In the Spotlight
Italian archeologists have recorded that in all the paintings of the Roman catacombs, the raising of Lazarus is the second-most represented depiction after that of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In this sermon, we'll consider this story in John 11 and how Jesus’ actions provide us with a whole new outlook on death.
March 26, 2023 | Watch
Following the Spirit
May 28, 2023 | Watch
How to Find Yourself
We often look for validation and affirmation from the outside to tell us that we matter, that we count, that we're significant, that we're secure, but we will never learn how to grow spiritually until we come to grips with our true identity, which we find in Christ.
May 21, 2023 | Watch
How to Find Yourself
Purpose To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships To participate in God’s mission to the world Opening Prayer O God, the king of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: We beseech you, leave us not desolate but send your Holy Spirit to comfort us, and exalt us to where our Savior Christ has gone before, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forevermore. Amen. Responsive Prayer—Psalm 148 1Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! 2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! 3Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! 4Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! 5Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. 6And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. 7Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, 8Fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! 9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! 10Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! 11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! 12Young men and maidens together, old men and children! 13Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven. 14He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the LORD! Summary and Connection In our discussion last week, we focused on the doctrine of our union with Christ. As we have learned, our union with Christ is the foundation of all our spiritual experience and spiritual blessings. As we grow in our experiential knowledge of our union with Christ, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to live the fullest version of ourselves as God has ordained for us (Ephesians 1:3-14). Our union with Christ, in other words, is the source of our spiritual growth. This week we will learn about the dynamics of our union with Christ from Paul’s personal experience. What are the implications of our union with Christ in relation to our past, present, and future? Does union with Christ imply substituting or losing our identity? How do I find my individual identity in my union with Christ? We find the answers to these questions and more in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In this passage Paul talks about his personal life—his past, his salvation experience, and his radical transformation, thereby giving us a glimpse of the dynamics of his union with Christ. The theme of Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:4-11) could be summarized in two words: joy and thanksgiving. What makes this latter fascinating is the fact that Paul wrote this letter from prison, probably around AD 60. In Philippians 3, Paul expresses his concerns over the infiltration of the Jewish Christians into the predominantly Gentile church. In verse 2, Paul warns, “Look out for the dogs, for those who mutilate the flesh.” In a twist of irony, Paul addresses the Jewish teachers (who, in their ethnic pride, referred to Gentiles as dogs) as crazed dogs who were bent on mutilating the flesh by circumcision. These Jewish Christians, or the Judaizers, made their way into the church and were preaching a false gospel. The Judaizers, based on their ethnic and nationalistic identity, claimed traditional and religious superiority, even over Paul. These false teachers were claiming that in order to be identified with the people of God, and to experience the privileges of the community of God, the Gentile Christians had to be circumcised. In other words, they were formulating a false gospel: faith in Jesus plus circumcision and law keeping equals justification, sanctification, and eternal life. Paul outrightly refutes their claim by sharing his personal testimony: Paul focuses on his past: boasting in self-righteousness, and his present: boasting in the righteousness from God. Paul’s Past: Boasting in self-righteousness Paul was aware of the lure of the Judaizers among the Gentile Christians. The Judaizers promoted the false gospel with utmost zeal and commitment. Paul was also aware of the susceptible nature of the Gentile Christians—they were young in faith, and the claims of religious exclusivity, and ‘high moral code’ were particularly attractive to poorly instructed Christians from a pagan background. Paul cared for the Philippians like a father, and he did not want them to be deceived by an impression of superior spirituality. Paul tackles the issue by exposing the vacuous nature of righteousness that is rooted in moral performance and external law keeping. In verse 3 Paul calls the Gentile Christians the true circumcision, as they were cut off from the world, and were spiritually united with Christ. For the Judaizers, circumcision was the gateway to physical and national identity. They presented circumcision as a badge of honor. However, Paul warns the Philippians about the danger of putting their confidence in the flesh—national, ethnic, and physical identity. Paul contrasts the transient nature of the confidence in the flesh—decay and death, with the eternal nature of their spiritual identity and confidence in Jesus—their righteousness. Paul doesn’t stop there. He