Re-post: Both Tender and Tough

Photo Credit: skedonk (via flickr.com)So, as we saw in my first post on this topic, the Apostle John knew how to address his people with tenderness at a time when heretical wolves were threatening the flock. Is that all? Does that mean that pastors’ main task today is to console their people like a nursemaid hovering over a sick child?

I note another characteristic of the Apostle in his first letter, one that I consider complementary to the first. Without this, in fact, he would not be John. On the one hand, when it came to caring for the flock and dealing directly with them, he was gentle. But, on the other hand, when it came to upholding sound doctrine and confronting the heresy threatening the integrity of the church, he was tough and unbending — a virtual warrior.

Here’s one of his strong declarations: “The man who says, ‘I know [Jesus Christ]’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (2:4). Here’s another, “No one who lives in [Jesus Christ] keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (3:6). There’s no give there. His epistle is marked with such statements.

Here’s the hint we need: All of John’s applied doctrine — that is, doctrine that calls his people to a certain manner of life — arises from the conviction with which he begins his epistle: that God, in Christ, actually came into human flesh! We call it the Incarnation. John writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at, and our hands have touched — this we proclaim” (1 John 1: 1). At this point, John reflects no give. Primary doctrine is a life and death matter. Loving pastors stake their lives on it.

This was necessary because heresies were beginning to threaten the young church before the first century closed.

There was a heretic named Nicolas whose followers believed and taught that in moral matters, anything goes. Antinomianism is the word for this position. John could not countenance this, because he knew that such teaching could permeate the church like yeast in an unbaked loaf of bread.

There was also a heretic named Cerinthus, with whom John himself apparently had doctrinal run-ins. Cerinthus believed that matter was evil and so denied that Christ actually came in the flesh.

In addition, gnosticism — a heresy that threatened the church in the second and even third centuries — was beginning to sprout as an enemy of the gospel. The church was under attack.

Pastors need both virtues today — tenderness and toughness. The saints today need to know that they are under pastors who care for them with a tender love. At the same time, they should sense that they are being guided by pastors who have a clear sense of doctrinal integrity and who will lay down their lives to guard against the heresies of today that threaten the minds and hearts of God’s people.

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One thought on “Re-post: Both Tender and Tough

  1. I remember going one weekday to my church,St Michael’s in Coventry ,England ,to quietly pray alone in the cathedral’s Lady Chapel..Lady Chsapel is directly beneath the great tapestry of Christ in glory,designed by artist Graham Sutherland I think it used to be the world’s largest tapestry.

    The tapestry depicts the huge figure of Christ throned in Heaven,surrounded by signs of the four Apostles..Beneath his feet stands a man ,as if to stand for all humanity, 4 feet 10 inches,dwarfed by our Lord. Below Christ in the tetramorph ,the tapestry depicts Christ on the cross,opening his arms in openness and love,making himself vulnerable to all ,including those who mock and despise Him.Thus he transforms disgrace into glory,humiliation into triumph.

    From the narrow Lady chapel below ,one feels overwhelmed by this depiction of the glory and majesty of Christ and at the same time the passionate vulnerability of Christ on the Cross.It is quite emotional preparing to pray in this environment and one feels very small.

    On this particular day,after praying ,I picked up one of the bibles in the chapel ,opened it at First John and started reading. After many comforting words I soon came upon those very verses you mention ,Pastor :1John 2:4 and 1 John 3:6.I can’t remember but I think the bibles there were the English Standard Version,so I’ll quote from them.

    ’Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,’ ESV 1John 2:4

    ‘No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him’.ESV 1 John 3:6

    In my heightened state,in this awe inspiring chapel,I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.I remember wondering if this was the fear of God I’d heard of.For I was frightened.It was not a comfortable feeling.

    For I thought I was a Christian,thought I knew Christ and had a personal relationship with Him and had in fact just this very minute been praying to the Father through Him.Yet could I honestly say I always keep His commandments both in word and spirit and never sin?

