Here are some items from last Sunday’s church services and events:
A. The theme for the LCMS service was taken from James 4:8a: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (KJV). The youth pastor said that, when we ask God for something and we do not get what we want, that is still okay because at least we are drawing near to God by making the request. I like that concept because it implies that any prayer that we make is welcomed by God and is not wasted: it is accomplishing something, namely, bringing us closer to God, since we are sharing with God our desires. I think that the concept is broadly Scriptural, as there are passages encouraging people to bring their needs and their requests to God. In terms of the Epistle of James, though, I wonder how it fits with vv. 2-3: “Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” It coincides with v. 2 because it suggests that not receiving is a result of not asking, so it encourages people to ask. Yet, the next verse says that there is such a thing as asking amiss, so that one might consume what one hopes to receive on one’s lust. The verse after that appears to focus on the attitude behind prayer: not praying with an attitude of friendship towards the world, or an alignment with worldly values and desires.
I will sneak in a thought from the Sunday school class. The pastor there was talking about I John and the difference between agape and phileo. Agape is a giving love that originates from God and is exemplified by God’s love for us in sending Christ to die for our sins. Phileo is friendship, which can easily be conditional: you do good to me, and I will do good to you. The pastor was musing that perhaps the concept of friendship with the world implies a hope of redemption, because the friendship with the world is merely philia, which is not as strong of a devotion and attachment as agape.
A few weeks ago, I shared an old post that I wrote, which referred to the scholarly view that agape and phileo are interchangeable rather than distinct. LXX II Samuel 13:1, 15 challenges the idea that agape is always some lofty form of love, for it refers to Amnon’s love for Tamar, whom he raped then rejected. Still, could there be something to the pastor’s insight, and the thought of many Christians who differentiate between agape and phileo? There is a love that Christians have, or are supposed to have, that is rooted in the Gospel, the self-sacrificial, others-oriented love that God showed and shows to us. That love goes beyond the quid-pro-quo of friendship and affection. It is a stronger commitment to the well-being of others, planted and rooted in Gospel territory. In addition, could not our friendship with the world be described as a conditional devotion or affection? We are affectionate towards the world as long as it gives us what we want or makes us feel a certain way.
B. At the “Word of Faith” church, the sermon was a mixture of references to Nehemiah and to the “work out your own salvation” concept in Philippians 2:12.
The pastor used two cups as an illustration. One cup is how we see ourselves, based on our flaws. We may recognize that we are lustful, or bitter, or alone. The other cup concerns what we have in Christ: God, in Christ, sees us as righteous. Which view do we live out? The pastor put one cup into another, and the other cup into the other one, and that represented which cup takes center stage in our lives. Christ may be inside of us, but do we work out the implications of that, living out God’s love and approval of us, or are we burdened by self-condemnation? The pastor compared this to the walls in the Book of Nehemiah. They were intended to keep the Jews safe from attack, so they were associated with salvation. But, like Christians, the Jews rebuilding the walls were assaulted by various forces: commitment to the status quo, mockery, and intimidation. The pastor said that small groups are an important part of the Christian’s battle, for that is where Christians can encourage and remind each other of who they truly are. The pastor observed that Philippians 2:12 is second person plural: it is addressed to the community, not just individuals.