Why Sola Gratia? Because We Are Beggars

Twenty-nine years had passed since he nailed his 95 theses to church door in Wittenberg. Being 62 years old and weary from his life’s work, Luther was asked to come be the mediator in a family dispute in his hometown of Eisleben, Germany. Through Luther’s efforts the dispute was resolved, but he fell ill in the process. Sensing his end was near he wrote his last will and testament and his friend Justus Jonas came to his side and asked him “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” Luther shouted “YES!” The sickness increased, and as death approached Luther uttered his last words.

“We are beggars. This is true.”

“We are beggars. This is true.” Do these words surprise you? On the surface of things they certainly don’t seem very hopeful do they? That he would mention his own fallen and sinful condition on his deathbed seems a bit melancholy. I mean, this is Martin Luther we’re talking about. He’d written volumes upon volumes about the nuances of gospel grace, the Christian life, the Church, and then on his deathbed he gives us that? I hope you don’t think these words are too strange. In fact I hope you are strangely encouraged by these words. Why? Because Luther knew what we need to know.

After laboring and sweating and agonizing and grinding his soul to the uttermost ends of his limits trying to perform enough good works to become right with God in the monkhood as a good Roman Catholic he realized something that changed his life.

He was not enough.

He was a fallen man. He truly was helpless and truly was hopeless before God in his own works. But this truth about him didn’t leave him helpless and hopeless, it left him hopeful, for when he came to the end of himself he found the beginning of life in Christ. When He came to the end of Himself He learned the works that really do save us and make us right with God aren’t our own works, but Christ’s and Christ’s alone! So when it came time for the great reformer to die, he did not deny, he did not twist, he did not run away from his own fallen nature. He owned it and said “We are beggars. This is true.”

What a great way to proclaim the content we find in Ephesians 2:8, “…by grace you have been saved…this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”

The question that he answered on his deathbed is one that each of you must answer as well. ‘How do I, a sinner, become right with a holy God?’ If your answer is anything about things you have done or things you have not done than I’m afraid you’re bankrupt spiritually. Sadly, taking the state of the Protestant Evangelical world in America this means much of who we are is bankrupt. Why? The Cambridge Declaration explains it well, “Unlimited confidence in human ability is a product of the fall. It is this false confidence that now fills the Protestant world: from the self-esteem gospel to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat the Christian faith as being true simply because it works and brings a crowd.” All of these modern inventions are nothing more than repeats of historical heresies.

So reader, may you see God’s grace as not some kind of general kindness or benevolence of God, but the sole cause of our salvation. When asked how we become right with God may your answer ever be…Sola Gratia – Grace Alone!

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Why Sola Scriptura? Because of Misplaced Authority

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. Jonathan Leeman is right when he says there is truly a danger in idolizing the past, there is a greater danger in forgetting the past altogether. So in looking to the past to gain wisdom for today, 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 Sola Scriptura 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 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.

Prayer as the Route to True Theological Experience

In Romans 8:15-16 Paul says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

There are many things to draw from the wealth of this passage, but do not miss what is sitting right on the surface of it. When we’re reminded that we’ve been adopted by God and feel the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we’re children of God, what happens? We cry out in prayer saying “Abba! Father!” Or in other words, we experience a deep and profound communion with God that leads to a peaceful assurance and rest in God. Some of you may shrink back at the thought of experiencing God as something too emotional, too subjective, perhaps too mystical. There is some truth in this. In every age there have been those who have allowed emotion and experience to determine their faith and view of Scripture, rather than placing their emotion and experience under the examination of Scripture. But, I’m convinced that we will miss a great deal of heavenly blessedness in our souls if we overreact in the opposite direction and reject all emotion and experience with God. If we reject all emotive experiences with God how are we to commune with God? How are to we feel deeply for Him? Indeed we cannot.

John Owen, the English Puritan, in a sermon on the gospel once encouraged his hearers to “get an experience of the power of the gospel…in and upon your own hearts, or all your profession is an expiring thing.”[1] Similar to this quote the Scottish theologian John Murray said, “It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith…of living union and communion with the exalted and ever-present Redeemer…He communes with His people and His people commune with Him in a conscious reciprocal love…The life of true faith cannot be that of a cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.”[2] Hear Peter in 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…” We cannot commune with God in any proper or substantial way, we cannot ‘rejoice with joy inexpressible filled with glory’ if we remain cold and against all emotion. No, we are called an intimacy with God where a deep love for God is felt and cherished.

We must be reminded first and foremost that prayer is not a conversation between two equal parties. We do not pray to get things from God, we pray to get more of God.[3] We pray to commune with God and to grow in our affections for God. Tim Keller commenting on these things says, “An encounter with God involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind. We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a Christian life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together…”[4] God doesn’t intend us to leave our theology behind and go out on a quest looking for deeper religious experience, no. Rather, in prayer the Holy Spirit helps us experience our theology.[5]

With this in mind let’s examine four prayers Paul makes in his letters to the churches.

Ephesians 1:15-20

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places…”

When Paul heard of the faith the Ephesian believers had in Christ and their love toward one another, it moved him to pray for them. Specifically praying that God (calling Him the “Father of glory”) would give them the Holy Spirit who would reveal more of God to them so they would increase in their wisdom and knowledge of God. Paul even asks for their hearts to be enlightened so that they would four things: first, how deep and vast our hope is in Christ. Second, how glorious our inheritance in Christ is. Third, how immeasurably great God’s power is toward us who believe. And fourth, for them to recognize that all of these wonderful things he’s been praying for are given to us in the Spirit who raised Christ up to God’s right hand. It seems clear to me, and I hope it seems clear to you, that Paul’s main agenda in prayer here is to ask God to so move among these Ephesians that these Ephesians would experience subjectively what they know to be true objectively. They have rich doctrine in their minds, and Paul desires that doctrine would fill the rest of the lives and the means he goes about encouraging them toward this is prayer.

Ephesians 3:14-19

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

We see a progression in Paul’s prayer here. First, Paul desires that these believers would be strengthened by the Spirit in their inner being according to the riches of God’s glory, so that, Christ would abound in their hearts through faith. Secondly, Paul asks that because of that they would be rooted and grounded in love with one another. Thirdly, because of that He asks that they, together, would comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge. Fourth, because Paul’s ultimate request from all of this is that they would be filled with the fullness of God. Again, Paul’s driving motivation in praying for the Ephesians here in chapter 3 is similar to his motivation back in chapter 1. He desires they comprehend what is incomprehensible, and that they be filled with the fullness of God. This is to say, he prays they would experience subjectively what they know to be true objectively.

Philippians 1:9-11

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

After reminding the Philippian believers in v3-8 that he prays for them regularly, remembering them for their deep and heartfelt partnership with him in the gospel, Paul prays for that their love would abound, be filled with more knowledge and more discernment, and that God would fill them with the fruit of righteousness for the praise and glory of Christ. Again, we see Paul praying for the Philippians in a very similar manner he prayed for the Ephesians. He is taking immense doctrinal truth and praying that this Philippian congregation would experience the fullness of it. That this truth they know would not only inform their minds but inflame and enliven their lives with a new depth of spiritual communion with God.

Colossians 1:9-14

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

As with the Ephesians and the Philippians, Paul uses almost the exact same language to pray for Colossian believers. He wants them to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and from that desires they walk in a manner worthy of God. He wants them to be increasing and strengthened with God’s glorious might and from that desires they endure patiently with joy. And lastly he wants them to be thankful to God who has delivered them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ.

I think you get the picture I’m seeking to set before you.

In Paul’s prayer for these churches we something very experiential and something very doctrinal. As Tim Keller told us before, be reminded that God does not ask us to choose between a Christian life that’s doctrinal and a Christian life that’s powerful. No, God calls each of us to a Christian life that is deeply and objectively theological as well as richly experiential and subjective. How exactly does God intend these two worlds of objective truth and subjective experience to mesh together? In prayer.

The greatness of prayer is that in it we subjectively experience what we know to be true objectively. The greatness of prayer is that it is the way in which our theology moves into our soul.

So the application is simple, give yourself to this deeply and daily and what God fill you with His fullness.

 

 

Citations:

[1] John Owen, quoted in Tim Keller’s Prayer, page 15.

[2] John Murray, quoted in Ibid., page 16. Emphasis mine.

[3] Tim Keller, Ibid., page 21.

[4] Ibid., page 16-17.

[5] Ibid., page 17.

Prayer As the Pursuit of God’s Glory

What is prayer?

I believe that the glory of God is the most ultimate and supreme and majestic reason behind everything, so I want to begin a series of posts on prayer but feel I must start in seeing prayer in relation to God’s glory. So, my first answer to the question ‘What is Prayer?’ is this: prayer is the pursuit of God’s glory.

In Psalm 50:15 we read, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Similarly in John 14:13 Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” So, the ultimate reason we’re to call on God in days of trouble, and to come before God in Christ’s name with our requests is so that God would be glorified. When God brings us out of the day of trouble His goal is His glory. When God hears and grants our requests in Christ’s name His goal is His glory. God desires to be glorified in our prayer. One question we may ask at this point is how? God says He wants to be glorified when in prayer, that is clear, but how does He want to be glorified in our prayer? Think of like this.

Suppose you are completely paralyzed and all you can do is talk.[i] Then suppose your brother promised to live with you for the rest of your life to care for you and do for you what you are no longer able to do. Then suppose one day afterwards someone decides to visit you. So they get ready, come to the door and ring the doorbell. Your brother then opens the door, lets them in, and brings them to your room. In that moment how would you make much of your brother’s humble willingness to live with you and care for you? Would you try and get up out of bed, and clean yourself and your room up to make room for your guest? Of course not. No, you would call out to your brother for help. Help to be propped up, help with your glasses to see your visitor, help to clean up your room a bit so your visitor can sit down with you. After seeing your brother help you, your visitor would learn two things from watching this. First, they would learn how needy you are. And second, they would learn how kind and able and strong your brother is.

