The Loving Rebuke

“A new command I give you, ÔLove one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another'” (John 13:34). These were some of Jesus’ closing words to his disciples. Included in this word “love” is sometimes a kind rebuke when a brother or sister is straying from the faith. It is this kind of love that Paul demonstrates in his letter to the Galatians.

But before we look at our text, let me ask you a few questions.

Do you ever visit with a person who has an evil tongue about the poor witness he is for Jesus Christ? Do you accept criticism when someone gives you a loving rebuke after you have spoken harshly about another person?

Have you ever had a friend who was getting a bit too friendly with another man or woman and the spouse was not aware of what was happening? Did you talk to him or her about the danger of this temptation and what it could lead to? That takes a lot of courage, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could save a marriage?

Paul loved his friends so much that he never hesitated to give them a loving rebuke. Neither did Jesus, who one day said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” This was a sharp, but loving, rebuke.

In our text, we see Paul as the disappointed apostle. He had established churches in Galatia. These people, who were members of these churches, trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior when Paul left them to start another congregation. But Paul had no more than left town when some false prophets came and led some of them away. These people were the Judaizers who taught people were not saved through trusting Christ alone, but it was necessary for them to keep the Jewish laws. To these Galatians, Paul wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel Ð which is really no gospel at all.” He was concerned about the Galatian Christians’ relationship with the Lord Jesus. So he gave them a loving rebuke, even though he would anger them. His purpose was to bring them back to Christ.

The Galatians were not unique in leaving Christ. This defection from the faith is with us today. As a pastor, I saw it when young women came to visit with me about their coming marriage. It was obvious that her prince charming was not a Christian. But he had other attractive qualities. He was handsome, personable, and social. She said, “This is what every woman is looking for in a husband.”

“But what about his relationship with Jesus?” I asked. “You have told me that his family is not the least bit interested in the church, to say nothing about Christ. You have also said that he is amazed when your family has devotions in the home and he thinks it is silly to spoil a perfectly good Sunday by going to church. Can all of his attractive qualities take the place of Jesus? Are you willing to sacrifice having a Christian home for what he has to offer you?”

The bride, and often her mother, was often not happy with this kind of counseling. But must not these questions be asked in Christian love before it is too late?

However, a further look at our text tells us that it was not only with the ordinary member of the congregations in Galatia that Paul gave a friendly rebuke. Paul writes about a confrontation he had with Peter when he came to Antioch. Peter was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James (Jewish people), he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when the Jews came, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Paul’s loving rebuke was not to humiliate Peter, but to show him how serious his actions were in confusion these young Christians in their understanding of the Gospel that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone. Note that Paul “resisted Peter to his face.” He did not talk behind his back. Neither was he willing to gloss over this offense that Peter had brought to the young Christians by adjusting his behavior to those who were in the crowd. How common in the church today! Our behavior can change when we move from the worship setting to a business deal. What has happened that causes an unbeliever to say, “I would rather do business with a pagan than one of you Ôborn-again Christians.’ Watch them! They are not beyond being dishonest if it means some extra dollars in their pockets.” Kind of sad, isn’t it. Isn’t a loving rebuke in order?

One of the world’s greatest accusations against the church is that we teach one thing and do another. “Why don’t you practice what you preach?” they ask. Whether this is a loving rebuke or not, it is one that we must take seriously if we want to be witnesses for church in this world. To gloss over our inconsistencies, or to justify our wrongs with excuses that do not hold water, makes the Christian’s witness unacceptable to the unbelievers.

What a lesson for us to learn. To love a person sometimes means to rebuke the person, but this rebuke is always spoken in love and always given with the intent of furthering the cause of the Gospel.

Called By God

There are several teachings in the Bible that Christians interpret differently, but remain brothers and sisters in Christ. In the retirement village where we live, there are many mature Christians, and we spend interesting times discussing our faith. We do not view every biblical teaching the same way. The return of our Lord Jesus Christ is one of these teachings. Some put much emphasis on His coming, especially as they study the books of Daniel and Revelation. In my church background, we content ourselves with the statement found in the Apostles’ Creed. “And he shall come again to judge the living and the dead.” We view the details of Christ’s return as a mystery that only then will be revealed.

