Just today, for maybe the fifth time in the last week, I was asked what I was seeing and what did I think was happening in the churches. It is hard not to generalize but, in a nutshell, we see many who seem content with a Christian life that is merely superficial and are unwilling to grow up spiritually. On the other hand there are those who manifest a deepening hunger for spiritual maturity; they really want to grow up into Christ in every way (Ephesians 4:15).
This contrast is evident in so many Sunday services. So much is pitched at a shallow level, “for the babe,” or “for the seeker,” or “to appeal to the younger people and keep them in the church,” these are among the common explanations for this tendency. Yet, in the very same services there are those who long for something more substantial, and it is not just one age group who verbalize their desire to really hear consistent and edifying truth coming from the heart of God on a Sunday morning. A sure sign of true Christian life in a ‘church attendee’ is the desire to grow up; they are satisfied in Jesus and unsatisfied at the same time. Content in the Lord and yet thirsting for more of Him. What a contrast of apparent opposites this is; yet antitheses are characteristic of increasing maturity in Christ. On a number of occasions I have come across the saying, attributed by some to Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French Christian, mathematician and philosopher, “no man is strong unless he bears within his character antitheses strongly marked.” What a profound statement that is and brings us up with a jolt as we consider it.
[superquote]“no man is strong unless he bears within his character antitheses strongly marked.”[/superquote]
Have you looked at the life of Jesus and noticed how antitheses, that is, apparent opposites are so evident? There is a kind of tension between His tenderness and firmness for example. If we are going to mature in God then a balance of opposite qualities held in happy tension must emerge in us. How often in the Scriptures we see joined together pairs of words that seem to be opposites or if not opposites, they are, when looked at carefully, wonderfully complementary, for instance words and actions. What a happy combination. These two seem to capture what a healthy life should contain. Sometimes we meet those who are all talk and no ‘do’ and some who err in the opposite direction and are busy with lots of action and few words communicating their heart. “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52) is a verse that comes to mind. The two walking to Emmaus bore testimony to Him and described Him as, “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19).
A pretty complete witness they gave, isn’t it? I look at the reference system (references are useful!) in my Bible and am taken to Acts 7:22, there Stephen says of Moses that, “he was mighty in words and deeds.” Deed and word, word and deeds, note the order of mention, I am not sure that in these cases the order matters but the words convey the balance of life implicit in someone growing up into a measure of spiritual maturity. Jesus was the man of the quiet place, no stranger to the early morning tranquility of fellowship with His Father and this was perfectly married to a fertility of works, and in Him spiritual contemplation and service were wedded and entirely complementary. “He withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16). “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place and there prayed” (Mark 1:35), yet “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38). What a wonderful unity of life was His and should be emerging in us! In the few days before Calvary the Lord wept in broken-hearted longing for Jerusalem and its people and a few hours later fashioned a whip and in anger drove out the animals and profiteers from the temple in that very city. Weeping and whipping; tenderness and terribleness almost certainly expressed by our Lord the very same day (Matthew 23:37-39, Mark 11:15-19).
[superquote] if we are speaking of the character of Christ being formed in us, then, both tenderness and the ability to discern, and if necessary, judge, must be part of who we are.[/superquote]
Are we prepared to mature spiritually in these ways? Some embrace and emphasize the idea of tenderness, they are naturally ‘soft,’ or so it seems whilst others are swift to castigate and judge, criticism comes easily to them. But, if we are speaking of the character of Christ being formed in us, then, both tenderness and the ability to discern, and if necessary, judge, must be part of who we are. If we are honest, what we are naturally tends to lean in one direction or the other and we are far from living in a balanced way. When we observe some parents with their young children, there are those who exhibit an almost ruthless disciplinarian regime in their family whilst others are so indulgent towards their little ones that you almost get the feeling they are doing that for their own sakes fearing that they will lose their children’s love if they are remotely firm with them.
If the likeness of Christ is emerging in us then what we normally associate with the female and those qualities and virtues we associate with the masculine will be present increasingly. These antitheses will be strongly marked. This was true of the apostle Paul and his friends. He spent time in the city of Thessalonica, and it was not all plain sailing during their brief sojourn there. But God birthed a church in that place and when Paul recalls their time of mission there he says they exhibited boldness and other things we would think of as manly (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6) and then follows up that description with the words “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Wonderful contrast, wonderful opposites conjoined in these ministers of God! They are like Jesus! But Paul is not done with piling on the antitheses in metaphors for he writes, “like a father with his children, we exhorted, encouraged and charged you” (1 Thessalonians 2:11).
Like a nursing mother and like a father with his children Paul cared tenderly and yet exhorted those in the church. Look at another pair of apparent opposites displayed in the life of Jesus; His relationship with the world, He both shunned it and loved it. We could say that He “loved not the world neither the things that were in it” (1 John 2:15), He would not flow with its values and ways and yet was criticized because “He receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2) and was known as “the friends of sinners” (Luke 7:34). “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) is such a well-known verse and although it refers to His love for men and women He displayed a participation in the lives of those “in the world” but did not remotely embrace their sinful habits. It is noticeable how increasingly common it is to find those who state their desire to be tolerant and loving to people in the world but they cease to live pure themselves. It is a trap. A spirituality that claims to be Christian is appearing but it lacks clear lines as regards what constitutes Biblical morality.
