Faith

Respect & Gentleness: Two Critical Evangelistic Postures

Gospel witness is privilege and imperative. Called to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us from darkness to light we are ambassadors for Christ. Peter reminds us that the medium of the message is very important. He puts in front of us two critical evangelistic postures that need emphasis.

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15).

Gentleness should mark the sharing of our faith with others. To grasp this important posture and character trait we need to look at the original language and the New Testament examples of it.

The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament says this about the Greek word translated as gentleness (πραΰτης).

“Praǘtēs, according to Aristotle, is the middle standing between two extremes, getting angry without reason, and not getting angry at all. Therefore, praǘtēs is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason. Praǘtēs is not readily expressed in English (since the term “meekness” suggests weakness), but it is a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power. It is a balance born in strength of character.”

The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament defines gentleness as “a quality of gentle friendliness, as strength that accommodates to another’s weakness, consideration.”

Gentleness is not a lack of power, it is not weakness. It is strength under control. It is power employed for the sake of others. It is discernible in balance. It is a close cousin to humility. It is welcoming and hospitable. It is intimate with kindness and well acquainted with self-control.

The New Testament utilizes the language of gentleness around 30 times. Gentleness is a quality of God (2 Sam 22:36, Ps 18:35, Is 40:11) manifest most clearly in the person of Christ (Matt 11:29, 2 Cor 10:1). It is also characteristic of the Holy Spirit who works that same quality out in us (Gal 5:23).

It is a posture necessary to walk worthy of our calling (Eph 4:2, Tit 3:2, 1 Pet 3:4). It needs to be present when correcting a brother/sister who is straying into sin (Gal 6:1). It is the indicator of true wisdom (James 3:17). It is the mark of good ministry (1 Thess 2:7) and good pastors (1 Tim 3:3).

Respect is clear and more directly carries over into English. The word for respect (φόβος) is often translated as fear, reverence or honor. It speaks to holding another in high regard, to treating with dignity, and valuing highly. In the context it may refer to our reverence for God in our sharing or to the dignity we grant everyone with whom we share. Both are true and may be contained within the text.

Respect and gentleness are a compelling duo in evangelism. When emphasizing how we share and defend our faith Peter pulls these two characteristics center stage. Together they create parameters that ensure that the gospel alone is the only stumbling block for those hearing the message (1 Cor 1:23).

The Sweeping Call to Honor

Honor all. Two words, a command and the object of the command (1 Pet 2:17). God’s word through Peter is an imperative (τιμήσατε) to all Christians: HONOR. The object of the command (πάντας) is sweeping: ALL.

In the context, ruling authorities and human institutions are in mind. However, the “all” broadens it out to include human beings without exception. All human beings of different ages, genders, ethnicities and talents are image bearers infused with great dignity.

Honor is naturally due an image bearer of the Creator, here that honor is reinforced with a command. People should walk away feeling many things after having engaged a follower of Christ, not least among these is honor. Christian, honor all.

Wisdom from Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer shares a nugget of wisdom in his Papers and Letters from Prison. The proper way to view other human beings is through a particular lens colored by humility, self-awareness and compassion. See what he has to see about the matter.

The man who despises another will never be able to make anything of him. Nothing that we despise in the other man is entirely absent from ourselves. Why have we hitherto thought so intemperately about man and his frailty and temptability? We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer. The only profitable relationship to others — and especially to our weaker brethren — is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them. God himself did not despise humanity, but became man for men’s sake.

Washington’s First Presidential Act

In George Washington’s first inaugural address he expresses deep humility regarding the task at hand and publicly turns his attention heavenward as the first step in his journey. Washington’s first presidential act is an instructive moment in history.

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station; it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.

Gospel Strength

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

In one sentence Paul pulls back the curtain on the link between strength and the gospel (2 Tim 2:1). What can we learn from Paul’s words to Timothy?

  • The source of strength in this text is grace. Paul affirms here that the journey of the Christian is by “grace alone.” In other places, Paul asserts that we are “saved by grace” (Eph 2-8-10). Here he shows us that we are “strengthened by grace.” The journey begins and continues by grace.
  • The grace that Paul speaks of is that which is located in Christ Jesus. Here he pushes us toward a gospel-centered understanding of strength. The grace of God is found in the message of the incarnate, crucified, risen and exalted Lord. As we press into the gospel of our salvation, meditate on it, study it, internalize it, speak it to one another, trust it and allow it to permeate our hearts and minds we are strengthened.
  • The word translated “be strengthened” is the present passive imperative form of a verb that is concerned with being strong (ἐνδυναμοῦ). Paul commands Timothy toward strength and yet, Timothy’s role is passive. Strength is required of us, it is a command. Strength comes to us, it is a gift. Timothy is called upon here to unfurl the sails of faith and position himself to catch gospel wind. The call here is to strategically position ourselves to be reminded of the gospel of God. We are to put ourselves in situations where reading, hearing, speaking and believing the gospel is sure to happen.
  • Strength comes from the gospel. Weakness must also be gauged by the gospel. Proximity to the gospel determines both strength and weakness. Full battery on a cell phone indicates recent close proximity to its power source, just as low battery indicates distance from its power source. Paul is helping us grasp that weakness is no mystery in the Christian journey. When we are far from the gospel we will certainly be weak. When we are near the gospel we will certainly be strengthened.

