Why pray if God is sovereign? Does prayer change anything? Doesn’t God already know what I’m going to say (Ps. 139:4)? And isn’t it true that God declared the end from the beginning, saying “My… More
No one would confuse Andrew Fuller for being anything but a firm Calvinistic Baptist who wrote extensively to defend the doctrines of grace from a Particular Baptist point of view. If you read Fuller’s writings in the realm of ecclesiology and polity, you will find a man who was a thorough Baptist. However, even in his own day, Andrew Fuller saw the danger that exists in giving one’s self over to extreme sectarianism. Are we interested in seeing people come to Christ or that they become a part of our denominational or theological heritage? By all means, if we consider ourselves a Baptist, a Presbyterian, or a Congregationalist, then we should be able to defend our convictions and views. I am a Particular Baptist because I am thoroughly convinced that is the theological tradition most faithful to the Bible. Even so, I should be filled with nothing but joy and gladness when I see a faithful Presbyterian church receive new members due to souls being converted by the grace of God. The counsel that Andrew Fuller provides us in this piece is much needed in our day when tribalism, fueled by cultural changes and social media, continues to grow more and more within the church.
I first became aware of this short piece by Andrew Fuller on David Prince’s website which hosts “Andrew Fuller Fridays.” Here is the link: http://www.davidprince.com/2018/06/08/pursuing-lesser-things-to-the-neglect-of-the-greater-andrew-fuller-being-dead-still-speaks-to-sbc18/.
Below is an excerpted portion of Andrew Fuller’s article “The Necessity of Seeking those Things First which are of the First Importance” (The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Miscellaneous—Fugitive Pieces, Andrew F. Fuller, Ed., Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007:984-985).
A great part of the evil which prevails in the world consists in an entire neglect of what God commands, or in doing what he has expressly forbidden; but not the whole of it. There may be an attachment to many things which in themselves are right, and yet the whole may be rendered worse than void by the want of order, or a regard to things according to their importance.
Our Lord did not censure the Pharisees for attending to the lesser matters of the law, but for attending to them “to the neglect of the greater.” If we pursue things as primary which ought to occupy only a secondary or subordinate place in the system, we subvert the whole, and employ ourselves in doing what is worse than nothing.
I think I see the operation of this principle among us, and that to a wide extent. I see it among the unconverted, among the converted, and among different parties or denominations of Christians.
First, It is by this that great numbers who lay their accounts with obtaining the kingdom of heaven will be found to have deceived themselves.
It may be too much to say of them that they do not seek the kingdom of God; but they seek it not as a first or primary object. The world is their chief good, and the kingdom of God only occupies a secondary place in their affections. They wish to attend to their everlasting concerns, but they cannot spare time. Now we can commonly spare time for that which we love best.
Secondly, It is owing to this, among other causes, that many Christians go from year to year in doubt, with respect to their interest in Christ and spiritual blessings.
It is very desirable to have clear and satisfactory views on this subject. To live in suspense on a matter of such importance must, if we be not sunk in insensibility, be miserable. How is it that so much of this prevails among us; when, if we look into the New Testament, we shall scarcely see an instance of it among the primitive Christians? Shall we cast off all such characters as unbelievers?
Some have done so, alleging that it is impossible for a person to be a believer without being conscious of it. Surely this is too much; for if the grace of God within us, whatever be its degree, must needs be self-evident to us, why are we directed to keep his commandments as the means of “knowing that we know him?” The primitive Christians, however, had but little of this fear; and the reason of it was, they had more of that perfect love to Christ, to the gospel, and to the success of it, than we have, which tended to “cast out fear.”
If we make our personal comfort the first object of our pursuit, (and many attend the means of grace as if they did,) God will make it the last of his; for it is a general principle in the Divine administration, “Him that honoureth me I will honour; but he that despiseth me shall be lightly esteemed.” If we seek the honour of God, we shall find our own peace and comfort in it; but if we make light of him he will make light of us, and leave us to pass our days in darkness and suspense.
Thirdly, It is owing, if I mistake not, to the same cause that various denominations of Christians, who at some period have been greatly blessed of God, have declined as to their spiritual prosperity.
Several of our religious denominations have arisen from a conscientious desire to restore Christianity to its primitive purity. From this motive acted, I believe, the greater part of the Reformers, the Puritans, the nonconformists, and the Baptists. I do not know that any one of these denominations were censurable for the separations which they made from other professing Christians. It may be alleged that they have torn the church of Christ into parties, and so occasioned much evil; yet some of them did not separate from the church of Christ, but from a worldly community calling itself by that name; and those who did, pretended not to be the only people of God in the world, but considered themselves merely as “withdrawing from brethren who walked disorderly.”
It is a melancholy fact, however, that no sooner have a people formed themselves into a new denomination than they are in the utmost danger of concentrating almost all their strength, influence, zeal, prayers, and endeavours for its support; not as a part of Christ’s visible kingdom, wishing all good to other parts in so far as they follow Christ, but as though it were the whole of it, and as though all true religion were circumscribed within its hallowed pale. This is the essence of a sectarian spirit, and the bane of Christianity.
