Kanye & Christianity

Just for the record, I know absolutely nothing about Kanye West except for some headlines from news sites over the last 15 years that made glad I knew nothing about Kanye West. I took the recent headlines about Kanye “finding Christ” with the same attitude.

But…I couldn’t resist. I clicked and got sucked into that vortex where time stands still, the Internet, and before I knew it, I was watching Kim Kardashian on the View. (These are all words I never even dreamed I would be saying/writing/thinking…)

If you know me at all (I know, most of you don’t), you are probably as surprised at reading this as I am writing it…Me, Kanye, Christian, Watching the View, and anything Kim Kardashian don’t fit in the same sentence.

I’m a 40 year old pastor in a farming community of 200 in the middle of a rural county in Illinois with the population of a little over 13,000. What do I know about Kanye, Kim Kardashian, the View, Hip-hop, or celebrity culture? Nothing.

But I do know Jesus Christ. I know Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying preaching. And this is exactly what fell on my overwhelmingly surprised ears as I listened to the message that was preached at Kanye’s “Sunday Service” in Detroit on Sept. 30. To be honest, I prefer a different style of preaching. I prefer more Scripture. I prefer solid, exegetical, sequential expositional preaching that engages the intellect and the heart. I prefer John MacArthur, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Steven Lawson, and others like them. I prefer to read old, dead, Puritanesk, Reformed theologians that make much of Christ and lead me into worship as I reflect upon the glories of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But that’s not how Dr. Adam Tyson, professor of Biblical Counseling at Master’s Seminary, did it.

Pastor Adam just preached the Gospel (“just”); simply, profoundly, and completely. The Gospel.

Praise God! I took these quotes from foxnews.com (https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/kanye-west-sunday-service-california-pastor) before I watched him deliver the Gospel:

“My message is that God is holy, but we are all sinners and therefore deserve God’s judgment. God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and was raised from the dead on the third day. The good news is that through repentance of your sin and faith in the risen Christ you can have true joy and happiness which is found only in Jesus.”

“It feels like half the crowd comes because they are Kanye fans, but we want them to leave knowing Jesus Christ,” Tyson said. “We want them to know that there is something better than what the world offers. The answer is found in Jesus, in knowing Him, loving Him, and walking in obedience to Him.”

You may be as skeptical as I was (am) about what’s going on with “Sunday Service” and Kanye, but take 12 minutes out of your day and listen to Pastor Adam for yourself. You can click the link above and being listening at 35:15 and he finishes his Gospel presentation at the 47:35 mark.

Pastor Adam’s (a local church pastor in LA who has been leading Kanye in Bible study) faithful proclamation of the Gospel includes both Law & Gospel, both faith & repentance, and it all hinges upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Praise God!

Has Kanye West been regenerated? Is he a joint-heir with Jesus? Is he genuinely converted or is this all just a publicity stunt? I don’t know; I sure hope so! Kanye is waaaaaaaay outside of my circle of influence and I’m not writing or rejoicing in Kanye. I’m rejoicing in the fact that “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16) is being faithfully proclaimed in the moment and countless thousands, maybe millions, of people are hearing it like I did on the internet; to the praise of God’s glory!

Indeed, God is redeeming a people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” and as it appears, he’s using Kanye West to do it. Again, words I never even dreamed of stringing together in a coherent sentence but here we are and God has done it.

I know absolutely nothing about Kanye, his heart, his motives, his marriage, his family, his faith, or his “Sunday Service” but I know that “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).

…all things…

“To be clear, that tub was purchased to hold water balloons.”

That’s what one of our elders told me in a group text the day before we were to hold our first baptism service in quite a long time. I had casually mentioned months prior that I would be happy to “rinse out the baptism tub and get everything ready.” I had assumed that was the reason we owned a largish sturdy plastic tub stored upside down in our church back yard. I suppose the elders just didn’t have the heart to tell me that the tub was meant for holding several hundred rounds of Methodist baptism ammo, rather than a tank in which to freestyle-baptize a few folks on a Sunday. But, there I stood, about to baptize a husband, wife, and son, an awesome dude whose wife had been praying for him for years, and my 12 yr old son. And here’s Jesus, using a water balloon tank to show the Universe that he can use anything.

This is what Jesus does. He uses the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong.

Up until about a year ago, I felt a bit like an overturned water trough in the backyard of the Church. I had spent my entire adult life serving in youth groups and pulpits only to find myself sanding drywall and painting baseboards. I knew from about age five that I was called to be a preacher, so, where was the pulpit? What had I done wrong? Had my calling run its course? At 40 years old, was I all poured out and washed up? Then out of what seemed to be nowhere; a tip on Facebook, “My brother’s church needs a pastor.” A text message. A return phone call. Another call. Another call. And then here I am, 52 weeks later, baptizing adopted sons and daughters of God in front of a congregation that has entrusted me with the honor of shepherding them.

How can I express this truth in a way that doesn’t sound like the lamest of well- trodden cliches? Let me try…

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

THERE we go. That’s nicely put. Oh, but wait… did you know that 1 Corinthians chapter 2 ALSO has a verse 10!?

“These things God HAS revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

See what the Bible just did there? The Bible just said that for the believer, for those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, those “unseeable” “un-hearable” and “unimaginable” things HAVE been shown, told, and imagined. It should have come as NO great shock to me that the Lord could rinse me out, fill me up, and use me for great things.

But, what would have happened if Jesus had never shaken the drywall dust off my sandals and walked me into a pulpit? Would he still be good? Would he still be able to do great things through me? Would I still be a part of his awesome preordained plan? Can He use a handyman as well as a preacher man? Can he use all things or just some things? Well, I think you know where I’m going with this…

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

If you’ve ever sipped from a coffee mug from an out-of-business Christian bookstore then you’re familiar with that verse. The tricky part of that passage is that pesky word ‘all.’ In its original language, it meant ‘total’ or ‘entire’ or ‘everything’ or ‘excluding nothing’ or ‘the universe.’ See what I mean? The word ‘all’ is a giant pile of screaming greased pigs – very hard to get around and impossible to ignore. We either believe that God uses all things or we do not. The middle ground is not given to us. Is there a situation or entity in all of creation that is outside the reach of God’s right or ability to use? Is there a person, place, or thing that can tell God ‘no thanks, I’m good, I’d rather not be used according to your purpose? Class? Anyone? Anyone? Jonah? Great fish? Donkey’s Balaam? The answer is no, obviously. Unless of course, you’re a discouraged out-of-the-pulpit preacher scrambling to pay the bills as a handyman, or a once-used and long-forgotten tub for water balloons. In that case, you would be WAY out of God’s reach.

Our discouragement comes from failing to see what we thought 1 Corinthians 2:9 told us was unseeable. We fail to see, by the power of the Holy Spirit and an anchor of Biblical truth, that our circumstances, our heartache, our mistakes, our every moment of every day, is a part of the ‘all things’ that God is going to work together for His glory and our good. But, here’s the key, we have to desire God’s greater glory over our better circumstances, and choose greater joy over immediate happiness. You have to be willing to see past circumstances and feelings and see God’s greater purpose for everything. 

Holy Spirit, give us the eyes to see your working in all things.

Let me leave you with a poem. Yeah, I know, how 80’s preacher of me.

“Just, a Poem of All Things”

I’m just clay on the bank of a river,
Now I lay in the corner of a workshop.
Spinning on a wheel,
My discontentment is dizzying.
Pressed, and pulled, and stretched, and formed.
Do I have no say in what I become?
Just a bowl?
Fired in a kiln and sealed with glaze.
After all that… I’m just a bowl?
Placed in an upper room and forgotten.
Just, a bowl.
Filled by a carpenter? I should have been used by a King!

Poured out to rinse the dust of fisherman’s feet?
I wanted to be important.
But no,
Just a bowl.

All glory be to Christ, Tommy Shelton

Who is Sufficient For These Things?

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul speaks about how gospel ministry spreads the fragrance of Christ. This fragrance is either an aroma of life or it is an aroma of death. This is quite a visual that the apostle presents before us. He then asks a question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Recently, this passage and that question have pierced my heart. This is a season of pastoral ministry where I am acutely aware of my insufficiencies as a pastor. In the life of our church, we have seen a dear sister diagnosed with cancer, relationships in need of biblical counsel, and various physical/spiritual needs in the body. Who is sufficient for these things? I am not. Thankfully, this is the posture a pastor needs to be in. For when we confess our insufficiency, we are brought to remember what is sufficient for such trials in the life of a church. The Lord graciously brings back to my remembrance what I am to lean upon daily in the face of my insufficiency. I want to call your attention to see the sufficiency of the Shepherd, the Spirit, and the Scriptures.