presents his own past as the case study to show the inadequacy of high-moral code and boasting in self-righteousness. Paul lists out seven reasons for ‘confidence in the flesh’ from his own life. Four of them were inherited birthrights—circumcised on the eighth day, Israelite, from the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews, and three referred to his personal accomplishments—Pharisee, persecutor of the church, and blameless under the Mosaic law. By listing out his family upbringing, and moral exemplary life, Paul shows the Philippians that it is possible to have a past like his, and yet still be a sinner, as his life was devoid of the most important person who alone could redeem him—Jesus Christ. Paul’s life was radically transformed on the road to Damascus where he encountered the risen Christ. The incident left Paul temporarily blind, but his spiritual eyes were opened. Paul sees the utter worthlessness of putting the confidence in law keeping and self-righteousness. He adds all his past accomplishments up, and he concludes that they were loss. In fact, he goes so far to say that everything is a loss compared to Christ. In verse 8, Paul uses the word “rubbish,” which in Greek means “excrement.” For Paul, compared to the surpassing worth of Christ, all was garbage. Paul’s Present: Boasting in the Righteousness from God Paul’s life was seized by Christ. He was consumed by Christ’s glory. He had yielded up everything for Christ. For Paul, no knowledge could compare with the knowledge of Jesus (verses 7-8). Paul’s union with Christ shaped the course of his faith in three aspects of his spiritual growth. 1. Justification: In verse 9, Paul says he was “found in Christ.” He no longer approached God based on his own achievements but as the one who is covered in the righteousness of Jesus (3:9, and 2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, God declared Paul as righteous because of his union with Christ. It is vital for us to grasp the implication of such justification. Justification is a legal or forensic term. It is an act of God’s free grace, wherein God pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, based on the work of Christ on our behalf. It is a declaration, and not a process. We receive it by faith in Jesus, and not earn it by living a good life. It depends on what Jesus has done for us, and not on what we have done to merit salvation. Furthermore, it is full and final. It is full because it gives us Jesus’ perfect righteousness, and it is final because it does not depend on our keeping the law, but on the finished work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf. 2. Sanctification: In verse 10, Paul expresses his overwhelming desire to know Christ. Our union with Christ informs our sanctification in that it develops into a living communion with Jesus in his death and resurrection. Suffering is one of the chief means God uses to conform us to the likeness of Jesus. Our partaking in Jesus’ sufferings and resurrection is the central element of Christian experience: it is as we live in the power of Christ’s resurrection that he leads us on to the fellowship of sharing his sufferings. As we partake in Christ’s sufferings, we are conformed to his likeness in our thoughts, words, and actions. 3. Glorification: Paul shares his deepest longing—to experience salvation and union with Christ in its fullest and richest form. He calls the glorified state of being in the presence of Christ as the “resurrection from the dead” (verse 11). Thus, the true mark of a Christian’s spiritual growth is their growing desire to know Christ and to be known by Christ. The only way for the Philippians to find their true identity is by putting their confidence in Jesus, and not self, and boasting in Christ—their righteousness, and not self-righteousness.. Discussion Questions 1. Looking at the Bible What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage? In verse 4 Paul writes, “if anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.” What does Paul mean by, ‘confidence in the flesh?’ In verses 4-7, Paul lays out seven reasons he could have confidence in the flesh. What reasons would Paul have for confidence in the flesh? What do we learn about the law from Paul’s past? Is the law bad in and of itself? In this passage, Paul expresses his deepest desires and longings three times—to be found in Christ (verse 9), to know Christ and share in his sufferings and death (verse 10), and to attain the resurrection of the dead (verse 11). How does Paul’s description of his union with Christ point us to three vital aspects of spiritual growth? (Hint: refer to the summary and connection) 2. Looking at Jesus At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus. How does the work of grace in the life of Paul point us to Jesus? 3. Looking at Our Hearts The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith. How does the righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus differ from the righteousness that we might try to earn? What things are you hesitant to lose or count as rubbish for the sake of Christ? Why? How do you see yourself putting confidence in your achievements? Contemplate on how you approach God—do you approach God as if you are always trying, but never measuring up, or with self-righteous pride? How does the gospel transform the way you approach God? How might your life look differently if you were to believe by faith that Christ’s righteousness is sufficient for you in each moment of life? How would that faith impact your spiritual growth? 4. Looking at Our World How does this passage compel us to live as instruments of God in a city that counts everything the world has to offer as profit and what God offers in the gospel as worthless? Sending God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.