I am a Dissenter, and a Baptist. If I confine my remarks to the faults of these denominations, it is not because I consider them as greater sinners in this way than all others, but because I wish more especially to correct the evils of my own connexions. If we wish to promote the dissenting interest, it must not be by expending our principal zeal in endeavouring to make men Dissenters, but in making Dissenters and others Christians. The principles of dissent, however just and important, are not to be compared with the glorious gospel of the blessed God; and if inculcated at the expense of it, it is no better than tithing mint and cumin, to the omitting of the weightier matters of the law. Such endeavours will be blasted, and made to defeat, their own end.
If we wish to see the Baptist denomination prosper, we must not expend our zeal so much in endeavouring to make men Baptists, as in labouring to make Baptists and other Christians. If we lay out ourselves in the common cause of Christianity, the Lord will bless and increase us. By rejoicing in the prosperity of every other denomination, in so far as they accord with the mind of Christ, we shall promote the best interests of our own. But if we be more concerned to make proselytes to a party than converts to Christ, we shall defeat our own end; and however just our sentiments may be with respect to the subjects and mode of baptism, we shall be found symbolizing with the Pharisees, who were employed in tithing mint and cumin, to the neglect of judgment, mercy, and the love of God.
The date was October 31, 1517. The man was the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. In one hand he held a copy of his 95 theses, a treatise he had written to address the various abuses present in the Catholic Church. In the other hand he held a mallet. He desired a conversation to occur about these abuses, he desired repentance, and ultimately longed for a return to the gospel. In an effort to get this conversation started he nailed his theses to the church door in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany.
What happened changed the world.
500 years later, here we are today. Does the reformation still matter? Do the writings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other reformers still apply today? Is there still a need to reform the Church? Are we as Protestants, still protesting?
The answer to these questions is a resounding yes.
Though there is a true danger in idolizing the past, there is also a great danger in forgetting or ignoring the past as well. So we look back to gain wisdom for today, and ask a question: why did the foundational principle of Sola Scriptura matter so greatly during then and why does it still matter today?
The issue at stake during the reformation was authority.
The Roman Catholic church believed final authority was not in the Scripture but elsewhere. The tradition of the church was believed to be a second source of revelation, and the Pope was viewed as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Standing against this belief the Reformers believed the Bible to be the sole source of divine revelation, the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative rule for faith and practice. The reformers boldly proclaimed that when Scripture speaks, God speaks. And though Scripture is certainly to be interpreted by the Church, and though tradition is certainly helpful, the Church and its traditions only have authority insofar as they are in line with and underneath the authority the Word of God.
Why again did this matter? The Catholic church, the popes, the cardinals, and councils prohibited the Bible from being translated into the common language. Because the Scripture was kept it in Latin, and because they reserved interpretation only for themselves they were in effect saying this, “We’ll interpret the Bible for you, trust us.” And people did. For years and years people never read the Bible for themselves and simply trusted the Catholic church’s interpretation of Scripture and attended mass even though they couldn’t understand the Latin being used by the priests. Then a few scholars rose up from their own study of Scripture after seeing how wide the gulf really was between the church’s interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself. John Wycliffe saw this, translated the Bible into English and the Catholic church banned and burned his books. Some years later Jan Hus, a Czech theologian saw similar things, translated the Bible into Czech and was burned at the stake by the Catholic church. Then, in 1483 a little boy was born who would grow up and see the same things. This little boy was Martin Luther. What began as a call to reform the Catholic church in his 95 theses soon developed into a full scale fight against the Catholic church’s wild interpretations of Scripture, the pope’s immoral and luxurious living, and the pressing need to put the Scripture into the hands of the common man. Thus, with pen in hand Luther fought back. Writing hundred’s of books, letters, and treatises on the clear and plain meaning of Scripture…all while translating the Bible into German. For this they excommunicated Luther, labeled him a heretic, and put a price on his head.
Why did Luther do this? Why was he and so many others willing to die for the truth they saw in Scripture? Because the gospel of a long awaited Messiah revealed in the Word of God was hidden from sight, and they labored to reveal it. Pope after Pope had said it’s our own works that gets you into heaven or cast you to hell, yet the reformers saw standing forth in brilliant clarity the Christ, who was born of a virgin, who lived in perfect righteousness, who bore our curse on the cross, who rose and defeated death with His life, who ascended to reign over all things interceded for us. Gospel grace given by God to guilty sinners who then go free! They saw Christ in all of Scripture, and gave their all to preach Christ in all the world.
Now, why does the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) still matter today?
Though we’re no longer held captive by the Vatican, and though we say we believe in the inspiration of Scripture, we often do not go to Scripture to see how the Church should run, to see what kind of music we should sing, or to see what kind of preaching we need today, or to see what kind of lives we ought to live. Where do we look to find direction in all these things and more? We look to the world around us and employ modern cultural methods within the Church in an effort to grow the Church and remain relevant in the eyes of our culture. Bottom line?
