The Trinity

This is not going to be anything like a complete exposition of the Trinity. Rather, I have just a few random thoughts about the Trinity which I would like to share.

First, this doctrine is far too neglected in preaching. This probably stems from misunderstanding the doctrine. People think that it is too “high” for sermons. I would ask people who think this way if they have ever read Ephesians 1, since it is Ephesians 1 which best sets out the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity for our practical, everyday existence. Notice the division of 1:3-14 into three parts (Father, vv 3-6; Son, vv 7-12; and Holy Spirit, vv 13-14). Notice also that each section ends with the refrain “to the praise of His glory.” Notice also that the benefits of what the Trinity has accomplished are given to us “in Christ” (this, or the equivalent, occurs 14 times in vv 3-14). Is it practical to know not only about who God is, and the three persons of the Trinity, but also to know about how the Trinity have entered into a heavenly conspiracy ( I use the term guardedly) to save lost souls? I think that the doctrine of the Trinity is of the utmost importance in preaching and teaching. It has real rubber-hits-the-road importance for the Christian. Spurgeon said that the proper study of the Christian is the Godhead, and I agree.

Since I have now finished my work with the study committee of Siouxlands Presbytery, I am now going to start a major project on the Trinity. I plan to study one loci at a time until I have read most of what is important on the subject, and then go on to the next loci. In this way, I hope to cover all the loci in my career as a pastor. Lord-willing.

Please Comment

I am specifically asking for comments on this post. I have important personal reasons for asking for comments. I am not divulging those reasons for now, but I would ask for unbiased reaction to that sermon. Thank you to anyone who comments.

Fasting

Matthew 6:16-18

Fasting. Now there’s an unpopular subject. I should say foreign subject. Who of any of us fasts nowadays? And what is the reason why none of us fast? Here it is in Scripture. Jesus tells us that we should fast. And yet we don’t. Truly an unpopular subject. Several writers have tried to analyse why it is that we simply do not fast, and that it never even enters our head to fast. The most plausible solution seems to be that our reasoning is dependent on what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. They have all these fast days. That is ceremony, therefore we shouldn’t do it at all. But, as we will see, Jesus expects us to fast.

Let’s remember where we are. We are still in Matthew 6. And that means that we are still dealing with religious duties that often wind up being more public than they should. They should not be public, but private. Jesus gives us three examples: alms-giving, prayer, and fasting. These were the three great religious duties that the rabbis talked about in Judaism. Actually, they are also three of important religious duties of Islam. How are we to do them? We are to do them in a way that does not call attention to ourselves. We are not to trumpet our generosity, or our prayer skills, or our fasting to everyone around, just so that we can have the gratification of hearing our names put into the same sentence as “pious” and “oh, so Christian.”

So Jesus tells us how to fast. Notice first that He uses the word “when,” not “if.” Jesus assumes that His disciples will fast. In Matthew 9:14-17, we read this: Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” So what we have here is the season for fasting made clear. When is it when we are to fast? When the bridegroom is not here. That is, when He has gone back to heaven. That time is from the first coming of Christ to the second coming of Christ. That is the appropriate time for fasting.

Then Christ tells us what we are to look like when we fast. He first tells us how we are not to look, and then He tells us how we are to look. The purpose of telling us this is that Jesus means for us to fast in private so that as few people know as possible. We are not to disfigure our faces and look gloomy. There is a word-play here in the Greek that is highly ironic: they make themselves unrecognizable in order to be recognized. That just goes to show you how useless their endeavor is. It achieves the exact opposite of their intention, if their intention had anything to do with God.They certainly will not be recognized by God, even if they ar recognized by men. It is futile, what they do.

Here we have that phrase that we have seen before: “They have received their reward in full.” This is the terminology of receipts and debts. They have received in full their payment. They are buying name recognition, and they have achieved that. But they cannot expect any further reward than that which they have already received.