Prayer is very similar. By coming to God in the day of trouble, and by coming to God with your needs in Christ’s name, you are shown to be needy and weak, unable to do for yourself what you most need to do. But your neediness isn’t the only thing on display here. What else is on display? God’s power and strength to provide the help we need. So how God glorified in prayer? God is glorified in prayer because prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as strong. To not pray is like having the rooms of your house wallpapered in Target gift cards while you keep shopping at Goodwill because you can’t read.[ii] To not pray is like being a bus driver and trying to push your bus out of a ditch on the side of the road unaware that Clark Kent is on board.[iii] Remember what Jesus said to the Woman at the well? In John 4:10, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” If you knew…you would ask! Therefore those who labor in prayer are those who know two things. They know how needy and helpless they are, and they know how willing and able and strong God is in Christ toward those who believe.

Charles Spurgeon once used the famous tale Robinson Crusoe as an illustration in a sermon. He said this, “Robinson Crusoe had been wrecked. He is left on the desert island all alone. His case is a very pitiable one. He goes to his bed, and he is smitten with fever. This fever lasts upon him long, and he has no one to wait upon him – none to even bring him a drink of cold water. He is ready to perish. He had been accustomed to sin, and had all the vices of a sailor; but his hard case made him think. He opens a Bible which he finds in his chest, and he comes upon a passage, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” That night he prayed for the first time in his life, and ever after there was in him a hope in God which marked the birth of the heavenly life.”[iv]

Spurgeon explained his use of Robinson Crusoe’s tale like this, “God and the praying man take shares…First here is your share “Call upon Me in the day of trouble…” Secondly here is God’s share “I will deliver you.” Again, we take a share “You shall be delivered.” And then God takes the final share “You shall glorify Me.” Here is a covenant that God enters into with you who pray to Him, and whom He helps. He says, “You shall have deliverance, but I must have the glory.” Here is a delightful partnership: we obtain that which we so greatly need, and…God gets the glory which is due to His name.”[v]

Church, see this great discovery about the nature of prayer. We do not glorify God in prayer by asking God if we can provide for His needs, but by asking that Him to provide ours and trusting Him to answer in His own wise and gracious time. Prayer is in a very real sense, giving up the effort of doing things in your own strength and hanging a help wanted sign around your neck.[vi] It is sitting back in the doctor’s chair and trusting the Great Physician to do what only the Great Physician can do.[vii] So yes, in all of life, and for our purposes here – in our prayer, if God is to get the glory we are to act as receivers and not givers. This is how God is glorified in the prayer of His people. And more so, this is how we receive great joy. John 16:24, “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” So when we come with empty hands, acknowledging our neediness and depending on God to provide in His abundance, God is glorified and our joy is made full.

You’ve probably felt his influence throughout all of this, so I’ll just go ahead and quote him now to end. John Piper concludes his chapter on prayer in Desiring God like this, “Prayer pursues God’s glory by treating Him as the inexhaustible reservoir of hope and help. In prayer we admit our poverty and God’s prosperity, our bankruptcy and His bounty, our misery and His mercy. Therefore prayer highly exalts and glorifies God precisely by pursuing everything we long for in Him, and not in ourselves.”[viii]

Lord willing, we will continue next week discussing more of the nature of prayer.

 

Citations:

[i] John Piper, Desiring God, page 160-161.

[ii] Ibid., page 162.

[iii] Ibid., page 162.

[iv] Charles Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons on Prayer, page 105. Quoted in Piper, Desiring God, page 161.

[v] Charles Spurgeon, Twelve Sermons on Prayer, page 115. Quoted in Piper, Desiring God, page 162.

[vi] John Piper, Desiring God, page 171.

[vii] Ibid., page 172.

[viii] Ibid., page 182.

Every Book of the Bible in One Word

I ran across this post a while back and found it extremely helpful. It’s from Garrett Kell over on the The Gospel Coalition.

I’ve reposted the whole below, enjoy!

 

God reveals himself through his Word. When he speaks, he teaches us what he is like, how he acts, and how he desires us to respond. As a whole, the Bible is about God. It’s about God the Father displaying his glory through God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is one book made up of 66 books. Each book has a major theme that emphasizes an aspect of God’s character or a way he is working to carry out his perfect plan. What follows is an attempt to capture these themes. These themes are certainly reductionistic and required me to make a few tough choices, but I hope you’ll be helped by considering them.

Bible: God of Jesus

Old Testament: Anticipation

Gospels: Manifestation

Acts: Proclamation

Epistles: Explanation

Revelation: Consummation


Law
Genesis: God of Promise

Exodus: God of Power

Leviticus: God of Purity

Numbers: God of Perseverance

Deuteronomy: God of Preparation


History

Joshua: God of the Land

Judges: God of the Rebels

Ruth: God of Redemption

1 Samuel: God of the Heart

2 Samuel: God of the Throne

1 and 2 Kings: God of Israel

1 and 2 Chronicles: God of Judah

Ezra: God of the Temple

Esther: God of the Gallows

Nehemiah: God of the Wall


Wisdom

Job: God of Pain

Psalms: God of Praise

Proverbs: God of Prudence

Ecclesiastes: God of Purpose

Song of Solomon: God of Passion


Major Prophets

Isaiah: God of Glory

Jeremiah: God of Weeping

Lamentations: God of Faithfulness

Ezekiel: God of Visions

Daniel: God of History


Minor Prophets

Hosea: God of the Unfaithful

Joel: God of the Locusts

Amos: God of the Oppressed

Obadiah: God of the Mountain

Jonah: God of Compassion

Micah: God of Justice

Nahum: God of Wrath

Habakkuk: God of Sovereignty

Zephaniah: God of Judgment

Haggai: God of Renewal

Zechariah: God of Restoration

Malachi: God of Worship


History

Matthew: God of the Jews

Mark: God of the Romans

Luke: God of the Outcast

John: God of the World

Acts: God of Power


Pauline Epistles

Romans: God of Righteousness

1 Corinthians: God of Holiness

2 Corinthians: God of Weakness

Galatians: God of Justification

Ephesians: God of Unity

Philippians: God of Joy

Colossians: God of Preeminence

1 Thessalonians: God of Encouragement

2 Thessalonians: God of Admonishment

1 Timothy: God of Godliness

2 Timothy: God of Endurance

Titus: God of Works

Philemon: God of Reconciliation


General Epistles

Hebrews: God of Fulfillment

James: God of Trials

1 Peter: God of the Persecuted

2 Peter: God of Patience

1 John: God of Love

2 John: God of Truth

3 John: God of Discernment

Jude: God of Protection


Prophecy

Revelation: God of Eternity

I found the process of reflecting on God’s message in each book deeply edifying, and I would enjoy hearing any ways you can improve this list.

Garrett Kell is married to Carrie, and together they have five children. He serves as pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

On Life & Theology With Costi Hinn

I recently had the privilege to sit down with Costi Hinn for a rare Publicans Blog interview. It was a pleasure to get to know the man and hear his heart for the Truth. He has been through a lot in his journey from heresy to faithfulness and we can learn much from him. He is not only a godly man, he’s a husband, father, and faithful pastor seeking to honor Christ in all he does. Our interview is below, enjoy!

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Adam: Thank you for joining me for this interview. I don’t think many of our readers will know who you are, even though they may recognize your last name. Could you briefly share about yourself and how God has brought you where you are now?

Costi: Thanks for inviting me to join you Adam. From what I’ve read and seen thus far, “The Publicans” is a blessing to a lot of people.

My name is Costi, but what sticks out to most people is my last name – Hinn. I grew up in the Word of Faith and Prosperity gospel movements and was born and bred to be a tongue-speaking, name-it-and-claim-it, healthy and wealthy charismatic Christian. Some people may have heard of Benny Hinn. He’s my uncle. I grew up traveling globally with him and my father (his brother), and even worked with him when I was 18. My job was to be a “catcher” at the healing crusades. In other words, I was supposed to catch people when they were “slain in the spirit” by uncle Benny’s hand, breath, or infamous white jacket. Though I had questions about the integrity of his ministry, and the legitimacy of the manifestations and healings occurring at the crusades, the pleasures of the prosperity lifestyle were enough to keep those questions at bay for a time. Luxurious accommodations, private air travel, and the finest things in life were, after all, the blessings of God for our faithful “ministry” work. I often justified any concerns with that belief. Furthermore, any confusing teachings or things that my uncle said in contradiction to the Bible were never to be challenged. We are taught strictly that one is never to “touch the Lord’s anointed.” That meant no speaking out against or challenging any preacher – no matter what shady things they did behind closed doors or said in error from the pulpit. I was completely blind to the truth and didn’t dare challenge the system. Eventually God saved me from my life of deception and suddenly the Bible that I had been reading most of my life made sense more than ever before! I experienced illuminating work of the Holy Spirit in a remarkable way. It was as though a light bulb just flipped on and it was obvious that I had been preaching, serving, and believing in a false version of Jesus Christ. Like many believers who have left false beliefs behind, it was a series of providential events in my life and exposure to faithful Bible teachers that led to my conversion. I’ll never forget the day I wept bitterly over the life of hypocrisy that I had lived. I repented of my sin, and walked away from my false beliefs forever. it was at that time that I committed to being discipled by the pastor who had been used to show me my errors, and reading voraciously to grow in sound doctrine. Shortly after, I enrolled in seminary. By God’s grace today I am fully committed to preaching the true gospel, and serving God’s people as a faithful under-shepherd for the rest of my life. I currently am on staff as an Associate Pastor at Mission Bible Church in Tustin, California. Our teaching pastor is my brother in the Lord and close friend, Anthony Wood. He’s the one who discipled me closely during my conversion.

