Book Reviews

A New Agenda for our Talk

[Listening to: “You Know How It Is” – Stavesacre – Punkzilla (02:18)]

…he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?” Daniel 4:35 (ESV)

“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” Eph. 1:22 (ESV).

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” Rom 8:28-29 (ESV) (emphasis mine).

I am currently reading a book by Paul David Tripp called War of Words, published by P&R. To say it’s really good would be an understatement.

Chapter 5 is all about how the root of all of our communication breakdowns (complaining, arguing, manipulating, criticizing, etc.) is a fundamental lack of trust in God’s sovereignty.

…a life of godly communication is rooted in a personal recognition of the sovereignty of God. Let me put it this way: Only when I submit to the rule of God, who has a perfect plan and is in complete control, will I begin to live and speak as he has purposed. Only at this level will the idolatry of heart that leads to idol [sic] words be broken. Here alone will my words be freed from being the tools of my agenda, my attempts at control, and my glory-seeking.

When my heart is more controlled by a desire for the creation (a person, possession, position, or experience) than it is by a desire for the Creator, I will seek to control my world (and the people in it) to get what I want….None rests in God’s sovereignty, believing that he will give what is best. (p. 69)

…the roots of biblical communication grow in the soil of his sovereignty. If my words don’t flow out of a heart that rests in his control, then they come out of a heart that seeks control, so I can get what I want. I need a better understanding of what God is doing. (p. 71)

When I know that God is in control of my life, I do not give in to panic. I do not begin thinking that life is out of control, and I do not despair when I am confused about what is going on. I know that every situation is under the careful administration of the King of Kings. (p. 72)

God is sovereign over the circumstances of our lives, but Scripture says more. It tells us that these circumstances are a principal means by which God actually produces what he predestined for our lives before the foundation of the world–that we would be transformed into the likeness of his Son, holy as he his holy.

When we complain about the problems and pressures in our lives, we are essentially grumbling in the face of God. We are complaining that we have been chosen by his love and grace, and that he is putting us in situations designed to make us his holy people! These relationships and circumstances, these problems and trials, and these times of grief and suffering come from his hand. They are tokens of God’s wonderful grace, given to deliver us from the power of remaining sin! Behind the circumstances is a God of love who is relentlessly at work to make us holy. Praise that comes from hearts of worship is the only legitimate response to these circumstances. Rather than telling us that God has forgotten us, our circumstances shout to us that he has remembered us and will not leave us until his work is complete! Really understanding this will do much to alter the way we talk. (p. 77)

This is all good stuff on it’s own. But Tripp takes it further with a discussion of why theology itself is so important. You can’t just go to the scriptures that tell you what to do. You have to understand the whole of Scripture to see God’s reason behind those commands.

God’s will is that all of our speaking be done for the praise of his glory [see Eph. 1]–an exciting new agenda very different from our own. For this reason it is important to understand what the Bible teaches about God’s sovereignty. It is the cornerstone for a new agenda for our words.

In talking about this doctrine, I know that I am raising thorny issues that go beyond the scope of typical communication discussions….We live in a church culture that tends to separate biblical commands and principles from the rest of Scripture. We look at specific verses about communication and seek to apply them to our lives without understanding the way they are rooted in the history and theology of Scripture. We miss the big picture–the way the rest of Scripture gives these commands their meaning and rationale. The commands and principles of Scripture flow from the theology of Scripture. More than that, they find their hope and meaning in the person and work of Christ.

For example, the only reason it makes sense to do good to your enemies is that the One who has told us to is a God of perfect justice. The call to forgive is rooted in the fact that Christ has forgiven us. The call to give sacrificially is rooted in God’s promise to provide for all our needs. Every command and principle has its roots in redemptive realities–what God has done and will do for us in Christ. This is theology–but it’s certainly not abstract information! Scripture is full of theology because when you undestand truth about God, you understand why and how you are to carry out the commands of Scripture. You understand how your actions connect with what God is doing, and how you can actually bring glory to his name. (pp. 70-71)

When I was a kid, whenever my parents would tell me to do something, I would always want to know why. I needed to know the reason behind it, that there was some purpose, some greater meaning to it all. Unfortunately, the answer was usually, “Because I said so.” Granted, that is all that should be required of obedience. But one of the coolest things about this understanding of theology is that it shows us that God is not like the parent who says, “Because I said so.” Yes, his purpose is to teach us his character–that we might know him–to get us to the place where we will stop complaining and always do what he wants without questioning, but he wants us to truly have an understanding of his goodness and faithfulness. He doesn’t just want to keep us as little children; he wants to raise us up as heirs.

In Exodus 14, when the Israelites were trapped by the Red Sea, they started complaining. But God had a purpose in it. “Notice that this trial produced exactly what God had planned for his people. ‘And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant’ [Ex. 14:31 (NIV)]” (Tripp, p. 80).

This happened over and over again in Israel’s history. Each time, God wills their being put in a situation where they complain, with his purpose being precisely to teach them not to complain the next time the same thing happens.

It’s not just a problem that laypeople face. Look at Elijah–I just read 1 Kings 18 this morning. But what does Elijah say in 19:4? “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (ESV). He’s completely given up on God’s will in his life, even after the power God evidenced through him on Mt. Carmel and the euphoria of slaughtering 450 bad guys!

Let us rest in his sovereign arms (Jason, Piña, are your reading this?). We don’t have to have everything figured out, but we need to continually remember that we are not the lords of our own domain. God himself is in charge, and there’s a point to what he’s doing: redemption and sanctification. It’s really not about what we want. It’s about glorifying him while we watch him work his will in our lives and make us the men and women of God that he wants us to be.

Lord, help me to trust in you. Give me the grace to get through these times. Take control of my heart and my mind in order that you might continually intervene in my thoughts and remind me that you are in control. Help me, Lord to submit to your will for my life, and to seek your glory above all. And please forgive me, Father, for those times when I have sought to take the reigns for myself, only to wind up in the mud.

“Now I’m riding in the back seat, and I’m leaving all the driving to the Chief.” – Dallas Holm

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