Tag Archives: Gospel

The Limit of Authority

 

Having looked recently at the nature of leadership, established by Christ for His kingdom, we saw how the authority of the Pharisees and scribes was limited insofar as they were representing Moses faithfully, or we might say teaching faithfully the Law of Moses.   This principle of limitation on authority is not isolated to Jesus’ rebuke of the Jewish religious leaders of the day, but may also be subtly seen in His ‘Great Commission’, “teaching them all I have commanded you” as it likewise provides boundaries on the nature of authority.

In keeping with this principle, the Apostle Paul, writing to the troubled community of believers in Galatia**, rebukes them for quickly deserting the word of the gospel that was preached to them and, similarly, provides the guardrails of authority.  After introducing the letter by establishing the divine source of his apostleship, Paul turns toward the central thesis of his writing

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

In this passage we find the motivation of the rebuke in verse 6, that the Galatians were turning away from the true gospel to another gospel (as though there was another gospel) and that there had arisen among them those who claimed to be teachers of this false, distorted gospel.  As the letter unfolds, we gain clarity and insight into the nature of this false gospel and find that it is a works-based gospel resting on works of the law, most notably circumcision.

In his rebuke, instead of staking a claim on the exclusivity of his apostolic authority, the Apostle places the emphasis on the authority of the true gospel

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Here we see that neither an apostolic messenger, nor a messenger from heaven holds authority, rather the authority is from the Gospel itself, the good news that God has proclaimed.  For emphasis, Paul reiterates this point in verse 9 to make sure that his purpose has been delivered with clarity, “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received.”  Again, the authority is placed on the message of revelation, not the messenger, while the wisdom needed to discern a false gospel from the true gospel is placed in the hands of the people.  In practice, this is precisely what we find taking place in Acts 17:11, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

This brings up some important questions on the nature of authority within the ekklesia(s) (churches) of Christ, particularly in light of the kingdom leadership paradigm that we recently looked and the limits of authority that our Lord has established.

  • Why doesn’t the Apostle, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, appeal to the authority of his own office? He introduced his letter by establishing his apostleship from God, yet we do not see him defer to it in the rebuke, i.e. listen to my message because I am an apostle.
  • Why doesn’t he defer to the ecclesiastical church officers, i.e. elders, pastors, bishops, of Galatia and instruct the people to simply submit to their authority and rule?
  • More pointedly, why isn’t the letter addressed to the ‘leaders’ of the Galatian congregations with the message to straighten out the people?

The answer is really quite simple.  Authority does not rest in man, either by position or status.  All authority is Christ’s (Matt. 28:18) and He mediates that authority through His Word, the very revelation of God.  When one believer speaks truth to another believer, whether for correction, rebuke, training, or exhortation, the limits of that truth are confined to God’s Word.  Certainly we may take human wisdom into consideration, particularly as God has gifted men and women with levels of faith, maturity, and discernment, and has placed them in various contexts where they can communicate that wisdom.  But human wisdom is by nature fallible and the communication of it is not binding or authoritative, rather it is subordinate to the Word of God, indeed it must be derived as well as always point back to God’s Word.

Aware that perhaps those who had been teaching or preaching this distorted Gospel might object on the basis of their self-assumed, human authority, the Apostle defends his bold statements by revealing his motives as seeking the approval of God.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

One has to ask here, why would the approval of man vs. God enter into the equation?  Why would Paul even assert this as a question?  It seems reasonable to conclude that because Paul is elevating the message above the messenger that their would naturally be push-back.  Their could be those, either claiming positional authority or claiming relational authority, as though being from Jerusalem gave them authority.  Whatever the case may be, clearly Paul is uninterested in pleasing man, but all the more interested in pleasing God.

Barnes comments on this passage, “The great system of salvation had been taught; and no other was to be admitted, no matter who preached it; no matter what the character or rank of the preacher: and no matter with what imposing claims he came. It follows from this, that the mere rank, character, talent, eloquence, or piety of a preacher does not of necessity give his doctrine a claim to our belief, or prove that his gospel is true. Great talents may be prostituted; and great sanctity of manner, and even holiness of character, may be in error; and no matter what may be the rank, and talents, and eloquence, and piety of the preacher, if he does not accord with the gospel which was first preached, he is to be held accursed.”