We have placed authority in the wrong place, just like the medieval church. The brilliant clarity of Christ in the gospel saturated Scripture doesn’t seem to be enough for the Church today. Instead, we resort to culturally hip strategies seeking to tickle the eyes and ears of churchgoers because deep down we don’t think the God of Scripture cannot compete with the world, so we make our churches look like the world to win the world and what happens? We…lose…the gospel.
And so, as the Cambridge Declaration says, “the faithfulness of the reformers in the past contrasts sharply with the unfaithfulness of the Church in the present.”
Clearly, we need reformation still.
Where does reformation begin?
It begins with a return to Sacred Scripture.
In order for the church to be more faithful to Scripture and obedient to our Lord in the area of polity (i.e., church government) we must ultimately be an elder-led congregational church—a church that is ruled by Christ, governed by the congregation, led by elders, and served by deacons. This means we must be well-informed and understand the roles and responsibilities of elders, deacons, and members.
The Role of Elders
When we come to the New Testament, the evidence indicates that every church had a plurality of elders. Merkle writes, “There is no example in the New Testament of one elder or pastor leading a congregation as the sole or primary leader”i (see Acts 11:30; 20:17; Php. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5). But what do elders do?
First, elders pray (Acts 6:4; Jas. 5:14). Elders plead for the flock of God under their care. They pray for the souls over whom they keep watch and for whom they will have to give an account. We see this commitment to pray in the decision of the Apostles in the early church, who appointed others to serve the needs of the growing church so that they might devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (see Acts 6:1-7). For them, prayer was a time-consuming labor that inevitably caused other duties to be set aside.ii In order for a pastor to be effective in his ministry, he must be faithful to pray. He must be fully reliant upon the power of God, who alone “gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). “Intercessory prayer is perhaps the most basic ministry of the elder. In order to speak to men for God, elders must speak to God for men. They must be away of the futility of all their actions apart from the life-giving work of God’s Spirit.”iii
Second, elders preach and teach (Acts 6:4; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). Elders serve the word to the sheep under their care. Since God rules his people by his Word, elders must be faithful to proclaim the Word to God’s people. As the Apostles devoted themselves to prayer, they also devoted themselves to the ministry of the word (6:4). Because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), because we are born again through the word of God (1 Pet. 1:23), because all Scripture is profitable to make the man of God “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17), this is an indispensable component of pastoral ministry.
Elders are called to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) and declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27); therefore, they must be devoted to knowing God’s Word. Pastors proclaim Christ, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom” in order that they may present the sheep under their care “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). It’s crucial to remember that “the Bible alone is absolutely authoritative in a church’s life. . . . Elders bear authority over Jesus’s church only to the extent that they teach, obey, and enforce Jesus’s word.”iv Elders lead by standing before their congregation on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaiming his rule, his truth, and his commands.
Third, elders shepherd (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Elders are intimately involved with their sheep in order to see them grow in Christian maturity. They should, as one pastor puts it, smell like sheep. Peter exhorts elders: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3). The Apostle Paul encouraged the Ephesians elders to “pay careful attention to yourselves and 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 20:28). Elders shepherd God’s flock! Shepherding involves such responsibilities as providing godly counsel and biblical instruction, helping resolve conflicts peacefully, protecting the flock from wolves, caring for struggling sheep, and providing oversight of the spiritual well-being of the flock. (This is also why church membership matters: Elders need to know who their flock is!)
Fourth, elders lead by example (Heb. 13:7; Titus 2:7). Elders not only lead by teaching the Word but by obeying Christ and modeling Christian maturity. They are to not only keep a close watch on their doctrine but also on themselves and their families (1 Tim. 3:2-7; 4:12, 16; Titus 1:6-9). As elders teach the congregation to trust God and grow in godliness, loving and persuading them to obey Christ, Hebrews 13:17 calls believers to “obey your leaders an submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your soul.” (Again, membership matters!). But earlier, in Hebrews 13:7, believers are commanded: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Elders lead not only by teaching sound doctrine but by imitating Christ! Jeremy Rinne writes:
God has called elders to be men worth imitating. . . . When a church appoints a man to be an overseer, it is formally saying, ‘Here is an official, church-recognized example of a mature follower of Jesus.’ He is not the only example, not a perfect example, and not necessarily the best example in that congregation for every single Christian virtue. But an elder is a duly designated model nonetheless.v
Fifth, elders raise up elders (2 Tim. 1:14; 2:2). Elders disciple and train specific individuals to carry on the work of gospel ministry. As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:2: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” As God’s stewards (Titus 1:7), pastors are entrusted with oversight of both the household and the truth of God. Not only must they seek to preserve the truths of the gospel for their own generation, but they must see to it that the faith once for all delivered to the saints be carried into the next generation of sheep.
The Role of Deacons
When it comes to the role of deacons in the local church, the Scriptures are surprisingly quiet. In fact, “We have no description in the New Testament of deacons acting as deacons, with the single exception of Acts 6, which, while controverted, is still widely used as a model for the ministry of deacons. Aside from that episode, we have no example of deacons at work.”vi Writing to the Philippians, Paul addresses “all the saints in Christ Jesus . . . with the overseers and deacons” (Php. 1:1). We find the qualifications of deacons following those of elders in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. In these passages, the Greek word diakonos refers to an office. But the word is often used in a more general sense to mean simply ‘servant’ or ‘minister.’ Even in Romans 16:1, when Paul commends “Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,” who was “a patron of man and of [Paul] as well,” it’s debated whether she was an official deacon of that church or simply a faithful servant of the church. All Christians are diakonoi!
