A time for silence

About six weeks ago I found myself in a conversation that drifted into a topic that made me a bit uncomfortable.

I listened carefully and at one point thought I was going to have to respond, or more accurately, push back. But just as I was preparing to make my case, I had a strong gut feeling that I should remain quiet.

And that is what I did.

One day last week it became clear that staying quiet was exactly what I needed to do.

There is a time to speak out, no doubt; but there is also a time for silence.

I’m thankful I got it right, at least this time.

Discernment

The practice of discernment has become increasingly important to me in recent years. I have learned to value the process by which I make decisions and the process by which the church makes decisions. Sometimes I can act rashly. At others times I can get locked up and become indecisive. Discernment is more than decision making. It is seeking not only what is best for me or the church, but also, what is God’s will. Which way do we go? What are the consequences? How do we listen for God’s voice? Do we care where God leads?

Text and Pretext

I’m passing along another Stott quote, this one form one of my favorite of his works, The Preacher’s Portrait. Hard to believe he wrote these words in 1961.

“Although there are, strictly speaking, no prophets or apostles today, I fear there are false prophets and false apostles. They speak their own words instead of God’s Word. Their message originates in their own mind. These are men who like to ventilate their own opinions on religion, ethics, theology or politics. They may be conventional enough to introduce their sermon with a Scripture text, but the text bears little or no relation to the sermon which follows, nor is any attempt made to interpret the text in its context. It has been truly said that such a text without a context is a pretext.”

–John Stott from “The Preacher’s Portrait” (London: Tyndale Press, 1961), p. 13.

The Breath of His Mouth

“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness”
(2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

Not only do I obsess over the identity of “the man of lawlessness,” but also I obsess over his revealing. When was he revealed? Or perhaps more appropriately, when will he be revealed? Did it happen in the first century? The fourth century? Will it happen next week? At the end of time?

And it is difficult not to get carried away talking about this league with Satan. Here’s a topic I can chew on for a while – counterfeit miracles. Counterfeit miracles? Now just how does that work? I don’t know, but what’s more, there are counterfeit signs and wonders, too.

Suddenly I have this vision of Steve Martin in his bedazzled jacket!

Are you ready for a miracle? I’m ready as I can be!

It starts making sense when I consider those especially susceptible to the deception of the counterfeits have refused to love the truth. They have rejected salvation. That works, doesn’t it? They reject God, and so they are easily duped by some phony spectacle sent by Satan. But wait, here’s where it gets really confusing. Satan doesn’t send the delusion. So where does the delusion originate? God. That’s right; it is God who sends the powerful delusion. What’s up with that? I guess the best way for me to make sense of it is to understand God is not going to force Himself on anyone. If someone rejects Him, it is not out of character for God to give him what he wants. God can do that, even if it doesn’t make complete sense to me.

After all, God is God. And what’s more, I am not.

But there is something in this passage easy to miss as I pore over the words, looking for hidden clues about the lawless man’s identity and exposure. Something easy to miss as I wrestle with understanding the deep mysteries of God’s working through powerful delusions. It’s the power of the Lord Jesus. No matter how lost we get in the details of this most difficult to interpret passage, the simple truth is – God wins. The Lord Jesus is victorious. And how does the Lord Jesus win? What is the secret of His power? The Lord Jesus will overthrow the lawless man with “the breath of His mouth.” Imagine the power! I guess this shouldn’t be such a surprise to someone who believes that with His very breath God spoke the universe into existence and breathed life into mankind.

But the more I get wrapped up in all the theological arguing and the hermeneutical wrangling in this passage the more I become impressed with myself and my ability to think and reason and study and bring forth conclusions. And the best antidote that I know for being impressed with myself – my study, my arguments, and even my faith is seeing God afresh. And that’s what happens when I read those simple words about God’s breath. I realize I’m not so impressive after all. God is. And it’s when I begin to grasp that the Lord Jesus wins and He does so by the breath of His mouth that I realize the best things I can do are pray for His coming, prepare for His coming, and humble myself before the Almighty God.

The Spirit’s Fire

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

Treating prophesies with contempt and cynicism stifles the Holy Spirit. Such suppression of the Spirit was a temptation in the first century prior to the completion of the canon of scripture and it is a temptation for us today. Just as surely as one could scoff at a prophecy straight from God presented in Thessalonica, one can scoff cynically at a message from God’s word presented in Jackson.

Have you ever been around somebody who specialized in “putting out the Spirit’s fire?” Somebody cynical about preaching? Scoffing at preachers? Sarcastic with brothers and sisters in Christ? Skeptical to the point they can find something negative in just about everything? Scornful toward God’s family? Mocking the body of Christ?

Some who have grown up in a suspicious church-culture have decided they have had enough. And they have reacted to the disdainful attacks they have witnessed or experienced by deciding that nothing is worth a fight. The absence of conflict at all costs becomes the supreme virtue. Angry sermons sown by bitter preachers reap a dangerous harvest.

No, we should not be arrogant, contemptuous, or condescending in stifling the preaching of God’s word. But neither should we be so gullible that we check our brains at the door while walking into the assembly. Evaluate everything, carefully test it. When your testing uncovers good, you should hold on tight. When you find anything tainted with evil, you should avoid it.

Testing is hard work. It would be so much easier for someone else to do your work for you and just tell you what to believe. But who is testing those who want to think for you? What are the testing standards of those so eager to tell you what to accept? Have they personally tested everything? Are they relying on hear-say or second hand testimony? And even if they rightly have reached their conclusion, does that excuse you from the examination you are called to administer?

Scripture warns against false teachers and their dangerous teachings (for a couple of good examples, see 1Timothy 4:1-8 and 2 Timothy 3:6-9). Remember, you can recognize false teachers by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-23). This is not an exhaustive list, but a way to get started. False teachers love to argue and promote controversies (1 Timothy 1:3-7, 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-15; Titus 3:9-11). False teachers disobey the commands of Jesus, specifically the command to love (1 John 2:1-11). False teachers deny the deity or humanity of Christ (1 John 2:22-23, 4:1-3; 2 John 7-11). False teachers contradict the teachings of the apostolic message, for example, teaching a “gospel” of works-based salvation that enslaves rather than a gospel of freeing salvation based on grace and faith (Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1-6, 5:1-6, 5:12-15) or abusing grace as an excuse for sinful behavior (Romans 6:1-14).

What does all this mean? Don’t stifle the Spirit with your cynicism. Recognize it is a serious matter to contemptuously regard a message claiming to be from God. Testing these messages is important enough to put forth the mental and emotional energy and too important to leave to someone else who is enthusiastically waiting to tell you what to think. Check fruit — false teachers and their teaching can be recognized. When all is examined, hold the good and avoid the evil.