Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Doxology Rule

When reading the Bible, you'll occasionally come across places where the author stops what he's doing to just worship for a minute. These moments range from very brief, almost off-hand (eg, Lam 3:23b) to kind of lengthy (eg, Rom 11:33-36). These doxologies are beautiful, much-loved passages in their own right, but they don't exist just to be admired. They are flashing lights letting us know something big just happened.

That's why I've established for myself what I call the Doxology Rule: I don't move beyond one of these passages until I've been grabbed by the truth that made the author's heart sing.

My procedure has been to back up and find the beginning of the section that the doxology is responding to. Then, I move through the passage slowly and repeatedly, meditating on what I'm seeing there, until I have grasped, and been grasped by, the truth that has driven the writer to worship.

What's that look like?

I was recently reading 1 Timothy. In the first chapter, I generally spend time reflecting on verse 15: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst."

But when I got to verse 17, I saw "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever."

Doxology. Stop. Examine. Verse 15 is clearly not what's triggering Paul's worship, so what is?

The subject headings that editors put in to the text were helpful here. The NIV calls it "The Lord's Grace to Paul," and that seemed like a good place to look, so I backed up to verse 12. In v13 Paul says, "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief."

I think we're getting somewhere.

"But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life" (1:16).

Yeah, he does that. God has used Moses the murderer, Augustine the hedonist, John Newton the slave trader to show that he specializes in forgiving — and using — the worst he can find.

And Paul? Jesus didn't have much nice to say about the Pharisees. He called them "whitewashed tombs," "blind guides" who left people "a child of hell" (Matt 23). This is what Paul was as a Pharisee. He was also "a persecutor and a violent man." He didn't just approve of Stephen's death; he set out to make more martyrs. He wanted to kill Christians and stamp out the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So God, showing both his power and the depths of his mercy, made him a servant of that gospel to the praise of his glorious grace in Christ Jesus. Because that is what he does.

God saves the worst to show that he saves the worst. So we can go to the man in prison for doing heinous things and tell him that God specializes in saving men just like him. And we can tell every human being that, whether their sins are horrific or more mundane, the grace of God can and will cover them all through the blood of Christ Jesus.

"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Related resources:
A useful article elsewhere on the web: 11 Questions to Ask of a Bible Passage
An article about a new book: The Simple Questions to Ask Every Time You Open the Bible

An oldie of mine: 5 Questions to Help Your Devotions

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