The Sufficiency of the Shepherd   

In shepherding, pastors feel often overwhelmed with the responsibilities and burdens they feel in caring for the flock of Christ. This needs to drive us to see our dependency upon the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 23 must be a text that comes to our hearts over and over! He is our Shepherd! He purchased us with His own blood! He brings us to His table and calls for pastors to come and dine. Pastor, you must not be one who only thinks about the gospel when he is in the pulpit. For your own soul, you need to return over and over to the precious truths of gospel of grace in Christ. Meditate over Ephesians 1 and see how by union with Christ, you know election, adoption, redemption, holiness, and an eternal inheritance. The work of the Shepherd is not only sufficient for your conversion but for every part of your life and ministry. Brother pastor, your labor is not in vain! After giving instructions on how to shepherd, Peter writes these words, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) Rest in that promise that while you are not the perfect shepherd, you are trusting in the One who is and pointing your people to Him! The Good Shepherd is sufficient not only for justification but for every need in the life of your congregation! He is sufficient for your own heart and soul! Behold again the beauty of the Shepherd!

The Sufficiency of the Spirit

In shepherding, there are many problems and we want to fix all of them. It is our tendency to see an issue, a conflict, or a tense situation before us and immediately begin to think about how we can resolve it and overcome every obstacle. Yet, so much is before us that is way beyond us and our abilities. When someone is diagnosed with a terminal condition, we do not have the capacity to heal. When someone continues in unrepentant sin and rejecting the gospel, we cannot change their hearts and make them new. This drives us to depend upon the work of the Spirit of God. Do you rest in the sufficiency of the Spirit? The Spirit brings real change and brings real comfort. As Jesus describes the work and ministry of the Spirit in John 14-16, our hearts need to bow and submit to His power and authority. This is not a passive path that the pastor takes in depending upon the sufficiency of the Spirit. It is a great comfort because you will be driven into the ground and despondent if you think that you are capable and sufficient to change all of the people and circumstances that exist in your local church. The Chief Shepherd put you there as His man. He gave you the Spirit who will bring forth fruit in due season. Yes, you are insufficient to change that man or woman. Yes, the Spirit is fully sufficient and able to raise the dead in sin to life in Christ! He is the source of our strength to persevere!

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures

“Preach the Word.” The mandate is clear and plain. Do you believe that the Scriptures are sufficient and meet the needs of your people? No, I am not talking about a mere biblicism that just goes looking for a proof text and treats the Bible as a collection of sayings and clichés. I am talking about the commitment to the beauty and flow of redemptive promise and accomplishment found from Genesis to Revelation. What will you give yourself to as the pastor serving your flock? The Scriptures point to the Shepherd and were written by the Spirit. What will you bring to your people week in and week out? You might confess that you believe in the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. However, if you are not committed to sequential exposition that is rooted in the centrality of Christ, your view of the Bible might not be more than lip service. Give your people the Word.

Conclusion

I say none of these things as one that perfectly relies upon the sufficiency of the Shepherd, the Spirit, and the Scriptures. I confess that there have been moments lately where I felt real fear in seeking to process how I would navigate through the waters of trials and tests in the life of our church. The question “Is it worth it?” can creep around in the deep recesses of the heart. I can tell you that it does. A lady in our church recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer thanked me and my fellow elder this past Sunday. What was she thanking us for? She thanked us for preparing her for this trial due to our commitment to the ordinary means of grace. By biblical exposition, seeing the gospel as connected to every part of life, and rejoicing in the Spirit connecting us as a church family, she felt an inner peace and joy in the face of this trial. Those words brought me back to the question Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Certainly, Jake Stone is not. I rejoice to know that there is One who is!

Aslan Singing Creation Into Being

Though The Magician’s Nephew in the Narnian mythology is filled to the brim with biblical images and fantastical stories, the most astounding theological encounter in this book occurs when the reader watches (or hears) Aslan create Narnia.

This scene begins in the end of chapter 8 and comes to completion at the end of chapter 9.  The scene is breathtaking to read:

In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing…it seemed to come from all directions at once…Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful Digory could hardly bear it.[1]

After this scene those present looked above them and saw the blackness filled with stars, and each of them were singing as well. But the voice of the stars grew fainter as the voice of the One singing drew near. Wind came rushing, the blackness of the sky turned to grey, hills began to stand up around them, the sky changed to pink and then to a brilliant gold, and as soon as the voice swelled to the mightiest sound it could produce the sun rose over the hills.

From the sun’s light they all could see the source of the singing, a large, golden lion standing in the middle of the valley.

At this moment we read that two distinct reactions occurred from seeing the lion. Some of the party present loved this singing so much they could remain before it for an eternity listening to its pleasure. Others though, the Witch and Uncle Andrew, could barely stand to be before it and seemed as if they only wanted to run and hide in a hole in the ground to get away from it. The song began to change after this and the lion began walking toward the party standing there. With each step the singing lion took with its large paws trees and mountains and animals and rivers and flowers and all sorts of lovely things were bursting forth into existence, until finally, all was created. Narnia had been created by the voice of the lion. Aslan stood in the center of a circle created by the all the animals he had just made, and he said to them, “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”[2]

This scene is clearly theological and clearly very Biblically based and therefore helpful to anyone reading it.

This is the creation story. This is Genesis 1, for Narnia, and just as Narnia came into being by the voice of the powerful lion, so too the earth, the universe, and all they contain came into being by the voice of God Almighty (Genesis 1:1-2). Aslan’s voice described here shows itself to be strong and to be powerful, almost in Psalm 29 like fashion when the voice of the Lord is so powerful that it can snap the cedars of Lebanon in two as if they were mere twigs. Lewis clearly gives an ex nihilo creation, a creation out of nothing that can only be done by God and no one else. Louis Berkhof describes it like this, “While Greek philosophy sought the explanation of the world in a dualism; which involves the eternity of matter, or in a process of emanation, which makes the world the outward manifestation of God, the Christian Church from the very beginning taught the doctrine of creation ex nihilo and as a free act of God.”[3] This free act of God is later defined by Berkhof as “the act of God whereby He, according to His sovereign will and for His own glory, in the beginning brought forth the whole visible and invisible universe, without the use of pre-existent material, and thus gave it an existence, distinct from His own and yet always dependent on Him.”[4]

Lewis probably had in mind here the truth that creation was accomplished, not by the Father alone, but through the Word of God (John 1:1), by the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Trinity is in view. The Father would be represented by Aslan Himself, the Word of God is evident in this Narnian story with creation coming into being by the singing “voice” of Aslan, whereas the Spirit of God is evidently present in the rushing wind (the Hebrew word for Spirit is present in Gen. 1, and can also be translated as wind or breath) at the time of the act of creation. This is a biblical creation account clearly depicting the ex nihilo creation which is distinct from and dependent on God for its existence. It clearly shows this as a free act of God, which shows His strength over the devil’s (the Witch hated that Aslan’s power was older and stronger than hers), by the Word of God, and by the Spirit of God.

If we were to be sticklers (and we ought to be sometimes) we would now search for evidence of Aslan creating Narnia for His own glory. And though this element is not explicit perhaps it is implicit within the narrative itself. All creatures come to Aslan and obey His voice after there made don’t they? Whether or not this element is clearly stated, all present within the story know who received, and who still should receive, the glory for creating Narnia – Aslan.

Lesson? Narnia is wonderful and you should breath its air deeply and often. Here Lewis wonderfully displays the full biblical, and therefore helpful not hurtful, account of creation here in The Magician’s Nephew.


[1] Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001, page 62.

[2] Lewis, 70.

[3] Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996, page 126.

[4] Berkhof, 129.

Who Has the Final Say?

When it comes to your beliefs, morals, and practices who has the final say?  There are at least three choices – your heart, the culture, or God.  If we are Christians, we may instinctively say, “God” of course.  But your life and actions will reveal the true source of your standards.

YOUR HEART

We’ve all heard “be true to yourself,” “follow you heart,” “do what feels right to you,” “do what makes you happy.”  These are all well-intentioned sayings, but if we truly did was what “right” to our hearts, the results could have major consequences.  Jeremiah 17:9 says “the heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked, who can know it.”  Our hearts are prone to wonder.  Our hearts can deceive us.  Our hearts can mislead us.

