Smoke and Prayers

Attention COYN faithful:
If you’ve noticed a relative dearth of posts in recent months (aside from the two sermons), it’s because I’ve been writing for a new blog since the beginning of the summer.  As with the sermon posts, there may be some things that still find their way to this blog instead; but most of my writing from here on out will be found over at Some, uh, Theologica.  I’ll plan to reblog my next several posts here so you don’t miss them; but I encourage you to check out Some, uh, Theologica for other posts from me as well as from my illustrious associates.  Thanks again for all your support!

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35).

Several years ago I heard a parable of sorts which has often returned to mind in my subsequent ruminations on the practice of prayer. I can no longer recall the source of the apocryphal anecdote (feel free to identify yourself!), but I thought it well worth sharing with you.

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Sermon 2: This Time, It’s Not Sermon 1

In lieu of much ado, I give you Sermon 2.  This was the fourth and final sermon of my church’s intermittent summer evening intern preaching series on the mighty little epistle of Titus (yeah, adjectives!), given on August 18, 2013.  As before, I would ask you not to listen simply as a curious onlooker of my professional progress, but rather as a humble creature before the holy Word of our great and sovereign God.  “To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”

Baby’s First Sermon

As many of you already know, last week (July 14) I had the privilege of preaching in Sovereign Grace’s evening worship service—my first sermon ever given outside a classroom setting.  A number of folks have asked me for a recording of the sermon, and I thought that publishing it here would be the easiest means of distribution for any interested listeners.  [As a side note, you can listen to all of Sovereign Grace’s regular sermons (i.e. not by interns) here; I offer them with my highest commendation.]

Having now thoroughly reviewed the sermon on my own and with pastor Dean (my internship adviser, and in no small part a spiritual father to me here in Charlotte), I am intimately familiar with the sermon’s many shortcomings.  Needless to say, I have already learned so much from this first preaching experience—lessons which I am anxious to employ as I prepare to preach again next month.  I am immensely thankful that I live and serve in a congregation of believers who truly love and support me, and who have so eagerly invested themselves in my growth and maturation as a hopeful pastor.  Any additional feedback you might offer would be valuable to me and much appreciated, to be sure.  That said, I would encourage you not to listen simply as a curious onlooker of my professional progress, but rather as a humble creature before the holy Word of our great and sovereign Lord.  “To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”

The Eternal Marks of the Risen Savior

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will certainly not believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, behold, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “You have believed because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
–John 20:24-29

The above passage from John’s Gospel displays a number of remarkable features, each of which could ably serve as a  launching point for an entire book of doctrinal study:

  • In the first place, there is Jesus’ immeasurable compassion in returning to the disciples specifically to redeem the faith of one of them–and he a shamefully stubborn doubter, no less.  
  • There is the clear demonstration of Jesus’ omniscience, having known the demands and indeed the exact words of Thomas while bodily absent.  
  • There is the immense theological significance of Jesus’ continuing to have a truly human nature and form even after His resurrection.  
  • There is the incarnational paradox evident in Thomas’ response to seeing Jesus’ physical body: “My Lord and my God.”  
  • There is even a direct reference to John’s readers in the historical words of Jesus, as He calls them blessed who have believed on the basis of His apostles’ witness without requiring to see the risen Christ.

Again, any of these facets of the text could amply fill a dozen blog posts, but there is one other element that specifically caught my eye today.  (Behold, visual puns!)  While it may not seem like much at first glance, it is absolutely astounding that Jesus’ glorified resurrection body forever retains the marks of His crucifixion.  Taken together, the descriptions we have in the Scriptures of the post-resurrection human body (cf. Rom 8:21-25; 1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 5:1-5; etc.) indicate a perfect wholeness, an ideal beauty, and a functional perfection.  The word Paul uses over and over in 1 Corinthians 15 is phthartos (a mouthful even for native Greek speakers, I reckon), which can be rendered either imperishable or incorruptible.  The teaching is clear: When our bodies are transformed into their everlasting, glorified forms at the dawn of the new heavens and new earth, they will be without blemish or defect, a stainless reflection of our finally-stainless hearts.