However, the Bible is clear that the office of deacon is indeed one of the two scriptural offices to be found in a local church, and it is an indispensable office for gospel ministry. Deacons care for the physical, logistical, and practical needs of the church in order to support the ministry of the elders and to maintain unity in the body (Acts 6:1-7). “They are not the spiritual leaders of the church. Instead, based on the pattern established in Acts 6 with the apostles and the Seven, it seems best to view the deacons as servants who do whatever is necessary to allow the elders to accomplish their God-given calling of shepherding and teaching the church.”vii
Deacons support the elders’ ministry of the Word by being responsible for tasks not related to shepherding and teaching. Under the oversight of the elders, deacons may be responsible for the practical details of church life: facilities, finances, benevolence, meals, guest services (such as ushers and greeters) security, media and technology, the Lord’s Supper, and so on. “Perhaps one reason why, in the providence of God, we are not given an explicit job description for deacons is to allow them the flexibility to serve in a variety of roles.”viii As for the number of deacons needed in a church, there should not be a set number or limit. (Acts 6 is narrative more than normative). Rather, the number of deacons should be determined by (1) the needs of that particular church and (2) the number of qualified deacon candidates.
The Role of Members
While the Christian church recognizes the offices of elders and deacons, it is also appropriate (and biblically warranted) to understand church membership as an office as well. Members, possessing the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:13-19; 18:15-20), are obligated to perform certain duties. Jonathan Leeman, who has written extensively about church membership, provides a helpful list of job responsibilities for church members: (1) Attend church regularly; (2) Help preserve the gospel; (3) Help affirm gospel citizens; (4) Attend members’ meetings; (5) Disciple other church members; (6) Share the gospel with outsiders; (7) Follow your leaders.ix
The Bible makes the role of members undeniable, unmistakable, and unavoidable: discipleship. Discipleship is simply God’s people helping God’s people to do all that Jesus commands. We have been given the task of preaching the gospel, making disciples, and being ambassadors of reconciliation (Matt. 28:18–20; 2 Cor. 5:18–20). We are called to protect the gospel (1 Tim 5:19-20; 2 Thess. 3:6; cf. Gal 1:6) and put the gospel on display by living a life of holiness, love, and grace. Leeman writes, ” Our work is to share and protect the gospel, and it’s to affirm and oversee gospel professors—church members. . . . The job here is bigger than showing up at members’ meetings and voting on new members. The church member’s job lasts all seven days. Ours is the work of representing Jesus and protecting his gospel in each other’s lives every day.”x
Church’s practicing meaningful membership tend to have a church covenant. This covenant summarizes the commands of the Lord Jesus given to those who belong to him and his church. Obedience to these commands proves our profession of faith and baptism to be genuine. In fact, church membership is what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus; a disciple is a healthy church member.
Church polity is inevitable. Every church has a particular understanding of and implementation of church government. The question is whether or not your understanding and practice of church government is biblical and pleasing to God. While church polity can seem like a trivial matter, understanding the offices in the church is vital for being faithful to what God commands in Scripture and for having a healthy church.
So, to sum it all up: Elders equip the saints to do the work of ministry. Deacons serve the church by supporting the work of the elders. And members of the body of Christ make disciples by being key-wielding citizens of heaven through membership in a local church.
- Benjamin L. Merkle, “The Biblical Role of Elders,” in Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 285.
- John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 76.
- Mark Dever, Understanding Church Leadership, Church Basics series (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2016), 24.
- Jeramie Rinne, Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus, Building Healthy Churches series (Wheaton, IL; Crossway, 2014), 81.
- Rinne, Church Elders, 101.
- John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2005), 193.
- Benjamin L. Merkle, “The Office of Deacon,” in Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 319-20.
- Hammett, Biblical Foundations, 195.
- Jonathan Leeman, “Your 7 Job Responsibilities as a Church Member“
- Jonathan Leeman, “Church Membership Is an Office and a Job”
Weakness. It is something each of us has an abundance of and yet none of us want to admit it. Even the word weakness conjures up a negative mental image of someone we never want to become: I think of that Norman Rockwell painting of the scrawny teenage boy with glasses looking at a picture of a bodybuilder while curling some light dumbbells. Why is weakness such a terrible concept in our minds? Why do we try to avoid it at all costs or choose the route of masquerading as though we’re strong? I think it is because at the root, we are all far too man-centered. Our sin nature and the confused culture around us deceive us into thinking that true strength resides somewhere deep within. Because we assume strength is found somewhere in us, the only solution for tapping into that strength is self-esteem or self-discovery or self-expression. This is the lie we are spoon-fed to believe in 21st Century Western civilization. Isn’t it odd how we’ve even projected that facade of self strength into the way we respond to terminal illness? When diagnosed with cancer, people say, “I’m going to beat this.” Now don’t get me wrong: it is good to have a positive outlook on life, but that should stem from a source more trustworthy than us. Even in our strongest moments, a microscopic virus or bacteria can wipe us out. At the end of the day, we just don’t want to be weak because weakness is seen as the enemy of all true progress; but that is just dead wrong.
