Results tagged “Christian living” from Reformation21 Blog

A Mantle of Love for the Weak

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On the night I proposed to Anna 15 years ago, she gave me a gift--an antiquarian edition of Thomas Brooks The Unsearchable Riches of Christ. It is a work to which I returned many times over the past 15 years. The section on the riches and excellencies of Christ, by itself, makes this work a must read. The opening section on humility and gifts is one of the most soul strengthening and edifying chapters of any Puritan work I've read. But, Brooks' section on "the duties of strong saints to the weak" is something every believer should commit to reading, digesting and seeking to put into practice in all of our regular interactions with other believers. When he came to the ninth duty that God requires of spiritually strong believers in relation to spiritually weak believers, Brooks wrote, 

"The ninth duty that lies upon strong saints is tcast mantle over the infirmities of the weak.

Now there is a three-fold mantle that should be cast over the infirmities of the weak. There is a mantle of wisdom, a mantle of faithfulness, and a mantle of compassion, which is to be cast over all the infirmities of weak saints.

First, Strong saints are to cast a mantle of wisdom over the infirmities of weak saints. They are not to present their sins in that ugliness, and with such aggravations, as may terrify, as may sink, as may make a weak saint to despair, or may drive him from the mercy-seat, or as may keep him and Christ asunder, or as may unfit him for the discharge of religious duties. It is more a weakness than a virtue in strong Christians, when a weak saint is fallen, to aggravate his fall to the uttermost, and to present his sins in such a dreadful dress, as shall amaze him. It often proves very prejudicial and dangerous to weak saints, when their infirmities are aggravated beyond Scripture grounds, and beyond what they are able to bear. He that shall lay the same strength to the rubbing of an earthen dish, as he does to the rubbing of a pewter platter, instead of clearing it, shall surely break it all to pieces. The application is easy.

Secondly, There is a mantle of faithfulness that is to be cast over the infirmities of weak saints. A man should never discover the infirmities of a weak saint, especially to such that have neither skill nor will to heal and bury them. The world will but blaspheme and blaze them abroad, to the dishonor of God, to the reproach of religion, and to the grief and scandal of the weak. They will with Ham rather call upon others to scoff at them, than bring a mantle to cover them. Ham was cursed for that he did discover his father's nakedness to his brethren, when it was in his power to have covered it. He saw it, and might have drawn a curtain over it, but would not; and for this, by a spirit of prophecy, he was cursed by his father, Gen. ix. 22. This age is full of such monsters, that rejoice to blaze abroad the infirmities of the saints, and these certainly justice hath or will curse.

Thirdly, There is a mantle of compassion that must be cast over the weaknesses and infirmities of weak saints. When a weak man comes to see his sin, and the Lord gives him to lie down in the dust, and to take shame and confusion to himself, that he has dishonored God, and caused Christ to bleed afresh, and grieved the Spirit; oh now you must draw a covering, and cast a mantle of love and compassion over his soul, that he may not be swallowed up with sorrow. Now you must confirm your love to him, and carry it with as great tenderness and sweetness after his fall, as if he had never fallen. This the apostle presses, 2 Cor. 2:7, 'Love,' says the wise man, 'covers all sin.' Love's mantle is very large. Love claps a plaster upon every sore; love has two hands, and makes use of both, to hide the scars of weak saints. Christ, O strong saints, casts the mantle of his righteousness over your weaknesses, and will not you cast the mantle of love over your brother's infirmities."1


Thomas Brooks The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks vol. 3 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866) p. 101

Sufficient Hope

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If you could give a new mom the perfect gift, what would it be? Would it be full night's sleep? Maybe you'd give her a hot meal without interruption or maybe the confidence that she'll be a good mom. Those would be precious gifts to any mom. But what do moms need most?

More than any of these things, moms need the gospel. This isn't just a "Jesus juke" or an attempt to be more "spiritually-minded." It's the fundamental truth that the gospel fulfills our greatest needs. The gospel isn't something basic that mature Christians move past. It isn't the stepping stone for the really important things in life. The gospel is our lifeline. It's our hope and our future. It's our daily help and comfort.

How does the gospel apply to moms? In her new book, Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms, Christina Fox seeks to apply the hope and help of the gospel to our lives as moms:

Whatever experiences we face in motherhood, we all need Jesus--and he is sufficient. That's what this book is about: our need for the gospel of Jesus Christ. In every moment, in every season, and whatever our circumstances, the gospel is sufficient to give us hope. (14)

Christina's book is composed of short meditations on the gospel and practical applications to various aspects and challenges of motherhood. Each chapter closes with a gospel-centered prayer highlighting the focus of that chapter. In modern discussions, too often "the gospel" is left undefined or poorly explained. Thankfully, Christina gives a comprehensive explanation of what the gospel is and why we need it.

Our understanding of the gospel should always begin with who Jesus is and what He's done for us. As Christina reminds us:

Jesus Christ came to rescue you and me from our greatest problem: the sin that separates us from God. He came to live the life that we could not live and to die the death that we deserved for our sin. In doing so, he rescued us from our slavery to sin. He freed us from trying to live life on our own apart from God. He delivered us from seeking our hope outside of him. And he has promised to be for us what we can't be for ourselves. (51)

Because Jesus has lived and died for us, we are at peace with God, we are united to Christ, and the Spirit is at work in us. God's grace is sufficient for us, and no matter what we face in our lives and as mothers we can rest and trust in Him to be with us and to preserve us (44). Life is hard. Motherhood is hard. But we aren't alone:

Whatever we face in our day--whether hardship or joy-- the grand story of the Bible gives shape to our expectations. It explains our longings. It gives hope to our struggles. And it points us to the glory to come. (45)

When we go through challenges and struggles, Christina calls us to remember the gospel, to remember who Jesus is and what He's done for us. Jesus is our hope and our help.

The gospel also reminds us of the grace and mercy that God has given and continues to give us every day. As moms, we want to be perfect. We hold ourselves up to impossible standards. We want to believe that we can do all the right things and protect our children from all harm. But we're not perfect. We're sinners, and we can't possibly do it all.

In God's grace, we have forgiveness for our sins, and we can find rest. We don't need to worry over the future or our failures. We don't have to shoulder our burdens alone (95).

With this gospel foundation, Christina addresses specific challenges that we face as moms. These include finding contentment, fighting loneliness, what to do when our children sin or are hurting, and how to handle guilt. With each topic, she graciously applies the truths of the gospel to our lives as moms.

We all need the gospel, in good times and bad. Whatever our daily circumstances, we need to remember and dwell on who Jesus is and what He's done for us:

Turn to Jesus and keep your eyes fixed on him. Remember the story of redemption, and recite what God has done for you. Remember why things in life don't work out as they should, what God did about it through his Son, and how he gives you great hope for the future, when all things that are broken will be made whole. (46)

I strongly recommend Christina's book to moms, both new and experienced. I hope you are as blessed by this book as I've been.

 

 

Against Open Doors

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Much that passes for Christian decision making in modern Evangelicalism strikes me as a mixture of lazy moral reasoning and illegitimate efforts to discern those "secret things" (Deut. 29:29) that God has never promised to reveal to us. Scripture has much to say about the way we approach important decisions in our lives. It tells us, for instance, to take our time in making decisions (Prov. 21:5), to consider all the relevant facts (Prov. 18:13), to seek wise counsel from others (Prov. 11:14), to make choices that will maximize, not undermine, our ability to love God and love others (Prov. 10:9), to aim at God's glory in all our decisions (1 Cor. 10:31), and so on. It establishes boundaries for what's acceptable with regard to certain decisions; it tells us, for example, not to be unequally yoked (1 Cor. 6:14), a moral imperative that bears upon, say, decisions we make relative to marriage. It seems to me, however, that such biblical advice about decision making is regularly trumped in modern evangelical circles by simplistic appeals to what God is "leading" one to do, perhaps with justification provided by significantly misinterpreted and misapplied biblical texts (e.g. Rom. 8:14).

Consequently, I find myself assuming a posture of wariness whenever I hear Christians speak of determining "God's will" for their lives. Scripture, in keeping with our finite human perspective, presents God's will to us as two discrete realities. It describes, firstly, what theologians refer to as God's preceptive will, which encompasses all God's moral commands to us (see e.g. 1 Thess. 4:3). It describes, secondly, what theologians refer to as God's decretive will, which encompasses everything that God has determined to do in relation to us and the world, and so comprises every created reality and event (see e.g. Eph. 1:11). God's preceptive will for us is readily available to us in Scripture. God's decretive will is fully known only to him, though he reveals certain aspects of his decretive will to us in certain times and places, in keeping with his purpose. So, for instance, Christ's return constitutes one yet to be realized aspect of God's decretive will that, by virtue of God's revelation of said future event, I can count on with absolute certainty.

When Christians speak of determining "God's will" for their lives, they rarely, so far as I can tell, mean by that efforts to determine God's preceptive will (which, quite frankly, they would do better to concern themselves with). They typically, rather, refer to efforts to determine God's decretive will, specifically as such infringes on their own personal lives. Whom should I marry? Where should I go to college? Should I take this or that job? These are the questions that typically prompt efforts to determine "God's will." But Scripture never invites us to pry into God's decretive will. In fact, it sharply discourages us from doing so (Deut. 29:29). Scripture invites us, rather, to frame our lives according to God's preceptive will, and to exercise wisdom and good decision-making principles (see above) when faced with life's multitude of choices.

I find myself similarly uncomfortable with the language of "open" and "closed doors" that regularly features in Christian talk about decisions. I realize the language itself is biblical (cf. 2 Cor. 2:12), and perhaps some Christians use it in more or less the way that Paul, for example, used it. But, in doing so, they forget that Paul, as an apostle, was the recipient of unique revelation and unique direction from God, and that, as a result, his experience will be decidedly un-analagous to our own at significant junctures in life. The example of an apostle (or other holder of some extraordinary office in Scripture) shouldn't, in my judgment, necessarily be considered normative when it comes to questions of decision making or navigating the relationship between divine sovereignty and one's choices in life. The balance of Scripture, it seems to me, doesn't encourage us in efforts to discern God's decretive will for our lives by providential events (i.e., open or closed doors). Sometimes a closed door simply needs to be pushed on harder. Sometimes an open door needs to be passed by. The wisdom and biblical principles that govern decision making should always take precedence over providential "signs" that Scripture never bids us decipher.

The posture of Paul and Silas relative to one literally (and by literally, I mean unfiguratively) "open door" might prove instructive on this point. In Acts 16, Paul got himself and Silas into hot water in the city of Philippi when he cast a demon out from a young slave-girl and so angered her owners who were profiting financially from her demon possession. Paul and Silas subsequently endured a beating at the bidding of Roman magistrates and were placed in prison. During their night in jail an earthquake occurred, and "immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened." Hit pause and put ourselves in Paul's shoes for a moment. How many of us, I wonder, would have interpreted the open prison doors as a clear sign from God that he intended us to escape an unfair imprisonment administered by the hand of suspect secular authorities? But what did Paul actually do? He remained in prison until daybreak (a fact that led to the jailer's conversion). He subjected himself to the governing authorities instituted by God in that particular city, just like he tells us to do elsewhere (Rom. 13:1-2). He applied some solid moral reasoning to his situation and determined that his proper course of action was to let justice run its course (even though "justice" in his specific situation seemed decidedly unjust).

