Earlier this week I presented JC Ryle’s “5 leading features of evangelical Christianity”.
I mentioned that Ryle was a faithful pastor and bishop in the Anglican Church during the second half of the 19th century.
However, Ryle is best known today for his writings. Even though he was widely read during his lifetime, Ryle and his books were quickly forgotten, because the church quickly lost its taste for gospel rich theology.
Thankfully and to our benefit, Ryle has been rediscovered and his books are once again strengthening God’s people.
I highly recommend his “Expository Thoughts on the Gospels”. These volumes are theological rich, but not too technical or heavy for the general reader. I highly recommend them to anyone who is looking for deeper insight into Scripture and particularly the four gospels.
These books are available in various editions. They were originally published as Ryle finished them in 7 volumes: 1 volume on Matthew, 1 on Mark, 2 on Luke, and 3 on John. You can also buy them in one volume for your e-reader.
For those who love biographies, Iain Murray has just released “JC Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone”.
Last month Debbie and I were in western Pennsylvania visiting our grandson, Wyatt (Oh yeah, and his parents). Since Wyatt at age 1 is already a prodigy, we took him to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
One of their exhibits is a stunning collection of minerals and gems. In darkened rooms, beautiful gems and crystals are displayed in individual brightly lit acrylic cases. The shapes and colors of these crystals can be otherworldly.
Yet, seemingly incongruent to the beauty of these gems, was that on the outside they just looked like plain rocks. It was only when the rocks were broken open that their striking beauty became evident.
As I walked through the collection, I wondered, if those who discovered the gems knew what was inside these plain looking rocks before breaking them open.
It was only later that I considered how these gems illustrate a truth about every believer.
At first glance, most of our lives appear mundane and even misshapen. Yet within our lives, God is forming a beauty that is actually dazzling. If you think I am exaggerating, consider how the Bible describes our future in 1 John 3:2.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when (Jesus) appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”
The Apostle John is describing what Paul calls our “glorification”, when our character is brought to the same beautiful perfection as that of Jesus!
There are significant implications of our transformation:
1. God should be regularly praised for this work which is taking place in this very moment.
2. Although we are plain and perhaps misshapen, we also have God given beauty in us. If God sees beauty in us, faith and obedience obligates us to agree.
3. Every true believer has the beauty of God’s gracious work in them. Although we still see (and at times feel) their rough exterior, we are also responsible to acknowledge the work of God within.
4. We may see people around as lives which are ordinary and even ugly. Yet, every life will shine in beauty when it is broken open by the gospel.
Jesus’ friends love
In Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, he now returns to emphasize and dig into truths he has already told them. This repetition lets us know these are foundational truths for Christ followers
Once again, Jesus connects love and obedience
Love among believers is required (vs 12, 17)
Morality and church involvement are necessary – but love is our beacon to the world (John 13:35)
Love best reveals (1) God’s transforming power and (2) the gospel’s agenda
But what does love for one another look like? 1 Corinthians 13:7-8
“Bears all things” – love shows grace and absorbs people’s shortcomings
“Believes all things” – love does not draw negative conclusions and assign bad motives to others
“Hopes all things” – love obligates us to think the best we can of others
“Endures all things” – love’s agenda for people doesn’t change with how they treat us
Jesus’ redemptive work is our example for how to obey and love (v13)
In the cross we see Jesus’ greatest example of love – sacrifice – humility – commitment
Other believers can be examples, but Jesus is our standard
In chapter 1 Jesus is the ‘Word made flesh’
Jesus is God’s ultimate expression of himself,
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s grand purpose
Jesus is the manifestation of godliness
~ For all these reasons we are to be obsessed with knowing and imitating Jesus
An implied theme of this discourse is that Jesus’ followers will obey him (v14)
Christ has not just set a path before us, he has walked it
God knows our weakness, so don’t beat yourself up with failures, repent if needed and go forward (Psalm 103:13-14)
But God rejects an unwilling heart, so make sure you do repent of sin in every form (Revelation 3:14-16)
Our obedience is not as slaves (vs 14-15)
Slaves are just given tasks, while God has opened his plans to us, so we can we share in them
1. We don’t want to abuse the role of “friend” and so neglect having a servant’s heart
We need to take the phrase ‘I no longer call you servants’ in context
We are still to view ourselves as servants, for that is how Jesus viewed himself on earth
2. We don’t want to minimize our relationship with God as “friend”, and fail to embrace it
Being Jesus’ friend is clearly a relational title, but it’s much more; we have been invited into the work that is dearest to his heart
We gain insight by looking at Abraham and Moses, who are the only people previously called “friends” of God
Both of them experienced unusual interaction with God
Both of them were given unusual access to God
These two themes are imbedded is what Jesus communicates in v15
We are servants, because we serve Jesus’ kingdom, instead of our own
But we are also beloved friends and heirs of that kingdom
Jesus takes our participation further (v16)
We are “chosen” and “appointed” to fruitfully participate in gospel work
1. This is meant to encourage us, because Christ has initiated our calling (knowing all our junk)
We tend to fall into the false mindset that we initiate plans and then convince God to help
2. This is meant to make us serious, because we have been given responsibilities
We need to ask ourselves, what we think life is for!
