*Knowing* and *Being Known*: A Word Best Understood in Covenantal Context

stars.jpgNot everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
— Matthew 7:21–23 —

I suspect that Jesus words in Matthew 7:21–23 might raise some questions if one does not have a basic understanding of God’s knowledge. What does it mean that Jesus never knew you? Certainly, God knows all things, and because Jesus is God the Son, he must know all things. So what do his words mean?

The answer comes from knowing the way knowledge is spoken of in the Bible. Going back to Genesis 4, we find knowledge often describes covenantal relations—either between two people (as in marriage) or between God and man. Either way, knowledge is a relational term and one that consistently carries the idea of covenant-making and covenant-keeping.

In what follows, I share a handful of examples and come back to Matthew 7. Continue reading

Seeking God in His Word (Psalm 119:9–16)

rhythms-of-holinessYesterday, Ben Purves, our Pastor for Student Ministries at Occoquan Bible Church, continued our series on spiritual disciplines. What follows are some discussion questions and resources to go deeper in Psalm 119.

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Psalm 119 is one of my favorite Psalms. Both the longest chapter and prayer in the Bible, this 22 stanza psalm is a literary masterpiece. Written as an alphabetic acrostic, it is a beautiful celebration of God’s Word. The psalmist calls the reader to delight and rejoice in God. This last Sunday we looked at the second stanza (vv. 9-16) and considered how we might treasure God’s Word as we head into the New Year. You can listen to the sermon here.

Psalm 119:9-16

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11  I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
13  With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
14  In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15  I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16  I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

Discussion Questions

  1. What words are used to describe the Scriptures, and how do they open up different dimensions of God’s Word?
  2. What attributes of God are revealed in the text?
  3. What are the two petitions of the psalmist in vv. 9-16? What does each petition reveal about the psalmist?
  4. Practically — what does it look like to guard our hearts with the Word of God?
  5. What should the relationship be between our love for God, his word, and sharing the gospel?
  6. How would you characterize the heart of the psalmist?
  7. How does one get his heart to be like that of the psalmist?
  8. How might your heart become a treasure storehouse of the Word of God?
  9. What steps might you take to increase your joy in God and His Word in 2017?

Further Resources

Articles

Books

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Spiritual Desire: The Key to Cultivating Spiritual Disciplines

sun-heartOften, when we come to spiritual disciplines we list them, plan for them, and then labor to perform them. In the best scenario, we realize—sooner rather than later—we can’t do them apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. And so we pray and ask God to help us.

Yet, such approach may go wrong from the start. Why? Because we put the law (and its list) in front of the gospel (and its power). In other words, when we devote ourselves to discipline, we “covenant” with a bank of rules we trust to make us better—better people, better Christians, better (you fill in the blank). But of course, the law never brings life and can only be a delight after God has written his law on our heart.

The problem with any law-full approach to discipline, however, is not that it contains laws. The gospel is not antinomianlawless. The third use of the law is a gift to the growing disciple. The problem is when we call upon the Spirit to assist us after OUR plan is put in place. Now granted, if you set out to read the Bible, pray, and fast, you have already taken your cues from the Spirit’s inspired Word—especially, on that last discipline. But still the root cause of burnout remains. What is that? The problem of desire. Continue reading

Feeding on the Bible: An Approach to Bible Reading for Those Who Don’t

bibleThere is a curious condition I have found among many who regularly attend church. I’ll call it personal, spiritual malnutrition. It is the regular pattern of NOT reading the Bible that many in church experience.

I can’t tell you how many times I have sat down with someone who regularly attends church, knows much about the Bible, who expresses love for Jesus and trust in the gospel, but who doesn’t read their Bible. If pressed, they know they should, and often they have tried to read their Bible, but for a variety of reasons, they have not committed to that spiritual discipline.

This is a perilous condition and one that is “curious” because of how central God’s word is in making a Christian.

James 1:18 says, God saves us by his word: “He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Likewise, 1 Peter 1:23 concurs: “since you have been born again, . . . through the living and abiding word of God.” And Romans 10:17 clarifies the picture that this word-generated life comes through the “hearing of the word.” In other words, anyone who professes to be a Christian must have become such by the Word.

