so long. It continually reminds us how great our sin and misery is, and how great our saviour is. The more we know, the more we offer our lives as living sacrifices of thanksgiving to God.

But at no time in our lives, from the cradle to the grave, can we ever say, “We are rich, and have need of nothing.” We know this in our own consciences. Our consciences still daily accuse us that we have “grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and are still prone always to all evil.”

We confess this with our mouths. But do we confess this in our innermost being? Whether we are new Christians or have been Christians our whole lives, do we still say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”? Or is our attitude, “I am rich, and have need of nothing.”

We can argue with Solomon’s wisdom on the total depravity of man, and astutely apply the doctrine to politicians, celebrities, musicians, pastors and everyone in the pew next to us – but refuse to apply it to ourselves. Too often we act as if everyone else is wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked and we ourselves are rich, and have need of nothing.

This is why God so strictly enjoined the Ten Commandments upon us. Not so that we can pat ourselves on the back for our good efforts, but so we may always learn more and more of our sinful nature and so the more earnestly seek forgiveness of sins and righteousness of Christ.

Which is exactly what Jesus tells the Laodiceans to do (verse 18): “Buy from me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments that you may be clothed…and anoint your eyes with eye-salve that you may see.”

As long as we stubbornly refuse to confess our poverty, we will never know the riches that are found only in Christ. As long as we continue to take pride in the fig leaves that we have sewn together in the vain attempt to cover our shame, we will never know the white garments that come only from Christ. As long as we clamp our eyes shut while shouting “We see!”, we remain blind and have no part in the tremendous freedom that comes from open eyes.

And this is not a good place to be. Jesus says he will vomit you up. But Jesus is patient, and he pleads with us. It is not enough to simply admit that you are a sinner and then expect the world to deal with it. Rather, Jesus tells us that if we really are poor, naked, and blind then we are to DO something about it. “Buy from me,” he says.

But how do you buy gold and raiment and eye-salve when you are as poor as the Bible says you are?

Isaiah answers this question for us:

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance” (Isa. 55:1-2).

Our fallen nature uses all of the wealth that we think we have to purchase those things that we think will quench our thirst. But the only thing that can cover our nakedness, quench our thirst, and make us rich is offered to us for free.

We seek to alleviate powerlessness and loneliness through adultery and fornication, because we refuse to see that Jesus was forsaken by all so that we might never be alone.

We covet and steal because we have forgotten that Jesus gave up the riches of heaven so that we may become richer than we can even imagine.

We fight and cause division and strife in order to gain recognition, acceptance and significance, because we forget that he was outcast as a criminal, made himself of no reputation, and crucified among thieves so that we might be “accepted in the beloved”.

We are anxious and full of worry about the future because we forget that he rose from the dead and is even now sitting at the right hand of God, ruling over all things for the good of the church.

We have not, because we ask not. We ask not because we think we are rich, and in need of nothing.

This disease is prevalent: none of us is immune. It is deadly: we cannot believe that we have need of nothing and have any part in Christ. It is deceptive: we don’t even know how pervasive it is in our own souls.

But Jesus will never allow any of his sheep to perish. Therefore he says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

Since the disease is common to every child of Adam, the cure is applied to every member of Christ: it is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of heaven. It is through tribulation and trials that we learn by the grace of God just how miserable, wretched, poor, blind and naked we really are. It is when those trials that we cannot solve come upon us that we understand how utterly lacking in wisdom we really are. It is only when the armies of Sennacherib surround us that we realize our helplessness and danger. Only when we are brought face to face with giants do we fall on our faces and cry out, “Lord, save us!”

But we are also stubborn. Our tendency is to refuse the yoke and kick against the pricks. So Jesus says, “Repent”. In other words, stop thinking the way that you normally think and remember the promises of God. In hard times, our tendency is to complain, doubting God’s goodness. We struggle letting our idols go. We still think that we can fix this if only we were smarter, wiser, or better people. It is precisely this that Jesus commands us to repent from. For the bread that we seek is free. The clothing that we need is free. The wisdom that we so desperately long for is free.

God brings us face to face with giants that are so formidable that we have no weapons that are any match against them. We have no armies coming over the hills to back us up. We have no strategy that will overcome. Retreat is impossible. Advance is suicide. We stand on the mountain with Barak and a host of farmers with sticks, while the valley below is full of chariots of iron, undefeatable soldiers and horses without number. What can be done? Why does God bring us to that point?