May 21, 2023 | Read
Beyond Morality: Living a Life of Worship
When most of us think of the “good life,” we are not merely imagining an ethical or moral life but a life that is truly worth living, even in the face of the existential problems with which we must contend. Luc Ferry, a French philosopher and self-proclaimed atheist, offers this interesting thought experiment: Imagine we could wave a magic wand and cause everyone living today to begin treating one another perfectly, with equal dignity and respect. There would be no more war, genocide, racism, or xenophobia. There would be no need for a police force or a standing army. Our judicial system and prisons would eventually disappear. And yet, Ferry suggests that even if we were to wave that magic wand, the most profound existential challenges we face would still not be resolved. This is how he puts it, “Still—and here I have to weigh each one of my words—none (I really mean none) of our most profound existential problems would be resolved if this came to pass. Nothing, even in a perfect realization of the most sublime morality, would prevent us from aging; from witnessing, powerless, the appearance of wrinkles and white hair; from falling sick, dying, and seeing our loved ones die; from worrying about the outcome of our children’s education or from struggling to achieve what we want for them. Even if we were saints, nothing would guarantee us a fulfilled emotional life.” The point is that morality is indispensable to human life. And yet, it is not enough. We read in the story of David in 1 and 2 Samuel about the importance of living a life of worship before God. David is far from perfect, but that is not what matters. What matters is that whether winning a great victory or committing an egregious sin, David lives a life of repentance and faith. Whether in triumph or defeat, hope or despair, David does not run away from God. He runs towards God. And that is what fills his life with enduring meaning, value, and purpose. What Is Worship? The problem with religion is that it leads us to think of God like a genie in a bottle—rub the lamp and out will pop God to grant you your wishes. Religious people tend to think God is there to serve us, to fulfill all our dreams, and to make us feel good about ourselves. We assume that if we are good enough, pious enough, zealous enough, devout enough, if we say all the right prayers, observe all the right rituals, and keep all of the right rules, then God is obligated to bless us and to make our life go well. We are not really interested in God for who he is—we are merely using God to get whatever we want. And if God does not deliver, then we become angry, bitter, and resentful because he did not fulfill our expectations. It is critical to realize that the real God will challenge our dreams, not merely fulfill them. The poet W.H. Auden once wrote that a Christian is someone who says, “I believe because He fulfills none of my dreams, because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could have made Him in my own image.” God is not here to serve us. We are here to serve him. In fact, in Hebrew the word “worship” and “serve” are the very same word. God is not here to worship us. We are here to worship him. God is not supposed to follow us according to our terms. Rather we are supposed to follow God on his terms. And if we do, then he promises that he will bless us—not out of necessity, but as a pure gift. Christianity offers this unique view of salvation: God relates to us on the basis of sheer grace, which means that a relationship with God is not something that we achieve through our own efforts, but something we can only receive with empty hands. Religion leads us to say, “I obey, and therefore, God accepts me.” But the gospel tells us, “God accepts me, despite my sin, through the substitutionary sacrifice of another, and therefore I obey.” We strive to love, serve, and honor God, not motivated by mere duty or obligation, but motivated by gratitude and joy for what he has first done for us—not as a way to try to win God's love, but in order to demonstrate that we already have it. If we know that God has done absolutely everything that is necessary in order to cover our sin and put us in right relationship with himself, then that will infuse our life with insuppressible joy, regardless of our life circumstances or personal challenges. There is, of course, a rightful place for lament as we mourn those aspects of our lives or within the wider world that are not yet in line with his purposes. Nevertheless, the foundation of a Christian’s’ life must be one of joy. The English author G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.” Why Worship Matters When Isaiah has a vision of the Lord seated enthroned above the ark of the cherubim in Isaiah 6:5, he immediately says, “‘Woe is me! For I am lost!’” Isaiah acknowledges that he is a sinner and “a man of unclean lips.” But despite Isaiah’s sin, God does not strike him down. Instead, one of the seraphim flies to the altar, the place of the sacrifice, and removes one of the burning coals and places it on the lips of Isaiah saying: “‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’” God has now made Isaiah clean. This, of course, was just a vision. We get something far better. There are only two places in the New Testament where the Greek word for “mercy seat” or “place of atonement” is used—once in Romans 3 and once in Hebrews 9. In both cases, “mercy seat” or “place of atonement” is used not to describe a place but a person. Hebrews 10 tells us that the blood of bulls and goats could never do anything to actually take away people's sin. This is just a symbol meant to prepare us for the ultimate high priest who does not enter the most holy place within a humanly constructed temple, but rather he enters into the presence of the divine being himself. And there he offers not the sacrifice of an animal, but rather the sacrifice of his very own self. He gives himself for us so that our sin might be covered by his blood, and so that God in his mercy might forgive us and cleanse us so that we can enter into his holy presence and live. Jesus is the mercy seat and the place of atonement. He is the true prince of peace and the one who makes it possible for us to approach the throne of grace and live. And the mercy seat is open, still. The gospel tells us that God is so holy and you and I really are so flawed that Jesus had to die. There was no other way for us to be able to enter into God's holy presence and live. And yet, at the same time, God is so loving and you and I are so valuable, that Jesus was willing to die for us. When you take these two truths deep into your heart and into your life, then that is what unlocks the joy. Morality and ethics are essential and important, but they are not sufficient to actually live the “good life.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism, a historic document of faith from the 1600s, begins with this question: What is the chief end of man? In other words, what is the meaning of life? The answer is short: To glorify God and to enjoy him forever. As C.S. Lewis astutely observed, those two commands are actually one and the same. In commanding us to worship him, God is inviting us to enjoy him. The only way in which we truly learn to live the “good life” is through worship, by living our lives before the God of grace. And when we do, it will fill our lives with insuppressible joy. ___ Adapted from David and The Good Life: Worship, a sermon delivered by Jason Harris on October 16, 2022. Listen to the sermon or read the full transcript. "Christ and Contemporary Culture" is a journal written by Jason Harris which reflects on the intersection between Jesus Christ and our contemporary culture. If you are skeptical or resistant to Christianity, the hope is that you might pause to reflect on your pre-existing ideas about the way things are and perhaps think again. For those who have embraced Christianity, these posts will serve to encourage you in your ability to communicate the gospel in a way that takes our current cultural context seriously. Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee
May 18, 2023 | Read
The Key to Growth
Purpose To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships To participate in God’s mission to the world Opening Prayer Holy One, we gather as your people, giving thanks that we can be together to hear your word, offer our prayers, and sing your praises. Draw us together in your love, that we may know you more deeply. Open our hearts to a deeper understanding of your will, and work within our lives, that we may produce the fruit of compassion. Amen. Responsive Prayer—Psalm 67:1-7 1May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, 2That your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 4Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. 5Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. 7God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him! Summary and Connection Recently we began a new sermon series entitled, Growing In Christ. In this series we examine the theme of spiritual growth. For followers of Jesus, the whole purpose of their Christian life is to grow up into maturity in order to become the fullest versions of themselves as God has ordained. Furthermore, a serious examination of our spiritual life not only fosters growth, but most importantly, it also acts as a corrective, exposing any false understanding of faith and spiritual growth. This week’s discussion is based on Colossians 3:1-4. Paul wrote this letter to the church in Colossae from the confines of prison. In this letter we see Paul warning the Colossians about the danger posed by false teachers who were imposing strict rules about eating, drinking, and religious traditions. These false teachers were promoting Judaism. The ‘high moral code’ of Judaism was appealing to the Colossians—who lived in a pagan culture—as it gave them a sense of superiority and exclusivity. Paul warns them about the utter inadequacy of self-righteous moralism in matters of spiritual growth and maturity. Paul exhorts the Colossians by pointing them to the superiority of Christ—the substance, over all human philosophies and traditions—shadows. In 3:1-4, Paul