Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
— James 4:3 —
Going back to Cain (Genesis 4), evil has always positioned itself right outside our doors looking to destroy. But recently, Christians in America have faced new challenges. In a country that continues to trample first amendment rights and eviscerate religious liberty, there is great temptation to do anything to maintain our place in the public square. I value that endeavor and lament the way Christians are being threatened in public, but I wonder if we are not being tempted to overcome evil with evil—or at least, the lesser of two evils.
What follows began as a study in Matthew, not an attempt to speak into the political fray. But as I considered the actions of Judas, I couldn’t help but think about Christians who are using (or being tempted to use) their proximity to Jesus as a means of securing our worldly standing. In truth, as Psalm 118:8–9 says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”
With that truth in mind, I share a few observations about Judas that I pray will protect us from putting confidence in earthly princes, and instead will steel our resolve to take refuge in Christ. Continue reading
After spending the last eight weeks (June — July) looking at Paul’s instructions on sex, singleness, marriage, divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians 5–7, we pulled back the lens yesterday to see how these three chapters inform our understanding of church discipline. As Jonathan Leeman argues in The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, “local church membership and discipline . . . define God’s love for the world” (17).
In our sermon, we too considered from the text of 1 Corinthians how a church displays love through church discipline. If this sounds like a contradiction in terms, please listen to or read the sermon and read this article on objections to church discipline.
(If you are still not convinced, order Leeman’s book and a set of steak knives. The fusion of holy love and church life is a feast to consider, but it is not for the faint of heart. It is not a milky doctrine but true meat for the maturing disciple). Continue reading
Last year the elders of our church preached through a series on the church. The penultimate message in that series turned to the important but often misunderstood topic of church discipline. Expounding Matthew 18, our elder-turned-fulltime-seminary-student, Jamie McBride, articulated a vision of church discipline that is compassionate, convictional, church-building, and Christ-centered.
This Sunday we return to the topic of church discipline, as we summarize and apply 1 Corinthians 5–7. For the last eight weeks, we have walked through Paul’s instructions on church discipline (ch. 5), legal proceedings and sexual purity (ch. 6), and singleness, marriage, divorce, and remarriage (ch. 7). Now we will consider how these teachings are meant to shape life together in the church.
In preparation for Sunday’s message, let’s consider five faulty objections that come against church discipline. Jamie answered these objections in his sermon. And I will answer them here, drawing on many of his biblical insights.
Five Objections to Church Discipline
1. “It’s none of my business.”
In our hyper-individualistic culture, we are accustomed to passing by the plights of others. In the church, however, we cannot simply ignore the needs of others. We are not a restaurant that gives out biblical teaching and communion wafers. We are a family, a household of God, brothers and sisters committed to Christ and one another. We are not like Cain who mocked, “Am I my brothers keeper?” We are our brothers keeper. Continue reading
5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5–6)
And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:10–13)
Every self-respecting, Bible-believing evangelical wants to read the Bible “literally.” No one wants to be called a “spiritualizer” or accused of (un)intentionally “allegorizing” the “plain meaning of Scripture.” But what does it mean to read the Bible “literally”?
On one hand, it is mistaken to read a passage text differently than the author intended. A well-formed grammatical-historical approach to interpretation affirms authorial intent and the possibility of discerning meaning in a text. On the other hand, it is mistaken to read the biblical text so rigidly (read: literalistically) that in the name of seeking the literal meaning of the text we miss the meaning of the Bible’s divine author. But how do we discern the difference?
The best way I know is to watch and learn from Jesus himself. Continue reading
First Corinthians 7 is a difficult passage for many reasons, but one of those reasons has to do with how poorly the evangelical marriage machine (i.e., Christian romance novels, endless marriage conferences, Christian Mingle, etc.) has loved singles and thought about the subject of singleness. While the EMM projects marriage as the blissful goal of every Christian adult, singleness is often perceived as something to avoid. Yes, Paul calls it good, but . . .
Genesis 2:18 is the tell-tale verse: “It is not good for a man to be alone.” Period. End of story. From this verse, and the cultural statistics about men and women waiting for decades before married, the goodness of singleness is missed.
Then we read 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul makes odd statements about how the married should live as though they are not married (v. 29) and that those who marry do well, but those who do not marry do better (v. 38). To understand Paul’s point, we have to fight back images of monks punishing themselves for impure thoughts and stories of celibate priests abusing young boys. “Surely,” we say to our selves, “the inspired apostle is correct in what he says, but things have changed.” “Yes, there is a gift of singleness that God gives to some people, but that’s not me and should be avoided at all cost.”
