Mark Fox September 24, 2023

Radical Love

In his first letter, chapter 3, Peter calls all of us to operate five virtues that pack a powerful punch and bring great blessing, not just to those in the church but also to those outside, even to our enemies. Think of these as the five fingers of your hand with the power of grace radiating from the center. It is by the grace of God, freely given to us in Christ, that we can live this way, as Christ has demonstrated in his own life. Let’s look at these.

First, we are to have unity of mind. It is another way of saying that we are to walk together as those who agree, to live in harmony with one another. I remember my early mentor Pastor Thompson who grew up in Oklahoma giving me advice 35 years ago. He said if there are people in the church who just don’t agree with the church, not because it’s unbiblical but because they are not agreeable people, it’s like someone sitting on the back of a wagon that the horse is pulling down the road and letting their feet drag on the ground. It won’t stop the wagon from moving forward but it makes a difference in how efficiently the wagon moves. Peter will cover this point in more depth in chapter 4, but this call to unity in the church was clear apostolic teaching that came from Christ.

Second, we are to have sympathy for one another. Like Jesus does for us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” The word simply means to “feel together.”

Third, we are to have brotherly love. We walk in that to the same degree that we remember and we celebrate the fact that we are family! Again, Hebrews helps us with this: “…he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Remember when Jesus was interrupted by someone in the crowd as he was teaching in a house in Capernaum? That person said, “Hey, Jesus, your mother and your brothers are outside, looking for you.” He said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looked at the people sitting in front of him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Fourth, we are to have a tender heart toward one another. This is a word that speaks of the inner organs because it means compassion, mercy, deep concern for others. Jesus again is our model for us in this. Jesus illustrates this as well: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for they, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” His compassion for the spiritually poor, the sick, the weak and the infirmed was extraordinary. Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, (same word) forgiving one another, as Christ forgave you.” Our compassion for others looks a lot like not holding onto a hurt, but forgiving the one who hurt us, just as Christ has forgiven us.

Fifth, we are to have a humble mind. A tender heart and a humble mind is a powerful one-two punch! And if the first point, unity of mind, is to be likeminded, this fifth virtue is to be lowly-minded. Again our example is Jesus, as Paul wrote in that beautiful passage in Philippians: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” When I asked our home group, “Which character in the Bible do you like or do you most identify with,” half of the people said Peter. Because he, like many of us, had to learn humility the hard way. But oh what a transformation when Peter completely surrendered his life to Jesus and lived for him.

Lord, we need this radical love for one another!

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Mark Fox September 24, 2023
Mark Fox September 18, 2023

A Word to Husbands

“Likewise, husbands.” This is my instruction for you, Peter says to the husbands who would read his first letter. This is what a godly husband does. He is called to honor his wife. How does he do that?

First, he lives with his wife, he doesn’t just share a house like a roommate might. He lives with a woman who is an heir herself of the grace of life. She is chosen by Jesus and precious to him. He lives with her in an understanding way, or “with knowledge.” I have joked sometimes that the good news is that men do not have to understand women. They just have to understand one. But that is a lifelong pursuit. We men are great at pursuing our wives before marriage but sometimes lousy at pursuing her after marriage. Husbands are automatically enrolled in a 50-60 year course in “Loving Your Wife Like Christ Loves the Church.” I am in year 42 now with a lot still to learn. There will not be a final exam but the blessings and the benefits of doing well in this course cannot be overstated.

Second, the husband recognizes that his wife is the weaker vessel, and he knows what that means. It does not mean she is inferior to her husband. She is a living stone. She is a co-heir with Christ, just as we are. She is filled with the same Holy Spirit, endowed with spiritual gifts, called by Christ to serve the Lord and lay down her life for him. She may be weaker in physical strength, but as Edmund Clowney says, “her role in the gift of physical life (giving birth) is certainly not less!” The wise husband acknowledges and appreciates the emotional and physical differences in his wife, rather than despising them or taking advantage of them in any way.

Third, he gives her the honor that is due. Honor. This is even more powerful than respect. To give honor means to see the preciousness of something or someone. Paul said in Ephesians 5 that husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies, which they nourish and cherish. We are called by God to give honor to our wives, and that means we nourish and cherish them. They are precious and honorable. They must know that other than Christ, there is not one person or thing who is more important than they are. This was radical teaching in that Roman culture to which Peter wrote, where a man had absolute control over his wife. She had virtually no rights in marriage. Christ changed all that. If we fail to live with our wives with understanding, Peter says there are serious consequences. What are they?