Paul's passing over the "open door" in Philippi might serve, I think, as a lesson to us all. Rather than seeking to decipher what God would have us to do in given situations by recognizing and interpreting various "signs" (open doors and otherwise), we should seek to familiarize ourselves more fully with God's preceptive will in Scripture. There is ample guidance in Scripture for how we should live our lives. There's also, relative to some of life's most difficult decisions, ample freedom to choose various paths provided one let's his/her choice be governed by the biblical principles that should inform decision-making per se. We can exercise that freedom with joy, confident that all our decisions fit into God's decretive will.

Or, as Augustine put is so much more succinctly and eloquently sixteen centuries ago: "Love God, and do what you want."

 

A Censorious Spirit

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Sinclair Ferguson once lamented the fact that whenever he overheard others discussing some public theologian or individual at a conference, the statements were almost always prefaced with a negative comment such as, "Well, you know, the problem with him is..." Sadly, those sorts of conversations are far from uncommon among those of us who have been in the church for any length of time. We are all almost certainly guilty of making similar statements about brothers and sisters and, we have, no doubt, been the objects of such pejorative statements. So what are the marks of this all too common spiritual deficiency? And, how can we check our spirits so that we rid them of this censoriousness? 

In what is arguably one of the most important books ever written, Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards sounded the theological alarm about a censorious spirit being contrary to Christian love. In the course of his sermon on this subject, Edwards set out three ways "wherein a censorious spirit or a disposition uncharitably to judge others consists:

  1. A censorious spirit appears in a forwardness to judge ill of others' states.
  2. A censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' qualities; to overlook their good qualities, and to think them destitute of them when they are not, or to make very little of them, or to magnify their ill qualities and make more of them than they are, or to charge them with those ill qualities of which they are free.
  3. A censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' actions.

First, A censorious spirit appears in a forwardness to judge ill of others' states. When we are not walking in love toward others in the body, we are apt to make a sinful judgment about the spiritual condition of another based on our own faulty assumptions, observations or presuppositions about them. Edwards wrote:

"Persons are guilty of censoriousness in condemning others' [spiritual] state when they,

...condemn others as hypocrites because of God's providential dealings with them, as Job's three friends condemned him as a hypocrite for the uncommon afflictions with which he met...

...condemn them for those failings which they see in them, which are no greater than are often incident to God's children; and it may be no greater, or not so great, as their own, though they think well of their own state...

...condemn others as those who must needs be carnal men for differing from them in opinion in some points which are not fundamental.

...or when persons judge ill of others' state from what they observe in them for want of making due allowances for their natural tempers, and for their manner of education, and other peculiar disadvantages, under which they labor."1

Second, a censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' qualities. When we are not walking in love toward other professing believers, we are often quick to see the worst in others and slow to affrim the best in them. Edwards explained,

"Some men are very apt to charge others with ignorance and folly and other contemptible qualities which in no way deserve to be so esteemed by them.

Some seem to be very apt to entertain a very low and despicable opinion of others, and so to represent them to others, when a charitable spirit would discern many good things in them, and would freely own them to be persons not to be despised.

And some are ready to charge others with those morally ill qualities from which they are free, or at least to charge them with them in a much higher degree than they are really in them. Thus some have such a prejudice against some of their neighbors that they look upon them as much more proud men, or more spiteful and malicious, than they really are." 2

Finally, A censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' words or actions. When we are not walking in love with other believers, we are ready to have evil suspicions about their words and actions, without any justifiable reason or evidence to think evil of them. Edwards noted,

"A suspicious, jealous spirit, whereby persons are apt to be jealous of others, of their being guilty of such and such things when they have no evidence of it, is an uncharitable spirit, and contrary to Christianity. Some persons are very free of passing their censures on others with respect to those things which they suppose they do out of their sight. They judge they commit such and such wickedness in secret and hid from the eyes of men, or that they have done thus, or said thus, among their companions or those who are united with them in the same party or design, though they keep it hid from others who are not in the same interest. These are the "evil surmisings" spoken of and condemned in 1 Tim. 6:4.

...Very commonly persons show a very uncharitable and censorious spirit with respect to others by being forward to take up bad reports of persons. Merely hearing a flying ill report of a person is far from being sufficient evidence against persons that they have been guilty of that which is reported. Yet, it is a very common thing for persons to pass a judgment on others on no other foundation.

...It is very common with men, when prejudiced against others, to put bad constructions on those actions or speeches of others which are seemingly good, and as though they were performed in hypocrisy. And especially in the management of public affairs, or affairs in which others are concerned with them. If anything be said or done wherein there is a show of concern for public good, or for the good of their neighbors, or the honor of God, or the interest of religion, others will be ready to judge that this is all in hypocrisy; that the design really is only to promote their own interest, or to advance themselves, that they are only flattering others, that they have some ill design all the time in their hearts."3

This ought to convict us deeply of how often we have harbored subtle censoriousness in our hearts toward those we ought to have loved the most. Instead of rushing to the worst possible conclusions about others, we ought to consider our own failings and sinfulness. This is such a challenging yet richly rewarding goal for us to pursue. The more we focus on our own hearts and motives, the less we will sinfully judge others in the body of Christ. The more we see our own sinfulness and need for the Savior, the more we will extend the same grace to others we profess a need of for ourselves. The more readily we extend love to others and are committed to thinking the best of them, the more our words and actions toward them will reflect the deep, deep love of Jesus.


1.  Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings ed. Paul Ramsey and John E. Smith, vol. 8, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1989), 285.

2. Ibid., 286

3. Ibid., 287

When Our Children Sin

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Do you remember when you first learned you would have a child? You likely prayed over your little one day after day. Even though you'd never met him or her in person, you loved your child more than anything. You waited for months--and if you were an adoptive parent, sometimes years--anticipating the amazing moment when you would hold that precious gift of God in your arms.

As new parents, it can be hard to think of our sweet baby as a sinner--unless he or she cries all night, then we are convinced of it! It isn't until our precious little one starts to move around, gets into things, and even starts to talk back that the evidence of their sinfulness hits us. That first time they reach out to touch something right after we told them not to, or the first time they yelled "No!" in response to an instruction we give, the truth that we knew in our mind about their sinful state is fully realized. The doctrine of sin we learned in church hits us square in the face: our children inherited the same sinful state we all inherit from Adam (1 Cor. 15:22, Ps. 51:5).

Despite this theological knowledge, sometimes it's shocking to see our children's sin on full display: angry outbursts, lying, stealing, idolatry, bullying, defiance, to name a few. And all this can happen before a child enters kindergarten! As our children grow into their teen years, they will face greater temptations to sin. More than shocking, it's often disheartening to watch our children sin. It can break our heart when our children make choices that lead them farther and farther off the path of life. Many a parent has wept over a child's sinfulness.

Preach, Point, and Pray the Gospel

When we see our children sin, whether as a young toddler touching breakables on the shelf or as a first grader lying about a school assignment or as a teen watching a movie they were forbidden to watch, we need to remember the gospel. When we despair over our children's choices, we need to remember the gospel. When we fear the path our children are headed down, we need to remember the gospel.

We need to preach the gospel to ourselves, remembering that we are all born fallen in sin. We were once separated from God, and it was by his grace that he saved us. We must remember that our children need the same gospel we need. It's not going to be our excellent parenting, or the top-notch education, or the amazing life experiences that transform our children; rather, it's going to be the power of the gospel. We must trust and look for God to work in their hearts and lives. We also need to point our children to the gospel. We have a responsibility as parents to teach and disciple them in the faith (see Deut. 6:6-9).

We need to teach our children who Jesus is and what he came to do. We need to teach them about his perfect life lived for them, his sacrificial death, his triumphant resurrection from the grave, and his ascension back into heaven. The gospel is the story we tell them when they sit, when they walk along the way, when they lie down, and when they rise. At all times and in all places, we point our children to the gospel. While it is the Spirit who brings our children from death to life, God uses us as parents as one of the means through which he saves our children. Perhaps it could be compared to how God uses our prayers to carry out his will; he doesn't need to, but he chooses to. This truth should compel us all the more to be diligent in our labors to teach and instruct our children in God's Word.

Third, we need to pray for the Lord's work in our children's heart. As parents, it's easy to focus our prayers on the health of our children or our children's success in school. We may find ourselves praying they would develop good friendships or that they wouldn't be bullied on the playground. We may even pray that they would stop fighting with their siblings or having tantrums. These are all excellent and important prayers. But the prayer we can't forget to pray is that God would ratify his covenant in our children's hearts. We must pray that God would save our children from their sins.

A Parent's Prayer

Father in Heaven, I come to you today with a burdened heart. A weary heart. A heavy heart. Parenting is hard. Just when I think I know what I'm doing, something changes, and I need to learn something new. Some days I wonder if I'll ever feel confident in my parenting. But maybe that's the point. Maybe I'm not supposed to be confident in my methods and strategies. Maybe those methods aren't supposed to always "work." Maybe parenting is supposed to keep me on my toes because instead of trusting in what I am doing as a parent, I need to trust in you. Maybe parenting is hard so that I would learn to depend and rely on you and your Spirit to be at work in my life and in the life of my children.

Father, I bring my children before you. They are covenant children and enjoy all the rich benefits of being a part of the church, of hearing the Word preached each week, of having other adults pour into their lives, of learning and memorizing your Word. I pray you would ratify the covenant in them. Bring them from death to life by the power of your Spirit. Open their minds and hearts to see their need for Jesus. Convict them of sin and draw them to repentance. Help them to love you with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Be at work in them, refining and shaping them into the image of Christ. Protect their minds and hearts from evil and may they never know a day when they did not know you as Lord of their lives. May Jesus always be their greatest treasure.

I pray for my parenting decisions and responses. Help me to parent out of your wisdom and not my own. Help me to seek your glory and not my own. Help me to speak the truth in love, point my children to Christ, teach and discipline them according to your Word, and love them as you have loved me. Help me not to fret, worry, or fear. Help me not to despair. Help me not to react. Help me to remember that they are sinners, just as I am. Help me to remember that they need a Savior, just as I do. Help me to trust and rest in you and the power of the gospel at work in me and in them. Help me to be quick to repent, slow to anger, and generous with love and affection.

Good things happen while we wait. It took time for these precious souls to be knitted in the womb--what joy I felt at their arrival! May I be patient as I wait for the work you are doing in their hearts. Help me to watch and wait with hope and trust. Help me to see and trace the evidence of your grace at work in their hearts. Help me to glory in your goodness and faithfulness in Christ.

Please hear all these cries of my heart. In Jesus's name I pray, amen.


Note: This post is based on Christina's new book, Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms, published with P&R Publishing.

Bio: Christina Fox is a graduate of Covenant College where she currently serves on the advisory board. She received her Master's in Counseling Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University. Christina serves on the national women's ministry team of the PCA and is the editor of enCourage. She is a speaker and author of several books, including Closer than a Sister, Idols of a Mother's Heart, and Sufficient Hope. You can find her at www.christinafox.com.

 


The House of Omri

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The Mesha Stele is an ancient slab of basalt stone from the 9th century BC. It was named for Mesha, the king of Moab (2 Kings 3:4). This stele is actually an ancient document which records the struggles of the Moabite people at the hands of the king of Israel, Omri. After the split of the Jewish monarchy, following Solomon's reign, the northern kingdom of Israel suffered political turmoil and even civil war until Omri established his dynastic line. Most of his immediate predecessors on the throne of Israel had been short-lived. Nadab lasted no more than two years (1 Kings 15:25). Elah, likewise, only lasted two years (1 Kings 16:8). In fact, it is possible that due to the manner in which years were counted, they may have reigned only a few months. Zimri, who followed Elah, lasted a whole 7 days before he flamed out, literally (1 Kings 16:18).