What if God hard-wired weakness into us for some grander purpose? What if our weakness and frailty and vulnerability in life were all sovereignly intended to point us to the source of true strength, outside of ourselves? This is what Paul discovered. In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is writing to defend his ministry against those denying his credibility as an apostle. They said, “his bodily appearance is weak” along with his speaking skills (2 Cor. 10:10). Although Paul goes on to defend his ministry and authority as an apostle, he never denies their claims concerning his weakness. As a matter of fact, he seems to wear this weakness as a badge of honor. Paul writes tongue in cheek about all the things he could boast in such as his beatings and shipwrecks and hunger and poverty. He then goes on to say, “If I must boast, I will boast of all the things that show my weakness…I will not boast, except of my weaknesses…I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses…I am content with weaknesses…I am nothing” (11:30; 12:5; 12:9; 12:10; 12:11). Wow. It’s almost like Paul is saying, “Hey everybody, I’m really good and not being good enough! Watch me as I dominate not dominating anything.” Why would Paul be so backwards from the culture and boast in his weakness? It wasn’t just because he was jaded and fed up with the church. It was another reason altogether. It was because God taught Paul that the very weakness that made life miserable for him at times was part of God’s plan to point him to true strength.
We see this in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. Paul was given a “messenger of Satan” to torment him, which he also calls a “thorn” in his flesh. Theologians have debated for two millenia about what exactly this is (many say an eye disease perhaps received after being blinded by the vision of Christ; others some opponent to his ministry), but the point is the same nonetheless. He writes, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When we don’t see our prayers answered the way we want, we can be encouraged to know God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer the way he wanted here (and Jesus’ prayer in the garden either for that matter). God was teaching Paul and us something marvelous about His purposes: weakness reveals to us our insufficiency, but it can also remind us of the sufficiency of God’s grace for every trial. Paul’s ailment lead to his repeated pleading, which led to the promise of God’s all-sufficient grace. There are moments in each person’s life where God gives us a nice reminder of our own weakness. Sometimes it is in the form of an illness; sometimes in the form of a sudden brush with death; sometimes in the form of the loss of a loved one. Yet there is that moment when our frailty is exposed and we can sing with the band Kansas, “All we are is dust in the wind.” If we could just learn to keep that mentality we would be less quick to pretend we’re strong and more prone to abide in Christ, our refuge and strength.
In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul expresses this: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” The statement, “God will never put on you more than you can handle” is false. He will and often does. But He has a purpose in doing so: to drive you to rely on His strength. Pastor Matt Chandler has pointed out that when skeptics call Christianity a crutch they are correct, for we are all crippled and it is far better to acknowledge that than to hobble around on our broken femurs declaring we’re fine.
Years ago, my wife and I gathered the family for pictures outside our home. It was a beautiful Easter day and we were all in our “church clothes” looking good. There was a stunning array of azalea bushes we used as a backdrop. However, as many parents can testify, toddlers and babies don’t always do great at picture time. The picture we finally ended up with was priceless: both kids were screaming as my wife and I were holding them in a death grip with exhausted smiles on our faces. When we posted it on social media, it was interesting the response. People loved it because for once they felt they could identify and weren’t seeing just another picture of someone who appears to have it all together. It sure is easy to present a nicer image of ourselves than is reality…not only in social media, but in real life too. In our churches we can shy away from real community when we don’t open up about struggles in our sanctification. If we don’t embrace our weaknesses, then this Gospel we preach and believe can easily appear unnecessary for us who clearly aren’t that bad off. There is a reason why James 5:16a calls us to, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.”
So instead of hiding behind the mask of our sufficiency, may we all learn to embrace our weaknesses and run to the strength God provides in Christ. The next time you’re out of energy and feeling the only way out is sin, remember His grace is sufficient in that moment. When you just want to give up hope because things just seem too hard, remember: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). May we say with Paul, “I am content with weaknesses”, knowing His power is perfected in weakness. After all, how else is the world going to see the power of the Gospel if not in the midst of our own weakness and clinging to His strength?
Many of us don’t like big words. They can be confusing, hard to say, and difficult to understand. However, at times, big words help bring complex ideas under one heading. We will see that to be true as we look at the words in the blog. Here are five words that all Christians should know.
Regeneration is the gracious act of God whereby He brings to life the spiritually dead and causes them to turn in faith to Him (Ephesians 2:1-9). Each and every one of us is born spiritually dead – which means there is no desire, or even ability, within us to follow after God on our own (Romans 3:10; 8:7-8). We are dead in sin and cannot initiate a relationship with God. Therefore, it takes the miraculous work of God for us to be brought into a saving relationship with Him. He must first replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19) before we will turn in faith to Him. If it were not for God’s gracious work of regeneration, sinners would remain in their state of deadness forever. It is only by God’s grace that unbelievers come to life spiritually and turn in faith to Christ.
