This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?(ESV)
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Thursday of Pentecost 15
10 September 2015
The Christian message is easily misunderstood. It is not an earthly message. It does not fit with our fallen presuppositions. We are reticent to believe what it says. We easily despise it. We desire to "dumb it down" to suit our needs. This desire to dumb down results in oversimplification; the simplification of that which is irreducibly complex. This is why the more we think we have mastered the Master's story, the less likely it is that we have mastered it. The message must master us if we are to be the Master's.
Some years ago a pastor began to chat with the man sitting next to him on an airplane. The conversation got around to profession: "What do you do for a living?" "Oh, I am a Lutheran pastor." The pastor gave a short, but clear summary of what the church teaches about the work of Christ dying to save humanity by His suffering, death and resurrection. The man replied all that was well and good, but that that he certainly understood what the Christian message was all about: "The Christian teaching is 'do unto others what you would have them do unto you.'" When the pastor asked the man what he did for a living, he said that he was an astrophysicist doing research on a particular nebula in a galaxy adjacent to ours. He went on for the entire flight explaining to the hapless pastor the details of his research. When they touched down the astrophysicist asked the pastor what he thought of this explanation, to which the pastor replied, "I know all about astrophysics. It can easily be summarized in a few words: 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star.'" Oversimplification will not suffice.
Could we try to reduce law and gospel or sin and grace to a single thing? What would a mélange like that look like? How would we reduce the law to anything other than a sentence of death against the sinner (2Co 3:7
)? How could we summarize the gospel in terms of the law? Then what would we have? It is a bit like mixing oil and water. How would this work? It wouldn't. Want to gum up your car's engine? Mix radiator fluid with oil and put it into the crankcase. It would enormously simplify engine maintenance if you don't have to maintain both the cooling system and engine lubrication, but simply mixing all the fluids together at once. But with all oversimplification, a great deal of damage will occur. Authentic interpretation of the Christian faith will always divide rightly between the law and the gospel, sin and grace. We will preach the law in such a way that our people will see that they owe an obedience to God that results in sacrificial service to the neighbor. We will preach the gospel so that we free consciences burdened by the law. That preaching may not be simplified in such a way so that they are merged into one thing. If we do, a great deal of damage will occur.
"It is difficult and dangerous to teach that we are justified by faith without works and yet at the same time to require works. Here except the ministers of Christ are faithful and prudent and are "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1Co 4:1
), who rightly divide the Word of truth (2Ti 2:15
), they will instantly confuse faith and love. Both topics, faith and works, must be diligently taught and urged, but in such a way that they both remain within their limits. If only works are taught, as happened under the papacy, faith is lost. If faith alone is taught, unspiritual men will immediately dream that works are not necessary. Above the apostle began to exhort to good works and to say that the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal 5:14
"Here it could come to the mind of someone: 'Throughout the epistle Paul is taking righteousness away from the law. He says: "A man is not justified by works of the law" (Gal 2:16). And again: "All who rely on works of the law are under a curse" (Gal 3:10). But now, when he says that the whole law is fulfilled in one word, he seems to have forgotten the cause he has set forth in this entire epistle and to maintain exactly the opposite, namely, that those who do works of love fulfill the Law and are righteous.'"
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 5.15
Lord Jesus Christ, You have sent us Your Word which is law and gospel. Help us to faithfully proclaim the full counsel of God, that Your flock might be led by Your Word rather than human opinion. Amen.
For the Council of Presidents of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod who are meeting next week, that the council would be led by the divine Word
For students in institutions of higher learning everywhere, that they might delight in the gifts of inquiry and its joys, that they might be led into all truth
For Larry Wright, who will be undergoing serious surgery, that the Lord Jesus would strengthen him in body and soul and grant him healing in accordance with His good and gracious will
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015