Your heart cannot have the final say regarding beliefs, morals, and practices.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6

CULTURE

Sometimes it’s easy to look at popular public opinion, political views, or celebrity endorsements to see the moral landscape of our cultural.  It’s easy to understand and accept these viewpoints as we are always inundated by them.  It’s easy to go along with what our friends believe, what our family thinks, what our peers suggest.  When we let the culture have the final say on what to believe or practice, we will find that our beliefs and practices will constantly be changing because there is no grounding, no truth, no standard on which these belief systems are based off upon.

Our culture cannot have the final say regarding beliefs, morals, and practices.

“See to it that no one takes you capture by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”  Colossians 2:8

GOD’S WORD

The Word of God is our standard for truth, morality, and beliefs.  There is no other standard outside of God and His Word.  When we disagree with what the Word of God says, the problem is always with us – our hearts, our culture.  There is an ultimate standard for truth, and it’s found in God’s Word.  If you want to know what to believe or how to live, you shouldn’t look to the world, but to God’s Word.  This can only happen through regularly immersing ourselves in God’s Word.  This takes effort.  You will not drift into a biblical worldview, you must pursue it by reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word, meeting together with other believers, and sitting under the preaching of God’s Word.  We cannot spend our time reading the opinions of others and being engrossed in what our culture tells us and then expect a biblical worldview to happen because we claim Christianity.  God’s Word needs to be in our minds daily as we battle though all the other truth claims that our world or our own hearts may throw our way.

God’s Word has the final say regarding beliefs, morals, and practices.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

“Your word is truth.” John 17:17b

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16

True Complementarianism

When it comes to the roles of men and women in the home and in the church, there are two broad positions: egalitarian and complementarian.

Egalitarians hold that male and female are equal both as persons made in God’s image and in function or role. The idea that men are to lead in the home and the church, and that women are to submit to their leadership, is actually the result of the Fall. In Christ, “full male/female equality is restored, dignity is given back to women, and servant attitudes are called for in men and women alike.”1

Complementarians hold that male and female are equal as persons who bear God’s image, but have complementary roles designed by God. The different functions to which men and women have been called are part of God’s good created order, though the Fall has introduced strife in our relationships in the home and the church. In Christ, these roles are not abolished but restored.

What follows is a brief overview and defense of the complementarian position. Misconceptions and stereotypes concerning gender roles abound in the church at large today. Many Christians are challenging what the Bible teaches regarding biblical manhood and womanhood, while others aren’t even sure what to think at all. I am convinced by Scripture that the distinction between masculine and feminine roles is God’s gift to mankind, and that they are to be preserved and practiced for his glory and our joy.

Made in the Image of God

From the very outset of Scripture, we read that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Mankind was created by God with dual sexuality: we are male and female (see Gen. 2:7-25). Because we have been made in God’s image, bearing his likeness and able to reflect his righteous character, men and women are therefore equal in essence, value, and dignity, and worthy of mutual respect. Men and women stand equal before God as persons, yet are distinct in their manhood and womanhood.2

Moreover, not only are men and women equal before God creation, but they are also “fellow-heirs in the Christian life, equal in their spiritual standing before God.”3 The apostle Paul explains that in Christ Jesus, we are all “sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:26-29).

Distinctions between ethnicity, social standing, and gender have no bearing on our standing before God, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Through faith, we are all sinners saved by grace. Both male and female are sons of God, united to Christ by the Spirit, clothed with Christ, and belong to Christ. As we’ve said before, the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

Complementarianism begins here, with the affirmation of male-female equality as regards creation and redemption. But why did God make man as male and female? Why these two genders? Ray Ortlund helps point us in the right direction when he writes: “The very fact that God created human beings in the dual modality of male and female cautions us against an unqualified equation of the two sexes. This profound and beautiful distinction, which some belittle as ‘a matter of mere anatomy,’ is not a biological triviality or accident. It is God who wants men to be men and women to be women; and He can teach us the meaning of each, if we want to be taught.”4

Roles in the Home

As part of God’s good created order, men and women have been called to different yet equally important and complementary roles in both the home and the church in order that we may fulfill the creation mandate given to us by God—to be fruitful and rule the earth for his glory. In the home, husbands are to lead their wives, and their headship is to be loving, gentle, and considerate. Wives are to submit to that leadership in a willing, gentle, and respectful way (Eph. 5:21-33; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).5Biblical headship for the husband is the divine calling to take primary responsibility for Christlike servant-leadership, protection and provision in the home. And biblical submission for the wife is the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.”6

For the Husband is the Head of the Wife

Genesis 2-3 unfolds these roles in a number of ways. First, Adam was created first—an important fact which Paul refers two twice when affirming male headship in the church (1 Cor. 11:8-9; 1 Tim. 2:13). Second, Eve was created from man as his equal, but for the man as his ‘helper’ (Gen. 2:18, 22)—a term used for God throughout the Old Testament! Third, Adam names his wife twice, both before and after the Fall (Gen. 2:23; 3:20). And fourth, God approaches Adam for their sin (Gen. 3:9), which is why Paul can say that though Eve sinned first (1 Tim. 2:14), Adam is the representative head of fallen humanity (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22).

But the clearest explanation of these distinct yet complementary roles is found in the New Testament, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:22-25ff.).

Ruined by Sin, Restored by Christ

It’s important to note, however, that headship and submission in the marriage relationship was not the result of the Fall and the curse of sin (which is claimed by egalitarians). Genesis 1-3 makes it clear that these roles were ordained by God before the Fall for our good and his glory. Yet, the entrance of sin into the world disrupted the beautiful relationship between man and woman. In Genesis 3:16, the Lord tells the woman: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” This means that instead of joyfully submitting to her husband’s headship, the woman would be tempted to master him (cf. Gen. 4:7 where sin’s “desire is contrary” to Cain). And instead of leading his wife in a loving and caring way, the man will be tempted to rule her harshly and selfishly. In other words, both the roles of submission and authority can easily become twisted and perverted so as to not reflect God’s good design.

This is why husbands are repeatedly commanded to love their wives (Eph. 5:25, 29, 33), to not be harsh with them (Col. 3:19), and to honor them (1 Pet. 3:7). This is why wives are repeatedly commanded to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22, 24, 33; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-2) and do so “with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (3:4). Though corrupted by the Fall, the gospel of Jesus Christ redeems and restores our manhood and womanhood.

Of course, this understanding of roles will play out differently depending on your current station in life. For example, single moms have to fill both roles. Those who aren’t married have no husband to whom they must submit. The Bible doesn’t say women must submit to men; it says wives must submit to their own husbands. But God’s Word is clear that “both male-female equality and male headship, properly defined, were instituted by God at creation and remain permanent, beneficent aspects of human existence.”7 Our relationships will flourish as we embrace biblical manhood and womanhood not only in the home but also in the church.

Roles in the Church

As we already saw, the distinction between genders has no bearing on our standing before God, for through faith we are all one in Christ Jesus and equally share in the blessings of salvation (Gal. 3:26-29). Redeemed men and women have become a kingdom and priests to our God and Savior by the blood of Lamb (Rev. 5:9-10). We are all called to follow Jesus by doing the disciple-making work of gospel ministry (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:12-16).

But in the church, which Paul calls “the household of God” (1 Tim. 3:15), our spiritual “equality coexists with divinely mandated leadership and submission.”8 Scripture is clear that God has ordained the existence of officers, some of whom are called to the leadership of the church under Christ’s headship. This in no way diminishes or destroys our equality in Christ. Just as headship and submission exist within the home according to God’s design, likewise headship and submission exist within God’s home, the church, according to his design. Specifically, the office of elder—a term used interchangeably with both ‘pastor’ and ‘overseer/bishop’—may only be held by biblically qualified men (1 Tim. 3:1-7).

For Adam Was Formed First

The apostle Paul writes about this in his first letter to Timothy: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:11-14; see also 1 Cor. 11:2-16). Having said this, Paul then proceeds to list the qualifications for elders in the local church in chapter 3.

The word ‘authority’ here, John Piper explains, refers to “the divine calling of spiritual, gifted men to take primary responsibility as elders for Christlike, servant-leadership and teaching in the church. And ‘submission’ refers to the divine calling of the rest of the church, both men and women, to honor and affirm the leadership and teaching of the elders and to be equipped by them for the hundreds and hundreds of various ministries available to men and women in the service of Christ.” 9

Simply put, when it comes to the public teaching and leadership of the congregation performed by the elders, in a local assembly with men present, women are not allowed to assume that role. This is not a question of ability or giftedness; this prohibition is grounded in the divinely designed role-relations between male and female in creation!

