Welcome One Another: Five Ways to Show Hospitality at Church

welcomeWelcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7 —

In the Bible hospitality is no small matter. From Abraham to the Apostles, God called his people to greet one another with love and concern. For instance, in the Old Testament it was more than a cultural faux pas to deny hospitality; it was an indictment against the whole village. Likewise, in the New Testament we find John commending the believers to welcome into their homes those who have gone out for the sake of the name (3 John 8). And Paul makes hospitality (i.e., love for strangers) a necessary part of an elder’s qualification (Titus 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:2).

In churches today, the command to welcome one another in the Lord is no less emphatic.  While Western Christians live in an upwardly mobile culture, where grocery stores overflow with food, and people typically present themselves as self-sufficient, we know from Scripture (and experience) that weakness and worry—not strength and sufficiency—is our natural condition. Accordingly, to fulfill God’s calling to love others, we must make hospitality a priority in the church. After all, Scripture says this glorifies God (Romans 15:7)

If we are going to glorify God in our church, we cannot simply put effort into good music, good preaching, and good Sunday schools; we must also give attention to good hospitality. And such an emphasis goes beyond a team of people with name tags greeting people at the door. For all of us committed to making disciples and sharing the love of Christ, we should feel a happy burden on Sundays to look for others to meet, greet, and take out to eat.

What follows, therefore, are 5 practices to help us as a church love those who gather with us know and experience the love of God. Continue reading

Love Never Ends (1 Corinthians 13:8–13)

sermon photoThis last Sunday we considered how love endures, looking at four movements in Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.

  • From the temporary to the eternal (v. 8)
  • From the partial to the perfect (vv. 9-10)
  • From the child to the man (v. 11)
  • From the mirror to face to face (v. 12)

Sermon audio is available online; discussion question and study resources are listed below.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Discussion Questions

Continue reading

The Necessity and Definition of Love (1 Corinthians 13:1–8a)

sermon photoYesterday, Ben Purves, pastor for student ministries at our church, preached a tremendous message on 1 Corinthians 13. Let me encourage you to listen to his message, “The Necessity and Definition of Love,” as he unpacks Paul’s explanation of love in the context of spiritual gifts. Even more, Ben also showed us how Christ fulfilled the qualities of love and how we can look to Christ to find his love, and then how we can love one another more effectively.

Below you will also find discussion questions on 1 Corinthians 13 and a few resources on 1 Corinthians 13, including a five-part series on 1 Corinthians 13 that I preached a number of years ago.  Continue reading

Thanksgiving and the Glory of God: Why Giving Thanks is More Than a Casual Habit

praying handsI will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
— Psalm 69:30 —

Thanksgiving is a practice of politeness, etiquette, and good decorum. Right? It is what we (are told to) express when Aunt Lucille buys you a sweater when you want the Super Hero action figures. Or something like that. It is a Christian command, but one that is more happenstance than a daily discipline. Right?

Well, what does Scripture say? Could it be that thanksgiving is something far more essential than we typically think? However you consider it, I am increasingly convinced the discipline of thanksgiving is a central feature of what it means to be a Christian. With it the church of God will grow in grace and love and hope, but without it Christ’s church becomes bitter, fragile, and peevish.

Could it be that one of the greatest needs we have today is the cultivation of thanksgiving as a spiritual grace and habit of holiness? Could it be that we have too casually treated thanksgiving? Maybe its just me, but I think we could use a refresher on how important Scripture makes thanksgiving. Continue reading

Why Divine Sovereignty Secures Human Responsibility: A Theological Reading of Exodus

clayIt is often argued that God’s absolute sovereignty disables or demotivates human responsibility. But I contend it is just the opposite: a biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty secures and strengthens human responsibility. In fact, the more we see how God’s sovereign actions work in human history, the more reason we have to trust God and move out in faith.

Much confusion exists between fatalism and biblical predestination. In the former, the world is mechanistic and impersonal, God will do what he is going to do, end of story; in the latter, God in his love is at work to bring all things together for his glory and his people’s good. To be sure, God is going to do what he wants (see Psalm 115:3; 135:6), but this is good news, not bad.

When understood according to God’s Word, God’s meticulous and exhaustive sovereignty is not a reason for despair or distrust. Rather, as we will see from Exodus, God’s predestined and pre-communicated control of events is the very foundation needed to walk in humble obedience to God and his commands.