Justification is a judicial term that has huge theological significance. To be justified is to be declared righteous. It’s as if you were sitting before the judge in a court room and he declared you not guilty, although you were guilty. This is what has taken place in the believer’s life. By grace through faith in Jesus, the believer has been declared righteous (not guilty) before God (Romans 3:24-25). This declaration was not a result of self-works or effort, but of Christ’s work on behalf of the believer (Galatians 2:16). Therefore, when God the Father looks down on the Christian He does not see the sinners that we are but He sees His Son’s righteousness in us (Romans 5:18-19).
Propitiation has in mind the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath. As a result of our sin we have offended a holy God. We deserve punishment. That punishment is the wrath of God being poured out on us for all of eternity (Romans 6:23). God is just and therefore must punish sin. His wrath must be satisfied or else He wouldn’t be just. However, at the same time God is also merciful. In His mercy He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world (John 3:16) to satisfy His justice by absorbing the wrath that we deserve in our place (1 John 2:2). Jesus took our punishment in our place. At the cross of Christ we see both the justice of God (sin being punished) and the grace of God (Jesus taking that punishment for sinners) being poured out. Jesus’ sacrificial death satisfies (propitiates) God’s wrath for those who trust in Him.
To redeem something is to buy it back. It is, as one person put it, “to transfer ownership to the one paying the price demanded” (Bob Burridge). Unbelievers are slaves to sin (Romans 6:20) and it’s consequence (Romans 6:23). We have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and therefore we are all slaves to sin and death. We owe an eternal debt for the offense (sin) that we have committed against God. We cannot pay our way out of this debt. Left to ourselves the weight of our sin debt will crush us and rightfully so. However, by the grace of God Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He came to purchase His people by His blood. Ephesians tells us that, “In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…” (Ephesians 1:7). Also Revelation 5 says, “…You [Christ] were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Jesus has paid our sin debt by His blood and freed us from our bondage to sin and death. We are free to live for Christ and free from sin’s penalty only because Jesus paid our penalty. He redeemed His people.
To sanctify means to set apart. Sanctification is the work of God to set a special people apart for Himself and the work of Christians to grow in their in godliness. Those who by grace have come to faith in Christ are those who have been forever set apart by God as His special people (Acts 26:18, 1 Corinthians 6:11). This aspect of sanctification is God’s work. Christians, however, are also involved in sanctification. From the day that they come to faith in Christ to the day that they die, they are to be progressing in the faith. Although the believer is involved in this work he is not alone in it. God is at work within him. The book of Philippians makes this clear. Paul writes, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12b-13). Here we can see the believer’s responsibility to grow in the faith. He is called to work out his own salvation – prove it to be true by living righteously – but He is not called to do it alone. He is enabled by God’s power within him. The same grace that justified him sanctifies him. The Christian has been set apart from this world by God and is now on a life long journey to mature in the faith.
Five, simple yet profound, words to build your lives on.
The Publican’s 2019 has come and gone and what a Saturday it was as churches from all over the bay area were represented through our speakers and guest panelists. Specifically, this year we gathered with the purpose of displaying how, from every genre of the scriptures, God is worshiped, and how through seeing the Him worshiped in His word we learn how we too should worship. So for the purpose of today’s post I want to give you and overview of the Publican’s 2019, in the coming weeks video and audio will be posted so you may listen or watch each of our sessions.
We began our morning walking through the Old testament Torah, Histories, and Poetry. Joe Earle Kicked us off by looking at Leviticus 10. In this text we unpacked what false worship looked like as Nadab and Abihu were consumed by the fire of the Lord for presenting a strange fire. From this we were called to ask ourselves to think deeply about the manner in which we come before a Holy God. As believers we must take the Worship of God seriously and not be flippant in our worship.
After the Torah Matt Noble led us into the Histories with 2 Kings 18:1-8 and the introduction of Hezekiah. In this sermon we were introduced to a King who feared the Lord and sought to Bring his love of God to his people. Hezekiah tore down all the graven images around Israel including the Bronze serpent that the Lord had used to save his people in the book of Numbers. Through the Life of Hezekiah, we saw the character of a man who loved the Lord first and foremost and how from that Love for god and His holiness he acted, he didn’t let the cares of his day distract him from serving God well. So too we need to trust the Lord and serve Him faithfully regardless of the world around us.
We concluded our Morning teaching segments from the Psalm 104. In this text I unpacked How God is glorified by His creation. We see in this text the magnificent beauty and wonder of all that God has done in creation, and that by observing his love and care for it, we see His character as a loving and caring God. We see His precision in creation. From looking at creation we see the call to praise the name of God for His wondrous deeds. We are called to reflect on Him as we see Him at work around us.
After our morning Speakers we had a round table discussion featuring Steve Best, President of Bible Basics International, Tim Miller, Senior Pastor of Lakeview Community Church, and Andrew Larsen, Senior Pastor of Safety Harbor community Church. Our round table discussion featured a conversation discussing how we can see worship played out in the life of the church and at home, specifically from each of our speakers backgrounds in ministry over the years and current life circumstances as husbands, fathers, and in one case grandfather.