Is it to build a happy life and if we are open to it, God can have some space
Or, that life is from and for God! True joy comes through fulfilling his roles for us
Jesus continues the theme of our being fruitful that he began vs 1-11
God wants you to be fruitful! Our weaknesses have no impact on this intention
A fruitful life is his purpose, any voice that says otherwise is lying
This doesn’t rest on our smarts or strength. Remember the “Helper” was sent to dwell in us
Our role in the process is to love God – obey him – abide in him – love one another
For the fourth time in the Farewell Discourse, in v16 Jesus tells them to “ask in my name”
“Friends” of God, let’s take him at his word
Sunday morning as I was walking through our church, I noticed three people praying together
Then several steps further I overheard a young woman discussing how she was encouraging a friend to become more rooted in her own church
Then a reality suddenly struck me
I was surrounded by graces of God
Not just the amazing graces of God toward me, but also the countless evidences of God’s active grace and works in the lives of his people!
My heart easily becomes mired in the discouragements of this world
A world that has turned itself upside down
The messy half-heartedness of many who claim to love Christ
Believers who are under immense burden
My own weaknesses which are ever on display
These realities seem to slap me in the face each day
Yet, these are not the greatest realities in this world or in my life!
God is ever sovereign over all things
Christ has already conquered sin, death and Satan
The Holy Spirit is actively preparing each believer to be glorious images of Jesus
Sometimes these realities are submerged under the flow of events and my own activities. So I must seek them out. Every believer is called to glorify God, which means we are responsible to look for and hold up the evidences of God’s glorious grace at work
The Holy Spirit not only freshly reminded me that he is abundantly at work; he also freshly convicted me that I need to live with greater awareness of his graces around me
God deserves that I do this
My soul needs me to do this
Gospel mission impels me to do this
As God’s people, may we look for and celebrate the graces of God in us and in each other. Although they may seem small and at times mundane – they are actually marvelous evidences of our God wonderfully at work
When we see an evidence of grace – exalt it in your heart and praise it with your lips
But don’t stop there; let’s get in the habit of identifying those evidences of grace to one another as a way of fulfilling 1 Thessalonians 5:11 which instructs us to “encourage one another and build one another up”
Let us exercise faith as we celebrate these evidences of God’s grace, for they are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. For God is working at a level that will eternally display his transcendent standard of glory!
Have you ever found yourself disturbed over the casual way in which sexual behavior outside of marriage has been presented in our culture?
No one enjoys being disturbed, but it’s worse if we are undisturbed by a degraded culture.
Not too long ago the world at least understood the Church’s concern about sex outside of marriage. Now the world will not even agree on the definition of what is a marriage!
Those who love God have good reason for voicing their concern. A constant stream of immorality deadens the senses to God’s standards. What the Bible calls immorality is so common that even the biblically literate can fall into a mindset that thinks “biblical standards should not be that inflexible”.
But the situation has become even worse than desensitized understanding toward sexuality and godly purity. Today, there are many in the church who RESENT reminders of Biblical standards.
We need to ask ourselves some pointed questions:
Are we willingly to believe that God’s Word is no longer smart enough for our generation – and that the culture we see around us is wiser than God?
Are we willing to say that we no longer need the grace of God’s Word being spoken into our lives by fellow believers – especially when we have veered off of the Bible’s good and protective path?
Barton Gingrich has written an article for the Gospel Coalition that addresses the problem of minimizing biblical standards by many of this generation’s self-proclaimed biblical Christians. He writes,
“Young evangelicals must choose their master. Right now, too many follow their appetites and desires.”
Who have you chosen to be Master of your life? Whose word do you trust? And almost as important, of whose word will you be skeptical?
Reading Barton’s full article may be a help to you in considering these questions about today’s perspective of sexual morality.
The True Vine
by Dan McManus
Authentic disciples abide in Jesus by drawing upon his word, which bears fruit in their lives for their joy and God’s glory
Throughout the gospel Jesus giving several “I am” statements
These statements present the ideas of replacing and fulfilling. What once was is now fully seen in Jesus.
Here he gives the last of the “I am” statements: I am the True Vine.
We need to see what is being replaced and fulfilled
In the OT Israel is referred to as the vine. But Israel is often rebuked for not bearing fruit and warned of being cut off
Jesus here surpasses Israel and becomes the very locus of the people of God. No longer is God’s vineyard with the nation of Israel but in the vine of Jesus himself.
The Father cares for his vineyard in two ways: Pruning and Removing
v2 tells us the fruit-bearing branches are pruned and the fruitless branches are removed.
Those who bear fruit are pruned, v3 you are already clean because of the word.
There is a play on words that we don’t pick up on in the English but is clear in the Greek that the word for prune means to cleanse, purify, prune
The word for clean has the same root which means clean, pure, unstained.
Those who are already clean will be further cleansed.
How is it that they are already clean? Because of the word that I have spoken to you
What is the word? All of what he has said and all of who He is.
