The Lord’s Supper, along with Baptism, is one of the two ordinances that the church is to practice. There is much to say and learn about both, but I want to focus on just one… More
Presidential Executive Orders, judicial rulings, American ambassadors to foreign nations, local, state, & national law enforcement agencies while executing search warrants all face some sort of the same question while carrying out their duty: By what authority do you do what you’re doing & say what you’re saying? Who gave you this authority?
At the root of this question, and questions like them, is the underlying presupposition that there is some level of self-sovereignty and dignity that may have been violated. Take for example: If the police enter your home, restrain you, confiscate your personal property, and cause harm to your self or your property and they have no reasonable cause and are not acting on the authority given to them by the courts, your rights as an American citizen more than likely have been violated.
Similarly, when we cross over into the realm of faith and practice, this question (and questions like these) rises in our hearts when the Lord, the Word, and the Lord’s Messengers cross over into what is perceived as our “personal space.” By what authority does one cross the threshold of personal autonomy?
Jesus faced this question in Luke 20:2 coming from the religious leaders of His day. To be sure, Jesus had been publicly lauded as the King of the Jews who came in the Name of YHWH, had acted as Israel’s/Jerusalem’s Prophet of YHWH when He prophesied the impending doom that was sure to visit Israel & the Temple in 70AD, and as the Priest of Heaven purged the Temple of idolatry and “for profit” ministry by flipping tables, driving the money-changers out, and re-establishing true worship that centered on Him (Luke 19:28-20:1).
Understandably so, the religious leaders of the day demanded to know “by what authority you do these things, or who gave you this authority” (Luke 20:2).
The following parable (Luke 20:9-18) describes, again, Jesus’ authority is derived from his Divine Essence—this was not new news for the chief priests, scribes, and elders and was clearly visible from His words and His works (John 10:38).
I’ll leave the parable to you but I’d like to place before you, reader, the same question concerning your worship, your current trajectory in life, your marriage, and your family life: By what authority are you doing what you’re doing and saying what you’re saying? Let me explain.
As the people of God, we live our lives as ambassadors of another kingdom; namely, the Kingdom of God (see 2 Corinthians 5:20). Yet, I find in my own life I often find that it is not the Kingdom of God that first comes into my thought process behind the decisions I make and the life I live, but my own kingdom and my own interests.
Granted, I desire something different. I work toward “transformation by the renewal of my mind” (Rom. 12:2). But yet, I (and I believe many like me) find the raging battle between flesh and spirit (Romans 7) a reality in (1) daily thoughts: what I believe about life around me; (2) daily speech: what and how I communicate; and (3) daily decisions: the mundane and significant that have future implications. By what authority am I thinking, speaking, and acting? Is God’s Word, which is God’s thoughts communicated to God’s people, the definitive Word in my life? Said in another way, “Am I filtering all of life through the lens of God’s Word, his revealed will, or am I honoring the Lord with my lips but my heart is far from Him?” After all, doesn’t Peter remind his readers (and that by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) that God has given us “everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3)?
A simple—By what authority am I _________________?—would transform my day, my family’s day, and the future of those entrusted to me.
As ambassadors of Christ, our thoughts, speech, and actions are to be shaped by God’s Design and submitted under Christ’s Dominion, advancing Christ’s Kingdom. Now, I have a difficult time, daily, applying this principle in my moment-to-moment routine so I will not attempt to apply it to yours but I encourage you to ask yourself this simple, yet probing and profound, question as you ponder how to honor our Lord as you submit yourself under His light and gentle yoke.
No doubt, that as Christ’s audience took offense at His obedience (both vocal and active) to the will of God, you will find those in the world and Church offended, but I encourage you, as the apostles of the first century Church to “obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29) and trust Him with your blessing as you submit to His authority; even the blessings that come through trials.
After all, let us not forget that following our Lord is not a burden, drudgery, or a drag. Rather, “in His presence is the fullness of joy and at His right hand pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Soli Deo Gloria
This past month our church began reading through the book Gentle & Lowly by Dane Ortlund. It has been an encouraging month with some good discussion looking into the heart of Christ towards His people. There are at least three reasons why I believe this book is so encouraging.
1. Pastorally written
Dane does a great job of pastorally walking through the topic of the heart of Christ towards His own. Now this is an important part to see right up front and he sets this out clearly in the opening chapters that those who are his audience are those who have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ. Everything being written and applied is to this group of people. This is not a book about Jesus as a general figure in history and his disposition towards all mankind, it is focused on His disposition towards His own, and from this position Dane is able to beautifully apply these truths to us, especially in our struggles with sin, suffering through disillusionment, and working through life’s hurts.
With that in mind it is not an academic work, but rather a work of pastoral devotion. He writes the text for those who are struggling to know Christ better and to grow in their relationship with Him and understanding of who He is. In doing so Dane is tackling a very monumental task with pastoral care and devotional attention. Each chapter is roughly 10-12 pages in lengthen working us through scriptural truths on the heart of Christ or reflecting on specific puritan’s teaching on Christ’s grace and mercy. On the other side since it is a pastoral work there are times where Dane will get a little overcome with trying to explain and illustrate the heart and love of Christ that it can become distracting from the thrust of the argument and encouragement he is seeking to give, for some this may be a blessing to others it could be a curse.
2. Christ Focused
The second reason this book is so impactful, is its Christ centered focus, specifically its attempt to bring us back to the reality of the humanity, of Christ. This work is meant to drive us forward into our love of Christ as we see Him as the God-Man. He was not simply taking on a pseudo humanity he took on humanity as it was meant to be free from sin, and he did it to save his own from sin. The whole text points us back to Christ; in all of our self-indulgent thoughts, we need Christ; in all our struggles and brokenness over sin, we need Christ; In all that we hold dear, we need Christ. He is our only hope in this life and the next.
With this immense task before him, Dane connects us deeply to the heart of Christ’s humanity and through it the love of God the father in sending Christ to save His own. Throughout the text we are continually refocused on the scriptural teachings of Christs’ heart towards those he ransomed from the grave. There is a lot to work though on this topic and at times there are many places he walks a fine line working through the texts of scripture ensuring he doesn’t fall into heresy, and when dealing with such a topic it is often easy to do, but he does it well. There are many footnotes and clarifying statements along the way to help readers better understand some of the theological ideas presented if one want to dive deeper..
