‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
– Jeremiah 3:15 –
In a chapter lamenting the spiritual adultery of Israel, Yahweh promises to give his people shepherds who will feed them with knowledge and understanding. He calls these “pastors” “shepherds after his own heart.” In the context of the prophets (and in Jeremiah especially), the arrival of these God-centered pastors marks the coming of the new covenant. While there were faithful shepherds in the Old Testament, there were few. It would take the arrival of the Spirit to fulfill this verse and to supply God’s people with shepherds after God’s own heart.
Today, firmly situated in the era of the new covenant, this verse prompts pastors and churches alike to consider the gift, calling, and responsibility pastors have to shepherd the flock of God among them. And from this verse we can see at least four truths worthy of remembrance and application. Continue reading
The local church was always at the center of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s heart and theology. In his studies he wrote his first dissertation on life in the church (“The Communion of Saints: A Dogmatic Inquiry into the Sociology of the Church”). As a theological professor he labored to train pastors for the church. And in his later writings, he often returned to muse on life together in the local church.
It’s this subject that entitles one of his most famous works, Life Together, posthumously subtitled, “The Classic Exploration of Christian Community.” Coming in at 122 pages, Life Together is not a long book. But it is one that invites you to think deeply about God’s design for his people. Overflowing with wisdom, you will run your highlighter dry if you are given to marking up books.
As we consider the One Anothers in our weekly sermons, I would encourage you to pick up a copy. A small investment in reading Life Together will pay big dividends on doing life together. Continue reading
[This article originally appeared on our church website as a Lord’s Supper meditation].
THE LORD’S SUPPER
In Luke 22 Jesus serves the Passover and calls it his new covenant meal: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (v. 20). Fulfilling the words of Jeremiah 31, Jesus as God’s priestly mediator brought an end to the old covenant and inaugurated the new when he went to the cross (see Hebrews 9:15–17). Anticipating his crucifixion on the next day, Jesus transformed the Passover from an old covenant shadow to a new covenant reality.
When we take the Lord’s Supper, we look back to the legal transaction that resulted in our pardon, and looking forward we see what Christ’s death accomplished— an international multitude gathered around God’s throne. In the immediate, this future reality is lived out in our local fellowship. As members of Christ’s body, we are unified to Christ and to one another.
For this reason, the Lord’s Supper can never be taken alone. It is the church’s meal. Regardless of what the modern elements look like, the symbolism of Jesus is unmistakable. The one loaf represents the unity of the messianic community, while the broken pieces portray the need for every member to receive Christ’s life (Luke 22:19). Likewise, the cup was “divided” such that the Upper Room communicants enjoyed the same wine (Luke 22:17).
For us, the Lord’s Supper reminds us of our partnership together in Christ. As such it marks out those who are his and those who are not. It is a regular reminder of our Savior’s atoning death and of our Savior’s decided accomplishment—the community created by his shed blood. As 1 Corinthians 11:25 says, it proclaims the death of Christ until he comes. But because it is taken by the saints made alive by his cross, it also proclaims the life given to us—a life lived one with another. Continue reading
On Sunday I preached on Psalm 133, emphasizing how the local church is one body in Christ and individually members one of another (cf. Rom 12:5). While not using the words “one another,” Psalm 133 speaks of the family of God dwelling together in Christian unity. This is the foundation of all the one another commands.
We can’t begin to obey the Lord’s commands towards one another until we begin to see ourselves as united in Christ. But neither can we manage to love one another until we see what that love looks like. This Sunday we will consider John 13:34–35 and Jesus’ new commandment to love another.
To help you consider the content of the one anothers, I would suggest that “Love One Another” is the main command and that all others explicate this first and great command. While the New Testament lists three dozen one another commands, these are not 36 disparate injunctions. Rather, they are various but united manifestations of the love God pours out into our heart. They are the colorful streams of light that shine from the one prism of Christ’s love.
While each command deserves its own consideration, it is worth observing that the multitude of commands can be generally classified under five headings. In what follows I have listed each passage under one of these five headings. In the weeks ahead I hope to look at each passage individually.
- Love One Another
- Be at Peace with One Another
- Show Hospitality to One Another
- Do Good and Not Evil to One Another
- Edify One Another
So we, though many, are one body in Christ,
and individually members one of another.
– Romans 12:5 –
There are in the New Testament roughly 100 places where the word ἀλλήλων, usually translated “one another,” is used. Beginning with Jesus’ command in John 13:34–35, the apostles develop a vision of church life that presses people of different backgrounds to follow Christ with one another. Using dozens of metaphors, they describe the church as as a body, a bride, a priesthood, a temple, a household, and a family.
In these word pictures, the One Another’s function as the imperatives that call brothers and sisters to get along in the Lord. Elbows and earlobes are called to honor one another in the body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles are taught they who were once divided are now united in the one new man, Jesus Christ.
Still before giving attention to the manifold imperative of loving one another, we must first realize that we are one of another. As Paul puts it in Romans 12:5, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Before we can love one another, forgive one another, or bear up one another, we must realize the One Another’s are set in the context of the local church. Continue reading
Writing from Germany on the precipice of war, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a classic on Christian community. In Life Together he called attention the grace of Christian community, calling it “the ‘roses and lilies’ of the Christian life” (21).
