29 September 2015

Is agapē a mystical magical word that means God's sacrificial gracious love?

by Dan Phillips

Over a month ago, I Tweeted this little hyperbolic jab:

At the time, some folks asked for me to expand on the serious, chewy center. And now, I will. Ahem.

Anyone and everyone who's tried to get serious Bible teaching has heard it. It goes something like this:
There are four Greek words for love: erōs, storgē, phileō, and agapē. They have very different meanings. Erōs means sexual love, storgē means family love, phileō means the love of friendship, and agapē means God's love, a gracious, sacrificial love. Only the Holy Spirit can give agapē.
Sometimes the folks who say these things are very dogmatic and categorical, saying things like "when reference is made to God’s LOVE, the word used is always agape" [Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angeles, CA: L.I.F.E. Bible College, 1983), 78].

You could probably supply your own; we've all heard them. But are they true?

First, I'll say as I've said before, if you don't know Greek, I'd encourage you — in as friendly and brotherly way as possible — not to talk about what "the Greek" says, unless you're directly quoting someone who does. I don't mean to be snotty or insulting about it, or to hurt any feelings; it's just the safest way to proceed. "A man's got to know his limitations," as a sage once observed.

For instance, someone who's studied Greek will wince at the statement that there are four words for "love." There may be four Greek words that have been translated by the English word "love," but there are more than four Greek words that mean "love." Or even just staying with the list, it's a mildly fingernails-on-the-blackboard experience to hear the list erōs (a noun), storgē (also a noun), phileō (hey, wait — the noun is philiaphileō is a verb)and agapē (oh, now we're back to nouns). The speaker might as well say "I don't actually know Greek, but this is a traditional list someone started at some point."

All that may seem like inside-baseball stuff, so let's just get down to this: does it hold true that "when reference is made to God’s LOVE, the word used is always agape," and that agapē means "God's love"?

Well no, not at all. For instance, John 3:35 says "the Father loves the Son, and has given all things in His hand." The verb is a form of the verb agapaō. So far, so good. But wait a minute, look at 5:20 — "the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things which He Himself is doing," and so forth. There, the verb is phileō. What? Two things: (1) it simply isn't true to say that "agape" is "always" used of God's love — unless you want to say that the related noun and the verb are unrelated (?!); and (2) agapaō and phileō are not like two distant continents, utterly dissimilar from each other in meaning.

While it is true that agapē and agapaō are the words characteristically used of God's love, it is not true that the terms themselves have as their own inherent meaning "God's love," or even "God's kind of love." For instance, if we consult uses in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was current in our Lord's day, we find the verb used of Shechem's "love" for Dinah (Gen. 34:2). Ew. It also describes Samson's "love" for Delilah (Judges 16:4), Amnon's "love" for Tamar (2 Sam. 13:1, 4; again, ew), and Solomon's "love" for the pagan women who led him away from Yahweh (1 Kings 11:2). That's just a sampler.

Then in the NT, the verb is used of tax collectors' love for those who love them (Mt. 5:46; cf. Lk. 6:32), Pharisees' "love" for the first seats (Lk. 11:43), the "love" of the lost for darkness rather than light (Jn. 3:19), the Jewish leaders' "love" for human praise over God's glory (Jn. 12:43), Demas' "love" for the present age (2 Tim. 4:10), forbidden "love" for the world (1 Jn. 2:15), and so forth.

That's just the verb. The noun is also used of Amnon's sick infatuation with Tamar (2 Sam. 13:15). In the NT, however, the noun is used more exclusively of God's love or ours. But so are forms of phileō, alone or in combination. The verb phileō is used of the love we must have for Jesus in 1 Cor. 16:22. God's saving love for man is called philanthrōpia in Titus 3:4, shortly after which Paul refers to those who "love" him and his coworkers in the faith (3:15, using a form of phileō). Jesus' love for Lazarus is described with phileō in John 11:3 and 36; but His love for Lazarus and Mary and Martha is described with agapaō in v. 5.

