"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Imitation Invites Intimacy

A question.  Is it correct to reckon the Lord as a distant lighthouse, toward whom we sail tirelessly across a tumultuous, inky expanse?  This risks violating the spirit of some 1930s hymn, perhaps, but the simplest answer is "no."  If we are not lovers and followers of Christ, then our course across these hypothetical waters is as dark as our hearts.  If, however, we are Jesus' mothers and brothers and sisters, as He Himself described (Matt. 12:46-50), then He is - wonder of wonders - already with us, with us in this very instant.

The zenith of our religious experience, then, is not to be had in bending a quiet knee before a cold statue in some hushed place, nor yet in that prideful glow of deservedness that sometimes goads people into trying good works (they call it karma).  The wonder of our spiritual experience issues from the truth that God is with us and that we may know Him.  We may worship and serve Him directly; we may understand the humanly discernible parts of His character, and we may even be assured by His Spirit, who dwells within us, of His love for us.  Incredible! 

It is no wonder, then, that Christians are designed to desire nearness with God.  We know from Philippians 4:5 that God is near to His children, but we also know from James 4:8 that we may, with our choices, widen that nearness.  Even a very young believer knows the dull ache that comes from distance with the Lord, and a very mature believer recognizes that even one's best days do not usually foster the immense closeness with God that we grow to desire. 

How, then, do we strengthen our spiritual intimacy with our Creator and Savior?  Paul proclaims that God is near in Philippians 4:5, as we mentioned, and four verses later, he delivers these useful words:  "the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things and the God of peace will be with you."  Imitate my teachings and my actions, says Paul, and you invite the intimacy and intervention of God. 

A word of encouragement to the two involved parties in this transaction described in Philippians 4:9:

To the everyday believer:
This is not a mystical stream which we are to tap; this is obedience from the heart, by the power of the Spirit, to the precepts of Scripture - that obedience which is classified as love toward our God (John 15:14), and which is not, to our hearts, a cumbersome affair (1 John 5:3).  Of course our God will be with us, providing aid and comfort, as we avow our love for Him through ready, willing compliance to His righteous standards! 

A note about the specific obedience urged here in Philippians 4:  it is centered upon adherence to Paul's godly teaching, of course, but also upon his godly example.  When we regard the godly examples in our lives of those who teach us, like Paul, with the eye of biblical discernment, we are afforded a vista of biblical truth in action.  This is the idea of epignosis in the Greek - God's truth married with the godly experience that demonstrates that truth (we have looked at this in Phil. 1:9 before).  This is indeed a powerful blessing - to see God's Word for His people upheld and proven in the life of someone strong in the faith.  It brings encouragement and rejoicing in times of temptation, and it speaks to the wisdom and necessity of placing oneself in the care of godly teachers.

To the preacher of the Word:
One word comes to mind for the teachers of God's truth:  integrity.  Paul declared biblical truth; he imparted it verbally to the Philippians, and they received it, but they also had seen it working in his life, and had heard of its truth in his life (perhaps even from other believers outside of their community).  This was truly a man who exhibited a comforting sameness in his life - who lived by the same principles and truths that he laid upon others, whatever his (often difficult and sobering) circumstances. 

How simple a matter it is for a pastor to soil his own reputation by means of disqualifying sin!  How easy it is for him to squander and diminish his credibility by demonstrating that he does not cherish those principles which issue from his pulpit with as much fervor as he urges upon his own congregation!  Integrity, that non-negotiable, is as sweet and inviting as its absence is sour and foreboding.

God has truly blessed His people with the gifts of godly fellowship and example.  How wondrous indeed that He would give us the church, the bride of Christ, and would use the teaching and examples of godly preachers in her midst to invite His children into greater intimacy with Himself, our heart's desire!


Susan said...

Hi Josh! I'm glad I found your blog today. What a nice place of refreshment :)

Josh said...

Thanks for your kind words, Susan!

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