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

Continue reading

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

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

Purging Pornography with the Power of a Greater Pleasure

purity

Twice in the last year I’ve had the chance to speak to men’s groups on the subject of pornography. Because the time always restricts how much can be said, I’ve included my notes below to fill in what I left out at the last study.

While I find that many helpful books and articles have been written on the subject of pornography, nothing has been more powerful in pursuing purity than finding a greater pleasure than God himself. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Indeed, it is this “seeing of God” that both teaches us to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:11–13) and motivates us to look beyond the flesh to find a greater pleasure in Christ.

Bruce Marshall (not G.K. Chesteron, HT: Justin Taylor) once said: “The man who rings the bell at the brothel, unconsciously does so seeking God.” Only by exposing the hidden longing for God which underlies a man’s foolish dalliance with or morbid addiction to  pornography, can such a man find lasting purity. Only by feasting on God as a greater pleasure can the ongoing return to porneia be broken.

Therefore, I share these notes on “Purging Pornography with the Power of a Greater (Gospel) Pleasure ” They are quite incomplete but the general argument can be followed.

On John’s Piper’s seventieth birthday, I am happy to say this pleasure-seeking approach to purging pornography can be directly connected to the arguments made in Desiring God, The Pleasures of God, The Dangerous Duty of Delightand When I Don’t Desire God

Where would I be without the God-exalting, grace-saturated ministry of John Piper? Very readily, ensnared in a cauldron of my own sin. I bless my Father in heaven for sending Piper’s message of Christian Hedonism, for it is Jesus message to us: ” These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Today, after working out these truths for more than fifteen years, I would argue that if one struggles with pornography or any other type of intractable sin one of the most liberating things you can do is to glut yourself on God—the very thing Piper shows us how to do from the Word of God. When I was introduced to his books, they helped me immensely. I pray these notes and the Scriptural truths they point to may do the same for you.

Purging Pornography with the Power of a Greater (Gospel) Pleasure

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Practical Counsel for Growing in Grace

discipline“Discipline yourself for godliness.”
— 1 Timothy 4:7 (NASB)–

Recently Donald Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky) answered a series of questions for Desiring God‘s podcast, Ask Pastor John. Dr. Whitney, who is arguably the foremost authority on evangelical spirituality, has been studying and teaching these materials for over twenty-five years. His book  Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is a modern classic and an illuminating study for growing in grace.

If you are not familiar with the Bible’s prescribed disciplines for spiritual growth, or you are and have not read his enlightening book, I cannot commend it enough. In the meantime, if you would like a primer on the disciplines or a refresher for why they are so important, take 30 minutes (or 5 seven-minute segments) to listen to his answers to these five questions. (I’ve included a teaser quotation from each interview). Continue reading

Putting the Psalter Together: How the Superscriptions Tell the Story

bibleIn canonical studies on the Psalms (i.e., studies that read the Psalter as one unified book, intentionally arranged to communicate a message of messianic hope), Jim Hamilton has provided a helpful reading of the Psalter by paying attention to the superscriptions of the Psalms. Because this Sunday’s message will depend heavily on the superscription in Psalm 20 (“to/for/about David”), I have asked Jim if I could share a large section of his explanation of the Superscriptions and how they relate to the whole of the Psalms.

The following excerpt is taken from his excellent survey of the Bible, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. (You can find more about his book here, with ideas for incorporating it into your Bible reading). Continue reading