Monthly Archives: September 2012

Wednesday Books: Matthew & Mission

I first came across Martin Goldsmith at Spring Harvest about eight years ago.  Having heard him give a series of talks that week, when I was next in a Christian bookshop, I was surprised and delighted to see this little (~200 pages) commentary on Matthew’s gospel.

With a Jewish heritage, thoroughly Gentile conversion to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and extensive, faithful and successful Christian missionary work in Indonesia, Goldsmith’s grasp of Matthew’s gospel speaking into a Jewish context not only sheds light and I believe truth, but also instils excitement that Good News of Jesus Christ can penetrate to the depths of the human heart.

So whether it be searching for light amongst the genealogy with which Matthew begins his gospel, hearing afresh Jesus’ message of the sermon on the mount, the call to mission, the response Jesus demands, the confrontations Jesus faces in Jerusalem, teaching about the end times, or his death and resurrection, Goldsmith shows how startling, glorious, gracious and revolutionary the gospel was for a Jewish population in the first century, and how that message is the one message of hope for the people of today’s world.

For example, Goldsmith’s commentary of Matthew’s account of Palm Sunday, in just two pages, covers much ground.  First he shows how this event fulfils the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9-10.  The Jewish Messiah is parading into the middle of the Jewish capital, and venturing to place the quote Matthew gives from Zechariah in context, Goldsmith shows that this foal mounted king has universal significance in proclaiming peace to all nations.  Goldsmith then highlights how thoroughly Jewish it was for the crowds to turn to Psalm 118, to declare him the royal Son of David, but shows the dichotomy that the same Jesus would be crucified for being the King of the Jews.  Psalm 118 is also full of assurance of the Lord granting success and Goldsmith adds, ‘it is a sad reality not only in the life of Jesus, but throughout history, meekness and humility do not draw the crowds like power and success’.  Psalm 118 also pictures the festal procession not only entering Jerusalem, but heading straight to the temple, which is of course what Jesus does, drawing crowds of people.  Goldsmith shows that Matthew’s emphasis on the crowds seeing the fulfilment of Psalm 118, leads to them being drawn into meet the Saviour of the world, but a Saviour who, when he gets to the temple, cleanses instead of performing some religious cermony, is rejected, causes a stir, but restores the relationship of worshipping people with God.  A fore-taste of that which is to come, and a picture for the church’s mission in the world, although just twelve, drawing crowds, to see the Saviour cleanse and restore lives through his grace and mercy.

Goldsmith’s commentary will not be the only one you will need to study Matthew’s gospel carefully, but I would recommend it as an important part of a pastor’s, bible study leader’s, or preacher’s library.  And when you can get a second-hand copy on Amazon for 1p……

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1 Timothy 3:14-16

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.  Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
 
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed amongst the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

1 Tim. 3:14-16 (ESV)

Having taken us through the spiritual and practical c.v.’s required for those who are to serve the church as overseers (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13), Paul concludes this section talking about the nature of the church.  He’s hoping, longing even, to visit Timothy in Ephesus, but is likely to be delayed, and so the whole purpose of this letter is to describe how people are to behave in the church, whether minister like Timothy, elder, deacon, or member.  Collectively though, the behaviour of the people in the church are to reflect the three images Paul gives.

Firstly the church is the household of God.  The community of believers are a family.  They’re not just a collection of people, spectators at a football match, crowds queuing for some concert or museum, even a list of pastoral issues to chat through and aid.  The church is to be modelled on family.  We, in the church are to know people, not just stand next to them in worship.  We are to love one another, not tell them they;re sat in the wrong seat.  We are to respect everyone, long for the young to grow and develop in their faith, learn from the wisdom and experience of those who are older, work hard for each other, support each other in the work.  God doesn’t call individuals to himself and leave them by themselves, to fend for themselves, to grow by themselves, he places Christians in families, to support and love, encourage, and comfort each other.

Secondly the church is the church of the living God.  It is the best news that God is alive.  He’s not the dead and buried in a tomb, he’s not bogged down in endless religious ceremonies and regulations.  God is alive.  Today.  We are to be the church of the living God.  Where is this living God?  God declared to Joshua that the living God would be among the people of Israel, that he would be with them wherever they went (Joshua 1), and Paul elsewhere describes how with sanctification in the Holy Spirit, we ourselves become temples of the living God (2 Cor 6:16).  God dwells in us, when we meet together: in our worship, in the breaking of bread and sharing of wine, in the Word as it read and preached, in the family of God.

