Everybody Deacon Now: The Call for All Christians to Serve in the Church

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

For the last few months our church has been considering Paul’s first letter to Timothy and how the instructions for the household of God lead us to order our local church. As Paul unveils the purpose of his letter, “I am writing these things to you so that, . . . you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:14–15).

Immediately before this purpose statement, Paul gives qualifications for elders (vv. 1–7) and deacons (vv. 8–13). And in our church we have focused a great amount of energy thinking about this office of the deacon. In fact, this Sunday at our member’s meeting we will present an update to the statement of faith and the constitution to bring our church order in greater alignment with Scripture.

That said, there is actually very little written about the “office” of deacon in the New Testament. An argument could even be made that the office of deacon is not called for like that of the overseer/elder/pastor. It is clearly not described in the same detail as the office of elder. There seems to be good reasons for this disparity, namely the need to have a clear and consistent teaching office in the church, even as the office of deacon is more flexible, need-based, and church-specific.

With all that in mind, it is helpful to go back to the Bible and see what it says about deacons (diakonos), deaconing (diakoneō), and the ministry of service (diakonia). When we do, we learn a great deal about what “deaconing” is—and what deaconing isn’t. In particular, we discover this word-group shows up 100 times in the New Testament. Yet, in all of those references, it only refers to the office of deacon 3 or 4 times, depending on how one understands Paul’s description of Phoebe (Rom. 16:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12). Most often the word relates to service of all varieties (cf. 1 Cor. 12:5), especially service to relieve the physical needs of others. Continue reading

Our Glorious High Priest: 24 Audio Lessons on Hebrews

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Over the course of 2018–19 I taught through the book of Hebrews at our church on Tuesday Nights. You can find the audio and notes below.

My approach: With an interest in Christ’s priesthood as the fulfillment of the whole Bible, and with a conviction that Hebrews models for us how to interpret the Old Testament, I attempted to show how Jesus is the Son of God and Our Glorious High Priest. At the same time, as the title of my previous series on the priesthood suggests, I believe the book also shows how new covenant believers become a family of priests in the kingdom Christ is bringing.

For those who read the whole book of Hebrews, you will notice that what is said of Christ (sonship, priesthood, and kingship) in Hebrews 1 is applied to all those in Christ in Hebrews 12–13. In short, Hebrews teaches us how God makes his people a family of royal priests. Often this emphasis on union in Christ with respect to the priesthood is not appreciated, but I believe a faithful reading of the book demonstrates how Christ is the great hight priest and how all those in him become new covenant Levites, so to speak.

One last note, I also attempted to show throughout much of the book how the literary structure is seen in chiastic structures. I am sure I haven’t been right in every case and that I’ve missed plenty, but in the notes you can at least see my attempt at putting the book together. If you have time, and especially if you disagree with a literary structure, let me know. I’d love to see how you put the book together.

All in all, few books in the Bible—maybe no book in the Bible—is more resplendent in its glory of Christ and his royal priesthood. Our class delighted in this truth throughout the year and found much personal encouragement in Hebrews. May you do the same. And may these notes help you in that journey.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Our Glorious High Priest: 24 Audio Lessons on Hebrews

Fall 2018

  1. Hebrews Overview [audionotes]
  2. Hebrews 1:1–4 [audionotes ]
  3. Hebrews 1:5–2:4 [audionotes ]
  4. Hebrews 2:5–18 [audionotes]
  5. Hebrews 3:1–6 [audionotes ]
  6. Hebrews 3:7–19 [audionotes]
  7. Hebrews 4:1–13 [audionotes]
  8. Hebrews 4:14–5:10 [audionotes]
  9. Hebrews 5:11–6:12 [audionotes]
  10. Hebrews 6:13–20 [audionotes]
  11. Hebrews 7:1–10 [audionotes] – Guest Teacher (Jonathan Matías)
  12. Hebrews 7:11-28 [audio]

Spring 2019

  1. Hebrews 8:1-13 [audionotes]
  2. Hebrews 8:7–13 [audionotes]
  3. Hebrews 9:1–10 [audio, notes]
  4. Hebrews 9:11–22 [audio, notes]
  5. Hebrews 9:23–28 [audio, notes]
  6. Hebrews 10:1–18 [audionotes]
  7. Hebrews 10:19–25 [audionotes]
  8. Hebrews 10:26–39 [audionotes]
  9. Hebrews 11:1–40 [audio, notes]
  10. Hebrews 12:1–17 [audionotes]
  11. Hebrews 12:18–29 [audio] – Guest Teacher (Ron Comoglio)
  12. Hebrews 13:1–21 [audionotes]

The One for All: 7 Reasons Why 1 Timothy 2 Teaches Definite Atonement (and 3 Reasons Why It Matters)

andrew-seaman-746845-unsplash.jpg 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
— 1 Timothy 2:1–7 —

Universal Atonement is the theological doctrine that says Christ’s death on the cross was offered for every single person without exception. This view of the cross stands against a “limited” view of the atonement, better termed Definite Atonement. Advocates of Universal Atonement typically make their case from various proof texts in the Bible and from theological commitments like God’s universal love and the universal offer of the gospel.

Combining textual proof with theological commitment, few passages in the Bible appear to support Universal Atonement more than 1 Timothy 2:4–6 and 1 Timothy 4:10. The former speaks of God’s will that all people be saved and Jesus ransom for all; the latter of God being savior of all people. From a first reading, these verses seem like a slam dunk for Universal Atonement. What else could Paul mean, but that Christ died for all people without exception?

In context, however, there are multiple reasons—textual, covenantal, and theological—which argue against such a reading. Such a statement may evoke disinterest, even disgust. Few are the cultural winds that blow in the direction of particularity today. Rather, our modern world loves to speak of universal equality and tolerance without distinction. Theologically, few doctrines have been left unscathed from the effects of individualism and modernity’s penchant for ubiquitous choice.

Yet, as is often the case in the Bible, God’s ways are not man’s ways. And what we find in Paul’s letter to Timothy is a very clear account of salvation that establishes Christ’s death as the one way of salvation for all people. All people, however, is not an individualistic word in Paul’s letter; it is a word that speaks of all kinds of people—especially, the categories of Jew and Gentile.

Echoing his earlier words to the Ephesians (2:11–220, Paul is proclaiming a message of the cross that is good for all kinds of people (1 Timothy 2:7). And as we will see his words do not support a universal atonement for individuals; they speak of a definite atonement for God’s people, whatever their country of origin. That said, we need to see from the text, how Paul speaks of one ransom for all people and how God is the Savior of all, especially those who believe.

Today, we will look at 1 Timothy 2. Some day soon, we will consider 1 Timothy 4. In truth, these chapters should not be read separately. They inform one another and reveal a unified vision of salvation. Yet, for sake of time, with open Bibles, we will address one and then the other. Continue reading

The Drama and the Doctrine: How Faithful Deacons Gain a Hearing for the Gospel (1 Timothy 3:8–13)

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The Drama and the Doctrine: How Faithful Deacons Gain a Hearing for the Gospel (1 Timothy 3:8–13)

When you hear the words “church” and “drama,” what comes to mind?

At best, church drama conjures up images of Christmas Cantatas or Passion plays. At worst, church drama brings up painful memories of infighting and relational strife in church meetings.

Too often, drama in the church carries a negative connotation, one that always threatens the church. In response to this danger, many churches turn to deacons as the men who are called on to protect the unity of the church—some even skipping over elders in the process!

Such a purpose for deacons is biblical; it comes from the calling of seven “deacons” in Acts 6 to care for the Greek-speaking widows. Yet, such a purpose for deacons is too narrow to comprehend the role deacons play in the church. Moreover, because elders are called to be the overseers of the church, assigning church unity to the deacons may miss their calling as model servants and ministers of mercy in God’s house.

