Phrygia was an ancient kingdom in what is now central Turkey. According to legend, once upon a time Phrygia was without a king. One day, a pagan oracle declared that the next man to drive an ox-cart into Phrygia’s capital city, Telmissus, would be the new king. That man was a farmer named Gordias.
Gordias’s son, Midas (who later became the king with the golden touch), decided to honor his newly exalted father by dedicating the ox-cart to the Phrygian god, Sabazios, and he tied it to a pole using a knot so complex that it was considered impossible to untie — the Gordian Knot. Another oracle pronounced that the one who would solve the riddle of the knot would rule Asia.
Centuries went by and the ox-cart remained securely tied to the pole. Then Alexander the Great came, conquered, and happened upon the knot. Being the decisive warrior-leader he was, he dispensed with the inscrutable knot by slicing through it with his sword. And he went on to conquer Asia.
The Gordian Knot has become a parabolic symbol of intractable complex problems and Alexander’s sword has been a parabolic symbol for decisive, out-of-the box leadership solutions.
Our Gordian Knots
In the kingdom of our souls, we each have our Gordian Knots, don’t we? Some of them are impenetrable intellectual quandaries over God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, the nature of suffering, the origin of evil, God’s eternality, the Trinity, and so on. We press on these and discover our limits and hopefully learn to exult with Paul in saying,
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
The more painful knots are the complex spiritual, emotional, and psychological entanglements of indwelling sin or the temperamental weakness, disability, circumstantial adversity, and traumatic past experiences. Combined together, these often shape how we think and what we do in ways that confound us.
We try to untangle them. We try to figure them out. But the more we work at them, the more complex we find the knots to be. Counseling and certain kinds of therapies can certainly help us the same way teachers, discussions, and books can help with intellectual struggles.
Counseling will only help us to a point. Therapy doesn’t possess the power to cure us. We discover our limits. And we cry out with Paul,
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Who can untie these sin-permeated, hopelessly intertwined knots of pain?
None of us can. The most gifted human pastor, counselor, or psychological expert is unable to fully untie the knots that entangle us. Nor can any of us make a sword ourselves that will cut through them.
Our Conqueror Has the Sword
The answer to our cry is the same answer Paul declares in the next verse:
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)
There is one who can solve the riddle of our Gordian Knots. He is the conqueror. “He is called . . . The Word of God” and “from his mouth comes a sharp sword” (Revelation 19:13, 15). And with that sword, all that is sinful in us and all that is part of the futility of this age (Romans 8:20) will be cut away.
On Cavalry, Jesus the Great dealt the decisive blow upon every sinful knot of every saint who would ever belong to him. In this age, every promise of God is yes in Christ and has power to cut through our knots with truths and set us free, if we will believe them (2 Corinthians 1:20, John 8:32). And in the age to come, every Eden-induced Gordian Knot will have been destroyed.
Loose the Sword on Your Knots
Some knots you will never be able to untie on your own. But there is one who can undo them. Jesus, the Creator of our bodies and psyche, the Maker of our souls, the One who really knows how we’re wired and what we need, essentially counsels one primary thing for our troubled hearts: “Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). Jesus wants us to look to him, listen to him, and trust in him.
The key to dealing with our Gordian Knots is not ultimately introspection and analysis. Effective counseling and therapies will aim to help us see more clearly what lies are interfering with our believing in Jesus so we can counter them. But the key to freedom, the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) that will cut through the knots of lies, is believing Jesus’s words (John 8:32, John 15:7).
The words of Christ are living and active and the sharpest sword (Hebrews 4:12) and in him every promise of God is yes for us. He alone will set us free (John 8:32).
Government has long been viewed as a tool to accomplish lasting change in society. As the 2016 election approaches, many Americans are anxious about who our next president will be. This anxiety is even common among evangelicals who see the use of government power as a tool to fight secularism and make America Christian again. Others view election and politics as an instrument to create a society that reflects their worldview and system of ethics.
This view of government makes sense outside of a Christian worldview. The world’s outlook on life ignores eternity and places all of its stock in the temporal. People have one life to live and the government plays a major role in creating a utopian society that reflects their ethics. But the Christian’s outlook should be radically different since our lives are lived with eternity in mind. We’re “sojourners and exiles” who “have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 13:14). We await restoration — the return of Jesus when everything wrong will be made right.