Well, if that is not how we are to fast, then how are we to fast? Jesus gives us the answer in verses 17-18. First up: make sure that you look normal. Anointing the head and washing the face were part of normal hygiene during this time period. And so, Jesus is telling us that we are to look just like anyone else. Our audience is not people, but God. We are fasting in order to pray to God, and give praise to God. Now, you might ask, isn’t that hypocrisy? Doing something in secret, and then lying about it by giving people the impression that you are not fasting when in fact you are? The truth, though, is that fasting has a specific purpose. That purpose is not to garner praise with men, but to give honor and praise to God. Therefore, it falls into the same category as prayer and charity. We are not to trumpet these things in front of all and sundry. No one needs to know. Now, of course, it would be very difficult to hide from your family that you are fasting. And as we have said before, we say again, if someone finds out accidentally that you are fasting, or praying, or giving, that’s okay. You won’t lose your reward. God looks at the heart, not at the outward circumstances. He wants to know why you did what you did.

The second part of the answer is that you do what you do because you want God to see it. That is your motivation. Jesus explicitly gives us the motivation of reward. Why would Jesus mention it if He didn’t want us thinking about a heavenly reward? There is nothing wrong with wanting a heavenly reward. And that is precisely what Jesus holds out to us.

Now, there are several different kinds of fasts. There are different lengths of fast. And there are different things from which we can fast. A fast does not have to be of food. Some of us are not in a position to be able to fast with regard to food. But how about television? Could we fast from television for a day in order to be able to have time to pray to God? Could we fast from a particular food that we really like? Could we fast from movies? How about fasting from counting our money, or our hay-bales, or our crops, or any number of other things. Fasting should be done with an eye towards eliminating temporarily something that is getting in our way when we come to God. That is what fasting is all about. Eliminate what stands in the way. You say you don’t have time to pray to God. Here is a way to make time. You may find out that you don’t really miss that from which you are fasting. Fasting can be a good test case to see if you are spending too much time or money on a certain thing in your life. It is very helpful for telling us where our priorities are.

If you are interested in pursuing the matter even further than we are doing here, then I recommend the book by John Piper, entitled A Hunger For God. John Piper has some strange things in his theology, but this book is not one of them. It is fantastic. For instance, he says this: “Fasting forces us to ask repeatedly: do I really hunger for God? Do I miss Him? Do I long for Him? Or have I begun to be content with His gifts? Fasting reveals the measure of food’s mastery over us (or anything else that we are fasting from). This brings us to the question of why God created bread in the first place: He created bread so that we would have some idea of what the Son of God is like when He says, “I am the Bread of Life.” And he created the rhythm of thirst and satisfaction so that we would have some idea of what faith in Christ is like when Jesus said, ‘He who believes in me shall never thirst.’ God did not have to create beings who need food and water and who have capacities for pleasant tastes. But man is not the center of the universe, God is.” Then he says further on, “If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.” Where are our desires? Are we hungry for God? Or are the things of this life oh so appealing to us? As Piper says, “The strongest, most mature Christians I have ever met are the hungriest for God. It might seem that those who eat most would be least hungry. But that’s not the way it works with an inexhaustible fountain, and an infinite feast, and a glorious Lord.” As C.S. Lewis says, we are far too easily pleased. We are content to make mud pies in our little sandbox, when God invites us to a day on the beach. We are content to dabble our toes in a mud puddle, when we are invited to swim in the ocean. We are content spiritually with far too little, while we are never content with outward possessions. What fasting can do for us, then, is tell us where our hearts lie. Do we love food too much? Do we love television too much? Do we love God’s gifts too much? Let us deprive ourselves of them for a time, and then we will see.

I will close with this quotation from John Calvin. “In general we must hold that whenever any religious controversy arises, which either a council or ecclesiastical tribunal behooves to decide; whenever a minister is to be chosen; whenever, in short any matter of difficulty and great importance is under consideration: on the other hand, when manifestations of the divine anger appear, as pestilence, war, and famine, the sacred and salutary custom of all ages has been for pastors to exhort the people to public fasting and extraordinary prayer.” How about a fast this week? To all who are able and willing to at least try it, let us schedule a fast for Wednesday so that we can pray in our houses. You can fast from food, or you can fast from television, or something else that you really enjoy doing. The purpose would be to pray to God in our time of drought that He would provide for us. We will not meet specially, but we will pray in our own homes during the time when we would rather be doing something else. It will sharpen our hunger for God. Let us reintroduce fasting to the Christian life.