Tag Archives: D. A. Carson

Worship Wednesday – Standing Firm, Side by Side, Not Afraid – in God’s Strength and His Salvation

Photo Credit: Philipp M., Pexels

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. – the Apostle Paul to the Philippian Church Philippians 1:27-28

God’s Word is powerful and freeing. We are emboldened and sustained by it – for life, for love, for forgiveness, for endurance.

When I read this passage again a few days ago, a charge from these words sizzled through me like electricity. Goosebumps and all.

Another translation of Paul’s writing introduced the above Scripture passage with the phrase “Just one thing”. We are living in confusing and shaky times, but God is unchanged. His truth is as riveting and reliable as when first written for us.

For months now, we have been kept apart by the social distancing of COVID-19. Since last week, we have been brought together by the terrible loss of George Floyd. Brought together and at the same time torn apart. Protests and a pandemic. Racial unrest and a radical disease.

A group of friends and I are going through a Bible study together which has turned out to be incredibly timely. We can’t be together so we meet over a video call, working through Jennie Allen‘s Get Out of Your Head. In this book, Allen talks through our struggle with the kind of thoughts that spiral downward taking us with them. The text she takes her readers through is Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He was in prison and yet wrote this short life-transforming letter to encourage the church experiencing its own hardship.

In confusing and chaotic times, our thoughts can be our worst enemy. We juggle the “what if’s” until they become more than we can manage. We question what’s right, what’s true, what’s our place in all of it…what’s God’s place. We become suspicious of others’ motives, and even sometimes our own. We grow weary of sorting it all out. We can withdraw…making six feet apart way too easy.

Jennie Allen reminds us that we have a choice; we can flip the downward spiral. We can make our aim, in all things,God’s glory and His headship. Keeping our focus on God, we then seek peace, do justice, love even our enemies, and trust God with our lives (whether the threat is COVID and or violence in the streets).

“As theologian and emeritus professor D. A. Carson has observed, People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”Jennie Allen
So how do we avoid that drift Dr. Carson talked about above?
In community. Standing firm, side by side, not afraid – in God’s strength and His salvation – Philippians 1:27-28.
However, even if community is shaky, God never is. We remind ourselves and each other that He is our refuge and we never have to be shaken...no matter the situation.

Psalm 62 – Trust in God Alone

For the choir director; according to Jeduthan. A psalm of David

I am at rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will never be shaken.

How long will you threaten a man?
Will all of you attack
as if he were a leaning wall
or a tottering fence?
They only plan to bring him down
from his high position.
They take pleasure in lying;
they bless with their mouths,
but they curse inwardly. Selah

Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before Him.
God is our refuge. Selah

Common people are only a vapor;
important people, an illusion.
Together on a scale,
they weigh less than a vapor.
Place no trust in oppression
or false hope in robbery.
If wealth increases,
don’t set your heart on it.

God has spoken once;
I have heard this twice:
Strength belongs to God,
and faithful love belongs to You, Lord.
For You repay each according to his works.Psalm 62

Love Your Neighbor – the Audacity of Thinking We Are Always the Strong One…or the Weaker One

Blog - Strong or Weak

Photo Credit: PostCalvinist

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.Romans 14:1

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Romans 15:1

Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.1 Corinthians 8:9

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Jesus – Matthew 7:3-5

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
 – 1 Thessalonians 5:14

Whether you are a Christ-follower or not, there is so much wisdom in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles who wrote for the generations to follow.

Take his teaching on the weaker brother…his teaching is often directed to that “stronger brother”, but the wisdom is there for both of us. Through life, we may be one or the other, depending on how our thinking changes or how culture changes.

Many of the world religions require a certain works-based practice of those who would be devout. In Christianity, we are called to right living but we are not saved by right living. Because of what Jesus did to redeem us, we are free. Free to live, not under Law and its penalty when we fail, but to do righteousness out of love not obligation.

So what happens, when we experience the withering judgment of a seemingly legalistic “weaker” brother? Or on the flip side, the condescension of a “stronger” brother flaunting his freedom?