encourages the Colossians to change their perspective—from seeking their identity as Christians in things that are on earth (philosophies, traditions, and fame), to setting their minds on Jesus, who is their true identity (verse 3). In verse 4 Paul reminds the Colossians about the day when God will flood the present creation with the new life which is currently hidden in the heavenly realm. When Christ appears in glory, those who are in Christ will also appear as the new creation—gloriously renewed human beings they already are. Most importantly, in this passage, Paul describes a doctrine that is foundational in enabling us to live the fullest versions of ourselves as God has ordained: Our union with Christ. Union with Christ is the foundation of all our spiritual experience and all spiritual blessings. Union with Christ could be defined in simple words like this: You are in Christ and Christ is in you. You Are In Christ First, let us consider what it means to be ‘in Christ,’ and how we get ‘into Christ?’ ‘In Christ,’ ‘in the Lord,’ and ‘in Him’ are technical terms extensively used by Paul (occurs 164 times in the letters of Paul alone). While Jesus referred to his followers as disciples, Paul’s preferred way of addressing the followers of Jesus was ‘in Christ.’ It is the most fundamental way to locate the identity of a follower of Jesus. In other words, to be a Christian is to be united with Christ. A Christian’s union with Christ is spontaneous. It happens the moment you place your faith in Jesus. This doctrine undergirds the vine-branch illustration of John 15. Christians are organically united to Christ as a branch is in a vine. Furthermore, to be ‘in Christ’ is to acknowledge Jesus as our representative head. We participate in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and glory. Whatever is true of Jesus is true of his followers. We receive all spiritual benefits by virtue of our union with the source of all spiritual blessings. How do we get ‘into Christ?’ The Scriptures’ resounding reply is by faith. Oftentimes we hear Christians describe their salvation experience by saying, “I received Jesus into my heart.” While that expression describes a Christian’s subjective experience, it does not capture the objective reality. Sinclair Ferguson makes an insightful observation: “Occasionally the New Testament speaks of becoming a Christian in terms of receiving Christ, and thus getting Christ into our lives. But the emphasis is on the need to be taken out of ourselves and our sin and be ‘found in Christ.’ That gives union a very important practical dimension. It is not thought of primarily as a subjective experience which encourages us to look in and down. Rather it is something which lifts us up and out and draws us on to the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Christ Is In You In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes that the deepest mystery that was hidden for generations has now been revealed. The great mystery is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (1:27). If you are united to Christ, then, as Paul writes to the Colossians, your life is hidden with Christ in God. In other words, your task is not to try to become someone you are not, but rather to set your mind on the truth and live out the new reality you have already received in Christ. The reality of the Christian existence on earth as ‘new creation,’ flows from what Jesus has first accomplished for us. Jesus became what we are through his incarnation, so that we might become what he is through our union with him. Our union with Christ works through the Holy Spirit. To be united with Christ is to have the Spirit of Christ within you as the real, and dynamic bond between Jesus and us. As Jason once put it in his sermon, “the only thing better than having Jesus beside would be to have Jesus within you at every moment of your life.” Practical Implications Of Our Union With Christ: As Christians we often forget our identity in Christ, and we either strive hard to seek our identity in things of the world or justify our identity in Christ by our self-righteous efforts. We often fail to believe and acknowledge what is already true of us in Christ. As one commentator puts it, “learning to believe what doesn’t at the moment feel true is an essential part of being a Christian. This is what the life of faith is all about.” As we grow in knowledge of our union with Christ, we display the truly human life we seek—the life of genuine and glad holiness that shines right through our personality. Here are some of the practical implications of our union with Christ: 1. The knowledge of our union with Christ gives us a new identity. 2. The knowledge of our union with Christ gives us a new family/community. 3. The knowledge of our union with Christ gives us a new destiny. 4. The knowledge of our union with Christ provides us with great dignity. 5. The knowledge of our union with Christ gives us confidence in prayer 6. The knowledge of our union with Christ protects us in temptation Discussion Questions 1. Looking at the Bible What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage? In this passage Paul talks about the past and the future of the Colossians. What according to Paul has already happened and will happen in the lives of the Colossians? What is ‘Union with Christ?’ What does it mean to be ‘in Christ?’ and what does it mean to have ‘Christ in you? What are the practical implications of our union with Christ? How does the knowledge of our union with Christ provide us with dignity, confidence in prayer, and protection in temptations? 2. Looking at Jesus At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus. How is our union with Christ both a subjective and an objective reality? How does this knowledge foster our spiritual growth? 3. Looking at Our Hearts The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith. How does your union with Christ transform your identity, your family, and your destiny? What comfort and encouragement do you draw from these truths? How do these truths challenge you? In verse 2, Paul says, “set your mind on the things that are above.” According to you, what does this actually look like in practice? What obstacles in your life pose a threat to practicing “setting your mind on the things above?” How would it change the way we go about our daily lives if we really believed that Christ is “our life” (verse 4)? 4. Looking at Our World How does the reality of our union with Christ invigorate us to lead a faithful life as God’s instruments of grace in this city? Sending God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.
May 14, 2023 | Read
Reclaiming the Importance of Friendship
The depth and the quality of our friendships determine the depth and the quality of our lives. And yet, we are facing an epidemic of loneliness. The number of people who say that they do not have a single close friend has quadrupled over the last 30 years, and nearly one in four people say they have absolutely no one to talk to. In his chapter on friendship from his 1960 work, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis said, “Ancient people considered friendship to be the highest and the best, the happiest and the most fully human of all the loves. And yet we modern people tend to ignore it, which means that friendship is the one love that you are least likely to experience.” The Friendship Between Jonathan and David Perhaps there is no better place to turn in order to understand the importance of true friendship than 1 Samuel 18 which describes the bond between Jonathan and David. Jonathan is Saul’s son and the next in line to the throne, but God has anointed David, an unlikely shepherd, to be the future king of Israel. Despite Saul’s incurable jealousy and the conflict his rampant suspicion causes, Jonathan and David share a deep friendship. Their bond reveals the key ingredients to any meaningful friendship: a common spirit, a common commitment, and a common vision. A Common Spirit The first thing we are told about Jonathan is that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Jonathan recognizes a kindred spirit in David, which reflects an important aspect of friendship. Friends see the same truth which cultivates a deep unity of spirit. Friends, therefore, are not afraid to share their innermost thoughts or feelings because they know that the other person will understand, even if they do not see things exactly the same way. Friends are willing to be completely open because they do not fear that the other person will hold anything they say against them. A Common Commitment Secondly, friends share a common commitment. We may not always like it, but friendship often entails obligations. That is explicitly the case with Jonathan and David. 1 Samuel 18:3 tells us that Jonathan “made a covenant with David.” A covenant is a relationship based on promises which entails both privileges and responsibilities. Some people assume that a covenant is the same thing as a contract, but while they are very similar, there are some important differences between the two. In a contract, two or more parties enter into an agreement with one another, out of their own self-interest, in order to pursue a mutually agreed upon objective. In a covenant, two or more people make binding promises of love and loyalty to one another in order to accomplish something together that they could never do on their own. A contract is inherently transactional, but a covenant is inherently relational. Considering the hostility that Saul demonstrated towards David, it is understandable why the covenant between Jonathan and David was necessary. Their friendship was caught in the clash of competing dynasties: the dynasty of Saul and the promised future dynasty of David. Even though Jonathan is Saul's son, he gives his allegiance to David, and the two pledge their loyalty to one another and to each other’s families forever. A Common Vision If friends are people who see the same truth and travel the same road toward the same destination, then it means that true friends also share a common vision. Jonathan and David shared God's vision that David, rather than Jonathan, would become the king. That is why in 1 Samuel 18:4, Jonathan takes his royal robe, armor, and weapons