Promise and Fulfillment in Exodus Evidences the Sovereignty of God

All of Scripture follows the pattern of promise and fulfillment. Since the Fall, God has made one promise after another. He has bound these promises in covenants. And he has bound himself to fulfilling his covenanted word (see Hebrews 6:13–20). We see this is large ways, as the protoevangelion in Genesis 3:15 directs all of redemptive history until all the subsequent promises of redemptive history are fulfilled in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). And we see this in smaller ways, like God’s promise to Sarai that this time next year she will have a son (see Genesis 18). From Luke’s perspective, all that was ever promised by God has been fulfilled in Christ (Acts 13:32–33). Hence, human faithfulness is undergirded by God’s faithfulness, which is to say human responsibility stands upon the sure, sovereign word of God.

In Exodus, a book that introduces the way God brings salvation to his people,  we can see how God’s promises are fulfilled, and how his sovereignty is more than helpful for human responsibility—it is necessary. More than five times, we find in Exodus Moses making the connection that what God said he would do, he has done. And thus, his people are meant to find confidence in Yahweh because of this, which in turn leads to greater trust and obedience. Let me mention each promise-fulfillment in Exodus, draw a couple points of application along the way, and show why God’s absolute sovereignty is good news for our faithful obedience to him. Continue reading

Building the Body of Christ: Unity and Diversity, Mutuality and Charity (1 Corinthians 12:12–31)

sermon photo

Building the Body of Christ: Unity and Diversity, Mutuality and Charity (Sermon Audio)

What is the goal of Paul’s discussion about spiritual gifts? If it is not clear from his words in 12:7, then his elongated illustration of the one body with many parts is unmistakable. Christ gave multiple gifts to his church in order for the various part to build one another up in love.

This week, we spent out time looking at four core concepts related to the body of Christ. These were (1) unity, (2) diversity, (3) mutuality, and (4) charity. When held together local church, as a concrete expression of Christ’s body, is able to grow in love as they share their gifts and their lives with one another. Paul’s discussion of the body fights against two primary lies, which some members of the body may be tempted to believe.

  1. “You don’t me.”
  2. “I don’t need you.”

Writing to erase these lies and unify the well-gifted Corinthian church, Paul gives the modern church (also steeped in individualism) plenty to consider and apply for building up the body of Christ. You can listen to the message online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and further resources are listed below. Continue reading

On Pentecost and Its Centrifugal Effects: Acts 2, 8, 10, 19 and 1 Corinthians 12:12–13

spirit2On the Jewish Calendar, Pentecost was 50 days after Passover. According to Leviticus 23, Pentecost was a Feast Day—the Feast of Weeks to be exact. It was a day when Israel worshiped God by bringing a new grain offering to the temple. But today, this Jewish Feast is best known for what happened fifty days after Christ’s resurrection.

In Acts 2, Jews from all over the world were celebrating Pentecost. And it was on this day that God poured out his Spirit. Why some confusion, and accusations of drunkenness, occurred on that day, more confusion has come since. Therefore, we need to see what Pentecost is and how Luke presents its centrifugal effect throughout the book of Acts.

Pentecost Proper

Importantly, Pentecost was the day Jesus began to build his new covenant temple. This was the day when the church was born. And this was the day when the apostles were filled with the Spirit, empowering them to go into the world and proclaim the gospel—the means by which the church would be founded.

In Acts, Pentecost is accompanied by powerful signs and wonders. Fire from heaven touches earth; tongues of fire are located above the heads of the people. Just like the pillar of fire stood above the tabernacle, and just like Solomon’s temple was filled with the Holy Spirit, so now Christ’s Spiritual temple (i.e., his covenant people) is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. And as the book of Acts displays, the Spirit they received is also shared with Gentiles as the Gospel goes forward.

At Pentecost, we also hear reports of tongues being spoken. Most wonderfully, these tongues are not inarticulate utterances, or some heavenly prayer language. They are real languages, proclaiming the wondrous works of God. Acts 2:9–-10 list more than a dozen nations from around the Mediterranean. And v. 11 says: “Both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

On Pentecost, therefore, the Gospel is proclaimed in other languages. Just as at Babel (in Genesis 11) God gave the people new languages to divide the nations. Now God is giving new languages to preach the gospel to the nations. Whereas the first ‘gift’ of tongues was a curse, now this gift of tongues is a true nation-uniting blessing. Pentecost, therefore, is the foundation of the universal church and the beginning of the Spirit-empowered mission to unite all nations through the preaching of the gospel.

