Posts tagged ‘Spiritual’

ABC Extra – Two Kingdoms, One Ruler

This weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off a series called, “King Me! Life Lessons from Israel’s Lieges.”  In this series, we are taking a look at some of Israel’s kings and seeking to learn from both the good and the bad of their rules and reigns.  The theme verse for this series comes from Judges 8, where, after leading a valiant charge against the Midianites, the Israelites want to install their judge, Gideon, along with his family, into an Israelite royal dynasty.  Gideon responds, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:23).  Gideon understands that, ultimately, it is the LORD who is King over all.  No earthly king can dare or deign to take God’s place.  Indeed, the subtitle for this series, “Life Lessons from Israel’s Lieges,” alludes to this.  A “liege” can be either one who rules or one who is ruled.  Earthly kings are both.  They may rule over others, but they themselves are inescapably and inexorably ruled by God.  For God is King over all.

Like Gideon, Martin Luther understood that God rules and reigns over all.  In his writings, Luther often spoke of two kingdoms.  On the one hand, Luther explains, there is a left hand kingdom, which incorporates the world and its rules and rulers. On the other hand, there is a right hand kingdom, or a spiritual kingdom, which consists of all those who have faith in Christ and are guided by the Gospel.  When teaching on these two kingdoms, I will often refer to the right hand kingdom as the Kingdom of God and the left hand kingdom as the Kingdom of Man.  “Who rules the Kingdom of God?” I will ask when I teach on this topic.  People quickly and confidently respond, “God.”  But then I follow up, “Who rules the Kingdom of Man?” Many respond, “Man.”  But the glory of the Kingdom of Man is that, despite its name, it is not ruled by man, but by God!  The Lutheran Confessions explain:  “It is taught among us that all government in the world and all established rule and laws were instituted and ordained by God for the sake of good order.”[1]  This statement echoes the words of the apostle Paul:  “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).  Because God institutes and establishes the rulers in the Kingdom of Man, He is also the ultimate ruler over the Kingdom of Man.  As the prophet Daniel says, “God sets up kings and deposes them” (Daniel 2:21).  There is no kingdom – be it the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Man – where God does not reign and rule.

Though God reigns and rules over both the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, it should be noted that God rules differently in these two kingdoms.  Luther explains:

One must carefully distinguish between these two governments. Both must be permitted to remain; the one to produce righteousness, the other to bring about external peace and prevent evil deeds. Neither one is sufficient in the world without the other. No one can become righteous in the sight of God by means of the temporal government, without Christ’s spiritual government. Christ’s government does not extend over all men; rather, Christians are always a minority in the midst of non-Christians. Now where temporal government or law alone prevails, there sheer hypocrisy is inevitable, even though the commandments be God’s very own. For without the Holy Spirit in the heart no one becomes truly righteous, no matter how fine the works he does. On the other hand, where the spiritual government alone prevails over land and people, there wickedness is given free rein and the door is open for all manner of rascality, for the world as a whole cannot receive or comprehend it.[2]

Thus, God rules in the Kingdom of God by the redemption of men through the cross of Christ and He rules in the Kingdom of Man by suppressing the wickedness of men through the auspices of earthly rulers.  We thank God for both kingdoms.  And we thank God that He is King over both.  He is King over us.

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[1] AC XVI:1

[2] AE 45:92

February 27, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC – Pain, Suffering, and the Gospel

"The Apostle Paul" by Rembrandt

As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of more than one person nearing the end of their life.  And it always breaks my heart to see how much pain they must often endure as their body slowly shuts down and the sickness they have been valiantly fighting slowly takes over.   This kind of suffering is truly sad.  But suffering is not only physical.  Just as heartbreaking for me to watch is the woman who is being emotionally abused by her spouse or the young boy who is made an outcast by his peers.  Emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering can leave very real scars on a human heart, soul, and life just as physical suffering can.

In our text from this past weekend, we read how the apostle Paul was a man who, like Jesus, was “familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).   As he preached the gospel, he encountered persecution after persecution and pain after pain.  In Philippians 1, we learn that Paul is encountering physical suffering.  He is imprisoned in Rome for preaching the gospel, awaiting a hearing before the Roman emperor Nero, who is not exactly a friend and fan of Christians.  And yet, even in the midst of this suffering, and his impending martyrdom at the hands of a ruthless emperor, Paul has hope and joy.  He writes to the Philippians: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).  Paul says his suffering advances the gospel.  And it does!  He goes on, “It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:13).  As I mentioned in ABC, the “whole palace guard” could have numbered between 13,000 and 14,000 men.  That’s a lot of men who have become aware of Paul’s suffering “in chains for Christ!”  Apparently, Paul is sharing the gospel with the very men who are presiding over his suffering in chains.  He is sharing the gospel with the guards.

Much like our suffering, Paul’s suffering is not merely physical.  Paul goes on to speak of those who add to his suffering: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry…supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (Philippians 1:15, 17).  Paul has such vehement detractors of his ministry that they want to kick him while he’s down – they want to cause him trouble while he is in prison, as if being in prison isn’t trouble enough.  Thus, through their envy and rivalry, they add to Paul’s physical suffering emotional suffering as well by preaching Christ for all the wrong, selfish reasons.  And yet, even as Paul suffers, the gospel continues to spread.