I could go on, but I hope I've established: the verb agapaō is not a magic word used exclusively to describe God's love. It does not, all by itself, mean God's love, nor is it the only word used to describe God's love, nor does it necessarily describe God's kind of gracious, chaste, sacrificial love.

Having said that, I will say this, which may for a brief second seem contradictory, so stay with me: the agapē-words are the ones the Greek writers most readily reach for to describe God's love (shown and mandated), and they best serve those uses.

Let me illustrate by a question: Does the word "devotion" mean "a mother's committed, dogged, tireless, self-sacrificial love for her child"?

No, of course it doesn't. We could also speak of a drunk's devotion to the bottle, or a druggie's devotion to his crack-pipe, or a terrorist's devotion to his jihad, or a pagan's devotion to his false god (—did I just say the same thing, twice?). The word does not inherently mean "a mother's committed, dogged, tireless, self-sacrificial love for her child."

However, if you want to describe that kind of love, you may well reach for the word "devotion." Because it serves well in that use. You'll just have to check the context.

And so it is with the Greek words translated love. I don't think any two of them are completely synonymous in the sense that they are completely interchangeable. But you really get the meaning by examining the use.

So with agapē and (please!) philia. We know about God's love, not by reading a study bible or a word-study or a lexicon, but by studying passages using and illustrating the term's meaning, such as Romans 5:6-8 or Ephesians 2:4.

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27 September 2015

The “vicar" of Christ? Never!

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Morning and Evening, May 29, MacDonald Publishing.

"The thick pollutions of thine abominable church forbid the idea of descent from any apostle but the traitor Judas."

Since he was cursed who rebuilt Jericho, much more the man who labours to restore Popery among us. In our fathers' days the gigantic walls of Popery fell by the power of their faith, the perseverance of their efforts, and the blast of their gospel trumpets; and now there are some who would rebuild that accursed system upon its old foundation.

O Lord, be pleased to thwart their unrighteous endeavours, and pull down every stone which they build. It should be a serious business with us to be thoroughly purged of every error which may have a tendency to foster the spirit of Popery, and when we have made a clean sweep at home we should seek in every way to oppose its all too rapid spread abroad in the church and in the world.

This last can be done in secret by fervent prayer, and in public by decided testimony. We must warn with judicious boldness those who are inclined towards the errors of Rome; we must instruct the young in gospel truth, and tell them of the black doings of Popery in the olden times. We must aid in spreading the light more thoroughly through the land, for priests, like owls, hate daylight.

Are we doing all we can for Jesus and the gospel? If not, our negligence plays into the hands of priestcraft. What are we doing to spread the Bible, which is the Pope's bane and poison? Are we casting abroad good, sound gospel writings? Luther once said, "The devil hates goose quills," and, doubtless, he has good reason, for ready writers, by the Holy Spirit's blessing, have done his kingdom much damage.

If the thousands who will read this short word this night will do all they can to hinder the rebuilding of this accursed Jericho, the Lord's glory shall speed among the sons of men. Reader, what can you do? What will you do?

24 September 2015

Not smarter than Paul

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Frank back in June 2007.  This was the last of a series of posts in which Frank addressed the issue of when and why leaving a church is justified.

As usual, the comments are closed.
We are not smarter than Paul. We are beggars before the wisdom which Paul was given – we do not grasp what he wrote and taught, so we do not do the things Paul (or Peter, or the Evangels, or James, or the others) was exhorting the believers to do.

If we think Paul didn’t know all the errors we face, maybe we ought to go back and look at who and what Paul was talking about as he wrote his letters to the various churches.

In Romans, Paul decries legalism, libertinism, pride, racism, and anarchy – and he was writing to people whom he longed to see, and thought highly of in terms of the faith.