Such will be the blessed estate of all who belong to Jesus by faith–but not, it seems, of Jesus Himself.  In the irony of ironies, the Lord will bear the physical marks of His execution forevermore.  Why should this be?  It seems altogether unfitting for Jesus’ eternal body to have any defects–let alone to be the only body with defects.  That’s shameful and backward!

Well…

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
–Philippians 2:5-11

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,
     “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
          and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
–1 Corinthians 1:18-25

In God’s economy, the way up is the way down.  The Philippians passage above confirms for us that Jesus’ exaltation is in fact a result of His humiliation on the cross.  Ultimately, there is nothing more glorifying to God than the redemption of His people, as appointed by the Father, accomplished by the Son, and applied by the Spirit.  Thus, Jesus retains the marks of His crucifixion on His resurrected body, as a permanent sign of that eternally efficacious sacrifice which purchased and purifies His heavenly bride.  Because of Jesus’ character and work, the marks of the nails and spear are neither a blemish nor defect; indeed, they are the richest testaments to His perfect wholeness, ideal beauty, and absolute perfection as our Savior and Lord.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Amen.

The Church as God’s Temple 3: One Holy Catholic Dwelling

Ephesians 2:19-22

Our final passage for consideration is found in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and in keeping with his exalted tone and transcendent topics elsewhere in the letter, Paul’s treatment of God’s people as God’s temple is at its most extensive and sublime here.  Following his famous blessing of Christ in chapter 1 and his equally famous exposition of salvation by grace through faith in the beginning of chapter 2, Paul begins to trumpet the glorious inclusion of the Gentiles along with the Jews in God’s plan of redemption.  By his blood, Christ has “made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body….  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:14-16, 18).[1]  From here Paul rapidly crescendos through three relations, with each surpassing the former in intimacy and privilege:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph 2:19-22, emphasis added).

It is clear that Paul employs dual senses of the Greek word oikos (household/house) as a way to transition from the family description to the temple description,[2] but is it clear that the temple is meant to be understood as greater?  Besides its position at the end and its relatively lengthy elaboration, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones sees ample evidence of this: “The family, after all, is a collection of individuals, whereas when you come to a building… there is a truer merging of the parts….  [T]he child has access to the father, but the child is still outside the father.  But here the idea presented is God dwelling within us, taking up His abode within us.”[3]

Obviously, a comparison of 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 and Ephesians 2:19-22 reveals that the designation of the temple’s “foundation” and the structural role of Christ differ between the two letters.  Though some critics may be tempted to cite such differences as evidence of the non-Pauline authorship of Ephesians, this stance is altogether too narrow-minded in its assumption that Paul could not or would not adapt the metaphorical physical elements in order to emphasize different facets of the true spiritual reality in different contexts.  In fact, given our previous examination of Paul’s dual identification of the “foundation” in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, we can readily accept such an explanation.  In the same way that Paul laid a foundation for the Corinthians in a true, secondary sense, so the apostles and the prophets (and, by logical extension, the deposit of gospel doctrines which they proclaim) act as the foundation for the church in a true, secondary sense.[4,5]  What then is Paul’s purpose in shifting Christ out of the foundation role here?  Paul’s capital emphasis on unity in this passage leads him to designate Christ the cornerstone, that specific part of the foundation which joins the walls of the structure both to the foundation and to one another.[6]  The shape, angle, and direction of every other piece of the building is ultimately determined to be correct or incorrect by its relation to the cornerstone.[7]  Since all believers (both Jew and Greek) are rightly oriented toward Christ through the same means (salvation by grace through faith), it follows that every believer fits harmoniously into the structure and is thus united to one another through Christ.

In an unexpected linguistic turn, Paul indicates the living nature of the new covenant temple in stating that it “grows” (Eph 2:21)—a term clearly borrowed from the realm of organic development.  In so doing, Paul mixes the imagery of the temple with the imagery of his favorite church metaphor, the body of Christ.  Since the temple can develop ‘organically’ in this passage, we are not surprised to find the body developing ‘architecturally’ later in Ephesians 4:12 (“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”).[8]  To conclude his discourse on unity in the temple, Paul returns to the more familiar ‘building’ language in appropriating the statements just made about the universal church to the local church in Ephesus: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22).  Thus the local church/temple is a manifestation of the one universal church/temple, growing toward completion by the addition of individual believers and by cooperation with one another in right relation to Christ.