However, the one central message Ð we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus Ð is not up for debate. You either believe it or you don’t. If you do believe that Jesus is your Savior, you are a Christian. If you do not believe that He is your Savior and Lord, you are not a Christian. None was more firm on this core belief of the Christian faith than the Apostle Paul. This is evident in his book to the Galatians. Martin Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, says, “This doctrine is not invented by the reason of man but given from above.”

On Paul’s first missionary journey, he visited Galatia and established many congregations. These churches were made up of mostly Gentiles, although there were also some Jews in the membership. Shortly after Paul’s departure, these congregations were visited by a group of people known as the Judaizers who challenged Paul’s right to be called an apostle since he was not one of the twelve chosen by Christ. They also taught that salvation came not only by trusting Jesus as Savior, but obedience to the Jewish laws was necessary. To Paul the teaching of salvation by grace through faith in Christ was a closed subject. It could not be compromised. It was to denounce the Judaizers and their heresy that Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians.

The book of Galatians contains so many basic truths that Christians should be well acquainted with its contents. Therefore, it is my plan to lift up some of Paul’s thoughts from this book as a basis for my sermons during the next few week. The first of these sermons raises the question, “Who is this Paul?” The Judaizers questioned Paul’s credentials to be called an apostle, but he writes, “Paul, an apostle Ð sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead . . . to the churches in Galatia” (Galatians 1:1-2).

Paul wanted to make it clear to his readers that he had not applied for this job, nor was he recruited by a group of Christians to become an apostle. He wasn’t elected by a congregations’ call committee to be its pastor. His call was direct from God.

He also stated clearly, “I want you to know, brothers, that the Gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, rather I received it by revelations from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-20). He had been called by God out of spiritual darkness. If anyone had told Paul before his conversion to Christianity that one day he would suffer fro Christ as one of his apostles, he would have said( in language that we can understand), “You are nuts. I persecuted the church and tried to destroy it. I was extremely zealous for our Jewish traditions. But God called me and revealed to me Jesus Christ. When you receive a call such as that, your life is turned around and you become the Lord’s obedient follower. By my own nature, I didn’t want to be an apostle. All of this was according to the will of God. This is who I am, and my message has come directly from God.”

What does this say to us, two thousand years later?

The Gospel, revealed by God to Paul, has come to us through the Scriptures. It is through this Word that the Holy Spirit has created faith in our hearts and calls us to share it with others. “But,” you might say, “Paul received his call from God in a very dramatic way. A light flashed around him, he fell to the ground, and Jesus spoke to him. There was little reason for Paul to doubt that Jesus was calling him to service in His kingdom. Not so with us.”

You are right. Paul was called to be an apostle. We are called through the same gospel, delivered to us through the Word of God to be Christ’s witnesses. There is a major difference in the callings. We receive the same revealed message, but it is through the inspired words of the biblical writers. We are one of millions. Paul was one of thirteen apostles. Our calling may come sitting in the pew at a worship service or at the confirmation rail where we make our confession of faith in Christ and promise to serve him. It may come in the quietness of our homes where God speaks to us in our Bible reading. It may come in a small group with relatives and friends. Mine came as a teenager at a Bible camp.

It is when we are convinced that the calling is from God that we can speak with authority in love to those who do not know the joy of living in a personal relationship with the Savior. I have often been told by friends that to be a faithful witness for the Lord Jesus one must first know Christ personally, and then be thoroughly convinced that He has called you to share the good news with others. Then the theological education follows whether you are laity or clergy.

CALLED BY GOD! If you are a Christian, God has called you to be his witnesses. The message that you are told to share is very simple. Christ Jesus has come into this world to be your Savior through his suffering, death, and resurrection and has restored you into fellowship with God forever. There is no other way of salvation. This message is not up for debate. On this truth Christianity stands or falls.

The Day the Church Was Born

Christians confess their faith in a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Scriptures and the creeds of the Church present God the Father as the Creator. We see evidence of his work when we look at creation and sing,

“This is my Father’s world,

And to my listening ears,

All nature sings and round me rings

The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world;

I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and tree, of skies and seas;

His hand the wonders wrought.”

Mahbie Babcock (1858-1901)

Truly He is the King of creation. Even though our bodies grow older and show the wear of many years of living, we marvel at how wonderfully he has made us.

God the Son is the second person of the Trinity. God becomes personal to us as the Babe of Bethlehem’s manger, and the suffering servant of Calvary’s cross. He is known as the God-man who has taken our sins upon himself that we might be forgiven and restored into fellowship with God. And so we sing:

“Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown

When thou camest to earth for me;

But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room

For Thy holy nativity.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus Ð

There is room in my heart for Thee.”