Social media (especially Facebook and Twitter) are brutally reflective of such biases, whatever our faith, culture, or politics. Here’s an area where I am that “weaker one”. Nowhere in Scripture are we forbidden generally from drinking alcoholic beverages. We are warned against drunkenness only. Years ago, I made a very conscious decision to stop drinking (for many reasons which may end up in my writing one day). Your drinking is not an issue for me…unless (here’s my weakness) it appears, through social media or from the pulpit, you flaunt your freedom in this way. I struggle with that. With so many of us, in the church and out, who have histories of addictions or loss related to addiction, I don’t understand that regaling of freedom. This is just one of my “weaker one” struggles. Any you want to share? Or “stronger one” struggles? We all have them.

Jesus and, in particular, the Apostle Paul are so clear on how we are to respond to each other – both weak and strong – with deference, love, and patience. Not enabling a legalistic clouding of what we are meant to have in Christ nor disabling our witness through arrogance or contempt.

In the article Who is the Weaker Brother? linked below, we are introduced to Garry Friesen’s teaching on the topic. In his book,  Decision Making and the Will of God, he points to four areas where we are either weak, or strong: conviction, biblical knowledge, conscience or will. If we limit our definition to just one of these areas, we also may err in how we deal, in patience, with each other.

From the Scripture, Friesen gives what he considers is God’s definition of the weaker brother: “A weaker brother (or sister) is a Christian who, because of the weakness of his faith, knowledge, conscience, and will, can be influenced to sin against his conscience by the example of a differing stronger brother.”

He then offers a like definition of the stronger brother: “The stronger brother (or sister) is a Christian who, because of his understanding of Christian freedom and the strength of his conviction, exercises his liberty in good conscience without being improperly influenced by the differing opinions of others.”

Both of these definitions encourages us to live in the freedom that we have through Christ and at the same time to seek unity with one another, even when we don’t agree. Especially in the area of  non-essential or disputable matters of preference.

One last distinction Friesen makes relates to what we see in Scripture as a “stumbling block”. This phrase is used in the active and passive. The stronger one in the faith is NOT to intentionally place a stumbling block in the path of a weaker one; i.e. not intentionally trying to influence a person to stumble, or sin. However, the weaker one is also NOT to take offense by the one who attempts to cause him to stumble. This is the beautiful teaching of Christ. The both/and of the Gospel. The call to love, no matter what.

Blog - weaker or stronger - stumbling block - lionhearteaglePhoto Credit: LionHeartEagle

Finally, in Adam Miller’s piece Mishandled – the Weaker Brother (linked below), he distinguishes between a truly weaker brother and three impostors. They are the legalistic weaker brother, the professional weaker brother, and the illusive weaker brother. Take the time to read these brief definitions of those of us who consider ourselves “weaker brothers” (or sisters) but who are really acting in ways that divide the church (or community). Miller also references one of the great sermons of D. A. Carson where he addresses those who would detract from the beautiful sufficiency of Christ to restore us to God.

When I think of how Christ calls us to love our neighbor, He calls us not just to those who are so like us we could see them in our own mirrors. He calls us to those “weaker” and “stronger” than us. It is an easy thing for me to love and hang out with those who agree with me. How much more God means for us to lean in to those with whom we struggle because of their life choices, or elevated (or demeaning) sense of self, or stations in life.

Can we do that…without compromising or stumbling in our faith? We can if our love for Christ is rock-solid and we allow Him to mark out the boundaries of our lives. If He is our example, He will fill our lives with both the weaker and the stronger…for our good and theirs, and for His glory…as He’s promised.

Who Is the Weaker Brother? Excellent Review of Garry Friesen’s book – Decision Making and the Will of God – on the Section Dealing With this Topic

Mishandled – The Weaker Brother (Part 2) by Adam Miller

The Weaker and Stronger Brothers (Parts 1, 2, and 3) by J. Gordon Duncan

How to Welcome a Weak Brother by John Piper

Go, Ye, Therefore and Be Enablers – This is a hair-raiser. A very different view than I have taken but one that may be familiar to you.

Decision Making and the Will of God – Garry Friesen – 25th Anniversary Expanded Edition