Conclusion: God’s Presence Has Consequences

Like so many other elements of God’s kingdom during the overlapping of the ages, the eschatological temple of God prophesied in the Old Testament has arrived and, at the same time, is not yet complete.  Paul’s conception of the local and universal church as the temple of God is not merely a thought experiment or a helpful illustration; God has indeed come and made his dwelling among his people by the Holy Spirit, who is building his temple (cf. Eph 2:21-22) and directing his people to build (cf. 1 Cor 3:10).  The glory of the divine presence is neither a vanished antiquity of the old covenant nor a distant prospect of the final consummation; it is a present reality.[9]  Because of this divine presence, the church is holy, set apart for God (cf. 1 Cor 3:17); as Hodge writes, “It belongs to him, is consecrated to his use, and can neither be appropriated by anyone else nor used for anything outside his service without causing it to be profaned.…  It is his house, in which he alone has any authority.”[10]  As an inevitable consequence of this consecration, the church is called to the task of sanctification—of “bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).  Furthermore, the presence of God is a powerfully unifying presence.  Every believer united to Christ is established on the one and only foundation, aligned with the one and only cornerstone, and therefore also united to all other believers in one structure.[11]

What is our proper response to this magnificent truth?  Let us look to Paul once more:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5).

The presence of the living God among us—his dwelling, his living temple—cannot be any less than the single most defining and controlling factor in determining our identity and directing our activity, in this world and unto eternity.

Amen.


[1] “[The ‘dividing wall’] may be an allusion to the barricade which in Jerusalem separated the court of the Gentiles from the temple proper, and on which there was an inscription threatening death to any non-Jew who tried to pass it:  ‘No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure.  Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.’”  William Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians (New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1967), 133.

[2] Ibid.,141.

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation (Studies in Ephesians chapter 2; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1976), 336, 338.  Emphasis original.

[4] “Not at all in themselves or because of any intrinsic merit were they entitled to this distinction, but as divinely appointed witnesses and ambassadors who were constantly pointing away from themselves, to Christ….  A parallel would be the fact that Jesus called himself ‘the light of the world’ (John 8:12), but he also called his disciples ‘the light of the world’ (Matt 5:14).”  Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, 50, 147.  Emphasis original.

[5] Much ink has been spilt debating the identity of the “prophets” Paul mentions here as New-Testament-era, Old-Testament-era, or both; since the issue is ultimately tertiary to Paul’s main point in the passage, we will not entertain specific arguments here.  Cf. Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, 142; and Charles Hodge, Ephesians (ed. Alister McGrath and J. I. Packer; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994), 95.

[6] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981), 749.

[7] Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, 143.

[8] Ridderbos, Paul, 431.

[9] Bryan Chapell, Ephesians (ed. Richard D. Phillips and Philip Graham Ryken; Reformed Expository Commentary; Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing Company, 2009), 132.

[10] Hodge, Ephesians, 97.

[11] “When holiness is the main characteristic, the unity looks after itself.”  Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, 344.

The Church as God’s Temple 2: A Consecrated Dwelling

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

(14) Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (15) What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
     and I will be their God,
     and they shall be my people.
(17) Therefore go out from their midst,
     and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
     then I will welcome you,
(18) and I will be a father to you,
     and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

In the prior chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul ascends to the heights of theology to proclaim the towering truth of Christ’s new creation wrought by the reconciling of sinners to God through the gracious imputation of Christ’s righteousness (cf. 2 Cor 5:17-21).  As is typical for Paul, a doctrinal address leads naturally to a practical address; so in 6:1, Paul says, “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”  He then quickly turns to a parenthetical excursus about the intense hardships of his ministry, but in 6:14 he returns to his exhortation of the Corinthian church: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”  Alfred Plummer traces the origin of the yoke imagery to Deuteronomy 22:10, which prohibits the teaming of animals of different species to pull the plow; thus he says, “Heathen belong to one species, Christians to quite another, and it is against nature that Christians should be yokefellows with them.  They will not walk as Christians do, and Christians must not walk in their ways.”[1]  Commentators agree that this “yoke” relationship is not limited only to marriage (the most natural and most frequently presumed application among Christians) but to various other intimate or binding arrangements with nonbelievers as well.[2]