Adam: Praise God! It’s encouraging to hear this. God has taken you through a complete theological renovation hasn’t He? I can only imagine the high cost you’ve experienced in turning away from what your family has taught you for so long. I’m guessing that you once rejected suffering as a lack of faith in God? If so, are you now encouraged by the numerous passages of Scripture teaching us that conflict and suffering will be a normal part of the Christian life?

Costi: Yes it’s been a total transformation of my desires, beliefs, and teachings. Only God could do such a thing. I wake up thankful every day that He graciously saved me. As far as my view on suffering in the past, it certainly was tied to Word of Faith theology. For example, if there is conflict in a person’s life the culprit could be the “spirit of strife” or they could be causing the conflict with negative confessions, negative thoughts, or lack of faith. The solution is (normally) to rebuke the devil, pray in the spirit (meaning tongues), speak positive confessions, or even sow a seed into a ministry that is seen as good soil. This couldn’t be further from the biblical view on suffering but I was honestly clueless. Since my conversion, a passage that has greatly encouraged me during conflict and temporal suffering has been Matthew 10:26-39. Jesus really is the dividing line – and serving Him faithfully is not going to lead to a cake-walk through this life. Since taking a public stand for the true gospel, I’ve been received death threats, threats of physical violence, cursed for “touching the Lord’s anointed”, been called a heretic, and more. I count it a privilege to experience barely a fraction of what better men of women have gone through long before I was saved. Ultimately, we are all standing on the shoulders of faithful generations who have stood for Christ before we did. I never intended to be divided with my family over doctrine, but I refuse to compromise the gospel or turn a blind eye when a false Christ is being preached.

Adam: Amen and well said. There is a lot of deep and good stuff here to chew on. It all seems to come down to right theology and the importance of it before, in, and after seasons of suffering. Having been corrected by God theologically you have found deeper and truer wells of joy, even in the midst of difficulty. What would you say to someone who thinks theology is too controversial or too divisive and therefore avoids it trying to have a simple faith, perhaps saying, ‘I don’t do theology, I just want to love Jesus’?

Costi: First off, to avoid theology because it’s hard, controversial, or divisive, in favor of just “loving Jesus” and keeping faith simple, is like keeping your marriage superficial and shallow for fear of ever having conflict. It doesn’t make for true relationship and is not a true relationship. Jesus can’t be loved without conflict of some kind. We will either be offending someone, or conflicting with our own sinful nature that doesn’t want to submit to Him. He said He would divide people (Matthew 10:34-36), He said if you love Him you’ll obey Him (John 14:23), and He said He was the only way to heaven (John 14:6) – which means all other roads lead to hell. You literally can’t love Jesus without controversy of some sort. Second, we all need to “do theology.” By definition theology simply refers to the study of knowing God and His nature. What better way to have a relationship and thrive in true worship of God than to know Him deeply! Theology also provides an amazing platform for growing in our faith. Wrestling with doctrines, being sharpened by sound teaching, and having our man-centered pride crushed by the notion that we exist for God’s glory is sanctifying for the Christian. Lastly, some people have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to theology because of bad experiences. One of my seminary professors told us a story of how in his day, all seminary students tended to do was debate over non-essentials and forget about the Great Commission. I think there is a lesson there. Still, theology is the furthest thing from mere head knowledge that puffs up. To quote R.C. Sproul, “The purpose of theology is not to tickle our intellects but to instruct us in the ways of God, so that we can grow up into maturity and fullness of obedience to Him. That is why we engage in theology.”

Adam: I love these three things you state here, they’re absolutely necessary to keep them in view in order to do life glorifying God. Regarding your third statement here, what are the theological essentials we must never compromise on and what are the theological non-essentials we can afford to be a bit more open handed with?

Costi: Essentials are things like the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the Trinity, the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, the resurrection of Christ, the return of Christ, and you could certainly add several more to this list under those headings but you get the picture. As far as non-essentials, that list may look like the cessation or continuation of certain gifts, eschatology, ecclesiology, and church government structures. Again, several more could be added to this list but in general, these aren’t hills we should be dying on or spending our entire ministry solely focused on. I would clarify this list by saying that many of these non-essentials can easily become essential issues when they infringe upon the deity of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the sufficiency of Scripture or other excesses being witnessed in the church today. In other words, there is a huge difference between Wayne Grudem and Bill Johnson, though they both would be considered “continuationists.” One is a biblically sound theologian, the other is a false teacher.

Adam: Knowing the difference between what hills to die on and what hills to not die on is indeed extremely helpful. Thank you so much for your time with me and answering my questions. One last question: if you were stranded on an island and were allowed to have 5 books with you, what 5 would you take and why?

Costi: Thank you Adam. I’d take 1) My Bible for obvious reasons. 2) A Bible handbook because I enjoy background and context 3) J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone by Iain Murray because Ryle is one of my heroes and I’d be stranded alone on an island 4) The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink for those days when I’d question why God allowed me to end up stranded on an island 5) Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley because I never get bored of reading about where we’ve come from as Christians. We are just standing on the shoulders of faithful men and women who stood boldly for Christ long before us.

Adam: Well said sir, I praise God for the testimony of His grace in your life and will continue to pray for you and your ministry. May the Lord bless, increase, and spread His fame through you in the years to come. Thank you for taking time to spend with us Publicans 🙂

Costi: It was fun Adam – I enjoyed it! Keep up the great work at The Publicans.

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You can find more from Costi Hinn on his blog Equip the Saint, you can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/costiwhinn/, and follow him on twitter @costiwhinn.

Reader, Don’t Miss This. There’s A Chance You Could.

In the beginning of John 6 Jesus performs a great miracle in taking a young boys lunch and making it into a meal for a multitude. That same multitude than seeks to make Him king, right after the miracle and even into the next day, because He seems (to them) to be someone who can truly take care of their needs. But Jesus didn’t come to meet physical needs or meet materialistic expectations. He came to meet the deepest need of man, the eternal satisfaction of the soul. This is why He worked the wonder of feeding the 5,000, to show that by being able to feed them physically for one evening, He is truly able and willing to feed their souls forever and ever. He even takes time to explain this to the multitude more clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. The multitude still didn’t quite see what Jesus was saying, so in response to the crowd’s obtuseness Jesus responds with some of the clearest and most powerful language thus far in John’s gospel.

This clear, powerful response is found in John 6:35-40. For us today, notice just v35-36.

After this multitude shows their shallow ability to understand what Jesus is saying He speaks in blazing clarity saying in v35, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to Me shall not hunger and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst.” They were comparing Jesus’ previous miracle to the manna given by God to Israel in the wilderness, but Jesus contrasts Himself with that manna pointing out that the true bread of heaven isn’t something they can pick up and eat, it is nothing less than Himself. “He Himself is the food, the bread of heaven come down to give life, and it is only from this bread that men truly obtain the satisfaction we desire.” (Leon Morris)

Becoming a Christian can be described in many ways: being born again, becoming a new creation, getting saved, leaving the old behind and pressing into what’s ahead, turning away from sin and turning toward Christ, etc. Notice here in v35 Jesus describes it in terms of coming to Him and believing in Him. When one comes to Him or believes in Him what’s in view here is a move away from a life that is characterized by hunger, thirst, famine, lack, and an inability to satisfy or quench the deepest desires of our soul. v35 says we move away from that kind of life only when we move toward Christ. This means when we move toward Christ we move into an entirely new kind of human experience. We move into a kind of life where hunger and thirst are no longer possible, where famine and lack have no place or room to settle within us, and where the inability to satisfy or quench the soul’s deepest desires is a thing of the past.

For when we come to Christ He saves us, and when Christ saves us, He becomes the very sustenance of our souls. Of course I do not mean that all hungering or thirsting or longing in the soul vanishes when we’re saved, not at all. In a real sense it’s at the moment of salvation where we, for the first time, taste a true hunger and thirst to know God more and more. Thus, a new kind of hungering and thirsting is created by coming to Christ. So what kind of hunger and thirst then has vanished forever, never to return again upon becoming a Christian?

The deep longing of an unsatisfied heart, that is no longer part of our reality.

One of Jesus’s parables puts this on display. In Matthew 13:44 Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.” Here we see what true conversion looks like. John Piper is so helpful here. In the second chapter of Desiring God, Conversion: The Creation of a Christian Hedonist he says we are converted when Christ becomes for us a treasure chest of holy joy. When we see Him, recognize His vast worth, and then, in our joy we let go of all we hold dear so we can have Him! A crucified, risen, and reigning Savior who pardons all our sins, provides all our righteousness, and becomes in His Person our greatest treasure. So saving faith, the kind of faith v35 speaks of that comes to and believes in Jesus, this kind of faith always involves a profound change of heart. It is not mere mental ascent to a certain set of doctrines. It is seeing Christ in those glorious gospel doctrines standing forth as supremely valuable and worthy of all the affection of your heart and soul. It is gaining a God-given new taste for the bread of heaven, and a new captivating sight of the beauty and glory of Christ!