In 1 & 2 Corinthians, Paul decries exalting teachers, intellectual and spiritual pride, lax church discipline, sexual immorality, material squabbling, seeking recourse in secular venues outside of the church, false views of marriage, both idolatry and being a slave to the fear of idolatry, false views about Christian liberty, abuse of the Lord's Table, abuse of common worship in the demonstration of spiritual gifts, false views of the Gospel, church discipline which does not aim to redeem but seeks only to punish, the fear of death, stingy giving, and interestingly those who think they know more than the Apostles do about the Gospel, Christ and the church. His view of what to do about false teachers is especially useful if you care to review it in 2Cor 10 & 11. And these were people whom he himself established in the faith – people who literally got it from the bondservant's mouth.

In Galatians, Paul decries adding works to the Gospel, and showing partiality based on observances, and rejects circumcision as necessary, and underscores the necessity of unity under truth in the church – in spite of the fact that he had to defy Peter to his face to do it! He didn’t say, "and I never set foot in any house with Peter ever again." You know: Peter who got the vision from God, "take and eat"? Nobody abandoning the Galatian church in spite of that.

In Ephesians, Paul expresses the fully-orbed Gospel and uses it to say, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." And leaps off from there to exhort to personal holiness, submission to each other, the true nature of marriage and the roles of husband and wife, the roles in family and society, and the method by which we are girded up against the temptations of the world.

Listen: that's not even all of the letters Paul wrote, and almost all of the problems in the modern church are actively and openly addressed. If you're worried that he doesn't list Joseph Smith or Benny Hinn by name, maybe what you ought to do is see if he mentions you by name and wonder if there are any logical implications to that.

See: the foundational premise of Scripture is not that we should read it. The foundational premise of Scripture is that it is sufficient for our equipping; reading is a consequence of sufficiency. And the equipment in Scripture says that the church is necessary and that this is the place where we first and foremost stand for the truth of the Gospel, and in standing for truth we stand together.

If you are holed up in your study in your robe reading and writing blogs, but you can't find a church that suits you, you are not standing on the sufficiency of Scripture: you are sitting in your robe. If Scripture is sufficient to tell you that Your Best Life Now is a fraud and that no pastor should emulate it to his congregation, it is also sufficient to tell you – and let me make it clear that I mean you personally, you the one who is unable to find one believer whom you do not have parental authority over with which to fellowship -- that you belong joined together with other believers in a visible and social way which demonstrates the glory of God to the world.

20 September 2015

The beginning of our best days

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 27, sermon number 1,588, "The believer's death day better than his birthday."
"Death is the end of dying."

On the day of the believer’s death, dying is forever done with. The saints who are with God shall never die any more. Life is wrestling, struggling; but death is the end of conflict: it is rest— victory. Life is full of sinning. Blessed be God, death is the end of that; no transgression or iniquity shall follow us into heaven.

Life is longing, sighing, crying, pining, desiring. Heaven is enjoying, possessing, delighting one’s self in God. This life is failure, disappointment, regret. Such emotions are all over when the day of death comes, for glory dawns upon us with its satisfaction and intense content. The day of our death will be the day of our cure.

There are some diseases which, in all probability, some of us never will quite get rid of till the last Physician comes, and he will settle the matter. One gentle touch of his hand, and we shall be cured forever. All infirmities, as well as sicknesses, will vanish in our last hours.

Blind sister, you will have your eyes. You that have lost your hearing shall listen to the songs of angels, and enter into the most refined of their harmonies. You who must limp to your graves shall dance, by-and-by. Infirmities you shall have none. Death will also be the cure of old age.

No doctor can help you about that; but this doctor will end all. You shall renew your youth like the eagle’s. You shall be girt about with power when your body rises from the grave, and till then your soul shall enjoy all the freshness and juvenility of youth. You shall be at your prime in glory.

Our death day will be the loss of all losses. Life is made up of losses, but death loses losses. Life is fall of crosses, but death is the cross that brings crosses to an end. Death is the last enemy, and turns out to be the death of every enemy.

Dear friends, put all your days together; they shall not equal that last day which shall be to you the beginning of days of another sort. The day of our death is the beginning of our best days. 