Next, the Scriptures repeatedly speak of God’s Word as life-giving nutriment. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man does not live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Matthew 4:4). The Bible is not a trifling thing; it is our life, Moses says (Deuteronomy 32:47). What food is to the body, Scripture is to the soul. A newborn infant cannot live apart from his mother’s milk, and neither can the child of God survive without God’s Word.

And yet, there is a whole category of Christians who survive on secondary sources. A weekly sermon, a favorite iPod preacher, a few memorized verses (usually disjointed from context), a popular book or two, hours of Christian radio, and a variety of other Christian-ish props. But no personal Bible reading.

It is to them (and their pastors) I pen this post. Continue reading

Book Notes: Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church

Michael Lawrence supplies a number of illuminating thoughts as he introduces the idea of exegesis in his book, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church.

Describing the role of the interpreter or biblical reader, Lawrence quotes Jerome saying,

The office of a commentator is to set forth not what he himself would prefer, but what his author says (41, Jerome’s letter “to Pammachius, 17).

Then discussing the task of exegesis, Lawrence cites John Owen,

There is no other sense in it than what is contained in the words whereof materially it doth consist . . . In the interpretation of the mind of anyone, it is necessary that the words he speaks or writes be rightly understood, and this we cannot do immediately unless we understand the language wherein he speaks . . . the [idiom] of that language, with the common use of and intention of its expressions (41, John Owen, Works, IV: 215, quoted in J. I. Packer, Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, 101)

Finally, Lawrence supplies his own helpful axioms that the parts of Scripture (words and phrases) must be related to the whole.

So the basic unit of meaning is not the word, but the sentence.  And the unit that determines what sentences mean, and therefore the words in them, is the paragraph (42).

Interpretation actually begins with the whole, not the part. Then, in the context of the whole, we work backwards through the parts, back to sentences, back all the way down to individual words.  What we learn and discover there then takes us back to the whole with a more accurate and perhaps nuanced understanding of meaning (42).

Today, ponder these thoughts and put them into practice.  Much interpretive error stems from microscopic reading of Scripture and trying to interpret the Bible in light of our personal opinions and experiences.  Rightly, Lawrence’s observations, if taken to heart and applied, will help correct much improper Bible reading.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Creation by the Numbers

Today many in our church and all over the world began their yearly Bible reading plan.  I did.  And one of the features found in Genesis 1 is the fact that God made plants (v. 12) and animals (v. 21), “according to their own kinds.”  While scientists, Bible scholars, and Christians apologists have argued for the origin of the species, the Bible is clear that God is the originator of all life.  He spoke the world into existence (Gen 1; Psalm 33:6), and no matter how long that process took, it is clear that he is the Creative Genius behind it all.  (Personally, I hold to a Young Earth position due to the disbelief that death existed before sin, which is clearly dated in Genesis 3, about 6,000 years ago).

Yet, in this brief post, my point is not to argue the age of the earth or the meaning of yom (‘day’) in Genesis 1, but rather to marvel at the endless fecundity of God’s creation.  Today I came across Wikipedia’s entry on “Species.”  In it is a list of all the plants and animals in the world.  In a word, it is astonishing!  Consider the sheer numbers of life-forms on the earth, all created by God.

The total number of species (estimated): 7–100 millions (identified and unidentified), including:

Of the identified eukaryote species we have:[14]

It has taken thousands of people over hundreds of years to amass this list, a list of all the creatures God created and their offspring.

In truth, Elihu declare in Job 34:14-15, “If he [that is God] should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to the dust.”   Thus, according to the Bible all the species owe their existence to God, and it is worth meditating on the estimated numbers above.  While these numbers are not exact due to the difficulties of subdividing species, they do represent this singular facet of God: He is unfathomably creative and prolific in the production of his creation.  If it is true that no sparrow falls to the ground a part from his knowledge (Matt 10:29), then it coheres that no life is born apart from God’s germinating spirit and no life ends apart from his sovereign decree.

