Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Workmanship of God

God’s Workman - the Workmanship of God - Will Never Be Ashamed

On Sunday, April 28, I was privileged to participate in a special service recognizing Pastor Chris Skeens of Ravenswood.  He had completed his studies and earned a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counseling from Liberty University.  I was one of two speakers. The first and most significant was his youngest daughter Hannah - the child was honoring the father.  Her tribute was totally and completely unalloyed - and what she expressed is the motivating heart of the Gospel Message. What she did incarnate I only added the exegesis - or interpretation.

When Pastor Chris’ wife, Susan, asked me to contribute the passage of Scripture that came immediately to my mind was this from the KJV: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 This letter is acknowledged as Paul’s last piece of correspondence as he lay in a Roman dungeon fully cognizant of the sword that was being prepared to bring to completion the race that was initiated on the Damascus Road - actually from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15). We might say that this was the apostle’s last will and testament - his bequeathment to his young disciple.  Paul had carried the flame as far as he had been ordained to do so - now it would be handed off to Timothy and then to others to carry it even further.

I once heard an Ugandan pastor exhort younger pastors to turn to the letters to Pastors Timothy and Titus when they get lost and they would find their way again. Well, before I digress too much more let’s get back to our main theme.

Instead of the word study, other more literal translations use the word diligent: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 NASB From this basis I shared with the congregation, “Pastor Chris has been diligent not to avoid shame, but because he has been freed from shame.”  The further testimony of Scripture is that we are the work of His hands  - “For we are His workmanship (masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

Freedom From Shame

Freedom from shame is the motivating factor for the Christian - for in only two verses before it is proclaimed: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown (deny) himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13 For the Father to deny or disown the elect in His Son would be to deny or disown His very self.  “even as, in His love, He chose us as His own in Christ before the creation of the world, that we might be holy and without blemish in His presence.” Ephesians 1:4 Weymouth

For the prophet had announced concerning the days of restoration: "Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, And that I am the LORD your God, And there is no other; And My people will never be put to shame.” Joel 2:27  The next verse in Joel is part of Peter’s great sermon on the day of Pentecost: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” Acts 2:17

Before Peter begins to quote Joel he prefaces:  “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.” Acts 2:15  Peter was saying that he had some “splainin” to do. This is the function of a preacher/teacher - one whom the Father has set apart to be a herald of His Word.  The Holy Spirit inspired proclamation of the Word of God setting forth the revelation of the Son is the foundation stone of the prevailing Church.

John Gill comments: “on this foundation the saints are built by Father, Son, and Spirit, as the efficient causes, and by the ministers of the Gospel as instruments: these lie in the same common quarry with the rest of mankind, and are singled out from thence by efficacious grace; they are broken and hewn by the word and ministers of it, as means; and are ministerially laid on Christ the foundation, and are built up thereon in faith and holiness;...”

The Initiative of the Call

It is the initiative of the call of God that results in diligence.  In Paul’s dissertation on the unfathomable wisdom and mystery of election he announces: “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29  In a recent men’s study the author of the book we were using said, “But God has a ‘lost and found’ for you to visit to get back what the enemy has taken away.”  I referenced this Scripture passage to say that what the Father has given in the Son can never be lost for what He gives, He does not give away - nor does He take back. We may get off course a bit, but He is always faithful to bring correction - for we are not illegitimate children.  He will not forsake His own. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." Hebrews 12:6 ESV 

In the rest of God no one ceases to work - diligence remains a hallmark - it is the motivation behind the effort that becomes dramatically different.  “Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:11 God rested on the seventh day of creation, but He did not quit. Now in the Son we also enter into this Sabbath rest - not just one day of the week, but every day. “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” Hebrews 4:9

Approval is not something for which we strive - it is the basis from which we strive. “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Colossians 1:29  We are accepted before the Father in the Son of His love and there is nothing we can do to improve on that standing. “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3 NIV We are sustained by the authoritative revelation of the Son. Only a deceiving spirit could seek to add to this.

An Exhortation is Hollow

An exhortation is hollow unless the means are provided to fulfill it - indeed it is the embodiment of vain religiosity. “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”  Colossians 2:23 There is nothing much worse than a purveyor of false hope.  “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” Acts 15:10 ESV

In Reformed theology diligence and the perseverance of the saints are one and the same thing.  Perseverance is all to the glory of God - for it is the Father’s unfailing love that perseveres without the possibility of failing. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV The Son prays to the Father on our behalf: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." John 17:26 NIV This is the concluding statement - the seal - of His High Priestly prayer. It is the Amen - so be it, truly!  It is akin to the Swahili word for yes - ndiyo - which is much more definite - yes, it is so. The love of God can do anything but fail.

Pastor John Piper says it like this: “It follows...that the people of God WILL persevere to the end and not be lost. The foreknown are predestined, the predestined are called, the called are justified, and the justified are glorified. No one is lost from this group. To belong to this people is to be eternally secure.”

The Son’s Prayer

Looking again to the Son’s prayer on our behalf: "I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.” John 17:6  Of course they were obedient! How could they be otherwise?  The Father had given them to the Son and they knew it - the only possible response is obedience.  Only those who have been chosen have the ability to choose.  They have been given the will to come: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6:37 NIV They will come - not as automatons, but as elect children. The Son came not to do His own will, but - “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” 6:38  Thus the will of the Father in the Son becomes the will of those given to the Son by the Father: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” 6:39

The great motivating factor for the Son was this: “and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’" At once the Holy Spirit also came upon Him. This is the truth baptism of which the water was only a symbol - for this declaration immersed every fiber of His being.  And at this point He had done very little - a least that we have a record of; yet he was already approved. From this point until the day He prayed, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” John 17:4 NIV - His standing of approval in the heart of His Father had not increased one iota.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." This is from Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:15 NIV).  In his letter to the Galatians he writes it like this: Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." (4:6 NIV).  It is with one voice that we ourselves empowered by the Holy Spirit cry out from our innermost being. 

So we can say to Pastor Chris, “Well done. For you are done, you are complete, you are finished - for your Eternal Father has chosen to reveal His Son in and through you.”  No greater accolade can be attributed to a man.

Thus we say again: It is right and proper that the child gives honor to the father - for she is his workmanship.

“I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.”  John 17:9-10 NASB