First Corinthians in 16 ‘Tweets’


tweetSunday our church begins a new series in the letter of 1 Corinthians.  To help get my mind around this book, I decided to summarize it in 16 tweets, the number of chapters later assigned to Paul’s letter.

Full disclosure, most of the ‘tweets’ wouldn’t pass muster on Twitter’s current platform—most exceed 140 characters.  Regardless of its twitter-accessibility, the exercise of summarizing each chapter served to clarify the main themes of this rich letter.  I would highly commend it. (For a more twitter-friendly version of 1 Corinthians, see Jonathan Parnell’s, “The Book of 1 Corinthians in 40 Tweets“).

Here are my 16 ‘tweets.’ Let me know how you might improve them.

1 — To the church of God in Corinth, be unified in Christ; let not worldly wisdom, position, or power cause you to forget the gospel which called you to life and binds you together.
2 — Brothers, you who have the mind of Christ, let your faith rest in the wisdom of God, namely the crucified and risen Christ and the instruction of the Holy Spirit.
3 — Brothers, stop dividing yourself and building with worldly wisdom. You are God’s temple; the Spirit dwells within you. Therefore, do not be deceived. Do the Lord’s work, in the Lord’s way.

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How Jesus’ Poverty Enriches Us to Give Sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:9)


graceIn the middle of his instruction about giving to the Jerusalem church, Paul drops this theological gem:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

In context, Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to fulfill (“finish doing” and “completing,” 8:11) what they started. Apparently, a year before Paul penned 2 Corinthians, the church in that city promised to give generously to the poor in Jerusalem (8:10; cf. Romans 15:25–26). In chapters 8–9, Paul recalls their promise and prepares them for the forthcoming delegation to collect the offering (see 9:3–5). His words are not threatening but motivating, as he  speaks repeatedly of their “readiness” (8:11, 12; 9:2), “zeal” (9:2), and genuine, generous love (8:7, 8, 24).

In fact, it is because of his confidence in their generosity that Paul encourages them in their giving. And one of the principle means of motivation is Jesus’ substitionary death. In leaving heaven to suffer and die on earth, Paul likens Jesus’ experience to that of losing his riches and becoming poor. And by speaking of Christ’s death in terms of “rich” and “poor,” Paul teaches the Corinthians and us how to give. To understand how Jesus humiliation motivates our giving, consider four points.

  1. Jesus’ Poverty Was Self-Appointed
  2. Jesus’ Poverty Was For the Sake of Others
  3. Jesus’ Giving Motivates Our Giving
  4. Our Giving Manifests and Amplifies Jesus’ Grace

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How Does the Church Glorify God?

church Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 
— Ephesians 3:20-21 —

A close reading of Scripture shows that God pursues his glory in all areas of life. In creation and redemption, heaven and earth, the world was made to bring him glory. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Paul praying that God would get glory in the church. But what does it mean?

What does Paul mean when he prays, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations” From the context of Ephesians, I would suggest there are at least three ways the church uniquely glorifies God.  Continue reading

Is God the Author of Sin?

stormIs God the author of sin?

This question has been asked often in the history of Christian doctrine. Some theologians, ostensibly embarrassed by God’s absolute sovereignty and what that means for sin deny his total control of the universe.  For instance, open theist Gregory Boyd writes,

Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God’s absolute power as absolute control. They prayed for God’s will to be done on earth, but this assumes that they understand that God’s will was not yet being done on earth (Mt. 6:10). Hence neither Jesus nor his disciples assumed that there had to be a divine purpose behind all events in history. Rather, they understood the cosmos to be populated by a myriad of free agents, some human, some angelic, and many of them evil. The manner in which events unfold in history was understood to be as much a factor of what these agents individually and collectively will as it was a matter of what God himself willed. (God at War:The Bible and Spiritual Conflict53)

By contrast, others like Augustine of Hippo (5th C.), John Calvin of Geneva (16th C.), and Jonathan Edwards of New England (18th C.) have affirmed that God who never does evil still permits, decrees, and even employs evil so that his larger purposes of grace and glory might be accomplished.  On this Edwards says in his treatise on The Freedom of the Will,

If by Author of Sin, be meant the Sinner, the Agent, or the Actor of Sin, or the Doer of a wicked thing; so it would be a reproach, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin. . . . But if, by Author of Sin, is meant the permitter, or not a hinder to Sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is ment, by being the Author of Sin, I do not deny that God is the Author Sin, (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense) it is not reproach for the Most High to be thus the Author of Sin.” (p. 246).