Still, we might ask the question: What about the baptism promised by Christ, what we might call Spirit baptism? Does it always look like Pentecost, or might Pentecost be a one-time event? Continue reading

Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists (pt. 1): The Church’s Three Foundational Offices

 

churchThe apostleship was the Divine expedient to meet the emergencies of the Church at its first establishment and outset in the world, and not the method appointed for its ordinary administration; and the peculiarities distinctive of the office, to which I have now referred, could not, from their very nature, be repeated in the case of their successors, or be transmitted as a permanent feature in the Christian Church.
— James Bannerman, The Church of Christ 223 —

In his discussion of the Church and its founding, James Bannerman notes the way in which Apostles played a peculiar (and unrepeatable) role. In his second volume ofThe Church of Christ, he shows from the corpus of the New Testament how we should understand these “pillars,” whom God used to found the church (Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 2:20).

In what follows, I’ll trace his argument to help us better understand the uniqueness of these men. My hope is that by understanding their place in God’s new covenant temple, we will better understand our need for their message and the discontinuity of signs, wonders, and mighty works which accompanied their ministry. I believe local churches have risen and fell with commitment to the apostles’ gospel, not the continuation of their miraculous gifts. But in our charismatic age, this distinction is often missed.

We need to recover an understanding of God’s designs for the early church, and how though dead, the words of the Apostles still speak. In the next post, I will consider the Prophets and Evangelists—two offices that complement the Apostles. But for today, we will look at the unique role of the Apostles. Continue reading

Blessed Assurance: “Jesus Is Yours”

breadAssurance.

It is a precious gift the Lord gives his people. As 1 John 5:13 says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Yet, despite God’s promise of assurance, sometimes experientially our personal assurance wanes. There are many reasons for this—some caused by God’s sovereign and mysterious providence; others caused by spiritual neglect or worldly indulgence. Fortunately, salvation depends on God not our personal assurance. Nonetheless, assurance is a gift we should desire to possess and retain. Therefore, in seasons of doubt,  it is worth asking:

How can I grow in assurance?

Why have I lost assurance of salvation?

What means has God given to assure me of my salvation?

Typically, when we turn these questions over in our minds, they remain . . . in our minds. Trained in a culture of individualism and equipped with so much therapeutic self-help, we are primed to look within ourselves and ask:

What sin or pattern of sins have I committed that are robbing me of assurance?

What habits of holiness do I need to improve to increase my assurance?

When did I last have assurance, and what can I do to get it back?

To be sure, self-examination is a healthy part of a Christian’s growth. Paul says we are to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:4), and part of preparation for the Lord’s Supper includes personal reflection and confession (1 Corinthians 11:28–32). But is assurance, if it is a gift from God, meant to be wholly preserved by ourselves? What if assurance is meant to be a team effort, a gift God gives you through the local assembly of believers who know and love you?  Continue reading

Why the ‘Founding of the Church’ Is Different from the ‘Founded Church’: James Bannerman on the Uniqueness of the Early Church

pillarsAnd he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
— Ephesians 4:11–12 —

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he says that the exalted Lord has given gifts to the church (4:7–11). These gifts, he lists, are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers. (The last two words describing one office). From these four “word workers”—i.e., men who preach the word—the church is equipped to build itself up in love (4:12–16). Yet, what are these four offices and how do they work in the history of the church?

Answering that question, James Bannerman writes a chapter in the second volume of his The Church of Christ that masterfully shows the unique role of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Like last’s weeks look at Ebenezer Henderson’s ‘Divine Inspiration‘, with its look at spiritual gifts, here is another old book worthy of our reading.

What follows is an introduction to these three offices. Tomorrow, we’ll return to see what he says about each office and how they work to lay the foundation of the church. For those looking for a better understanding of why the miraculous, sign gifts do not continue today, I cannot commend Bannerman and Henderson’s works highly enough.

On the Origination of the Church

Bannerman first considers the genesis of the church. He begins,

In discussing the question of the kind of Church Government delineated and appointed in Scripture, it is a matter of some importance to fix the date when the Christian Church was formally organized or set up. It is plain that this is a question of considerable moment in the discussion; for, by a mistake as to the date of its formal establishment, we may be led to confound the extraordinary circumstances of its transition state with the ordinary circumstances of its normal and permanent condition. (214)

From this introductory question, Bannerman goes on to posits that the church in its institutional formation began after Christ’s resurrection. To be sure, the people of God, who he calls a church, were extant before the time of Christ, but the church in its formal membership did not come into existence until Christ was raised and the Holy Spirit was sent. Bannerman explains why this is and show us how the church was founded in the days of apostles and prophets (cf. Ephesians 2:20). Continue reading