Paul then names several pairs of opposites to illustrate the radical dichotomy between Christians and pagans.  By way of analogy, “believer” is to “unbeliever” as “righteousness” is to “lawlessness,” “light” is to “darkness,” “Christ” is to “Belial,” and “the temple of God” is to “idols” (2 Cor 6:14-16).  This last comparison is placed at the end specifically so that Paul may elaborate upon it, which is itself a strong case for seeing the antithesis between God’s temple and idols as particularly important among the lot.  As Plummer explains, “The history of Israel had shown with terrible distinctness that God allowed no agreement between His house and idols.…  The absolute incongruity is between God’s sanctuary, in which not even an image of Himself might be put up, and images of false gods.”[3]  Hodge rightly recognizes the additional significance of idolatry as a recurring point of concern for Paul in the Corinthian letters, as the church wrestled with the ethical implications of their participation in pagan idol feasts and festivals.[4]

At this juncture, Paul makes plain the basis for his prohibition and for the church’s essential incompatibility with the pagans: “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16).  The church is not only at odds with the heathen because of the new creation worked in her by God; the church is at odds with the heathen because of God’s very presence dwelling in and among her.  After stating thus, Paul offers proof of the church’s status as God’s temple by combining a number of Old Testament passages:[5]

I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
rrrrand I will be their God,
rrrrand they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
rrrrand be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
rrrrthen I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
rrrrand you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty (2 Cor 6:16b-18).

Beale draws out the significance of the fact that Paul treats the church as fulfilling this Old Testament temple prophecy; this means that “Paul is not merely making an analogy between a temple idea and that of Christians, but that Christians are the beginning fulfillment of the actual prophecy of the end-time temple.”[6]  Paul’s teaching of the church as God’s temple is not an illustration; it is a reality!  Indeed, this is the only way it could hold such immediate and radical ramifications.  Even within his Old Testament quotation, we see once again that Paul’s theology drives him directly to call out its demands upon the life of the church: “Therefore go out from their midst…” (2 Cor 6:17).  Yet even this he follows to its conclusion—that is, to the blessings of sonship and fellowship given to the obedient (2 Cor 6:18).

Paul could scarcely be clearer about the necessary connection of orthodoxy to orthopraxy than he is in the closing remarks to his temple discourse: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body [sarx] and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).  Herman Ridderbos observes the connection between the ethical cleansing here endorsed by Paul and the ritualistic cleansing necessary for temple worship and participation in the old covenant.[7]  Commentators hold various views on Paul’s meaning by “flesh and spirit” in this particular instance, since the two are typically cast in opposition to one another in the Pauline epistles.  In light of the preceding phrase’s emphasis on totality (“every defilement”), we favor Plummer’s interpretation of “flesh and spirit” in this verse as a merism signifying the whole person;[8] however, interpretations such as Hodge’s which see more significance in the two terms individually are by no means unacceptable.[9]

Regardless, Paul’s primary meaning in the passage is clear as day: “The presence of God requires the purity of his people.”[10]


[1] Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians (ed. S. R. Driver, A. Plummer, and C.A. Briggs; ICC; Edinburgh, England: T. & T. Clark, 1915), 206.

[2] Says Ladd, “This must refer to relationships with idolatrous pagans of such a sort that it compromised one’s Christian testimony.”  George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 540.

[3] Plummer, Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, 208.

[4] Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians, 542.

[5] For a listing of the potential OT texts from which the quotation could be compiled, see Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 254-255.  Regarding the general practice of NT writers “[quoting] the Scriptures as saying what is nowhere found in so many words, but what nevertheless the Scriptures clearly teach,” see Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians, 549.

[6] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 254.  Emphasis original.

[7] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (trans. Richard John De Witt; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 262.

[8] Plummer, Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, 204-205.

[9] Hodge, A Commentary on 1&2 Corinthians, 550.

[10] C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (ed. Henry Chadwick; BNTC; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1973), 200.