But Omri was different. He reigned for 12 years. He overcame a civil war. He established a new capital in Samaria. He manufactured an important political alliance with the Phoenicians through an arranged marriage between his son Ahab and daughter-in-law Jezebel. His dynasty lasted for another 100 years. In fact, he had so established himself in the northern kingdom that an Assyrian artifact known as the Black Obelisk refers to Israel simply as the "dynasty of Omri."

This seems to be, by most accounts, a hugely successful tenure as a leader. This kind of accomplishment would be like President Ulysses S. Grant taking office after the turmoil of the Civil War and Andrew Johnson's impeachment and immediately moving the capital of the nation from Washington DC to Nashville, then turning Nashville into an impenetrable citadel and a major hub of international trade. Omri was a political, military, commercial, and cultural dynamo.

But you wouldn't get this impression from the biblical account of Omri. Dale Ralph Davis makes this great point in his commentary on 1 Kings. He notes that the writer of 1 Kings sticks to the regular formula for kings: He became king during the x-year of the other king's reign. He ruled for y-years. He did some things. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He died. If you want more information look at the Chronicles of the Kings. He was followed by son. Davis then adds, "The Bible's account is as scintillating as an obituary."[1]

We shouldn't conclude that the writer of Kings was unaware of what Omri had done. He had obviously read about Omri in the Chronicles of the Kings. It wasn't a lack of knowledge, but rather the writer was making an important theological point. It wasn't that those accomplishments didn't happen, it's that they don't ultimately matter. The reason is simple. The writer's adds that Omri was the most evil of all the kings of Israel. (That is, until his son Ahab comes along and basically says, "Hold my beer." But that's another post for another day.) Omri had walked the well-worn paths of Jeroboam. And he exceeded Jeroboam, the yardstick of heterodoxy, by indulging and promoting idol worship. Omri's regency was defined not by what he accomplished in political, commercial, militaristic, or cultural areas but by his failure to make the most important thing primary.

Jesus confronts this failure when he addressed the crowd in Mark 8. After Jesus told them about his suffering, death, and resurrection that was to come, he then tells the people, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." This instruction is challenging. Jesus forces us to immediately begin doing the math. We have to start weighing the cost of faithfulness in the most important areas versus an all-too-compelling sense of self-preservation in earthly areas. It is tempting to see the value of saving our lives, building our kingdoms, and taking care of ourselves. But Jesus cuts through this spiritual calculus by explaining, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:34-36).

By many accounts Omri had gained the world. But he had forfeited his soul. He had missed the treasure in the field. He had missed the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:44-46). He had settled on what was ultimately trivial. Is your life marked by trivial accomplishments? Ralph Davis asks the piercing question, "Do the passions that drive your living and doing only elicit a yawn from heaven?"[2] That is a sobering thought. Our lives will truly count only if we do what is right in the eyes of the LORD. Our lives will elicit the commendation from Christ, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:21) when we faithfully invest our lives so as to earn an eternal return. The commendation of the world will eventually fade like an obscure ancient stele. But praise of Christ lasts forever.

[1] Dale Ralph Davis, I Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2016), 191.

[2] Davis, 191.

Defeat and Victory in the Church

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It is well documented that a staggering number of pastors leave the ministry each year. Conflict and burnout are numbered as some of the top reasons. Conflict between pastors and the congregation are common. In addition, the pastor's inability to resolve bitter disagreements among members can be perceived as poor leadership. This is where 1 Cor. 6:1-6 can be instructive. Paul was likely addressing a civil matter. A member within the church of Corinth defrauded another which led to a lawsuit. While many concentrate on the necessity of Christian arbitration when conflicts arise between believers, it is equally important to look at the spiritual issues that Paul addressed that led up to this lawsuit. It is striking that Paul emphasizes the gospel as a way forward. And, it is likewise important to notice that the inability to resolve conflict biblically is compared to offenses such as sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, becoming drunk, being a reviler, and a swindler.

Roman Judicial System

The Roman historian Tacitus states that in the first century legal representation could cost as much as 10,000 sesterces (Ann. 11.7). Such an amount was over eight times the annual salary of a clerk working in a Roman colony.[1] A soldier in the praetorian guard could receive 20,000 sesterces after serving in the military for 16 years (Dio Cassius 55.23).[2] The fact that a lawsuit had taken place indicates that either one, or both parties, were wealthy individuals.

In addition, the Roman judicial system was far from fair. Tacitus (Ann. 11.6) notes of the widespread corruption of the courts. The ancient philosopher and historian Dio Chrysostom (Or. 8.9) describes of "lawyers innumerable perverting justice" in the city of Corinth.[3] The Roman statesman Cicero (In Verrem 1.1.1) contended that wealth can shield any man from conviction. And, the rhetorician Apuleius (Metam. 10.33) notes how judges were open to bribes.[4] Gender, class, and race all played a factor. Wealthy Roman men had the upper hand and foreigners did not fare well. The lower social classes could win only with the help of powerful patrons. Hence, in 1 Cor. 6:1-11 either a wealthy individual was taking advantage of a financially weaker believer, or, two men of considerable means or societal connections were exploiting the courts for personal advantages. Since Paul indicates in v. 6 that it was "brother against brother" and both had the means to play out the dispute in the court system the latter interpretation is preferred.

Church in Defeat

Paul did not merely mistrust the judicial structures of his day. Rather, his outrage was grounded in the public shame the church had to endure. The judges of Corinth did not share in the common faith of the early believers and did not belong to the covenantal community. But what led up to this lawsuit? In the same verse, Paul states that neither party was willing to be wronged. The first mark of a church in defeat is when believers refuse to take a wrong. The exact situation in Corinth escapes us, but it is likely over some financial matter since criminal proceedings would have taken a different avenue, namely, the involvement of authorities. Rather, what we are witnessing is a case of wounded prides and feelings of being cheated. The desire for retaliation drove these brothers to court at the cost of the unity of the church.

The second mark of a church in defeat is that when conflict arose, no one in the church knew what to do. The "you" in the first two verses are plural indicating that Paul was addressing the entire church. If these Corinthians deemed themselves "wise," they showed their spiritual incompetency by failing to settle this intense quarrel (v. 5). Also, some have noted that the two individuals involved in the lawsuit even failed to live out Grecian wisdom.[5] Socrates, for instance, once stated: "If it were necessary either to do wrong or to suffer it, I should choose to suffer rather than do it." This statement is preserved in Plato's Gorgias.[6] This is an interesting interpretation, yet there were other Grecian philosophers who thought that retaliation was a prudent show of strength (e.g., Aristotle). Paul, rather, is discussing the failure to live out godly wisdom. Roman culture used their courts to gain personal advantages and that was the route these brothers had chosen. Paul, in opposition, echoed Jesus' teachings recorded in Matt. 5:38-42. In v. 7, Paul asks -- why not take a wrong? Or in the words of Jesus -- why not turn the other cheek?

The third mark of a church in defeat is the loss of eschatological vision. Paul reminds them that they will one day judge the world and angels. Paul is seeking to convict the Corinthians of their present responsibilities to settle disputes in the church in light of future roles at the eschaton. We can say that the consequence of losing sight of this vision made present grievances unbearable. If the two brothers in Corinth had proper spiritual sight, they would have accepted the issue as a lesser or trivial case as Paul states in v. 2. Hence, the inability to let go, or, by nurturing a wounded spirit, along with the absence of eschatological sight caused a lawsuit that marked this church as already defeated (v. 7).

Pathway to Victory

Wisdom literature of the Old Testament seems to be operating in the background of v. 7. Proverbs 19:11 (cf. 12:16; 15:18; 20:3), for example, states that there is glory in overlooking an offense. The question we can raise is when do we confront versus overlook a grievance? Jesus taught his disciples to confront the sinful brother (Matt. 18:15-35). We are supposed to involve the church when the person refuses to repent. In this instance, however, the Corinthian church failed to intervene. So, what do we do in these cases? The guiding principle is agapē love -- we need to choose the best option that promotes love in the church. In the previous chapter, Paul tells the Corinthians to expel the wicked person from the community. Here, Paul refers to the man who was sleeping with his father's wife. To not confront such a person and allow it to continue would tear down the holiness of the church. But in 1 Cor. 6:1-11, overlooking personal offenses rather than publicly shaming the church would have better promoted love in the body of Christ. There are times when we are called to take a wrong rather than retaliate to satisfy personal desires.

Paul compares the refusal to take a wrong with sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, becoming drunk, being a reviler, and a swindler. Taking a wrong does not mean merely remaining silent, but the disallowance of bitterness and anger to take hold. At first glance this seems perplexing. There are other passages in Scripture that addresses degrees of sins (e.g., Jn. 19:11). But how can the refusal of letting grievances go compare with these other acts? Upon further inspection, Paul's argumentation is theologically rich. While I cannot address each vice individually, I will give some examples. First, the unwillingness to let go of an offense is idolatry. If idolatry is placing anything above God, then these two individuals placed their personal agendas above the gospel. They could not sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross. Second, it is like being drunk. Inebriation often leads to loss of self-control. These two brothers lost control because they were "drunk" on their wounded prides and desires for vengeance. They lashed out no matter what the cost.

Finally, it was like sexual immorality, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, being a reviler, and a swindler. The common denominator is that they were all perversions before God. For instance, Dionysius of Halicarnassus deployed the word malakos to indicate a form of pederasty which was the taking advantage of young boys by older men (Ant. rom. 7.2.4). And the ensuing term arsenokoitai denoted men engaging the same gender. The two juxtaposed together heightened the sense of perversion. Paul was referring to a form of homosexuality that involved molestation of juveniles.[7] While Paul views all same-sex engagement as unnatural and sinful (Rom. 1:18-32), pederasty according to Philo was the most common form of homosexual practice in the Greco-Roman world (De Spec. Leg. 3.37-39). To place one's desires above the gospel at the cost of the church was perverted in God's sight and was comparable to these other vices.

Conclusions

Paul exhorts the Corinthians to remember their identity in Christ. They were washed, sanctified, and justified in Christ and by the Spirit of God. The tenses of the Greek for all three words indicate a definitive act where believers were cleansed of the guilt of sins, set apart, and were declared to be in right standing with God. The victorious Christian life and the victory of the church hanged on members of the church living out this new life in Christ. Pastors who enter the ministry, enter with a desire to do it right. They want to serve faithfully. However, conflict takes its toll. Identifying and training the right people for ministry is vital for the success of the church. But actively discipling the church in conflict management and gospel resolutions are also indispensable. No number of right leaders can change the direction of the church if the members are not electing the gospel above their personal agendas. A church can only be victorious when the it strives by the Spirit's enablement to choose the gospel as a better way forward.

 

[1] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 162. I am indebted to Witherington's commentary for some of these Greco-Roman references. Others were gleaned from John Chow, Brian Rosner, David Garland, and Richard Hays, citations are listed below.

[2] John K. Chow, Patronage and Power: A Study of Social Networks in Corinth, Library of New Testament Studies (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992), 76 n. 1.

[3] In addition to Witherington's commentary, also referenced in Brian S. Rosner, Understanding Paul's Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 91.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 197.