3. Puritanically Rich
Finally the rich history of the Puritans is brought to bear on this topic. The Puritan writers offer a wonderful tapestry of observations and Biblical richness when talking about the mercy and grace of Christ, especially in his relationship to humanity. Dane gives us a glimpse into these men’s writings and in doing so their passion for the Lord and love for those they were called to shepherd. These men labored well in the Word to bring their people the depth of Christ’s love and the hope they could find in Him through all of life. If nothing else, this book stirs in us a rich desire hopefully to dive back into the works of some of these great writers and theologians.
Some of the most important questions Christians need to wrestle with are about the Bible: what it is, where it came from, and whether or not we can trust it. Rather than letting fictitious books like The DaVinci Code inform our understanding of the Bible, we would do well to consider what the church has taught. The good news is, this is something that the church has spent a considerable amount of time and effort wrestling with, and there are answers to sufficiently handle any and all objections thrown at the Bible. The following series of short-answer questions are a brief introduction to issues of the New Testament Canon, the canonicity and reliability of the four Gospels, and how the issue of Canon applies to us today. Additionally, there are several recommended resources at the end of this article provided for further study.
1. What does the word “canon” refer to as it pertains to New Testament thought?
The word ‘canon’ (lit. “standard” or “rule”) refers to the collection of authoritative or normative writings that were deemed by the church to be inspired by God and therefore belonging to an exclusive set of Scriptures permanently given for the life of the church. The New Testament Canon, containing a total of twenty-seven books, is received in addition to the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament to comprise the Evangelical Canon of Scripture.
2. Did the early church create the New Testament Canon?
The early church did not create the New Testament Canon; rather, it is more accurate to assert that the early church recognized the New Testament canon. God, having spoken through His Son, as well as his apostles and prophets, inspired the words of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). The early church regarded certain writings as divinely inspired and authoritative, established though various objective and rational criteria, and thus received them as Scripture. “The canonization of early Christian writings did not so much confer authority on them as recognize or ratify an authority that they had long enjoyed, making regulative what had previously been customary.” In this way, the formation of the NT Canon served to clearly delineate the scope of those writings which had received broad recognition as authoritative Christian Scripture and thus also excluded others.
3. Where in the New Testament do we find references to the initial identification of other first-century writings as Scripture?
In 1 Timothy 5:18, the Apostle Paul writes: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” The second quotation is a reference to a saying of Jesus recorded in Luke 10:7. Paul is apparently equating Luke’s gospel with Scripture. In 2 Peter 3:15-16, speaking of the letters written by the Apostle Paul, Peter writes: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” Here, Peter is blatantly equating Paul’s epistles with other Scriptures, all of which are twisted by false teachers.
4. What three criteria were used to establish the Canon of the New Testament?
One criterion was apostolicity, which meant that the documents must have been written either directly by an apostle or indirectly through an associate of an apostle. Another criterion was catholicity, which meant that the documents must have been relevant to the whole church and had a history of longstanding, widespread, and well-established acceptance and use across Christian communities. A third criterion was orthodoxy, which meant that the content of the documents in question must have been in line with the faith and practice of the church as generally understood from accepted apostolic teaching. It’s important to note that “the Christian community did not explicitly create these criteria as a set of standards by which it would canonize or reject specific books and letters”—they were principles that guided the Church, by divine Providence, in its investigation and recognition of Scripture.
5. Approximately when was the Canon of the New Testament accepted?
The twenty-seven books that comprise the Canon of the New Testament were agreed upon by the majority of churches by the end of the fourth century. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, set forth the first canon list naming these books as exclusively authoritative in his Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter, issued in 367 AD.  The church councils convening at Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 also promoted this same collection of books. “By the end of the fourth century there was a very broad, if not absolute, unanimity within the Christian community about the substance and shape of its canon of authoritative Scripture. This is remarkable insofar as there was never any official, ecumenically binding action of the ancient church that formalized this canon.”
6. Approximately when were the four Gospels recognized as part of the New Testament Canon?
The four Gospels were recognized as canonical as early as the second century by means of significant literary, geographical, and artifactual attestation from the early church fathers and Christian communities. One of the several early church fathers who recognized a fourfold Gospel was Irenaeus of Lyons in the 180s. In his writings, he clearly recognized the Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as being the only true and reliable Gospels, fully and exclusively authoritative, handed down to the church by the apostles.
7. What literary attestation contributed to the early canonical recognition of the four gospels?
By the end of the second century, testimony to a fourfold Gospel converges from Christian communities across widely divergent geographical areas such as Alexandria, Antioch, Italy, and Gaul. These Canonical Gospels are frequently used or named in the writings of several early church fathers such as Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, and Clement throughout the second century, being attested to far more than any other Gospel in circulation at that time.
8. What artifactual attestation contributed to the early canonical recognition of the four gospels?
A distinction between the popularity of the four Gospels recognized as Canonical as opposed to other written accounts can be observed in the physical format of the earliest manuscript fragments discovered. Of those in codex form (the most common book form used for Scriptural books), 39 instances of material from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John can be found in 34 manuscript fragments, compared to only five fragments containing text from other Gospels. Additionally, multiple-Gospel codices produced within the first three centuries contain only combinations of the four Canonical Gospels, and two four-Gospel harmonies (by Theophilus and the Diatessaron byTatian) appeared as early as the mid-second century.
9: How might one respond to critics’ claims that more than just four Gospel accounts were written, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas?
First, while we obviously do not deny the existence of such Gospels, their existence—and even their occasional use by early ecclesiastical authors—does not necessarily imply that they should be included among the Canonical Gospels. Second, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the only Gospels we have that were written in first-century; the apocryphal gospels were not composed until after the first-century and thus could not have been written by an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection (failing the criterion of apostolicity). Third, some Gospel-like books, often promoted today as real rivals of the fourfold Gospel, were apparently never intended to even be in competition with other books recognized as Scripture. Fourth, these noncanonical gospels were regularly subjected to “discriminative and selective procedures” by the early church fathers as a result of their deviation from orthodox Christian faith and practice; such procedures were not required when it came to the four Canonical Gospels, deemed instead to be “given by God in their fullness and entirety.”