In our country, where freedom to worship remains unchecked, his words provide a needed corrective to any laissez-faire attitude we may have towards biblical community. While church membership and attendance are generally affirmed by Christians, I don’t think we see how much grace there is in our ability to gather. By contrast, Bonhoeffer watched the Third Reich run over the church and the Church in turn to compromise with the state.
In such a context, he came to see just how much grace there is when brothers dwell together in unity—true spiritual unity. Consider his words and give thanks for the community of believers he has given you. May his words spur us on to press deeper into the life of our church, or to start such a community of spiritually-minded believers, if one is not present. Continue reading
[Yesterday, I preached my first sermon as pastor of preaching at Occoquan Bible Church. Leading up to that day, here’s what I wrote to our church].
Not that we lord it over your faith,
but we work with you for your joy,
for you stand firm in your faith.
– 2 Corinthians 1:24 –
Joy in the Lord
Joy is what pulsated in the Godhead when the world was still an idea (cf. John 17:24–26). And joy is what moved God to create the world. While under no compulsion to create, it was God’s good pleasure to create a world whereby his glory could be displayed and enjoyed.
For the sheer pleasure of it, God created the Manatee and the Milky Way, earthworms and electricity. And in the middle of it all, he made man and woman—the pinnacle of creation (Psalm 8), the acme of his affection. Continue reading
The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the LORD weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the LORD,
and your plans will be established. . . .
The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
— Proverbs 16:1–3, 9 —
On Wednesday August 26, the elders of Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia (20 miles south of Washington, D.C.) unanimously called me to be the pastor of preaching at their church. Since June I have been in conversation with them about this position. In July Wendy and I had a wonderful visit with the elders. Following that trip, the elders announced my candidacy for the position of teaching elder (pastor of preaching) and for the last 30 days we (the church family and our family) have been prayerfully considering this call.
During this season of prayer, our whole family visited OBC. We loved it. Our kids loved it. And we felt increasingly convinced that God was leading in this process.
In our visit, we were deeply encouraged by the way the Word of God and the gospel was made central in all aspects of the church. We loved meeting the families at OBC and hearing their passion for Christ and work of the ministry in and through the church. I preached twice (on membership and eldership) and got to sit in on a handful of activities during the week. Long story short, we left Northern Virginia on August 17 hopeful and prayerful that we would soon return.
Next week, we will do just that. After six months of seeking the Lord and watching him direct and redirect our steps, we will load up all our earthly belongings and join God’s people in Woodbridge, Virginia.
We are incredibly excited about this move. We praise God for his faithfulness and love and provision during these months of uncertainty (=unemployment). We give thanks to him for all of you who prayed with us, encouraged us, and ministered to us. And we marvel at how he led us to OBC. It’s that story I want to share here—that this marvelous works might be magnified and that you might be encouraged in your own earthly pilgrimage. Continue reading
On Monday, I made the case that we should understand the imago dei in priestly terms. To develop that idea a bit, let me show how the biblical story line can be understood through the lens of the priesthood, as well.
In creation Adam was made to be a royal priest. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Or it could be translated “to serve it and guard it.” In other words, the man in the Garden was more than a prehistoric gardener. He was a royal priest. And we know he was a priest because the language used in Genesis 2:15 is used repeatedly of priests in Numbers 3. Moses, the author of both books, is making the point that Adam was stationed in the Garden as a priest—to serve the Lord by cultivating the Garden (even expanding its borders) and to guard the Garden from unclean intruders (a key work of the priest and one he failed to do in Genesis 3). In short, redemptive history begins with a priest in the Garden, one whose righteous appearance and holy vocation was breathtaking, as Ezekiel 28:12–14 describes,
You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub [A better translation is the NET: “I placed you there with an anointed guardian cherub“]; I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
Sadly, this glorious beginning did not last long. Continue reading
In The Christian Faith, Michael Horton suggests four aspects of the Imago Dei, what it means to be made in God’s image. He enumerates them as
- Sonship/Royal Dominion
- Prophetic Witness
For each there is solid biblical evidence. Genesis 1:26–31; Psalm 8; and Hebrews 2:5–9 all testify to humanity’s royal sonship. Likewise, the whole creation narrative (Genesis 1–2) invites us to see man and woman as God’s creatures representing him on the earth. First Corinthians 11:7 speaks of mankind as the “glory of God.” Horton rightly distinguishes, “The Son and the Spirit are the uncreated Glory of God . . . human beings are the created reflectors of divine majesty” (401). They are, in other words, God’s “created glory,” which in time will be inhabited by the “uncreated glory” of God in the person of Jesus Christ. And last, as creatures made by the Word of God, in covenant relation with him, every human is a prophetic witness. In the fall, this prophetic witness is distorted. Humans are now ensnared to an innumerable cadre of idols (see Rom 1:18–32), but the formal purpose remains—to be made in the image of God is to be a prophetic witness.
Horton’s articulation is compelling, biblical, and beautiful. But it seems, in my estimation, to stress royal and prophetic tasks without giving equal attention to the priestly nature of humanity. To be fair, Horton refers to humanity’s priestly vocation under the headings of “representation” and “glory.” But because these are supporting the vocational idea of representation and the abstract idea of glory, we miss a key idea—the imago dei is by definition a priestly office. Or better, the imago dei is a royal priest who bears witness to the God of creation. Let’s consider. Continue reading