Meditation 19: The Gospel in Laughter

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” -- 1 Thessalonians 1:6. 

One of the things I love most about my wife is her stentorian and orotund laugh.  I cannot count the number of times that crowds in churches, movie theaters, or comedy shows have gotten to know me and my wife because of her inimitable laugh.  She has one of those turn-your-head-and-strain-your-eyes-to-find-out-where-that-thunderous-sound-is-coming-from kind of laughs -- one of those laughs that cannot be ignored, even if you try (and, believe me, I have). When she finds something funny, she throws her head back, braces her diaphragm with her hands, and lets loose a raucous torrent of booming guffaws, which she ultimately concludes with a dainty and tasteful tee-hee. 

For many years, she tried to control her intractable laugh, or at least make it more melodious and musical.  But she never succeeded!  So, today, she embraces her laugh and allows herself to communicate those spontaneous and raucous moments of joy without restraint.  And I have come to embrace her laugh, as well. I love it! Yes, it often embarrasses me. But I love how that cacophonous tsunami of joy bursts forth from deep within her soul and floods the ears and hearts of everyone around her.  Her laughter is so emphatic, and the joy it expresses is so pure and primal, that it compels people to turn their heads, looking for the answer to an unspoken question they all share -- namely, What’s so funny?

Today, I was struck by the realization that my wife’s laugh, and how people respond to it, is a beautiful illustration of how the Gospel is communicated most effectively in laughter and joy.  As a follower of Jesus, I am a herald of the best and happiest news in the world. I have every reason to be filled with joy and hope because I know that Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, has secured salvation and the forgiveness of sins for all mankind. Never will there be better news than that! Never will there be more reason to rejoice than to know that we all can be saved by God’s grace, if we place our faith in Jesus! 

I have the best and happiest news in the world; it follows that my life and demeanor should reflect that truth.  My mien should express the same kind of joy my wife communicates through her laughter. My countenance should be so loud and raucous with unrestrained joy that people are compelled to stop, turn their heads and ask, “What’s so funny?”  This is the Gospel in laughter.


Meditation 18: A Different Gospel Is No Gospel At All

If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. . . . We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. (Gal. 1:10, 2:5).

It matters how I proclaim and live out the Gospel! What I say about the good news of Jesus (and how I live what I profess) either will lead non-believers away from Him, or draw them to Him; by the same token, my words and deeds either will undermine or will strengthen the faith of my fellow believers.

As a pastor, a husband, and a father, what I say about my faith in Jesus, and how I live that out, will affect those whom the Father has given me to shepherd. If I want the “truth of the [G]ospel” to remain with my wife, my children, and my church, I cannot allow myself to be misled by the man-made philosophies of this age, or by the perversions of the Gospel that are infiltrating and infecting the Church today. Like Jesus (and Paul), I must have the wisdom and boldness to speak out against the distortions of the Gospel that are leading God’s people astray. If I do not, I will be complicit with the enemy in his work of perverting the “truth of the [G]ospel” in the hearts of God’s Elect. It is an awesome spiritual responsibility to be a husband, or a father, or a pastor, or a teacher of God’s Word.

Peter learned this the hard way (as he did most of his lessons)! When he allowed himself to be influenced by the Judaizers and their false gospel (viz., that we are saved by placing our faith in Jesus and by obeying the law), he began to pull away from the Gentiles -- people God had been using him to reach with the Gospel. In Peter’s cowardice, disobedience, and hypocrisy, he even began leading other respected church leaders, like Barnabas, astray. (Gal. 2:11-13).  

How do I avoid the same mistake Peter made? Paul gives some great advice. First, he cautions me not to pay attention to any other teaching or re-framing of the Gospel that contradicts the already revealed Word of God.  Anything that conflicts with or is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as declared in Scripture, should be rejected and refuted, even if it is taught by a seemingly angelic being or a respected leader in the Church:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Gal. 1:6-9).

Second, I cannot please both God and man. That is why Paul writes that if he “were still trying to please men, [he] would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:10).  I must remember that my sole purpose and goal is to please Jesus, not my fellow man; I worship Jesus, not man; I am a slave of Christ, not of man.  

Peter’s character, faith, and ministry were compromised for two reasons: He cared more about pleasing man than he did pleasing Jesus; he feared man more than he did his Lord.  As a result, he allowed himself to give more credence to the doctrinal convictions of an influential religious sect within the Church than he did to what Jesus had taught him.

It is possible Peter compromised for reasons that seemed justifiable at the time. After all, he was an apostle to the Jews, not to the Gentiles. Perhaps he thought he was being shrewd in being careful not to offend the group of people to whom God had sent him as an apostle of Jesus Christ.  Of course, the irony and the tragedy in that decision was that he no longer was preaching the Gospel of Jesus to those people; he effectively had ceased to operate as an apostle of Jesus Christ and now was the apostle of a false gospel. 

The gravity of Peter’s offense cannot be over-stated: By his words and actions, he had led his followers into embracing another gospel, which really was “no gospel at all.” (Gal. 1:6).  Peter effectively was preaching that “righteousness could be gained through the law,” and that the Christ had died for nothing. (Gal. 2:21). It is no wonder, then, that Paul felt compelled to rebuke Peter in front of all the people he had led into error. (Gal. 2:11-14).  While it may have seemed harsh to Peter at the time, I believe Paul’s boldness in publicly challenging Peter’s heresy helped to ensure that the true Gospel “remained with [Peter]” and his ministry. (Gal. 2:5). I wonder if Paul had this incident in mind when he later counseled young Timothy to: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim. 4:16).