Our prayers will be hindered. Peter may have in mind the prayers that we have together with our wives here, but the meaning is simple. They will lack power, they will be blocked or hindered. He quotes Psalm 34, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” The Lord counts disregarding and dishonoring our wives as evil. And our prayers will not make it past the ceiling. Until the prayer of true repentance is spoken from the heart.

Whew! That’s a high calling, brothers. Are any of us equal to the challenge? Not a chance, but the Lord who saved us and the Spirit of Christ who dwells in us is. We can do this in him and for his glory.

Our wives will thank us for learning to love them so well.

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Mark Fox September 18, 2023
Mark Fox September 10, 2023

We Are Called to This

Peter wrote to the elect exiles who were living under the thumb of an oppressive Roman government, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Some believe this verse was an early hymn or creed. The saints would sing or recite it often to remind themselves of this pillar upon which we stand. Notice the three powerful truths presented by Peter to all elect exiles, including you and me.

We are called to this. To what? To endure suffering while suffering unjustly. As we see in the verses that come before this one, we have to know who we are (chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, a people for his own possession!) and what we have been given in Christ, if we are going to thrive in a world that is not our home. All Christians are called to suffer before they are glorified with him. That is the polar opposite of the so-called Prosperity Gospel, which is no gospel at all, and you can read what Paul said about anyone who preaches another gospel in Galatians 1. But look at this. We are not suffering because of fate. If we think that, we just put our heads down and embrace stoicism. We grit our teeth and endure. No, we have been called to suffer for the sake of Christ, so our heads are up and our mouths are open and we rejoice in Him!  Why?

Christ also suffered for us. That’s why. The example of Christ is one that saves. His suffering is a model for us because it produced our salvation. Notice that he suffered verbal abuse; he was reviled but did not revile in return. He suffered injury that we cannot even begin to understand, and he uttered not one word of threat. His suffering was powered by his complete and utter trust in his Father. This example of Christ’s suffering is not just a north star we look to for guidance. No, Christ’s suffering is the very center of all our motivation to love him and surrender our lives to him completely, just as he surrendered up his life for us. But you may ask, how do we do this?

We follow in his steps. I wonder if when Peter wrote that, his mind and heart went back to that charcoal fire in the courtyard on the night of Jesus’ trial. Remember, it was Peter who told Jesus that even if everybody else fell away, he would not. He would die with Jesus before he would deny him. But he did just what Jesus told him he would do. He denied the Lord three times, once with a curse. He did not follow in Jesus’ steps on that dark night when roosters crowed and strong men ran away. But after Jesus restored him, Peter followed the Lord for the rest of his life, all the way to his own crucifixion at the hands of Nero.

Are you tired and discouraged and feeling like a failure at living for Christ, and wanting to give up? Then you are just the person Jesus is looking for. He found Peter in that condition and we know how that turned out. He does the same for you and me.

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Mark Fox September 10, 2023
Mark Fox September 3, 2023

Don’t Do Random Acts of Kindness

A woman went to her lawyer and said, “I want to get a divorce. I really hate my husband, and I want to hurt him. Give me some advice.” In addition to wanting to get the gold and give him the shaft, she was wondering about some other way that she might do him in. The attorney said, “Look, you’re going to divorce the guy anyway, so for three months don’t criticize him. Speak only well of him. Build him up. Every time he does something nice, commend him for it. Tell him what a great guy he is, for three months. After he thinks he has your confidence and love, hit him with the news, and it will hurt more.” The woman loved the idea and went after it with gusto.  She complimented her husband for everything he did. For three months she told him what a great man he was.

After three months, they forgot about the divorce and went on a second honeymoon.

You see what happened? Without meaning to, this woman began to practice unconditional love. She began to give without expecting anything in return. She practiced what Jesus taught, “But love your enemies and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.”

I can do good and lend, sometimes. I can even love my enemies. Sometimes. It’s that last part, “expecting nothing in return” that takes the wind out of my sails.

Richard Foster wrote, “Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness. The flesh whines against service, but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition.”