I’m not calling for political apathy. I think that is irresponsible. Christians desperately need a biblical view of government and a just society. Instead, I’m calling for believers to cast their anxieties about the immorality of society on Jesus and be on mission in their neighborhoods and cities.
Ministry of Force
This usage of government as leverage to change society is mostly ineffective.Nancy Pearcey explains:
In recent decades many Christians have responded to the moral and social decline in American society by embracing political activism. Believers are running for office in growing numbers; churches are organizing voter registration; public policy groups are proliferating; scores of Christian publications and radio programs offer commentary on public affairs. This heightened activism has yielded good results in many areas of public life, yet the impact remains far less than most had hoped. Why? Because evangelicals often put all their eggs in one basket: They leaped into political activism as the quickest, surest way to make a difference in the public arena — failing to realize that politics tends to reflect culture, not the other way around. (Total Truth, 18)
Pearcey reveals an insightful truth: The political climate of the day is only a reflection of the culture. The government didn’t make America a homosexual-celebrating, baby-killing machine — it adapted to reflect the people’s desires.
Politics as a means of creating lasting change is unreliable. The government uses force as a means of carrying out social change. This use of force can be effective and is biblically ordained (Romans 13:1–7). But its success is limited and, if taken too far, inevitably creates a society of whitewashed tombs and underground sin. In the past, this approach gave some Christians the false comfort that we live in a morally upright nation, despite years of overt habitual injustice towards ethnicities that were not white.
The government doesn’t stand on a consistent ethical foundation. If we agree that politics reflects the society, the state’s ethical pendulum will continue to swing back and forth based on whom the people elect to power. Prior to 1962, sodomy was a felony in every state, but today it’s legal in every state. This reality exposes a radical shift in America’s ethics. In just over a generation, our government has enforced two extremely different and radical laws. Christians can’t depend on government if we want to see true change in our society. History has proven that the same monster created to work for us will easily be used to work against us.
Ministry of Persuasion
As we engage in political discourse and public policy, we must remember that political activism can only accomplish so much. Our hope is not in government to change our nation, but in the proclamation of the good news through churches and Christian families. God’s chosen instrument to change immoral America is not government or politics, but Christians on mission. It’s not government and its laws, but Christians and our love. The government is a ministry of force, but Christianity is a ministry of persuasion (2 Corinthians 5:11; Acts 18:4).
Again, Pearcey writes,
[Abraham] Kuyper argues that secularism is a comprehensive worldview and that Christians will not be able to counter it unless they develop an equally comprehensive biblical worldview. He bases the call to worldview thinking on the Calvinist emphasis on God’s sovereignty, which implies that the Lordship of Christ is meant to extend over all aspects of society — politics, science, the arts, and so on. This is not a theocratic vision, for the task is not to be accomplished by ecclesiastical control (that was the mistake of the Middle Ages) but rather by persuasion. (452)
The Lordship of Christ over all things means that our worldview should not be checked at the door when we engage culture. We’re on a mission to engage and persuade others with the good news — which will provide a fuller understanding of the meaning of life. The gospel narrative from beginning to end can be divided into four sections — creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. This narrative answers basic worldview questions:
What is ultimate reality?
Where did man come from?
What is our purpose?
What went wrong?
How can it be made right?
What should we look forward to?
The answers to these questions according to the Scriptures will radically shape our view of art, politics, science, vocation, economics, justice, and much more. Why? This narrative exposes the real problem and offers an authentic solution. It exposes sin and Satan, reminding us “we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). Only the full counsel of God can deliver real change to a sin-sick society.
When we wake up each morning, we should have our minds on the mission. We have three jobs: proclaim the good news, view all of life through this news, and live out the implications of our message. Proclaiming the gospel is uncomfortable. Wearing gospel lenses requires meticulous thinking. Living out the implications of the gospel is demanding. But we’re called to believe, see, and do hard things, resourced by God’s lavish supply of grace.
We want to lovingly persuade our unbelieving neighbors, not with Facebook comments or tweets, but with the authentic gospel spoken in love and made evident by our lifestyle.
It’s Friday evening. God has carried us through another week of work, and we are greeted with a new weekend. For many of us these next two days are free from work duties. It’s an opportunity for rest and leisure, and for taking time to think about our lives in the sovereign God’s story.