[5] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011), 95.

[6] Hays notes how this form of wisdom was also expressed by Stoic philosophers such as Epictetus and Musonius Rufus. For more see, Hays, First Corinthians, 95.

[7] Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, 166.

 

Dr. John B. Song received his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary (PA) and completed his PhD at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and presently serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Belhaven University Atlanta.

The Peacemakers

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With each passing beatitude in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, it becomes more and more clear that a person cannot be a genuine Christian without have their attitudes and actions completely and radically transformed from the inside out. Regardless the extent of your exegetical gymnastics, there is no possibility of developing a theology of salvation by works from Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The beatitudes are shining reminders that when a person is saved by grace through faith, their life will begin to manifest attitudes of genuine humility, gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peacemaking.

In Matthew 5:9, Jesus states, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Jesus is not giving priority to how one might become a "son of God," but is emphasizing that the likeness of "sons of God" have to their heavenly Father--for God is a "God of peace" (Romans 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20). From the moment man was exiled from the garden in Genesis 3 because of sin to the climax of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God's plan has been to bring about lasting peace between himself and man, and then between man and man. Paul describes God as a peacemaker in 2 Corinthians 5:19, "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." Therefore, since this is a characteristic of their heavenly Father, peacemaking should also characterize the "sons of God."

The Priority of Peacemaking

The word "peacemakers" can be translated into the word "wholemakers." The concept of "peace," throughout Scripture, is a situation of comprehensive welfare. In English, the word "peace" usually refers either to an inner tranquility--peace of mind--of an outward state or an absence of war. But biblical shalom, biblical peace, conveys an illustration of a circle and means communal well-being in every direction and in every relation. The individual in the center of the circle is related justly to every point on the circumference of the circle. While the English word often denotes a straight line of peace between one person to another, the Hebrew word portrays a circle embracing one's whole relational community. In Scripture, to bring peace is to bring community. The Apostle Paul entreated the Corinthian believers, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). To manifest peace within a body of believers does not mean more dinners, more activities, or more fellowships, but to bring authentic community in biblical peacemaking.

The theme of peacemaking could, in essence, be the theme of Matthew 5. One commentator is convinced that the peacemaking between ourselves and our enemies that Jesus speaks of here is meant to include the circles of our daily lives: house, family, community, congregation. Another commentator sees Jesus' horizon as larger than peace within the home or church and as embracing the whole world. All six commands of Jesus that follow in Matthew 5:21-48 describe forms of peacemaking--from the control of anger through fidelity in marriage to the love of enemies. Using the Hebrew analogy, it may be helpful to view peacemaking as concentric circles that move outward, proceeding from a pure heart. Peacemaking must touch every part of the life of the Christian--house, family, community, and congregation.

How are Christians supposed to demonstrate authentic biblical peacemaking?

First, we must understand that peacemaking and peace-realizing are two completely different things. A true peacemaker longs for peace, prays for peace, works for peace, and sacrifices for peace, but the realization of peace may never come. Romans 12:18 is very important at this point, Paul says, "If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all." This is the goal of one who is called a peacemaker, "If possible, so far as it depends on you." In other words, don't let the rupture in the relationship be your fault and if lasting peace is never accomplished, never let that deviate you from being a peacemaker.

Second, it is vital to understand that peace-realizing is not always possible when you stand for the truth of God's Word. Paul admits that there will be times when your stand for truth will inevitably make peace an impossible reality. For example, he states in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19, "I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized." Paul is very clear that genuine Christians must never compromise the truth in order to prevent divisions at all cost. In fact, it is precisely because some are genuine peacemakers that divisions existed within the Corinthian church. Jesus said in Matthew 10:34, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household." In other words, you must work for peace, pray for peace, and love peace, but you must never abandon your allegiance to Jesus and his Word regardless of the affliction and animosity such a stand may bring down upon your head.

The Position of Peacemakers

When Jesus states that peacemakers will be "called sons of God," he is not describing to us how one becomes a "son of God," but is simply saying that all those who are already sons are also peacemakers. Scripture is replete with passages that point to how we become "sons of God." For instance, we could go to John 1:12, "As many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name." Or, we could examine Paul's words in Romans 10:9-10, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." We become sons of God by trusting in the finished and complete work of Christ on the cross, through faith.

In addition to explaining how to become a son of God, Scripture abounds with verses identifying the "sons of God." For instance, sons of God have the indwelling Spirit, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). The sons of God are promised a resurrection unto eternal life, "For they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Luke 20:36). The sons of God have immediate access to God in prayer, "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal. 4:6).

Jesus is clear that the priority of every Christian should be peacemaking, and when such a priority is present they can be assured that they are his sons and daughters. Jesus' hearers are the outcasts and nobodies of society and he distinguishes them here by giving them the name, "peacemaker," which was reserved for the Roman Emperor. These little people, these peacemakers, are dignified here by Jesus with membership in the very family of God.

___

Dustin W. Benge (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is visiting professor of Munster Bible College, Cork, Ireland and lecturer at The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

The Cost of Christians in the Court

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Among the litany of important and under-treated subjects that the Apostle Paul touches upon in his first letter to the Corinthians, John Calvin reflected on those concerning one believer taking another believer to court over personal or public injuries (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Calvin explained that Paul was responding to a situation in the church in which members "harassed one another with law-suits."1 After defending the God-appointed role of the civil magistrate--and the fact that it is certainly not unlawful for a believer to appear in court if summoned by the magistrate--Calvin spelled out the rationale for God prohibiting believers from taking one another to civil court. He wrote, 

"The reason why Paul condemns law-suits is, that we ought to suffer injuries with patience...Let us therefore bear in mind, that Paul does not condemn law-suits on the ground of its being a wrong thing in itself to maintain a good cause by having recourse to a magistrate, but because it is almost invariably accompanied with corrupt dispositions; as, for example, violence, desire of revenge, enmities, obstinacy, and the like."2

Calvin saw in the prohibition of the Apostle Paul a safeguarding against the promotion of the internal sinful disposition with which believers often attack one another. He understood that when one believer has been on the receiving end of injustices at the hand of another believer, he or she may easily seek revenge at the hand of the civil magistrates. While it is not per se wrong for a believer to appeal to the civil magistrate for the prosecution of his or her rights, there is an ever present danger that he or she does so with a malicious spirit. Calvin again wrote, 

"A Christian man is altogether prohibited from revenge, so that he must not exercise it, either by himself, or by means of the magistrate, nor even desire it. If, therefore, a Christian man wishes to prosecute his rights at law, so as not to offend God, he must, above all things, take heed that he does not bring into court any desire of revenge, any corrupt affection of the mind, or anger, or, in fine, any other poison. In this matter love will be the best regulator."3

In 1 Corinthians 6:7 the Apostle asked the members of the church, "Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" This has to be one of the most counter-intuitive teachings in the history of humanity. Who among us naturally wishes to absorb injustice against our person? Who instinctively allows himself or herself to be defrauded? The answer is, of course, no one. Only one who has been redeemed and who knows that he or she will be vindicated on judgment day. A true believer labors to learn how to endure injustices patiently, no matter how painful they may be in this life--especially, when they come from the hand of professed brothers or sisters in Christ.

If this were all that the Apostle said, one might justly respond by saying, "Then nothing happens to those in the church who deal harshly and unjustly with their brethren?" Nothing could be further from the truth! Paul moved on to warn the members of the church against self-deception--reminding them that the unrighteous (especially those who have defraud the brethren) will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Calvin brought his comments on this section to a close by drawing out the comparison made in this chapter: 

"There is, then, an amplification here, founded on a comparison: for if it is wrong not to bear injuries patiently, how much worse is it to inflict them? And that to your brethren. Here is another aggravation of the evil; for if those are doubly culpable who defraud strangers, it is monstrous for brother to be cheated or despoiled by brother."4


1. John Calvin Commentary on the Epistles of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians (    ) p. 205
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., p. 206
4. Ibid., p. 207

Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them

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Lois Lowry tells a story about how a utopian state required that all of the community's memories going back through the generations be committed to a single person, a receiver. The elders engineered a society where no one but the receiver had to feel or remember. Life was safe and comfortable. The citizens were spared the pain of knowing, of emoting. And they could always call on the receiver when faced with a decision that exceeded their self-imposed limited experience.

Lowry's The Giver makes sense to me. She understands the Preacher. "For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases in knowledge increases sorrow" (Eccl. 1:18). I agree. There are some stories I don't want to know. Some pictures relentlessly haunt.

This is why I didn't want to read Simonetta Carr's Broken Pieces and the God who Mends Them: Schizophrenia Through a Mother's Eyes (P&R, 2019). I knew just enough of the story to know that it would rattle me vigorously. It did. As I read the book I felt like I was being asked to carry a tiny fraction of the burden Simonetta and her family bore--and it was still onerous.

But I also see the beauty of being part of a community where personal possession of painful knowledge is essential to burden-bearing. Lowry's characters--to the extent that they could still reason without deep recall and feeling--believed that avoiding the pain of shared memory and emotion was an advantage. But the receiver knew that something basic to their humanity had been stolen from them. We need to feel even when we don't want to. It is part of what makes us human, part of what made Jesus quintessentially human. When we give and receive sad--and happy--memories we affirm each other's humanity. Being drawn into Simonetta's living nightmare felt like being told, "I trust you with this memory. I want you to have part of my experience so that you will be more than you are." Giving and receiving hard memories is beautifully symbiotic.

Broken Pieces is one of the most courageous books I have ever read. Simonetta told me, "It hurt me to write it because I was reliving every moment." I couldn't have written it. I would have been too scared. But I am so glad Simonetta did. And perhaps now I am a little more ready to follow her lead in sharing some of my grief with other receivers.

One of my wife's grandmothers had schizophrenia. During the last years of her life she broke off communication with us because we told her how much we loved her house; she thought we were trying to take it. We saw her only one time in the months before her death. She told us not to come. But we showed up at her front door, unannounced, with our charming two-year-old extended toward the door; a peace-offering no grandma could resist. She buckled, and let us in one last time. Schizophrenia made grandma unpredictable. The family genuinely feared that she would leave her entire estate to her dog. More seriously, her children grew up in a home with their mother institutionalized for long stretches. I wish Eva's husband, children, and grandchildren had been able to read Broken Pieces.

I'm glad I have now. It was a painful crash-course in sympathetic, and persistent love; lessons I know I need to learn for trials that I cannot foresee. More than that, it is a portrait of living faith in a Savior whose grace is tailor-made for this broken world.

Broken Pieces is also surprisingly hopeful. Simonetta didn't gauge the eternal destiny of her schizophrenic son by placing everything she knew about him on two sides of a scale; one side positive, and the other negative. The tangibly negative experiences would have been too heavy. Instead, she saw her son as entirely in Christ; in life and in death, in body and soul, in clarity and confusion. And Jesus was more than enough to rescue a man who was so deeply broken. Our family saw that too. Grandma's schizophrenia scared us and her. But God also helped us to hope. After I read her Isaiah 53--being Jewish, this is a text from the "Bible" she was raised with--she responded: "That's talking about Jesus. I believe in him!" We didn't expect that response. But why not? We possess a shared history of God's redemption of desperately lost people. We have received God's record of mending, the backstory we all need as we share each other's burdens.

Thank you, Simonetta, for the memories, for the emotions, and for the reminder that "the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear" (Is. 59:1).