In concluding this introduction, before he moves towards expounding this thesis, the Apostle concludes with a word on the gospel that he preached

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Again, this places the authority of the message above man, resting it squarely upon God.

Stepping outside the bounds of Scripture’s authority always leads to abuse.  The abuses of authority have been the cause of many reformations throughout history and of course, the central cause of THE Reformation from the 16th century.  Let this be a reminder to us in our day.  The moment we begin to accept assumed authority, is the moment we begin retracing the steps to Rome.  All authority belongs to Christ and He has chosen to mediate that authority through His written word – Sola Scriptura

 

**It should be noted that most translations use the phrase, “to the churches of Galatia” in Galatians 1:2.  There were multiple gatherings in Galatia, and these are the audience; not elders/pastors and not a general, universal concept of church.

What’s in a Name

 

Perhaps this is an over-generalization, but it seems rather apparent that the world has always endorsed the idea of individuals making a name for themselves.  While this sentiment has historically come under many different guises from being famous to self-branding, the concept has remained the same.  In order to be successful, popular, wealthy, etc., you need to get your name out there, or so we’re told.  This is especially true with having an online presence.  Just Google the phrase “self-branding” and you’ll find more than 13 million results, mostly lists of how-to.

Modern efforts to make a name for oneself are not all that different from those efforts in Genesis 11 where members of society tried to make a name for themselves by building a tower to heaven.  Verse 4 summarizes well

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

The people of Babel were united with a common language and a common motivation to make a lasting impact on  history by drawing attention to their technological advancements.  That they attempted to build a tower to heaven, highlights their common blind spot as a failure to rightly recognize God, most notably that no amount of human effort will be enough to earn your way to God.  Though the technology and methods have changed, the human heart has not.

The little phrase, “let us make a name for ourselves” becomes all the more remarkable when we encounter Abraham for the first time.  In the very next episode, after Babel, we read in chapter 12 of Genesis God’s call of Abraham and the introductory covenantal formula that will be repeated throughout Abraham’s life

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Amidst the covenantal promises outlined above is the phrase just highlighted from the Babel events only this time, it is God who is speaking, “I will bless you and make your name great”.  The contrast between these two statements, specifically Who it is that is making the statement, should be striking.  In the first case, it is the people of Babel who are attempting to make a name for themselves.  In second case it is God who declares that He will make a name for Abraham.

Only One can accomplish what they set out to do.  Only one can guarantee lasting value.

Through desire, invention, and efforts, humans are constantly trying to make a name for themselves, a lasting legacy as it is sometimes called.  Ultimately these desires are rooted in a recognition of human frailty and the brevity of life on the timescale of humanity.  It’s a desire to live a life of purpose and meaning that finds value in being remembered.  However, as Christians know all too well, this world is not our home.  Our longing is for a city who’s builder and maker is the Lord.  Therefore our lasting value, our worth, is found in Christ and it is our union with Him that is His great accomplishment in making our name great…child of God.

I’ve often been tempted, and have sometimes fallen into the trap, of wanting to make a name for my self or to somehow make efforts for self-promotion or branding.  But then I am reminded that first it is God who will make a name for Himself.  Then it is God who chooses who, when, and how to make a name for those as He sees fit.  Ultimately there is a reminder found in the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase.  I must decrease.”

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

3 Resurrection Proofs

 

Having introduced the 15th Chapter of First Corinthians with an overview of the gospel foundation upon which the Apostle Paul will base his argument for the bodily resurrection of believers, we turn our focus now towards the three methods of argumentation the apostle will use to support his conclusions:

  1. The Authority of Scripture
  2. The Eyewitness Experience
  3. The Logical Argument

Each of these proofs are utilized to establish the unquestioned validity of Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave.  The first of these we looked at in our last post from this series, so we will only briefly touch upon it again here.

In the opening verses of this magnificent chapter, we found two appeals to the Scriptures marked with the phrase, “according to the Scriptures,”  first, for the death of Christ for our sins and second for His resurrection on the third day, each of which served to under-gird the gospel

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

This first proof, an appeal to the authority of Scripture, is critical because it is the sure footing of all subsequent proofs.  Meaning, Scripture is the final authority.  Scripture is the very Word of God.  It is His divine revelation to mankind.  It is theopneustos, God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:15).  This concept is often abbreviated with the post-reformation slogan of Sola Scriptura, Latin for Scripture Alone, i.e. that Scripture alone, not experience, not tradition, not philosophy or logic, is the final authority in the life of a believer.

