Greek mythology warned ancient sailors of avoiding the dangers of two monsters named Scylla and Charybdis. Many believe that this legendary warning was rooted in the real dangers of rock shoal on one side and a whirlpool on the other side of the Straits of Messina nearly Sicily. The term ‘steering between Scylla and Charybdis’ has long been used to encourage people to avoid the danger of extremes. I hear a lot these days regarding the necessity of being ‘balanced’. I prefer the term ‘biblical tension’. I believe that the way that believers steer between the rocky shoals of Scylla and the deadly whirlpool of Charybdis is to understand and embrace what I believe, in many ways, is the most important word in all the Bible–the word ‘therefore’. The failure of many a professing Christian and many a ministry is to reject the tension of the ‘therefore’. The Bible’s message is miserably distorted when we fail to articulate, believe, embrace, and live on both sides of it’s many therefores. On the one side of the ‘therefore’ is the objective reality of what God has done for sinners in Christ. Avoid this side of the ‘therefore’ and you plunge into legalism, hopelessness, and despair. On the other side of the ‘therefore’ is the Spirit inspired practical application of that truth. The ‘so what’ of doctrine. The practical application. The way that this truth affects my relationship with God, the world, the church, my thought life, my ethical behavior. Avoid this side of the ‘therefore’ and you plunge into the licentiousness, anti-nomianism, carnality, and bring shame and reproach to the gospel you claim to believe. Some pastors and believers tend toward one side of the ‘therefore’ or the other. Some long to hear of the truth that we are free in Christ and that ‘He paid it all’ and that there is nothing that I can do or be that can change His heart towards me (true, by the way!). But when they hear the preacher say, ‘therefore’ they can start to put up barriers. Don’t tell me any implications, don’t tell me that this must effect change in me. That’s ‘duty preaching’, that’s moralism, that’s legalism and bondage!! If ‘duty’ is a dirty word to you, then you have an argument with God and not your preacher. On the other side you have someone who ‘suffers through doctrine’ to get to the ‘meat of application’. They love to hear all the things on the duty side of the therefore. They love to hear ‘practical preaching’ and ‘convicting’ preaching. Grab me by the lapels, preacher! Shake me and shake others. We don’t need more promises, we need more implications! All this emphasis on the gospel leads to sloppy living! No, it leads to an unbiblical distortion of the hope we have in Jesus!
Bless God for the truths which are held in tension in that simple word, that most blessed word, therefore!
A fair amount of attention is paid these days to ‘balance’. Many times that attention is fully justified. I find it very important to keep certain truths in tension not only in my own individual life, but in my pastoral life as well. How should I think about the church at any given moment? Should I be excited, encouraged, over moon? Or should I be pessimistic and be tempted to jump off the bridge? There are days when I receive a word from someone that they feel unwanted and unloved by the church and literally an hour later get an email or a call from someone who wants to let me know that they have never felt so loved and so supported by any church body anywhere. Who do I believe? What emotion will win the day?
I remember one Lord’s Day afternoon walking to my study with a teenager who was under deep conviction of sin and wanting to embrace Christ (what a joy!) and while I am walking with them to my study having a resignation letter handed to me by a member. What is the Lord saying in such times? Are all my joys to be tempered with sorrow or are all my sorrows leavened with joy?
At least once a year the elders of the church get together during a retreat and prayerfully go through every member of the church. Much of this is encouraging, but there are times when we realize how much better we need to do in ministering to this one or that one. We realize we have members who are mature and those who are not, those who are pursuing Christ with all their might and those who are coasting. What are we to make of such things? Frankly, that this is church life in the present age. Triumphs, joys, victories, failures, sins and disappointments all run together. It means that when I receive news that would thrill my heart, I don’t jump over the moon and when I hear things that weigh me down, I don’t jump off the bridge. There is a bit of the curse in everything and there is something of the triumphal scepter of Christ there too.
Whenever we read the well known words of Hebrews 12 which speaks of the ‘sin that so easily entangles us’ most of us have a particular matter brought before our minds. There is some issue, whether it be lust or anger or bitterness or a broken relationship that seems to be a constant source of temptation and, at times, failure. I imagine at such times, that a good many us consider not only the state of our hearts but the rage of the enemy who seeks our destruction. Why am I constantly faced with these temptations? I don’t want to sin, but I am constantly being provoked! Why? I want to encourage you to consider what God may well be doing in your repeated trials and temptations.
When a coach is working with an athlete he will focus much of his attention upon weakness. For instance, if a shortstop has missed a few groundballs to his right side the coach will have him on the field practicing over and over again to his right so that his point of weakness can be addressed. If a tennis player has a bad backhand the coach will focus their attention repeatedly, frustratingly, and perhaps painfully and embarassingly upon their point of weakness. Why? Not to ruin them, not to cause them to fail, not to make them throw up their hands and give up…but rather to win. The enemy knows our weakness and tries us to cause us sin. The Lord knows our weaknesses and addresses them for our good and His glory.
The next time you find yourself in a situation that seems calculated to bring about sin, remember that God is overseeing it for your sanctification.