After our break for Lunch Aaron Currin wrapped up our journey through the Old Testament by looking at the role of worship in Hosea. Not a book most would go to in thinking about worship, but from this text we were able to see the passion of God towards his people in spite of their sinfulness and harlotry. We God wooing us back to himself with the truth of who He is, and through this we are broken of our sin and return to the God we love. It is an amazing picture of what we see in Christ who loving cares for His bride.
From the Old Testament we quickly turned to the New Testament with one of our newest Contributors, Tommy Shelton. Tommy walked us through John 4 reflecting on the women at the well and what it means that in Christ we will worship in spirit and in truth. We saw that the worship of God is a global event not limit to a specific town or mountain, but a gift through Christ to be seen on every mountain and in every valley. All the nations will praise God.
From the theme of Worship transforming all Nations, Adam Powers took us through the beauty and wonder of Paul’s doxology in Romans 11. In This text we beheld the mystery and glory of the God who saves and Christ our Savior. We saw how worship flows out an overflow of the knowledge of God especially his sovereign gift of grace and salvations seen in the gospel. He is worthy to be praised by all people at all times.
Which lead us finally to Brian Walls and the book of Revelation. Brian concluded our time in the Word in chapter 19 around the throne of God as the saint’s worship God for His salvation and His judgment. It was a hard text and yet a beautiful one as we see the justice of God put on display for His children to see and marvel at, we were reminded that we serve a loving God and a just God. He is both and must be worshiped for both.
If you couldn’t join us this past weekend we hope you will catch the videos on YouTube in the coming weeks, along with some other new additions to the Publican’s ministry that we will be unveiling.
2 Samuel 6 is one of those chapters that reminds us of the divinely inspired nature of Scripture. Go ahead, read it, I’ll wait.
The whole chapter goes against the grain of human preference. Commentator Dale Ralph Davis says it like this, “No one would’ve invented a story like this, let alone a ‘god’ like this. Not if we were trying to win converts and influence people. The God of this chapter isn’t very marketable.” Death from God’s holiness, dancing and delighting in God’s pleasure, and disgust for worshipping in so unproper a manner. The Bible is a perfect balance of truth. Both great terror and great joy are here. Tremble before this God and dance with all your might! The world cannot comprehend a God like this, but you know who can? The redeemed get it. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ understands that a thing can be both dreadfully terrible and deeply wonderful at the same time.
Allow me to put forward two takeaways from 2 Samuel 6:
First, Emotional Pleasure in Worship.
When someone today describes another as an ‘emotional type’ are they giving that person a compliment? No. For some reason we think expressing emotions is a sign of immaturity, while keeping your emotions in check is a sign of maturity. I think that mindset more fits with Michal than David in our this chapter. Look at David. A heart full of joy in the Lord cannot be contained without vigorous dancing in the presence of the Lord. Now I get that to a degree varying temperaments express joy in different ways. Too many though, use that as an excuse for remaining emotionally frigid. If your voice resounds and your hands reach to the heavens when ‘your team’ scores a touchdown and they don’t go up in worship, something’s off. Worldly delights are delights, but they shouldn’t have or receive the majority of our emotional expression. No, God should. Therefore it ought to be our great and earnest endeavor to cultivate a deep joy in God. Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; and at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 27:4, “One thing I have asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, and gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.” Psalm 36:7-8, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They feast on the abundance of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your delights.”
Emotional maturity then means, not avoiding feeling in worship, but feeling what we ought to feel in worship. The grandeur of the glory of God, the gravity of our sin, and the gladness of redemption. God wants all of you. Mind and heart. When the mind is renewed, the heart is enflamed, and when the heart is enflamed the body cannot be still. It either bows low in reverential humility, or sings – sways – dances in reverential satisfaction. But…let’s not miss the forest for the trees here. When David brought up the ark at first and worshiped and rejoiced according to his own ways and wisdom the result was death. But when David brought up the ark again and worshiped and rejoiced according to God’s ways and wisdom the result was national celebration. Lesson? Right order in worship isn’t intended to stifle deep emotion, but to allow Godward emotions to run wild.
Second, Divine Presence in Worship.
It is important to see why the events of chapter 6 come after the events of chapter 5. Back in chapter 5 we saw king David lead out the armies of Israel not only to defeat the Jebusites and capture Jerusalem, we saw him lead out the armies again and defeat the Philistines twice. These were certainly great victories. Then in chapter 6 we have the narrative of the ark coming to dwell in the city among the people where it belongs. Lesson? God’s people are not sustained first and foremost by great victories against their enemies. God’s people are not sustained first and foremost by expanding their borders, no. Victory is good, expanding and growth is good but God’s people are sustained first and foremost by seeking God’s very face, His presence.
I think at times we can easily lose sight of this. We too easily get caught up in the latest moral outrage, social cause, ethical dilemma, and political battles of our time. And while these things can be good in themselves and while they may move us to action and cause us to be mindful or aware of our current cultural climate, are these the things that sustain the life of the Church? No. Think back to the ark. It was the symbol God’s presence among His people, and in this way this box, this sacred furniture looks forward to Jesus Christ who is the “…image of the invisible God…” in whom “…all the fullness of the deity dwells bodily…” and is “…the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” (Col. 1:15, 2:9, Heb. 1:3).