17 September 2015

The Proper Ground of Forgiveness

by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Phil back in April 2007. Phil explained why a correct view of forgiveness must include propitiation.

As usual, the comments are closed.
Too many Christians think of divine forgiveness as something that utterly overturns justice and sets it aside—as if God's mercy nullified His justice—as if God's love defeated and revoked His hatred of sin. That's not how forgiveness works.

Is forgiveness from sin grounded only in the love and mercy and goodness of God—apart from his justice? Does love alone prompt the Almighty to forego the due penalty of sin, wipe out the record of our wrongdoing, and nullify the claims of justice against us, unconditionally?

Or must God Himself be propitiated? In other words, do His righteousness and His holy wrath against sin need to be satisfied before He can forgive?

It truly seems as if most people today—including multitudes who identify themselves as Christians—think God forgives merely because His love overwhelms His holy hatred of sin. Some go even further, rejecting the notion of propitiation altogether, claiming it makes God seem too harsh. The problem with every such view of the atonement is that mercy without propitiation turns forgiveness into an act of injustice.

That is a seriously erroneous view. As a matter of fact, that very idea was one of the main errors of Socinianism.

The original Socinians were 16th-century heretics who denied that God demands any payment for sin as a prerequisite to forgiveness. They insisted instead that He forgives our sin out of the sheer bounty of His kindness alone. They argued that if God demanded an atonement—an expiation, a payment, a reprisal, or a propitiation—for sin, then we shouldn't really call it "forgiveness" when He absolves us. They claimed that sin could either be paid for or forgiven, but not both.

In other words, they defined forgiveness in a way that contradicts and contravenes justice. They were essentially teaching that God could not maintain the demands of His justice and forgive sins at the same time. They thought of forgiveness and justice as two incompatible ideas.

Scripture expressly refutes that idea. One of the most glorious truths of the gospel is that God saved us in a way that upheld His justice. Justice was neither compromised nor set aside; it was completely satisfied. God Himself was thus fully propitiated. And our salvation is therefore grounded in the justice of God as well as His mercy.

That is what the apostle Paul meant when he said in Romans 1:17 that "the righteousness of God [is] revealed" in the gospel. It's also what the apostle John was saying in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive." He doesn't set aside justice and grant us an unholy amnesty; He forgives because it is an act of justice to do so.

Now, there is a bit if a paradox in that idea. Justice is the moral quality that cries for the punishment of evildoers. Justice fairly screams for retribution whenever a wrong is done: "The wicked shall not be unpunished" (Proverbs 11:21). "[God] will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:7).

God will judge evil, and that is a good thing. We look forward to that day when the Judge of all the earth will judge the deeds of the wicked and purge evil from the universe. He will not compromise His own righteousness by allowing one sin to go unpunished. Jesus said, "There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known" (Matt. 10:26). Every sin, even the secret ones, will be brought out in the open and judged. Justice screams for retribution of sin, and God is a God of perfect justice, so He will not let one sin go unpunished.

How then can He forgive sinners?

That's what the atonement is all about: Jesus paid the full penalty of sin on behalf of those who believe. Their sins have already been judged at the cross. "[Christ] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). Redefine the atonement to remove the idea that Christ suffered the judgment for sin in our place, and you destroy the heart of all gospel truth: "Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

13 September 2015


Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Gospel of the Kingdom, page 22, Pilgrim Publications.
"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." Matthew 5:6

They are not full of their own righteousness, but long for more and more of that which comes from above. They pine to be right themselves both with God and man, and they long to see righteousness have the upper hand all the world over.

Such is their longing for goodness, that it would seem as if both the appetites of “hunger and thirst” were concentrated in their one passion for righteousness. Where God works such an insatiable desire, we may be quite sure that he will satisfy it; yea, fill it to the brim.

In contemplating the righteousness of God, the righteousness of Christ, and the victory of righteousness in the latter days, we are more than filled. In the world to come the satisfaction of the “man of desires” will be complete.