That hurts. But it makes me look deeper into the idea that, by God’s grace, I can give with no strings attached. I can be like Mordecai, who served the king without any hope of reward, or I can live like Haman and do everything with a hidden motive of seeking man’s approval and the king’s favor.

Facing arrest for his faith, Dirk Willems fled for his life across a frozen lake. When his pursuer broke through the ice, Willems gave up his chance to escape by turning to save his persecutor. He was then captured, imprisoned, and burned at the stake in 1569.

Two brothers complained bitterly to their pastor because a man kept coming and stealing water from them. They had worked long and hard to irrigate their fields in order to produce a healthy crop and provide for their families, but it was threatened by this man’s constant theft. The pastor surprised them by suggesting they irrigate the man’s fields for him, and ask for nothing in return. The brothers followed the advice and were amazed at what happened. They began to love the man, and they finally were able to witness to him and lead him to the Lord.

A young boy was forced to carry a German soldier’s pack for one mile during the Nazi regime. He did so, but decided to obey the words of Jesus and go two miles. The German soldier asked why, and he was able to witness to him. Later the boy said, “I believe the best witnessing starts during the second mile.”

What do all of these stories have in common? They are purposeful acts of loving others the way Jesus did, not random acts of kindness.

Surprise your friends and bless your enemies. Practice the love that Jesus demonstrated. Give it away as freely as he did.

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Mark Fox September 3, 2023
Mark Fox August 28, 2023

What’s the Big Deal About Church?

Peter compares the church to living stones, people in Christ who are being built up as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood. That person sitting on either side of you and in front of you and behind you on Sunday morning is a precious stone to God, a living stone that is connected to you by the blood and the Spirit of Christ. What makes the family of faith work together and stay together? A song from my past was called “We are Family,” and it’s a catchy tune. But how is the family held together in the song? They sing, “No we don’t get depressed, ‘cause here’s our golden rule: Have faith in you and the things you do; You won’t go wrong, this is our family jewel.” With all due respect to Sister Sledge, if my faith is in me or you or the things we do, we are in some deep trouble. No, we are living stones because of the cornerstone, Jesus Christ. And we are being built together by him and through his grace, day by day. It is a lifelong building project and the exciting thing is that there are new living stones being added to God’s building every day. Every time someone hears Jesus say, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me,” and does that, there’s a new living stone added to God’s building. We are family.

Some of my readers may remember Sunday morning, August 1, 1999, when Antioch was worshiping at what was then Arts Alive and is now Alamance Fine Arts Academy in downtown Burlington. One of our sons who was famous for his untimely febrile seizures had one in the middle of the sermon that day. His fever spiked, his eyes rolled back in his head, and pandemonium ensued. Someone called 911 and suddenly the police were coming in the front door while the firemen were coming through the back. A paramedic examining our son said, “Who are his parents?” The answer came back, “They’re not here right now; they’re at the hospital.” He persisted. “Well, someone needs to call them. I need to speak to his mom or dad.” One woman said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. She’s pushing right now.” The paramedic said, “Well, I need to speak to someone in the family.” John grinned and said, “We’re all family here!” And he was right. We are family, being built together as living stones who love each other more and more. If we are being built together, that begs the question…

Who is the builder? The cornerstone is! Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus is building his church. Can I ask you something? If Jesus was building a housing development in your county, how many of you would want a house there? If Jesus was building a shopping center in your city, how many of you would want to shop there? But Jesus said he is building one thing on the earth. Only one. His church. Two questions, then. Is there anything more important on the earth than the church? And, if not, why are so many living stones disconnected? Why are so many believers living solitary lives of faith and worship apart from a local expression of the body of Christ?

I get it. Stones can have really rough edges and do damage to the others around them. Stones can lose their grip in the wall and fall away, making the wall more vulnerable to falling itself. But the truth remains that Jesus is building his church out of living but imperfect stones, people like you and me. I wouldn’t want to be anyone else but a living stone in the building that stands on Jesus. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but firmly connected to the other living stones in a healthy local church.

Want to join me?

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Mark Fox August 28, 2023
Mark Fox August 20, 2023

No Lactose Intolerance Here!