Rightly, God is not evil and thus in his creative agency cannot do evil. Yet, in his divine sovereignty over time and space, he can “permit,” “ordain,” and even “author” sin in a way analogous to the way Shakespeare blamelessly authored the death of Macbeth. An author is not morally culpable for writing into their script the acts of evil men—whether fictitious (as in the case of Shakespeare) or real (as in the case of our Triune God). Therefore, since God did declare the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9–10), he wrote into the Script—what theologians call “his will of decree”—a world created inestimably good, ruined by sin, restored by his Son. Continue reading

Theology is Not Just for Theologians

theology

In other words, The­ol­ogy is prac­ti­cal: espe­cially now.
In the old days, when there was less edu­ca­tion and dis­cus­sion,
per­haps it was pos­si­ble to get on with a very few sim­ple ideas about God.
But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed.
Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean
that you have no ideas about God [i.e., theology].
It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones —
bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.
— C.S. Lewis —

Theology rightly understood is not a tangential part of Christian faith; it is the source, strength, and substance of vibrant faith. As A. W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (Knowledge of the Holy1). This is the core of theology—thinking God’s thoughts after him. And true theology is thinking biblically-informed thoughts about God. Theology is not an academic discipline consisting of esoteric terms, but sound doctrine that gives life and strength to every child of God made alive in Christ.

Sadly, this way of thinking about theology is often missed. Even among pastors, those called to instruct in sound doctrine, there is a sense in which theology is secondary to the real work of the ministry. Evangelism, discipleship, worship services, and church growth are elevated above “theology,” but only because they assume that each discipline and practice of the church is a-theological. In the short run, such doctrinal inattention may not create observable problems, but in the long run it will.

Paul understood this and that is why he writes in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Faithful shepherds and growing sheep follow Paul’s model and give appropriate emphasis to theology as it informs and energizes spiritual life. In fact, close attention to the New Testament shows that wherever the apostles are giving practical instruction, they are doing so from deeply theological wells.

Mark Dever, in the preface of his book on 1 Corinthians (Twelve Challenges Churches Facemakes this very point. Continue reading

Don’t Waste Your Blizzard: A Snowy Meditation on God’s Power and Purity

snow“He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before his cold?”
— Psalm 147:17 —

10:00am on Saturday: With sixteen inches on the ground and sixteen hours left of Jonas I look outside my window and think: “Who can stand before his cold?”

10:00am on Sunday: Unable to gather with our church family, what can I say to my children about the blizzard of 2016? How can I help them know the God of creation and redemption, through this memorable storm? How can we pray for those suffering under its effects?

What follows is a biblical theological long-read on what Scripture says about snow, icy cold, and winter weather, along with a short family devotional for anyone interested.

(No) Snow in the Beginning

In the beginning, there was water but not snow. On the second day God separated the waters in the sky from the waters on the earth (Gen 1:6–8); on the third day he gathered the waters on the earth, forming the dry ground (Gen 1:9–10). In Genesis 2, we learn “mist was going up from the land watering the whole face of the ground” (v. 6) and “a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there is divided and became four rivers” (v. 10). So before Adam sinned (Genesis 3) and God subjected the earth to futility (Romans 8:18–22), the had plenty of water, but no subzero temperatures to create ice crystals and snow squalls. Continue reading

For His Name’s Sake: Why the Church Must Do More Than Local Evangelism

worldThere is a popular argument that persists among American evangelicals that prioritizes domestic evangelism over against international missions. Often it is put in the form of a handful of questions:

  • “Why should we spend our time reaching the lost overseas when there are so many lost in our community?”
  • Or, “Why spend our money on foreign missions when there are millions nearby who need to hear the gospel?”
  • Or, “Wouldn’t it be more effective to focus on the lost here?”

On the surface such an argument may sound plausible, even effectively evangelistic. It certainly appeals to the pragmatic. But examined by the Scriptures, it will not hold. For Scripture does not simply speak of evangelism in commercial terms—finding the fastest way to sell the gospel to the most number of people. Regularly, it speaks of the advance of the kingdom crossing boundaries, reaching nations, and extending the glory of God to the ends of the earth. In fact, the glory of God depends not only on the vastness of redemption, but its variety. Therefore, for those who care about God’s glory should also care deeply about reaching the nations.

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The Body of Christ Calls for Individuality, not Individualism

bodyNow you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
— 1 Corinthians 12:27 —

The modern church is plagued by a “me and Jesus” mentality. Devotionals are aimed at isolated individuals, churches cater to the needs of every affinity group, and budding Christians are taught to read themselves into the Bible with little discernment of how Scripture actually speaks. (For instance Psalm 20:4 — “May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! — is a prayer for Jesus, not you).