The gospel has a funny – and even miraculous – way of spreading in and in spite of adversity and suffering.  In Paul’s case, the gospel continued to spread thanks to his witness to the palace guard.  Even today, adversity often serves as an unwilling and unwitting catalyst for the truth of the gospel to reach ears it might not otherwise tickle.  I think of the Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was so popular and controversial when it first hit store shelves in 2003.  Rife with ecclesiastical conspiracy theories, it became a flashpoint around which detractors of the Church and her message could rally.  But its shoddy history, theology, and ecclesiology was made quick work of by the brightest and best Christian scholars who knew the theories put forth in this book were utterly unsubstantiated.  It was only titillating conspiracy coupled with fantasy.  However, because of the big questions this book raised, many people began to study Christianity – its history, theology, and ecclesiology – and found its teachings and truths to be on much more solid ground than they might have previously expected.  Thus, the faith of many in Christ was strengthened and bolstered – and all this through a book antagonistic to Christianity.

What trials are you currently encountering?  What suffering are you currently bearing?  Is it physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological?  Whatever form your trials and suffering may take, pray to God – that He might give you strength to endure and that He might strengthen your faith in and through your suffering.

Want to learn more? Go to
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

November 7, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – The Real Thing – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

In 1969, the Coca Cola Company came out with one of their most memorable slogans: “Coke.  It’s the real thing.”  This slogan was meant to distinguish Coca Cola from all those other “phony colas” out there which were not the real thing, but only discount knock-offs.  There’s only one real cola and these advertisers wanted us to know that it was Coke.

Of course, the great philosopher Plato would disagree with Coke’s slogan.  Plato distinguished between two worlds: the material world which he described as a world of incidental, outward forms and the non-material world which he maintained was the world of true and universal Forms.  Thus, a physical object like, let’s say, a bottle of Coca Cola, was only an incidental form and shadow of a larger, true, grander Form in a spiritual world of Forms. A physical bottle of Coca Cola, then, would quite literally not be the real thing.  No, the real Coca Cola resided somewhere in an inaccessible spiritual world of true Forms.

Plato’s distinction between the true spiritual world of Forms and the illusionary physical world of forms has profoundly influenced nearly every philosophical system.  It especially held sway over the philosophical systems of the first century.  The Epicureans believed, for instance, that since everything in this physical world was only a shadow of the true spiritual world of Forms, everyone was free to live how they wanted, doing with their bodies as they wanted.  After all, our physical, bodily forms did not really matter.  It was our spiritual Forms that really counted.

Enter the Corinthian Christians.  This congregation had apparently bought into Platonic and Epicurean philosophies and found it acceptable and even admirable to live hedonistic lives, apart from any ethical scruples.  Indeed, they had a slogan to summarize their philosophical sensibilities: “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12).  The Corinthians believed that whatever they wanted, desired, or thought they needed, they could obtain without regard to moral law.  Were they hungry?  They could gorge themselves.  Were they lusty?  They could engage in promiscuity without so much as a second thought.  After all, this physical world is only a place full of shadows and our physical bodies are only shells.  The real spiritual Form of us resides somewhere else.

The apostle Paul, when addressing the Corinthians, has a somewhat different estimation of this physical world and our physical bodies.  He writes, “The body is meant…for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13).  Paul’s argument is simply this:  what you do with your body counts.  Your body is not just a shifting shadow of a greater spiritual reality in some non-descript world of Forms.  Indeed, the body is so precious that the Lord is “for the body.”  In other words, God thinks your body is a good thing!  Tall, short, fat, skinny, black, white, Hispanic, male, female, old, young, or middle aged, God is for your body!  He cares about your body!  Indeed, he cares about it so much that he promises to raise it imperishably from the dead on the Last Day (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:42).

Paul finally describes the value of our physical bodies thusly: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  There is an interesting textual variant at the end of verse 20.  Some ancient manuscripts add another line to this verse.  They add, “And in your spirit, which is God’s.”

This final line is probably a liturgical gloss. In other words, whenever a letter like Paul’s would be read out loud to an ancient Christian congregation, the congregation would know the letter so well that they would respond at certain strategic points in the reading.  And so, much like when a pastor today says, “The peace of the Lord be with you all,” the congregation will respond, “And also with you,” when the pastor of one of these ancient congregations would read, “So glorify God in your body,” the congregation would respond, “And in your spirit, which is God’s.”  These words seem to have become so commonplace, that they made it into some copies of the actual biblical text!

Although these words were almost certainly not in Paul’s original letter to the Corinthians, they do provide us with some interesting insight into how Christians viewed their bodies.  The body, it seems, was so important to the early Christians that they came up with a responsive liturgy just to extol the value of our bodies along with our spirits:  “Glorify God in your body.  And in your spirit, which is God’s.”  Thus, whether in our physical bodies or in our incorporeal spirits, we are to glorify God with everything in us.  What you do with your body matters.  It is not just a reflection of some spiritual reality, it is spiritual reality because in your body resides your spirit.  So, in both your body and your spirit, live well and so glorify God with everything in you.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
and check out audio and video from Pastor Josh’s
message or Dr. Player’s ABC!

February 22, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

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