Listen to John Piper describe this later in that same chapter, “Once we had no delight in God, and Christ was just a vague historical figure. What we enjoyed was food and friendships and productivity and investments and vacations and hobbies and games and reading and shopping and sex and sports and art and TV and travel…but not God. He was an idea, maybe even a good idea or topic for discussion, but not a treasure of delight. Then something miraculous happened. It was like the opening of the eyes of the blind during the golden dawn. First, the stunned silence before the unspeakable beauty of holiness. Then the shock and terror that we had actually loved the darkness. Then the settling stillness of joy that this is the soul’s end…And then, faith – the confidence that Christ has made a way for me, a sinner, to live in His glorious fellowship forever, the confidence that if I come to God through Christ, I will share in His holiness and behold His glory.”

Reader, please don’t miss this. There is a chance you could.

There is a chance you could be in church every week for your whole life and miss this. See v36, “But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” That v36 comes directly after v35 shows that it is possible to see Christ and hear His teaching and see nothing of value, worth, or anything that amazes your soul. You don’t want to be part of this group. v35 is not a distant, abstract reality that we cannot grab ahold of. It is an offer extended by God through Christ that the human soul can feast on forever! To not embrace this offer is the epitome of folly, and to go through life near to Christ, near His people, near His Word and yet miss seeing the glory of who He is, is a horrific tragedy. You don’t want to be found in v36, but in v35.

Philemon Part 4: Confident in Grace

We’ve looked into this letter for 3 weeks now and today as we finish walking through Philemon we’ll focus our attention on Paul’s closing remarks in v21-25. 

Paul is Confident of the Grace of God in Obedience (v21)

v21 says, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” The first thing that ought to rise in your heart after hearing such a sentence is the question, “WHY?” Why is Paul confident that Philemon will not only obey his request and welcome in his runaway slave Onesimus unconditionally and wholeheartedly, but how can Paul be confident that Philemon will do even more than asks? I think, Paul’s confidence is not that he trusts in Philemon to obey him, but rather that he trusts in the work of God’s grace in the heart of His friend Philemon. What I mean by this is plain: Paul is trusting that the grace of God at work in the heart of Philemon will lead to what the grace of God at work in the human heart always leads to – obedience. Paul is so confident in God’s work inside the heart of Philemon that Paul is expecting Philemon to go above and beyond what he is asking him to do. Whether this means that Paul expects Philemon to send Onesimus back to him to continue alongside him in ministry, or that Philemon would free Onesimus from slavery we can’t be sure of. What we can be sure of from this v21 is the one thing we see, Paul is confident that the gospel of grace at work in human heart will lead to obedience.

Does this seem like a hard concept to you – that grace leads to obedience? I think that personally for many years I had trouble with this idea, that placing the two realities of grace and obedience together in unison doesn’t mesh well together, and so for many years I had a sort of false dichotomy at work within my own understanding. From people I’ve talked to this isn’t rare to me but seems to be common experience that we all naturally either want grace or we want obedience, we don’t want them together. We wrongly think that if we’re to live our lives under the banner of God’s grace we shouldn’t be concerned about obedience because God’s grace covers all our sin regardless of how much there is to cover. Or on the other side, we wrongly think that if we’re to live lives of obedience to God’s Word we won’t be concerned with God’s grace because obedience is all about being disciplined enough to do the right thing no matter what and that type of resolve is merely something I can create on my own.

Yet, if we merely hang onto grace we’ll have a deficient view of what the Christian life is supposed to be lived like. When God draws us to Christ He always draws us toward Christ and away from sin. God calls us out of sin, wickedness, and darkness to live new lives by His strength walking in the light, in obedience, and in holiness. Having this false dichotomy at work within us makes us miss the grand reality that when God through the power of the Holy Spirit works His grace into the human heart, obedience to the gospel is always the result. Thus, the realities of grace and obedience should never be separated but always held as they really are – inseparable. Paul is confident to expect such living in the life of his friend Philemon. Remember v8? Paul is asking Philemon to do what the gospel requires him to do. How can he confident that Philemon will actually do this in v21? He trusts in the power of God’s grace at work in the hearts of His people.

Paul is Confident of the Grace of God in Prayer (v22)

See the power of prayer. Paul in v22 states that God, through their prayers, will graciously give him to them. In this we see that our prayers in and of themselves contain no special power, save only for the grace of God working through them. Because of this we have such a special hope in prayer, for by our prayer, things really could change. Not because of anything in us, or that when I pray for you I bank on some kind of pastoral prowess in prayer – no, I have nothing of the kind. Rather, the power and therefore the privilege of prayer is seen not in the person praying, but in the Person being prayed to. Who are we speaking to? God Himself! With God all things are possible, and through prayer we offer up our desires to God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.

There’s something about prayer that doesn’t feel sexy right? I mean if you were to ask 100 churches about how they plan to reach their communities with the gospel, 99 of them would probably respond by giving some sexy ministry philosophy saying “We’ve got this strategy, we’ve got this vision, we’ve got this outreach director, we’ve got a kicking praise band, etc., etc., etc.”

Where is the congregation willing to seek the face of God in prayer? Where are the people who understand that we’re at our strongest when we’re kneeling before our Father?

It’s nothing sexy, or showy, prayer doesn’t really contain much flair, but tell me this – what is more powerful than coming before the throne of God to adore Him and ask Him to give us the cities we live in? We don’t know if Paul was ever released from his chains to visit Philemon to see how things really played out in this situation, but that’s not the point here. The point is that without being told about that they are praying for him, Paul knows this Colossian church is praying for him, and that God by hearing their prayers may move in power and free Paul from his chains. His confidence in the grace of God through prayer is stunning to see, and from seeing it we should be rebuked for our prayerlessness, and freshly give ourselves to the pursuit of God in public and private prayer.

Paul is Confident of the Grace of God, Just (v25)

v25 is the end of this small letter and in it Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

v25 is almost the exact same as the end of Paul’s greeting back in v3. These two verses (v3 and v25) form bookends to this book. The lesson here is that as Paul began with the grace of God, he wants to end with the grace of God and by so doing teach the Colossian Church and teach us, that the Christian life begins and ends with the grace of God. For while the sinner is lost wandering aimless in sin and darkness, God’s grace pursues, chases, grabs, and saves! The same grace that started our salvation in the beginning, sustains our salvation throughout our life, and finally secures our salvation in the end. Grace at the birth, grace in-between, and grace at the close.

We shouldn’t expect Paul to end any different either…grace gripped Philemon, and now if grace is to really get to the ground and make a difference, he must give the grace he received to someone as unworthy as he himself is – Onesimus.

Philemon Part 3: Rejection & Welcome

Have you ever been rejected?

I mean really, fully, and entirely rejected. Maybe it was by an authority figure, a family member or a close friend. I think at one point or another in life we’ve all been there. My experience has taught me that rejection seems to feel the worst when it comes as a surprise by someone we’d never expect it to come from. There’s a good reason why people describe rejection as being “stabbed in the back” because when you or something you’ve said or something you’ve done is rejected you can almost feel the betrayal (treachery), you can almost see the faces of your peers disregarding you, counting you as useless, and casting you out as worthless and no…longer…welcome. Rejection is something, which sadly, is felt too often inside the Church of Jesus Christ by those who think that in order to be a true Christian you have to look entirely respectable, have it all together, and never break the rules. When I first became a Christian a college I felt this when I stepped into church for the first time in years. I didn’t know what the “rules” as it were and from it many people who’d been believers for years made me feel like I was an outsider.

Think about where we’ve been in Philemon over these past 2 weeks. A runaway slave out on the loose, somehow meeting up with Paul while he’s in prison for preaching the gospel, becomes converted under Paul’s ministry, and heads back home to be reconciled with his master because the gospel demands it. Talk about worry and fear of rejection! The words of v17-20 would have been soothing to Onesimus and are soothing for any sinner who reads these words.

Held within each verse of this passage are two statements. The first statement in each verse is a truth statement, stating a certainty Paul is conveying. The second statement is each verse is an effect statement, stating the effect the truth Paul just stated leads to. Four verses, four pairs of statements, forming Paul’s main appeal to Philemon concerning his slave Onesimus.

v17: Truth Statement

“So if you consider me your partner…” The word for “partner” here in this statement is from the same word in Greek “koinwnos” which is translated in v6 as “sharing your faith.” That this word could be translated as “partner” here in v17 and as “sharing” in v6 means what Paul has in view is more then a mere business contractual relationship, but a unified, team work, co-laborer partnership in the gospel whereby these two men have linked arms sharing the load of the gospel whatever the cost. Certainly Paul would’ve seen Philemon as a partner in the faith, and you can count on it that Philemon saw Paul in this manner too. Paul and Philemon had both been chased down by Christ and redeemed, and through them Jesus was building His Church. They were truly partners, they not only shared their faith with others, but they shared the same faith with each other.

v17: Effect Statement

“…receive him as you would receive me.” Paul has alluded to this very request many times throughout this letter but here in v17 Paul finally makes it known. The fact that Paul and Philemon were partners in gospel ministry naturally leads to a result. The result is that Philemon is to extend the same level of grace he treats Paul with to Onesimus.