Notice the “for” in verse 13; this is an extremely important word. This shows that Paul is not making an argument from competence (what women are capable of doing) or culture (how women were viewed in the first century throughout the Roman empire) but from creation (that God made Adam first, then Eve). The reason women are not to serve as elders in the church is based on God’s design for manhood and womanhood and his purposes for marriage and the family. Remember, the church is the household of God! Therefore, in God’s family (where Christ is our head), women are not to have authority over men as pastor-teachers.

Gospel Ministry in the Local Church

What does this mean, then, for women in the local church? Quite simply, that “women are to use their gifts in every way that Christians in general are to do, except for those areas explicitly prohibited by Scripture [namely, teaching and exercising authority over men]. . . . One must not draw the false conclusion that the Scriptures are opposed to women teaching or exercising any kind of leadership.”10

For example, at ECC where I pastor, while men lead the congregational singing of the church, women participate as well; they teach and lead our children’s classes; they lead women’s bible studies and fellowship groups. Women may also read Scripture and pray publicly in the church (see 1 Cor. 11:5).11 And when the biblical office of deacon is rightly understood and established in the local church—when deacons are not charged with the leadership and oversight of the church, when they do not function as a board of directors but as servants in charge of specific ministries—many complementarians agree that women are able to serve as deacons (1 Timothy 3:11 can be used to support both sides).

Yet some women, who hold to the complementarian position, still feel like they don’t have a role to play in the church—or at least any significant role. They think, “Since only men can be pastors, what can I do?” However, this is like saying, “I don’t sing or play an instrument, so what can I do in this church?” If pastors are the only ones called to the work of gospel ministry, then you’re right—women have no place. But the Bible is abundantly clear that pastors are absolutely not the only ones called to do the work of gospel ministry. In fact, men and women both are called to submit to the leadership of the elders who have been charged with the oversight of the church, so that they might be equipped for the work of ministry.

And what is that exactly? Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:12-13, when he says that the saints are to be equipped “for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, men and women are called to make disciples of Christ! Writing to Titus, Paul explains further that women are to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior by discipling other women (Titus 2:3-5). This is accomplished by centering your lives around the women in your local church and helping them to obey God in all of life.

But even beyond ministry in the local church, a complementarian understanding of biblical manhood and womanhood is far from restrictive or oppressive. “With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world (1 Cor 12:7-21).”12

Conclusion

In his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, William Mounce observes that one of the reasons this discussion often becomes heated is that there is an underlying assumption that a limited role necessarily means diminished personal worth. However, Mounce reminds us that,”the equating of worth and role is a nonbiblical, secular view of reality. Nowhere in Scripture are role and ultimate worth ever equated.” In fact, he continues, “we constantly find the opposite.” The idea of the last being first, the Suffering Servant, and Paul’s analogy of the church as Christ’s body all help us see that role and worth are unrelated.13

While men and women are absolutely equal in essence, dignity, and value as they together bear the image of God, they are nevertheless beautifully different by divine design. As part of God’s good created order, men and women are to have different, important, strategic, yet complementary roles in the home and in the church. These role distinctions are God’s gracious gift to man and woman and are to be protected, preserved and practiced for His glory and our joy.


  1. Bruce Ware, “Summaries of the Egalitarian and Complementarian Positions,” CBMW, June 26, 2007, https://cbmw.org/uncategorized/summaries-of-the-egalitarian-and-complementarian-positions/
  2. The Danvers Statement, Affirmation #1, https://cbmw.org/about/danvers-statement/
  3. George W. Knight III, “The Family and the Church: How Should Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Work Out in Practice?” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 353.
  4. Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1-3” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 89.
  5. Knight, “The Family and the Church,” 353.
  6. John Piper, “God Created Man Male and Female: What Does it mean to Be Complementarian?” Desiring God, November 24, 2012, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/god-created-man-male-and-female.
  7. Ortlund, “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship,” 86.
  8. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., “Role Distinctions in the Church: Galatians 3:28” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 153.
  9. John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 44, emphasis mine.
  10. Knight, “The Family and the Church,” 358.
  11. When Paul writes that “the women should keep silent in the churches” in 1 Corinthians 14:34, the immediate context reveals that he is speaking specifically about the evaluation of prophecies in the church, not that women cannot pray or read Scripture.
  12. The Danvers Statement, Affirmation #9
  13. William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary 46 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 148.

Clean: Part 2, For Better or For Worse

Don’s story took me back, way back. It’s amazing what the memory files away when the heart chooses to forgive. However, those files are still there and I still remember those days, but my version is the spouse’s perspective. Sixteen years ago was a tender and difficult time in my life as a wife and mother. I experienced what it’s like to feel lost and alone. I experienced what it’s like to live in fear that my dreams of a strong and happy marriage were crumbling right before my eyes. I also experienced what it was like to have pain so deep that my only prayer for weeks was that of silence as I folded my hands and wept before the Lord—at a loss for words, I was broken.

Don and I met through a mutual friend and had a whirlwind romance, if you will. We met in October of 2000 and married in May 2001. By October of 2001, we had our first child. In less than a year we had made vows to love each other for better or for worse and brought life into the world. It happened quickly, but I was so happy. Around our daughter’s first birthday we found out that baby #2 was due in July 2003. Our family was growing and life was good.

We moved into a new home that had more room for our expanding family. Shortly after we moved, I started noticing some changes in our relationship that were perplexing me. Don’s social circle changed. It started with drinks after work with the guys; guys that had a bad rap in the community. This was strange because we didn’t do the “bar scene” anymore. We gave that up when we got married and started a family.  He began coming home late at night without calling. He never did stuff like that before. We were the couple that updated each other throughout the day, at least 3 times a day. His demeanor towards me began to change and he wasn’t as kind.  He was quick and to the point in conversations and it felt cold and guarded. “Guarded for what?” was my question. We began arguing over the most random things and I would leave the argument thinking, “What on earth was that all about?” Our conversations became few and affections and intimacy slowed down drastically until they were almost nonexistent. I felt the wedge of distance and my heart ached for the relationship that I once had with my husband—one of thoughtfulness, respect, and lots of love and affection.

Foolishly, I thought for a moment that my pregnancy and the weight I had gained was disgusting to him. Maybe he just didn’t find me attractive anymore or maybe he just didn’t enjoy my company.  The most dangerous of my thoughts was leaning toward that idea that perhaps he had met someone else. Whatever was going on was not good, but I just couldn’t figure it out. My heart was breaking and the pregnancy hormones were not helping matters.

One beautiful summer morning I decide to go fishing with my dad to get my mind off things, but first I needed to make a quick stop at the bait store.  While at the bait store something peculiar happed, my card was declined. I knew something was off, because we were doing great financially. Kindly, I asked the attendant to run my card once more and once more the card was declined. Lucky for me, our bank was just around the corner. I left the store a bit embarrassed and waddled my pregnant self and my one year old into the bank looking for an explanation. The explanation was not what I expected; my account was overdrawn by over $800. As if that were not alarming enough, our savings account had been wiped clean as well. Fighting back the tears, I took the bank records and left the bank—my head spinning with confusion.

Once I got to my parents, I went through the bank records and saw check upon check written to men in our community that I knew were drug dealers. I sobbed uncontrollably and couldn’t comprehend how I could be fooled like this by the man that I love? I shared what was going on with my parents and they had a long, hard, heart to heart talk with me. They shared that they had their suspicions of drug usage for months, but didn’t want to say anything until after the baby was born, in fear that it would cause too much stress on the pregnancy. When I arrived home that evening, I confronted Don with the events of the day and the conversation with my parents. He had an explanation for all of it and assured me that he would handle everything at the bank and that my parents were just conspiracy theorists. He was charming and I was smitten, but I wasn’t blind and continued to keep my guard up.

Fast forward 6 weeks later. We have a 3-week-old new baby and he’s perfect. Things between Don and I are still rough and suspicions were increasing, but my children were healthy and I enjoyed them so much that I welcomed their delightful distraction from the chaos of my life. One day Don came home and told me about a woman he worked with that had been murdered in her home. He said that there was to be an investigation at his place of employment. That sounded reasonable to me, except he wasn’t telling me everything and deep down I knew it.