He brings us to that point because he loves us. He calls us to quit thinking that we are smart enough, strong enough and rich enough to overcome anything. As long as we say that we are rich and in need of nothing, we will never know the strength of Jesus Christ, our king.

Jesus uses a figure of speech to plead with us (verse 20). This passage does not speak of the universal call of the gospel. He is not saying to “invite Jesus into your hearts”. That sentiment is meaningless and foreign to the text. He is speaking to the ones whom he loves (verse 19) that would rather dine alone on the empty waste of their own wisdom and strength than admit their nakedness and fall before their king. He is speaking to those in the churches with rich heritages who are too wise, too righteous and too astute to need a savior.

He is not unwilling to save. He is standing at the door and knocking. He is pleading with the church to stop spending their money on that which isn’t bread, and open the door.

The Reformed Churches have a rich heritage. But something happened. The seminaries began to turn out pastors who were too wise to need a resurrected saviour. They were too righteous to need a crucified Lord. They were too strong to need an ascended Christ. These pastors inflicted the churches. They denied the resurrection, the incarnation, and eventually denied that Jesus ever existed at all. Soon the sound of knocking became the sound of retching, and Jesus vomited them up, just as He promised. The landscape of Europe and the United States became littered with useless, vain, empty churches that once proudly proclaimed their rich heritage. The dead fly of human wisdom and strength caused the ointment to stink, and Jesus removed the candlestick.

But for all who open the door, who remember their poverty and wretchedness, Jesus makes a tremendous promise. He will come in and dine with them.

Only when we are in fellowship with Christ can we soar with eagles’ wings. And we can only be in fellowship with Christ if we never forget that we ourselves are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. But when we come to Christ again in our poverty and need, we find that we do not dine alone. Indeed, he prepares a table for us even in the presence of our enemies, and causes us to rest safely in green pastures.

When we are in fellowship with Christ, we are truly flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones. His death was our death. The law has no more hold on us, for we have been crucified with him. His resurrection is our resurrection. We are no longer in bondage to the curse for we have been raised again to new life. And his triumph is our triumph. Where the head goes, the body goes. So he says, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

This is our rich heritage. Victory is not in our wisdom, nor our strength, nor the ingenuity of our fig-leaves, but only in the mercy of Christ. It isn’t in “accepting Jesus into your heart”, whatever that means. It isn’t in masses, submission to the pope or confession to a priest. It isn’t in the rituals of the church, nor is it in military strength.

Victory only lies in falling down again before our Lord and crying out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

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Modest Attire

…in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, (1Tim 2:9).

The subject keeps coming up. Previously, I wrote about the source of sin, and encouraged men to examine their own hearts (see here). Sin never comes from what another person is wearing. You cannot blame women for your lust, period. As Jesus said,

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. (Mar 7:21)

But then the question arises, are women responsible for how they dress? Did not Paul command women to dress modestly?

One of the reasons that I am writing about this is that I truly hate the multiplication of laws. God gave us ten, and added no more. It is the spirit of the Pharisee that seeks to hedge the law about with the traditions of men and it always leads to bondage and further sin.

The scripture commands us to flee and hate all adultery and fornication and everything that entices towards that. I teach and preach that without hesitation. Where things bog down is when we start prescribing what sort of clothing or body parts lead to adultery…

And this is where it gets more complicated. First of all, a man is alone responsible for his own heart, as I have said.

But a woman is responsible for her own heart as well. If a woman is dressing for the specific reason of arousing lust she must answer for herself to God, just as a man must answer to God. But, to be fair, I have never known a woman to say to herself, “Hey, I bet if I wore a sleeveless dress the horny old preacher will get turned on. I should do that….”

Much of the motive attributed to women comes from the unquenchable pride of the heart of man, I believe. Men, do we really believe that teenage girls dress the way that they do in order to cause you to lust? Deal with your own heart, you adulterer!

“But what about 1 Timothy 2:9???”

Paul is addressing a pastor and teaching him how to instruct his congregation. Many converts of the early church were slaves and had no opinion or choice in what they wore at all. A slave generally wore a toga if the master was generous. Some slaves wore nothing at all, which is why Jesus spoke so often of clothing the naked.

The attire of a prostitute had nothing to do with how much skin was showing. In some places, a prostitute wore shoes that stamped “follow me” in the sand as they walked. The attire of a prostitute, then as now, was a sign advertising what was for sale.

It has nothing to do with Paul’s instructions to Timothy. We must be careful not to read OUR cultural battles into the text of scripture. We have to read the scripture in the context of the day.