    For I know that Christ’s Commandments are more than the Commandments brought down by Moses. Jesus asks of us more than that we do not sin.Jesus asks us not even to have the inclination to sin.Take the sin of adultery,for instance.This is what Jesus says.

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery ;. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’’ Matthew 5:27 – 28 NIV

    In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord asks of His disciples that they keep God’s law not only to the letter but also to the spirit.I have heard it said that these perfect ethical standards Jesus asks for in the sermon non the Mount are the standard expected of disciples and the priesthood,not of the laity.I cannot believe that.

    Just as Jesus came to save us all it seems to me Jesus speaks to us all.2,000 years ago Jesus chose the disciples to spread His Word,and He addressed them at the Sermon on the Mount.Upon baptism we are each chosen to spread His Word and we are all addressed by Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

    Protestants,I understand ,like Luther , consider all , once baptized, part of a priesthood of all believers. Lay Catholics too seek Christian perfection.After all ,was not Teresa of Avilla a lay Catholic in the sense that women are not ordained in the Catholic Church. Isn’t every follower of The Way,the Gospel of Christ , asked by Christ to be pure of heart in following what He asks in the Sermon on the Mount.

    These are the Ethics of the Kingdom,requiring perfect purity of heart.Saint Augustine called it the perfect standard of Christian life.This is the gold standard of Christian ethics,Christian perfection,asked of all.

    John is writing to those who consider themselves Christians,those who have heard the Word.But many heretics and ‘antiChrists’ had been preaching false doctrines ,I gather from his letter ,and John wants to ensure those who would follow the Way, make no mistake,are not misled ,and know what is required to achieve the salvation offered by Jesus Christ.

    Even so,the apostle sounded very hard to me as I sat in Lady Chapel at St Michael’s, reading First John that morning.I must have missed his demanding tone before but this time reading it,it struck home fiercely..The Bible says we are born to sin and all have sinned .Except Jesus of course , and I think Mary .And I presume Adam and Eve for a day or two,but they,alone of humanity , weren’t born.

    For the rest,all have sinned ,yet here John says those who sin and think they know Christ are liars. And those who keep sinning haven’t even seen or known Jesus! In the Lady Chapel I looked up at the tapestry portrayal of Jesus and thought how tolerant He was with the woman at the well.He knew her sins but was kind and gentle with her.Then the woman taken in adultery.He knew her sins yet thankfully saved her from the baying mob who would stone her,At the same time as saving her, Jesus pointed out no one is free from sin,.For when he asked the one without sin to throw the first stone,all stones were dropped

    Gentle Jesus ! Though I’m aware he also comes with a sword.Still,gentle Jesus I thought that morning in Lady Chapel.

    Now here was rhe disciple whom Jesus loved ( I still believe he is the author of First John), so here was the disciple Jesus loved ,telling me I’m a liar if I consider I know Christ and unless I’m sinless I’ve never known Him

    That morning in Lady Chapel I was taking this personally.Thinking about it now,that’s always when I get the most out of the Bible,when I take it personally.Back then I examined myself very closely.I remember thinking of the great affection I’ve always had for the figure of John the disciple,who stayed by Jesus at His crucifixion.I recalled the John I knew from reading the Gospels

    I realized and saw John’s tough words are not meant to hinder or deter any follower of Christ .That included me,I though that morning in Lady Chapel.John is encouraging and warning and guiding and steering the flock toward the straight gate. John in his integrity is practising tough love and guiding his Master’s people.And so his words still do today.

    I think of John in Heaven now.

    I remember the fear of God I had that time in Lady Chapel,as I learn from this week’s ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ blog.Those uncompromising verses from First John bring it all back.

    I remember coming from St Michael’s that day ,determined never to lose sight of that goal of Christian perfection taught in the Sermon on the Mount.I never want to lose sight of that gold standard of Christian life,never want to let go of it.I remember John’s frightening words of caution.

    Toughness can inspire and lead to progrees sometimes, as well as tenderness.

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