Paul is not asking Philemon to merely tolerate Onesimus, like some of us do with each other. Paul asks more of Philemon, not only tolerate him, but receive Onesimus in the same way you’d receive me into your home. You notice what Paul is doing in v17? He’s already has showed that he is not using his apostolic authority by only appealing to Philemon as a friend rather than commanding him to obey, and here Paul lowers himself even more by putting a slave on the same level as himself. This is what it means when Paul says ‘receive him as you would receive me.’ Was this just a nice thing for Paul to do for Onesimus? Sure, but for Paul it was reality. Though Paul is an apostle and Onesimus a slave, they both were once slaves of sin and have both become slaves of Christ through the gospel. How would Philemon receive Paul is he were coming to visit? He would do so with honor, dignity, respect, admiration, and submission because Paul is his Father in Christ. Paul tells Philemon to receive Onesimus in the same exact manner. Here in v17 we learn how far we should go to help sinners who show signs of repentance and acknowledgement of guilt.

v18: Truth Statement

“If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything…” with the effect statement being “…charge that to my account.” Here we learn that though we don’t know for sure, Onesimus likely stole from Philemon during his flight. This was customary in these days, because slaves were so unreliable and deceitful they often stole from their masters. You may think that Paul is being very generous here and simply is showing us an implication of the gospel by being so gracious. Wrong. Paul is being very generous here, but he is not showing us an implication of the gospel, Paul is showing us the GOSPEL ITSELF by saying “…charge that to my account.” This is language of satisfaction, of a debt being paid in behalf of another who cannot help himself. The glory of v18 is that “…charge that to my account” is not only what Paul says to Philemon in behalf of Onesimus, it is more importantly what Jesus Christ says to God the Father in behalf of sinners. Paul is making satisfaction for the debt of Onesimus and in that action we see a reflection of Christ making satisfaction for our debt on the cross.

This is the glory and the wonder of the cross, that “For our sake God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Christ bearing the penalty for our sin, in our place as our substitute, making full atonement on our behalf makes us want to cry out “Guilty, vile, and helpless, we, spotless Lamb of God was He, full atonement can it be?! Yes it can! Yes it can!” In the cross we see the wisdom of God, the love of God, the wrath of God, and the justice of God perfectly interwoven by God for our great good and His great glory. How? John Piper says it like this, “The wisdom of God, has ordained a way for the love of God, to deliver us from the wrath of God, without compromising the justice of God.”

v18: Effect Statement (in v19-20)

“I Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it…” Paul usually wrote his letters to the churches by means of an amanuenses. This means that as Paul spoke someone was there to put his words down on paper. Paul does no such thing here to Philemon, to show again, how personal this letter was. This is Paul’s concluding thought on v18, the debt he see’s present between Philemon and Onesimus he will pay, and you can hold him at his word. How can Paul repay this debt? Isn’t Paul a simple tent-maker who has asked many for financial support in many of his other letters? Well yes, he is just a tent-maker, and yes he has asked for financial support in lots of his other letters. But Paul is able to repay this debt, because Philemon is actually in Paul’s debt. How? The rest of v19 says, “…to say nothing of your owing me even your very own self.” The truth is that Paul will repay, the effect of that statement is a reminder from Paul to Philemon that Philemon is in Paul’s debt for leading him to Christ, therefore, Paul won’t have to pay this debt, rather, Philemon is being encouraged to simply put the debt away, to strike it off the books.

 

v20: Verse 20 ends crystal clear: the truth Paul means to convey is “Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord…” and the effect of that statement is a command from Paul, “…Refresh my heart in Christ.” As Philemon is known to have been refreshing to those in the Colossian church (see v7), Paul similarly wants to be refreshed by Philemon, and if he welcomes home his runaway slave (who is now useful to him again, who is now another brother in Christ and fellow son of Paul), Paul would surely be refreshed. The word for ‘benefit’ in Greek is ‘oninemi’ which is the very word that the name Onesimus comes from, thus Paul’s pun continues in the letter. See the pun? I want to some benefit from you in the Lord, what is the benefit I want? What is the oninemi he wants? Onesimus.

Think for a second, what’s the opposite of rejection? WELCOME! Look at v17. One of the most encouraging implications of this text is just as Philemon was to welcome Onesimus as he would welcome Paul because Paul removed the debt that stood between them, so too God will welcome sinners like us as He would welcome His own Son, because His Son, the Lord Jesus, has removed the debt that stood between us.

Sinner beware. You every reason to fear God’s judgment if you have never turned away from your sin and come to Christ. This is eternal rejection.

Sinner be boldly encouraged. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved. This is eternal welcome.

Philemon Part 2: From Slave to Brother

Last week we looked into the greeting and first remarks of Paul to Philemon, and saw how much affection and bond of friendship Paul feels towards Philemon. We also saw how in the first 7 verses of this small letter Paul is preparing Philemon to hear the request he is about ask of him. Paul employs a careful and calculated gospel-logic in his appeal, and we can learn much from it.

Now let’s turn our attention to Philemon 8-16

Philemon 8-9

Paul here states clearly that though he could’ve commanded Philemon to obey his command with the power he wields in his God given apostolic ministry, for love’s sake he rather appealed to Philemon and simply asked, as a friend asks for a favor. Remember how Paul began the letter? He didn’t begin with his usual “Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus…” but “Paul, prisoner for Christ Jesus…” Now, there is a place and time for a command and a call to obedience rather than appealing using his apostolic authority. Paul even gives two reasons as to why he could command him. First is that Paul is older than Philemon and second is that Paul is a prisoner of Christ. But by simply asking rather than commanding Paul is making much of the love that should exist between two Christians.

By this example we get a window into the nature of the work of elders. If our work isn’t done with a sense of grace to it, it is done wrongly. Even more, elders of all people must be those who draw disciples with grace rather than dragging them by force. In this manner, leaders worth anything should be those who serve the people graciously rather than those who dominate or stand over and above the people only to look down disdainfully.

And did you notice what it is that elders are to teach the people? Look at v8, “…to do what is required.” Paul is only asking Philemon to do what godliness demands, nothing more. And here yet again we see the pattern for all who minister to others, the only thing we should teach or ask others to do, are those very things required of us to do in the Word of God and nothing else. So hear me closely: if you ever receive instruction from a leader that asks you do something other than what the Bible requires, not only call them on it, but it is your duty to disobey them and obey God instead. But if they plead or ask you to be holy graciously (like Paul’s doing here) and they point you toward the Truth, you should obey them.

Philemon 10-16

v10 Paul says “I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whose Father I became in my imprisonment.” That he became Onesimus’s Father means that God through the ministry of Paul redeemed Onesimus, and that because it was Paul who shared the gospel with him it is fitting that Paul be viewed as his Father in the faith and that Onesimus be viewed as his son in the faith. Pail isn’t implying any opposition between God’s Fatherhood or God’s power to save with his own, rather Paul is seeking to show what God has done to save Onesimus through him. It is also striking and shows the power of God’s work through the proclamation of the gospel that a runaway slave would now have and own the name of ‘son.’

Never forget how strong the gospel is and how easily it re-makes us.

Whatever lie about yourself that you believe, whether you believe that you never measure up, that you’re too fat, too skinny, too tall, too loud, too shy, too young, too old, too much of a failure, etc., when you embrace the gospel what God says about you becomes more real and tangible than what you or others say about you. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Also don’t miss how Philemon would’ve heard this because v19 reminds us that Philemon himself was saved by God through Paul’s ministry and therefore he is also a ‘son’ to Paul through the gospel. So all of the sudden, because of gospel-grace, Philemon and Onesimus, master and slave, are equals as brothers in Christ.

v11, “(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)” There is a wonderful word play at work here in the original Greek. Paul states that before Onesimus became a Christian he was useless to Philemon, but now that he’s been saved he is useful for Philemon and for Paul. The word play exists here in that Onesimus’ own name literally means ‘useful.’

Thus, by becoming united to Christ by faith and becoming a Christian Onesimus literally becomes what his name means – useful.

Because Onesimus is useful to Paul in his gospel-labor, Paul says in v12-13 that he is sending him back to Philemon even though it would have been a very great help to keep him. Paul doesn’t waste words, when he says in v12 that sending Onesimus back is like sending his very own heart he means that to part with his new ‘son’ in the faith is like parting with his own heart. What language to use here! Have you ever had a brother or sister in Christ so dear to your own heart? They truly are a gift from God, and if you’ve known what that kind of relationship is like, you’ll understand how painful and difficult it is for that relationship to come to and end. v14, “…but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.” Paul wanted to keep him, but didn’t want to act without the voluntary consent of Philemon. Even here in v14 we get a hint that Paul is asking Philemon something, but he hasn’t quite gotten there yet. What Paul is being implicit about here he will be explicit about in v17-21. That Paul didn’t just do what he wanted to do and would rather have Philemon agree to his request freely is gracious to say the least.

Saying more, I’d say this is the profound gospel pattern that’s at work within each of us. Rather than coercing us against our will, the gospel transforms us from the inside out so that everything in our hearts wants to obey call of the gospel and be reconciled with those at odds with us. The grace of God is irresistible. Once you see it, and once it takes a hold of you, you won’t turn away from it because everything in your heart will want it.

Lastly, look to the end of our text, v15-16, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

Paul here gives a reason why Onesimus, under the sovereign plan and ordination of God, might have been allowed to run away. Hearing that God may have been behind the departure of his slave would have soothed the heart of Philemon because God intends a good purpose out of a frustrating thing. The reason given in (v15) is that because Philemon lost him for a moment, maybe now he’ll gain him forever. Meaning that Onesimus’ status as a slave is temporary, it will end one day, but Onesimus’ status as a forgiven, adopted, and redeemed member of the family of God through faith in Christ is forever, and that will never end. This changes things for these men. Sure they may be master and slave for a moment in the whole grand scheme of things but for all eternity what will they be? Brothers in Christ; worshipping the King of kings, and basking in His glory forever and ever.

Who would of ever thought this could’ve happened? Onesimus lived in a religious and holy family and by leaving Philemon’s household he deliberately went far from God and from eternal life. Yet God, in His wise and hidden providence, wonderfully directs his fleeing so that he meets the Apostle Paul. The elect of God are sometimes brought to salvation by a method that could not have been believed.

The gospel changes everything, amen?

Philemon Part 1: Refreshed and Refreshing Others

The heart of Paul’s letter to Philemon has to do with the person of Onesimus. He was Philemon’s slave who had somehow wronged his master (v18), fled and through an unknown sequence of events met Paul in prison (v9), was converted (v10), and became a useful partner to Paul in the gospel (v11-13). But Paul knew the existing law in Rome demanded that Paul return the slave Onesimus to his rightful owner Philemon. In this letter Paul pleads with Philemon to receive Onesimus back (v17), to forgive him (v18), to treat him no longer as a slave but a brother (v16), and to return Onesimus back to Paul so he can continue to labor in ministry alongside him (v13, 21). We’ll get to all this soon in the coming posts, but today focus on verses 1-7, which is made up of 2 sections: v1-3 where we see the greeting, and v4-7 where we have Paul’s first remarks.

The Greeting (v1-3)

I think it’s fair to say that in Paul’s greeting to Philemon we see things we’re used to seeing in Paul’s greetings, and we see things we’re not so used to seeing in Paul greetings. We’re used to seeing Paul’s name at the beginning of his letters, this is simply how one wrote letters in the first century. We’re used to seeing Paul include Timothy with himself in greetings, (he does it in 5 of his letters), and he did it here because Philemon had probably met Timothy in Ephesus where Paul was being held in his Roman prison. We’re used to seeing names to whom the letter is addressed in Paul’s greetings, and we’re used to seeing Paul say v3. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” appears in the greetings of all 13 of his letters, and shows Paul’s affirmation of the deity of Christ by linking the Father with the Son.

We’re not used to Paul addressing letters to individual people. Of all 13 letters only 9 are addressed to churches while the remaining 4 are addressed to 3 different people: Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. v2 shows us Philemon was a personal friend of Paul’s in that Paul calls him a beloved fellow worker, which also means Philemon was a minister of the gospel as well. We see Paul mention “Apphia our sister” and “Archippus our fellow soldier” who very well could be Philemon’s wife and son who also knew Paul well. We actually here of Archippus in Colossians 4:17 where Paul calls him a fellow soldier and encourages him to fulfill the ministry he’s received from the Lord, which shows us that Archippus was undoubtedly one of the leaders in the Colossian church along with Philemon. We’re not used to Paul identifying himself as a prisoner in his greetings. Out of all his letters the only ones where he doesn’t introduce himself as “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus” are Philippians, both letters to the Thessalonians, and here in Philemon. Plus, only here in Philemon do we see Paul identify himself as a prisoner in the greeting. That he does this rather than identifying himself as an apostle is telling and purposeful, and it sets the tone of the whole letter.

By beginning this way the letter immediately feels personal, gentle, and more like a friendly appeal than a letter of full blown apostolic authority. Don’t get me wrong, the letter is still from Paul and Philemon knew that, but Paul is intentionally going out of his way to reduce the feel of ‘command’ here. It also would have reminded Philemon of the severe hardship Paul has had to face in preaching the gospel and in comparison with Paul’s suffering for the gospel the thing Paul is about to ask Philemon to do will seem very small in comparison to what Paul has gone through.

So you see, even in this greeting Paul is already at work, using gospel-logic to prepare Philemon for what he’s about to ask him.

The First Remarks (v4-7)

As Paul concludes his greeting, he begins with his first remarks, and these first remarks are exactly what you’d think they’d be if you were listening to a conversation between close friends as a fly on the wall.

Paul genuinely, warmly, and honestly expresses his affection for this man. Why? Paul’s not just buttering him up in preparation for what he’s about to ask him, no. He gives reasons for this affection in v5 and v7, and Paul prays for Philemon in v4 and v6. Look at reason 1 in v5 = Paul has heard of Philemon’s love and faith toward the Lord Jesus, and Paul has heard of Philemon’s love and faith toward all of the saints. Because of these things Paul says in v4 that every time he remembers Philemon he always thanks God. v7 contains reason 2 = Paul’s heart has received much joy, comfort, and refreshment through Philemon’s love for him and for Christ’s Church. Apparently to Paul, to the Church in Colossae, and to many others Philemon is like water to a thirsty soul, refreshing. Because of this refreshment Paul says in v6 that he prays Philemon’s knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ becomes full through the sharing of His faith. This means that Paul is asking God to refresh the one who has been such a refresher to others. And specifically that God refresh Philemon by making his knowledge of all the good things he has in Christ, full. Paul is asking God to give Philemon more of God. What a prayer!

Now, we cannot read to quickly through v4-7, as if there just mere niceties because if we do so we’ll miss what God means to teach us about Philemon, and we’ll miss what God means to teach us about what happens in our hearts if we truly love Him.

There are two implications for us here:

You cannot claim to truly love Christ if you have no love for His Church

This is precisely what Paul sees in Philemon’s heart, and what prompts Paul to thank God for His work in and through this man in v4-5. Christ and His Church are separate things and they are the same thing. They are separate things in that love for Christ and love for Christ’s Church are different loves. They are the same thing in that love for Christ leads to a deeper love for Christ’s Church. The principle at work here is this: the more you seek to love Christ the more you’ll find your heart beginning to love the very things that Christ loves. What does Christ love the most? His glory. What is the primary means Christ employs to display His glory among the nations? His Church. Therefore the more one grows in love for Christ, the more one will naturally grow in love for His Church. More so, Christ and His Church are intimately connected so that if you turn away from one you inevitably turn away from the other. God placed this twofold love in the heart of Philemon, and Paul loved it, and thanked God for it.

Has God placed it in you? What do you feel about the Church? Do you feel a love, respect, yearning, and desire to be in it and used by God so it grows more and comes to bring a lasting influence on the cities we live in? Or, do you feel somewhat neutral or disinterested in the Church? Are you just putting on a face and going through the motions, faking your Christianity before the eyes of the world? Philemon’s love for Christ and love for Christ’s Church shows us the normal pattern for all believers. If we truly love Him we’ll truly love His people.

The normal pattern for all believers is to be laboring within the Church

v6-7 show how Philemon was not only a spectator, attender, and member of the Church, but that he was involved in the lives of the people, being used by God to refresh His people. This is the normal pattern for all believers. I want to say something here that may catch you off guard. I once heard Mark Dever say, “If you aren’t helping others follow Jesus, I don’t know what you mean when you say you’re following Jesus.” Do you think Church is just about what you can get out of it? Is it just about how myself and the other elders, or the worship team, or the Bible studies cater to your needs? Is it just what we can offer your kids? I hope not. If you’re here and not seeking to help others follow Jesus, you’re nothing more than a barnacle on the bottom of the boat. If you’re a barnacle don’t be afraid you’ll still be loved for sure, but you can be sure of this – the Christians around you won’t let you settle for something less than Biblical reality, and because of that they’ll keep pressing into you in as many ways as they can think to get you moved from a barnacle on the bottom of the boat just along for the ride to a worker on deck.

In these 7 verses it is crystal clear that Philemon’s life has been radically changed because of the gospel. He now exists to serve His master, the Lord Jesus, by ministering to others. This is what the gospel does. Philemon’s not refreshing in and of himself. You or I are not refreshing in and of ourselves. The thing refreshing about Philemon is the gospel, flowing into him, and flowing through him to others.

May God do such a work in us.

Ten Prayer Points on Preaching

Each week I go through two texts of Scripture to understand them, absorb them, and preach them on the upcoming Sunday morning and evening. This process involves as much prayer as it does study. Here are ten things I pray for each week about my preaching.

In the Study

Lord, give me words for Your people.

This is the first thing coming into my heart when I open my Bible. I understand that I am opening it not just for the sake of my own soul but for the sake of the souls in my church. So yes I’ll have a slow and steady eye on the text, but I’ll also have an eye on the congregation as well.

Lord, give me words of precision.

Having the congregation in view increases the urgency of having a quality sermon for the congregation. What is a quality sermon? A precise sermon where the point of the text is the point of the sermon. Where attention is given to God’s agenda in the text and submitted to. In this sense I seek only to say what God has already said.

Lord, give me words of passion and power.

As I’m slowly working through the texts and as the sermons begin to take shape before me I begin to desire that these sermons not be merely information passed from me to them. I want the demeanor in which I preach to match the demeanor of the text. I don’t want to be unaffected myself and want to affect my hearers with the truth. I want passion and power, unction from the Spirit of God in preaching the Word of God, a feeling sense of the truth I’ll preach. I cannot create this on my own, so I plead with God to create it in me.

Lord, give me words for Your praise.

Lastly, as both sermons are close to being completed I remember the ultimate aim in preaching – the glory of God. Yes the text must be understood, yes the people must grow, and yes I must grow myself. But above all these things God must be honored and glorified. I complete my sermons and ask God to use this small effort to build His Church and make much of His name.

In the Pulpit

As I approach the pulpit I am aware that this moment is the culmination of a weeks worth of study and struggle with the text. It is the moment where I’ll reap the consequences of a diligent week of study or a poor week of study, and it is always my preference to reap well than poorly! It is the moment that never ceases to amaze me that God works to build His Church through flawed preachers like myself. Knowing all of these things fills my walk to the pulpit with the following five requests.

Lord, use me to challenge, use me to convict, use me to comfort, use me to console, and use me to change Your people.

Though every week is different, filled with joys and challenges of all shapes and sizes these 10 things have, at least for me, remained true and constant. I hope they encourage you in your own preparation.

What is Church Discipline?

What gospel do you believe in? Do you believe in a gospel that says “God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be welcomed by God just as they are” (Jonathan Leeman). Do you believe in that gospel? Or do you believe in a gospel that says, “God is holy. We have all sinned, separating us from God. But God sent His Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we might be forgiven. Everyone who believes in Jesus can have eternal life and be welcomed by God just as they are. But in His grace and by His Spirit He doesn’t leave us as we are. No, He slowly and surely makes us into different people. People who love Him and hate sin. People who refuse to do life alone but do it in the community of the local church. People who grow in godliness, eager to reflect His holy character and glory to this fallen world.”

Which gospel do you believe in? The first version presents Jesus as Savior, the second presents Jesus as Savior and Lord. The first version points to our new status as children of God, the second points to our new status as children of God as well as our new job description as citizens in His Kingdom. The first version has a view of God’s grace saving us, the second has a view of God’s grace not only saving us but sanctifying us as well.

Everything in the first version is true, wonderfully so. But there’s much more to be said. My guess is that most of you would say you believe in this second version of the gospel, and that’s a good thing. But I am coming to you today with a pastoral question, “Are you sure about that?” So please pay attention to not only what God is about to tell you through His Word, pay attention to how you respond to what is said in God’s Word. Why? Your response to these things reveal which version of the gospel you really believe as well as which version of the gospel you’re really living out.

 

The passage we’ll be walking through today is Matthew 18:15-20, where Matthew would have us consider three points today, all aiming at how we as fellow believers do life together when one of us wanders and how to restore such a person(s) to a right standing within the church.

Notice What’s Before Our Passage (18:10-14)

In the verses that lead up to our text today, we find Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. In this parable Jesus says, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of My Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (18:12-14). See here the great love of God for His people. It is so great and so vast that if one of them wanders off, He will always go after them and bring them home. Jesus shows Himself to be here in Matthew 18 what John 10 says He is, the great Shepherd of the sheep. And being the great Shepherd of the sheep, He not only has a great love for the sheep but He also sees to it that every sheep in the flock will remain in His hand until the end. None of them will perish or be snatched up by a wolf or some other intruder.

Church, since this is how God loves His people, since this is how Christ loves His Sheep, isn’t this to be how we love one another? Paul similarly, in Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This means when we come together and commit to one another in the membership of the local church, we commit to chasing down the wanderer, bringing back the sinner, loving one another despite our own foolishness, and pursuing the offender so that they are brought back home.

Into this context, comes one of the most detailed explanations of how to do church discipline. That this parable of the lost sheep comes before v15-20 gives us an example of the spirit in which church discipline is to be carried out. Not to punish, but always to be aiming at restoration, at winning back the wanderer.

Notice What’s In Our Passage (18:15-20)

Jesus has already told us that every one of us is to be about the business of pursuing, chasing, and bringing back the wandering sheep in our midst. But now suppose the shoe is on the other foot, what then? Did you notice the first words in v15? “If your brother sins against you…” If you’re the one sinned against, are you still to chase them down? Or does someone else do that? To see it in yet another manner, get out of your shoes altogether and get into the shoes of another and suppose you’re the one doing the sinning against another. What is supposed to happen then? What actions are you to take? What does the church do? Or the offended party? These are deep questions, loaded with all kinds of baggage, that God has not left us in the dark with. The light of His Word shines into our disobedience with all manner of grace.

Here Jesus gives us four steps that make up the whole process of church discipline.

Step One – Private Admonition (v15)

In v15 we learn that the very first step in the church discipline process is to go to the person who has sinned against you personally and privately. This means when sinned against, you don’t sound off to the whole church about how bad they really are and how they’re the worst thing that’s come into this church in years. You don’t refuse to talk to them anymore, give them the cold shoulder, or close yourself off from them. You don’t build up a bitter resentment in your heart toward them. No, you go them and bring it up privately. They may be aware of what they did, they may not. But by going to them privately you’re protecting the offender’s reputation by keeping the circle of people who know about this offense as small as possible. And you’re also protecting yourself from gossiping about them to others in the church by going to them immediately and personally.

When you go, what do you speak with them about? In v15 when it says “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” it implies that you’re intentions in going to them are to make them aware of their sin and seek repentance from them for their sin. You’re not going to condemn the person, you’re not going to tell the person off, you’re there to share what they did or what they continue to do, how it crossed the line of right and godly behavior for a Christian, and to see if they feel a godly remorse over what has happened and desire to make things right. If they listen to you, express sorrow over offending you, and repent Jesus says you’ve gained your brother back! I’ve often found that when this occurs the result of such a meeting is a much deeper relationship in the future. But if they refuse to listen, don’t acknowledge that what they’ve done or keep doing is sinful even though it’s clear in Scripture, you move onto to step two.

Before we get to step two notice something else here in step one. This initial step doesn’t involve any kind of official organization or leadership in the church. It’s simply between you and the other person, which is where Jesus intends church discipline to begin. In this light see that step one of church discipline is just a normal part of Christian discipleship where we are seek to do spiritual good to one another. I think if we got this step right more often, most of the discipline cases in churches would be solved right away. But sadly in this fallen world, rather than humbly seeking restoration and repentance with those who sin against us, we too quickly go the opposite way, wrongfully involve way too many people in what should be a private matter, and destroy relationships and reputations.

Step Two – Group Admonition (v16)

In v16 we learn that the second step in the church discipline process is not to give up but to again revisit the offender, with one or two others. Now, there is no timeline given here as to the exact amount of time required between these two visits. Patience, love, and grace should allow at least some time between the first and second visit to let the private admonition sink in. But if in time it is clear that the offending member is remaining unrepentant the one who went by themselves now must carefully choose one or two others, probably ones that know and love this person, or an elder, and go back to give another admonition. That a few others go back echoes Deut. 19:15 which says, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” That additional witnesses must be involved at this point encourages the one doing the sinning to come out of their sinful isolation, and encourages the individual sinned against to think deeply about whether or not this case is serious enough to warrant the sound judgment of a few others, or if they’re just making a bigger deal of this than is necessary. If they do deem it worthy of another visit, though the circle is still intentionally kept small here, a small group’s plea with the wanderer to return does make the admonition a bit weightier as well as harder to ignore.

Hope remains, for the offender could hear and heed the second warning, and if they do, you’ve won them back and will rejoice to bring them home! But if they do not, step 3 comes into view.

Step Three – Church Admonition (v17a)

In v17 we learn that the third step in the church discipline process is again, not to give up, but to tell it to the church. As we’ve seen throughout these steps, here also we do not receive a time requirement between step two and three, so patience, grace, and love should allow at least some time between the second step and the third step. When it’s clear that the offending member is still remaining unrepentant Jesus is clear, the matter now comes to the entire church. This is not strictly just telling it to the elders, not strictly just telling it to the pastor, but it really does seem to be the whole body or the entire local congregation in view here. Of course the elders need to take the lead here, they need to be the ones who decide how and when the church is to be told about it to ensure this is done orderly and graciously, but through them the matter is to come to the whole of the assembly. Do you think this is unloving or embarrassing? Remember the parable of the lost sheep. When the first two steps have been employed and the wandering member has refused to listen we’re not to give up, but in this third step we’re to enlist the whole of the congregation to go and gain back the wanderer. David Platt, in his commentary on Matthew says of this third step, “God loves us so much that if we are caught in sin, He will send an entire army of believers to us as a demonstration of His love and mercy.” In this step the circle is no longer small. It is intentionally large. Large enough, by God’s grace, to wake the wanderer out of his or her sin.

So again hope remains, the offending member who has not repented could hear and heed the warnings when they see the whole church pursuing them, and if they do, they are won back! But if they do not listen to the whole church, the final step, step 4 becomes a necessity.

Step Four – Excommunication (v17b-20)

Look at v17b, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” What does this mean? It means that when the offending member refuses to listen and repent after these first three steps, Jesus now commands one thing – excommunication. Though probably stirred quite a bit from the whole sermon up to now, our modern sensibilities are now in full shock. ‘Isn’t the church supposed to be welcoming to sinners? Isn’t the church a where sinners find hope? Isn’t the church where sinners find rest? Yes, of course. The Church of Christ is a very safe place for sinners, but it is not ever to be a safe place for sin. To excommunicate someone isn’t to forsake them or to forget about them, no. To excommunicate someone is a public declaration from the church of which they are a member, that this church no longer believes their profession of faith is true. So by excommunication, they cease to be a member of that church and cannot partake of the Lord’s Supper any longer.

In 1 Cor. 5 we see an example of this when Paul instructs the Corinthians to excommunicate a certain man (who had sinned grievously) so that he would be delivered “…to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5). See it is restoration in view even here at this last step not punishment. So when this happens we should never forsake the person, but in treating them like an unbeliever we ought to pursue them with the gospel urgently. And just in case anyone is thinking ‘Who gives you the right to do such a thing?’ see v18-20. Here we receive the promise of authority in v18, that the church holds the keys of the Kingdom so that whatever is bound or loosed on earth is also bound or loosed in heaven. Here we also receive the promise of support in v19, that the Father will give His full support to what we agree about in prayer concerning these difficult matters of discipline. Here lastly we receive the promise of presence in v20. This is not a blanket statement about God dwelling in the midst of His people’s prayer, it’s specifically about God dwelling in the midst of His people’s prayer about excommunicating a wayward brother or sister. So when we do the tough work of church discipline, God encourages us with His authority, His support, and His presence.

Notice What’s After Our Passage (18:21-35)

We’ve seen what’s before and in our passage, now see what’s after it. In v21-35 we find the parable of the unforgiving servant, which asks “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? (18:21). No, Jesus says, “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (18:22). Lesson? That the passage describing how church discipline is done is surrounded before and behind, shows us church discipline must be carried out with gospel grace. How often will God forgive us for our sin? His grace never ends. Ours shouldn’t either.

In an age where this topic is as popular as a parent publicly spanking their child…

-We must remember that not all discipline is bad.

-We must remember that the exercise of pastoral authority is not the same as the abuse of pastoral authority.