Christ is the Word incarnate
Pruning is not always pleasant, but it is always good. Hebrews 12:10-11
False disciples are those who do not bear fruit, he removes and throws away.
There are many who pass for branches in Christ but they do not bear fruit and are only connected by profession and not true faith.
The vinedresser must remove the unfruitful branches for the health of the vineyard.
Abiding and Fruit-Bearing
The imagery of the vine becomes more clear as we see the necessary connection between abiding and bearing fruit.
Authentic disciples (those connected to the vine by faith) abide in Jesus and so bear fruit v4-5
Bearing fruit is a necessary result of abiding
Once a branch is apart from the vine it has no hope of bearing fruit. It must remain connected.
Jesus is saying that in him is the life giving source from which fruit can be born.
So how is it we remain connected to Jesus, how do we abide in him?
He points to the way we abide in him by having his words abide in is
v7 “abide in me and my words abide in you”
Notice the flow from vs 4, 5 & 7 “I in you” . . . “my words in you”
There is such a connection between who Jesus is and what he has said he can speak of them interchangeably.
In the vine picture Jesus is telling us he will remain with, abide with us in his words which he sees as his very presence.
This is a profound truth that Jesus sees his word in us as our being with Him
Because Jesus is the Word made flesh, he is God with us, and all of scripture is the testimony of who God is. All Scripture is the testimony of who Christ is
Branches that “abide” in the vine bear fruit because they draw up from the vine’s life giving nutrients to bear fruit.
Authentic disciples abide in Jesus by drawing from his word in order to bear fruit.
This is not about just reading it, it is more than that. It is about drawing up the life giving truths necessary for bearing fruit.
How to we draw upon the words of Jesus?
Psalm 119 gives us many ways in which we abide in the Word
Keep it (v5) apply the Word to our lives
Store it up (v11) memorize scripture
Declare it (v13) speak the Word to yourself and to others
Meditate on it (v15) think through the intention of the Word and how it matters in our lives
Delight in it (v16) come to the scriptures with delight because you are coming to Jesus
Behold it (v18) gaze upon the wonder of the Word
Desire it (v20) have a passion for it
Learn it (v26-27) engaging our minds to understand so our hearts might be affected. If we want to feel deeply we have to be willing to think deeply.
Incline your heart to it (v36)
Trust it (v42) does knowing biblical truth lead us to trust it?
Sing it (v54) this is a wonderful way to draw up from the vine
Believe it (v66) a confident conviction that every word is true and good.
Hope in it (v74) when everything around us seems to be in chaos we can be steady, because our hope is in the Word
Love it (v97) to cherish it through meditation and obedience
Rejoice in it (v162) we can take great joy in this great treasure.
Pray it: the whole Psalm is a poetic prayer that all these things about the Word would be a reality in his life
This connects us back to John 15
v7 Abiding in Jesus and his words abiding in us lead us to pray
When the authentic disciple is abiding in Jesus and drawing up from the vine his prayers will be inhabited with the will of Jesus.
We will pray according to his desire for us—that we would bear much fruit and he says it will be done for us.
Obedience, love, Joy, and glory are all tied together vs 8-11
Abiding in Jesus and bearing fruit happens in the soil of love.
Jesus tells us, we are loved with a perfect love, and so remain in it through obedience.
Jesus is our example!
He has never questioned the Father’s love
He has always remained in the Father’s love through obedience.
Obedience and love are wrapped up together 1 John 5:3
God’s Word is not merely commands to us; it is an expression of love.
v11 Jesus explains his desire through this teaching that they we have true joy.
Last week we saw that Jesus gives HIS peace, and now we learn he also gives HIS joy!
We generally think, “In control = good”, and “out of control = very bad”!
Who really likes to feel that people and circumstances are out of our control.
Yet, life not only is out of our control, it is rather important for us to recognize this fact.
When we think we “are in control” or if we live trying to “be in control”, that is actually a bad place to be.
One of those bad things is that we mix up the role that belongs to us with the role that belongs to God. We are terrible at trying to be God (despite the fact that we work at it rather frequently).
My friend, Ricky Alcantar from Cross of Grace Church in El Paso, Texas wrote this article on facing the reality of it being good to know life is out of our control, “Fear Not, The Universe Is Wildly Out of Your Control”.
This is a healthy and restful lesson to learn.
Not long ago I was reading an article in which the author gave what I think is wonderful advice:
Take stock of your cultural diet. Evaluate and re-evaluate your movie-watching, music-listening, clothes-wearing habits. Are you feeding or starving the lust of your flesh?
We all live in a culture. More accurately we live in the midst of several overlapping and often co-mingling cultures.
As Christians, we are alert to the extreme violations of biblically defined culture, but too often we float along without serious examination of our “cultural diet”.
The point is not to make us rigid; it is to make us biblical – which by God’s definition is always wise and good!
This exercise is not an infringement upon our Christian liberties; it is a sifting to make sure our liberties are in fact God-honoring and Christian.
I will press the point a little further to say, if we are unwilling to examine our cultural diet, then we are not actually serious about being Christ-followers. For Jesus unceasingly leads to love the Father with all that we are. This includes honoring Him in all that we take in.