Two weeks later and many trips to the investigator’s office, I was tired of the run around and gave an ultimatum; either he was going to tell me the truth or I was going to leave. On what seemed like the most unreal night of my married life, my husband confessed his drug usage, drug dealing, and drug addiction. He was visibly scared—scared of seeing life with drugs and scared of seeing life without them. This was his rock bottom and he was terrified. At this point, I was lacking compassion and understanding, but I did have one emotion, anger. Never in my life had I felt so much anger permeate through my body. It was ugly.

One afternoon, I called my sister-in-law and asked her to come over and watch the kids so that I could go for a drive and clear my head. I remember telling myself that I didn’t want a marriage like the one I had and that I hadn’t signed up for all this trouble. On that drive I sobbed and told God that I was going to leave Don. I didn’t know how I was going to make it on my own with two little kids, but I was leaving. I remember having to pull over on the side of the road because the stream of tears coming from my eyes were making it impossible to see clearly. In those next moments I had memories of our wedding day. I flashed back to the marriage vow ceremony where I promised to love him and keep him for better or for worse. These vows gave me pause and God spoke to my heart. Sixteen years later, I believe with all my heart that God reminded me through that flashback that I made a promise, not just to Don, but to Him. I couldn’t break my promise. By the time I pulled back into my driveway I had made a decision to stay.

I didn’t know how I was ever going to trust Don again or if he was even going to stay clean from drugs, but I knew I had to keep my promise. I had to love him for better or for worse and this was the “for worse” part. I wish I could tell you how holy and righteous I handled this situation, but that would be a blatant lie. I was so angry. I was out of control with my speech and withheld forgiveness for nearly 2 years. I also reminded Don regularly how badly he failed me. I sought to hurt him because he hurt me. However, I knew in the depth of my soul that my behavior was not that of a kind and loving woman. I needed help.

I was given the best source of help when I was 20 years old. It was a leather back bible that my parents gave me as a birthday gift. As I began to read through the scriptures, I was rescued when I cried out for help (Psalm 18:6). In time, as my heart changed, my relationship with Don changed too.  God took my cold stony heart and softened it (Ezekiel 36:26.) My problem was that I was treating Don like he was the enemy of my soul, but that was just a lie.

The truth was that my battles, and yours, are not against one another—they are spiritual battles and there is a real enemy of my/your soul (Ephesians 6:12). There was a war raging in my heart, a war to hate my husband –which is not from the Lord (John 15:12). God was calling me to love my husband as Christ has loved me—to see beyond Don’s sin and pardon him even though he didn’t deserve it. God reminded me that he saw beyond my sin even though I didn’t deserve it. He was calling me to true forgiveness. God saw my sin, yet covered it with the blood of Christ and declared me pardoned from all the wrong I have and will commit. God forgave me! He took my filth and cast it away (Micah 7:19).

I have spent the last 16 years trying to imitate that kind of love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace in my marriage. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what saved my marriage and it continues to save it, mend it, and keep it today. I have truly forgiven my husband and I treasure him for the gift that he is to me.

Today, I am thankful for this trial because, through it, God produced in me real spiritual fruit that I may have never obtained without it.

Never Forget….

Every year on this day, we in the US are reminded to never forget. Throughout the day, we will see images that remind us of that fateful day 18 years ago when terrorism came to our home. It was no longer “over-there,” it was here, and it was real. Many people lost loved ones. A war that started soon after that cost us more lives and still continues to this day. We are often reminded that, around the world, evil still exists, and that the fall of man into sin at the beginning of time has not ceased to flourish in these days. So, today, I want to take a moment and think about what it is that we should never forget.

Never Forget that Sin is Real.

On this day, we are soberly reminded that sin and evil are ever-present realities. Deep down, we know it to be true every day. We watch the news, we see images of events around the world, we see missing persons posters, and, for a split second, it sinks in before we return to life as normal. Sometimes it takes great tragedies to shake us from our carefree fog and take seriously the world in which we live. Today reminds us of one of those tragedies. We reflect on the reality that sin is real and it rears its ugly head every day, but what is key to remember is that it’s not solely a problem in others; the problem is in ourselves.

Each one of us has the propensity toward great wickedness. We all have within us the same sinfulness that drives humanity into all sorts of evil; if you believe your sinfulness isn’t as bad as another’s, that doesn’t make it so. Nor does it make one any less culpable before God. Remember the words of Paul in Romans 3, “For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” On the days that we remember great acts of evil, let us not forget our own sinfulness and need of redemption. Let us not forget the hatred that brews within our souls and must be rooted out and nailed to the cross on which Christ died. Let us not forget that sin is real.

Never Forget the Sovereignty of God.

On days like this when we remember tragedies, we can be quick to forget the hand of God through it all. It’s hard for many to see the work of God in moments when evil is so present. We see the towers fall; friends and family die; and we can quickly lose hope. Yet nothing in this world is an accident; nothing  catches God by surprise, whether it be the wickedness seen on this day of remembrance, or in the hospital room of a child suffering from cancer, or the family and friends struggling through the loss of one to suicide. In those moments, we can think that God was not there, or wonder why such things should come to be, and yet we are reminded in the scriptures that God is ever present and ever sovereign. Nothing comes that is not known and used by Him.

If you are unconvinced, let me remind you of a much darker day when evil seemed to have triumphed over God: the day our God died. The day when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, member of the triune divinity died. The perfect lamb; the one who was without sin; the one whom, of all mankind, evil should not have befallen. The one whom all of life and glory was due was taken, falsely tried, beaten, and murdered by the very people he came to save. In the darkness of that day, the sun itself was shrouded, and He died. But God was not absent; He was upon the tree and above the tree. The Father himself, along with the Son and Spirit reigned sovereign over all these events. From  a human perspective, the messiah was defeated, but God was at work and the greatest victory had already begun.

So, let us remember the sovereignty of God and take comfort in the fact that while we may not know or understand the situations that surround us, He does, and He has not forgotten us.

Never Forget to be the Light of the Gospel Today

Lastly, let us never forget the truth that life is short, and we are not guaranteed tomorrow. September 10th, 2001 was a day like any other day, and most of us would be unable to remember the events that transpired that day. The same cannot be said about the 11th, a day which we can remember almost every moment. I remember getting up to leave my first period World History class and our teacher turning on the TV and seeing the World Trade Center on fire. I remember standing there with my best friend, not saying a word, just staring blankly. I remember going next door to my second period class, sitting on top of my desk for the next hour and 20 minutes, awestruck by the images as we watched in horror and disbelief as both towers fell. I remember trying to AIM a friend of mine to see if his day was ok; he was a Port Authority Officer. I remember the confusion in each class, the never-ending conversations around the lunch table, and the reality that life is momentary. I also remember the friends who reminded us that the truth of Christ is still the same and that we must remember to never take the gospel for granted with an expectation that we can talk about it tomorrow.

We must never forget that those with whom we spend each and every day are in need of the Gospel. They are in need of the soul-saving truth that has set us free from sin and death. They are in need of the only true hope. We are not guaranteed tomorrow on this earth, but we are guaranteed an eternity, yet where we spend that eternity is dependent upon the work of the Gospel. We are reminded in Hebrews that, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” let us strive to be faithful servants who have proclaimed the truth well while time remains.

On this day, let us never forget…

On this day, we remember, we mourn, and we live for the glory of God in the face of evil, knowing that He is sovereign, and that eternity is in His hands. We trust in a God who has never failed His own; for, out of the garden, He clothed and protected His children, in spite of their sin. It was by His mighty hand He delivered His people out of bondage through the sea, providing for them day and night in the wilderness. Through the Work of Christ, He has promised His children a future and a hope resting in Him. On a day of mourning let us remember the God who saves from sin, is sovereignly working all things for our good and his glory, and lastly who proclaimed the gospel to us and has saved us by His merciful grace.

 

From the Archives: Hypothetical Salvation for Hypothetical Believers?

The atonement of Christ on the cross is central to the message of Christianity. To atone for something is to make amends or to make satisfaction for a wrong. This is exactly what we see on the cross – it is through the blood of Christ that the holy God and sinful man are brought together peaceably. By nature we’re at odds with God because of sin, and at the center of our message we find blood. The blood of Christ, which is able to bring sinners like us who were once far away from God, near to Him. This is why Christianity is seen as a religion with a central message of redemption and reconciliation. By the blood of Christ we are redeemed from sin and reconciled to God. So we see at a very basic level that any representation of Christianity that diminishes the centrality of a wrath bearing atonement is a false form of Christianity.

