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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My 'Hagarian' Concern

In Genesis 16 we have the account of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar.  The plan of God is rejected by Sarai and in her fleshly desire she seeks a way of offspring by her servant Hagar.  Sarai believed the only way to obtain offspring was for her husband Abram to go into her servant Hagar and conceive a child.  The result of this ungodly direction was extreme tension within the home.  When Hagar knew that she had conceived she looked with contempt upon Sarai.  Sarai did not take to kindly to this scenario and began to express her displeasure.  Sarai vents her anger upon Abram and Abram turns Hagar over to the will of Sarai.  Sarai explodes upon Hagar and treats her harshly.  Sarai was mean enough to cause Hagar to run away and seek to go back home.

Hagar was willing to take off across the wilderness towards Egypt to get out of the presence of Sarai.  The wilderness that she was to cross is described by Moses as, "the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock"(Deut. 8:15).  Jeremiah says, "And now what do you gain by going to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile" (Jer. 2:18)?  It can be justly argued that Sarai's actions are wrong and deserving of justice.  A person can understand why Hagar would want out of this situation.  The tension in Abram's tent surely increased daily and there existed anamosity between the two women and surely there was some bad feelings toward Abram from each of the women.

What is the counsel of the angel of the Lord?  First, it is the angel of the Lord who found her.  Second, the angel of the Lord addresses her as servant/slave of Sarai.  Humility answers to a true identity and pride rebels against that which goes against the flesh.  Hagar could have responded by saying, "I am no servant/slave of Sarai.  That woman did me wrong and ruined my life and I will never serve her and I will never go back".  Hagar did not respond in that way, but rather by listening to the voice of the angel of the Lord.  Third, the angel rebukes her departure (cf. Ecc. 10:4).  This is an astounding scenario.  It seems that Hagar is justified in her departure, but yet the Lord rebukes her for departing.  The angle of the Lord tells her not only to 'return/repent', but also to submit.  This phrase would be the number one phrase that the flesh would hate.  Return and submit goes against the flesh and causes anger to rise to the top.

The Lord is the one who called Abram and put him in the position that he is in.  Out of all the thousands upon the earth, Abram is chosen of God and the covenant is with him.  Abram is not perfect nor is his wife, as this story and many others would confirm.  The covenant is based upon God's calling rather than the work of man.  If Hagar flees from the tent of Abram, where will she go?  What can possibly be gained by leaving the place that God has established and returning to the world which is opposed to God?  Countless are the souls of men who have run from the local church that God has established to return to the world which is opposed to God.

I have heard countless stories of why people leave the local church and they all sound like justifiable reasons to leave.  The pastor is an idiot.  The people were unfriendly.  The church was not going in the direction that I believe they ought to be going in.  The deacons run the church.  Mrs. so-and-so is in charge of everything.  The money is being used for things that I do not approve of.  The list can go on for quite some time and these statements are usually made by those who have left churches many times before.  The one common denominator is that it is never their fault.  The fault of their departing the local church is always the fault of someone else.  One wonders why people who always know a better way to do things do not start their own church where they can show everyone else how to do it.  No, most generally they either depart to never return to any local church or they join another church and stay until they find the faults with that one.

The greatest demonstration of mercy for people who run from the local church would be for them to be stopped by the living God and told to repent/return to their local church and submit.  Certainly there are valid justifiable positions for leaving a local church, but on the whole most people need to repent and submit.  Countless people will never experience genuine renewal, revival, and reconciliation until they return to their local church and submit.  Abram and Sarai made no effort to retrieve Hagar, but it was the Lord who told her to return and submit.  Oh, that the Lord of glory would press upon a souls heart today that they must "return to their local church and submit to her". 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Marriage and the Local Church

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
(Eph 5:32 ESV)
I recently spent some time with Jono Sims and Barry King and our conversations kept returning to the subject of the local church.  Jono preached upon this subject while we were in Illinois at the Encouraged to Endure Conference and Barry King is a man that God is using to start churches in London, England.  As I have reflected upon the sermon by Jono and the conversations that I had with both of these men I simply cannot get away from the text in Ephesians 5:32.

Paul uses the analogy of marriage from 5:22-33 to teach an unmistakable truth about the gospel and about the local church.  In brief bullet statements we should recount the marriage analogy and then apply it to the local church.  Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.  Husbands, love you wives as Christ loved the church.  After explaining how Christ loved the church the husband is told again to love his wife even as he loves his own body.  The man is to καταλείπω (separate/leave behind) his father and mother and προσκολλάω (to adhere to closely, be faithfully devoted to [BDAG]) to his wife.  This union is of such closeness that Paul would say that they are to become  μια (one/ a single person) flesh.  Lastly, Paul again says that the husband is to love his wife as himself and the wife is to respect/fear her husband. 

Now we can apply this to Christ and the local church.  A believer is to love Christ and his church.  A believer is to separate/leave his old alliances (world, devil, sin, unhealthy relationships, etc.) and he is to be devoted to Christ and His church.  As a husband loves his own wife so a believer is to love Christ and his own local church.  As a husband cares for his wife (sacrifice, sanctifying her, cleansing her) so a believer is to care for his local church.  A believer has not only come into a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, but he has also come into relationship with a local church.  The church has spots, blemishes, and wrinkles, but this does not justify a man to hop from church to church.  A husbands responsibility is to be the spiritual leader.  A spiritual leader does not lead a wife of perfection, but a wife who is imperfect.  It is simply a matter of reality that a marriage has difficulty and those who work through the difficulties experience the joy of a more beautiful relationship.  A husband cannot simply hop from one wife to another when things get difficult.  A true husband lays down his life on the behalf of his wife, because he loves her.  The true believer lays down his life for the local church, because he loves Christ.  As sinful as it is for a man to always be looking for a better wife, it is just as sinful for a believer to always be looking for another church. 

There are a few permissible grounds for a marriage to end.  One reason for a marriage to end is for an unbeliever to depart (1 Cor. 7:15), but in that case the person should remain single.  A second reason for a marriage to end is that one of the partners dies (1 Cor. 7:39).  Lastly, a marriage may end upon the account of sexual immorality (Matt. 19:9).  If you terminate your relationship with your local church you will need some clear grounds to do so.  First, you have have to be able to substantiate clear grounds that your church is a group of unbelievers (thus, not a church) who have gone after the world.  Second, you would have to have clear evidence that your church died (Word is not faithfully preached, ordinances are not upheld, and a fellowship of accountability is not a reality).   Lastly, you would need clear proof that your church has gotten into bed with worldliness and refuses to repent out of it. 

I pray that you will evaluate your relationship with Christ and your local church.  Do you value your church as a man who loves his wife or do you simply view the church as something you use for your own selfish benefit?  Do you leave the local church every time things do not go your way?  Do you find yourself looking around the community in hopes of finding greener grass on the other side?  I pray that you will be a person of resolve and say, "come hell or high water I am committed to Christ and the local church where Christ has placed me".