[superquote]The pursuit of a ‘freedom through grace’ not based upon obedience to God is a slippery pathway to self-deception, anarchy and eventual self-destruction.[/superquote]
Tolerance disconnected from clarity about sin is sure to lead to compromise that destroys true spiritual life and growth. The pursuit of a ‘freedom through grace’ not based upon obedience to God is a slippery pathway to self-deception, anarchy and eventual self-destruction. The one who obeys and is subject to the law of life in Christ Jesus is looking into the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). In this verse we can see antitheses profoundly connected. Liberty and law, some would think that it is impossible that these two could be joined, but if we watch the lives of those who grow up and mature in the Lord it will become incredibly clear that they are “under law to Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21) and yet free to become “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
To live under the sway of Christ Jesus means obedience to Him and yet what joyous liberty belongs to those who so live! Turning to another pair of apparent opposites we look at Jesus and we see occasions when He seemed strong and asserted Himself in no uncertain manner and yet He was also the one Who, when He was reviled did not open His mouth (Isaiah 53:7). This line of thought leads us into Revelation chapter five where He is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and yet when John turned to look at this Lion in the midst of the throne He could only describe Him as “a little lamb as it had been freshly slaughtered” (Revelation5: 6). The antithetical metaphors abound because He had seven horns, and these symbolize perfect authority, and the seven eyes, witness to the perfect discernment and perception possessed by the Lion/Lamb. He is a little lamb, yet enthroned at the center of the universe. He is freshly slain and yet is alive and takes the book of history and unlocks its seals.
[superquote]To live under the sway of Christ Jesus means obedience to Him and yet what joyous liberty belongs to those who so live![/superquote]
This is Jesus the God-Man in His everlasting maturity. Many songs written and sung in the churches of today contain mention of Jesus as the Lion and the Lamb but do we seriously ponder the implications of what we sing? Should we discern a kind of triumphalistic attitude, something that magnifies His ruler-ship, a subtle pride by which we defile the truth? We are connected with “King Jesus” and “He reigns,” our man has won! Yet there is little recognition of His Lamb nature fully manifested when He became enthroned at Calvary. The weapons Jesus ‘used,’ (an inferior word to employ because He never ‘used’ anything, He overcame by Who He is), also the weapons of our warfare (2 Corinthians 10:4) are vividly expressed in His words as He was crucified, the first of which was “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34). No doubt forgiveness is the most powerful weapon in God’s arsenal, if we may reverently put it that way and so in ours. When Paul writes of the weapons he does so entreating the Corinthians “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” and as “I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away” (2 Corinthians 10:1-4). Certainly there is a large amount of irony in the way Paul writes this for he is quoting back to the critical Corinthians the very words of one of their cynical comments about himself. It was the gentleness of Christ that made him great and yet how lion-like he was too.
[superquote]This is Jesus the God-Man in His everlasting maturity. Many songs written and sung in the churches of today contain mention of Jesus as the Lion and the Lamb but do we seriously ponder the implications of what we sing?[/superquote]
To some it might be a completely fresh thought that the cross was His first place of enthronement. Strange throne indeed; there He reigned indeed and would never have taken the highest place in heaven had He not reigned upon earth over every enemy coming at Him. He was lifted up and utterly glorious there, in the place of ultimate battle He overcame with the sword that came out of His mouth. Thus we examine ourselves to see if boldness and gentleness are emerging, those antitheses strongly marked, lion-like and lamb-like at one in the same time. And other contrasts come to mind from the book of the Revelation such as the living creatures who are full of eyes that look both within and without (Revelation 4:6-8). Self discerning and so, appropriately, other-discerning. This reminds us of something God said about “My Servant” (Isaiah 42:19). For certain God is speaking about the failure of His servant Israel, their eyes and ears were open but they did not discern; they were blind and deaf. But we can look at these verses in another way for Jesus, the True Servant, the Israel (Prince) of God, was blind and deaf to some things, living in what we could call and child-like naivety of wonder. We get a glimpse of this when He says something like “did you not understand that I must be about My Father’s business” (Luke 2:49)? But Who saw as He saw and heard as He heard? Antitheses strongly marked? Yes indeed, childlikeness joined with mature manhood as was never manifested in another. This is Jesus and the things that we have mentioned in this musing should be emerging in the lives of those growing up in Him.
Perhaps some might try to define such people as being “several human beings rolled into one” and I can well understand such an effort to describe the fullness of life. May the Lord help us to grow up in Him, to live daily in a profound contentment but may that be mixed with a divine discontent that stirs us on into spiritual maturity.