He is the Supreme Creator, the God of the Nations, and the one who has made man in his image to rule over creation.  Moreover, when man failed to rule over the earth uprightly (cf. Ecc 7:29), God sent his Son to become a man, to perfectly rule over all the species that God created.  I am doubtful that each of these ‘species’ was created in the Genesis account, it seems more likely that the ‘kinds’ in Genesis 1 were higher up in the taxonomic hierarchy (maybe genus or family), but it is certain that God created in the beginning an expanding myriad of plants and animals, represented in the list above.  These life-forms had the capacity for incredible replication and speciation.  While many fight over Genesis 1 for good reason, we shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees: God is the glorious creator of all the earth, who has fashioned a world that is filled with life, fecundity, beauty, symmetry, wisdom, and so much more.  And even though this in a world overrun with sin, disease, and death, his incredible creation is evident.  How much better will the New Creation be when sin will be eradicated and mankind will finally rule over a perfect creation with Christ on the throne.

As we begin the year, may we worship the Triune Creator and look at creation as a hymn book of praise for our infinitely wise Creator.  As Revelation 4:11 sings, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by you will they existed and were created.”  Upwards of 100 million of them!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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Teach the Bible Through in a Year: Tips and Tools

If you have or if you would think about teaching through the whole Bible in 2011 or in any year, let me encourage you to think about a couple things that I learned as I taught through the whole Bible in 2010.

Tips
First, if you are a rookie pastor or just entering a church, WAIT!  I did this in my first year and I would not recommend it for others.  There are many things that demand attention especially in the first year of ministry and this one took up more time each week than I thought it would.  With that said, I have benefitted much from teaching through the Bible this year in a way that I believe will bear fruit in the life of my ministry in the years to come.

Second, and this goes along with number 1, if you are going to teach through the whole Bible, let me encourage you to make sure that you have been reading and teaching the Bible through for a number of years.  It is a good rule of thumb, to avoid teaching something that you have not done personally, i.e. if you have never read through the Bible in a year, it would be unwise to try to teach through it.  Moreover, this point is  important because at some point, or at many points, you will rely on the accumulated knowledge of the Bible that only builds up over many years of Bible saturation.

Personally, as I taught through the Scriptures this year, there were many times when I was dependent on previous Bible reading to provide explanation and fill in details of the text.  My schedule did not permit me to study every book like I had first intended and/or desired, so there was much I were many times I was going from memory–from seminary, personal Bible reading, books, or messages I have heard.  But this is the beauty of Bible overview, more than intricate exposition.  You help focus on the big picture, showing the unity of the Scriptures–a unity that I argued was to be found in Christ (cf Eph 1:10).

Third, set a pace for the year.  If you are going to teach through the Bible make sure those you are teaching are reading with you.  This will motivate you and they will better be able to follow your teaching.  To say it another way: Aim to keep pace with a Bible reading plan.  In 2011, we used the plan laid out by Denny Burk.

Fourth, don’t get bogged down with the details.  This is hard, especially for detailed-oriented teachers.  Aim to cover the big idea, themes, and ways in which the book fits into the larger categories of biblical theology.  Don’t spend your time on source criticism, who wrote 2 Peter, or when Daniel was written.  I would touch on these things, but believing the Scriptures to be God’s word, I focused on what was in the text more than what was behind the text.  In this way, I would encourage you to focus on biblical theology more than scholarly disputes–though sometimes you cannot avoid the latter (e..g is Genesis 1 a myth? [no]; was Paul the originator of Christianity? [no], and things like that should be addressed).

Fifth, create space in your teaching schedule to go over.  I took two weeks on Genesis, Exodus, John, Paul.  The first two books were planned to go two weeks, the second two were not.  Having space in the schedule helped alleviate the stress of ‘fitting it all in.’

Sixth, use outlines and information from other sources to help you, but just make sure you give credit where credit is due.  In my notes, I aimed to footnote the places where  I was directly dependent on the ESV Study Bible or some other place.  (See reflections at The Gospel Coalition on preachers and plagiarism).

Seventh, let the Scripture be your guide.  Fill your notes (if you use them) and your teaching with Bible references and Scripture quotation.  My goal on Wednesday nights was always to read as much from the Bible as possible to prove my points.  I aimed to synthesize the main points and to show from the text how I made that point. Spending time in commentaries and theologies did not help this, only reading the Bible did.