How do we keep our focus on God personally and corporately? By turning our eyes and hearts to Jesus, His Person (truly and fully God / truly and fully Man), His work (perfect law-keeping life, wrath bearing and atoning death, victorious resurrection, and mighty ascension), and looking full in wonderful His face.
Our worship of Him must be and ever remain to be at the center of our life together.
 Dale Ralph Davis, Out of Every Adversity – 2 Samuel, 75, 77–78.
 Zac Hicks, The Worship Pastor, 143-155.
 Davis, 74.
What is the best news that you’ve ever heard? Maybe it was the news that you were going to have a baby. Maybe it was your acceptance into your dream college, or the news that you got your dream job. When you heard this news, how hard was it for you to keep it to yourself? Almost impossible, wasn’t it? Our natural response to life-changing news is to shout it from the rooftop, post it on every form of social media, call or text everyone we know and want them, also, to share in the joy and excitement that we ourselves are currently experiencing.
As I’ve been studying and preaching through the Book of Philippians recently, there is something that has struck me afresh regarding the Apostle Paul — He was a man that was incredibly joyful because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and supremely committed to sharing it with everyone.
You see, for Paul, there was no greater news in the world than the fact that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners like himself. And not only was this the greatest news for him personally, he also knew that it was the greatest news that anyone could ever hear, and so he devoted his life to the spreading of this Good News and helping brothers and sisters in Christ further contemplate and comprehend its impact into every aspect of their lives.
As we enter into this Fall season and the holidays that will quickly be upon us — a season filled with giving, joy, and thankfulness — I want you to think with me for a moment about the love, joy, and thankfulness that Paul has for the Gospel in the book of Philippians.
Every aspect of Paul’s life was lived in light of and because of the Good News of what God has done to reconcile sinners with Himself. In Philippians 2:5-11 we see the epitome of the humility shown by Jesus and the sacrifice He made on behalf of sinners. And why was it that Jesus had to go through such a sacrificial, substitutionary death? It was because all men, ever since Adam and Eve, are born in sin — we are all sinners both by nature and by choice. And our sin is not just against each other, though it is that. Our sin is not merely against some arbitrary laws or some made up morality of right and wrong. Rather, our sin is against a holy and righteous God — the one, true God of the universe that has created every single one of us for His glory. Yet each of us have committed acts of divine treason through our sin, and because of that, we stand guilty before God and fully deserving of His wrath to be poured out upon our sin.
But here’s the Good News — the Good News that sustained and ignited Paul throughout his life. God himself made a way of salvation by sending the eternal second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, to take on the form of a man in the incarnation, to live a perfect life that we could never live, to die the death that we should have died, to take the sins of His people upon Himself as their substitute, to satisfy the wrath of God on their behalf as a propitiation, to rise from the dead and defeat sin, death and Satan, and to ascend to the right hand of the Father, where He now rules and reigns and intercedes for His people until He comes again.
What INCREDIBLE news that is! We all have excellent and exciting things that we experience in this life — good gifts given to us by our good and gracious God. But every single one of them pales in comparison with the good news of what Jesus has done to save sinners! Paul knew this. Paul lived his life for this. Paul ended up giving his life for this. Paul’s love for the Gospel was such that he could say in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In this passage, Paul is contemplating the possible outcomes of his current imprisonment. He may be set free. He may be put to death. Whichever happens, he’s confident that Christ will be honored in his body, whether by life or by death. What does he mean that for him to live is Christ? Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century British preacher, summarized it by saying that Paul’s life is characterized by this fourfold pursuit — to know Christ more, to imitate Christ more, to preach Christ more, and to enjoy Christ more.
We see a more detailed picture of what this looked like in Paul’s life in Philippians 3:7-8, when he says:
“7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
For Paul, the Good News of what Jesus has done to save sinners was the best news he had ever heard — so good that he gave his life to share it, teach it, and proclaim it to all who would listen.
What about you? What is the best news that you have ever heard? May we, like Paul, be thankful for the good gifts that God gives us in this life. But may we, also like Paul, see the supreme and preeminent value of Christ and the Gospel over all things.
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).
“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.
Just a bowl.
All glory be to Christ, Tommy Shelton
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.” 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.”
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.
 Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001, page 62.
 Lewis, 70.
 Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996, page 126.
 Berkhof, 129.
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.
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
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
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
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).5 “Biblical 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
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.
- Bruce Ware, “Summaries of the Egalitarian and Complementarian Positions,” CBMW, June 26, 2007, https://cbmw.org/uncategorized/summaries-of-the-egalitarian-and-complementarian-positions/
- The Danvers Statement, Affirmation #1, https://cbmw.org/about/danvers-statement/
- 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.
- 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.
- Knight, “The Family and the Church,” 353.
- 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.
- Ortlund, “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship,” 86.
- 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.
- 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.
- Knight, “The Family and the Church,” 358.
- 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.
- The Danvers Statement, Affirmation #9
- William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary 46 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 148.
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.