Emily E. S. Elliott

But who is God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity? He is God who is at work with us bringing us to a conviction of our sins and to faith in Christ as Savior. He reveals himself in the event of Pentecost where 3,000 people came to faith in Christ, and the Church was born (Acts 2).

Jews from many countries were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Pentecost. This was the holiday when the faithful came to praise God for giving them the Mosaic Law and the ingathering of the harvest. On this Sunday, fifty days after Easter, there was a violent wind that blew through the city, and they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that rested on the disciples. The Bible says, “All of them began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

All of the visitors were amazed ast what was happening and asked the natural question, “What’s going on here?” Some wise guy in the crowd said, “They have had too much wine.” At this point Peter stood up and preached his powerful sermon of Pentecost Sunday, which resulted in 3,000 people being baptized into the name of Christ. This was the beginning of the Christian Church.

People often ask, “How can I become a Christian?” Here is the answer to their question: Under the influence of God’s Word, we are first brought to a conviction of our sin. Seeing our true self, not as basically good people, but as sinners, we confess our sins and turn to Christ. In Christ our sins are forgiven, and we are baptized. From that time on, the Holy Spirit works in us and we become new people in Christ.

Generally speaking, when the Holy Spirit works in us, He speaks through the means of grace. The means of grace are the Word of God and the sacraments. In other words, the Holy Spirit works in an orderly manner. While God is almighty and can work in our lives as He pleases, it is generally not His method to bring us some special revelation. He speaks through his Word, the Bible. Here we see the importance of laying up that message in our hearts so that as we walk with him and guidance is needed, His words will lead us as to how our Lord wants us to act. For example, if a person hurts you badly, you could be tempted to retaliate. Here the Holy Spirt would work through the Bible and say to you, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ÔIt is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19, 21).

The history books are filled with great examples where the Holy Spirit has opened the word and spoken clearly to people. Martin Luther was in great spiritual distress. His question was, “How can I appease an angry God?” Then one day while studying Romans 1:17, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ÔThe righteous will live by faith.'” Luther’s eyes were opened. God revealed to him that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ apart from the law. We cannot work our way into heaven. Salvation is God’s gift to us by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Now Luther was set free from his spiritual bondage and was at peace.

The Holy Spirit is always at work within us. An eleven-year-old girl wrote these words:

I have love

In my heart from Him,

He will keep me safe

and away from sin.

We should know

that we are the first,

And God will love us

At our worst.

The Holy Spirit met her at the baptismal font. He entered into a covenant relationship with her and told her parents to introduce their little girl to the Lord Jesus. This they did. They told her about Jesus, taught her to pray, took her to Sunday school and church, and demonstrated the Christian life to her in their home. Through these means, the Holy Spirit has worked. Today she is an awakened, maturing young lady of sixteen whose life is committed to the Lord Jesus.

Our youngest granddaughter was confirmed a month ago. What a thrill it was for her grandmother and me to sit in the congregation and witness the confirmation service. She greeted the congregation with her confirmation verse, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). She, too, was met by the Holy Spirit as an infant at the font, and she, too, had the blessing of being raised in a Christian home where father and mother are fulfilling their promises to raise her in the Christian faith. She faces a world filled with temptation, but Sarah is just fine. Christ walks with her and the Holy Spirit will counsel and direct her all the way. The relationship with her Savior grows more personal each day she lives with him.

And so we pray with the author of this prayer, George Croly (1780-1860):

“Spirit of God, descent upon my heart;

Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;

Stoop to my weakness, strength to me impart,

And make me love you as I ought to love.”

It is God the Father who has created us, God the Son who has redeemed us, and God the Holy Spirit who works in us. One God who has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What Has Fifty Years Done to Motherhood?

It is my personal belief that being a mother is a more challenging calling today than it was fifty years ago. Let’s think about the role of a mother today in comparison with what it was a half century ago.

In some ways, being a housekeeper is easier than it was fifty years ago. All of the appliances have lightened the housekeeping load. It is not an easy task, even today, but it is easier than it was fifty years ago. During the last ten years and my wife’s crippling stroke, I have been the housekeeper in our family. There was washing and ironing to be done. Our washers and dryers have taken the toughest work out of that job. And only after I took over the laundry did I discover that most of the clothes don’t require ironing if you take them right out of the dryer.