and gives them all to David. This was not just a spontaneous act of generosity on Jonathan's part to meet the need of a newfound friend. By giving David his royal apparel, he relinquishes his claim to be the king and joins David in a shared vision of God’s promised future. In contrast to lovers, C.S. Lewis presented the essence of friendship like this: “We picture lovers face to face but friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.” He went on to say that if all you want are friends, then you’ll never make any because friendship has to be about something. “Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travelers.” But a true friend is someone who shares a common spirit, a common commitment, and a common vision. And for the Christian, in particular, there can be no greater mission than helping one another travel the same path towards the new heavens and the new earth that God has promised. Unity But Not Uniformity Friends share much in common, but unity does not mean uniformity. If you are exactly like your friends in every conceivable way, then how could your friends ever challenge you or help you see things differently? What we need in our friendships is unity in diversity. Proverbs 27:17 says that just as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. As modern people, we tend to think that the essence of friendship is nonjudgmental acceptance—we should simply accept our friends as they are and affirm all of their desires. But what if there is something wrong with your friend’s desires? We need friends in our lives who do not merely accept us “just as we are” but who care so much for us that they refuse to allow us to remain “just as we are.” We need friends who are willing to lovingly speak truth into our lives in order to help us become the truest version of ourselves. The True Friend The sad reality, however, is that no matter how strong our friendships are, even the best of friends will let us down. That is why Proverbs 18:24 tells us: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is one friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The covenantal friendship between David and Jonathan is meant to prepare us for the ultimate friendship that we can enjoy with God in and through Jesus Christ. Many people—ancient and modern—are familiar with the idea that two people could enter into a covenant with one another and the Lord would serve as a witness to those promises. But no one—ancient or modern—would have expected the God of the universe to actually enter into a covenant with human beings. And yet, that is what the God of the Bible has done. God comes to us and makes his promises of love and loyalty to us. Even though we often prove to be faithless, God remains faithful. Jesus left his Father's throne above, giving up his royal rights, status, and position as God's one and only Son, to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. On the night before his death, Jesus gathers together with his disciples one last time. Even though he knows that moments after this Judas will betray him with a kiss, Peter will deny ever knowing him, and the rest of the disciples will abandon him and desert him in his greatest hour of need, Jesus says to them in John 15:15, and to all of us by extension: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Jesus opens his own heart to us. He shares his innermost thoughts and feelings, holding nothing back. We were on the outside, and he brings us into the inside. He tells us that there is no greater love than that one person should give up his life for his friend. Jonathan was willing to risk his life for David, but Jesus actually lost his life for you on the cross. Aristotle once said that it would be impossible for a god to be friends with human beings because they are too dissimilar—it would be like a man becoming friends with his tools. But that is not the message of Christianity. The message of the gospel is that the God of the universe has gone to extraordinary lengths in order to transform you and me, strangers to his promises, into friends. Even though we have failed, Jesus bears those failures. And even though we are faithless, he remains faithful. When we receive Jesus as our friend, we are then able to go out into our world in strength, proactively seeking to be a friend to others in a time when we all so desperately need one. ___ Adapted from David and The Good Life: Friendship, a sermon delivered by Jason Harris on October 2, 2022. Listen to the sermon or read the full transcript. "Christ and Contemporary Culture" is a journal written by Jason Harris which reflects on the intersection between Jesus Christ and our contemporary culture. If you are skeptical or resistant to Christianity, the hope is that you might pause to reflect on your pre-existing ideas about the way things are and perhaps think again. For those who have embraced Christianity, these posts will serve to encourage you in your ability to communicate the gospel in a way that takes our current cultural context seriously. Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee
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