Passion of the Flesh

As we continue to work through Jeremiah Burroughs’ Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, we come to the fourth examined cause, Passion.

“Passion” is used here in a way that is lost in today.  We think of passion in terms of romance, but Burroughs employs the old use of the word which suggested a much more consuming desire:  emotions as devoid of reason; an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.  

When James writes of the passions that divide us (James 4:1), the word he uses in Greek is where we get our English word “hedonism,” the pursuit of personal pleasure at the expense of everything else.  James says that these passions are the cause of quarrels, fights, and ultimately murder within the church – where we cut one another down with our words and actions.

It’s not just James who speaks so strongly against the passions of the flesh. Throughout the New Testament, these are the adjectives used to describe our passions: dishonorable, sinful, youthful, worldly, human, defiling, sensual, and ungodly.

When we put these passions above everything else, you can see then why Burroughs addresses them as a chief cause for our divisions.  Passions set us on fire.  We insist upon our way, upon our preferences; and when our desires are not met  “our hot passions cause the climate where we live to be like the torrid zone, too hot for any to live near us…”

So then, what is the cure for our worldly passions?  Burroughs offers thee:

  1. Know that God is with us. You probably remember hearing as a child, “Wait till your father gets home.”  Something about the father’s presence corrects a child’s behavior.  In the worst case, it could be a fear his anger, in the best case, a love and desire to honor – whatever the case, knowing the father is near changes us.  Burroughs reminds us our Father is near to us. “God is come among us, we may see the face of God in what he has done for us, and shall we be quarreling before his face?  If we love and honor him, how can we fight amongst ourselves in his presence?” Knowing God is with us, how can we allow our passions to lead us to fighting among ourselves.
  2. Know God has called you to do His will.  Before knowing God and his grace for us in Jesus Christ, we were lost in following the desires of our own hearts, the passion of the flesh.  But in Christ, we have been brought from death to life so that we may live for God’s glory.  He gives us a new will, His will, that we may know Him, glorify Him, and enjoy Him forever.  Rather than continue to be consumed by our own passions, we are to “set our hearts and hands to the work of God – being willing to do His will.”  Is this not what Jesus said, in calling those who would be His disciples, that we are to take up our cross, die to ourselves daily, and follow Him?
  3. Know what Sacrifice Pleases the Lord. We must continually remember the mercy that God has shown us, and give to Him a sacrifice of praise.  Psalm 57:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” If we would honor the gift that God has given us in Jesus Christ “we would lay aside our divisions, our frowardness; we would abandon all contention and strife; we would put on [hearts] of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, forgiving one another, if any have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, even so do ye.” Later Burroughs writes, “God shows that he can own us, notwithstanding all our infirmities; why should not we own our brethren, notwithstanding their infirmities? Why should our divisions cause us to cast off one another, seeing our divisions have not provoked God to cast us off?”

The fighting and divisions that arise from our pursuit of personal pleasures are a scandal to the Church and to the name of Christ.  “Our hearts have been broken from one another in our unhappy divisions; O that they could break toward one another, in love and tenderness!”

May God continue to root out from us, and from our Churches, those dishonorable, sinful, and worldly passions from us; that we may demonstrate the unity of the body of Christ, and the world may marvel at how we love one another.

SDG

One in Christ

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12–13

We have our annual congregational meeting tonight, a time to give thanks to God for His grace that has brought us thus far, and a time to recommit ourselves as a church to trusting in that same grace to lead us forward in ministry together.  

As I was preparing for my Pastor’s report for the meeting, I came upon my notes from when I read through Jerry Bridges’ book, True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia.  Bridges does a fantastic job of defining koinonia (a Greek word that is best translated as “fellowship”) to mean more than just the social activities of the church, but has more to do with the idea of community in Christ.

Bridges writes:

It is not the fact that we are united in common goals or purposes that makes us a community. Rather, it is the fact that we share a common life in Christ. There are many organizations, both secular and Christian, whose members work together to pursue common goals. Some of these groups may call themselves communities. But biblical community goes much deeper than sharing common goals, though it ultimately involves that. Biblical community is first of all the sharing of a common life in Christ. It is when we grasp this truth that we are in a position to begin to understand true community.

We share the life of Christ together as the Church.  It is wonderful to have a place that cares for you, that shares in the joys and sorrows of your life; a place where everyone knows your name.

But the Church, the true fellowship of Christ, must go deeper. The Church is one, not because of a shared interest in music, or because of the local projects and activities it offers. The Church is one because it is in Christ, and Christ must be at the center of our fellowship, of our life together. 

Bridges goes on to write:

How different is our present-day concept of fellowship? Take those typical times of “coffee fellowship.” We discuss everything else except the Scriptures. We talk about our jobs, our studies, our favorite sports teams, the weather — almost anything except what God is teaching us from His Word and through His workings in our lives. If we are to regain the New Testament concept of fellowship within the community, we must learn to get beyond the temporal issues of the day and begin to share with each other on a level that will enhance our spiritual relationships with one another and with God.

I am thankful to be able to serve Christ’s Church, and to serve a Church that loves to share in one another’s lives. Let’s be intentional about that this year. As we meet for fellowship, get caught up on the kids and their lives, but also be sure to ask about what the Lord has been teaching them as they’ve been reading Scripture this week, or what they learned from the sermon that morning.  Encourage one another to come to Bible Study or Sunday School, find out how you can be praying for one another.  Let us celebrate the blessing of being one in Christ, and may we grow in our shared life together.

Grace and peace!

Excerpts from: Bridges, Jerry. True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia . Navpress. Kindle Edition.