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

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

Preparing for the Lord’s Supper: Word-Centered Examination Leads to Spirit-Filled Assurance

light

[This meditation originally posted at our church blog in preparation for the Lord’s Supper].

Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
— Psalm 19:12-14 —

The Lord’s Table presumes that sinners will come and feast at a banqueting table of grace. There are none who approach the Table without sin, but neither are there any who rightly assess their sin. Therefore, we need to ask like David did: “Who can discern his errors?” And in turn, let God speak to us through his Word to find the answer. Assurance to approach the Lord’s Table as the Word of God calls to fresh faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Continue reading

Communion as a Community Meal

bread

Because there is one bread,
we who are many are one body,
for we all partake of the one bread.
– 1 Corinthians 10:17 –

The Lord’s Supper is a treasury of Christ-remembering, kingdom-anticipating, church-unifying, soul-stirring symbolism. As Jesus said of the bread in Luke 22, “This is my body, which is given for you” (v. 19) and of the fruit of the vine, “This cup . . . is the new covenant in my blood” (v. 20). Laden with spiritual significance, both of these statements are symbolical. The bread represents the body of Christ (and more specifically the death of Jesus); the cup represents the blood of Christ (and more specifically the promise of new covenant pardon). Together they form the two elements Christians “take” and “eat” (Matthew 26:26).

However, these edibles do not exhaust the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper. Far from it, in fact. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:17. Calling the Corinthians to flee from idolatry (10:13), he cautions them about their practices of eating from the Lord’s table and the demons’ table (v. 20). In this context, he teaches us a twofold lesson about the nature of the Lord’s Supper. Continue reading

Getting A Vision of Heaven on Earth: Heaven, Earth, and the Bible Project

22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.25See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.
— Hebrews 12:22–25 —

Yesterday, I argued in my sermon that the local church is an earthly display of a heavenly reality. From Hebrews 12, we learn that when we gather in the name of Jesus, we are (imperfectly) revealing the glories of heaven—a myriad of saints and angels gathered around the throne of God. Or better, we are foreshadowing the final assembly of the nations who will worship around the throne of God.

In making that argument, I assumed a certain amount of background information about how heaven and earth relate. I want to fill in some of the gaps here. (This brief temple story may help too). Continue reading

Do Not Forsake Assembling Together: What Some in Church History Have Said about Hebrews 10:24–25

heb10And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
— Hebrews 10:24–25 —

This morning I preached a message called “The Blessing of Assembling Together” on Hebrews 10:24–25. Here are further reflections on the discipline and privilege of gathering together with God’s people.

Early Church

Stressing the spiritual importance of gathering together, early church father Ignatius observes:

“When ye frequently, and in numbers meet together, the powers of Satan are overthrown, and his mischief is neutralized by your likemindedness in the faith.” (Ignatius)

Speaking about the value of “gathering together,” Chrysostom writes:

For as “iron sharpeneth iron” (Prov. 17:17), so also association increases love. For if a stone rubbed against a stone sends forth fire, how much more soul mingled with soul! But not unto emulation (he says) but “unto the sharpening of love.” (John Chrysostom).

We can’t produce love in others, but Chrysostom reminds us that we can lead others to love such that they walk in its course:

For as on the highway, if any man find the beginning, he is guided by it, and has no need of one to take him by the hand; so is it also in regard to Love: only lay hold on the beginning, and at once thou art guided and directed by it. (John Chrysostom) Continue reading

All Together at the Lord’s Table

eat[This article also appeared on our church website as a Lord’s Supper meditation]. 

In marriage a husband pledges to love and serve his wife, while the wife responds by promising to love and submit to her husband. The vows are made individually, but in context, they blend together to create a melodic harmony that binds the couple together.

Something similar can be said of our relationship with the Lord. In response to the gospel, each person must individually respond, but not in their own self-styled way. Repentance from sin and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ are the only way we enter into covenant relationship with God.

For this reason, the new covenant is singular not plural; all who find salvation enter into the same covenant. And since the new covenant has been given to the church made up of Jews and Gentiles, it is in the local church where we enjoy and experience the new covenant together. Continue reading

(How to) Let Love Increase: A Meditation on 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13

waterNow may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
 – 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 –

In his letters, Paul often inserts a prayer for the sake of his brethren. And what he typically prays for is twofold—that the church of God would increase in knowledge of God and love for one another.[1] First Thessalonians is typical in this regard. After recounting Timothy’s report of the Thessalonians faith, hope, and love, he proceeds to pray for these people whom he loves with deep affection.

In his prayer, he petitions God to increase their love for one another and for all people. In these three verses (3:11–13), we can learn four things about love for one another. Continue reading

Brotherly Affection Must Endure

hebrews 13Brotherly affection protects one another’s purity and provides for those in need. But for it to make lasting impact, it must also endure.

Endurance

In the same context where Paul speaks of doing good to everyone (Gal 6:10), especially to those in the church, Paul says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9).

To exercise brotherly affection is exhausting, and the authors of Scripture know it. To crucify the flesh and resist the pull towards impurity is hard. To give one self for the spiritual and physical needs of another is even more grueling.

For that reason Scripture commands us to “let brotherly love continue” (Heb 13:1). Continue reading