Even from the earliest chapters and books of the Bible we see atonement as central to those who would do life with God. In Eden, after the fall of man, for the first time in history God made atonement for His people by shedding the blood of an animal and using it’s skin to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel offer sacrifices in Genesis 4, Noah offered sacrifices to God in Genesis 8, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all do the same thing each time God meets them or blesses them. We see many other offerings in Genesis, but when Israel gets into slavery in Egypt and when God calls Moses to go to Pharaoh and say ‘Let My people go’ in behalf of God it is here where we see the doctrine of atonement coming into view clearly.

After 9 plagues completely devastate the Egyptians, God brings a dreadful decree to close out His assault on Egypt. He tells Moses of His plans and Moses tells Pharaoh in Exodus 11:4-6, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die…there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again.’ Moses leaves Pharaoh’s presence and God gives Him further directions in chapter 12, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months…On the 10th day of this month every man shall take a lamb for his household and on the 14th day of the month you shall kill the lamb at twilight. Then take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house…the blood shall be a sign for you…and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.’

It was the blood that saved Israel from death, it was the blood that secured their redemption from Egypt. Paul picks up this theme in 1 Cor. 5 where he calls Christ our Passover Lamb. The parallel is clear is it not? Just as the blood of the lamb secured Israel’s redemption from Pharaoh and Egypt and sent them on their way to the promise land, so too, it is now the blood of Christ, our Passover Lamb, that secures our redemption from Satan, sin, and death and sends us on our way to the greater Canaan. It was the blood of the lamb that atoned for Israel, it is the blood of the Lamb of God that atones for us.

From this point on, we see God instituting His Law, which has many prescriptions in it for various offerings and sacrifices intended to atone for the sin of the people. This Law is then what all of the Old Testament prophets courageously and consistently called God’s people back to. Therefore, atonement has always been central to the people of God, and when we come over into the New Testament we find that all the sacrificial atoning work of God culminating in one act of atonement, the cross of our Lord Jesus.

Now, just as the Old Testament atoning sacrifices were only applied to God’s people in the Old Testament, so too the greatest atoning sacrifice of all, the sacrifice of God’s Son, is only applied to God’s people in the New Testament.

6 points to show you this:

The Atonement is a Secured Redemption

Hebrews 9:11-12, ‘But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.’ This puts on display what we’ve seen already – in the Old Testament the high priest once a year would enter into the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people by the means of the blood of goats and calves, but Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the Most Holy Place to make atonement for God’s people once for all time, not by the blood of animals, but by His own blood. What was the result? The result was not that redemption was now possible, no, the result was that by doing this Jesus secured an eternal redemption. In 9:15-22 the author of Hebrews goes onto say that the only people who benefit from this atoning work are ‘those who are called.’

The Atonement was Accomplished

Romans 8:30, ‘And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.’ In this passage Paul speaks of Christ’s work with such confidence that he uses the past tense for all of his main verbs, speaking that even glorification is already accomplished for God’s people through the work of God’s Son. This is why Jesus cried out on the cross, ‘It is finished!’ in John 19:30.

The Atonement is for the Church/Sheep

Ephesians 5:25-27, ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.’ In these verses who is it that Christ loved? Who is it that Christ gave Himself up for? Who is it that Jesus cleansed by the water of the Word? Who is it that He’ll one day present to Himself in splendor by His atoning work? His Church. He loved the Church and gave Himself up for the Church, only the Church. John 10:11 also, ‘I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays His life down (for who??) the sheep.’ After saying this to the crowds Jesus a bit further on in 10:26 tells many who are listening to Him that they ‘are not among His sheep.’ Acts 20:28, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for (who?) the Church of God, which He obtained (how?) with His own blood.’

The Atonement Redeemed a People for Christ’s own Possession

Titus 2:14 speaks of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ ‘who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.’ Christ gave Himself to redeem a people, a particular people, for His own possession.John 11:51-52 speaks of this by saying the cross gathered into one people the children of God who were scattered abroad. Matthew 1:21 too, ‘Mary will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.’ Here we see Jesus’ name is connected with His mission. Why did He come? To save His people, from their sins.

The Atonement is Not for All but ‘Many’

Matthew 20:26-28, ‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’ Isaiah 53:11, ‘Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.’

The Atonement Purchased a Global People

Rev. 5:9-10, ‘And they sang a new song, saying ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed (purchased – NIV) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and You have made them a Kingdom of priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’ See here again, the cross didn’t make salvation possible for people, a specific, a definite people were purchased on the cross.

I’ll end with one thought:

Jesus did not die to make salvation possible for everyone. He did not die to merely open the door of salvation and sit back hoping that people will accept His gospel. If that were true His death on the cross didn’t accomplish anything, it only made salvation attainable, and we cannot attain it on our own. This is a false view of the atoning work of Christ. Rather, the Biblical view is this: Jesus died and shed His blood to purchase His sheep, to secure the salvation of His Church, and to redeem the elect of God from every corner of the globe. In this manner we can say the atoning work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect.

Charles Spurgeon said it well, ‘Some men cannot endure to hear the doctrine of election. I suppose they like to choose their own wives, but they are not willing that Christ should choose His own Bride, the Church.’

J.I. Packer said it too, ‘Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people.’

So we conclude: Jesus chooses His Bride, and Jesus dies for His bride, securing everything needed for the salvation of His own.

Five for Fuller

“I have long considered your father to be the greatest theologian of the century” is the testimony C.H. Spurgeon bore concerning Andrew Fuller. In a letter Spurgeon wrote to Fuller’s son, one giant among the Particular Baptists bore witness of the impact another great Particular Baptist had made on his own life.[1] What lessons are there for us to learn from Andrew Fuller in the 21st century? Since Spurgeon so commended Fuller, it would do us well to learn more from this great man. In his book, Ardent Love for Jesus, Dr. Michael Haykin provides three reasons why he appreciates Fuller and why we need to read and study him. I would like to incorporate those along with an additional two reasons on why Andrew Fuller is a figure from church history we need to become better acquainted with.

1) Theological Balance

Fuller battled against the extremes of hyper-Calvinism, strains of Arminianism, and a growing acceptance of heretical views such as Socinianism and Unitarianism. In the midst of all of this, Fuller never swerved away from a core commitment to the doctrines of grace. Fuller would also serve as the theologian behind the missionary movement that sent forth William Carey and others to India. Balance is such a key for pastoral ministry. Often, pastors are being pulled in one direction or another that can lead to extreme positions. In one of his final letters, Fuller wrote, “I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace, but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope than from salvation by mere sovereign, efficacious grace through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour.”[2]

2) Gospel Friendships

The tendency to see one person as the key figure of a movement (think Luther, Calvin) fails to grasp how it is always a band of individuals working together. The apostle Paul lists men and women in most of his epistles testifying that the work of the kingdom is carried out by more than one person. The revival that God brought to the Particular Baptists at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century did not come in isolation. Fuller, along with men like William Carey, John Sutcliff, Samuel Pearce, John Ryland, Jr., and others, worked together and prayed together to see God save souls and revive the churches. Pastors need other pastors. The work of ministry cannot be done in the strength of one man.

3) Christian Piety

Living for the glory of the Triune God fueled Andrew Fuller. He was not interested in theology merely to have ammunition in order to argue with others. He wanted his thinking and living to be rooted in a deep commitment to the Word of God. Fuller longed for God to mold and conform his heart to the truths of Holy Scripture. He would write that to “glorify God, and recommend by our example the religion of the meek and lowly Jesus, are the chief ends for which it is worthwhile to live.”[3] Let us not be known only as defenders and proclaimers of orthodoxy but also as those who seek to practice the implications that come forth from biblical orthodoxy! Let us live grace-saturated, Christ-centered lives for the glory of God!

4) Faithful Churchman

Like the Particular Baptists before him, Andrew Fuller knew a deep love for the church of Jesus Christ. Fuller never apologized for the biblical convictions he held to when it came to Baptist polity and ecclesiology. However, Fuller did know that Baptist views on the church had caused some to grow too introspective and neglect evangelism. Fuller proclaimed, “The true churches of Jesus Christ travail for the salvation of men. They are the armies of the Lamb, the grand object of whose existence is to extend the Redeemer’s kingdom.”[4] In preaching ordination sermons for pastors, writing polemically in dealing with theological error, and serving as the first secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, Fuller’s heart burned with a love for the church. A holy zeal for the local church, not for a platform, needs to burn within pastors!