3 Crosses of Discipleship

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Recently, my pastor has started a Men's Bible Study series on discipleship by examining a classic passage for discipleship:

In Luke 9:22-24, Jesus said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things; He must be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life...If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it."

This is a familiar passage for most Christians and yet it always remains a challenging passage. In this passage, Jesus is not attempting to give his apostles a rose-colored view of the Christian life. Rather, He presents the conditions of discipleship plainly: self-denial and cross-bearing. The Christian life must conform to the example given by Christ Himself who willingly bore the cross. The meaning is quite clear - no one can be considered to be Christ's disciple unless he is truly an imitator of Him and is willing to pursue the same course. This self-denial implies that we should abdicate our natural inclinations, and as Calvin says "part with all the affections of the flesh, and thus give our consent to be reduced to nothing, provided that God lives and reigns with us." We are called to bear our cross, but this is not a cross that we lay upon ourselves. Our Father lays upon us the cross that is suitable to us and thus, the patience of the believer consists in bearing willingly the cross which has been laid on him.

I've thought about this basic exhortation of cross-bearing from our Lord a number of times and I think that Paul makes a complementary statement in Galatians 6:14,

"But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

In this passage, Paul contrasts the sincerity of the false teachers/apostles to Himself. The false teachers in Galatia have denied the cross of Christ by demanding circumcision and their glory is the applause of men. In contrast, Paul's glory and triumph is in the cross of Christ. In this way, the call of self-denial is answered by boasting and glorying in Christ crucified. Paul boasts in what Christ's death has accomplished - namely peace with God, pardon for sins, imputed righteousness, eternal life, salvation, and eternal glory. Paul gloried in Christ as his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

Paul continues to discuss the realities of the cross of Christ in two ways. First, Paul notes that in the cross of Jesus Christ, "the world has been crucified to me." Here, Paul states that in the cross of Christ, we die to this world. In other words, all that belongs to the old man has died in Christ. This matches Paul's statement in Philippians 3 in which "I count all things as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ my Lord." Indeed, it's worth suffering the loss of all things in order that one may gain Christ. To say it more directly, to crucify the world is to treat the world with contempt and disdain. In glorying in the cross of Christ, Paul deliberately denied the riches, honors, pleasures, profits, and applause of this world. As John Gill notes, Paul's faith in the crucified Christ overcame the world so that "he looked upon it as the Israelites saw the Egyptians, dead on the sea shore". The world cannot captivate him nor overcome him because Paul has seen the world for what it truly is. Paul understood that the wisdom and glory of this present evil age are doomed to pass away (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2).

Secondly, Paul notes that in the cross of Jesus Christ, "I have been crucified unto the world". Paul was a man who was despised by the world for the sake of a crucified Christ. The world had no affection for Paul, as Paul had none for the world. Paul was considered to be "scum of the earth and the refuse of the world" (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:13). Rather than glory, Paul received dishonor; rather than praise, Paul was slandered and was viewed as an imposter (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10). Paul willingly renounced the praise of men and the glory of the world because the world was dead to him.

Paul's words and example in Galatians 6:14 are worth emulating because it provides instruction on how we should view the world. To deny oneself and to take up one's cross is a twofold death. On one hand, Christian discipleship is a call to renounce our affection for this present evil age. As the author of Hebrews states, we do not have a permanent city in the world, but we are looking for the city that is to come (cf. Hebrews 13:14). We know that this present evil age is under the sentence of the death and this judgment is becoming more and more obvious as time progresses. As Paul, a Christian disciple is one who has renounced the glory of this world for the surpassing riches of Christ.

On the other hand, Christian discipleship is a call to bear the disgrace that He bore. One of the basic temptations of Christians in our day is the desire for respectability, particularly among American evangelicals. There appears to be a deep desire for Christians to be thought of as cultured, compassionate, educated, well-spoken, and intelligent in the public square. In spite of this, we must always remember the words of our Lord: "The servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (cf. John 15:20). If the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18), how much more is the cross-bearing life? No matter how refined our Christian message and witness is, we will always bear the disgrace that He bore (cf. Hebrews 13:13). A disciple of Christ does not run away from this disgrace; we are warned that if anyone is ashamed of Christ and His words, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of Him (cf. Luke 9:26). Rather, we, as disciples of Christ, go to Him "outside the camp" and we must willingly bear the mocking and ridicule that is associated with our confession.

We now live in a day where many essentially tenets of Christian doctrine and ethics are considered foolish at best and morally reprehensible at worst. In these days, it's important to return to the basics regarding the Christian life, which starts with discipleship. Let us live as disciple of Christ by believing what God says, by obeying what God commands, and by expecting what God promises. Let us deny ourselves, take up cross daily, and follow Him, for He promises that whoever will lose His life for His sake will save it.

A Different Kind of Profanity

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What would you do if one of your children walked in your house and spoke a string of four-letter words? What would you do if one of your children walked in your house grumbling? I fear that most of us would drop everything and confront their intolerable use of four-letter words (and rightly so) but would say nothing about the grumbling or maybe say something like, "I am sorry you are having a bad day." You may say, "Yes, but the four-letter words are profanities." So is grumbling.

We tend to reason that grumbling is not a big deal because it is not actually doing anything it is simply talk. In contemporary American culture grumbling is often ingrained as a way of life and many treat it as harmless personal therapy. We tend to rename it as something like venting in order to remove the stigma. Grumbling is so habitual that we often miss the irony of our words when we stand in front of closets full of clothes and murmur that we do not have anything to wear. Or when we stand before refrigerators packed with food and say we don't have anything to eat.

In the Bible, grumbling is described as corrosive. A grumbling spirit never stays self-contained but begins to infect all aspects of life and thought with an entitlement worldview. Parents who model grumbling or treat it as acceptable when their children grumble are placing their kids in character quicksand. Grumbling and thankfulness cannot coexist. One always vanquishes the other. A grumbler becomes immune to gratitude because no matter what happens circumstances will always bump up against our personal desires.

In Exodus, the Israelites leave Egypt walking between sovereignly walled up water; then, within one month of that event the awe-inspired gratitude is erased. Why? They are thirsty (Ex 15:22-17:7). The irony that they saw the power of a God who can control the Red Sea and now a bit of thirst has them complaining should not be lost on us. Moses had courageously been used by God to confront Pharoah and lead the nation out of bondage in Egypt but now they get a bit hungry and ask him, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Ex 16:3).

God had provided them water and he now provides them bread and quail. They are instructed to gather only as much bread as they need for each day, but not everyone obeys (Ex 16:20). When they get thirsty again and say, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" (Ex 17:3). You get the point. Grumbling vanquishes awe-inspired gratitude. Moses rightly asserts, "Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD" (Ex 16:8). The same is still true. Parents who grumble and permit their children to grumble are catechizing them in discontent with the Lord.

In the New Testament, John 6:25-59, Jesus asserts himself as the "bread of life" after his miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-15). Jesus, like Moses, provides bread and meat for the people. Jesus tells them that they are to believe in him (John 6:29). Ironically, the people who just saw an amazing sign say they require a sign to believe. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35). How do they respond? "So the Jews grumbled about him" (John 6:41, see also, 43, 61). The Greek word for "grumble" is "gonguzō," which actually sounds like murmuring.

Paul tells the church at Corinth not to grumble as Israel did in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:5-11). He says, "these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor 10:11). James admonishes his readers not to "grumble" against each other' (James 5:9). Likewise, Peter tells his readers to "show hospitality to one another without grumbling" (1 Pet 4:9). In Philippians, Paul exhorts the church to have the mind of Christ and reflect his self-sacrificial example on display in his incarnation and crucifixion (Phil 2:5-11). Then, one of the first applications of how to do so is, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing" (Phil 2:14).

There seems to be a vast discrepancy between the way most of us think about grumbling and how the Bible speaks of it. We are wrong, the Bible is right. Parents often fixate on grades, success, and achievement in the lives of their children. However important these things are, they are far less significant than whether or not our children become grumblers with an entitlement worldview. To profane is to treat that which is holy as common. In Christ, our very lives are holy and our words are sacred. That reality is why grumbling in the Bible is profanity.

Grumbling is doing something, something profane and corrosive. Grumbling vanquishes thankfulness and makes us insensibly immune to awe. In other words, when we grumble, we are using our words to preach hellish sermons, not holy ones--sermons for which Satan would gladly say, "Amen." May we see grumbling as profanity against God, and correct it in our lives and in the lives of our children.


David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.

The True Measure

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Big works of God in this world begin small with ordinary people of God working for the glory of God. Many hands make light work. And many hands accomplish much work. This is how revivals begin, Reformations are launched, churches are established, missions are founded, and cities and countries and the world are changed. The ordinary people of God working for the glory of God.

Every member ministering according to our ability is the calling of the church (Nehemiah 3, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, etc.). Every member! We easily fall into the trap of thinking the work of God is specialized work for those who possess a special calling. Yet, the Scriptures make it clear that all are called to service. We all serve as ministers of the gospel and all have our part to play. In fact, as Paul points out in Ephesians 4, pastors and teachers are simply to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry." We are all to engage in the work. And when we do, mighty things are accomplished.

But as James Montgomery Boice once said, "It is said that today the churches resemble more than anything else a football game played in a large stadium. There are 80,000 spectators in the stands who badly need some exercise, and there are 22 men on the field who badly need a rest."1

Now, some may not have the gifts of others. All cannot be the eye or the ear. Some members remain less visible than others in the body, but none are less important. All are needed--doing their best to labor for the sake of the Kingdom according to their gifts and stage in life.

John Newton wrote a helpful letter along these lines. In his day, George Whitefield was the great celebrated pastor. God used Whitefield mightily and his was a household name. In a letter John Newton wrote to a fellow pastor, he commented:

"One man, like Whitefield, is raised up to preach the gospel with success through a considerable part of the earth. Another is called to the humbler service of sweeping the streets, or cleaning this great minister's shoes...." 

He then said the following:

"I am inclined to think that if you and I were to travel in search of the best Christian in the land, or were qualified to distinguish who deserved the title, it is more than two to one we should not find the person in a pulpit, or any public office of life. Perhaps some old woman at her wheel, or some bed-rid person, hid from the knowledge of the world, in a mud-walled cottage, would strike our attention more than any of the doctors or reverends with whom we are acquainted. Let us not measure men, much less ourselves by gifts or services. One grain of grace is worth abundance of gifts. To be self-abased, to be filled with a spirit of love, and peace, and gentleness; to be dead to the world; to have the heart deeply affected with a sense of the glory and grace of Jesus, to have our will bowed to the will of God; these are great things more valuable, if compared in the balance of the sanctuary, then to be an instrument of converting provinces or a nation."2

I love the line, "Let us not measure men, much less ourselves by gifts or services." It is not what we do for the Lord but what we do with what we have for the Lord that matters. Many of us are consumed with desiring greater gifts, better opportunities, extended time. All the while we neglect what we have been given. We long for much when we struggle with little. Let us simply labor according to the strength and grace the Lord gives us. We need no more or we would possess it. Whatever is before us today, let us tackle it. Whatever gifts we possess today, let us exercise them. Whatever opportunities present themselves today, let us seize them. Let us work hard in our little spheres and see what the Lord does. O, what monumental things the ordinary people of God can do when they simply use what He has given them for the glory of God.

1. James Montgomery Boice, Nehemiah: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005) p. 47

2. John Newton, The Works of the Rev. John Newton (New Haven: Nathan Whiting, 1824) p. 339


Jason Helopoulos is senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, and is the author of A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home (Christian Focus, 2013).