On Sunday we begin a two-part series on deacons in the local church. Looking at 1 Timothy 3:8–13 we considered how deacons gain a hearing for the gospel. Moreover, by looking at the qualifications of deacons we learned how churches are to recognize deacons.

You can listen online. Response questions are below, along with a few additional resources Continue reading

Can I Get A Witness?!? Why Gospel-Centered Churches Need Faithful Deacons

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“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”
– Luke 10:1 –

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching . . .
– Acts 2:42a –

For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
– 1 Timothy 3:13 –

Few things are more encouraging to a preacher than the audible “Amen!” Such a positive response to God’s Word has an electric effect on the pulpit and the pew. Rightly timed, the “Amen!” affirms the Word preached and the preacher of the Word. It says, “Pastor, I am with you and I agree with this truth!” It also says, “Congregation, listen up; for this word is good news!”

There is no mandate in Scripture for the congregational “Amen,” but there is something more profound—maybe even theological—about this twofold witness to God’s Word. Throughout the New Testament, wherever the Word is preached, it is brought by multiple witnesses. For instance, when Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, he sent them out “two by two” (Luke 10:1). Jesus’s own ministry included the witness of John the Baptist (John 5:30–46), and when Jesus described the church he established it on the basis of two or three gathered together (Matthew 18:19–20).

In all, there is a pattern in the New Testament that the proclamation of the Gospel is carried by two or more witnesses. Perhaps this is a pragmatic decision to increase the psychological confidence of God’s witnesses, but I suspect it is more a function of legal testimony. Just as the Spirit vindicated Jesus through his resurrection (1 Timothy 3:16), those who bear witness to the justification that comes through faith in the resurrected Christ bear legal testimony to God’s work. Continue reading

Where Do Elders Come From?

churchFrom the beginning of the church, there were designated leaders. And though given various names (e.g., elders, pastors, overseers) they served the same function. As God-given leaders of God’s flock (Acts 20:28) and under-shepherds to the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1–4), these men were called to model the faith before God’s people and to teach the word of God, protecting God’s children from error and bolstering their faith in Christ.

A cursory reading of the New Testament shows how important these men were. In Acts we find elders in Jerusalem (11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6; 21:18) and Ephesus (20:17). When Paul planted churches in Galatia, he appointed elders in each church (Acts 14:23). In correspondence with Titus, he told him to appoint qualified overseers in the churches on Crete (Titus 1:5–9). Similarly, Timothy received instruction on the qualification of overseers (1 Timothy 3:1–7) and instructions for removing unqualified elders (5:17–23).

Even before Paul wrote his Pastoral Epistles, he had called churches to care for those who taught them (Galatians 6:6–9) and to honor those who led them (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). Similarly, James, Peter, John, and the author of Hebrews all spoke in various ways about the office of the overseer/elder/pastor (see James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1–4; 2 John 1; 3 John 1; Hebrews 13:7, 17). In short, the New Testament says a great deal about this important role, and it does so because the health of the church depends on those who lead them with God’s Word.

Yet, for all that it says about the office, we should ask another important question: Where do elders come from? Thankfully, the New Testament is not silent on this question. Just as it describes how to recognize an elder, it also describes where they come from. And faithful churches (and the elders who lead them), will be aware of how God raises up elders.

Where Do Elders Come From?

Continue reading

The Inseparable Operations of the Trinity in John’s Gospel

james-coleman-741674-unsplash.jpgFew books in the Bible give us more “raw material” about the Trinity than John’s Gospel. While the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, testimony to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is. And in the Fourth Gospel, the works of the Trinity are displayed in their greatest fullness.