5) Evangelical Unity

While not hesitant to confess and defend Baptist distinctives, Fuller and his fellow Particular Baptists desired unity with like-minded evangelical defenders of the faith. John Sutcliff, Particular Baptist pastor in Olney, forged a friendship with John Newton. John Ryland’s friendship with John Erskine, Scottish Presbyterian minister, would provide the means for the great Particular Baptist prayer call for revival in 1784. Erskine sent Ryland a treatise written by Jonathan Edwards concerning prayer and revival. The Northamptonshire Association issued a call to the pastors and churches of the association to meet together to pray for revival. In this prayer call, the Baptists would pray not only for their churches to be revived but for other evangelical churches and denominations. As Michael Haykin notes, these men understood the kingdom was greater and larger than just the Particular Baptists![5] Let us be faithful to our convictions but let us also grow in charity towards those we would share so much with doctrinally and practically!

Conclusion

When William Carey was informed that Andrew Fuller had died, he spoke these three simple words: “I loved him”[6] Andrew Fuller was only a clay pot carrying forth the treasure of the gospel! What a faithful vessel of the gospel he was! A new generation needs to learn from the pastor of Kettering! The pastor-theologian faithfully plodding in the work of the kingdom is of far greater worth than all the jewels of this earth! He is a jewel in the crown of Christ! Press on!

[1] https://pastorhistorian.com/2014/05/12/letter-from-c-h-spurgeon-to-a-g-fuller-commending-andrew-fuller/

[2] Haykin, 90.

[3] Ibid., 91.

[4] Ibid., 89.

[5] Ibid., 66.

[6] Ibid., 89.

Keeping Children in the Worship Service

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Learning Leads to Living

This week I want to share with you an excerpt that I read from my wife’s, Rachel Noble’s blog. I hope it encourages you as much as it encourages me:
It’s funny how Paul begins most of his letters with such rich theology and then only after he has displayed these sometimes difficult theological topics, that he then says “therefore – live this way.”  I think this pattern teaches us that LEARNING is what is suppose to LEAD us to Godly LIVING.

Every Christian is a student of God’s Word.  Some are good students and some are bad students.  But we are all called to study God, read God’s Word, know God, deal with the difficult passages about God, so that we truly get to know Him.  Not doing so, is sin for the Christian.

Without knowing God, our moral efforts mean nothing.  God is not pleased with piousness that doesn’t reflect the gospel.  Just look at the Pharisees.  They were pious, “moral,” and they followed the rules etc.  But to what end?  Without the redeeming love of Jesus as reflected in the gospel, our works mean nothing.

Good morals are the overflow of our relational knowledge of God.  Being told to obey God or “follow rules” is not what makes people follow rules, knowing God’s Word is what produces obedience to God.  Good works should be spilling out of us if we continually learning about Him.  We are to love God with all of our MIND (Luke 10:27).  Not just our emotions or affections are involved in loving Jesus, but our minds as well.  God gave us minds so that we can use them to think about Him, to learn about Him, to grow in our knowledge of Him.

What makes us want to obey God?  What fuels a desire to follow Jesus?  Knowing Him!  Growing up in church and getting formal Biblical training through going to Bible college has made me realize that the more I learn about Jesus, the Bible, and theology the more I want to follow Him.  The more in depth I know His Word and learn about Him, the more it pushes me to live for Him.

I’ve heard it said that we are to try to live a moral life that pleases God, then once we master that, if we have time, we can study theology.  This could not be further from the truth!  In fact, the opposite is true.

Learning theology leads to Godly living.
Learning about the cross leads to Godly living.
Learning about the Levitical system leads to Godly living.
Learning about the life of Paul leads to Godly living.
Learning God’s Word leads to Godly living.
Learning about the miracles of Jesus leads to Godly living.
Learning about the book of Amos leads to Godly living.

No matter what book of the Bible I read, no matter what theological topic I study, learning and studying it stirs in me a longing for God and a desire to spread the gospel.

Life is about the gospel and living  it out is what happens when you truly study theology.  If you are struggling to “do the things you want” and not do the “things you hate” (Romans 7:15-16) then these are the things that have helped me:

1.)  Study God’s Word – don’t just read it, study it.  Use commentaries, lexicons, etc.  Actually study it as if you were in Bible college.  🙂

2.)  Read Theology Books – Piper, Sproul, MacAurthur, Chan, Platt, Grudem, Carson, Chandler (and so many others)
3.)  Engage in Church – don’t just sit in the pew then go home.  Talk with your fellow believers and pastors.  Engage in real relationships with them.  They will teach you.  

Live for Jesus – it’s the only way to truly live.

Where We are Going….

The purpose for our annual Publican’s conference is to instruct and encourage the local church through the preaching of the Word, by members of the Publicans, on a particular biblical idea for the advancement of the Gospel and the edification of the body.

Last year we began a three-year endeavor to introduce and encourage the church to understand who God is in a manner that reflects the truth of scripture, and from that understanding of the truth we worship Him rightly and live for Him in all aspects of our lives.

Orthodoxy (2018)

In 2018 we began this task by looking at the historic faith found in the Apostle’s creed. Now we want to be clear here the Apostles creed is not canon, but within it we see the simplification of orthodox doctrine, and as such it is a good tool to direct us along the road we see in the scriptures. Therefore, each of our speakers dissected a different aspect of the creed and unpacked its truth as we saw it in the scriptures. We saw the truth of the Trinity and at the same time their distinctness. We saw the truth of the work of Christ in forgiving our sins and the need for the body of Christ. We saw all this and more flow from the truth of scripture and inform our understanding of the faith, and as such we built a our understand about God and faith on the foundation of Scripture.

It is of utmost importance that we begin our journey here, for the next two years must flow from a proper foundation. You cannot build a home without the foundation, so too you cannot build true worship or a Christian life apart from a biblical orthodox foundation. We must find our full satisfaction in the work of Christ and seek to know Him more as he has revealed himself in Scripture. We do not determine for ourselves what we want God to be, He has revealed himself to us, and as such we are blessed with the opportunity to know Him truly and from that knowledge, we will see the opportunity to worship and live for Him.

Doxology (2019)

Which leads us to this years topic: Doxology

It is vitally important that we see Doxology not as a once a week part of a gathered service but as an overflow of our life with God. So, while the words are sung, they must come from a place of understanding who God is and what He has done. When we come to the Word of God it should leave us in prayer and praise to our Lord. When we hear His Word, we come with an expectation to know Him more and from that knowledge flows Doxology.

Therefore, when we think of worship, we think of singing and in scripture we immediately are drawn to the Psalter. However, the truth is, song and verbal worship is seen throughout the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, and in each genre, we come face to face with not only the content of the words sung to God, but the posture and circumstances that surround that worship. Through seven different pastors we will discuss several specific ways worship is seen in the text of Scripture. Here we will examine the truth of God’s revelation and how that moves us to song, and the proclamation of His Glory.

Orthopraxy (2020)

Lord willing, this will all culminate next year as we then discuss the words of Peter in 2 Peter 3:11 “What sort of people we out to be in lives of holiness and godliness” This one small verse lies at the heart of Orthopraxy, right living. We are not only called to know God and praise Him; we are called to live rightly before Him. Therefore, we will endeavor to unpack the truth of what it means to live well before our God in pursuit of Him. We will seek to unpack the biblical ideas found in spiritual discipline and how these things are not to be confused with legalistic practices. We will seek through the Word to reveal and encourage believers to live well in lives of faith repentance and hope before our God.

We pray these conferences will continue to be a blessing to the local church and to all who join us each year to be encouraged and instructed in the Word of God. We are thankful for all the Pastors who make it a priority to preach here each year. This year our speakers will be from four different local churches along with our good friend from Mississippi, and our morning round table discussion will feature an additional set of ministers from local congregations and mission agencies.

More Info can be found in the Conference tab and our Facebook page.