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” How do we put off habits of sin and put on love for God and one another? By the power God gives us through the nourishment of his word, which is pure spiritual milk. And great news, there is no such thing as lactose intolerance when it comes to the milk of God’s word. We are to crave it to the point of a healthy addiction. Think of a newborn baby and his or her desire for milk. If that baby is healthy there is no need to coax it to drink. It cannot get enough. Any delay at feeding time when your baby is hungry will get a swift and loud reaction! For a growing infant, milk is not an optional extra. It is the sweet and pure means by which that baby grows healthy and strong. The word of God is that sweet and pure means by which you and I grow. And unlike the flowers and the grass and our own flesh, the word of God abides forever. Our flesh fades. I track the progress of that fade every morning when I look in the mirror. Eventually our flesh also fails. But the word of the Lord remains forever. And there is no substitute for it if we are to be healthy. No novel, no newsfeed, no social media, no entertainment can replace the word, and yet it often sits on our bedside stand while we feast on that which cannot satisfy.

What is the word of God and what does it do? It is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) His word pierces through every layer of who we are. God said his word, “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) His word never fails.  The Psalmist wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” His word shows us which way to go. (Psalm 119:105) God said to Jeremiah, “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29) Unlike the false prophets, God’s word will burn the straw of falsehood and break the hardest sinner’s heart.  And I love the parable Jesus spoke in Mark 4 where he said “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain…” (Mark 4:26-28) The word of God produces life. All by itself. We can share the seed of God’s word with someone and trust that God will water and bring life through that seed as he wills. We cannot make it happen. We can just sleep, rest, knowing that God is God. And as we read the word, or hear the word preached, that powerful seed is sown in our own hearts. And we rest, and sleep, and God changes us by his word. We don’t know how. But that’s kingdom work!

So, go ahead and drink it up. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

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Mark Fox August 20, 2023
Mark Fox August 13, 2023

You Will Never Get over This

I was thinking this week about what Peter wrote to the scattered believers in the first century: “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” It reminded me of a time more than 15 years ago when I decided to run a longer distance than I had ever done before. It was nowhere near a marathon. But it felt like a marathon. I was OK the first half, and for most of the way back. But with about 2 miles to go, I wanted to quit so badly I could almost taste it. My lungs were fine and my legs weren’t that tired, but I was immersed in a colossal battle in my mind, nonetheless. It was early in the morning, before folks were out working in their yards. If someone had been outside as I ran past, he might have wondered why this guy was shuffling along, saying, “Help me, Jesus…Oh Lord, please, help me.” When I wasn’t praying for help, I was trying to encourage myself with things like, “Come on, Mark, don’t quit. You can make it. Don’t quit.” I thought about my friend Jeff, who competed then in Iron Man Triathlons, and who said at a Men’s Breakfast a few weeks earlier, “You can do a lot more than you think you can.”  So, I kept running. I began to tell myself that I could run a half mile more before quitting. Then after that half mile, I would tell myself that I had at least one more half mile in me, and that I could do more than I thought I could.

But what I was really thinking about to the point that it became an obsession the last 2 miles, was the finish line, and the water bottle that awaited me there. I had placed a bottle of water and a towel at the top of my driveway.  The scene replayed in my mind over and over. I saw myself finishing the run and grabbing the water bottle. I tried to decide how much I would pour on my head and how much I would pour in my mouth. I wondered how good it would feel to not be running any more. I wondered if I would ever stop running. I wondered if I was still going in the right direction.

I think I was delirious.

When I finished the race and gulped that coveted prize of 16 ounces of the best tasting water I had ever put in my mouth, it was a sweet reward.

How much sweeter and how much more satisfying is the love of Christ.

The Apostle Paul said that he prayed for us that we “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God.” The word he used for comprehend means to lay hold on something with all of your might, as though your life depended on it. Like a drowning man would grab a rope that is thrown overboard to him. As much as my body craved that liquid refreshment when I was feeling dehydrated from a long run, my soul thirsts much more for a love that will never end. The Bible teaches that such a love is there for the taking. Not only that, but the love of Christ has breadth: it reaches to the whole world. There is no tongue or tribe or nation that is not included in his love. The love of Christ is as long as eternity. The love of Christ is deep enough to overcome the darkest sin. The love of Christ is so high that you and I will never get over it. 

That’s a prize worth running after.