The Gospel and the Beauty of God’s People

We have established that God in himself is uncreated and eternal beauty. Man made in his image is created beauty intended to reflect him. The image of God in man is essential to understanding the pinnacle of created beauty in the world. The whole of creation speaks to us about the glory and beauty of God. But none of this beauty is comparable to that of the human being.

This beauty, however, has been marred since the image of God within us has been fractured. As broken image bearers we stand in need of God’s mending work. The solution to our distorted image is found in Christ, the true image-bearer, who comes to restore us. There is a strand of New Testament thought that links together Christ, the image of God, and our salvation.

The apostle tells us explicitly that Jesus is “the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4, 1 Cor 15:49, Col 1:15, 2 Cor 3:18). Jesus was a perfect man who yielded to no temptation (Heb 4:15), never sinned (1 Pet 2:22) and lived a life of unbroken worship and obedience before the Father (Rom 5:18-20). This means that Jesus was and is the perfect image bearer. When we look at Jesus we see what a human being was intended to be.

His life of perfect image bearing was lived in our place as our representative. His perfect life and his sacrificial death are equally necessary for our salvation (Heb 2:5-18, Rom 5:17-21). His life and death are in fact a dual substitution. He lived as a blameless image bearer and died in the place of broken image bearers. In his death he received in himself the punishment due every fractured image bearer (Note the connection between Romans 1:18-32, Rom 3:23-25, and Rom 8:28-32).

The problem with a fractured image is that it no longer gives a true reflection of that which it was created to reveal. We tell horrendous lies about God with our lives though we were created to reveal the truth about him. Jesus, the true image bearer, lived a life that told nothing but the truth about God.

In his death, however, he died like the biggest liar in the world. God piled upon him all the sin of our broken imaging. Indeed, he became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). He took this upon himself and the Father consumed him with wrath, punishing him in our stead. Then the Son rose from the grave with a glorified body (1 Cor 15: 42-48) to complete our justification (Rom 4:25).

The New Testament teaches that the Spirit of God regenerates men and creates faith in them in order to unite them to the Jesus (1 Jn 5:1, Eph 2:8-10). Once united to Christ all that is his becomes ours and all that is ours becomes his (Rom 6:1-12). His righteousness and perfection is now ours while our sin and filth is swallowed up in him (2 Cor 5:21). Through Christ we are considered perfect and blameless (Col 1:22). God sees us in Jesus as perfect image bearers once again.

The reality of our perfect standing before God progressively becomes a reality in our experience here and now. Paul tells us that this was God’s predetermined plan. “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his son” (Rom 8:29). Through the gospel and suffering the Spirit molds us into the image of Christ. As we behold the glory of the Lord in the gospel we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

As we suffer hardship God works all these sufferings for our good that we might finally be molded in to Christ’s likeness (Rom 8:28-32). The Spirit labors within us aiding us in putting off the old man and putting on the new man, which is “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:10, Eph 4:23-24). At the final resurrection we will put off forever our mortal bodies and be clothed with immortality. It is here that the image of God within us will be fully and finally renewed. For it is at the resurrection that we will “bear the image of the man from heaven” (1 Cor 15:49, see the larger context of 1 Cor 15:42-58).