-We must reject the belief that church discipline is a bad thing, and come to embrace the belief presented to us in the text, that the neglect of church discipline is a bad thing.

-And we must reject the critical/judgmental spirit that we’re all prone to, remembering that because we’ve received extravagant grace in the gospel, we now must extend extravagant grace with the gospel as well. These things are commanded by Christ for the wanderer’s good, for the purity of the church, and ultimately for the glory of God.

4 Reasons Jesus Must Increase

Here we face the difficulty of knowing who is speaking. Earlier in John 3:1-21 we had difficulty knowing whether it was the apostle John who was giving his reflection on the evening meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus in v16-21 or Jesus Himself speaking there. Here, for the second time now in John 3, we have a similar scenario. Is v31-36 the continued response of John the Baptist to his disciples? Or are these verses the apostle John’s reflection on the Baptist’s response to his disciples? I’m inclined to believe that v31-36 is the apostle John once again giving his reflections on what has just taken place, but I’m also inclined to believe that regardless who you believe is speaking here, be it John the apostle or John the Baptist, the meaning of this passage stays the same.

Let’s dig in shall we?

In John 3:30 John the Baptist uttered his second most famous words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” What follows this famous saying in v31-36 are four reasons that prove why Jesus ought to increase and why John the Baptist along with everyone else ought to decrease.

Reason #1: The Heavenly Origin of Christ’s Person (3:31)

A contrast is displayed for us in this verse between Jesus and John the Baptist. Jesus is One who is from heaven and above all while John the Baptist is one who is from earth, belongs to the earth, and speaks in an earthly way. This contrast clarifies to us and convinces us of not only the difference between Jesus and John the Baptist but the difference between Jesus and every man that has ever lived. There are two kinds of people in the world: common man and the Christ, sinners and the Savior, mankind and the Messiah. We are depraved, He is divine. We are created, He is Creator. We are rebellious, He is resplendent. We are earthly, He is heavenly. Jesus has no equal. The disciples of the Baptist who remained with the Baptist might have missed this point. Perhaps that’s why they were still following the Baptist and not following Jesus. Perhaps they thought the Baptist was the real Messiah. Here in this verse they, and we centuries later, are reminded that though a man may be a great teacher and gain a large following all men are ‘of the earth’, speaking things ‘of the earth’, and belonging ‘to the earth’ while Jesus is above all. Because of Jesus’ heavenly origin, He must increase and everyone else must decrease.

Reason #2: The Truthful Certainty of Christ’s Unique Testimony (3:32-34a)

In v32 we see that Jesus doesn’t teach theory, He doesn’t teach a mere hypothesis, He doesn’t teach what someone else revealed to Him. No, Jesus teaches what He knows. “He bears witness to what He has seen and heard…” means Jesus, being the eternal Son of God now become true Man, has for all eternity been with the Father, communing the Father, and knowing the Father’s nature and sovereign plans for all of history. And it is all that He has seen and heard from the Father that He now bears witness to in His earthly ministry. For ages, God had revealed His Word to His people by His prophets. When Jesus comes we do not see another prophet continuing in the long line of prophets, we see the end of the line. When Jesus comes we do not see God’s Word revealed to another teacher, we see God’s very Word come to teach. John Piper helpfully describes this is his book Peculiar Glory saying, “The point here is that…a people who for centuries have been accustomed to be governed by a written revelation of God…are now confronted with the divine author of that very book, present in human form, teaching with absolute authority.” Lesson? The testimony and teaching of Christ is both true and certain as well as utterly unique.

Though this is the case v32 also tells us that in general man isn’t concerned with His testimony, man isn’t interested in His testimony, and that man does not accept His testimony. This is indeed a sad state of affairs because the testimony of Christ declares the power of God into the plight of mankind. It’s both what we need most and what we seem to hate the most. It’s similar to last years Super Bowl. The beloved Atlanta Falcons were leading with a only few minutes left, and all they needed to do was run the ball. Run the ball, get tackled, run the ball, get tackled, run the ball, get tackled, kick a field goal, and win! But they very thing they needed to do the most, they didn’t do. And as sports almanacs for years to come will show, they blew the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. It was such a blunder that folks around Atlanta began using a new verb. Anytime anyone blew a lead or did something extremely foolish it was said that they ‘Atlanta’d’ it. Similarly, that mankind rejects the very message meant to save, reveals not only the folly of our hearts apart from grace. It reveals that, by and large, mankind has ‘Atlanta’d’ the gospel.

v33 gives another illustration when it brings up the seal. In ages long ago, seals were used to denote authority, to convey a guarantee, or to display ownership. Seals like these were put on letters, stamps, and on flags so often that even those who couldn’t read recognized the seals of great and powerful leaders. It is in this sense v33 speaks. Whoever receives (or whoever has received) the testimony of Christ sets his seal to this, that God is true. So, when we receive the testimony of Christ we are doing far more than meets the eye. We are simultaneously acknowledging the heavenly origin of Jesus’s teaching, acknowledging that we are who He says we are, that Jesus is who He says He is, and acknowledging that God is truthful and truly holds the authority He says He does. At the moment of belief God’s truthfulness is driven home to our hearts, we submit to Him, He receives the honor and glory He is due, and we conclude exactly what v34a says, “For He whom God has sent utters the words of God…”

So while the lost world hears the words of Jesus and hears nothing but foolishness, all the saints past, present, and future hear the words of Jesus and hear God’s very word to them. Because of the certainty and truthfulness of Christ’s testimony His testimony must increase, and ours must decrease.

Reason #3: The Spirit-filled Loving Bond of Christ’s Authority (3:34b-35)

The next reason we’re given that Jesus should increase is a Trinitarian reason. In v34b-35 we read “…for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.” In order to understand the giving of the Holy Spirit by the Father to the Son, think about how God gives the Spirit to us. The Spirit awakens our dead hearts, grants us the ability to repent and to believe, and we’re converted. Once converted the Spirit takes up residence within us, begins sanctifying us, and gives us certain gifts to be used within the Church that we’re to fan into flame with the help of the Church. These gifts vary: prophecy, teaching, exhortation, generosity, mercy, administration, serving, singing, and hospitality among many others. What we see then within the Church is the same Spirit giving different gifts to all of us with the intention of all us employing these gifts in the service of one another.

But when it comes to God giving His Son the Spirit without measure, we see something entirely different. Jesus was not given certain gifts of the Spirit in some measure. No, when v34 says God gave the Spirit without measure we’re meant to understand that God gave His Son all the gifts of the Spirit in full measure. Thus the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus fully, equipping Him with all that was necessary to do the work He came to do.

There’s more Trinitarian glory to see here. Just as Jesus has the full measure of the Spirit, so too, Jesus has the full measure of the Father’s love and because of this great love the Father had for Him, He gave all things into His hand. Remember how Jesus begins the Great Commission? “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me…” (Matthew 28:18b) Who gave Him that authority? His Father did. Where do we see that? Here in v35. Thus, the Spirit-filled loving bond between the Father and the Son leads to the Son having all authority over all things. And our response to One who has all authority over all things is not increase, but decrease.

Reason #4: The Urgent Demand of Christ’s Gospel (3:36)

Now the moment has come. The apostle John has laid out for us a wonderful and monumental chapter here in John 3, and it ends, not only with another reason for us to decrease, it ends with a summary call of the gospel message. v36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Notice how it doesn’t say “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not believe the Son shall not see life…” No, it says obey. This means the way we obey God is to believe in Jesus. What do we believe in? We believe in His heavenly Person, we believe in His truthful, certain, and unique testimony, and we believe in His Spirit-filled, loving authority over all things. When we disobey this final call to believe in Jesus v36 says we do not see life, we only see the wrath of God that is already on us. But when we obey this final call to believe we receive life. And as John 10:10 says, we find such life abundant.

Conclusion:

One of the recent editions of the Tabletalk devotional begins like this: “If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have likely heard a sermon on Peter’s walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33) that included this point: as long as Peter kept His eyes on Jesus, he was alright. Only when he took his eyes off the Lord did he start to sink. This is a great lesson to learn for us as individual Christians, but is it not also a lesson to learn together as a church? When the church loses its focus on the Person and Work of Christ we quickly fall into darkness. Christianity is all about Christ, who He is and what He has done. Thus, if we make the focus of the church anything else we ultimately end up with no Christianity at all.” (May’s edition Why We Are Reformed)

I have no doubt that most all of you would immediately agree with these things, but I wonder if this sermon has brought out something ugly in you. I wonder if you’ve been patiently sitting through this sermon about the reasons Jesus must increase wondering when this sermon was going to be about you and no longer about Jesus. If that’s you, let me remind you – the theology of v30 drives v31-36 and must drive our entire soul. “He must increase, I must decrease” must impact everything we do, even everything we do here at church, including the preaching. So before a sermon is ever about us, it must be about God. About His greatness, His glory, His Son, and His Spirit.

And ironically enough, this is precisely where you and I come into this post. I think many of us have a kind of Christianity that appears to be about Christ, but is really about us. Many of us say we want Jesus to increase but we desire some glory too. Many of us say we’re sinners, but we hide our sin because we want the affirmation of others. Many of us say earnestly want to know God, but we quickly abandon personal devotion for public appearance. Many of us would say we want Jesus to be everything, but we also want to be something.

Church, “…we were made for greater, our greatest satisfaction is making His name famous. So if we’re never named among the greatest, if they don’t critically acclaim us, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, we gave it up for the Savior” (Lecrae).

His Person is heavenly. His testimony is certain, true, and unique. His loving authority is Spirit-filled, His gospel saves all who obey the command to believe. He must increase, we must decrease.