Nothing here below can fill an immortal soul; and since it is written, “They shall be filled,” we look forward with joyful confidence to a heaven of holiness with which we shall be satisfied eternally.

10 September 2015

The "Democratic Causality Myth"

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Dan back in May 2012. Dan addressed the view that "it takes two to cause marital problems."

As usual, the comments are closed.
As I continue in my announced intent to share a few bits of Biblical wisdom on marriage, it seems good to start by dispelling a couple of myths. Call me a Biblical "mythbuster."

First: it takes two to create marital problems. No, it doesn't. It only takes one.

It feels embarrassing even to have to say that, it's such a Biblically obvious point — but the notion of necessarily democratically-shared liability is so widespread that some air-clearing is necessary.

I think I'll call this the Democratic Causality Myth. How do I know it's a myth? The same way I know anything really important: the Bible.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.  For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Peter 2:19-20)
There you go: it is possible to suffer, not only in spite of doing good, but precisely for doing good. Peter expressly envisions a relationship where Party A causes suffering to Party B, and the latter not only did not "have it coming to him," but was specifically doing what he ought to be doing.

Peter's not done with that theme. Note that he says in 3:14a, "even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed." There it is again: suffering precisely because one had done what was right.

Of course, we could add a heap of Scriptures, and they'd take us back to our Lord Himself, amid the Beatitudes: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:10).

The assumption that all suffering must be immediately traceable to some specifically causative wrongdoing is simply not Biblical. It is to join hands and nod along with Job's divinely-discredited friends, as they doggedly pursue the etiology of Job's suffering, sure that he'd brought it on himself somehow.

So if we grant this for all of life, is there some force-field that un-trues the truth when it comes to marriage? Is it only in marriage that we must always split blame for suffering 50-50? I'd like to see that logic diagrammed.

Now let me hasten to say (if it isn't too late to "hasten") that the odds are that there never has been a troubled marriage involving one 100% flawless saint and one 100% culpable reprobate. And anyone who was trying to help a troubled couple would be a fool to overlook the wisdom of Prov. 18:17. We sinners being what we are (sinners, and rationalizing ones at that), the odds are that both parties in a struggling marriage have sin-patterns to deal with. You, the person in a troubled marriage, should start with that assumption.

But really — a woman's husband commits adultery. You immediately begin to search for what she did to bring this on herself? On what Biblical warrant? Even if you can find twelve things she did wrong as a wife, does that make his sin of adultery to any degree her fault? A man's wife incessantly tongue-lashes and emasculates him. First thing you do is start listing off his failure as a leader? On what Biblical warrant? Even if you can find twelve things he did wrong as a husband, does that make her sin of verbal assaults to any degree his fault?

In case I haven't made this clear, I am writing to you. I am not writing to your spouse. You (and I) need to own your (and my) sin, period, and not race for cover behind the democratic causality myth.

06 September 2015

“Cedo nulli”

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Words of Cheer, pages 53-54, Pilgrim Publications.
"We rebel against the world’s customs."

And if we do so, what is the conduct of our enemy? She changes her aspect. “That man is a heretic; that man is a fanatic; he is a cant, he is a hypocrite,” says the world directly. She grasps her sword, she putteth frowns upon her brow, she scowleth like a demon, she girdeth tempests round about her, and she saith, “The man dares defy my government; he will not do as others do. Now I will persecute him. Slander! come from the depths of hell and hiss at him. Envy! sharpen up thy tooth and bite him.”

She fetches up all false things, and she persecutes the man. If she can, she does it with the hand; if not, by the tongue. She afflicts him wherever he is. She tries to ruin him in business; or, if he standeth forth as the champion of the truth, why then she laugheth, and mocketh, and scorneth. She lets no stone be unturned whereby she may injure him.

