New works from the 19th century

J. B. Lightfoot was perhaps the greatest Anglican clergyman and scholar of the second half of the 19th century.  He was ordained deacon in 1854, priest in 1858 and consecrated Bishop of Durham in 1879.  He is best remembered, though, as a New Testament scholar and an expert in early Christian history.

Lightfoot was a compelling teacher.  At the young age of thirty-three, he became a Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University.  Discussing his lectures, a colleague wrote: “They consisted chiefly, if not wholly, of expositions of parts of books of the New Testament, and especially of St. Paul’s Epistles.  Their value and interest were soon widely recognized in the university, and before long no lecture room then available sufficed to contain the hearers, so leave had to be obtained for the use of the hall of Trinity.”  The challenge of finding enough room for everyone who wants to hear lectures on the apostle Paul is a problem I wish we had today!  Naturally, his commentaries on Galatians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon have long been considered classics.

More than a century after his death, one would think that Lightfoot’s collected works – numerous as they are – would be all we would ever have from this great Christian, but here’s where things get exciting.  Three years ago Ben Witherington III, an American scholar, wondered if there might be any unpublished works gathering dust among Lightfoot’s papers in Durham, England.  He writes: “I must confess, I was not prepared for what I found.”  Among many other things, he discovered three brown notebooks of detailed lectures on the book of Acts, hundreds of pages on the Gospel of John, lectures on 2 Corinthians and two notebooks on 1 Peter – none of which had ever been published.  Perhaps the last time these words were heard was when they were spoken by Lightfoot himself as he instructed young students at Cambridge.  These hand-written notes have now been carefully transcribed and published so Christians in the 21st century can have what people in the 20th century were denied!  It also makes me wonder: what if the work of a great scholar from the late 20th century is discovered at the beginning of the 22nd – but these crucial words are recorded on 5¼-inch floppy disks?  Pen and paper is a more durable technology!

Reading about a godly man like J. B. Lightfoot – and reading his words – makes me proud to be an Anglican.  What a heritage we have!  One of his students wrote: “I remember well how much the class was impressed when, after giving us the usual introductory matter, Lightfoot closed the book and said, ‘After all is said and done, the only way to know the New Testament properly is by prayer’ and dwelt further on this thought.”

When Lightfoot died, The Times of London wrote: “What he was chiefly concerned with was the substance and the life of Christian truth, and his whole energies were employed in this inquiry because his whole heart was engaged in the truths and facts which were at stake.”

How wonderful that we now have yet more wisdom from the pen of this man.

Sincerity

My children’s school has a Character Trait of the Month – and this month, it is Sincerity.  The teachers and students will discuss this trait throughout December and hope to see it fostered within their lives.  At a Chapel service, usually held at the beginning of each month, someone is invited to speak about that month’s Character Trait – and this month, I was asked!

To discover what the Bible says about sincerity, I looked up the word in a concordance and found that (in the ESV translation) it is mentioned five times.  In the last chapter of Joshua, Israel’s leader is giving his final address to God’s people, just before his death (at the age of 110!).  With these words, he issues a challenge to Israel:

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24: 14-16)  Several thousand years later, these words stand as a challenge to us.  We, too, must decide if we are going to worship the gods the people around us are worshiping – or if we will choose this day to worship God.

The other four uses of the word “sincerity” are found in the New Testament.  In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he uses bread baking as an illustration: “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  (1 Corinthians 5: 6-8)  The apostle says sin is like yeast: once it enters us, it works its way into all the nooks and crannies of our life.  Paul’s challenge to us is to be, and to act like, the people we now are in Christ.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes his lifestyle as one marked by simplicity, sincerity and grace: “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.”  (2 Corinthians 1:12)  His use of the word “simplicity” is interesting.  When we don’t lie, trick or deceive, life is much easier!  As Jesus said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”  (Matthew 5:37)

In the next chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul compares his method of ministry with other public speakers he had seen: “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 2:17)  Paul knew that for his message to have credibility, his method must be transparent.  This is certainly something that is as true today as it was then.  In the busy marketplace of ideas in which we live, the Gospel of Christ will sound forth most beautifully through instruments of sincerity.

The final use of the word “sincerity” is found in yet another of Paul’s epistles: “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”  (Colossians 3: 22-24)  Any work we do in this world for others can be enhanced when we do it for the Lord.  Then we will not begrudge what we have to do – or act differently when the boss’s eye is upon us then when it is not.  The things we do in life can have eternal significance when done for Lord.

As valuable as it is to seek to live a life of greater sincerity, we know that we will at times fail.  Our performance will disappoint us, not to mention God.  How wonderful, then, that there was one person – Jesus Christ – who lived a life of perfect sincerity, faithfulness, simplicity and truth!  When we accept, embrace and trust him as our Savior and Lord, we gain the benefits of his perfect, holy and risen life.  Thanks be to God!

The Gospel according to Luke

On November 1st I began a series of sermons on the Gospel according to Luke.  Of the four Gospels in the New Testament, this is the third to have been written and the longest.  It is also the only Gospel to have a sequel: the Acts of the Apostles.  With just these two books, Luke has written more of the New Testament than anyone else!

Why did Luke write this Gospel?  First of all, it was to strengthen and confirm the faith of the early Christians: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:4)

Secondly, Luke wanted to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

And thirdly, Luke wrote this Gospel to insure that we realize that Jesus is for all people: “my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2: 30-32)

Luke‘s Gospel has several themes – here are just three:

The Fulfillment of God’s Promises: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24: 46-47)

Salvation in Christ: “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 2:6)  And,

Love for Sinners: “the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the
righteous but sinners to repentance.’ ” (Luke 5: 30-32)

James R. Edwards, who recently wrote a commentary on this book, says: “Luke understands Jesus of Nazareth to be the incarnation of the eternal God within human history, who was sent in fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, and that his death as the righteous Servant of God effects the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles, to which the church bears saving witness.”

Please join us on Sunday mornings as we learn from this exciting and encouraging book!