With that said, let me confess: Some weeks as I taught, I would read lots of background material and biblical-theological commentary.  Other weeks I wouldn’t.  In preparation, the text always needed to be central and more often than not it was, but sometimes, I must admit, I spent too much time in the books and too little in the Bible.  The result was a less-stimulating personal understanding of the book.  So, for anyone going into it I would recommend finding a handful of shorter reflections on each book–maybe just one or two reliable resources–and then spend most of the time in the Scripture itself.  Make up your own outline if possible and ask God to help make the book come alive for you.

Eighth, pray!  It was only by the grace of God that I finished the course this year.  Many prayed for me and when I grew tired in some weeks, it was petitions for grace that were answered with time and thoughts to present God’s Word to God’s people.

Tools
If you are going to read or teach through the Bible in 2011, or in any year, let me recommend these resources.

First, the ESV Study Bible was a necessary resource that I relied on every week to give background information and to help me outline each book.  Zondervan’s Introduction to the Old Testament (Dillard and Longman) and Introduction to the New Testament (Carson and Moo) would also be excellent aids.  They supply a great deal of background information and will help field textual questions and scholarly disputes.

Second, I would urge you to consider Jim Hamilton’s biblical theology: The Glory of God in Salvation Through Judgment. Hamilton’s book pays keen attention to the literary structures of the individual authors while holding together two-fold unity that runs through the Bible–salvation and judgment.  Hamilton also highlights many important theological themes that emerge throughout the pages of Scripture.  I didn’t have this book when I started this study, but I wish I had.  The articles in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology would also be helpful, but I honestly did not avail myself of these like I could have.

Third, as I prepared, I often listened to Mark Dever’s overview sermons.  They were edifying and regularly pointed me to Christ-centered interpretations of the texts.  These sermons were collected into his two books: The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. You could read these books, but I would recommend listening to them as you walk, run, workout, or drive.  I found that having a different medium to ‘hear’ the message of Christ was helpful.  It ministered to my soul and it allowed me to ‘hear’ how someone else presented the big picture of each book.  In addition to Dever, The Gospel Coalition’s website has a number of other pastor-teachers who have given book overviews.

Finally, if you have not read Graeme Goldsworthy and his approach to reading/interpreting the Scriptures, I would urge caution, or at least patience, before teaching through the whole Bible.  This may seem like an overstatement–for how could one man’s interpretive strategy be so important?  But I would suggest that he, more than anyone else I have read, aims to show the gospel of Jesus Christ from all the Scriptures.  In this way, he has provided modern teachers with an interpretive method that flows from Luke 24 itself.  His works include his Trilogy (The Gospel & Kingdom, The Gospel in Revelation, and The Gospel & Wisdom), According to PlanPreaching the Whole Bible as Christians Scripture, and Christ-Centered Hermeneutics. In my preparation for teaching through the Bible in 2011, these 4 books proved to be necessary prerequisites for me to read through the whole Bible and see how each epoch, genre, and author pointed to Christ as the Spirit inspired them.  Again this might be a little overstated, but Goldsworthy has been formative for my understanding of putting the Bible together, something that proved to be necessary before starting this biblical tour in 2010.

Overall, I would highly recommend reading through and/or teaching through the Scriptures so that you might see and show how all things are summed up in Christ.  It is amazing to watch the story unfold and to see how every story whispers his name, to borrow Sally-Lloyd Jones‘ turn of phrase. In the process of teaching this series in 2011, my faith was strengthened by reading the Scriptures this year and beholding Christ, and my heart was gripped with gratitude for God’s grace in helping me read and teach through the Bible in 2010.  Even more, I was grateful for the faithfulness of the church members who joined me each Wednesday night, hungry to learn more about Christ and his word.  It was a precious group who joined together each night to hear God’s word and to go deep and LONG into the Scriptures.  I praise God for them.