10. Why is the question of Canon important for believers to understand today?
Objections abound concerning the reliability of Scripture. Believers are often persecuted for determining their worldview from and basing their lives on the Bible. It is believed to be an outdated and nonsensical book, full of myths and legends, full of contradictions and discrepancies. Yet, we know first and foremost that the Canonical Scriptures are credible, reliable, and trustworthy because they were written by men carried along by the Holy Spirt (2 Pet. 1:21). God’s word is a firm foundation precisely because it is God’s word; Jesus himself validates the truth of Scripture by proclaiming that it “cannot be broken” (John 10:35). But such clear, objective, and historical evidence for how the Canon of Scripture came to be developed does help to add a further level of credibility to the Scriptures that we can use in our defense of the faith (1 Pet. 3:15) and in the gentle correction of our opponents (2 Tim. 2:25). While we must remember that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14), we nevertheless can be confident in the Word of God that we hold in our hands today and provide an answer for the objections raised against the historical reliability of our Scriptures.
Recommended Resources on the Canon of Scripture
- The Origins of the New Testament Canon. This is a free course taught by renowned NT scholar, Michael Kruger. Additionally, you can pick up any of Dr. Kruger’s books on the Canon.
- One Holy Book, by Chad Spellman. An excellent short book for those wanting to learn what the Bible is, where it came from, why it matters, and whether or not we can trust it. You can also check out Chad Spellman on the Church Grammar podcast talking all things Canon.
- Can We Trust the Gospels, by Peter Williams. A case for the historical reliability and trustworthiness of the Gospels.
- A Peculiar Glory, by John Piper. An excellent and robust look at how the Christian Scriptures reveal their complete truthfulness.
- C. E. Hill, “Canon,” ed. Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; IVP, 2013), 101.
- H. Gamble, “Canonical Formation of the New Testament,” ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 192.
- Gamble, “Canonical Formation of the New Testament,” 184.
- Ibid., 193.
- Sylvie T. Raquel, “Canon, New Testament,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
- Gamble, “Canonical Formation of the New Testament,” 190.
- Ibid., 191.
- Hill, “Canon,” 101.
- Hill, “Canon,” 103.
In 2016 it was recorded that 73% of Americans claimed to be Christian. However, when the same group was asked if their faith was very important to them or if they attended church at least once a month the percentage dropped from 73% to 31% (The State of the Church 2016 – Barna). Less than half of the people who claim to be Christians attend church regularly. And regular attendance for them could be just once a month (12 times a year). So, the percentage of those who attend church weekly is less than 31%.
But the Bible commands that Christians are to be faithful to their church. The author of Hebrews tells his readers that they are not to neglect meeting with one another, as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:25). And then again to his readers he commands, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). How can a person obey and submit to their leaders if they are not faithful attenders of their local church? It’s not going to happen. The implication here is that we need to be regular church attenders. Then Luke, in the book of Acts, tells us that Christians in the early church met regularly, day by day, to fellowship and attend church together (Acts 2:46). We can see a pattern of believers meeting together often in a church setting. This is what Christians do; they meet regularly to worship the Lord.
But why is this so important? What benefit is it to be at church regularly? Let me give you three reasons why it is so important:
SERVE & BE SERVED
First, it is important to attend church faithfully so that you can both serve and be served. One of the ways the Bible defines the church is as a body (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christ is the head and believers comprise the rest. And each member of the body plays a big part. Just as a human body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing a leg or an arm so a church body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing members. Each member of the church body plays a vital role in the church. It is important that you regularly attend your local church so that others in the body of Christ can serve you in ways that you cannot serve yourself. You need people who will disciple, encourage, admonish, and correct you. You need people who can serve you through the gifts God has given them. You can only get that when you gather together with other Christians. You also need to attend church regularly so that you can serve others. There are those in your church who need your encouragement, discipleship, and correction. God has given you gifts that He wants you to use for the benefit of the body as a whole. You cannot serve others if you are not around them. Therefore, it is of great importance that you strive to faithfully gather together with other Christians weekly at your local church.
HEAR THE WORD
Second, it is important to attend church faithfully to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The book of Acts tells us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) and we are to do the same. We do not have “apostles” today in the Biblical sense, but we do have gifted preachers and teachers who rightly share the Word of God every week from the pulpit (Steve Lawson). These men are sharing the very apostles’ teaching (the Bible) that Acts 2 speaks of and we would do well to devote ourselves to their teaching. We do that by regularly attending the services and Bible studies at our local church.
It is through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word that sinners are saved, sanctified, and equipped for ministry work. We can see this clearly from the teaching of Paul in his epistles. Paul, writing to Timothy, reminds him that it was the Word of God that made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). In the same passage Paul also instructs Timothy to continue to learn the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14) as it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul tells Timothy that the word is profitable and then he tells him to preach that word (2 Timothy 4:2). The preaching of God’s Word is one of the primary ways Christians grow in godliness. It is crucial that Christians regularly attend a Bible-believing church so that they can get a steady dose of Biblical preaching that will help grow them in the faith.
In addition, Paul tells the Ephesian church that God gave “the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Not only does the preaching of God’s Word bring sinners to salvation and help Christians in their walk with God, but it equips them for ministry. Regularly sitting under the preaching and teaching of your local church will prepare you to do ministry work. You will be able to share the gospel, disciple others, and lead a Bible study, or small group. It is important that Christians are faithful to their local church and regularly sit under their pastor’s preaching so that they might grow in godliness and be equipped to do ministry.
OBEY THE LORD
Third, it is important to attend church faithfully because God commands it (Hebrews 10:25) and that is reason enough! If God commands us to do something it is in our best interest to do it. He is infinitely wise and knows what is best for you and me. The book of Isaiah tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is infinitely wiser than us and He knows better than we do what is best for us. Therefore, when God commands us to be regular church attenders we should joyfully comply. It is in our best interest.
God created and implemented the church for His glory and our good. It is His desire that we meet regularly as Christians to sing, pray, study the Bible, and encourage each other in the faith. Make it a priority to regularly attend your local church for your good and God’s glory.
Think about surrender.
Defined, surrender means a yielding to, a giving up in favor of another, or giving yourself over to some kind of desire. This is why the synonyms for the word surrender are submission, renunciation, and relinquish. When surrender is thought of in relation to prayer, we can say that prayer takes us to a deeper level of surrender. Meaning that, when we know how great the love of God is toward us in Christ, we will not only trust Him, we’ll surrender our lives entirely to Him.
Tim Keller similarly says, “Meditation is thinking a truth out and then thinking a truth in until its ideas become big and sweet, moving and affecting, and until the reality of God is sensed upon the heart.” In other words, what happens in the believer when God is sensed upon the heart? The heart surrenders to God, yields to Him, and gives up rebelling against Him.
There’s something about this that is very gospel centered.
And that is fitting to point out because Christians are a gospel people and everything in our lives should ultimately come back to, revolve around, and inflame our devotion to the gospel. How does prayer work like this in relation to what we’ve been talking about tonight? It has everything to do with surrender. In Luke 11 we read, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Keller continues on at this point saying, “…there’s never been a parent who desires joy and pleasure and good for their children as much as God. There has never been a parent who desires to hear and answer their children’s heart and requests as much as God. And there has never a parent who desires to shower blessings on their children as much as God.”
This passage not only means these things. It also poses a question: how does God give us joy, how does God hear and answer our heart and requests, how does God shower blessings on us when we deserve the opposite? The answer is the gospel. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, made a request of His Father in Gethsemane and received the serpent and scorpion in return so that all those who believe in Him would never receive the serpent or scorpion. Jesus’ prayers were rejected so that our prayers would be received.
This gospel love, once seen and tasted as sweet and beautiful changes the heart and redirects our prayer away from trying to get God to submit to our requests toward our surrendering to His gracious and wise sovereign plan.
From Rowling to Tolkien to Lewis, how are Christians to interact with fantasy literature? It was a joy contributing to this Out of Oz episode, I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed discussing it.
Prayer not only requires trust but takes us to a deeper trust in God.
To illustrate this I want you to think of a young boy walking along the street with his father. The two are having a wonderful time together and suddenly the father stoops down and swings his boy into his arms holding him high in the air. He then kisses him and tells him that he loves him, and puts him back down on the ground. Puritan pastor Thomas Goodwin once spoke of this and then asked the following question. “Tell me this, was the young boy more a son in the father’s arms than he was down on the street?” Do you see why he spoke of this and then asked that question? His answer was that objectively there is no difference, the boy is always his much beloved son. But subjectively there is all the difference in the world, for when the boy was in the arms of his father he was experiencing his father’s love.
Prayer is like this.
Objectively all believers are owned and adopted sons and daughters of God, this is true, beautiful and praiseworthy. But subjectively we can feel the warm embrace of our heavenly Father’s arms. How? Certainly through reading and meditating on His Word, sure. But when the reading and meditating over the Word is coupled with prayer the heart is drawn heavenward to God and we experience subjectively what is already objectively true of us. We experience being lifted off the ground by our Father’s arms. Didn’t Jesus say in Luke 11:11 and following, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Because our heavenly Father loves us so, we can come to Him with anything on our hearts just as a child can come to their father. Think of some of the examples in Scripture we see of the gutsiness people had with God in prayer.
-Abraham asking God to save Sodom and Gommorah (Gen. 18:16-33)
-Moses pleading with God to have mercy on stubborn Israel (Ex. 33:12-22)
-Habakkuk and Job boldly questioning God’s purposes.
There are many others. In all of these moments God not only heard the prayers of His people, He answered. Lesson? God responds when His own adopted children cry out to Him. Yet, if this gutsiness in prayer isn’t coupled with a deep trust in God we could go very wrong in prayer thinking that we can muscle down God’s arm in prayer. This is why the image of the child with his father is so helpful for prayer. That young boy knows his father loves him. Therefore he trusts and knows can ask his father for anything, but that’s not all he knows. He also knows he can trust his father in however he answers that request.
Do you know these things? In prayer you’ll be reminded of these things, and through prayer these things will increase in you.
Encouragement for Depression in the Local Church
Friends, whether or not you battle with depression, the encouragement we need to hold fast our confession comes from the Triune God and the word of his grace. The one true God alone—Father, Son , and Spirit—is the God of all comfort. Yet look at how Paul writes to the Corinthians here; notice how plural it all sounds. We comfort others; we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings and comfort; we are afflicted for y’alls comfort and salvation. The same goes for our text today, and the other passages we read.
Scripture is clear that the context in which we receive the encouragement of our Triune God is in community with others. Like the early chuch in Acts 2, we are strengthened in the faith as we not only devote our selves to the word and prayer, but to fellowship and the breaking of bread. It’s not in isolation, in the comfort of our homes; it’s not on social media, behind the comfort of our screens. No; we encounter the God of all comfort in gospel community. It is in the fellowship of a local church that we find the strength we need to suffer well.
This afternoon, who are you? Maybe you’re a bit like Eutychus: weary, worn out, exhausted after a hard week’s work. You’re eager to hear the word of God’s grace in Christ but you’re tired and running on empty. Maybe you feel a little bit like Paul: burdened beyond your strength and despairing of life itself. Despite all God has done for you and who you are, secure in the love of Christ, you still feel like you have received the sentence of death. Maybe you feel a bit like the church of Acts: afflicted, troubled, persecuted. Even though we’ve been saved in hope and know that our Savior King will one day make all things new, you still battle with anxiety, discouragement, unbelief, sinful doubts, and the temptation to call it quits.
If you are any one of these people today, then hear the good news : Our God is good and does good. He loves you. He sent his only Son into the world to live among us, to suffer like us, and to die for us. And he raised him from the dead so that in him by faith we might have life. Remeber that our God is faithful to his promises. The word of God will never fail. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have a sure and living hope—as sure as the empty tomb! But don’t just be encouraged yourself; be eager to encourage, exhort, and comfort one another.
If you suffer with depression, know that a church community is not a pain-free remedy, a guaranteed quick fix for your suffering. Simply going to a church or being actively involved will not automatically relieve you of all the pain that comes from living in a broken world. But rest assured, for those whose hope is in God, and are trusting day by day in Jesus and the promise of resurrection, a church community will help you suffer well. Whatever the cause of your depression, you need the encouragement that comes experiencing God’s grace in community, gospel fellowship with others.
As we speak the truth in love, as we minister God’s Word to one another with patience and humility, the Spirit of Jesus will strengthen our faith. The risen Lord Jesus will build up his church. And the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort, will hold us fast.
Self knowledge is a curious thing.
It once was a fixed truth. You are who you are and there’s no changing it. But in our day and age who you are has become a thing of choice. We can choose who we want to be, what we want to be, even if that goes directly against who God has genetically and physiologically made us to be. One current example is that when one signs up for a Facebook account there are now 71 gender options to choose from. I don’t think we need to linger long on this to see that we are a confused people, laden with incorrect and often exaggerated views of ourselves.
John Calvin begins his Institutes by saying “The whole sum of our wisdom – wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured – broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” The way we get a true knowledge of God is from His holy and inspired Word. But an often overlooked implication of this is that when we gain a true knowledge of God we also get along with it a true knowledge of ourselves.
This true self knowledge comes to us in the Word also, but we experience our true selves in prayer. Why does this come to us in prayer? Because when prayer is done truthfully, reverently, and humbly it is near impossible to have an over exaggerated view of oneself. Rather, we gain an honest sense about who we truly are and who we’re truly speaking to.
Seen in this light prayer and our relationship with God is dramatically different than any other relationship we have in this life. Whether the relationship be with a friend, co-worker, stranger on the street, our children, or even our spouse you and I can be very good (and perhaps more sneaky than we’d like to admit) at presenting ourselves in a certain manner that doesn’t honestly reflect who we really are. You can put on a face before friends without much effort, even more so with co-workers who really only sees you during work, even more with strangers on the street who’ll only see you once, and though I think it’s very difficult to do with your own children and husband or wife it is sadly possible, though no one has a closer relationship with you, to deceive even them. People can function like this for years without truthfully allowing anyone to know them for who they really are. It’s a sad and lonely story but a true story nonetheless.
In contrast to all these relationships think about our relationship to God. When our relationship with God is in view, the deception does not easily continue. For God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He knows everything about you, and therefore with Him and in relating to Him it is impossible to present yourself as someone you’re not. Hebrews 4:13 reminds us, “No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Or as many have said, “The scrutinizing gaze of the omniscient God completely exposes us.”
All this to say, prayer does not allow us to deceive ourselves, and so in it we learn and in a real sense acquire our true selves. Where is the first place prayer takes us? To a true self knowledge.
So, as we hope in God and believe the gospel of his beloved Son, we still suffer, but we don’t merely suffer. Our God has promised to graciously supply us with all we need to suffer well.
For those who suffer with depression, this is what I want to ask: how can we suffer well? The most important question you can ask is not “How can I get rid of my depression?” but first, “How can I be saved, forgiven of my sin and justified?”; and then second, “How can I continue to trust my Savior Jesus while struggling with depression? How do I rely on God’s abundant grace to suffer well?” Let us continue to answer this as we journey through Acts 20.
The God of Encouragement (Acts 20:7-12)
With Paul and company together in Troas, we find them worshiping with the church “on the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7). This is the first reference to the church meeting for worship on Sunday! While Christians did meet daily, the church came together especially on the Lord’s Day because of Jesus’s resurrection and also to avoid conflicts with synagogue gatherings on Saturday.3 Since many worked during the day, meetings often took place during the evening. And since Paul was intending to depart the next day, the meeting lasted quite a long time, until midnight.
But notice the purpose of their gathering. They were gathered together to break bread—presumably for both a fellowship meal as well as the Lord’s Supper (cf. Acts 2:42-46)—but also for encouragement through Paul’s ministry of the word. Paul talked and conversed with them. Back in verse 2, he gave the churches “much encouragement,” which is literally encouragement “with many words.” Here, in verse 7, he “prolonged his words”; he “extended his message.” And this church was hungry for the word! They were willing to gather late and listen to Paul preach and answer their questions for hours on end. These believers knew that without the water of the Word, they would wither away.
The Death of Eutychus
But this brings us to a specific incident that Luke records in verses 8-9 that took place during this late-night meeting of the church at Troas. A young lad name Eutychus—most likely between 8-14 years old—was overcome by sleep and fell out of the window in which he was sitting and died.
Now, in my experience, I’ve always heard this story told to make humorous points: to illustrate the dangers of a long-winded preacher, and to warn those who fall asleep during the sermon! But is this really why Luke chose to record this specific incident in his history of the church, the awesome story of the Acts of the risen Lord Jesus? Is he really taking time to describe the tragic death of a young boy during a worship service to make a funny or humorous point? No!
First, Luke isn’t suggesting Paul was rambling on and on; he was seizing the opportunity to encourage a church whom he would presumably never see again. They were enjoying their fellowship together, conversing about their King, and their precious time with Paul. Second, I don’t believe Eutychus is guilty of apathy or inattentiveness. It was unusually late and, from the way Luke describes the whole scene, he was simply “overcome by sleep.” So why record the death of Eutychus? Imagine being there that night, worshiping the Lord. This would be horrifying, absolutely devastating! What if it was your child? Imagine the pain! So what does Paul do? He raises him from the dead (Acts 20:10-12).
The Comforting Presence of Jesus
There are only seven resurrections performed in Scripture: the OT prophets Elijah and Elisha each raised a woman’s son; Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and Lazarus; and Peter raised Dorcas.4 And each of these is a tragic story of the loss of a dear loved one. And this resurrection is supposed to be funny? I think not. Rather, this extraordinary miracle is showing the life-giving power and comforting presence of Jesus at work in his church.5 This would have been a sign that their risen King—who had conquered death—was with themandwas fully approving of their worship! It was an utterly remarkable token of his love.6 The same Jesus who died and rose from the dead was still at work to care for his weary people.
But did you notice what happened after he raised him? They continued to break bread and Paul preached until the morning! And then we see, in verse 12, that they were greatly comforted. Not astounded, amazed, fearful, or awestruck, but comforted.7 This is the exact same word found at the beginning of our passage (Acts 20:1-2). This text begins and ends with the encouragement of the Triune God through the ministry of Paul. But also notice where Luke places this word: not simply after Eutychus was raised, but after the conclusion of their Lord’s Day worship. Their comfort wasn’t just because of a miracle; it was the result of Paul’s ministry of the word and their gospel fellowship together. That night in Troas, they powerfully encountered the God of encouragement in community.
Beloved, we are not in any way lacking because we don’t have prophets like Elisha or apostles like Paul performing resurrections today. The same Jesus who defeated death, who raised Eutychus from the dead, is the same Jesus still at work today by his Spirit through his Word to strengthen his church. This is because God the Father is the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-10). God the Son is the consolation of Israel, our Comforter. God the Spirit is another Comforter sent by the Father and Son to encourage us, his people, even those battling any and all forms of depression. One pastor explains it like this:
The ultimate answer to anxiety, loneliness, and depression isn’t a pill or a program or even a pastor. It’s God in three persons: our Father, who cares enough to carry the full weight of our cares (1 Pet. 5:7); his Son, ready with timely mercies for each moment of our need (Heb. 4:14–16); and his Spirit, who walks with us step by step, turning the wasteland of a worried mind into an orchard of spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22–23).8
- Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Ac 20:7.
- This is not counting Jesus’s own resurrection and the bizarre accounts of Elisha’s bones reviving a dead man (2 Kgs 13:21) and the saints in Jerusalem who were raised when Christ died (Matt. 27:52-53).
- Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), Ac 20:10.
- Chung-Kim, et al., eds., Acts: New Testament, 279.
- Schnabel, Acts, Ac 20:11–12.
- Gunner Gundersen, “How Can I Counsel Those with Anxiety, Loneliness, or Depression?,” 9Marks; May 15, 2020, https://www.9marks.org/article/how-can-i-counsel-those-with-anxiety-loneliness-or-depression/.
When suffering comes our way, many often turn to religion or spirituality for quick relief. In our desperation, we will believe or do anything if it will ease our struggles. We want an instant remedy for the pain. But there are no such instant guarantees when it comes to the Christian faith.
Now, while it is certainly true that our God is able to miraculously heal and to deliver, that he has conquered death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that one glorious day he will make all things new, trusting in him for salvation is not the answer for a pain-free life. Rather, the Bible teaches that we have been saved in hope. Paul writes in Romans 8 that, for those who belong to Christ, we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for . . . the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23-24). Until that day when faith turns to sight, we often cry out: “How long, O Lord?”
So, as we hope in God and believe the gospel of his beloved Son, we still suffer, but we don’t merely suffer. Our God has promised to graciously supply us with all we need to suffer well.
For those who suffer with depression, this is what I want to ask: how can we suffer well? The most important question you can ask is not “How can I get rid of my depression?” but first, “How can I be saved, forgiven of my sin and justified?”; and then second, “How can I continue to trust my Savior Jesus while struggling with depression? How do I rely on God’s abundant grace to suffer well?”
There are several ways to do this. The two most basic means of grace are the word and prayer. Our God has promised to strengthen us as we encounter him in his word and in prayer. But there’s another means of grace that is essential if we are to struggle well, and that is community. We must be in the word and prayer with others. Believers must be devoted to the fellowship of a local church community, for this is vital for our encouragement in the faith.
You see, the devil is always looking for someone to deceive, to discourage, and to devour; for someone to lose sight of the glory of Christ. And both anxiety and depression can all too easily become an occasion to doubt God, to reject his gospel, and to fall away from promised grace. Thus, believers must be encouraged if we are to suffer well and hold fast the confession of our hope. To be strong in the Lord, to stand firm in the faith, we need to put on the whole armor of God and pray always. But we don’t stand alone; in Christ, we stand arm in arm with others.
Over the next few weeks I want to look at what the Bible has to say about depression, to do this I want us to look at a rather unusual story found in the book of Acts, chapter 20. In this passage, the author (Luke) provides us with a seemingly unimportant travel summary and an often-misunderstood miracle. But here, we will see that we encounter the God of all comfort in gospel community. It is in the fellowship of a local church that we find the strength we need to suffer well.
The Ministry of Encouragement (Acts 20:1-6)
In the first three verses of Acts 20, we get an incredibly brief summary of Paul’s travels after a riot that took place at Ephesus. He travels around the Aegean Sea through Macedonia and into Greece—visiting the churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and others—and then back through these regions again. During this time, he writes 2 Corinthians (v.2), and his epistle to the Romans (v.3).
But notice what Paul does in each of these places: he encourages the disciples in Ephesus before leaving (Acts 20:1); he goes through Macedonia and gives them “much encouragement” (Acts 20:2); and he spends three months in Greece to encourage the Corinthians and even the Romans by letter (Acts 20:3).
This word “encourage” has a range of meaning. It can mean “to urge or exhort,” encouraging someone to action; it can also be the sense of instilling someone with courage or cheer, bringing comfort. In essence, biblical encouragement is strengthening someone to continue in the faith and bringing comfort in the midst of affliction. It’s to have our doubt-filled minds recalibrated, to have our hope set fully on the grace in store for us when Jesus Christ returns in glory.1
Watering the Church with the Word
So, far from being just a routine travel summary that Luke reports often in Acts, these verses imply a rich ministry of encouragement—Paul’s labor of shepherding, teaching, bearing burdens, prayer, and enduring suffering. Why? All to strengthen and comfort the churches. One 16th century pastor put it like this:
“The church is like a garden or a vineyard. A garden must be watered . . . otherwise it will go to ruin from heat and drought. In the same way Christian congregations also wither through tribulation, affliction and persecution. So then, they must be watered and sustained with the water and consolation of the Holy Spirit.”2
Now, the encouragement we’re talking about here is not some kind of motivational pep-talk to boost self-confidence, with shallow phrases like “Hey, you look great today!” The kind of comfort we’re talking about is not just a few kind words to those suffering such as “I’ll be praying for you.” No, we’re talking about a supernatural strength that comes from the ministry of the word. If the church is to grow and bear fruit, then we need the water of the word. We need, as Romans 15:4says, “the encouragement of the Scriptures” to hold fast our hope. The encouragement we need is that which only comes from the promises of God held out to us in the gospel. Biblical encouragement begins with reminding one another of promises such as
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)
Encouragement and Exhortation for Depression
But having been reassured of our hope, comfort turns to exhortation as we urge one another to walk in step with the truth of the gospel, to live as though Jesus really is the King of the world. Paul does this often in his letters. After the good news of Romans 1-11, he writes “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, [ I urge, I exhort you] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). After the sound doctrine of Ephesians 1-3, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge [exhort] you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).
But who’s responsible to do this? Who’s responsible to speak the truth in love, to build up the body of Christ, to give counsel, to encourage and exhort to the weak? First, It’s the ministry of elders. Paul tells themto “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). But encouragement is also the ministry of every disciple of Jesus. Paul tells the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11). The author of Hebrews says: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:12-13).
Encouragement is Verbal and Relational
Don’t miss what all these verses imply: The ministry of encouragement—strengthening the weary, comforting the afflicted, including those suffering with depression—is both a verbal ministry and relational ministry. It’s a verbal ministry in that it requires proclaiming the word, speaking the truth in love to one another. But it’s a relational ministry in that it requires fellowship and community! Look how the author of Hebrews sums it all up in Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
In fact, this idea of mutual encouragement is something I think we see inActs 20:4-6.Notice the list of Paul’s companions. Most likely, these men were representatives of the various Gentile churches assisting Paul in bringing the offering to the Jerusalem church. But I think there’s more going on. From what we see in Acts, we know Paul always preferred travelling with others on his long and difficult journeys. But was it simply for physical help and support? guys to carry his bags? I don’t think so. If you consider the extensive greetings found in several of Paul’s letters and how often he expresses his love for those who labored alongside him in the work of the gospel, I think it’s clear that Paul himself needed these brothers for encouragement and comfort! He was often discouraged, afflicted, burdened beyond his own strength, despairing of life itself, weak and weary. But he always sought the fellowship of the believers, whether he was going or staying. His heart needed to be encouraged just like theirs did, and just as all the churches did.
These verses are a brief but powerful proof of the believer’s need of encouragement. For those who suffer with depression or anxiety, it’s especially easy to lose sight of the love of God in Christ, the empty tomb, and the hope of our salvation. This is why the ministry of encouragement is so vital. We need to remind one another of God’s loving faithfulness. We need to remember what Jesus has done to forgive our sins and make us acceptable to the Father. We need the encouragement of his gospel word to find strength for today and hope for tomorrow.
- 1 Peter 1:13.
- Johann Spangenberg “Der Apostel Geschichte, 181v, 182v” in Esther Chung-Kim, Todd R. Hains, et al., eds., Acts: New Testament, vol. VI, Reformation Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 275.
I’ve never read the book Your God Is Too Small by J.B. Phillips, but I resonate with the title. Each of us are hard-wired from the fall with a smaller view of God than we ought to have. Indeed it’s entirely possible to hold to a “big God” theology, while actually having a small god mentality in the nuts and bolts of everyday life. This reality hit home to me recently while preparing for our weekly church prayer meeting. We’re in a series on the prayers of Scripture in which we study a Bible prayer or teaching on prayer and then pray accordingly. We were to begin with a brief look at James 1:5-8, which speaks of the importance of faith when we pray, then spend some time praying big prayers to our big God. As I studied the text, however, I realized that I was acting as the double-minded man James described who is unstable as water and shouldn’t expect anything from God. I had secretly (unconsciously?) carried anxiety over a few “major” issues in life, ministry, family, etc. and had not been casting these burdens God’s way because I foolishly treated these issues as bigger than Him. I had a “big God theology,” but a small god mentality when it came to these. I realized that I needed to cling in faith to the big God revealed in Scripture. The following is my attempt to work through this in my own heart and I think it will be of help to some of you.
Scripture is full of texts referring to how incomparable our God is. I noticed these “Who is like you?” verses popping up all over the place in my Bible reading and the following is my attempt to help myself and you grapple with them…
- BEHOLD YOUR GOD
What follows here are a list of the Scriptures that speak of God’s incomparability. Read them each through prayerfully and ask the Lord to give you a bigger vision for who He is from His Word.
There is none more powerful
Exodus 15:11- “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?”
Jeremiah 10:7, 10- “Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you….But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation.”
Jeremiah 49:19b- “For who is like me? Who will summon me? What shepherd can stand before me?”
Ps. 86:10- “For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.”
Isaiah 37:16- “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.”
His power is also revealed in the fact that He alone can claim the title of Creator:
Neh. 9:6- “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.”
Isaiah 40:25- “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.”
Isaiah 44:24- “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself”
Jeremiah 10:16; 51:19- “Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the LORD of hosts is his name.”
There is none more helpful
Deuteronomy 33:26- “There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty.”
Psalm 35:10- “All my bones shall say, “O LORD, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?””
Isaiah 44:7- “Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen…Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”
Micah 7:18-20- “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”
There is none more trustworthy
1 Kings 8:23; 2 Chron. 6:14- “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart;”
There is none more righteous
Psalm 71:19- “Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”
Luke 18:19- “And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
Revelation 15:3-4- And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
There is none more exalted
Psalm 113:4-9- “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!”
There is none more sovereign
Isaiah 46:5, 9b-11- “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?…for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
As you come to God in prayer and worship, consider how incomparable He is and let His majesty and glory overwhelm you. Then think on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The God who stands alone in power and glory has come down in weakness and humility to endure the agony of the cross for sinners. Jesus has risen in power and now lives to intercede for His own. There is no other God and there is no other Savior like ours.
- BELIEVE YOUR GOD
Now for the hard part. God gives us these words of His grandeur not only to stimulate our thinking, but to transform our daily living. The next step in responding to these texts is to confess and repent before God of your small view of Him. I love the scene in Mark 9 where Jesus comes to heal a man’s demon-possessed son, and the man says to Jesus, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24). Even a prayer confessing one’s small view of God is a prayer of faith, because it acknowledges His power to overcome our unbelief. Another way to overcome our fear of man or love of self or spiritual laziness is to memorize and meditate on Scripture. Put some of the above texts to memory and pray them back to God every time you find yourself growing anxious or tempted or prideful. There is nothing that will cut the head of the Goliaths of sin in our lives like remembering just how colossal our God truly is. When God sent the twelve Israelite men to spy out the land, there problem was that they compared their enemies with themselves and not with God. They were comparing the wrong way and so the result was that they concluded, “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33b). They should have compared these giants to God. Then they could have said with Isaiah, “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:22). Another helpful way to overcome our problem of comparisons is to jot down all the “big” issues in your life that seem impossible to change (marriage/singleness issues, lost family members, stubborn sin patterns, anxiety about the future). Grab a stack of sticky notes and fill your desk or table with the big ones in your life. Now read back over those Scriptures above and hand them over to the God of all creation, asking Him to help you see them in the right light. There is a reason Jesus spoke of mountains being cast into the sea with only mustard seed faith! When we are regularly comparing our problems to our infinite God, we will then move into behaviors that exalt Him and deny self. We will move past our sinful idleness and anxiety into serving and helping real people whom He created for His glory.
So, how big is your God?
For my monthly contribution to the Publican blog I’d like to share a blog that my wife, Rachel Noble, wrote a few years ago that is still very relevant today. Enjoy!
“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The early church just fascinates me. Here in Acts 6 the apostles are working relentlessly for the furthering of the gospel. However, there arose a complaint about the widows being neglected. If this complaint happened in today’s church I can see a lot of pastors feeling guilty, stopping whatever they are doing, and addressing this personally. This, of course, would come from a heart of compassion and a desire to make the widows feel loved and valued (which is honorable). However, this was NOT the response the apostles had. They were not about to put the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and prayer on the back-burner in order to “serve tables”. This may seem strange and perhaps arrogant, but if we look at this text, that’s simply what we see.
The apostles do take care of this issue, but in a way that did not neglect their primary duty which was the teaching of the Word. The apostles call for men of wisdom and good reputation to carry out this task of serving. The serving ministry is what we call the office of deacon as seen in 1 Timothy 3.
I once knew a pastor who was “faulted” with being “too theological” and perhaps not relevant enough. This saddens me immensely because it’s literally impossible for a pastor to be “too” concerned with studying God and His Word!
Today our culture (even within the church) finds theology boring, preaching irrelevant, and Biblical knowledge for those of some “higher level” of Christianity. Funny jokes, games, sports, and having coffee together have become more important than the true study of God’s Word. This should horrify us!
I recently spoke with a woman who told me that she had trouble finding a youth group for her children to attend. Her kids hated and were bored with every youth service they attended. At first, we would think it was the child’s fault, but the reason they hated it was because there was no actual Bible study going on. It was all fun and games, watching movies, and hanging out. There was about 5 minutes of Bible study taught by a “youth leader” who had no Biblical knowledge whatsoever. This should sadden us.
The study of God’s Word must be at the forefront of what we do as a local church. Our pastors (and any person who has a teaching or leading position) should devote themselves to the study of God’s Word and to prayer just as the apostles did in the early church.
I’m not saying that pastors shouldn’t serve or that various ministries of the church shouldn’t have fun and games, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the teaching and preaching ministry. Deacons were established in the early church with the primary responsibility of serving. Fun, games, and Christian fellowship are certainly important and should come as an outflow of a community of people who are centered around God’s Word and the gospel. The gospel holds us together. Enjoying the same games, watching the same movies, or having the same friends is not what binds us as Christians. The gospel binds us.
Let’s be the people of God who focus on the Word of God for the glory of God!
For a reason I cannot explain (I only ever watched the film once), I vividly remember ardent Angels’ fan Roger Bomman gazing into the heavens and asking God for victory for his team on the baseball diamond. He concluded his prayer with the words: “Amen… (then with a shrug) or A-woman.” Watching as a middle school student in 1994 I took the phrase for how it was intended in the movie: a falling-flat stab at humor veiling the rather obvious reality that Hollywood would refuse to assign gender to a god that may or may not (most likely not) exist. Fast forward twenty-six years and a US Congressman opens the 117th Congress with the same benediction. Yet now, Christians are losing their minds.
There are two issues that must be quickly addressed – the stupidity of the statement and the carelessness of Christians. Don’t be offended. Hang with me.
To utter in prayerful conclusion “Amen and A-woman” as Representative Emanuel Cleaver did in Congress last weekend reveals a glaring and undeniable ignorance. Cleaver claims that the phrase was a pun – a kind of shout out to all the new ladies in Congress, which would offset the accusation of linguistic ignorance that has flooded his way (the designation “Amen” is from the Greek ἀμὴν meaning “this is truth” or “may it be so” and has no gender specification to it). Only a kid praying for his baseball team should be led to think that “Amen” means “a man.” But the linguistic ignorance is not what I am speaking of, after all Rep. Cleaver has multiple degrees, and despite the cries of my right-wing friends, he is not an imbecile. He is though, ignorant on a more significant level. Cleaver’s entire Congressional prayer (which many have missed) called for the death of tribalism and a restoration of unity and peace. The sentiments, however genuine or disingenuous from the orator, should be shared by true followers of Jesus. After this prayer for unity though, Cleaver concludes with a phrase, that had he been truly thinking of unity and peace, he would have known would disrupt and defeat the very message of his prayer. If harmony is something one desires, then prudent care and consideration should be shown to bring this about. The Congressman is now “shocked” that his prayer has received so much critical backlash and laments that Americans failed to hear the sum of his petition. This should come as no surprise to the politician. That level of ignorance is sad.
But the ignorance of politicians – even would be reverends – should not surprise the true church either; and this is what unsettles me most. From everything I have found on the faith and theology of Emanuel Cleaver, he certainly does not seem to be a man with a deep faith in the singular message of hope and unity – the Gospel of Jesus. Therefore, if he is not trusting and preaching Christ alone as Savior and Lord, then he is not a true Christian. It is that simple. And for far too long we have, as the true church, demanded that unbelievers behave and speak as believers are called to behave and speak. That, my friends, is careless and ignorant on our part. The Christian has the Spirit of God within, has fellowship with the risen Christ, and walks (or should) in submission to the Scriptures. The non-Christian has none of the above. Clearly, this does not mean that we shouldn’t preach the truth to the perishing – only that we should not assume righteousness from the depraved. The god of this world has blinded minds and we should not be shocked when we witness unintelligible or deplorable groping by those without eyes.
Many Christians are appalled by what is unfolding across our nation today but perhaps we should take the blame for a moment. We have stood as “conservatives” in our proclamation while we and our children have been swept up in most, if not all, cultural tides. We despise that prayer has been removed from various settings, but we forget our direct access to the Father and neglect the disciple of prayer regularly. We pine for religious liberty – for the right to gather and the right to speak uncensored truth – but then refuse to do either. We hear from the Word that we are not to place our faith in humanity, yet then worship at the feet of a President whose policies have, at least to some degree, been Christianesque, but whose behavior and personal confession has not. We are believers; yet if we are honest, we fail to live according to the very standard we erect for unbelievers.
I know we don’t like to hear it, but repentance is called for, friends. Revival is an antiquated term, I know, but we desperately need a revival within Christianity of prayer, truth, devotion to Jesus and to His church, Biblical unity, submission to authority, and evangelism. Be saddened by the blind depravity that swirls through our nation, but don’t be shocked by it. Instead, may we be shocked and repulsed by the sin of our own souls – repent and purpose to be the light of Christ in this miserably dark world.
For those who have been reading the Publicans for a while now we wanted to make you aware of Andrew & Adam’s weekly podcast: A2. https://sonrisecity.wordpress.com/category/a2/ Each week we tackle different topics ranging from questions we have been asked by church members to issues happening in the world around us. The goal of this podcast is to be another point of instruction for those who call SonRise home as well as those who follow us here on the Publicans Blog. In the coming week we will highlight a few other podcast’s you may wish to follow.