What to Watch for in Ministry

As I took off my headphones, I told my wife, “I think I just heard the best sermon I’ve ever heard. I need to listen to more from this guy!” I told this to my wife about a famous preacher last year and was surprised to discover recently that he had fallen to sexual immorality and left the ministry. In recent years, others have fallen also, some of which were once stellar preachers and theologians. Names like Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson remind us that apostasy is not some ancient phenomenon to the church. 1 John 2:19 reminds us that news like this will be the case until Jesus comes back and for that reason, we need not be surprised. But when news like this comes to our attention as believers, it should sober us. We need to be reminded from time to time that no amount of homiletical skill, theological astuteness, or ministry fruitfulness protects us from making shipwreck of our faith and leading others astray. But in light of this, what can pastors and elders do to stay the course? Paul charges the church leaders to keep watch. First on ourselves, then on our teaching, and finally on the flock entrusted to our care.

1. Keep a close watch on yourself 

Keep a close watch on yourself...”-1 Tim. 4:16a

Pay careful attention to yourselves…”- Acts 20:28a

Just after announcing in verse 1, “in later times some will depart from the faith,” Paul urges Timothy: “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:1, 7b-8). Godliness is not a helpful add-on to ministry effectiveness. It is not the sprinkles on the cake; it is the eggs and flour that make up the cake. It is a vital ingredient we cannot afford to do without. Let us remember that God will hold us accountable just as He will the rest of His people.

In the Acts passage, Paul had gathered the Ephesian elders together and shared that from among their own selves would arise false teachers. He charged them to “stay alert.” This charge to, “keep watch” and “stay alert” is found throughout Scripture, but Paul takes it a step further. He calls the church leaders among us to an even more careful scrutiny of our lives: “Keep a close watch on yourself…pay careful attention to yourselves.” This is cautious and careful watchfulness that refuses to rest the eyes of the soul. This is the kind of watchfulness a man has when looking for his lost wedding band in the parking lot or the kind of watchfulness a soldier exhibits when walking into a field full of mines. It is the kind of watchfulness the Wallenda family exercised recently while walking a tightrope over Times Square amid the chaos of flashing lights, city sounds, and strong wind gusts. If even First Century pastors who knew Paul could become false teachers and apostates, we must beware in our Twenty-First Century age.

But how? Puritan Thomas Brooks was right when he closed his book on Satan’s temptations stating that this world is full of snares. How does one maintain such careful and cautious watchfulness while living in such a self-centered culture?

This is only possible by the Spirit’s enabling. Therefore, we must strive to maintain a position of weakness and dependency upon God. One of the sins in ministry that lead to other sins is pride or spiritual independence. As pastors, we are prone to being people-pleasers and know-it-alls. People look to us for spiritual guidance and biblical wisdom, and it can be easy to forget Paul’s warning: “What do you have that you did not receive?” We must stay humble. None of us are indispensable. God doesn’t need a hero. He is it. When the most meek man, Moses failed to uphold God as holy before the people, God put him on the shelf. Let’s stay humble.

I feel it important to point out also that we and our spouses know us best, so we know what else we must keep watch on. Perhaps you are prone to make ministry a mistress in your life and need to show more affection to your family and prioritize your schedule to aide this. Perhaps you often give into envy of other “successful” pastors or churches and slip into unhealthy discouragement or competitive relationships with other church staff. We must know ourselves and then keep watch on the sins to which we are prone. One helpful thing to do is to take your wife or a close friend out for coffee and ask them to share some helpful feedback on your life and specific areas in which you could improve. This is humbling, but it can be part of careful watchfulness. We must keep a close watch on our devotional lives, our marriages, our family. We must know what causes us to stumble and actively resist these and rest in Christ.

2. Keep a close watch on the teaching 

Keep a close watch…on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”-1 Tim. 4:16b

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul often emphasizes the importance of sound teaching or doctrine. James warned that teachers will be judged with greater strictness (3:1). Jesus said we will give account for every careless word we speak. This should cause us to think more carefully over the words we let roll out of our mouths and strive to teach  in a way that aligns with God’s infallible, inerrant, and inspired Word. Indeed, since God’s Word alone has the power to save and stands alone in its authority, our preaching/teaching/writing must never stand apart from it. We are even promised that if we are careful to watch our lives and teaching, God will save us and our hearers. What use is preaching if it fails to save? Therefore, let us live and preach in a way that will help the grace of salvation be displayed and not hinder it. I believe the best way to preach and teach in a way that keeps such a close watch is to preach expository messages where the preaching is merely exposing what God has said clearly in His Word. This way the preacher doesn’t have to constantly wonder if his words are valid, for they will merely be the unfolding of God’s Word.

The last thing we must keep watch on is the sheep under our charge…

3. Pay careful attention to all the flock 

Pay careful attention…to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.”-Acts 20:28b

It is entirely possible to watch our own souls and our teaching, while neglecting the souls of those to whom we preach. But we certainly don’t want to be the kind of shepherd described in Ezekiel 34 who fails to feed the flock. We want to take Jesus’ charge to Peter seriously and to, “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Or as Peter put it, “Shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Pet. 5:2). We must strive to know our people and be involved in their lives to the point that they feel comfortable opening up to us. As one pastor told me recently, we must smell like the sheep. Paul had just previously told the Ephesian elders that he went “from house to house”, and we would do well to follow his example. Pastors who know their people discover that living rooms, hospital rooms, job sites, and ball games are often great places to speak the truth of the gospel into the lives of their members. We must also invest in discipling other men, not content to let the pulpit be the only preaching they hear from us. Paul charged Timothy to entrust the gospel to faithful men who will then teach it to others (2 Tim. 2:2). All these things require time outside of the office and pulpit. Whenever we feel ourselves isolating ourselves from our people, we are forgetting they are the entire point of our ministry. In his book, Praying with Paul, Don Carson writes, “There are preachers who so loudly declare their love of preaching that it is unclear whether it is their own performance and their love of power that has captured them or their desire to minister to the men and women who listen to them.” Let’s not be preachers who are seldom seen but in the pulpit. Let’s pay careful attention to God’s flock entrusted to us.

So if we wish to experience God’s blessing on our ministry, we must not neglect any of these three important areas of which to keep watch.

The Absurdity of God Loving Some People and Not Others

Frequently I receive questions from those seeking out truth. A while ago, I received the following query from a young pastor…

“The one thing I cannot wrap my head around is the idea that God only loves some. I feel like I love people more than that and that confuses me. How would you explain this declared reality?”

So I believe it is extremely clear according to Scripture that God loves all people. Of course websites online that want to bash Grace Theology or Calvinistic belief would like to claim otherwise but Reformed folks certainly believe that God loves all people. John 3:16 speaks clearly to this matter as you have pointed out. There are two issues that all Christians must face though.

(1) The first issue to face is the reality that God loves different people in differing ways. No doubt you and your wife love all children in the world generally; but you love your own kidos far more than you love other children and out of the depth of that love you sacrifice, serve, and live in relationship with your kids in ways you would not do for other children. That normal human behavior is an echo of the love of the Divine for us. God loves all people in a benevolent or general sense, showing common kindness to all by gifting them life, breath, and a legitimate opportunity to trust in Jesus. However, he has a far deeper love for his children, whom he lives in relationship with, sacrifices for, and serves in ways that he does not do for those who are not His children. This would be called his special or familial love. 1 John 3:1, Zephaniah 3:17, Romans 8:37-39, Ephesians 2:4-5, and 1 John 4:19 all testify to this reality.

(2) Second, God loves differently than we love, both in a benevolent and in a familial sense. God loves in a benevolent sense but he permits horrible things to occur that He has the sovereign power over and knowledge to stop. With a word of His mouth He could put to flight all infanticide, famine, sexual assault, and on the despicable list rolls. Yet all of these things continue to exist. Biblically we understand that God has a purpose for all suffering and all wickedness but that does not alter the reality that if we could be God for a day then we would vanquish all blatant transgression off the face of the earth forever. He doesn’t do that which simply means that He loves differently and from a different vantage point and position of power and plan than we do.

My little girl had open heart surgery when she was six months old. Her heart would not recover so they had to perform a second surgery on her and insert a life-preserving device. It was a miserable and draining 15 days in the hospital. I met several families in the CVICU whose children were dying. I can unashamedly declare that if I were God, loving as I do, I would heal every single one of those little ones. Yet He doesn’t. Now that reality can and will produce one of two responses in people. First, people will cry foul at God’s allowing suffering or even wickedness to continue, become angry with Him, and ultimately turn away from Him. Or alternatively, they can understand rationally and Biblically that God loves differently than we do and allows suffering and wickedness as a part of human will and ultimately His eternal plan of redemption.

These realities are stated in Scripture, supported throughout church history, and affirmed in various confessions of faith. I hope this helps.

Semper Reformanda