Next year, I will be doing something a little different–see here–but I pray that God will continue to help us read the whole counsel of God with eyes open to see Christ and hearts burning like the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gospel Themes in the Book of Leviticus

Reading Leviticus can be heavy sledding, but once you get familiar with the terrain, it can be incredibly profitable and encouraging.

For instance, this morning I was reading about the Feasts recorded in Leviticus 23.  For New Testament Christians, you should be able to see how these feasts, which were a part of Israel’s yearly calendar, point the way to Jesus Christ.  He is the Passover Lamb and his death corresponds to the Passover; Jesus’ Resurrection corresponds to the Feast of the Firstfruits, and of course the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurs on the Day of Pentecost.  Clearly, God was giving his OT saints spatial-temporal events to help prepare the way for His Son.

These events just mentioned have all been historically fulfilled in Jesus Christ and recorded in the Gospels and Acts.  However, we still look forward to the fulfillment of others, like the Feast of Trumpets and Jubilee (Lev 23-25).  Reading the account of the way that Jubilee initiates rest in the land and commands the restoration of all things, provides a hope-giving vision of what will occur at the end of the age, all things will be reconciled by Jesus Christ, things on heaven and things on earth (Col. 1:20).

So reading Leviticus typologically and eschatologically (e.g. with an eye towards Christ and all that he has done and still will do) makes the book come alive.  Here are a few other themes to look for in this rich book:

  • God’s holiness and mercy.  Leviticus 19:2 says, “Be holy because I am holy.”  Repeated throughout the book is this refrain that God is holy and he expects his people to be holy.  If any book in the Bible teaches the utter need to be holy, Leviticus is it.  To a Western Church today that minimizes holiness and maximizes assumed relationship with God, Leviticus is a helpful antidote.  The holiness codes and endless bloodshed teaches us that God will not relinquish his demand for our holiness.  He is just and cannot turn his back on our sin–consider the story of Nadab and Abihu.  Nevertheless, his mercy meets the demands of his holiness,
    and the book of Leviticus tells us how he does that–through the sacrificial system. 
  • Man’s sinfulness.  In the light of God’s holiness and mercy, we see mankind’s sinfulness and selfishness.  Nowhere is this more colorfully painted than in the death of Nadab and Abihu, two priests who offer strange fire and are consumed because they fail to treat God as holy.  The testimony of their death in Leviticus 10 along with all the laws required in Leviticus, should teach us that we cannot live by keeping the law (Lev 18:1-5), but rather we live by trusting in the mercy and provisionary grace of God himself.  He is our life, and his provision of a sacrificial system is the means by which we may live and relate to Him.
  • Man’s fallen condition.  We also learn about our own human nature in Leviticus.  For instance, it is not just sin that separates us from God, but our own corrupted physical bodies.  Leviticus 13 explains that bodily discharges make us unclean and consequently unacceptable to God, that is we cannot enter his presence with our uncleanness.  For human beings preoccupied with self–and we all are–this should humble us greatly.  Bad breath, body odor, diarrhea, constipation, skin lesions, dandruff, eczema and all other forms of bodily disfunction should remind us of our fallen condition, our imperfection, and our uncleanness.  Under the OT law, these sort of things would keep us from God, whose holiness and cleanliness is absolute.  He is pure and we are not.  Apart from Christ, even our humanness in its fallen condition separates us from God.
  • Blood.  We also see that blood soaks the pages of Leviticus.  So gory is the book, that it should be impossible to read Leviticus without coming away with a greater sense of our sinfulness before God.  At the same time, we should be struck by the way that all these blood offerings, where the life of an animal is substituted for the life of a man, remind us of the ultimate sacrifice and the blood that speaks a better word than all OT sacrifices.  Because of our sin, God requires blood, and yet he has not abandoned us to our own demise.  He has provided a way of re-entry, and every sacrifice is a reminder that God has made a way to be reconciled to him, through the blood of a sacrifice.  What is pictured in Leviticus is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 

 

If you are looking for more help with Leviticus, I encourage you to listen to Jay Sklar’s seven-week study on the book.  It is informative without being unnecessarily heady.  It will give you a greater appreciation for Leviticus, but even more than that, it will help you better understand the work of Jesus Christ and the gospel that is foretold in Leviticus.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss