It’s often been said, “There are two things you shouldn’t talk about in public: religion & politics.” Although many may give a hearty “Amen” to that statement when uttered, I don’t know anyone, really, who… More
We’ve all had that miserable experience of stumping your toe on the way to the bathroom in the dark. It is no fun and yet it reveals the importance of watching our step and having the necessary light to see where we’re going. The Christian life in the New Testament is often referred to as our ‘walk.’ Also, early Christians were known as, ‘The Way’ (Acts 9:2). On top of that Jesus referred to Himself as, ‘The Way’ and called us to, “enter by the narrow path” and not the broad one that leads to destruction. He said, “the way is hard that leads to life” (John 14:6; Matthew 7:13ff). This is important. We must remember that true believers are really the only group going against the tide of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are walking on God’s path, and yet how easy it is to stumble and lose our way. Thankfully, we have a Good Shepherd who goes after the one lost sheep and we have fellow believers who help rescue the wandering among us (Matthew 18:12; James 5:19-20). I’ve heard it said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. The trouble is, we are often like the wandering Israelites on this journey; stumbling here and there along the way, refusing to go when God says and often foolishly wanting to go back at times. So what are some practical things we can do as God’s redeemed people to, “run with endurance the race that is set before us”? The following is a list of verses predominantly from the wisdom books of the Bible (with other passages mixed in) which I’ve divided into a step-by-step guide for us. This list assumes that we’ve been born again by the Spirit and are on the path of the righteous. It is also implied that we are, “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.” Each of the verses are taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible. It is my prayer that this guide helps you in your Christian walk.
- Acknowledge your tendency to slip, wander, and drift
- “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.” -Psalm 73:2
- “…their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” -Galatians 2:14
- “she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.” -Proverbs 5:6
- “passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house” -Proverbs 7:8
- “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”- Hebrews 2:1
- Pray for steady steps to walk in God’s way
- “Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me.” -Psalm 119:133
- “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” -Psalm 86:11
- “…see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” -Psalm 139:24
- “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” -Psalm 25:4
- “Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”- Jeremiah 6:16
- Consider the only two paths available
- “The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous.’ -Isaiah 26:7
- “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.”- Proverbs 12:28
- “I will ponder the way that is blameless..” -Psalm 101:2a
- “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” -Proverbs 4:18-19
- “the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” -Psalm 1:6
- “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” -Proverbs 3:6
- “in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” -Ephesians 2:2-3
- “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!” -Ephesians 4:17-20
- Let His Word be your guide
- “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” -Psalm 119:105
- “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies” -Psalm 119:59
- “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” -Psalm 119:35
- Watch where you’re going
- “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” -Proverbs 4:25-27
- “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” -Proverbs 14:15
- “Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths,” -Proverbs 7:25
- “do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths,” -Proverbs 1:15
- “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.” -Proverbs 4:14-15
- “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” -Ecclesiastes 5:1a
- “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” -Psalm 119:9-10
- “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.” -Psalm 119:101
- “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,” -Ephesians 5:15
- Follow in His steps
- “My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside.” -Job 23:11
- “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” -Psalm 17:5
- “So you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.” -Proverbs 2:20
- “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” -1 Peter 2:21b
- “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” -Galatians 5:25
- “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” -Galatians 5:16
- “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” -Romans 13:13
- “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” -Ephesians 4:1
- “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” -Colossians 1:10
- “…sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away” -Colossians 3:5b-8a
“When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” (John 6:14-15)
Election Day is a week away and many of us will be going to the polls to vote for the person we hope will be our next president. This is an important issue that requires much thought and prayer. However, it is not the most important issue.
We can see this in the Gospel of John.
In John 6 (go ahead and read it) Jesus is sitting on a mountain side with His disciples when a large crowd approaches Him. The crowd was following Jesus because of the miracles He had performed for the sick (v2). Much to their delight, Jesus performs another miracle by feeding the crowd. He takes five loaves of bread and two fish and provides enough food to feed five thousand men, in addition to any women and children who were also present (v9-12), and still had plenty left over (v13). Jesus had taken a meager meal and made it into a feast for thousands with plenty to spare. It was a remarkable feat that no mere man could have accomplished. Of course, no mere man had accomplished it, but the God-Man, Jesus Christ, had accomplished it. Then v14-15 tells us, “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ And “they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king.”
The thousands that Jesus fed rightly perceived that He was the long-awaited Prophet, one like Moses, who had finally come. However, they wrongly perceived why He had come. They were seeking a political ruler, a king, one who could liberate them from the Roman Empire. They saw that Jesus had the power to heal the sick and provide endless amounts of food; certainly He could liberate Israel and reign as their king! They wanted Jesus to help them politically and materially. They were not looking to Him as a Savior from their sin; they were looking to Him as a king for their earthly benefit. But Jesus did not come to be a political ruler. He did not come to be an earthly king. He came to save His people from their sin. He came to seek and save the lost and give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was not interested in political leadership – He was interested in spiritual transformation. He was not the Bread of the Temporal, He was the Bread of Life (v35).
There are a couple of takeaways for us as we head into Election Day.
First, we need to realize, unlike many of those in John 6, that man’s most essential need is not a government or material needs or a presidential candidate that aligns with all our values and beliefs. Our most essential need is a Savior who can save us from our sin. Don Carson put it this way: “If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, He would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, He would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, He would have sent us a politician. If He had perceived that our greatest need was health, He would have sent us a doctor. But He perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from Him, our profound rebellion, our death; and He sent us a Savior.”
We are a people who have offended a holy God by our sin and as a result we deserve infinite punishment. On our own we cannot make this right. No political policy or candidate can make this right. Only Jesus can make this right. Only He can fix our severed relationship with God the Father. He does this through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection – not political leadership. Politics are important. We should vote and vote wisely with Biblical principles in mind. However, we should not act as if all is lost if our candidate does not reach office. A president is not our Savior, Jesus is.
Second, we need to look to Jesus as our Savior and our Treasure. The crowds in John 6 looked to Jesus as the means (powerful king) to an end (liberation, provision, power). We too have the tendency to look to Jesus in the same way. We hope Jesus will bring us a better life now here on earth – better America, better career, better finances, and so on. But Jesus did not come to give us a better life now; He came to give us eternal life. We should not look to Him as a means to an end:
He is the end.
He is everything.
He is our Treasure.
As we go and vote let’s vote knowing that regardless of the outcome Jesus is our Savior; He is our King, and He is our Treasure. If the election goes how we want or not, we have Jesus, and to have Him is to have everything. Jesus in John 6:35 says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall not thirst.”
This government, this world, may not be what we want it to be, but let’s remember that our hope is not in government or the world around us, our hope is Jesus and He is all we need.
Romans 1:2-4, “…the gospel of God…which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”
A few weeks ago I began a series of posts introducing us to the Apostle Paul. In that first post we met Paul, today in this post we’ll learn his message.
In Romans 1:2-4 we come to next great matter Paul introduces to the Romans. That this gospel of God which God has set him apart for isn’t new. Rather the gospel is of old, it’s something God promised long ago. I think too many make too sharp a division between the Old and New Testaments, as if there were no gospel in the Old Testament and no Law in the New Testament. In our daily living as Christians this usually looks like us simply not giving much attention to the Old Testament because we think we’re New Testament people and should just stick to the New Testament. To which I respond, ‘We are indeed no longer in the shadow lands, we are living in the realities, gloriously so! But where do we think the foundation of the New Covenant was laid? Nowhere else than the Old Covenant.’ Or as Augustine once said, “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.” This is what Paul’s getting at here in v2. His message, the gospel of God, wasn’t invented by him. No, it goes all the way back to the Garden where God spoke the first words of light into the dark fallen hearts of Adam and Eve. ‘One day’, God told them in Gen. 3:15, ‘the serpent will strike one of your Descendants on the heel, but He will crush its head.’ All the prophets of old spoke of this Descendant of Eve, of His coming, of His entrance into our world, of His life, His death, His resurrection, and His ultimate victory. This means Paul’s eager to tell them and to show them that in these “holy Scriptures” God has made many promises, and in Jesus Christ we come to see how God has kept them all.
But what does he say next in v3-4? He gets more specific, saying this gospel of God promised beforehand in the holy Scriptures is about one thing. It concerns “…God’s Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”
Now we see it. The gospel of God is not about a set of principles or about a certain spiritual program, it’s about a Person. The Person of Jesus Christ. Try as many may, there simply is no Christianity without Jesus Christ. Put anything else before Him or leave Him out entirely and you’ve left Christianity, regardless what one calls themselves. And notice, how Paul’s explanation of the gospel of God doesn’t begin with man, with man’s problems, or with man’s value or worth. No, it begins with Jesus. And more so notice, Paul isn’t content to leave Jesus simply stated and undefined. He tells us what we should know about this Person Jesus Christ. Some today might already begin having issues with Paul. Arguing with him saying he’s getting too deep and going into things he shouldn’t. ‘We just want Jesus, Paul, don’t go into all this doctrine. Doctrine divides.’ Paul sees it differently. I’d argue Paul sees it rightly and clearly. Sure, doctrine may divide, but can we see that when handled properly doctrine divides between what is true and what is false? Or see it like this: Jesus is Paul’s Master, and Paul earnestly desires and labors to make his Master’s glories plain to the Romans, and to us. Let’s see what he says about Jesus.
First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh. We know what this means. Not only was Jesus to be the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent (Gen. 3:15), not only was Jesus to be a Descendant of Abraham that would bless the nations (Gen. 12), not only was Jesus to be of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49), He was to be of a particular line, the line of David. Remember 2 Samuel 7? David desires to build God a house but God interrupts these desires and makes David a grand promise and says He’ll be the One doing the house building. Specifically, God will build David a great house, or kingdom and He’ll place one of David’s sons on the throne establishing David’s throne and kingdom forever and ever. This long-anticipated Son of David is Jesus. He was the true divine eternal Son of God before in eternity past, but at a certain point in time this Son of God willingly became something that He was not before as He entered into our world, true Man.
Paul doesn’t leave it at that but goes on with more detail about the nature of Jesus. First, He was a Descendant of David according to the flesh, that’s v3. See what comes second in v4, He was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead…” Some read this as teaching us that Jesus was simply human before the resurrection and then became the Son of God after the resurrection. I disagree. That’s not what Paul is saying. The Son of God has always been the Son of God. The point he’s making here is that there are stages of Christ’s work to see. He – the true, the divine, the eternal Son of God – took on flesh, and in His earthly ministry His glory was largely veiled. He was King of kings while on He walked among us but He went ‘incognito’ if you will. Then something happened that changed everything. What happened? The resurrection. In the resurrection, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power, meaning His glory is veiled no longer. He has been inaugurated, He has been enthroned, above all and overall to His rightful place. Paul is saying the resurrection is not only where we see Jesus as the Son of God, but the resurrection is where we see Jesus as the Son of God in power. Which is why Paul concludes recognizing Jesus to be what He truly is, “Jesus Christ our Lord.” This theme will be the grand foundation for everything Paul says later on in chapter 6 about how we’re to view ourselves as those who’ve been redeemed and how that resurrected power changes our daily life.
So follow Paul here in v1-4. What is the gospel of God promised long ago in the holy Scriptures all about? It concerns Jesus. Eternal Son of God, Seed of David, Messiah, and Lord. This is what Paul was set apart for. This is his message.
 R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 18.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 12.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 2 102.
 John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 7.
 Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, 13.
 Douglas Moo, NICNT – Romans, 48–49.
The year 2020 has undoubtedly been the strangest year of my life. Suffering, confusion, hostility, fear, conspiracy, politics, controversy, disasters, injustice, social media, and tribalism are tearing our country apart. In particular, pastors find themselves in uncharted waters, surrounded by a multitude of opinions on every side. And with our presidential elections coming up in November, and no end in sight to the both the pandemic and all the divisive arguments that come with it, the future looks dark.
But this is what you inevitably find within the domain of darkness.
Yet while we are in this world, we are not of it. The Apostle Paul tells us that God the Father “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). We are God’s people, a holy nation, citizens of heaven, called out of darkness into the light of Christ (1 Peter 2:9).
Our allegiance belongs to the risen Savior. We have been redeemed from the power of sin and delivered from the fear of death. We have a new nature, a living hope, and a glorious inheritance. As Paul says in Ephesians 5: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:8-11).
Walk Worthy of the Gospel You Have Received
For the church of Christ, this means that our words, our actions, our work ethic, our character, our relationships, our lives should reflect the glory of King Jesus. Our whole outlook on life should be drastically different from those around us, who have not experienced the freedom of forgiveness found in the gospel. And so, Paul prays “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Col. 1:9-10).
He asks that the church might be fully acquainted with our God and his glorious purposes for the world. He wants them to have spiritual wisdom. Why? So that they might walk worthy of the gospel they have received, fully pleasing to the risen Lord who rescued them out of darkness into the light. Those who belong to Christ by grace through faith are to continue in that grace and live lives that are fitting for citizens of the light.
But how do we do this? This is what Paul then goes on to pray for, highlighting four ways in which we are to walk worthy of the risen Lord Jesus.
Bearing Fruit in Every Good Work
First, we walk worthy of the Lord by bearing fruit in every good work (Col. 1:10). Good works are anything done in faith for the good of others and the glory of God. It’s serving our neighbors with the humility and love of Christ. It’s treating them with the gentleness of Christ. In fact, this is why we were chosen and appointed by God: to bear much fruit and love one another (Jn. 15:16-17). But if the world around us doesn’t see the gospel we proclaim demonstrated by genuine converted lives and authentic Christian community then how will they know this to be true?
This is why Jesus commands: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16; 1 Peter 2:12). We walk worthy of the name of Jesus as we abound in love and good works towards everyone, especially the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
Increasing in the Knowledge of God
Second, we walk worthy of the Lord by increasing in the knowledge of God (v.10). We do this by centering our lives on the Word of God—the all-sufficient, life-giving Word that equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The problem is that in times of crisis we often end up centering our lives—our thought, emotions, and affections—on the world rather than the Word. As a result, we find ourselves listening to and following voices of anxiety, fear, doubt, and self.
One author writes: “A church’s worship habits may occupy two hours of a Christian’s week. But podcasts, radio shows, cable news, social media, streaming entertainment, and other forms of media account for upwards of 90 hours of their week.” And the media we consume is shaping us.
Now, more than ever, we need to be devoting ourselves to the preaching, reading, studying, singing, and memorizing of God’s Word. We need to be disciplined when it comes to our media habits and the means of grace. We need to remind one another of who our God is, what he has done in Christ, and recalibrate our minds and affections according to his goodness, truth, and love.
Persevering with Patience and Joy
Third, we walk worthy by being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might (v.11) As we rely upon the Lord, and come to his throne of grace, we will find the mercy and help we need. As we devote ourselves to good works, to the word and prayer, to the fellowship of the church, God will strengthen us by the same power and authority by which he raised Christ from the dead!
For what are we being strengthened? “For all endurance and patience with joy.” This is exactly what we need as sojourners and exiles in this dark world. We need patient, joyful endurance. We need the power to bear up in difficulty, to remain full of peace, hope, and joy as we wait (Rom. 12:12). And praise God his grace is sufficient for our needs!
Giving Thanks to God
And fourth, we walk worthy of the Lord by giving thanks to the Father (v.12). Thanksgiving is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us, in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). And notice the grounds for this command: “who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Knowing the living hope we have through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we can always be grateful.
Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Phil. 2:14-16). Grumbling and disputing obscure our identity as children of God, as citizens of heaven, as lights in the world. When we complain and argue, about anything and everything, we look like the world! Christians who grumble and dispute are blatantly taking part in the unfruitful works of darkness.
Friends, think about how often we are guilty of complaining and arguing: about quarantine, guidelines, and politics; about our neighbors, jobs, and kids; and even about our brothers and sisters in Christ in the church! And from the way many Christians use social media, our light is all but blown out. But as we hold fast to the word of life, we see God’s faithfulness, his wisdom, his goodness, his love, and his sovereignty. So, when we are tempted to grumble about our life circumstances, we can give thanks always. We remember his undeserved mercy towards us and remain steadfast in our joy.
So, beloved, let us walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Let us shine as lights in this world as we abound in love and good works; as we devote ourselves to the word and to prayer and to fellowship; and as we give thanks in all circumstances. And may others see our good works and give glory to our risen Savior King.
When I hear the word fool, I can’t help but picture Mr. T with mohawk, gold chains, and a cut-off T-shirt saying, “I pity the fool!” Whether or not you watched the A-Team, the truth is, we all can play the fool from time to time. So it is good that God’s Word gave us an entire book to warn against folly and encourage us toward godly wisdom. In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon lovingly pleads with his teenage son to walk in the way of wisdom. One of the best ways to guide us toward wisdom is to expose folly. Solomon describes the fool (or simple), the sluggard, the scoffer, and the wicked (or sinner) in similar ways: those whose life choices are governed more by self than the Lord and others. So when are we acting a fool according to God’s Word, and how can we turn from it?
- We’re being fools when we resist negative criticism and always assume we’re right (Proverbs 1:7; 5:12-13; 9:7-9; 10:1, 17; 12:1, 15, 16; 15:5, 20; 17:10, 21, 25; 18:2; 19:13; 26:5, 12; 29:9)
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (12:1).
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (12:15).
- We’re being fools when we ignore the clear warnings of God’s Word and other Christians (Proverbs 7:7ff; 10:23; 14:16; 15:21; 22:3)
“One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (14:16).
“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (22:3).
- We’re being fools when we are careless with our words (Proverbs 10:13-14, 19; 13:16; 14:3, 7; 15:2, 7, 14; 18:2, 6-7)
“Whoever restrains his lips has knowledge…even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent…a fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (17:27a, 28, 18:2).
“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul” (18:6-7).
- We’re being fools when we are easily annoyed (Proverbs 14:29; 17:27; 19:11; 20:3; 29:11)
“Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (14:29).
“He who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (17:27b).
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (29:11).
- We’re being fools when we return to our folly and don’t learn from it (Proverbs 26:11; 27:22)
“Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (26:11).
“Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him” (27:22).
How can we avoid being fools?
Keep the Gospel front and center
The Bible is pretty clear that becoming occurs through beholding. Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). There is nothing that will keep you humble and gracious like reflecting on Calvary. When you’re presently aware you’ve been given marvelous and unfathomable grace by the God who should have judged you, suddenly it is okay when others think you’re in the wrong. Years ago a prominent Christian man was being interviewed by a liberal news media reporter. The reporter criticized him for his biblical views and the Christian simply said, “Well, I’m a much more horrible person than even you think, but my hope is in the Gospel.” This remark surprised the reporter, who quickly shifted gears in the conversation. When we’re aware of the ugliness of our sins and keep holding ourselves up against the backdrop of God’s holiness, we’re able to more readily own our faults and repent of them. Our failure to behold the Great Exchange by our Great Substitute is why we play the fool.
Be diligent with the means of grace
James described God’s law as a mirror, so we must daily let Scripture show us our faults and help us look away from ourselves and look to Christ’s righteousness for us. Also, the more we pray, the more we’ll avoid folly. Struggle with your words? Pray with David, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Keep ignoring God’s warnings? Pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Also by maintaining corporate worship and close, open-hearted fellowship with our church family, we open ourselves up to more of God’s leading in our lives and are better able to avoid folly, or at least turn from it before we go too far into it.
Live Coram Deo
Those who loved R.C. Sproul will know this phrase as he often repeated it. Coram Deo means, “before the face of God.” We live all of life before God’s presence, but we often don’t live like it! This is what David meant when he wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1a). David was primarily warning against practical atheism. Christians can sometimes be practical atheists, denying by their lifestyle the doctrines they claim to believe. Brother Andrew was famous for saying we must, “Practice the presence of God.” In our fallen state, humans do not do this naturally. Even as believers, we live outside the garden, so we must constantly remind our hearts that, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).
Repent and believe…rinse and repeat!
The first of Martin Luther’s famous 95 Theses that sparked the Protestant Reformation was, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” I think Luther would probably say the entire life of believers should be one of faith as well. We don’t merely repent and believe at the start of our Christian life, but everyday we live as Christians. As we turn from our old manner of life and turn toward the Gospel and God’s will for our lives, we are then able to avoid folly and walk in wisdom. So let’s keep on repenting and keep on believing until our faith becomes sight.
May we all examine our hearts for folly and strive after the wisdom that pleases our great God.
Jesus declared in John 4:23-24 that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In my last article, I showed how using liturgy in worship enables us to worship in God “in truth,” as the language of the prayers and liturgy of the best Prayer Books in the Anglican tradition are steeped in and drawn from Scripture (click here for the full post). Let us now turn to the question of whether liturgy can facilitate worshipping God “in spirit.”
Much debate has occurred over what exactly Jesus meant by “in spirit and truth.” At a bare minimum, his charge implies that worship cannot simply be mental assent to things which are true, with no involvement of the heart. This type of heartless religious observance often characterized Israel’s worship of God; He had instructed them at Sinai as to the ins and outs of the sacrificial system, while calling them to love Him with their whole hearts. As time progressed, the sacrifices kept being offered physically, even long after the hearts of the Israelites had strayed to other gods. This empty worship earned them the rebuke of the prophets. Isaiah, for instance, critiqued the Israelites as a people who honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him (Isaiah 29:13).
The contention that liturgical worship leads to same place as Israelite worship is where many opponents of liturgical worship take their stand, as I myself once did. Such worship, they contend, results in a dead faith. It is not without reason that the nickname “the frozen chosen” has been put upon those within the Episcopal tradition! Reliance upon written prayers and pre-formed service orders can result in the mindless reading of prayers and creeds. This can be as true for the clergy as for the people, with nary a heart engaged in the proceedings. While this critique can be valid, it need not be so. To see a prescription for this malady, let us look at one point of revival in Israel’s history, found during the ministry of Ezra.
In Nehemiah 8, the people of God had returned to the land after being in exile, and were gathered together in Jerusalem. There Ezra read to them from the Torah. Nehemiah 8:8-9 recounts that after the reading, the Levites “helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” This text is often used as a reference to the role and importance of preaching, and rightly so! But consider also that a portion of the Law, Genesis-Deuteronomy, contains the liturgies for Israel’s worship of God. They heard the stories of Creation and Fall, God’s preserving Noah through the Flood, His choosing of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, His mighty deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and His preservation of His people through the wilderness. They heard also of all the moral laws given with the covenant at Sinai. And they heard about all of the different sacrifices and rituals they were commanded to offer up and partake in for their right worship of God. The explanation of the Levites would have needed to cover all these things. So, it was not just the explanation of doctrines and recounting of narrative, but a meaningful explanation of worship practices and liturgies as well.
Personally, I have found such explanations to be vital for worshipping God in a liturgical setting. As I have better understood the flow of the liturgy, the underlying purpose of each prayer and how each part flows together into the whole, it has greatly strengthened my heart’s personal engagement with liturgical worship. Understanding how the opening prayers and responses of a Holy Communion service, for example, repeatedly emphasize the need for the human heart to be shaped to desire God, His Word, and His ways, has helped me to pray with a heart that is engaged (for the full liturgy on this section, click here). The more I have learned the origins and purpose of each part of the liturgy, the more I am able to be engaged in worship in both spirit and in truth.
For the final, and more important corrective to dead ritual, let us return to John 4. Jesus’ words do not merely speak of engaging our hearts and minds in worship, but that above all our worship must be empowered by God’s Spirit. In regards to this text, Craig Keener notes that “only religion born from the Spirit, utterly dependent on God’s empowerment, can please God.”[i] Our hearts can only engage in true worship when they are enlivened by the Holy Spirit. After all, in John 15:5 Jesus said that apart from Him we can do nothing, which must include offering pleasing worship to God! Without the Spirit’s indwelling our prayers and praises, they are empty, regardless of their beauty and source. Education on the purposes, meaning, and flow of the liturgy is important, but it is useless without a lively faith and the Spirit’s movement.
Whenever you approach God in worship, I commend to you the following prayer, known as the Collect for Purity, which we use in our Holy Communion services at the very beginning of the service. Its words are beautiful, but more than this, it acknowledges our need for God to cleanse and direct our hearts and desires before we can offer Him true worship:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Help us, O Lord, to worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
[i] Keener, Craig. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Volume 1, 618.
In Reformed circles the emphasis of the worthiness of Christ and the utter unworthiness of man is heavy; rightly so. There is none worthy but the Worthy One, Jesus Christ the Righteous.
However, the Holy Spirit-inspired author of the letter to Christ’s Church at Ephesus had no reservations in calling those “in Christ” (see Ephesians 1-3) to live lives “worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). We may not be worthy but we have been called to live a worthy life. Often, the Holy Spirit commands those under the Headship of Christ, from the apostle’s pen, to this worthy walk:
Philippians 1:27 “…let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ…”
Colossians 1:10 “…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him…”
1 Thessalonians 2:12 “…walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory…”
But how? To know “what” is entirely different than “how.” God, in His grace, through Paul provides us with five “how’s” that are enough to keep us striving until our Gracious God finishes the work He began in us when He justified us by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. You can find the “how’s” in Ephesians 4:2-3, immediately following the call to “walk worthy” in 4:1.
With All Humility
Simply stated, humility is not thinking lowly of oneself but, as Christ demonstrated, the voluntary surrender of that which one is due. The King of Creation, the Son of God, did not count equality with the Father something He would require others to respond appropriately to. Instead, in humility, He served his enemies for their good and for His Father’s glory. Walk worthy, friend, in a voluntary surrendering of that which is due you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
With All Gentleness
Gentleness is the quality of character that walks in humility with the attitude of Christ. Absent the Humble Son of God was the passive-aggressive attitude that often comes with false-humility. One can, in the flesh, set aside what they are owed with an attitude that does not reflect the character of Christ, but gentleness is the character that serves at one’s own expense for the benefit of another lovingly. Jesus never surrendered the Truth but never begrudgingly paraded His humility to invoke a sense of guilt. As a the Great Shepherd, He gently served His Father by serving His sheep. Walk a worthy life of gentle service, in spite of personal expense, in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
With All Patience
Patience is also a quality of character that waits, full of faith, in the process(es) and timing of God’s Sovereign Will. It is easy to fall into thinking that our timing and our methods are clearly the best. However, a life worthy of the Lord is a life that waits on the Lord, the sovereignly Providential One. The Lord is patient with us as He works in and through us to accomplish His will; the one walking worthy of the Lord is reflecting that patience toward those people and circumstances the Lord brings in our paths.
Bearing with One Another
At first glance, this sounds a lot like patience. But this quality of character exemplifies patience in the face of adversity. Bearing with one another is “patience under attack.” Think of the Stephen as he was being stoned to death by those he was evangelizing. Remember, he asked the Lord to forgive them for doing what they did not understand, mirroring the Lord’s request of those who crucified their God. Walking worthy of the Gospel is a loving non-retaliation, in the face of offense, that your attacker might see Christ in you.
Eager Maintenance of the Unity of the Spirit
If ever there was work to be done, it is found here. The worthy life is one that is committed to the long-term, ongoing, upkeep of unity in the Body of Christ. This is no easy task. Put a group of sinful people together, even those redeemed, and what you’ll soon find is sin—shocking, I know. A worthy life is one that is rooted in maintaining peace among brothers and sisters in Christ. Walking worthy is bringing gossip to a halt; speaking highly of others who aren’t around; leading others to thinking highly of those in the Church; praising others work in the Lord instead of looking for miniscule specks of inconsistency of a poor choice of words theologically. Walk worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ and remind the brothers and sisters of peace of God, in Christ, and in His Church.
Even as I write today, I see much room for growth in my life which means much sin from which I need to repent. But as I see my sin, I cannot but see the extravagant grace of my Lord Jesus Christ. Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more!
Glory! Hallelujah! Jesus is worthy!
May we be found, at His coming, the same; walking worthy.
Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…”
Do you realize how startling this would have been to a Jewish audience? Jesus, in this one phrase, told Jews that it was ok to pay taxes to an idolatrous government with an idolatrous coin. This is more than just a clever answer saving Jesus from the trap set for Him. Many people think that in this phrase Jesus not only created but validated what we now call the separation of Church and State. I don’t disagree with that, I just think that there’s much more going on here than just the separation of Church and State. Not only is Jesus saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok, but by saying that paying taxes to Caesar is ok He is also saying that the Roman government is a legitimate government. You know what that means? A pagan government that rejects the one true God, according to Jesus, is a legitimate government.
This means, at least, two things.
First, Christians should be good citizens, and in order to be good citizens Christians are to give to the existing government what they are due. Government, according to the Bible is seen as a good thing ordained by God that Christians can and should be a part of while recognizing that it doesn’t have to be Christian in order to be good. So every government, pagan or Christian, reflects an innate authority based in God’s authority alone. Yet because of the fall of man in Genesis 3 we now know that all governments do not properly reflect authority, but rather tend to reflect the abuse of that authority. So even though authority is by nature a good thing, we recognize that not all authority is used for good. Within the words of Jesus here we find that even though all governments have been affected by the fall, rather than rejecting government and seeking to establish our own, we must work at government so that it more reflects proper justice and authority. This means Christians are to be law-abiding people, tax-paying people, and people who pray continually for those in working within governmental offices. This is how we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
Second, Christians are not only to be good citizens, but we’re to be globally good citizens. Think about it. Jesus could have required that those who follow Him to only obey and pay taxes to earthly governments that recognize and submit to the one true God, but He didn’t. Rather because Jesus taught a submission to and the legitimacy of the pagan Roman government, this becomes a principle that is to be followed by every Christian in every nation. Think of how it was in Old Testament: one people, one nation, one God. It was a theocracy, where all citizens were expected to follow and love God. Now, Jesus says, for His followers it’s no longer this way. His followers are no longer to be looking to build one nation or one earthly kingdom but are to be good citizens of the earthly governments we find ourselves under. Why? Jesus’ “Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Because of this no earthly kingdom should ever be identified with God’s people.
Here me loud and clear: Americans are not God’s chosen people. Modern Israelites are not God’s chosen people. Modern day Jamaicans are not God’s chosen people. No, God’s people are a global people. Redeemed men and women who do life in every nation, language, people, and tongue as good citizens showing forth the good character of God in whatever nation they happen to live in.
Now, Jesus could’ve stopped here in His answer and would’ve successfully navigated the crafty question meant to trap Him. But He continued to make another point clear. Not only should we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but the second half of His answer in v17 is, “…render to God the things that are God’s.”
Notice what Jesus is saying. The Denarius He was holding had an inscription on one side that said Caesar was the ‘son of divine Augustus’ which was meant to convey that Caesar was a god. This is also held up in other historical literature where we read the phrase ‘Caesar Kurios’ (Caesar is lord) was a common motto in first century Greco-Roman culture. By saying ‘give to God what is God’s’ Jesus is contradicting the coin He’s holding. The coin said Caesar was a god, yet Jesus clearly makes a distinction between Caesar and God, which ultimately means Caesar is not god. Because Caesar is not god, and God is God, the extent of a government’s authority and the extent of God’s authority are different. Governments really do have authority in the lives of their citizens, but their authority is not a universal authority. It has borders and boundaries. Whose authority is universal? Whose authority transcends all of man’s limitations? God’s. So Christians are to obey the government, but Christians are never to worship the government or its leader. Our duty to earthly governmental authority is limited, because we have a greater allegiance to God, and whenever we find these two authorities (of God and government) clashing, we go with God every time…no compromise. This means when the government commands us to do something that is morally wrong, we as Christians, are called to disobey those authorities and obey God instead because God’s holds a higher authority over us.
These things are played out for us in Acts 4. The authorities in place told the apostles not to speak or preach in the name of Jesus Christ and it was Peter and John who responded in Acts 4:19-20 saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” So in their example we see obedience to authorities but we see a greater obedience to God. A more modern example is found in Washington D.C. Capitol Hill Baptist Church is a historic church in Washington D.C. When they were founded in 1878 they labored to put Jesus’ teaching about government into their statement of faith, and this is what the came up with, “We believe civil government is of divine appointment, for the interest and good order of human society, and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed, except in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience and the Ruler of the kings of the earth.”
Today 138 years later they still hold to this paragraph. They did well, and we would do well to heed it still.
Before we finish note one final implication: because the ultimate allegiance of Christians belongs to God and no nation or government, it is therefore problematic to say that any one nation on earth is a Christian nation. For us, just because the principles of Christianity influenced the founders of our nation, and just because we have had some presidents who were Christians, this does not mean that most Americans are Christians, that most government employees are Christians, that the Christian worldview is the American worldview, or that one has to be an American to be a Christian. No, America is not God’s country. No earthly nation is God’s country. His country is our heavenly country that is already here but not yet fully here.
As Christians, we are dual citizens. We are citizens first and foremost of the city of God, and secondly we are citizens of the city of man. We enter into the city of God by faith in Christ’s work on our behalf, and we show our faith in Christ within the city of man by our good works done for our fellow man.
May those good gospel works flow forth into the politically chaotic 2020.
In reading the Bible ourselves and in hearing the Bible preached I think most Christians have grown far too accustomed to how Paul’s letters begin. Such that we don’t really pay attention to them any longer. In essence, we rush past these introductions to get to the content that really matters. This is something we must indeed stop doing. We must come to understand that we rob ourselves of great riches if we do this. Take Romans 1:1 as an example. You might think it’s just a general introduction from Paul to the Romans, that it isn’t very different from how he begins his other letters, and that there really isn’t anything we can learn from it. But a closer look at v1 shows us how Paul, from the very outset, is eager to teach the Romans. Teach them about what? We’ll let’s look into it to see.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…”
Remember, it’s likely that most of the Christians in Rome have heard of Paul but Paul has never met them or been to visit them, so he must introduce himself to them. See how he does it? As was common for letters in the first century Paul begins with his name, but he then does something unexpected. After telling them who he is, he immediately tells them Whose he is. “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.” Whatever else the Romans might learn about him, Paul is anxious to teach them this most important thing about himself. He’s anxious to introduce them to the one Person in his life that matters most, the one Person Paul cannot think of himself apart from, Jesus Christ. Paul could’ve easily said ‘Paul, eminent theologian, master of the Old Testament Scriptures, frontier missionary, gospel champion.’ But no, he says he’s a servant of Christ Jesus.
Don’t miss it. The very first thing he wants them to know about himself is that he belongs to Jesus.
This word ‘servant’ is key. The Greek word used here is doulos which is more rightly translated ‘slave.’ But you won’t find this is most English translations, because slavery in our modern world brings to mind such appalling things, most English translations avoid the word slavery and use servant or bondservant instead, which really ends up softening what Paul’s saying here. We’d do well to see this as it is. Paul doesn’t view himself as being a free man, no. He doesn’t come and go as he pleases, no. Christ is his Master and he is his Master’s possession. That’s the first thing he wants the Romans to know about him.
The second thing he wants them to know is that he has been called and set apart to be an apostle. This language of calling and setting apart is very similar to how God speaks of Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. Israel was and the Church has now been brought out from the rest of the world and made separate. But Paul also brings in the word apostle to clarify what he means in this. Paul uses this term in v1 to teach the Romans that he’s not a rogue figure out and about on his own mission, teaching his own ideas, trying to create his own religion. No, Paul is an apostle, a ‘sent one.’ One whose been chosen, called, selected to be an officially authorized representative of Christ along with Peter, James, John and the other apostles. Those hand selected 12 who were with Jesus and eyewitnesses of His resurrection. The Romans may have never met Paul, but they should certainly listen to Paul since he’s an apostle. Why? Because as an apostle, he’s writes with the full authority of Jesus Christ Himself.
The third and final thing he wants the Romans to know as he begins in v1 is that God called and set him apart as an apostle for a reason. See it? The gospel of God. Here we have the first mention of the word that will dominate this letter, gospel. Paul will soon say he isn’t ashamed of this gospel and then spend the rest of the book explaining both the contents of the gospel and how the gospel transforms our lives. But did you note how he says this in v1? Paul identified himself earlier as one who belongs to Jesus, so we could say Paul is Jesus’ Paul. Well, what gospel is this? What gospel has Paul been set apart for? Not Peter’s gospel. Not John’s gospel. No, God’s gospel. The gospel belongs to God!
Romans then, is a letter about God. How God acted to bring about salvation, how God’s justice can be preserved in that salvation, how God’s purposes are being worked out in history, and how God can be served by His people throughout all their lives.
You’ve now met the Apostle Paul. In posts to come I’ll introduce you to his message and his mission.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 1 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 32.
 Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 16–17.
 Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 38.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 41.
I am a Christian who worships within the Anglican church, a tradition which utilizes liturgy in our worship of God. My family is not from this tradition; I was raised in broadly evangelical churches, where any prayers came straight from the pastor’s heart to his lips, just as God intended! I had the firm conviction from attending a few Roman Catholic services with friends that such cookie-cutter worship resulted in deadly ritualism and idolatry. I would have laughed at you fifteen years ago if you told me that not only would I join a liturgical tradition, but would be a pastor in one. Yet here I am, and my views on the use of liturgy in worship have undergone a seismic shift due to an extensive exposure to liturgy and a helpful education on its benefits.
My aim is to provide a few articles regarding liturgical worship, both highlighting its strengths and providing some helpful cautions. Before you read any further, just know that I am not attempting to convert any of you to Anglicanism. I merely desire to help inform any anti-liturgical attitudes out there while providing some food for thought for those worshipping within liturgical communities.
Let me begin with a positive: the best liturgical traditions bring prayers into the life of the church which are immersed in the words of Scripture. In my experience, this is part of what people within these traditions refer to as the beauty of the liturgy, since at some level they recognize that the words are ones which have been given to the church by the Spirit through the Bible. This featuring of biblical language can be seen by looking through the prayer books in the Anglican tradition.
From the beginnings of the Protestant Church of England in the mid-1500s until the present day, Books of Common Prayer have been ever-present in the life of Anglican worship. Most prayers and elements of the liturgy are either pulled directly from Scripture (and some that are not are so steeped in biblical language that they sound as though they were!) or from the prayers of early Christian worshipping communities. The beauty in the liturgy, at its best, is that it places the words of the Bible onto the lips of believers both gathered and scattered, over time imprinting them upon their hearts and minds. Just consider the following suffrage (a series of intercessory prayers or petitions), taken from the Evening Prayer service of the 2019 ACNA Book of Common Prayer:
Officiant O Lord, show your mercy upon us;
People And grant us your salvation.
Officiant O Lord, guide those who govern us;
People And lead us in the way of justice and truth.
Officiant Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
People And let your people sing with joy.
Officiant O Lord, save your people;
People And bless your inheritance.
Officiant Give peace in our time, O Lord;
People And defend us by your mighty power.
Officiant Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
People Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Officiant Create in us clean hearts, O God;
People And take not your Holy Spirit from us.
For those who regularly read the Psalms, these intercessions should sound quite familiar. Many are direct quotes from Israel’s songbook, and all are sourced from ideas found therein. For comparison, read through the Psalms below (all taken from the ESV). Then read the suffrage above again. It is undeniable how the Word of God flows through the worship liturgies when viewing examples like these:
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:7)
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. (Psalm 67:4)
Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86:11)
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your saints shout for joy. (Psalm 132:9)
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever. (Psalm 28:9)
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29:11)
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power. (Psalm 106:8)
For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever. (Psalm 9:18)
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:10-11)
Such liturgical prayers, based in the Scriptures, facilitate corporate prayer in the church at least as well as any extemporaneous prayer from the heart of the pastor. One is (hopefully) guided by the Holy Spirit in the moment, the other sourced by the Spirit ages ago. Both are capable of leading God’s people in prayer.
While it is easy to see how the liturgy is grounded in Scripture, and thus in the truth of God’s Word, this is not the only biblical requirement of worship. When Jesus was discussing with the woman at the well the proper location for God’s people to gather in worship, He brought forth a dual-requirement for worship. In John 4:23-24 He declared that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jesus taught that the worship of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, is characterized by both truth and spirit. The engagement of the heart in worship is one of the necessary cautions for those within liturgical traditions. This will be the topic covered in the next article in this series. Until that time, my prayer is that in each of our churches, we would worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
Many of us, if not all of us, have heard the expression, “Home Field advantage”. I have been to several Rays and Red Sox games at Tropicana field in the past, and for a while there, there seemed to be just as many Red Sox fans (if not more) than there were Rays fans. It was more like little Feneway than it was Tropicana field. The Rays home field advantage seemed to be gone. They were at home, but they were not getting a lot of love.
Well, as we look at our Mark 6:1-6 we will see a similar scene. Jesus is at home, but He is not getting a lot of love:
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.
Notice in these verses that Jesus is in His hometown and He is teaching in the Synagogue. Up to this point in Mark there has been an emphasis on the teaching and preaching of Jesus. Everywhere Jesus goes He is preaching and teaching. If Jesus thought preaching and teaching was important (which He did), certainly we should think it is important also. It is through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word that we are brought to life spiritually and through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word that we grow spiritually.
We are told in v. 2 that “many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him?'” Those in attendance were impressed by Jesus’ mighty works and the miracles He had performed, yet despite His astonishing words and powerful works; despite the testimony of what He had done up to this point, those in attendance were not convinced of anything. In fact, they began to talk among themselves and say, in v. 3:”Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…?” And the end of v. 3 tells us that “they took offense at him.”
The people were profoundly offended by Jesus. They were essentially saying, “who does this guy think He is? We have seen Him grown up and we know His family and we know what He does for a living. He is no one special. So, who does He think He is that He can come in here with His fancy theology and tell us about God? That’s just Jesus, we’re not listening to this.” Therefore, His teachings were not thought to be credible and no one in his home town took Him seriously; the stuff went in one ear and out the other.
We can see Jesus’ response in v. 6, “he marveled because of their unbelief.” It is as if Jesus were saying, “Wow guys, here I am, God of the Universe, Savior of the world, right in front of you, yet you still do not believe.” The people in this passage were people who grew up with Jesus and were around Him and interacted with Him and yet they did not believe in Him, and in fact, they were offended by Him, and this should come as a warning to all of us. There are two warnings here that I want you to see:
1. Warning to Submit to Christ and His Word
Sometimes you and I, just like those in this passage, have a tendency to find God offensive, and we choose to ignore Him. Now you might be thinking, “If God were speaking directly to me, I would never ignore Him or take offense.” However, there may be verses in the Bible (God speaking directly to us) that you are ignoring and offended by even now.
If and when we become offended by God’s Word we may be tempted to ignore what we read and live as if we had never seen those verses. However, rather than finding offense, we should humble and submit ourselves to the truth of Scripture. I once heard it said, “When Scripture says something that we don’t like, the problem is not with the scripture, the problem is with us.” Pray that you would not take offense to the teaching of Christ, but that you would submit and obey His teaching.
2. Around Jesus Our Entire Lives Yet Failing to Recognize Him as Lord and Savior
The people in Mark 6 watched Jesus grow up around them.They heard His teaching and were aware of His miracles and yet they did not believe. We may grow up in Christian homes, go to Christian schools, and go to church our whole lives and yet still not be Christians. Association with Christianity does not make us Christian. Reading our Bible does not make us a Christian. Going to church does not make us a Christian. Having a Christian family does not make us Christian. We are Christians only when we trust in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our lives. It is only through faith alone in Christ alone that we are saved. As you are reading this you might ask yourself, “Do I truly trust in Christ as my Savior or have I just associated myself with Christianity, thinking I am Christian?”
It is an important question. There are those who have been around Jesus their whole lives and yet fail to recognize Him as Savior – don’t let that be you. Look to Jesus, and Jesus alone, as your only means of salvation. He alone can remove your sin and give you eternal life.
Pretty much everyone born before 2000 remembers the Gatorade commercials with Michael Jordan with the tag, “I wanna be like Mike.” Consisting of scenes of Jordan jumping and dunking, followed by kids and teens playing basketball, and then Jordan drinking Gatorade, the message was, “If you want to be like Mike, just drink gatorade.” This commercial was just one of a decades-long marketing strategy built upon this idea of imitation. For decades we’ve bought into the imitation marketing strategy hook, line, and sinker. I find it in my own life every time I think that buying this brand of golf balls will make me hit it like Tiger, or this brand of tennis racquet will make me play like Nadal. This desire to imitate others is a powerful thing.
The notion of imitation is also a robustly Biblical one. The question becomes, then, “What are we imitating? How are we imitating? Why are we imitating? And what do we expect as a result of our imitation?” We see repeated exhortations throughout the New Testament to imitate leaders of the church (1 Cor 4:16), other members of the community of faith (Phil 3:7), to imitate what is good (3 John 11), as well as to imitate God and Jesus Christ (Eph 5:1).
This idea of imitation has been on my mind recently as I’ve considered another passage of Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10. As I read and pondered this passage, I asked questions like, “What was it about their lives that made them worthy of imitation? What was Paul commending in their lives? And how do we learn from those things so that we, too, would live a life worth imitating?”
As you read that passage, you’ll find 4 things that specifically made their lives worthy of imitation, and 4 things that I believe you and I should pursue as well — They were joyfully persevering, Gospel-spreading, God-serving, and Christ-awaiting.
First, we see that they were joyfully persevering. These Thessalonian believers were imitating their spiritual fathers and their Lord Jesus by joyfully persevering through various trials and tribulations. Their spiritual mentors had been forcefully led out of the city. Presumably they themselves were facing afflictions because of their newfound faith in Jesus. It would be tempting for them to give up and take the easy path. But Paul says that they persevered with the joy of the Holy Spirit, thus becoming an example to all the believers in the surrounding area. As you think about your own life, if your life marked by the same joyful perseverance in the midst of hardships, persecution, or trials?
Second, we see that they were Gospel-spreading. Having received the good news of what Jesus has done to reconcile sinners with the Father, the Thessalonian Christians had no thought of keeping it to themselves. Rather, by word and by life they made it known to others. The same must be true for you and me. As we consider the Gospel and the change that Jesus makes in our lives, we must be willing to verbally share that good news and what that means for sinners and sufferers all around us, and we must also see an active faith in our lives, where those who see our lives see evidence of the change that the Gospel has made. Our decision-making, our parenting, our entertainment, or use of finances, our allocation of time, and much more are indispensable aspects of our evangelism. We must be willing to speak the Gospel with our lips as well as demonstrate the power of the Gospel in our changed lives — to the glory of the Father, in submission to King Jesus, and by the power of the Spirit.
Third, we see that they were God-serving. In verse 9 we see that they took the radical step of abandoning those gods that were part of the worship of their family and their community and they gave their full, whole-hearted allegiance to the Triune God of the Bible. As you consider your life and what others would say as they observe your life, do you have a reputation for being radically converted to God and his ways, forsaking the idols of our generation in clear, resolute, and decisive ways? Do you exhibit to those who know you a clear rejection of worldly values and a deliberate commitment to the service of God?
And finally, we see that they were Christ-awaiting. In v.10 we read that they were known as men and women who “wait for His son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Is it evident to others that you are depending on a power that is not of this earth, but comes from heaven through your faith in Christ? Does your lifestyle give you the reputation as someone whose treasure is most truly in the world to come, so that your thoughts, passions, and longings are directed toward Christ?
For good or bad, each of our lives are an example to others one way or the other. We remind our five year old son of this all the time. Whether good or bad, he as a big brother is always being an example to his little two year old sister. She’s going to repeat what he says. She’s going to act like he acts. She’s going to respond like he responds. You are, we tell him, her big brother, and she’s taking her cues from watching what you do and how you handle things. The challenge and goal is to be a good example rather than a bad one.
The same is true for each and every one of us. If you claim to be a Christian, you are an example to others around you as to what a Christian is and how a Christian should behave. The question for you is, “Are you being a good example? Is your life worthy of imitation?” Can you tell others, “Look at me. But the grace of God, through the work of the Spirit in my life, follow me as I follow Christ?” May God, by His Spirit, work in each of us to be joyfully persevering, Gospel-spreading, God-serving, and Christ awaiting — and thus pursue a life worth imitating!
Do you pray for your church? We all would love to see our churches grow in number and spiritual fruitfulness, but do we actually pray for this? As the Apostle James put it so clearly, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2b). The next question is, how should we pray for our church? For what should we pray? Surely it is not enough to merely pray for one another’s physical needs or the constantly changing conditions they encounter. If we have taken the time to get to know one another’s struggles and discouragements, we can have much more informed prayers for each family in the body. At the same time, we can never improve on biblical prayers. Thankfully, the Bible is full of rich prayers. We’ve probably all found deep, personal comfort praying with David in the Psalms, but where can we go for prayers of intercession? We have a treasure trove of models for intercessory prayer in the New Testament. In his book Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Don Carson helpfully provides a number of biblical prayers we can use when praying for our church. Inspired by Carson’s book, here are some biblical prayers to use when interceding for your church family. So go grab your church directory and join with me in praying these over the families of your local congregation.
- Pray God shows them the hope to which He has called them
“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” -Ephesians 1:15-21
- Pray God empowers them to grasp the depths of Christ’s love for them
Ephesians 3:14-21 states, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
- Pray their love abounds and they bear the fruit of righteousness to the end
Philippians 1:9-11 states, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
- Pray they have power to know and do God’s will for the long haul
Colossians 1:9-12 states, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
- Pray they increase in love for the church and the world
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 states, “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
- Pray God makes them worthy of His calling
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 states, “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Pray their fellowship in the body is effective
Philemon 1:4-6 states, “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.”
- Pray God equips them to do His will
Hebrews 13:20-21 states, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
May we regularly cycle through these and many other biblical prayers as we intercede for one another on the way to glory.
*Another helpful resource in this regard is Donald Whitney’s Praying the Bible.
Our church has experienced a wonderful revitalization over the past few years. By God’s grace, we have endeavored to become a more Word-centered, gospel-driven, and Christ-exalting church, seeking to always be reformed according to Scripture. One of the more recent subjects we addressed was concerning our Lord’s Day worship and children’s ministry programming. Formerly, children were dismissed part way through the service for Kids Church. Now, rather than being dismissed along with the toddlers (ages 2-3) and preschoolers (ages 4-5), our elementary students (grades 1-5) continue to participate in the worship service with the rest of the congregation.
There is obviously a tremendous benefit in age-specific education. In fact, our toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary students currently use The Gospel Project curriculum either during the Sunday Classes hour or during the Kids Church portion of our Sunday morning service. We want them to be working through the Scriptures, seeing Jesus on every page, and becoming fluent in the gospel. However, there are several reasons that compelled us to keep our elementary students in the worship gathering for its entirety.
The Pattern and Power of Scripture
First, the pattern of Scripture supports keeping kids in the service. In the Old Testament, it appears that children were included in the corporate worship of the covenant community to hear the word of the Lord (Ex. 12:24-27; Deut. 31:9-13; Josh. 8:30-35; Neh. 8:1-8ff.; 12:43). The reason? Deuteronomy 31:12: “…that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law.”
Second, in the letters written to the Ephesian and Colossian churches, Paul directly addresses wives and husbands, parents and children, bondservants and masters (Eph. 6:1-9; Col. 3:18-4:2). This suggests that children were present in the congregations where these letters were being read (cf. Col. 4:16)!
Third, if we truly believe that God’s Word is living and active, that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, that the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring illumination, conviction, and repentance, then we must pray that the Word of God will reach the hearts of our children in ways that they may not even recognize. In Acts 2:39 Peter proclaims that the promise of forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, “is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Yes, they may be thinking, reasoning, speaking, and acting like children; but as Albert Mohler reminds us, “the Word of God can reach where we cannot go.”
The Formative Power of the Worship Service
Parents are to be the primary disciple-makers of their children (Deut. 6:4-9; Ps. 78:5-7; Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4). The corporate worship service—where God’s word is publicly read, sung, prayed, preached, and seen in the sacraments—is a powerful and formative tool for discipling our children. Part of how kids learn is through observation and imitation. Sitting through a worship service teaches them how to worship by listening to God’s Word read and preached. The content of the prayers, songs, sermon also gives parents an opportunity to teach their children; they can help them follow along, and afterwards ask questions and explain things to them.
Parents have the great responsibility (and opportunity!) to teach to their children, by their own example, the meaning and value of worship—not just personal but corporate. If we don’t value and prioritize the local church, we shouldn’t be surprised if our kids don’t either.
John Piper explains: “The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is parents who don’t cherish doing that worship, [who] don’t love it. Children can feel the difference between duty and delight. They know if dad [or mom or grandma] loves being here. The aim is that the children catch the passion for worshiping God by watching mom and dad enjoy God week after week.”
Our kids should want to be in church in part because they see that their parents want to be there. Imagine the cumulative effect on a child who sees his parents praying fervently, confessing their sins, singing joyfully, reading the Word reverently, listening to the sermon intently, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper week after week, year after year!
Raising Generations Today
Children also benefit from being in the presence of Christians of various ages because they are able to see that the faith of their parents is not a faith that they own alone; they see a faith that is important to all of these people who are gathered around them on Sunday morning. Keeping kids in the worship service helps cultivate inter-generational discipleship. When our children see this incredible gathering of people reading the Word, praying, confessing, and singing together it reinforces what mom and dad are modeling and teaching at home. It gives them a taste of the eternal—God’s saints celebrating him together.
One pastor writes: “[They] must see, know, and learn that the singing of the great hymns of the faith, the preaching of the Word, reading of confessions, corporate prayers, etc. is anything but boring. It is the gathered life of the community of faith. It is our weekly rhythm—appointed by God, designed by Him, established for the ages—this is what we want them to know, because we want them to know and worship Him.”
If our children grow up totally separated from the church of their parents and grandparents, in their own “church” which constantly caters to their age, desires, and interests, it shouldn’t surprise us to see these children grow up feeling disconnected from church, bored with church, and ill-equipped to become active members of a church when they are on their own. We want our kids to know that church is for them as well.
Parents, Prepare Your Children for Worship
Much of the success of this change depends on the parents. Despite common objections, there are several things a parent can do to help prepare their children for corporate worship on Sunday Morning. Noël Piper and Jeremy Walker have both written excellent practical suggestions for helping your kids sit through “big church.” These include:
- Worship with your family throughout the week. Set aside time during the week to sing, pray, read the Scriptures. Family worship not only helps you disciple your children, but it also helps Sunday morning corporate worship to not be such a shock to their systems.
- Start preparing Saturday night. Ensure that your family gets plenty of rest the night before in order to have enough time Sunday morning to prepare and arrive on time for church.
- Arrive early enough to get drinks, use the bathroom, and accomplish other tasks before the service. This can help to limit the amount of trips in and out of the sanctuary.
- Worship with your children. Encourage them to read along, sing along, take notes, listen carefully. Helping them learn at a young age to listen well, sit still, and pay attention will serve them far beyond two hours on a Sunday morning.
- If necessary, provide them with “quiet” activities, such as crayons or pencils for drawing or coloring. Our church makes these items available for parents to borrow, along with a kid-friendly paper designed for taking notes throughout the service.
Let the Children Come
The most common objection, of course, is: “They won’t understand the sermon! It’ll be over their heads!” But listen to how Piper excellently responds to this sentiment: “Of course, it is over their head. It is supposed to be over their head! They are beginners. The English language is over their head as soon as they come out of the womb. But we don’t say: Well, let’s put them with other children in their own situations and limitations so they can understand a word or two. No. We immerse them in the English language every day—that they don’t understand 90% of—in the hope and expectation that they grow up into joyful use of the English language. Long before children understand fully what is going on in worship and what is sung and what is said, they are absorbing tremendous amounts of what is valuable.”
This transition hasn’t been an easy one for our families. It has taken much work and patience. But we strongly believe that the long-term benefits outweigh the additional noise and fidgeting. Children are a blessing from God and a gift to the church. Yes, it’s a noisy gift; it’s a squirming and fidgeting gift; it’s a messy gift; but it is a beautiful gift. Children are serve as a visual reminder of those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. Our Lord welcomed them with open arms, and we should do likewise.
Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Today we chat with one of our long running contributors Matthew Noble.
Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?
Matt: My name is Matt Noble. I was born in Peterborough, New Hampshire, but grew up in Wesley Chapel, FL. Currently I live in Land O’ Lakes, FL with my amazing wife, Rachel, and our awesome son, Levi. I am a huge sports enthusiast, and I enjoy spending time with family and friends. By God’s grace I was born into a Christian family, raised in the church and saved at a young age. In my early 20’s I was called into ministry and I have been serving Christ and His church since.
Andrew: What church do you serve?
Matt:I am an elder at Cornerstone Community Church of Pasco, a Southern Baptist Church in the Reformed tradition. I serve as Pastor of Student Ministry. I have been on staff since 2017 and I am very grateful that God has called me to this community of believers.
Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?
Matt:I desire that there would be genuine growth both spiritual and numerical in the church for God’s glory. I want to see believers equipped and strengthened and I want to see unbelievers come to a saving faith in Christ.
Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?
Matt:When you can see the fruit of God’s Word blossoming in someone’s life. Seeing them eager to be at church, eager to read God’s Word, eager to share Jesus with others. That brings joy to my heart.
Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?
Matt: Time restraints. Being able to properly prioritize family, ministry, and a full-time job.
Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?
Matt: Being faithful where God has called you. In the little things or in the big things being faithful to serve Christ and His church.
Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.
Matt:I have dislocated both pinkies on separate occasions while playing football.
Andrew: Random concluding question: if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would you rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?
Matt: I am not sure I understand the question? Is that Star Wars? But the answer is always John Piper.