And thankfully we are not left to our own speculation. God wrote a book, and within that book is another book, the book of Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes is realistic. It teaches us that life under the sun is often empty, futile, and absurd, and yet it does not run us into the rocks of despair either. The conclusion of the book functions as the lens, the perspective, by which the whole of the book should be read. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14). When we understand that this world isn’t paradise on earth, we are reminded that nothing is more important than a right relationship with God.
Ecclesiastes reminds us of our limitations and finiteness. We read in Ecclesiastes 3:11, God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
The Joy of Beauty
Life is a blend of beauty and mystery. We see the beauty of life in the waves of the ocean crashing ashore, in the rain cascading down in a thunderstorm, and in seeing shafts of the sun streaming through the trees while hiking in woods. We see the beauty of the created world, but at the same time we yearn for eternity. We long for something that transcends time. We sense there is something more than just this life.
I was looking at an intensely purple iris this year and thought how indescribably beautiful it was. I longed for the beauty in the flower to be in me. We realize that such beauty is found only in God himself, in Jesus Christ. He is beautiful, and he offers us beauty in the living water of union with him, which quenches the thirst in our souls (John 4:14).
The Mystery of Life
Notice also that though God has put a desire for eternity and a desire for beauty in our hearts, our lives contain many mysteries we cannot understand. We can sense beauty in the world God has made; we cannot master our lives.
We often cannot trace the fabric of God’s work. Life doesn’t always make sense to us. And we can’t make what is crooked straight (Ecclesiastes 7:13). Life is full of many puzzles and mysteries and sufferings which we can’t solve.
We cannot explain why babies die, why the godly suffer, while the wicked are spared. Many of the deepest questions in life are beyond our understanding. None of us can articulate what God is doing from beginning to the end.
We do know that God does everything for his glory. We don’t always understand how the specific things that happen in our lives bring him glory in the end. As Pascal says, “Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things that are beyond it.”
The Joy of Life
Ecclesiastes teaches us that life on earth is full of suffering and tragedy. And yet at the same time we are called upon to enjoy everyday life. The call to enjoy life is a persistent theme in the book (Ecclesiastes 2:24–26; 3:12–13, 26; 5:18–20; 7:14; 8:15; 9:7–10; 11:9–10). We find these words in chapter 3, “I perceived that there is nothing better for [human beings] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:12–13). We are not being told here to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:32). Instead, we are being told how to live our lives during this present evil age.
God gives us time to enjoy the fruit of our toil, whether we are a salaried laborer in the workforce or a busy mom at home with the kids all week. Whatever our station in life, there is joy God intends for us to experience from our toil.
The Joy of Humility
The key to joy is humility. God calls us to be content as creatures. Pride makes us want to be gods, but humility accepts the truth that we can’t master time. We are flesh and blood creatures; we are made of dust. So we accept our work every day from God. To be a creature means we cannot unravel all the mysteries of the universe, but we can live and work and rest in God.
We give thanks to God for what he has called us to do. We thank him for the jobs we have. We don’t master life, and we don’t know what the days ahead will bring. But we put our trust in God, and eat and drink every day with joy. We give thanks for our daily bread. We find joy in the ordinary things of life: in taking walks, in exercising, in regularly attending church, and in meeting with friends. If our days are good, if we are spared suffering, that is a gift of God. Ordinary days have their own glory. Every piece of toast with jam on it is a gift of God. Every sweet apple and tasty clementine. When we receive life as God’s gift, we see the glory in the ordinary.
Extraordinary Joy in the Ordinary
To husbands, we read: “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).
As G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and his ordinary wife and their ordinary children.”
There is a glory and joy in the ordinary things.
Ecclesiastes says, “Don’t try to unravel and figure out the reason everything happens in the world. It is beyond your ability; “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29). When days are good, enjoy them. Enjoy the days God has given you with your wife, your family, and your friends.
Receive them as a gift of God and see God’s goodness in such days.
My fingers withdrew from the keyboard. One feeling dominated all the others: loneliness. The email now resting in my “sent” folder was the reason for my unrest.
A close friend had asked me to give my rationale for holding to a “traditional view” of marriage. Immediately, my sinful flesh rose to whisper, The fear of man is the beginning of comfort. I could just “forget” to send my response, or smooth it out to the point where my Christian faithfulness would go unnoticed behind anthropological and natural-law arguments. I was Jonah, running from faithfulness and, consequently, from the presence of the Lord.