How One Book Changed My Life (Part 3)

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Previously I discussed how Petrus van Mastricht, in the recently translated prolegomena of his Theoretical-Practical Theology, taught me to submit to the Word of God (part 1), and how he gave me a biblical and balanced view of the use of reason in theology (part 2). In this third and final part I discuss what was the most life-changing for me, and I trust for many who will read it: Mastricht's definition of theology itself as "the doctrine of living for God through Christ" (98).

Theology is for living.

 In defining theology Mastricht takes his start from Paul's words in 1 Timothy 6:3, that doctrine is "according to godliness" (63, 98), and from there builds his definition, arguing that everything in Scripture points to the end of living for God (Rom. 6:11; 2 Cor. 5:15; Rom. 14:7-8; Col. 3:3-4; Phil. 1:20-21; p. 98), and moreover, as faith without works is dead (James 2:17), and knowledge without love (1 Cor. 8:1; 13:1-2), so is doctrine without practice. Theology is not, therefore, merely theoretical. Nor is it mixed, partly theoretical and partly practical, as if some doctrines should be practically applied and others not. Indeed, though Mastricht's title, Theoretical-Practical Theology, describes his method--every chapter treats theory (exegesis, dogmatics, and elenctics), then practice--it does not describe theology itself, which he insists is entirely and preeminently practical (106-107). In theology, theory is necessary, but its goal is practice; or as he puts it in his book on preaching, "the practice of piety" is "the soul of a sermon" (4). And "piety," is nothing less than a life in union with the Lord Jesus Christ (11).

Mastricht is sure that no Christian will differ from his definition of theology, if not in words, at least in substance (104). Such a definition is manifestly biblical, and such a theology as it defines meets the manifest need of our world, and of our churches: not talk, but power (1 Cor. 4:20), not a dead faith (James 2:17), but a faith working through love (Gal. 5:6).

But though I now agree that Mastricht's definition is profoundly biblical and necessary, I admit that I used to be unconvinced. I feared that such a practical definition unduly removed from theology its status as a science, that it focused on practical precision at the expense of wholesome truth, and that in preaching it encouraged legalistic application instead of warm preaching of Christ and him crucified.

Mastricht's teaching and example have proven that all my fears were false. He explains that theology is not less than a science, it is more (100, 104-105), and that because among all disciplines it has the highest goal, living for God, it therefore has the highest excellence and dignity (104). Moreover, he never sacrifices truth to practice. Practice is indeed the goal of the entire work, but the explanation and defense of the truth is so vital for that end that it takes up the majority of its pages: each chapter's express treatment of practice is only one part of four, and the work's final sections on morality and piety (forthcoming volume 7) together make up less than one tenth of the whole (see p. 52, n. 8). Moreover, his application, though heart-searching, is not distracted by vexed questions of casuistry: it is brief, pithy, biblical, and broadly applicable.

And regarding my fears about preaching, though it is perhaps true that some "practical" preachers are legalistic and frigid, I found that Mastricht certainly was not. His love for God and Christ fills the work with a delightful aroma, and as I showed in my first article, the Practical Part of each chapter should warm the heart of any true believer. So now after reading this volume, far from fearing practical preaching, I have embraced it, seeking as Mastricht taught me to make the practice of piety the soul of all my sermons.

Living is for God, through Christ.

But there is one reason above all that kept Mastricht, and should keep those who follow him in practical theology, from any hint of cold precisionism. Theology is not merely about living: it is about living for God, through Christ. Its chief end is God's glory, and the great means it seeks to that end is our union and communion with God (103), which comes only through the Mediator, Jesus Christ (102).

Thus if I could name just one defining feature of Mastricht's Theoretical-Practical Theology, it is that it is full of the glory of God. God's name, his Son, his Spirit, his perfections, his Word, and his salvation are the subject of every page, and Mastricht urges every reader to embrace them with faith and love. Thus though the book brought certain needed changes in my life, in this way it met my greatest need of all: to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (John 17:3), and therefore to live, through Christ, for God (Rom. 6:11). My prayer is that for all who read it, it would do the same.

Michael Spangler is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and assists with the editing of Mastricht's Theoretical-Practical Theology. He lives with his wife and children in Greensboro, NC.

A Silence on Separation

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Today there is a void of serious teaching about holiness in life. There is, of course, a general teaching on holiness that everyone agrees on. "Let us be holy," they say, "we need to be more holy. Why not have a holiness conference?" But when you get specific about what that means, everything boils over.

"Follow peace with all men," the writer of Hebrews tells us, "and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). Does anybody believe this? A pastor says, "But I have been blamed so often for teaching 'works' religion." This goes back again to the principle of regeneration and the providence of God. If God truly converts a man, He will continue working in that man, through teaching, blessing, admonition, and discipline. He will see to it that the work He has begun will be finished. And that is why the writer says that without holiness, "no man shall see the Lord." Why? Because if there is no growth in holiness, then God is not working in your life. And if He is not working in your life, it is because you are not His child!

Look at the difference between Jacob and Esau. "Jacob have I loved...Esau have I hated" (Rom. 9:13). Yet God fulfilled all His promises to both of them. Jacob was blessed; Esau was blessed. How did God demonstrate His judgments and wrath against Esau and His love toward Jacob? First, He let them both run wild. But in Esau there was no work of discipline, no work of godly correction--nothing. This was the wrath of God on him! But God severely disciplined Jacob almost every day of his life. This was the love of God for him! It was the loving discipline, the correction of God, to bring him to holiness. And it is the same for all true believers today.

Furthermore, the Lord says through Paul,

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye trans- formed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Rom. 12:1-2)

Why does he say to "present your bodies"? I think the reason is to avoid all this "super-spirituality" of today. You say, "I have given Jesus my heart, and you can't judge a book by its cover. You can't judge my inner condition by my outer works." But, as a matter of fact, you can judge a book by its cover. Jesus never said you could not judge a man's inner condition by his outward works. He specifically said that you could: "The tree is known by his fruit" (Matt. 12:33).

If you think that you have given Christ your heart, then He will have your body too. And I will tell you why. The heart, my friend, is not some blood-pumping muscle or some figment of a poet's imagination. In the Bible, the language of "the heart" refers to the very essence or core of your being. Do not tell me that Jesus has the very essence and core of your being and that it does not affect your whole body and life. It just does not happen that way!

We need to go through Scripture not legalistically and not just drawing inferences but rather by standing on its clear commands. Commands about what? What sort of commands guide us?

I do not agree with everything the Puritans said, but I do love the Puritans. One of the reasons why I love them is because I believe they honestly made an attempt to bring everything in their lives under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Everything, such as their minds! They wrote eight-hundred-page books on what we should think about according to the Scriptures and what should not enter our minds according to the Scriptures. They wrote about what we should do with our eyes. They wrote about what should go in our ears and what should not go in our ears. They taught about how the tongue should be ruled. They talked about the whole direction of our lives and its details.

It might scare you, but the Bible also talks about how we should dress. I am going to be careful here, and I do not want to speculate. My wife says it this way: "If your clothing is a frame for your face from which the glory of Christ springs forth, it is of God. But if your clothing is a frame for your body, it is sensual, and God hates it." The nature of God guides our decisions in every detail of our conduct.

The aim of this little book is not to address everything to do with our holiness. We know that holiness is not just outward expression. Nevertheless, we have come to be people who use the interior work of the Spirit as an excuse to say that nothing needs ever to happen on the outside. That is simply not true! Some of you may cry out that the Spirit of God would fill you and work in you, but it takes only a half hour of television to so grieve Him that He will be miles from you. If water is 99 percent pure, and 1 percent sewage, then I am not drinking it!

At one time I was struggling, and a friend of mine reported it in a conversation with Leonard Ravenhill. When he heard about the situation from my friend, he sent a tract to me. I still have that tract. I will never, never part with it. It said, "Others can; you cannot." I may not agree with everything in that tract, but I do know this: there are places I do not go, there are situations into which I do not put myself, not because I am holier than other people but because I know what I am!

You may know the story of one of the greatest violinists in Europe playing his final concert as an old man. When he finished, a young man, also a violinist, walked up to him, and said, "Sir, I'd give my life to play like you." And the old man said, "Son, I have given my life to play like me."

You say, "I want the power of God on my life." Do you? Then something has to go. "I want to know Him," you say. Then some separation from the world has to occur! Perhaps you need to get alone in the wilderness with God, fasting for seven days on your knees and studying the book of Psalms. You need to be alone with God, belonging to Him. To be a man of God there must be times when even your wife-- who is of your own flesh, one with you--looks you in the eye and knows that she cannot go with you into that hid- den place with God into which you go.

Today in our churches there is a silence on separation from the world. The Scriptures are not silent. They demand from us an answer. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?" (2 Cor. 6:14). None! What fellow- ship has light with darkness (v. 14)? None! Darkness is the opposite of God's revelation. What harmony does Christ have with devils (v. 15)? None! What has the believer in common with the unbeliever (v. 15)? Nothing!

The Lord says, "Come out from among them" (v. 17). Come out from the midst of what? Come out from the midst of lawlessness, darkness, satanic devices, and the life and worldliness of the unbeliever. Come out from it!


Paul Washer ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years, during which time he founded the HeartCry Missionary Society to support Peruvian church planters. Paul now serves as one of the laborers with the HeartCry Missionary Society (www.heartcrymissionary.com). He and his wife Charo have four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.


*This excerpt is taken from Paul Washer's newly published book, Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church

 

Godly (Dis)contentment

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Nineteenth-century author and hymn-writer Elizabeth Payson Prentiss lived a life of exemplary faith in the midst of serious trials. For most of her life, she was confined to bed as an invalid, and her husband also suffered from ill health. In 1852, in a period of three months, their two young children died.

Later, Prentiss wrote in a letter: "To love Christ more -- this is the deepest need, the constant cry of my soul. Down in the bowling-alley, and out in the woods, and on my bed, and out driving, when I am happy and busy, and when I am sad and idle, the whisper keeps going up for more love, more love, more love!"

Prentiss bore patiently through extreme trials, and yet her words about Christ sound a lot like something we don't often associate with piety: discontent.

Content, Yet Unsatisfied

Most Christians are, of course, familiar with the command to contentment exemplified in Paul's words: "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content" (Phil. 4:11). The mind trained by God's Word rightly recoils from grumbling and envy and yearns for satisfaction with all God's ways. We know we ought to be content.

What we may not know is that Christians--even contented ones--also experience righteous discontent. In his classic text on contentment, Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote that a Christian is "the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world."

It might seem contradictory to say that we are to be content and discontent at the same time, but the Bible holds both to be true. Because we live in a fallen world and because we are not yet arrived at our eternal home, we will necessarily--and rightly--be discontent in some areas:

Our knowledge of God. Like Elizabeth Prentiss, our highest desire in all of life is to know and love our Lord more. And in this life, we will always be peering intently at glorious truth reflected in a scratched mirror (1 Cor. 13:12). We are content, but we are unsatisfied.

Wickedness in the world. It is right for us to be frustrated when ungodliness abounds. As the psalmist writes, "My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law" (Ps. 119:136). When people around us profane the name of the Lord and wholly reject his Word, we are discontent--not because it's inconvenient to us but because it's rebellion against our God.