Paul concern was NOT how much skin was showing. If that were the case, most slaves would have been shamed into staying home. They had nothing else to wear. Such, by the way, is the state of our witness to our culture. We must be careful not to shame people into staying home for want of “proper attire”.

Paul’s concern was something else entirely. In that day, status was everything. Where you were on the social ladder was a matter of great importance. When one achieved a status, it was mandatory in that culture to advertise your importance. The number of slaves you owned, how expensive your clothing was, how many jewels, how fancy the hair – all of it served to advertise your importance in the pecking order.

This whole way of thinking is a denial of the communion of the saints and the first principles of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). The doctrine of the church and the communion of the saints is here: In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, bond or free.

The apostle James warned of the same thing from a different perspective:

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
  2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes,
  3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,”
  4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
  5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
  6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?
  7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
  8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;
  9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
  10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. (Jam 2:1-10 NKJ)

When we fight for status and recognition, when we dress to highlight our own personal importance, when we seek to elevate ourselves above our neighbors, we have, in effect, denied the blood of Christ who bought us.

To be “immodest” in apparel, according to scripture, is to advertise our importance, wealth and social standing through our clothing, jewelry, hair, makeup, etc. THIS is what the apostles warned of.

3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward– arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel–
4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
(1Pet 3:3-4)

We are not given instructions on how much skin to cover, or what kinds of clothes are appropriate or inappropriate. That all is cultural. Sexual attraction is a complicated matter, and far more in depth that covered collarbones or shoulders or exposed knees. We are making fools of ourselves.

And yet, how often do we advertise our importance and wealth and standing through our clothes? Do we shame those who don’t own suits or Sunday best into staying home?

Do we shame those who are seeking refuge from the assaults of the world into fleeing from us because they don’t have the right clothes? This is Paul’s concern far more than how short a skirt is.

We should dress as beautifully as we can (appropriately and well-arranged), but with “shamefacedness” – an old fashioned word. It means, “Not so impressed with your own importance”.

This is the heart of what meekness is. And all Christians should be meek as Jesus was meek.

Remember, in that day, most people only had one garment.

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Does the cross glorify passive acquiescence to violence?

From Donald MacLeod, Christ Crucified.

But if the cross does not quite glorify violence, does it not glorify passive acquiescence in violence? This is a serious issue, particularly if it can be shown that part of the message of Calvary is that victims of abuse should endure it silently, soak up the pain, offer no resistance and demand no justice.  The charge gains plausibility from the fact that too many Christian men have seen meekness as a distinctive feminine virtue and quiet submission as the crowning glory of womanhood, and too many Christian women have accepted this role definition. Even where they have not been abused and violated, they have taken it for granted that they exist to serve their husbands and children, and should sacrifice their own personal fulfillment to those objects.

The cross certainly commends non-violence and non-resistance to the extent that it portrays Christ as one who went like a lamb to the slaughter and who suffered without any threat of retaliation (Isa. 53:7; 1 Pet. 2:23). This fits in with the great kenotic perspective which Paul describes in Philippians 2:6-11. Far from insisting on divine rights, Christ made himself a no-person, devoid of rights, and there can be no doubt that the apostle lays this down as the paradigm for all believers. But that is precisely the point. It is the paradigm for ALL believers, above all for the powerful, who must renounce their own rights and strive for the rights of others. No man who takes the cross as his paradigm can make it an excuse for demanding that women acquiesce under his authority and submit to servility and abuse. Christ has exactly the same destiny in mind for the woman as for the man, and in the meantime, each of us, male and female, is called to do everything in our power to encourage the other in his or her journey towards that destiny. At the foot of the cross, the husband is bound to subordinate his own interests to those of the wife no less than she is bound to subordinate hers to those of her husband. It is patriarchy, not the doctrine of atonement, that needs to be redeemed. (Page 192-193)

When asked for the secret of a happy marriage, the answer is the same as the secret to a blessed and happy life. “Take up your cross, and follow Jesus.” I would add that the responsibility to put to death our old nature belongs to every Christian, as MacLeod so admirably teaches. But it is doubly laid upon the husband when Paul also writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”

Perhaps it is because God knows our pride and our demands and our desire to be kings in our homes that He commands us twice: first as Christians, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus;” and second as husbands, “Love your wives, as Christ loved the church.”

It is time to put to death our lusts for power, and put on the love of Jesus in service to our families.

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