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Mark Fox August 13, 2023
Mark Fox August 7, 2023

Grace for Knuckleheads

I was fifteen years old, wishing I was sixteen, and wanting to drive so badly I could taste it. And I was looking for any excuse to get behind the wheel. “Nana, can I move your car into the backyard and wash it for you?” I asked my grandmother, who was watering the flowers in her front yard. She recognized the desperate act of a teenager who was willing to do actual WORK in order to drive. “Sure can, sweetheart,” she said. “The keys are in it.”

My grandmother drove a cherry-red 1969 Mercury Comet convertible, and it was sweet. I often sat behind the wheel, my left arm hanging out over the door, and imagined that I was tooling down the highway on my way to Myrtle Beach. I imagined my hair blowing in the breeze, the guys admiring and the girls staring as I cruised along looking oh so cool. But this was not a dream. I was actually going to drive that car! I eased it out of the garage and turned the wheels slightly left, heading into the pine-tree studded backyard of my grandparents’ house. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and I was driving. “It just doesn’t get any better than this,” I thought. And that’s when it happened. I pulled a 15 and hit the wrong pedal. There was a pine tree in my immediate future and instead of slowly squeezing the brake, I slammed the accelerator. The car responded immediately, all cylinders firing at once, and it felt like it left the ground and leaped into a fine upstanding specimen of the North Carolina state tree. It remained upstanding as the front end of that Mercury Comet convertible folded into it. Everything in the front and back seats of the car slid into the floorboards and I went into shock.

Until I heard laughter. I looked to my left, and there stood Nana, garden hose in hand, laughing her head off. She laughed so hard, she started to cry. The water from the hose was going everywhere as she jerked around and doubled over and finally, I tried to laugh as I asked her what was so funny. “The look on your FACE!” Nana guffawed. “And the sight of all that JUNK sliding off the seats!” Nana laughed and wiped the tear. Finally, when she was able to get her breath again, she said, “Thank you, Mark, for helping me clean out my car.”

I learned some valuable lessons that day, not the least of which was the difference between the brake and the gas pedal, and the difference a mistake of only six inches can make. But I also learned more than I had ever understood about grace. I begged Nana to let me pay for the damage to her car but she wouldn’t have any of it. “I asked you to clean it, Mark!” Nana said, “And you went above and beyond the call of duty.” Then she started laughing again. Nana wasn’t rich, at least not materially, but she was about the wealthiest woman I knew when it came to things that really matter.

Ray Ortlund said in a sermon recently that his father gave him a Bible in 1966, on Ray’s 16th birthday. “I was a knucklehead then, and my father knew it,” Ray said. “But he also knew that God’s grace is for knuckleheads.” That was certainly my story at 15 and for a number of years after that. God had a grade-A knucklehead on his hands, and though I had given my heart to Jesus that summer, I really didn’t know what I was doing. Ortlund said in the same sermon, “Christianity is for those who stink at Christianity.”

There will be pine trees in the life of your children and grandchildren as well. So, tell them about ways you have received grace and help them learn from your past mistakes. Teach them how to give grace to others and receive grace from others. Remind them that the grace we have in Jesus Christ is so amazing that even the angels in heaven long to look into it.

Still, you might want to let them wash your car in the driveway.

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Mark Fox August 7, 2023
Mark Fox July 30, 2023

Do Good Works for the Right Reasons

Paul wrote to Titus that Jesus Christ gave himself for us for three reasons: to redeem us from sin, to purify a people for himself, and to make us zealous for good works. He could have said, “make us zealots for good works,” because it’s the same Greek word. Zealots in that time were crazed fanatics, hair on fire, wild-eyed, absolutely committed to overthrowing the government of Rome. But we are to be wild-eyed crazed fanatics for Jesus, committed to glorifying Him through good works. But wait. That doesn’t mean our good works have to be wild or big or even noticed by anyone, even by the ones who receive the benefit. I am sure the four guys who carried the paralytic to Jesus and then dug through a rooftop to get their friend close enough were not doing that to be seen by others. They didn’t plot the whole scheme as some kind of first century photo-op. No. They cared about their friend and believed Jesus could heal him. They were right. How about the woman who threw the equivalent of less than one cent in the coffers at the temple? The poor lady did not leave her house that day thinking, “Boy, I’m going to make a splash at the service today!” No. She was just doing a good work because she loved God and knew that he loved her. She had no idea that Jesus would make her an object lesson for all time on sacrificial giving. But he did.

