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First Thing First: Anyabwile, Tripp, and Strickland on the Priority of Abiding in Christ

December 10, 2014 admin

Written by: Josh Mathews

There’s a theme that I’ve been thinking about and challenged with lately. It has to do with prioritizing communion with Christ. Life is busy, full of doing, thinking, and talking about all kinds of things, many of which are very good. But all these endeavors will be fruitless unless we are abiding in Christ.
Jesus says, 

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (John 15:4).

Here are some thoughts from three wise men on this theme:

Thabiti Anyabwile
In a post on The Gospel Coalition website, Thabiti Anyabwile offers several suggestions for how to apply the gospel “in actionable ways” in light of recent events in our country. 
His first point is to Stick Close to Jesus Personally. He quotes from the puritan Richard Sibbes’ book, The Bruised Reed, which says this: 

That age of the church which was most fertile in subtle questions was most barren in religion; for it makes people think religion to be only a matter of cleverness, in tying and untying of knots. The brains of men inclining that way are hotter usually than their hearts. 

Anyabwile goes on to say, 

We must recognize the danger of entrapment in “subtle questions,” whether they’re the subtle questions of theology or of sociology. Those dangers include—to paraphrase Sibbes—hot heads and cold hearts. A quick visit to most twitter feeds and Facebook pages will supply ample evidence that this heating of the crown and cooling of the chest is well underway among many Christians. 

We have it on the greatest Authority that, “Whoever abides in [Christ] and [Christ] in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from Christ we can do nothing. We become unfruitful in spiritual knowledge and barren in our activism. Nothing could be more vital in Ferguson-like times than we sing and pray, “Jesus keep me near the cross.” To put it another way: We must first apply the gospel to our own lives by immersing ourselves in the truth of God’s word, warming ourselves with the Spirit’s fervency in prayer and keeping ourselves in the love of God. We begin here and never finish this delightful duty.

Paul Tripp

The elders have been reading Paul Tripp’s book, Dangerous Calling. This book, and the quote below, is directed towards pastors, but the truth applies to all Christians. 
In chapter four Tripp highlights the importance of a pastor’s communion with Christ, over things like knowledge and skill. He tells a story of a pastor who seemed to have it all together in ministry but then crashed because he was missing the most important element. 

The problem was the pastor’s lack of a living, humble, needy, celebratory, worshipful, meditative communion with Christ. It was as if Jesus had left the building. There were all kinds of ministry knowledge and skill, but those seemed divorced from a living communion with a living and ever-present Christ.”

Just a little later, Tripp says that to be truly effective in ministry (and again, this doesn’t just apply to pastors), 

The pastor must be enthralled by, in awe of—can I say it: in love with—his Redeemer so that everything he thinks, desires, chooses, decides, says, and does is propelled by love for Christ and the security of rest in the love of Christ. He must be regularly exposed, humbled, assured, and given rest by the grace of his Redeemer. His heart needs to be tenderized day after day by his communion with Christ so that he becomes a tender, loving, patient, forgiving, encouraging, and giving servant leader. His meditation on Christ—his presence, his promises, and his provisions—must not be overwhelmed by his meditation on how to make his ministry [or marriage, job, family, etc.] work.”

Rob Strickland
At last Saturday’s men’s breakfast we talked about ways we can strive to keep Christmas preparation and celebration centered around Jesus. We were thinking together about how, as men particularly, we can lead in this area. There were several wise and helpful comments. One thing that stood out was something Rob Strickland said. He gave this advice:

You can’t give away or lead in an area that you don’t have yourself. So make sure to spend time daily nourishing your spirit with the Lord, reflecting on his gifts to us and the awe inspiring story of his birth.

Rob’s challenge—which applies to all of us, men and women—was to make a priority of cultivating a heart of worship through regular communion with Christ. What we do and say and how we lead flows from our hearts. Abiding in Christ is the starting place for doing things that help keep the focus on Jesus, at Christmastime and beyond.