Thirdly the church is a pillar and buttress of the truth.  Buttresses support walls from the onslaught of wind and pressure.  They make sure a wall will not fall down due to sideways pressure.  The church is a buttress of the truth, making sure that the truth is not twisted or changed to humanity’s own needs, or infected with false doctrine, or even watered down so that the truth is simply as bland as no truth.  The church is a buttress of the truth and it is also a pillar.  A pillar supports the roof, literally holds it aloft.  The church is to hold the truth high, so that all may see and know the truth.  What is the great truth that the church is to buttress and loft high for all to see: that Jesus Christ was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, and taken up in glory (v.16)

The church of today faces the challenge that Timothy’s church did in Ephesus.  Can we be the household of God and the church of the living God and a pillar and buttress of the truth?  For it is easy for one or more of these to be lost from a local church or denomination.  A church that is simply the household of God, will be wonderful at looking out for each other, holding social events and welcoming everyone.  A church that is simply the church of the living God will only be concerned about meeting together to experience the holiness of God in its midst.  A church that is simply a pillar and buttress of the truth will be so concerned with knowledge and understanding that it fails to enlighten the spiritual life.  No, today’s church really must be the household of God, the church of the living God and a pillar and buttress of the truth.  Then it will be a church that is focussed on glorifying Christ in all its activity, and a church whose members will form a thriving community of people who are faithfully knowledgeable in the gospel and alive in the Spirit.

 

 

 

 

Reformation Books: The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness

I’ve had a number of conversations recently with friends who are just too busy. I know that often they are busy doing the very best things, giving their time to their church, to their neighbours and to their friends, but at some point this busyness has taken over their lives. It is as if they are trapped on a treadmill and it won’t slow down enough to let them hop off.

So I’m going to dedicate this review to my busy friends, safe in the knowledge that they will be far too busy to ever read it.

The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness opens with a succinct summary of the problem. We can be busy at work or busy at play, but the result is always the same we become too busy to be healthy, too busy to think, too busy for relationships and too busy for Jesus.

In the second chapter, the author Tim Chester warns us against either ‘a work centred’ or ‘a leisure centred’ life ethic. He calls us to ‘a God centred’ ethic. This doesn’t mean keeping busy working for God, this means learning to both work and rest to the glory of God.

It is certainly true that the Bible commends hard work (‘Go to the ant you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food in harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?’ Proverbs 6:6-9) but the Bible also commends rest (‘Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day’ Deuteronomy 5:15).

Tim points out that we should not live to work nor should we view work simply as a necessary evil. Our aim isn’t even to find the right balance between work and rest. No our goal is that we enjoy and glorify God in work and in rest. God wants to redeem both work and rest enabling us to know and enjoy him through these times of grace.

So that’s the theory but how does it work in practice. Tim gives us a four step process to the practice:

1. Use time efficiently
2. Sort out your priorities
3. Glorify God all the time
4. Identify the desires of your heart that make you do more than God is calling you to.

Step one involves many time management tips that you could pick up in any secular book (and to be fair Tim acknowledges and agrees with this). It covers planning, paperwork, managing people, and your home.

Step two involves setting kingdom priorities beginning with ministry and church and then looking towards our homes, jobs and lifestyles. I generally agree with this but I wouldn’t be as rigid as this. I am not sure busying ourselves with ministry and church should necessarily come before these other spheres of service. I am persuaded by the Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper that ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry “Mine!”‘. Consequently, I don’t think ministry or working for the church should assume priority over mothering or working as a nurse or lifestyle evangelism. I think working out your priorities should depend much more on discerning the Holy Spirit’s leading and God’s will for your life.

Step three talks about how we can glorify God in all of life and gives some really encouraging pointers on how we can redeem our work life.

Finally, we reach step four which takes up the majority of the book. I do not have the space to do this justice here, but this is where Tim really excels in helping us analyse our own desires (to prove ourselves, to live up to other people’s expectations, to keep on top of things, to work better under pressure, to gain more money, to make the most of life ). In each of the following chapters, Tim explores a single motivation, the way it appears in our lives, and then places it in the context of God’s liberating truth. I thoroughly recommend reading these.

All in all accepting my concerns over step two I think this is a really great biblically grounded book. In fact I’m going to give it to some of my busy friends now!