This notion is summaraized in the 17th Century Westminster Confession of Faith:

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”

We mentioned briefly in the previous post how this appeal to Scripture was, in general, an appeal to Scriptures testimony as a whole to the death and resurrection of Christ.  However, we also mentioned a few specific passages that either prophesied or anticipated the coming suffering and glory of our Lord.  This is Paul’s first proof of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection, namely because Scripture, i.e. the Word of Almighty God, said so.  And that is sufficient.

The second proof of the resurrection of Christ is the experience of the eyewitnesses.  The order here is important, first Scripture, then experience.  The Apostle Peter makes a similar conclusion in

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[i] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21

In chapter 15 of First Corinthians we read of the details concerning these eyewitness testimonies to the resurrection of Christ:

  1. Cephas (Peter)
  2. The Twelve
  3. 500 Brothers at one time
  4. James
  5. All the Apostles
  6. Paul

Significant to this list is obviously Peter and the ministerial reputation that surrounded him, by God’s grace, particularly in the Jerusalem church and his sermon at Pentecost.  Paul’s audience here was most likely familiar, if nothing more, with the name of Peter.  Then we see the 12 and 500 at one time.  Next is James, the half-brother of Jesus.  He is a significant mention because during our Lord’s earthly ministry, James did not believe that Christ was the Son of God.  Like most brothers, he probably felt disdain towards his own brother.  However, here we see that an “atheist” in the sense of denying the deity of Christ, was witness to the resurrection of Christ.  Not only that, but James came to believe in Christ unto salvation.  Not only that, but James became a pillar in the first century church.  Of final significance is the Apostle Paul, who spends several verses establishing his own apostlicity before moving onto the third and final proof which we’ll look at below.

We must pause and ask, “Why is the eyewitness testimony so critical?”  Because it validates the historical aspect of the resurrection.  It wasn’t a myth.  It wasn’t fiction.  Someone didn’t come and steal the body and now we don’t know where Jesus is.  There were actual eyewitness accounts, each corroborating the other.  In order for the resurrection of Christ to be fiction, every single one of the more than 500 eyewitness testimonies would have to be recanted, and then each of them would have to be able to tell and spread the same exact lie.

Additionally, we may recall that Old Testament judicial action could be taken on the basis of 2 or 3 eyewitnesses (see Deut. 19:15,  Num. 35:30, et.al).  In our own day, eyewitness testimony is no less important.  As it pertains to Christ, we have not 1, or even 2-3, but over 500!  Each testifying to the historical fact of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead.

This brings us to the third and final proof for the resurrection of Jesus Christ as defined and employed in the 15th Chapter of 1 Corinthians, namely the logical argument.  Again, there is an order to these proofs.  If Paul had placed logic first, or if Paul had placed experience first, perhaps his argument for proof would have been an appeal to man, but he doesn’t.  He begins with Scripture as the basis – an appeal to God- then to experience, and now engages the mind with a logical argument of why the resurrection must be true.  Within his own argumentation, Paul has now provided 3 witnesses for the testimony of the resurrection.

Reading through 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 we can summarize the logical flow of the argument as follows:

  • The passage utilizes at least 7, and possibly more, IF/THEN combinations or implied combinations to establish the logical conclusions of denying the resurrection of Christ.
  • The passage provides no less than 9 Consequences for denying the resurrection

This third proof is given more attention, likely because the Corinthians did not deny nor have difficulty with the first two.  The Apostle, always keenly aware of his audience realizes that the disconnect lies between the facts of Christ’s resurrection and the subsequent implications of it.  It is upon this third proof of the Apostles that we will direct our thoughts towards in the next post.

The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely fundamental to the gospel.  It is a non-negotiable for salvation.  It isn’t enough to believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins, you must believe He rose from the dead because, among many blessings and benefits, it validates His exclusivity as the Son of God and the sufficiency of His sacrifice. As chapter 15 unfolds, it will become clear how the Christian hope for their own bodily resurrection from the dead finds its source in the “first-fruits” of Jesus Christ.