"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Month: October 2011

Servants of the Gospel

“This is the gospel . . . of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” (Colossians 1:23, NIV)

We often speak of being servants of Christ, servants of God or even being servants of one another for Christ’s sake. But how often do we think of ourselves as servants of the gospel?

These words of Paul take my mind back to Luke’s words as he opens his Gospel. He spoke of men who were “servants of the word” (Luke 1:2).

What do servants do?

What they are told!

How do servants think?

As their master does!

How do servants spend their time?

In whatever way their master demands!

Ponder that again: servants of the gospel; servants of the word.

The gospel gives the orders. We rise and obey.

The gospel sends the signals. We watch, looking for our cues (“as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,” Psalm 123:2, ESV).

We jump at the gospel’s bidding.

The gospel is in charge.

The gospel determines.

The gospel issues assignments, tasks and duties.

The gospel determines where we live, how we live, under what conditions we live.

Aren’t those the things a master does?

Sounds strange, perhaps, to our American Christian ears. I wonder what would happen if we truly understood just how good the good news of the gospel really is? Perhaps we’d better understand the spiritual reflex of service which the gospel, rightly understood, woos from us.

Revival and Theology

What is the relationship between revival and rich theology? Between a fresh, heaven-sent outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit and doctrinal purity and precision? Between living faith and sound doctrine? Between spiritual experience and Biblical truth?

Some seem to consider the two as polar opposites, working one against the other. If you try to bring the similarly charged ends of two magnets together and if the magnetic charge is not too great, you can intentionally hold the two together. But the moment you release your grip or let your attention wander they spin away from one another in opposite directions, repelled one from the other.

But is this a necessary relationship when it comes to revival and theology? Is this God’s doing? Is this God’s intention? Or is this something we’ve freighted both revival and theology with, something neither was designed to carry?

Paul repeatedly, especially in his later letters, makes a plea for “sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1), “sound teaching” (1 Tim. 1:10), and “sound words” (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13).

By speaking of “the faithful word” (Tit. 1:9a) the Apostle underscores that fidelity is something essential to the nature of this “word.” But fidelity to what? Paul’s words imply a standing body of recognized truth which calls for loyalty and love, for allegiance and affection.

The trajectory of such logic is precisely correct for Paul says that “the faithful word” is “in accordance with” something he refers to simply as “the teaching” (1:9b). The literal word order of the Greek text is “the according-to-the-teaching faithful word.” The “word” under consideration is the one which jibes with what Paul and the other Apostles have taught (and is given to us by God in the pages of the New Testament). This differentiates it from the content of the false teachers (vv.10-16). Its conformity to the apostolic teaching is what makes this “the faithful word.” It is “faithful” in that it is in conformity to the apostolic teaching. But the adjective “faithful” is also qualifies “word.” Thus “the word” is qualified twice—this is not just any word, but the “faithful” one and that which distinguishes it as “faithful” is that it is “in accordance with the teaching.”

But this all sounds so, what shall we say, bookish? Dead? Sterile? So un-alive!

But this is a false echo, for “sound doctrine,” says Paul, is something that we are to be “nourished ” on (1 Tim. 4:6). That is to say, “sound doctrine” gives life! So revival and theology are not polar opposites after all! Indeed, the word translated “nourished” comes from the realm of parenthood and education. It is what parents strive to achieve in their children and what educators aim to produce in their pupils. They see a better future toward which they long to send their child or pupil, so they nourish them in the truth that will guide them to that future.

Revival will never be achieved by dotting our doctrinal i’s and cross our theological t’s. Church history, if nothing else, has taught us this. Scripture itself holds before us the persnickety Pharisees of Jesus’ day as an example of the deadness of such a pursuit. We cannot define our way into a movement of the Spirit. Let us be clear on this point.

But, with equal energy let us affirm that neither will we be revived by abandoning the diligent, collective, corporate pursuit of truth. Good, solid, Scriptural theology is not an ideal which would be nice to arrive at, but which is pragmatically impossible. As I argue vigorously in Revival in the Rubble, the Bible makes clear that genuine revival is always marked by a return to God’s Word with a ravenous hunger to know what He has said. Church history, I believe, will bear this out as well.

What we seek is truth to which our experience must bow and truth from which our experience must arise.


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