Implications   

  • Jesus is the one in whom the beauty of God is deposited. Since Jesus is the perfect image bearer it follows that he is the fullest expression of God’s beauty. Once again we see that an accurate definition of beauty must be centered in Jesus.
  • Since Jesus is fully and perfectly human it follows that he shows us what human beauty genuinely looks like. What does this mean for beauty? It means it is not restricted to gender, it is not preoccupied with the physical (though it includes this), it is tied to character, it is not static but active, and at heart it is sacrificial service for another’s good.
  • The beauty of God in Jesus Christ saves the world. The place where beauty is most clearly displayed is the same place where God restores the beauty of this fallen world. Begbie puts it like this: “In Jesus Christ is the measure of divine beauty, so also of created beauty. In Jesus Christ, divine beauty has, so to speak, got to grips with the wounded and deformed beauty of the world; in the incarnate Son, crucified, risen, and now exalted, we witness God’s re-creation of the world’s beauty.”[1]
  • Jesus provides all that is necessary for broken image bearers to be restored. By faith in Christ we are reckoned righteous, clean, and whole before God. Jesus makes us beautiful by saving us. The beauty of humanity is once again a gift that comes from outside of us. The work of both creation and new creation are the work of God. God alone creates and recreates beauty.
  • Beauty is here connected to the saving work of God in our lives. The Spirit is laboring within us with the tools of gospel and suffering to make us more and more like Jesus. It is a beautiful thing to be regenerated, justified, sanctified, and ultimately glorified. We are God’s workmanship and we reflect the beauty of his handiwork. Beauty is not something we strive after it is something given us in Christ. In position, we are considered beautiful because we are united to Christ. In experience, we are progressively being conformed to the image of Christ. In other words, we reflect who we are in Christ more and more as we follow after God. The beauty of the Christian does not fluctuate. Gregory of Nyssa nailed it on this point. “He has transferred unto himself the filth of my sins, and communicated unto me his purity, and made me a partaker of his beauty.” We are participants in his beauty and this cannot be altered. As the Spirit sustains our faith in the gospel and produces the obedience of faith in us he works out the beauty that is already ours in Christ. We do not become more beautiful we simply manifest what we are in Jesus. Through Christ we hold the position of beautiful image bearers and it is this reality that works its way out in our practice.
  • Glorification is the final stage of restoring the image of God within us. This is significant for a few reasons. First, this confirms the fact that the image of God includes the whole person. It is not enough to be renewed within we must also be renewed from without. Apart from restored bodies the image of God would still be broken. Second, it follows that beauty is also external and physical. There is a unique beauty to the resurrected existence of Christ. Paul refers to his resurrected body as “glorious” (Phil 3:21). At his return our bodies will be conformed to the beauty and glory of his (Phil 3:21, 1 Jn 3:2). One day we will “shine like the sun” in the Kingdom of God (Matt 13:43). Just like the angels and Moses reflected the light of God’s beauty when coming from his presence so shall we. Our bodies will reflect the luminescence of Christ’s glorified body. Third, all of this points to the fact that even physical beauty is a reflective beauty that comes from God. There are three components to the physical beauty of glorification: conformity to the glorified body of Christ, the reflective radiance of seeing God and residing in his presence, and the restored cohesion of both internal and external elements of an individual.

This exploration into the theme of beauty has not been comprehensive. But it has provided us with the necessary anchor points for constructing a framework for a theology of beauty. We can identify these anchor points as the nature of the Triune God, the image of God, the person of Christ, the cross of Christ, union with Christ, the church and the doctrine of glorification.

We have viewed each of these doctrines under the umbrella of God’s nature, dwelling, and people. By taking this angle on the question of beauty we have learned some new and fresh things. It is my hope that your thinking on beauty has been challenged, shaped, and sharpened. Now we need to put this framework to action—hence the next posts on the theology of beauty in action.


[1] Jeremy Begbie in The Beauty of God: Theology and Arts, 27. Bruno Forte agrees. “Crucified beauty leads us back to Beauty at the end victorious.” The Portal of Beauty, 119.

 

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Creator

Encouragement is an underestimated force in our lives. It has the power to redirect our steps, change our future, eclipse our past and fill our present with courage. Scripture calls us to the great work of infusing hope in others through encouragement. In the next four posts we will develop a biblical framework for thinking on and practicing encouragement.Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM

When you think about the most encouraging character in the Bible who comes to mind? Barnabas. Guaranteed it’s Barnabas. He was so encouraging that they renamed him “the son of encouragement.” But you see, Barnabas is a pale reflection, a faint whisper of the Greatest Encourager.

When building a framework you start with the foundation.

Take a look at this text from Romans 15:5-6, it provides the starting point for our discussion.

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Encouragement in this verse is a descriptor of the character and nature of God himself. It does not merely say that God does some encouraging here and there. It says that he is the Encouraging God—the God who encourages…we are talking about a posture, a way of existing, a way of interacting.

The most encouraging being in existence is God himself. The storyline of Scripture is replete with examples of a God who encourages, who infuses hope and who instills courage. How encouraging were the strolls with God in the garden? How encouraging was it when the original rebellion was met with clothing for naked bodies and a promise of a Serpent-Crusher?

What about the safety of the ark, the rainbow reminder that the earth will never be flooded again? What about the promise and birth of Isaac? Don’t forget the Exodus, the taking of the promised land, the provision of the tabernacle and temple, the rise of righteous kins, the comforting words of the prophets and the promises of a coming Messiah.

The Encouraging God bursts onto the scene in the incarnation—he comes walking in the flesh. In Christ we see what divine encouragement looks like. We see it in his words and actions. Read the gospels, watch Christ interact and you will see encouragement. In the good news we find our greatest encouragement, something we will see further into our blog series. The New Testament letters are filled with encouragement flowing from the gospel for the church.

The New Testament ends with a burst of encouragement. The return of Christ, the future hope, the new heavens and new earth, the end of sorrow, the presence of God, and an eternity of hope! In the next few posts we will look at four pillars of encouragement throughout Scripture. There are many anchor points we could focus on, but I have chosen four that explicitly link the language of encouragement to their themes. At the root of all encouragement is our Creator, God himself. He is the great Encourager—everything we will explore flows out of his heart and his activity.