Thankfully, this episode was short-lived, and I did my best to lay out, as honestly and winsomely as I could, a Christian view of marriage and the family. But as I came closer to sending my email, I also became more conscious of the link between obedience and suffering.
I contemplated the possibility of losing the respect of my friend, my good standing in his eyes, maybe even the friendship itself. It is, indeed, better to suffer for doing good than evil (1 Peter 3:17), but a visceral feeling of loneliness proved that the suffering that comes along the path of obedience is real and can take many forms.
When Obedience Is Costly
Faithfulness to Christ always involves suffering in some form, “for Christ also suffered once for sins” in his great act of obedience (1 Peter 3:18). Obedience requires a death of some kind: death to self-security, death to pride, death to our reverence of man’s praise — ultimately, death to self. While we greatly desire for the sinful parts of our flesh to be destroyed like cancer, we often forget how painful the treatment can be. We’re surprised that obedience to Christ involves as much suffering as, say, tearing out your eye or cutting off your hand (Matthew 5:29–30).
And in the midst of an undeniable moral shift in our society, obedience-borne suffering will become increasingly visible to Christians and non-Christians alike. Because of this, Christians committed to remaining faithful to Christ above all else must settle the question in our own hearts: Will Christian obedience inevitably prove to be a defeat?
Unless a strong, joy-filled “No!” rises in our throats, we may prove to be a little good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matthew 5:13). Christian faithfulness is entirely worth the suffering that attends it, and amazingly, God promises to prove it, not only in the life to come, but even in this present age (Mark 10:30).
When biblical faithfulness means losing your job, when society decides that your homeless ministry is not worth the gospel principles that impel you to minister, when your close friends react to your Christian beliefs with hostility, eye-rolls, and scoffing — how will you say that faithfulness is worth it?
God Will Take You In
We have a final backstop to these difficult questions, an ultimate promise that lays a hand over the mouth of worries and doubts: “My father and mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in” (Psalm 27:10).
In our faithfulness to God, we will not be left to suffer in loneliness and isolation. Rather, it is here that we are promised the greatest fellowship, company, and validation. The promise of the God’s affirmation allows us to joyfully bear the weight of even the most drastic faithfulness.
So the psalmist extends to us this pledge: when your faithfulness to God and his word leads to being forsaken by others, even by those who are closest to you, consider it gain, because God himself will take you in.
In this alone, we have more than enough to persevere in obedience, but Scripture reveals even more about how he will “take us in.”
Taken in by His People
Jesus himself promises, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions (Mark 10:29–30).
The pain of loss we incur in obedience is refunded “now in this time” by receiving a new family and a new life in fellowship with other Christians. The Lord who shelters us in the day of trouble (Psalm 27:5) does so through his Spirit-indwelt church.
C.S. Lewis makes the point in the second book of his Space Trilogy:
When Eve fell, God was not Man. He had not yet made men members of His body: since then He had, and through them henceforward He would save and suffer. One of the purposes for which He had done all this was to save . . . not through Himself but through Himself in [man].
On this side of the incarnation, God fulfills his promise to shelter not only by his direct presence through the Spirit, but also through his body, the church.
It is not, then, too difficult to realize some of the many practical implications of such a truth. It was not too hard for me in my accountability group, when I explained about my friend and the recent email. While I feared rejection and loss in one relationship, I heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” through the mouths of Christian brothers. I received back love, acceptance, and validation through the Christian community Christ had provided. I could feel the smile of God in the smiles of my brothers.
Good to Be Near to His Church
As members of Christ’s body, these truths both provide for us, and demand of us, in very practical ways. For the suffering, faithful Christian, the shelter of Christ himself, through his body, provides great grace and comfort; and for the supporting member of that body, it inspires us to give great grace and comfort to those who are suffering.
So we say to the faithful sufferer: though society, friends, employers, clients, father, and mother abandon you, the Lord will take you in. Don’t seek the praise that comes from man, but that which comes from God. You will suffer loss — yes, real loss — but in that loss, look to the means that God has provided in his church to shelter, affirm, and validate your faithfulness.