Long story short, I think we still have a negative view towards singleness. To the married, there maybe suspicion of those who are not married. And to the single, there may be sorrow, anger, or frustration that Mr. Right has not yet arrived. In fact, this sadly is the promise most True Love Waits-type ministries offer—“If you save your virginity, you will be rewarded with a godly (gorgeous) spouse”. But is that so? Continue reading
“Words of wisdom” may be the best way to describe Paul’s counsel concerning singleness in 1 Corinthians 7:25–40. Instead of comprehensive or absolute rules about marriage and singleness, he offers five portraits of marriage for singles and married couples to consider. In these portraits the Spirit-filled man or woman (see 1 Corinthian 2:14–16) can discern how to apply God’s Word to his or her life.
While others (see below) have been more comprehensive in treating the subject of singleness, my sermon sought to follow Paul’s train of thought and apply his words to singles, especially those contemplating marriage. In all, there are lots of technical question in 1 Corinthians 7, but the singular message is clear: Whether married or single, do all things to the glory of God, leveraging your position in life to know Christ and make him known. This is what it means to walk in wisdom, whatever your vocation.
You can listen to the audio from Sunday’s message or read the sermon notes here. For those who want to go deeper, there are discussion questions below and links to a few other resources (articles, sermons, books) on 1 Corinthians 7 and the topic of singleness. Continue reading
. . . to equip the saints for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ . . .”– Ephesians 4:12 –
In the 1980s edutainment games were coming of age and infiltrating American schools. Leading the way was a game called Oregon Trail. Perhaps you remember playing the game, shooting Buffalo, fording rivers, and fighting off dysentery. In truth, for most 20th and 21st century children such rugged adventures are things of the past, experienced only in pixels and museums.
In our modern world, it can seem that such explorations ended generations ago. Like our entertainment-oriented education strategies, our world tells children and adults that free time is best spent playing, gaming, or escaping the hard edges of life by conjuring up some fantasy world.
The Bible, however, confronts us with a different reality, one far more adventurous and exciting than anything created by Pixar, Pokemon, or a Carnival pleasure cruise. It calls us to scour the earth, making disciples from every nation teaching them to obey all that God has commanded us.
This is God’s great calling—to follow Christ as eager disciples and lead others to know him through our various stations of life. This is why God made us (to glorify him); this is humanity’s greatest task (to increase his glory by multiplying children who reflect his image). This was Jesus’ final word, to follow him in the world’s greatest commission (Matthew 28:18–20).
But how? Continue reading
If there is one chapter in the Bible which best describes the kingdom of heaven (in other places, the “kingdom of God”), Matthew 13 is it.
Through seven parables, Jesus spoke to the crowds who came to see him (v. 1). In these parables, he laid out aspects of the kingdom that were both hidden and revealed, spiritual and physical, contested and certain, already and not yet. In short, by looking briefly at each parable we can get a list of the kingdom’s characteristics. Then, as we look at all the parables together, we are positioned to answer the question: What is the kingdom of God like?
What follows are five observations from individual parables (some are taken together), and two larger observations taken from the whole of Matthew 13.
The Kingdom of God Is . . .
. . . Mysterious
Perhaps it would be better to say the kingdom is hidden and revealed. For this is what mysterion means in the Bible. Beginning with Daniel 2, the word “mystery” speaks of a kingdom reality that was once hidden but now revealed. Continue reading
In 1 Corinthians 7:17–24 Paul speaks of our calling before God. In all of his writings, this may be one that most directly deals with the doctrine of vocation. On Sunday, we will consider this subject at length. In preparation, here are seven truths that relate to “vocation” and our calling to live for and before God in all we say and do.
1. Your vocation begins with the Lord’s calling unto salvation.
Made in the image of God, there’s a sense in which everyone has a “vocation.” The world’s bounty is not cultivated by Christians alone. God has blessed the world with the lives and services of many non-Christians.
That being said, only Christians can pursue their work for the glory of God. Only Christians can give thanks to God and pursue their vocations motivated by God’s love. In this way, a true vocation stands in continuity with one’s calling to Christ. The Father effectually calls his children and then assigns them to do good works.
Ephesians 2:10 says that believers are “created in Christ for good works, prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Likewise, 1 Corinthians 7 defines our assignment in life by God’s effectual calling. In 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, 24, Paul tells the Corinthians to abide in their earthly status and serve God, not worrying about changing their position. In truth, this way of thinking (and living) can only be achieved by those who have the Spirit of God. Therefore, the Christian homemaker or construction worker are animated by the same principle—God’s effectual call (re)defines your earthly occupation. Continue reading
Eight times in eight verses the apostle Paul speaks to the Corinthians about understanding their various vocations in light of God’s effectual “call.” These instructions about one’s calling before God broaden Paul’s focus in chapter 7 from marriage, singleness, and sexuality to matters concerning circumcision (Jew vs. Gentile) and slavery (bondservant and free).
All in all, Paul’s heavy emphasis on the Christians upward call in Christ make these verses a cornerstone for understanding our earthly labors at home, in the marketplace, or the church. You can listen to the audio from Sunday’s message (shortly) or peruse the sermon notes here. For those who want to go deeper, there are discussion questions below and links to a few other resources on the doctrine of vocation. Continue reading