Our own sin. Until the day of Christ's return, when we are made perfect in holiness, we will always be dissatisfied by our own sinful actions. Paul voices this godly discontent in Romans 7: "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing" (v. 19). Every time we speak harshly to our children or fail to worship God we ought to be frustrated by our lack of holiness.

Godly Discontent

The unsatisfied Christian life--what William Barcley calls "godly discontent"--bears little resemblance to the discontent of our ungodly neighbors.

Our ungodly neighbors are frustrated with their circumstances but unconcerned about God's glory. Their discontent with traffic and test scores overflows into grumbling, envy, and anxiety. Life's difficult circumstances only serve to entrench their hatred of God and his ways.

The Christian, on the other hand, trusts that God will accomplish all his holy will in and through our circumstances. And our holy discontent always draws us closer to him.

Interestingly, this godly discontent actually leads the Christian to greater contentment. Barcley writes, "If sin is our greatest burden, all other burdens are made lighter." When we are faced with frustrating circumstances--when our plans fall through and the rain clouds mount on the horizon--we should make God's glory our first concern. Whatever our circumstances, no matter how disappointing, the thought of disappointing our God is even more pressing.

The psalmist in Psalm 73 is so intent on seeking God that he calls it his only desire: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (vv. 25-26).

He isn't saying, of course, that there is literally nothing else he desires. He is saying that, by comparison, every other desire seems like nothing. He is content, but he is unsatisfied.

Like the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, we are those who don't always have our right desires satisfied in this life, but who are constantly "looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (v. 10). And in this hope, we rest content.


Editor's Note: This article is adapted from Megan Hill's new book Contentment: Seeing God's Goodness (P&R, 2018), a 31-day devotional for Christians seeking to cultivate contentment.

Megan Hill is an editor for The Gospel Coalition. She is the author of Contentment: Seeing God's Goodness (P&R, 2018) and Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer: In Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway/TGC, 2016). You can follow her on Twitter.

Stumbling on a Two-Way Street

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Sin is a two-way street. There is the offender and the offended. We may not think of sin in those terms, especially in instances where we are the offended party. But the truth of the matter is that we bear the burden of responding to sin in a Christlike manner whether we play the role of villain or victim (Eph. 4:32). 

Scan the moral landscape of today's evangelical church and it is readily apparent that preaching or teaching that we sin (or, worse, that there is such a thing as 'sin' at all) is becoming increasingly outmoded. Oh, sure, we'll concede that we make mistakes. Of course, we do. After all, "nobody's perfect" right? But to suggest that we sin? Well, that's so...so...Old Testament; so...Moses on Mount Sanai...so...judgmental and disgracious.

This somewhat passive approach to the sins you and I commit is, I believe, a by-product of our collectively treating so casually the fact that we are sinners--violators of God's law-- as opposed to mere "mistake-makers" (Rom. 3:23). That being said, this commentary isn't about sin, necessarily. Well, it is but, then, again, it isn't. It's actually about forgiveness. But any true understanding of the importance of forgiveness in the life of the Christian begins with an understanding of the significance of sin; because it is sin that necessitates forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:9). If no sin has been committed, then, no forgiveness is required.

There is an irony in that, ordinarily, you and I are inclined to view forgiveness in terms of an obligatory gesture of contrition owed to us by someone who has wronged us. But there is a flip-side to forgiveness in that we should not view it solely within the context of one's moral or ethical indebtedness to us, but as Christ did, as a gift, a benefit, a blessing to be volitionally and unreservedly bestowed on those who, like you and me, are wholly undeserving of it (Ps. 103:10; Dan. 9:9; Eph. 1:7; Col. 3:13). As the 19th century preacher and theologian Charles Spurgeon truthfully exclaimed:

"You are nothing better than deceitful hypocrites if you harbor in your minds a single unforgiving thought. There are some sins which may be in the heart, and yet you may be saved. But you cannot be saved unless you are forgiving. If we do not choose to forgive, we choose to be damned."

As sinners, we often find it difficult to forgive other sinners. One would think, given this universal spiritual nexus we all share, that the very opposite would be the case--namely, that forgiving those who sin against us would be easy or, at least, easier since we all share the same sin-nature (1 Kin. 8:46a; Ps. 14:3, 53:3; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:10). One of the primary reasons why we find forgiveness so arduous an undertaking is that sin is weighty (Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 1:15; 1 Pet. 3:18). It is our sin that cost the Son of God His life on the cross (Jn. 3:16; Mk. 15:24-25).

Sin and forgiveness are inextricably connected insofar as the fact that you and I are sinners is not only a declaration of what we are in terms of our spiritually-depraved condition (Eph. 2:1), but also of the kind of fruit we are capable of as a result of that condition (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 7:18, 24). The Puritan theologian Thomas Watson underscores this truth quite unambiguously in his book The Doctrine of Repentance in that:

"Sin is like the usurer who feeds a man with money and then makes him mortgage his land. Sin feeds the sinner with delightful objects and then makes him mortgage his soul. Judas pleased himself with thirty pieces of silver, but they proved deceitful riches. Ask him now how he likes his bargain."

In the fall of 1995, the Christian band DC Talk released the album Jesus Freak which contained the introspective What If I Stumble?, the chorus of which poses some very sobering questions for Christians to consider concerning sin and forgiveness:

"What if I stumble?
What if I fall?
What if I lose my step
and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue
when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble?
And what if I fall?"

I mentioned earlier that sin is a two-way street. Consequently, so is forgiveness. For not only when we are sinned against do we have the opportunity to forgive - regardless if it is requested or not - but when we sin against others, for it is when you and I stumble and fall (and we will) that we are reminded of the Christlike humility we are obligated and expected to display toward others (Matt. 18:21-22) when the roles are reversed (as they undoubtedly will be). As Thomas Watson reminds us in The Godly Man's Picture:

"A humble soul thinks better of others than of himself (Phil. 2:3). A humble man values others at a higher rate than himself, and the reason is because he can see his own heart better than he can another's. He sees his own corruption and thinks surely it is not so with others; their graces are not so weak as his; their corruptions are not so strong. `Surely', he thinks, 'they have better hearts than I.' A humble Christian studies his own infirmities and another's excellences and that makes him put a higher value upon others than himself."

Reflecting for a moment on the words of the chorus above, ask yourself the following questions: 

How will you respond when the walk of someone you care about stumbles and falls? When his or her walk with Christ becomes a crawl? When they let you down by not living up to an expectation you had of them? When they fail to follow through on a commitment they made? When he or she is caught in an adulterous relationship? Or when you find out your closest friend has been gossiping about you? What then? As you consider these questions, consider also these words from Thomas Watson who, in The Art of Divine Contentment, exhorts us to:

"Look upon the unkindness of your friend and mourn for your own unkindness against God. Shall a Christian condemn that in another which he has been too guilty of himself?"

Forgiveness is a cross those who claim the name of Christ must be willing to bear and with joy (Lk. 9:23; Rom. 15:13).

As believers of and cross-bearers with Jesus, the question is never if you and I will stumble and fall but when and to what extent we stumble. We know this in principle, of course, though perhaps less so in practice. But forgiving those who wrong us actually can be a source of God-exalting joy when we understand that the ultimate goal of forgiveness is our sanctification, that is, to be conformed to the image of the One who forgave - and continues to forgive - you and me (Eph. 1:7).

God Helps Those Who Help Themselves?

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I've heard it uttered dozens of times. Friends, family members, and strangers have looked at me, a Presbyterian pastor, and said, "Well, you know what the Bible says, 'God helps those who help themselves.'" I politely smile, but inside I've just died a little. If you find that phrase in your Bible, it is only because it's on the other side of your bookmark with the poem about the footprints in the sand. But if you're reading a website like Ref21, you probably already know that.

A majority of Americans believe that this is a biblical phrase. Even those who know it isn't a biblical phrase usually attribute it to Benjamin Franklin. Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack includes this phrase in it. But Franklin was not the originator of it. Some would point back to early Greek and Roman folklore or Aesop's fables where versions of this saying are found. Versions of this saying also appear in George Herbert's poetry in the early 17th century. Others see it as originating in Algernon Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government (1680). But the form in which it usually appears today most likely originated with the Reformed and Puritan Bible commentator, Matthew Henry--yep, that Matthew Henry.

Matthew Henry was one of the most published and widely read authors in the early 18th century. At that time, it was common that if you had three books, you had the Bible, John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, and Henry's Exposition of the Old and New Testaments or The Complete Commentary. Spurgeon, Whitefield, and Wesley all commended Henry's commentary. It was noted that Whitefield read through it four times, the last time on his knees. And Spurgeon said, "Every minister ought to read it entirely and carefully through once at least."1 Matthew Henry's writings were thoroughly saturated and filled with Scripture.

Henry's commentary on Joshua 5:13-15 reads, "God will help those who help themselves." In his 2015 Twin Lakes Fellowship lecture on Matthew Henry, Ligon Duncan speculates that one reason people think this phrase is in the Bible is because Henry's writings were so thoroughly biblical, if he wrote it, it might as well be in the Bible. People began to assume that it was actually in the Bible; therefore, it entered into popular biblical vernacular.

But the way Henry intended this phrase is most decidedly not the way most people use it today. Michael Horton has pointed out repeatedly that this phrase is usually used in an entirely unbiblical way. The broadly evangelical use of this phrase is usually freighted with American exceptionalism, a healthy dose of what Christian Smith calls "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism," and Arminian theology. The result is something that means do better and try harder. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. God will work out everything for those who try hard. Do your best and God will do the rest. In salvation, it tends to mean that at the end of time, God will pull out the cosmic scales of justice. He'll empty out all of your good works on one side. He'll empty out all the bad things on the other side. And then he'll place his thumb on the good side to give everyone a healthy nudge in the right direction. God is going to grade on a curve. Get yours and God will work it out.

Perhaps this fit well with Franklin's deism. Do good and God will intervene when necessary. If Matthew Henry meant the phrase in this way, then he was most certainly wrong. But this was not how Matthew Henry intended it. Henry was certainly no Arminian or deist. Duncan pointed out that Henry mentions over 40 times in his commentary that we are unable to help ourselves toward salvation. We are spiritually dead. We do not initiate, assist, or respond to something before regeneration and then God responds to our work by saving us. Salvation is thoroughly and completely monergistic.

So what did Henry mean when he said, "God will help those who help themselves?" In this passage Henry points out that just before the city of Jericho was conquered, Joshua was "by Jericho." It was here that Joshua met the Commander of the Lord's Army. Joshua was in Jericho by "faith and hope, though he had not begun to lay siege to the city. He was in it in thought and expectation." Joshua went through the front line and up to the enemy city to pray, plan, and prepare. Without fear Joshua stood by Jericho knowing that soon those walls would fall and the city would be taken.

"There he was meditating and praying; and to those who are so employed God often graciously manifest himself." Joshua was there because the Lord had promised victory. He was sure of that victory. He had no fear. He knew what God was going to do. And yet, he went up to the city to prepare, because Joshua also knew that God uses means. God executes his will through means, and sometimes we are those means. God uses us as his instruments to affect his will in this world. And when he does, God will help us accomplish those ends. God will graciously manifest himself to us as we seek to see his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God will help us as we do what he has called us to do. "God will help those who help themselves. Vigilantibus non dormientibus succurrit lex - The law succors those who watch, not those who sleep." 

This is a very Reformed understanding of God's providence and sovereignty. God will bring His sovereign will to pass and he will so orchestrate all of human history in such a way as to use us to accomplish his purposes. As we help ourselves in doing these things, God will help us succeed. Trust in God's calling on your life. Do the things God has called you to do. And God will help you in those works. God helps those who help themselves.

 

1. Samuel Macauley Jackson and Lefferts A. Loetscher, eds., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1953), 229, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc05/Page_229.html.

The Exception and the Rule

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Over the years, many have approached me in order to ask what I believe the Bible teaches on some particular theological or ethical subject. In many cases, no sooner have I finished answering them that I'm met with the reply, "But what about...?" All of us are eager to find an exception to the rule. When I first started noticing this pattern among Christian, I mentioned it to our assistant pastor, who said, "Let's be honest. Most people love the idea of the exception and almost no one loves the idea of the rule. When I served in large evangelical churches, it was always about the exception. No one cared about the rule." Sadly, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not just endemic to those in large evangelical churches--it is a problem associated with fallen human nature. The love of the exception--as over against that of the rule--seems to be prevalent in Christian circles in our day, especially when discussing the moral law, God's requirements for worship, the government of the church and the means of salvation. 

Christians confess that Scripture is the only rule for life and godliness insomuch as it contains everything necessary for those things. God's will revealed in His moral law is unchangeable because He is unchangeable. On account of that fact, we must proceed with the utmost care and caution when insisting on the exception without necessarily emphasizing the rule. Granted, Pharisaism was founded on the idea of preserving the rule to such an extent that the Pharisees built an elaborate system of man-made rules and regulations around God's law in order to protect it from what they perceived to be lawless abuse. Ironically, they too were doing away with the rule by adding to it. While insisting on upholding the rule, the Pharisees offered man-made exceptions for themselves to make the rule more attainable. This was especially the case with regard to the Pharisaic emphasis on the fourth commandment. In a very real sense, the Pharisees set themselves up as the Sabbath police and set the other nine commandments on the fourth commandment and their subsequent additions and subtractions. This is one of the reasons why we find so much about the Sabbath in the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus. The application of the fourth commandment serves as a prime example (and case study) of the exception/rule principle when seeking to understand what God requires of His people. 

In what is arguably the greatest explanation of the fourth commandment, the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) states: 

"The sabbath or Lord's day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God's worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day."

Note the important parenthetical statement: "except so much of it as it to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy." According the members of the Westminster Assembly, the two exceptions to the rule of the fourth commandment are mercy and necessity. So, how are we to determine acceptable exceptions and how are we to view them in regard to a right understanding of the rule set out by God? 

The divines, no doubt, highlighted what they believed to be biblically defined exceptions to the rule of the fourth commandment based on their understanding of the accounts recorded in Matthew 12. There, we find Jesus walking through the grain fields and plucking heads of grain with his disciples on the Sabbath. When challenged by the self-appointed Sabbath police, Jesus referred them to the account of David and his mighty men in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, the fact that the priests had to work on the Sabbath day and the principle of mercy over sacrifice from Hosea 6:6. Jesus' appeals to the exceptions were based squarely on exegetical insight. 

Jesus knew that he was the great anti-type of David. As David had asked for the showbread for himself and his mighty men when they were hungry--though it was unlawful as far as the rule was concerned--Jesus and his disciples walked through the fields and plucked heads of grain on the Sabbath. In David's case, his action was an act of mercy and an act of necessity. In this sense, it served as the exception to the rule. In Jesus' case, the law allowed the poor and the sojourner to pluck heads of grain from the fields of strangers (Lev. 23:22). Nevertheless, he was guided by the principles of mercy and necessity on the day that typified the mercy and rest that he would himself provide through his atoning death on the cross. 

Jesus also understood that there were some who, by virtue of their vocations, had to work on the Sabbath day. Since worship is to take place on the Sabbath day, the priests had other option than to work on the Old Covenant Sabbath. Today, pastors have to work on the Lord's Day. Someone might make the case from the "ox in the ditch" principle that some doctors, nurses and law enforcement may also have occasions on which they have to work on the Lord's Day. Those are all biblically defined exceptions, however. As a rule, God commands His people not to engage in their regular weekly vocational labors on the Lord's Day. Instead, the rule is that we are to delight ourselves in Him in worship, rest and service throughout the entire day. 

Finally, Jesus corrected the Pharisaic misunderstanding regarding ceremonial commandments--explaining that God cared vastly more about His requirement of kindness and compassion as He did about outward religious adherence. Regarding Christ's appeal to Hosea 6:6, John Calvin explained: 

"God declares aloud, that He sets a higher value on mercy than on sacrifice, employing the word mercy, by a figure of speech, for offices of kindness, as sacrifices include the outward service of the Law. This statement Christ applies to his own time, and charges the Pharisees with wickedly torturing the Law of God out of its true meaning, with disregarding the second table, and being entirely occupied with ceremonies....

...External rites are of no value in themselves, and are demanded by God in so far only as they are directed to their proper object. Besides, God does not absolutely reject them, but, by a comparison with deeds of kindness, pronounces that they are inferior to the latter in actual value...

...as believers, by practicing justice towards each other, prove that their service of God is sincere, it is not without reason that this subject is brought under the notice of hypocrites, who imitate piety by outward signs, and yet pervert it by confining their laborious efforts to the carnal worship alone"

Perhaps the chief reason why so many of us are drawn to exceptions rather than to rules is the fact that we know that none of us has ever kept the rule as we ought. All of us have fallen so very far short of the glory of God by transgressing every single one of His commandments many times. As the members of the Westminster Assembly so clearly state in Larger Catechism 149: "No man is able, either of himself, or by any grace received in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God; but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed." The Heidelberg Catechism answers the question, "Can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?" by stating, "No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience..." 

Be this as it may, those who have been redeemed by Christ are called to be a people who love his commandments. Heidelberg Catechism 114 goes on to say, "Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God's commandments." Believers can now confess with the Apostle John that we do not "find his commandments to be burdensome." Christ has borne the heavy load for us by fulfilling the Law and by taking the curse of it in our place and for our good. Believers will neither be justified nor condemned by the Law (WLC 97). Jesus has died and risen to give us rest from the guilt and shame of our sin. He has satisfied God's justice and propitiated His wrath for us. Having forgiven us all of our trespasses, he has sent his Spirit to write his Law in our hearts and in our minds (Heb. 8:10; 10:16). With David, we cry out, "Oh, how I love Your law. It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). With the Apostle Paul, we affirm that "love is the fulfillment of the law"--the motive and animating principle by which any true Spirit-wrought obedience occurs in our lives. 

Believers are called to understand the nature and purpose of God's commandments. This certainly includes understanding what exceptions there are to the rule--while always recognizing that exceptions are what they are by virtue of the rule being what it is. We must refuse to turn the exception into the rule, without pressing the rule to such an extent that we exclude the exceptions. As we seek to walk in ways that are pleasing to our God, may He give us great care to know and love His rules as well as the exceptions that He has defined in His word. 

We looked at the most popular posts from across Alliance websites in 2017. Did you miss one of these last year? Do you want to read one your favorites again? Just click the article title! 


10Calvin's Life: The Servetus Affair by Jeffrey Stivason

Opponents of John Calvin are quick to blame him for the trial and execution of Michael Servetus. But is that fair? Jeffrey Stivason offers a brief history of the event and Calvin's involvement. 

9. Marital Love Must Be Sexual by Joel Beeke

This is the last in a series of posts about the Puritan view of marriage. The Puritans emphasized the romantic side of marriage, and considered monogamous sexual union in marriage as holy, necessary, and good. 

8. No Little Women: Know What We've Got Before She's Gone by Grant Van Leuven

Grant wrote this beautiful piece in February, reflecting on femininity and the value of womanhood after the passing of his wife only five months earlier.

7. Game of Dethroning Sexual Sin by Nick Batzig

Should Christians watch a show like Game of Thrones, which is widely-acclaimed yet filled with explicit and debauched sexuality? Nick Batzig offers some insight into this divisive issue. 

6. Words Matter: Recovering Godly Speech in a Culture of Profanity by Jon Payne

"So what does the Bible teach about our words?" Jon Payne asks this question in an age of obscenity. His answer: "God created our mouths to be fountains of blessing, not gutters of cursing."

5. Mike Pence, "Truth's Table" and Fencing the Law by Richard Phillips

2017 was a year of conversations (and battles) over sexuality and gender. In this article, Richard Phillips navigates some difficult issues, pointing out both problems in the culture and pitfalls we face in the Church. 

4. A Few Questions About the New CBMW Statement by Aimee Byrd

The Nashville Statement, published in late August, offers what many consider to be an orthodox and biblical understanding of human sexuality. Yet Aimee Byrd has a few reservations, particularly related to the CBMW's stance on gender roles and the Trinity. 

3. The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box by Richard Phillips

Some think it possible to flirt with liberal doctrines and still maintain orthodox faith in Christ. As the example of Fred Harrell shows, the slope towards heresy may be more slippery than they think. 

2. Sundays are for Babies by Megan Hill

Small children may disrupt your Sunday morning, but this day of rest is for them too! As Megan Hill remarks, "Sundays may mean disrupted naps and delayed meals, but our children are trading earthly provision for something far better for their undying souls." 

1. Pray for Your Church Leaders by Christina Fox

Church Leaders and their families carry heavy loads, beset on all sides with stress and temptation. Christiana Fox calls us to remember them in our prayers, knowing that "the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working" (James 5:16). 


That's all for now. We look forward to 2018, and to another year of proclaiming biblical truth!

 

The following comes from an article posted by Dr. Dan Doriani. Dan's new column at Place for Truth draws from his experience as both a professor and a pastor. This column is titled "Faith at Work," because, as Dan puts it, "we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is never alone." The Reformers knew that the Gospel demands a response; Dan helps us revisit that truth today, particularly as it relates to the our roles in the workplace.  


The leader of a major campus ministry recently said "If forty people approach a campus minister with an objection to Christianity, one worries about Bart Ehrman and his attacks on the authority and reliability of Scripture. The other thirty-nine have moral questions: Why does the Bible have a repressive sex ethic? Why is it silent about abuse of power? Why do evangelical churches support politicians who tolerate racism and misogyny? Why do so many pastors say "God wants you to be rich" and get rich pushing that message? In short, they ask, "Can I look to the church for moral direction?"     

The Reformation era had similar questions and they fueled a desire for reform in an era when the church was society's dominant institution. Priests were everywhere and their flaws were clear. For example, Zurich had a population of 5,000 people and about 400 priests - over 20% of the adult male population. They lived beside the people, who saw that most of them had concubines and illegitimate children. At the time, popes like Alexander VI and Julius I had acknowledged children.

We rightly assent to the doctrinal elements of the Reformation, but it began as a moral movement and retained a moral flavor... 

Read the rest of Dan's article over at Place for Truth today!

 

Walking with God

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A nugget from Robert Bolton's Some General Directions for a Comfortable Walking with God (London, 1626):

By walking with God, I mean, a sincere endeavour, punctually and precisely to manage, conduct, and to dispose all our affairs, thoughts, words and deeds; all our behaviours, courses, carriage, and whole conversation, in reverence and fear, with humility and singleness of heart, as in the sight of an invisible God, under the perpetual presence of his all-seeing, glorious, pure eye; and by a comfortable consequent, to enjoy by the assistance and exercise of faith, an unutterable sweet communion, and humble familiarity with his holy majesty: in a word, to live in heaven upon earth.

May we, by grace, pursue this more and more!