Helping us to see the inseparable operations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the ESV Study Bible nicely charts most of the instances of God’s Work. In what follows, notice how every work of God is “shared” by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To say it more carefully, whenever God acts he acts as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Whether it is in creation, salvation, or revelation, each person of the Trinity acts in a way appropriate to their personhood. Yet, such personal properties are never divided from the other members of the Trinity. We can speak variously about the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but we can never speak of them independent from one another, or as if the Father does one thing, the Son another, the Spirit a third.

While personal properties apply in all of God’s actions—e.g., the Father creates as the Father, the Son creates as the Son, and Spirit creates as the Spirit—the triune God always works as one God. This reality helps us to know God in his triune glory and to appreciate how each member works in union with one another. Even more, as we see in John’s Gospel, when the Father sends the Son and Spirit and the Father and Son send the Spirit, we begin to learn who God is through what God has done in redemptive history.

Expanding this vision of God’s triune work in redemption, the ESV Study Bible’s chart will assist greatly.
Continue reading

A Beautiful Household (pt. 1): Men Who Pray, Women Who Work, and The God Who Saves (1 Timothy 2:8–10)

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A Beautiful Household (Part 1): Men Who Pray, Women Who Work, and The God Who Saves

Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” On Sunday we had a good chance to apply that passage, as we saw how 1 Timothy 2:9–15 is profitable for all God’s people.

Unfortunately, Paul’s words about men and women have often been misunderstood, misused, and even denied. Some have used this passage as a proof text to keep women quiet in church. Others have rejected Paul’s words because it smacks of male patriarchy. All in all, this passage IS a difficult one. Yet, we can make sense of it by paying attention to the context of 1 Timothy.

In the flow of Paul’s letter, these verses play an important role of showing how gospel-centered men and women worship God together. In this way, 1 Timothy 2 is not meant to give a place for men to exclude women from learning, speaking, or filling key roles in the church.  It is meant to affirm the goodness of men and women and the complementary ways they serve God together.

On you can listen to this sermon online. You can also read a couple important blogposts about these verses. And below you can find a few response questions with additional resources. Continue reading

Say What, Paul? Six *More* Things That 1 Timothy 2:8–15 Does Not Mean

stain glass 2Yesterday, I listed six things that 1 Timothy 2:8–15 does not mean. Today, I list six more. That post and this one complement Sunday’s message on 1 Timothy 2:8–10 and anticipate the coming message on 1 Timothy 2:11–15.

While any of these posts/sermons can be read or heard on their own, they are intended to be considered together. For if we are to understand what Paul means in these verses, it will take a fair bit of work in the text of Scripture and the history surrounding the church in Ephesus. For that background, I recommend the book Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15.

For now, here are the next six things that 1 Timothy 2:8–15 does not mean. Yesterday, the list focused on 1 Timothy 2:8–10. Today, it focuses on the next four verses (vv. 11–15). If you know the passage, you know these are the more difficult ones ;-) Continue reading

Say What, Paul? Six Things 1 Timothy 2:8–15 Does Not Mean

glass8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

[This is the first of two posts on 1 Timothy 2:8–15. These posts are meant to complement the two sermons I am preaching on this passage at our church.]

A lot has been said, could be said, and needs to be said about 1 Timothy 2:8–15, but many of things said have either been misleading or just plain wrong. This is true for feminists who deny the apostolic witness of Paul, evangelical feminists (egalitarians) who affirm his apostleship but restrict his words to Ephesus, and traditional Christians who have demeaned women by so vociferously proving the point that women cannot teach men in the church, they have effectively denied the vital place of women—and women teaching, see Titus 2:3–5—in the church.

In scholarship, the most thorough explanation of this passage has been the book Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15, edited by Thomas Schreiner and Andreas Köstenberger. If you are studying this passage, this is a must-read. I have found much help in it and highly recommend it.

What follows cannot replace a thorough multi-discipline study of the passage. What I do want to do is outline a number of ways we must not read this passage. Without claiming to have a full grasp of everything in 1 Timothy 2:8–15, therefore, here are six things the passage does not mean or imply. Tomorrow, I’ll add another six. Continue reading