And to the faithful comforter we say: play your role! You are God’s means to build up and shelter your brother in the day of trouble. In your weekly worship, community life, small groups, and accountability meetings, be the instrument of God in lifting the faithful high upon a rock, their heads up above their enemies all around them (Psalm 27:5–6).
God has given his church this great dignity now, and in the days to come: we are the smile of God to one another, that we might know, and the world might see, that even in our suffering and pain, “it is good to be near God” (Psalm 73:28).
In our early days we thought we knew what “hard” meant. Hard would be rigorous, demanding, exhausting. Jesus said the way would be hard and with James and John we replied (if not in words, then in unspoken presumption), “We are able” (Matthew 20:22).
But like James and John, we didn’t really understand what we were getting into. Like green recruits we thought we understood what war was like. War is hard. War is hell. Especially when you war with hell.
But we didn’t really understand hell’s warfare until we really began to engage it. Then hell began to break loose and we discovered that the chaos of war is far different experienced than studied.
Devils know no chivalry. They are cruel, and conceal their cruelty in the Trojan horses of pleasure and comfort, “wisdom” and “security,” flattery and shame. Theirs is guerilla warfare and espionage. Theirs is psychological warfare and seduction. Theirs is biological warfare and blackmail.
Hell’s Primary Objective
Hell’s one primary objective is to destroy faith in God. All of its elaborate strategies and all of its diabolical energies are focused on one thing: breaking the power of the word of the Lord by undermining our trust in it. The universe was created and is upheld by the Word of God (John 1:3, Hebrews 1:3), so hell must break the power of the Word of the God, if it wants to win.
Therefore, we find ourselves fighting an enemy that constantly seeks to alter our perception of reality. This is why this fight is such a surreal and sometimes horrific experience.
Hell wages a war of distortion. It seeks to make the most destructive things look tantalizingly desirable. It seeks to make the most wonderful things look unbearably boring. It seeks to make the most trustworthy things look unreliable. It seeks to make the one, true fountain of joy look like a dry well, and a broken cistern look like a spring of refreshment. Hell makes even hell look entertaining.
Hell wages a war of disorientation. Through temptation, condemnation, intimidation discouragement, disappointment, doubt, illness, weakness, weariness, and appeals to our pride and shame, the spiritual powers of evil seek to keep us off-balance, confused, and turned around. For if we lose our focus on the truth we lose our confidence and may lose our faith.
Hell wages a war of suspicion. One of the most painful things in this spiritual war is hell’s infiltration into our relationships. It seeks to corrupt the currency of trust in which they trade. Marriages break, families fracture, friendships rupture, churches split, movements derail as sin infects and seeds of suspicion are sowed and fertilized. And in the fray we easily lose track of who the enemy is and end up fighting against flesh and blood.
That Word Above All Earthly Powers
Jesus was right: the way is hard — far harder than we expected.
But Jesus was right about something else: “the gates of hell will not prevail” (Matthew 16:18). The way is hard, but the way is sure. For the Way (John 14:6) is the Word (John 1:1).
And the Word is impenetrably strong.
All the brutal forces of hell, with all the distortion it can conjure, disorientation it can cause, and suspicion it can sow, simply cannot break the Word of God. Martin Luther was right about the devil: “one little word shall fell him.” Oh, but that Word turns out not to be so little. For that Word is God himself (John 1:1).
And the Word came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
Oh, the paradox! The Word of God destroyed the works of the devil by being broken. Yes, all hell broke loose upon the Word of God from Gethsemane to Calvary and the Word was broken. But it was not broken in the way that hell tried to break it. Hell tried to compromise the Word, but the Word held fast by being broken. For in being broken, the Word of God kept unbroken the word of God, the great covenant, and cosmic justice was upheld as Christ became both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
That Word stands above all earthly powers and smashes against the gates of hell.
The way may be hard for us. But the Way will be hell for hell.
The key to our clarity in the face of hell’s distortion, focus in the face of hell’s disorientation, and our persevering, long suffering love in the face of hell’s suspicion is to listen to the Word of God by soaking in the words of God in the Bible. The Word is our refuge (Psalm 18:30), the Word is our peace (Acts 10:36,Philippians 4:7), and the Word is our weapon (Ephesians 6:17).
We must remember that hell is after one thing: our faith. And we must remember that we will overcome hell by one thing: our faith (1 John 5:4). Jesus summarized our one and supreme defense against hell is this statement: “believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)