We also know from Jesus’ parable of the soils that good works, or fruitfulness, is just what Christians do. He said that the good soil that received the seed of the Word would produce 30, 60, even 100-fold. The good soil isn’t showing off. It is simply being good dirt, just like you and me. The impact of our good works is up to the Lord. He is the one who gives the increase. We are the ones who do good works, for his glory.

Paul also said, “let our people learn to devote themselves to good works.” Doing good works is a learned behavior. How many of you have children who, as soon as they could walk, spent their days scooting around the house picking up toys, cleaning up messes, and doing whatever needed to be done? No, that child does not exist. I used to tell people that our seven kids were skilled craftsmen at making messes and getting things out of the cabinets and drawers but had no skill at all in putting them back. That was a learned behavior. I would add, parents, that when you set your mind to teaching your children how to serve in the home, you are training them for good works in the church and in the community. You are also training them not to be that guy at work who just does what’s required of him and no more, because he is there for himself, not to make the company successful.

Teach your children well. Teach them that doing good works will not always be rewarded on this side. And that’s part of the process of learning to do them for the right reason. We have to experience ingratitude in the face of a good deed to learn that we do not love and serve others so they will love us back or even say thank you. No. We serve them because it is profitable for them and because it brings glory to God.

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Mark Fox July 30, 2023
Mark Fox July 23, 2023

Avoid Foolish Controversies

Do angels have wings? And speaking of angels, how many of them could dance on the head of a pin? Did Adam and Eve have a pet? Will there be baseball in heaven? You’ve heard the story of the two men who argued about that, and then one died. A week later he visited his friend in a dream. He said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is, there’s baseball in heaven. The bad news is, you’re pitching Friday.”

We can have light-hearted conversations about some of these questions, for sure. But should we get into arguments over them? Or write books about them? Or spend our lives to defend them? No, the Bible is clear when it says, “Avoid foolish controversies.” The operative word there is foolish. Certainly Christians are called to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” But much of what Christians argue about is foolish, has no merit, and is based purely on speculation. There is no clear biblical teaching on foolish controversies, but many insist on studying them, writing about them, and worst of all, dividing over them. That’s why they are dangerous.

A foolish controversy that I haven’t heard lately but was popular years ago is the argument that Jesus’ garment at the cross, for which the soldiers cast lots, was very expensive. We have absolutely no evidence to suggest that, but this contention has been used as a proof text to suggest that Jesus was prosperous and we should be as well. Another foolish controversy, one very much present today, is that Jesus was really crucified on Wednesday and rose from the dead on Saturday. Therefore, the argument goes, we should gather for worship on that day, not on Sunday. Again, there is no biblical support for that argument. It creates heat, but provides no light.

Charles Spurgeon said this on the matter of foolish controversies: “It is foolish to sow in so barren a field. Questions upon points wherein Scripture is silent, upon mysteries which belong to God alone, upon prophecies of doubtful interpretation, and upon mere modes of observing human ceremonials, are all foolish, and wise men avoid them. Our business is neither to ask nor answer foolish questions, but to avoid them altogether; and if we observe the apostle’s precept to be careful to maintain good works, we shall find ourselves far too much occupied with profitable business to take much interest in unworthy, contentious, and needless strivings.”

Remember, the main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things. As I pondered these matters last week during a run, it occurred to me that sometimes good people leave a good church because of foolish controversies. For example, is there a biblical case to be made for someone leaving a church because the church doesn’t just sing hymns? Is there a biblical case to be made for someone leaving a church because the church celebrates Christmas? Or meets in a building? Or doesn’t have Sunday School? Even more foolish, is there biblical support for leaving a church because the carpet is green instead of red? Or because the church has a beautiful steeple…or none at all?

The sad truth is that when we embrace foolish controversies, which cannot be proved through Scripture, we don’t just become dangerous to ourselves spiritually. We may also become divisive in the body of Christ.

One way to avoid foolish controversies, as Spurgeon suggests, is to become intentional about pursuing good works. We should find no controversy there.

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Mark Fox July 23, 2023