What is then the behavior of the Lord’s warrior, when he sees the world take up arms against him, and when he sees all earth, like an army, coming to chase him, and utterly destroy him? Does he yield? Does he yield? Does he bend? Does he cringe? Oh, no! Like Luther, he writes “Cedo nulli” on his banner — “I yield to none;” and he goes to war against the world, if the world goes to war against him.

The true-born child of God cares little for man’s opinion. “Ah,” says he, “let my bread fail me, let me be doomed to wander penniless the wide world o’er; yea, let me die: each drop of blood within these veins belongs to Christ, and I am ready to shed it for His name’s sake.” He counts all things but loss, that he may win Christ — that he may be found in him; and when the world’s thunders roar, he smiles at the uproar, while he hums his pleasant tune.

When her sword comes out, he looketh at it. “Ah,” saith he, “just as the lightning leapeth from its thunder lair, splitteth the clouds, and affrighteth the stars, but is powerless against the rock-covered mountaineer, who smiles at its grandeur, so now the world cannot hurt me, for in the time of trouble my Father hides me in His pavillion, in the secret of His tabernacle doth He hide me, and set me up upon a rock.”

Thus, again, we conquer the world, by not caring for its frowns.

03 September 2015

"Go and make disciples"

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Frank back in July 2012. It was the first of a 3-part series on the subject of Biblical Evangelism. The entire series was a transcript of a talk that Frank gave at the 2012 Call to Discernment Conference in Tulsa OK.

As usual, the comments are closed.
You are all familiar with the Great Commission from the last chapter of Matthew. That statement from Jesus is foundational in our understanding of what exactly believers are supposed to do while we wait for Jesus to return.

Consider it: according to Matthew, Jesus was crucified, and then 3 days later the tomb was found empty, and the angel gave the disciples instructions on where to find Jesus. And when they showed up there, Jesus was there. But while they worshipped him, some of them doubted. The context of the Great Commission, in Matthew’s account, is Jesus addressing his followers who, after the greatest miracle of all time, doubted.

These people were looking at the resurrected Christ who just defeated death, and they doubted. And that’s actually our problem, right? The death of death in the resurrection of Christ somehow is not enough. The idea that the problem is diagnosed by God, and then the solution is decreed by God, and then worked out by God – and then all we have to do is repent of our diagnoses and our solutions and turn to Him and worship Him – that seems somehow anticlimactic.

But Christ’s solution to that doubt is plain: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The first thing this means for us is that what we are supposed to do is not by our own authority. You know: in Revelation, John says this by having all manner of created beings cry out, “Worthy is the Lamb!” This is the Jesus for whom the scroll in the hand of the Father – the deed to all creation – has been given, and he’s the only one who is worthy to take it. So when Jesus begins to address doubt about this plan, he starts by saying that confidence in this plan is not a matter of tactics, or of our star power: it is a matter of authority. He is saying something that is important for those of us who feel impressed with the work of evangelism to remember: we do not go to this task because we think it’s just a good idea.

You don’t become an evangelist, or declare the Gospel, because you’re convinced it’s true.

You don’t do this simply because you like Jesus, or you like other people.

You do this because this message is God’s message, and it only makes sense if it comes from God. You see: Jesus is not saying, “in order to renew all things, and to renovate culture, and to give people their best life now, here is my suggestion.” He is instead saying, “Look: a few days ago, you thought I was defeated by human priests and human empires, and left for dead in the grave. You thought that human authorities could overcome me and my purpose in this world because I was dead. But now? I’m alive. Because I am alive, you should see that there are no authorities greater than me. All authority in Heaven belongs to me – so you have a source of hope. But look: all authority on Earth belongs to me. You have nothing to fear.”

Jesus says, “Go and make Disciples.” The blessed King James translation says, “Go and teach all nations.” That word doesn’t mean you cause people to wear a t-shirt, or get a plastic fish on their cars, or hand them a card to fill out, or to write a date down in the front cover of their Bible. It means you cause them to sit under the teaching. In the days of Christ, it meant that you gave up something in order to follow your teacher around – or at least to be available when he is in town to teach.