Be Slow to Judge and Quick to Make Peace: What Pastors Can Learn from Doubting Thomas

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19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
— James 1:19–20 —

In the Bible Thomas gets a bad rap. In the face of seeing Christ’s death on the cross and not seeing Christ’s resurrection, the apostle, who previously volunteered to die with Christ (John 11:16), is unable to believe. For a whole week this beloved follower of Christ is kept in the dark, and not until Jesus returns to the Upper Room does he believe. But when Thomas does believe—he offers one of the most illuminating testimonies of Christ’s identity: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

There are many lessons we can draw from Thomas’s delayed faith, but one of the most important is that faith is based on evidence. The Christian faith is not a leap in the dark; it is based on the evidential history that Jesus rose from the grave, walked on the earth for forty days, so that he could teach his disciples about the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:1–8; Acts 1:1–8). In that time, Jesus revealed himself to 500 disciples at one time, before his ascended to heaven in the presence of his followers (Acts 1:9–11). In short, God granted to those who saw the resurrected Christ.

With respect to Thomas’s doubt, his request for the physical body does not deny his faith; it ensures his faith is placed rightly in the resurrected Christ. Even today, faith is dependent on the eye-witness account of Christ’s physical resurrection (1 John 1:1–3). Thomas did not have that yet, and thus his delayed faith testifies to the need for eye-witness testimony.

At the same time, there’s second lesson to be learned from Thomas and his doubt. It relates to faith and evidence too, but it is not about believing the gospel but believing other believers. Until Jesus showed himself to Thomas, there was a division in the household of faith. Ironically, this is a division caused by Christ himself, as he revealed himself to his disciples at different times. But it is a division nonetheless, and one Jesus remedied when he returned to the Upper Room a week later.

Truth Takes Time to Perceive

Today, believers do not find themselves in the same position as the original disciples. For us, the gospel has come fully formed. Christ is exalted to God’s right hand of God, the Spirit has been poured out, and the New Testament has been finished. Hence, the transitional nature (which led to the temporary division between Thomas and the disciples) is not repeated today.

What is repeated are events in the life of the church where one member or one group come to see or understand something that others have not (yet) understood. This knowledge and belief may be a theological truth, a decision for ministry, or a situation of church discipline.

In such cases, believers may come to understand a doctrine or a situation at different times. Like runners traversing the same course, they may have different opinions on the race—not because they are on different paths but because they are looking at different sections of the course. In such instances, painful divisions can occur and tear apart the body of Christ. But unlike the division which Christ intended in the days following his resurrection, this division is not intended by Christ. Or is it?

Could it be that God plans temporary divisions in the church that cause his people to learn how to listen to one another? Could it be that various churches or individuals have different degrees of theological understanding or practical wisdom on various issues? And could it be that God wants his people not only to be at peace, but to learn how to make peace with one another?

Indeed, if we listen to the Bible, we see that God’s children are not just at peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and one another (Eph. 4:1–3), we are to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). And pastors are to be the ones who lead in making peace in the church. 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

Take Heart My Brothers: Six Pastoral Priorities in the Face of Church Conflict

ethan-weil-262745In fair weather, the Pastoral Epistles are a storehouse of spiritual wisdom and instruction for the life of the Church and her ministers. But as we know too well, such cloudless skies are infrequent. Thankfully, when affliction grips the body of Christ, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are the most capable of helping pastors and churches navigate dark skies and turbulent winds. And thus in times of relational conflict and spiritual warfare, we (pastors) need to study them with an eye to what they say to about leading the church through conflict.

Indeed, in these letters (and others), Paul often speaks about the work of Satan, and significantly he places our enemy not outside, but inside, Christ’s fold. For instance, among born-again believers, Paul speaks of the way Satan finds a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), ensnares young believers ambitious to lead (1 Timothy 3:6–7), and turns brothers into opponents (2 Timothy 2:22–26). Because of his spiritual invasion, the church must always be on guard (1 Peter 5:8), praying against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10–19), and aware that ungodly people sneak into the church (Jude). Even more, wise elders must give themselves to steering the church straight in the face of opposition that comes from within the church and without.

To do this elders must keep a few things before their eyes. That is, we must prepare ourselves for the turmoil that sin and Satan bring to the church. And thus, in the face of constant threats, churches and church leaders do well to have a clear understanding of what to do when trouble comes. And there is no better place to find this counsel than the Pastoral Epistles.

So, if you are a pastor going through rough waters in your church, or if you are church member wondering what a faithful model of leadership should look like in the face of conflict, here are six priorities from the Book of Titus to guide your steps. Surely, these priorities will need to be administered with care in various contemporary settings, but they nonetheless provide biblical direction for churches to keep in mind when the wind and waves of church conflict seek to run the church aground. Continue reading

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