Then there is the dishwasher and garbage disposal. The cleanup time is reduced to a fraction of the time that it used to take. One lady told me that she seldom uses her dishwasher because some of the most quality time she has with her husband is when they are washing dishes and discussing the issues of the day. More power to her, but I prefer sitting with my wife on the davenport and enjoying that extra cup of coffee as we solve all of society’s problems. Each to their own.

And then the is the microwave. If you don’t feel like cooking, hurry off to the supermarket. You can go and buy a few of those microwave dinners. They are a far cry from the dinners grandma used to prepare, but they are not bad. I always had a good supply of Swanson’s chicken pies in our freezer.

In some ways, housekeeping can be simpler than it once was. However, there is a lot more to motherhood than being a good housekeeper. Our world is much more complex than it was fifty years ago and makes it more challenging to be a good mother.

Often the mother has to work outside of the home to make ends meet financially. This means that she has fewer hours to be with her children. Fifty years ago, the mother could assume her role with the children well rested at 7:00 a.m. Now she has to pick up where she left off at 8:30 a.m. when she headed for the office. At 5:30 p.m. when she arrives home from her job, the mother is physically tired and emotionally exhausted.

Her boy, who is now in the first grade, has a wrestling meet. Tomorrow night her fifth grader daughter has a violin lesson. Once they used to have one family phone in the house. Then they got a teenager’s phone. Now the seventeen-year-old daughter has a cell phone, and she is on the phone when mother comes in the house with her arms loaded with groceries. The mother hears some of the conversation on that day, and it concerns her. There are so many voices affecting her children’s thinking.

Where is dad in all of this? He has some responsibility too. Right, and dad pitches in when he gets home, but he didn’t get away from his office until after 6:00 p.m. They have often discussed how they could make changes in their schedules that would bring more sanity to their family life. But they are caught!

Fifty years ago we might have thought the schedule was full, but it cannot compare to what is going on today. Mother and dad’s voices were the main influence in Dick and Jane’s life. Today, these kids are captured by some of the conversations they hear on television. The parents realize this when the first grader asks during dinner, “Is viagra right for you? What is viagra?” How do you answer that one? You didn’t have that challenge fifty years ago.

Jane has her questions, too. “Mom, I was reading our church paper after school, and there is an article on same-sex marriages. Do I understand correctly that our church is going to vote on whether or not our congregation should bless same-sex marriages?” It is quite clear that when God created marriage, it was between a man and a woman. How can the church change what God has established?

How will mom address this question when it is discussed at the church council meeting next week and the group is divided on such a basic question? Fifty years ago, the council meetings were not faced with these discussions. This is another reason why motherhood is much more difficult in 2005 than it was in 1950

Is it any wonder that mother asks, “How can I measure up to this important calling Ð to raise my children in the faith?” My voice is only one of many that is influencing my children’s life.

Mother, learn from your Bible. Let the biblical characters give you some valuable insights in the raising of your children. Your problems as a Christian mother are different from theirs, but learn what they did in their times of frustration to receive divine guidance and strength.

We learn from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was facing the enemy whose plan was to have him crucified. In that hour, Jesus said to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the pont of death. . . . Father, if it is possible, may this cup of suffering be taken from me.”

Jesus was alone with his Father. As a mother facing the enemy who wants to destroy your child, can you identify with Jesus’ feelings in Gethsemane? Then note, He went to his Father for guidance and strength. At that hour, Jesus did not feel adequate for the task before him without the Father’s strength. Study the details of this time in the life of Jesus as it is recorded in Matthew 26:36-46. There you will find answers that will help you as a mother.

Mother, you need a strong devotional life to guide and strengthen you for your challenging call to be a Christian mother in a post-modern age with no absolutes. You need time alone daily with your Savior as he speaks to you in His Word and you speak to him in prayer. He will not let you down.

What did Peter do in facing the big spiritual problems in his life? Read the tenth chapter of Acts. It tells about Peter in Joppa. He was a guest at the home of Simon the tanner. A troubling question was bothering Peter. Had Jesus died for the sins of the whole world? Were Gentiles to receive the Gospel as well as the Jews? With those questions heavy on his heart, Peter went up on the roof Ð rather queer place to have your devotion Ð but note the Apostle was alone with his Lord.

