The Throne of Grace: A Meditation on Hebrews 4:16

In a recent post we considered the value of scripture meditation. One goal of meditation is to slow down and prayerfully consider key words in order to draw out riches from the text. Let’s try this together in Hebrews 4, with a focus on verse 16:

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (ESV)

  • With confidence draw near: Come with boldness, openly; Come without hesitation, doubts, or fears. God is calling us to the privilege of a personal relationship. He is calling us to come without pretense or hiding, yet with absolute assurance that He will receive us.
  • Throne of grace: First, we are approaching a throne: God is a holy, sovereign King. We are not His equal. He is our almighty creator who has all power and dominion. Secondly, the throne is described as being of the essence of grace: God is benevolent and loving. He does not treat us as we deserve. He grants favor, approval, and provision.
  • That we may receive: To take in hand. He is calling us to come expectantly; without fear of rejection or leaving His presence empty handed.
  • Mercy to help: Benefits that result from compassion. God does not just pity us and send us on our way. From his great compassion we will receive assistance, divine aid, relief and safety.
  • In time of need: Literally in season or timely. The verse is not simply calling us to run to God when in affliction (although certainly we should). But here is a call to continually draw near to God and He will ensure you lack nothing; you will have all that you need, often before you realize you need it.

I was encouraged by one of our church members who shared how they were walking through feelings of condemnation over a recent struggle. Yet God used this passage to remind them that He understood their battle and that they did not have to be afraid to seek Him in the midst of their discouragement; that in His presence they would not find further condemnation, but rather the help they needed.

Of course the foundation of these precious promises is the active, ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ as our advocate. Verses 14-15 teach us that we can only take hold of the hope in verse 16 if Christ has first taken hold of us. As John Gill once wrote:

To Christ the saints come for pardon and cleansing, for a justifying righteousness, for the acceptance of their persons, the presentation of their services, and for every supply of grace. From Him they may expect to receive mercy, since it is kept with him and is only dispensed through him.

So will you and I take God at his word and flee to Christ – through practices like worship, prayer, community, and scripture meditation – that we may boldly draw near to His throne and find the help we all so desperately need?

Delighting in God through Scripture Meditation

The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fires of meditation – Thomas Watson (Puritan preacher and author, 1620-1686)

If you were honest, how would you describe your time in God’s word? A drudgery or a delight? A chore or a gift? The reality is many Christians find reading God’s word to be more of a duty than a relief. While knowing it is beneficial, we often relate to it as a necessity for spiritual growth rather than a gift of grace.

Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation, if you have tasted that the Lord is good.
1 Peter 2:2-3 (CSB)

1Peter 2:2-3 instructs us to take in God’s word, but not as a religious burden. Peter teaches that we should desire God’s word as a baby desires milk: earnestly, longingly, affectionately. And this will be possible, he says, if we have known the kindness of God through personal experience. This last statement is very helpful. While it’s possible for us to naturally grasp the benefits of Bible intake, we can not generate affection for God or His word in our hearts. Delight in God, is a gift from God.

This does not mean that we are without responsibility. Delight is NOT a passively acquired trait, which we receive apart from a habit of consistent reading. Rather as we travel paths ordained by God, in anticipation of meeting with Him, the gift of delight grows in us. One of those well traveled paths throughout church history is scripture meditation.

Meditation is modeled throughout the Bible (see Joshua 1:8, Psalm 143:5, Philippians 4:8) and is far different from the customs of eastern religions. Those practices aim to clear ones mind in order to find inner peace. On the contrary, Christian meditation is about filling your mind with God’s word, so that you might know Christ more deeply. Meditation in the Old Testament means to mutter or to muse; the implication is that we linger over the Bible through thoughtful deliberation and speak it to ourself.

So how do we meditate? The following steps are not a divinely inspired formula. But they are means adapted from Biblical principles and taught by many historical church sources:

  • Read a short passage multiple times and speak it loud enough for your ears to hear it. Emphasize different words and note the surrounding context.
  • Write the passage out. Define key phrases and consider their negative (or opposite state). Jot down questions or thoughts and rewrite the passage in your own words.
  • Memorize and sing the passage. Meditation can infer melody, as in Psalm 19:14. Use these tools to recall the passage throughout the day.
  • Pray the passage, through praises and requests. Seek personal application and pray it for others that come to mind. Consider texting them so that they know you are praying.

If you are trying scripture meditation for the first time, we would love to hear how it is going. Feel free to email us at info@agapepinson.com

In Every Church: Warts and Grace

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge…so that you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 1:4-7

Those of us who have spent any amount of time reading the New Testament are probably familiar with the church in Corinth and have probably formed some sort of opinion about them. Chances are, that opinion may not be favorable. Many of the warts or problems of the Corinthian church are well detailed in the pastoral letters that Paul penned and that we have read. The church was struggling with many issues such as divisions, lawsuits, purity, idolatry and even some level of disorder in their corporate gatheringsBut did you know that the church in Corinth was also filled with the grace of God? Did you know that the church there had been enriched, full of good speech and knowledge about Christ? Did you know that spiritual gifts were alive and active among the people? Paul opens up his letter to the church with just such a reminder and commendation. As a matter of fact, if you only judged the Corinthian church by the first lines of Paul’s letter, you might have the impression that the church was problem free. It is possible, if not probable, that visitors or occasional attenders to the church were unaware of its issues. The warts may have only been visible to those who were closely connected and taking part in deep fellowship with the community.

The fact is, that there are no perfect churches. Every church that belongs to Jesus will have its share of warts; problems will exist. The reason is because the church is made up of imperfect people, who are hopefully striving for Christ-likeness, but of course not yet realizing that goal in full. These problems are not always visible from a distance or even right away among newcomers. Sometimes it takes weeks or months of investment in fellowship and community before some of the warts rear their head. But eventually, they will come to the surface. They always do. At the same time we must also know this: Every church that belongs to Jesus will be filled with His grace. Christ has promised to be with His people, making His presence known when they gather in His name for His glory. So it is safe to say that every church that has an abundance of warts, also has an abundance of gifts. Just as our flesh will inevitably stir up conflicts, struggles and problems of various kinds; the Spirit of Christ is there to stir up peace, love, righteousness and an abundance of good works.

So what is our application? First, we realize that all of us – imperfect people – are ‘being joined and built together’ into a dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:21-22). There will always be problems inside of any faith community, but we are in this together. God is doing a work on us and in us – not just as individuals, but as a collective group of His people who are in need of His grace. Second, we must ‘put on love, which binds us all together’ (Colossians 3:14). There is a reason that the bible instructs us over and over again to love one another. As we are being built together in the grace of Christ, our love for each other will help overcome the problems that our flesh causes. When a church is filled with love for the Father and a love for each other, the warts will not divide them. ‘Love is patient and kind..it does not insist on its own way…it is not irritable or resentful…it bears all things’ (1 Cor 13). And so if we have put on this kind of love for each other, then the effects of that love among a church will keep the people together as they go. Finally, ‘take delight in honoring each other’ (Romans 12:10). If indeed the grace of Christ abounds in His church, then set your mind to focus on the good gifts of a church, rather than just the problems. One great way to do that is to intentionally honor each other. Take time and effort to show people in your community how valuable they are; how much you love them, how much they mean to you; in what ways they have helped you. It is very difficult to focus on a person’s shortcomings, while at the same time genuinely honoring them from your heart. Of course this is not meant to be a formula, or an all encompassing list. But let us be reminded that the church exists on earth – in part – to display the glory of God to a watching people. So may they see that the problems that seek to divide a church, are not as great as the grace that has brought it together.

 

Sustained Always

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus… – 1 Cor 1:1

..as you wait for the revealing of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless…God is faithful… 1 Cor 1:7-9

I am in this season where it seems I am being reminded of my character flaws every day; primarily brought to the surface by normal routine circumstances. While this is anything but an enjoyable exercise, I do know that if it is Spirit-driven, then it is ultimately for the glory of Christ, for my good and for the good of those who are in my community. With this as my background, I read through 1 Corinthians chapter 1 this week and was greatly encouraged by what I saw.

I imagine that Paul was often bewildered at the change he had experienced. One moment he was passionately working for the destruction of the Christian movement, angered at even the mention of the name Jesus. Then in an instance, everything changed: now for Paul, Christ was glorious and the growing movement of Christianity was his purpose. Not only was he changed, but he was changed into one of the great leaders of the church. How could there be any other explanation for what had happened except that God had rescued him? I also imagine that Paul was constantly tempted to fall back into his previous way of life. His heart, His passion had been changed in a moment; but he was not yet made perfect. He was bringing with him a lot of past baggage. The battle against who He was, while striving for who He wanted to be – was fought daily (Read his words in Romans 7:21-25). How could he maintain the strength and confidence to press forward? It appears that Paul reached this conclusion: if God had rescued Him to begin with, then surely it was God who would sustain Him until the end.

These are glorious truths for us, when we find ourselves in those moments where it seems we cannot get anything right; where all of our efforts and desires to ‘do good’ are burned up in a moment of weakness or stress or attack. The words from our morning devotion, the peace of an afternoon prayer or the silent determination to not make the same mistake again, are lost in a split-second reaction from our flesh. And all that is left is frustration and disappointment. So where do we go? Where is our hope in those moments of utter failure? Well, It is found in these words: ‘God is faithful’. The kingdom of God is unlike the kingdoms of earth, where your position and standing is determined by your merit; your accomplishments; your performance. No – our position in His kingdom is found in the accomplishment and performance of Jesus. Your standing is based on God’s call. Your place is held by the sustaining power of Christ, the one who loved you and the one in whom the Father is greatly pleased.

So – we try. We strive for what is right. When God reveals to us our rough edges, we allow Him to smooth them over. We repent of sin; we ask for help. We pray His word. We seek the ever present help of His Spirit. But in all of this effort we know, that ultimately we are upheld by His grace, His call, His sustaining. So in that – we can assuredly rest. Amen.