Addressing this modern perversion of individuality, David Prior writes these insightful words in his commentary on 1 Corinthians. Commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:27, he states,

As the body of Christ operates in this way, so the individual members will find their real needs met. The need for security is met in the assurance that “I belong to the body.” The need for identity is met in recognizing and working at the fact that “I have a distinctive contribution to bring to the body.” The need for a proper sense of responsibility is met by assuming concern for others in the body: “I need you; I feel with you; I rejoice with you.” So each individual grows as a person and as a Christian in direct relation to his finding his place as a member of the body. The Scriptures speak of individuality, not of individualism. The latter phenomenon is a perversion of our calling in Christ. It plagues the church of God, spoiling its witness and tripling individuals.

This discovery of our individuality within the life of the Christian community remains as revolutionary a message in today’s world as it was in that of Paul and his Corinthian readers. It is a radical alternative both to the tyranny of totalitarianism and to the empty dreams of personal fulfillment to individuals. (The Message of 1 Corinthians, 216; emphasis mine).

Biblical Christianity is personal, individual, and intimate, but it is not private, individualistic, and isolated. Sons and daughters of God are also family, members of the body of Christ. Even as we rejoice in the personal relationship we have with God, may we not forget our familial relations God has given to us in the body of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Pastor, Speak Up for the Unborn

solLike many churches across America, our church remembered the Sanctity of Life yesterday in our service. And for the sixth time in as many years, God permitted me the chance to preach for the voiceless millions who are being taken away to the slaughter. Following the theme of “spiritual disciplines in the Psalms,” I argued that defending the unborn is a public spiritual discipline all Christians are commanded to pursue. As Proverbs 24:11–12 instructs,

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?  

We know that millions of babies are being slaughtered every year. We knew that before the Planned Parenthood videos were released last year. But even more graphically, we know that thousands of children are being aborted everyday—ripped apart, sold for parts, and sacrificed on the altar of sexual liberty and personal autonomy.

With such knowledge, we are accountable to weep, pray, work, march, and speak out for the unborn. This is true for all Christians, but even more for pastors. And so it is my brother pastors who I speak to today.

An Apologia for Preaching Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

Since the beginning of my preaching ministry, the month of January has always included a sermon on the sanctity of life. And I would challenge every pastor—if you are not already committed to preaching against abortion and for the sanctity of life—to ask yourself a question: Why aren’t you? What is keeping you from giving voice to the voiceless? Do you think it is a deviation from the gospel? A betrayal of expositional preaching? A distraction from the work of the church? A detour into politics?

Let me challenge you on each of those points. Continue reading

A Call for *Public* Spiritual Disciplines

dcBooks on practicing the Spiritual disciplines typically have about a dozen topics. For instance, Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life lists ten: (1) Bible intake (in two parts), (2) prayer, (3) worship, (4) evangelism, (5) serving, (6) stewardship, (7) fasting, (8) silence and solitude, (9) journaling, and (10) learning. Likewise, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline enumerates twelve disciplines under three orientations: inward disciplines include (1) meditation, (2) prayer, (3) fasting, and (4) study; outward disciplines involve (5) simplicity, (6) solitude, (7) submission, and (8) service; and corporate disciplines consist of (9) confession, (10) worship, (11) guidance, and (12) celebration.

Because Scripture does not publish an authorized list of disciplines, an exhaustive list cannot be produced. Even a cursory reading these two lists invites comment on the best way to think about practicing the habits Jesus commanded. Is worship only corporate? How is solitude outward? Does solitude have to be silent? Whitney and Foster discuss these questions in their books with different emphases based on their different theological and ecclesial backgrounds. (As a Reformed Baptist it’s not surprising that I find Whitney’s book, full of Puritan Spirituality, the better book).

But what makes both of these books the same is their challenge to individuals to grow in personal godliness. Indeed, both books highlight the personal model of Jesus, a man who  undeniably practiced the spiritual disciplines and taught his followers to do the same. In short, personal spiritual disciplines are part and parcel of faith in the Lord.

That said, personal disciplines are not private disciplines. As Foster rightly identifies there is both an outward and corporate aspect to the Christian’s spiritual life. Understanding this interpersonal dynamic, Donald Whitney wrote a companion volume, Spiritual Disciplines within the Church to correct the hyper-individualism  fostered by an unbalanced concern for personal, spiritual disciplines.

Third Horizon in Spiritual Formation

Still, I wonder if there is something more that ought to be stressed in the spiritual formation of a believer? Is it possible that those who attend regularly to Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, and even fasting may be incomplete in their spiritual development? Could it be that there is a third horizon—the first two being the individual in relationship with God (worship) and the individual being in relationship with the church (fellowship)—that must be developed in order for a man or woman to walk worthy of the gospel? Continue reading