Peter’s question was, “What next, Lord, in making disciples of all nations?” He needed direction. There, alone with God, the Savior began to speak in a powerful way. Can’t you identify with Peter? Isn’t your question, “Which way shall I turn, Lord, in the raising of those precious children you have given me?” In your Bible are the answers. They might not be easy to accept, because the world laughs at them, but how important is the counsel of God for you? We are not without counsel from the Lord. The questions are, “Will we take time to find it in his word, and then, Will we follow it regardless other strong voice of a pagan culture?

My mother-in-law had ten children. One day I asked what her secret was for raising such a large family. She told me that each day she prayed for all ten of them by name. If one of them had special problems on that particular day, they received more prayer time. Grandma has gone to heaven, and seven of her children have joined her there, because they died confessing Jesus as their savior and Lord. The other three are just waiting for the Lord to come and receive them into their heavenly home. Grandma learned the need of spending time each day with the Lord for guidance and direction.

Before you se this answer aside feeling that it is too simplistic, would you take thirty minutes each day to be alone with God and converse with him about your high calling of motherhood? Unless you have tried this time alone with the Lord in His Word on a consistent schedule, you don’t know what counsel and strength God is waiting to give you.

Whether or not it is more challenging to be a mother today than it was fifty years ago is a fun question for discussion. The point is that to be a mother in any age is a challenging call from God. Don’t let culture minimize its importance. You have a big part in your children’s spiritual development that you cannot delegate to any one.

One Happy Family

When I was a boy, I had a good friend who was part of a large family. Occasionally I would be visiting his home when it was dinner time. This family sat in the same chairs each day: the father at the head of the table, the mother next to the father, and then the children were seated in chairs according to their age.

There was little visiting during the meal. I asked my friend why they didn’t talk while they were eating, and he simply said, “That’s the way my father wants it.” It seemed strange to me, because my family was jabbering all the time. There were only three persons in my family, and we made more noise than they did!

After the dinner was over and if it were needed, it was discipline time. If, during the day one of the children had been disobedient, the mother reported it to her husband, and discipline was given. I recall my friend had been a “bad boy” one day and got the supreme punishment. His father took him outside, took down his pants, and gave him a switching. Oh, how my friend cried, and how angry I was! Today, I imagine that it would be reported to the authorities.

That was the way this family lives. How would you label that family? They had a good idea of what was right and what was wrong, but, as I recall, they did not go to church, and they made no confession of Jesus Christ as their Savior. The parents had their own ideas as to how the children should behave, and those who did not measure up to the standards were punished.

Through my years, I have often thought about that family and their legalistic approach to controlling the behavior of their children. Have we been guilty of the same in the Christian family? In some of our backgrounds, the strong stick of legalism was the ruling force. You shall and you shall not. Do not go to an innocent movie (and they were quite innocent in those days). The threat Ð How would you like to be found in the theater if Jesus returned on that day? Ð was enough to put the fear of God in anyone’s heart. This is not a problem in most churches today, thank God. However, our Lord tells us that he wants his children to walk obediently to his will.

While the Law of God can tell what is right and what is wrong, and we need this law, it cannot motivate us to do what God wants us to do. Listen to Jesus’ words: “If you love me, you will body my command.” He does not say, “If you fear me, you will obey my commandments.” No, our blessed Lord says, “If you love me, you are going to want to obey what I command, and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another counselor to be with you forever.” This is the Holy Spirit who will live in your heart and create within you a spirit that will want to live as God would have you live. It is a love relationship between the Heavenly Father and his children, and it makes us children who want to walk obediently with our Lord and Savior.

God has given us his commandments, and we take them seriously, but it is our love for the Lord Jesus Christ that makes us want to live according to his will. We have a Counselor, living in our hearts, who tells us what God’s will is. His Counselor, the Holy Spirit, not only reminds us what God’s will is for us, he also empowers us to be his obedient children. It is the old, old story of Jesus and his love. God loves us so much that he gave his Son to die for us. As this love becomes more real in our lives, we respond by loving the Savior.

The world cannot understand this love relationship. So talking about a love for God makes no sense. God, to the unbeliever, at best is some mighty, impersonal force who cannot be love. However, to the Christian who is loved by Christ each day and has the Holy Spirit living within him or her, the response is to love. This is a love that reaches out to God, and then to human beings. This is a love that is experienced most intimately between believers in Christ. It breaks down all barriers among us and makes us one happy family.