Answering the Call: Toward a Biblical View of Vocation (1 Corinthians 7:17–24)

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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

Discipleship in the Local Church: What Has Preaching to Do With Discipleship?

discipleshipDiscipleship programs.

Discipleship pastors.

Discipleship pressure.

Following Jesus means obeying the Great Commission, with its command to make disciples of all the nations. But what does that mean? And how do we do it?

In a few other posts I’ve answered what it means to be a disciple and who makes disciples. But today, I want to begin to address the question: How do we disciple?

A Brief Introduction

Many helpful books have been written on discipleship. My (old) favorite is Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelismmy (new) favorite might be Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever. Both are simple reads. The former tracing Jesus’ pattern of discipleship; the latter giving practical instructions on “helping others follow Jesus,” which is Dever’s simple definition of discipling. If you have never read a book on discipleship, I’d recommend you pick up one of these two—then read the other.

In the meantime, let’s try to put a few how-to’s in place, with or without any prerequisite reading. Without limiting or listing the number of ways discipleship can be carried out, here are three ways we might conceive of discipleship. Continue reading

The Sevenfold Spirit of God: Seven Truths About the Doctrine of Illumination

 

menorahIn the book of Revelation John speaks of the “seven spirits of God” (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). While enigmatic, the symbolic use of the number seven in Revelation gives credible explanation: The seven spirits are God is a reference to the Holy Spirit, who is the perfect and complete Spirit of God. In no way does the number represent something contradictory to the triune nature of God (three-in-one), nor does it crassly suggest there are seven spirits who represent God. Rather, as with so many images in Revelation, the numeral seven represents the fullness of the Spirit abiding in God’s throne room and dwelling with the churches. Wonderfully, the same Holy Spirit who dwells in God’s heavenly temple (1:4) has been sent to dwell in local churches (5:6).

At the same time, the sevenfold spirit of God may also refer to Isaiah 11, where the Spirit of the LORD is said to “rest upon” the shoot of Jesse (i.e., the forthcoming king from David’s tribe). Greg Beale affirms the plausibility of Isaiah 11 (and Zechariah) being in the “background of the ‘seven spirits.’”[1] In that passage, which “shows that God’s sevenfold Spirit is what equips the Messiah to establish his end-time reign,” the prophet writes,

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (11:1 –5)

Verse 2 is where the seven descriptors of the Spirit are found, in that the Spirit is

  1. Of the Lord
  2. Of wisdom
  3. . . . and understanding
  4. Of counsel
  5. . . . and might
  6. Of knowledge
  7. . . . and the fear of the Lord.

This sevenfold description locates the work of the Spirit in the realm of wisdom and knowledge. While Lordship and might (גְּבוּרָה) are mentioned, the primary emphasis is cognitive. Significantly, this stands behind much of what Jesus says in John’s Gospel (see 14:26; 15:26; 16:13–14). As mentioned in a previous essay, the working of the Spirit is not seen primarily in visible acts of supernatural power, but in granting spiritual life and mental receptivity of God’s work of salvation. While the Spirit has power to restore creation (Isaiah 32:15) and raise the dead (Romans 8:11), the primary way he works today is in the granting spiritual understanding, what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2:10–16. Continue reading

Household ‘Stewards’: A Rich Metaphor for Pastors and Churches

shepherdThis is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Moreover, it is required of stewards
that they be found faithful.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 –

In creation, there is nothing more valuable than human life. And this is doubly true for those who have been purchased with the infinite blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Peter 1:18–19). God sent his Son to Calvary to redeem a people for his own possession, and so great is his love for his people that the Good Shepherd has raised up shepherds who would tend his flock. Sometimes these spiritual leaders are called pastors, or overseers, or elders—synonymous terms for the same office. At the same time, while each of these labels stress different aspects of local church ministry, there is another title that needs consideration—steward.

In Paul’s letters especially, “steward” (oikonomos) describes the kind of ministry pastors are to have. As Christ gives pastors to his people (Ephesians 4:11), he gives them to particular, groups of people—i.e., local churches. In Acts 2, when the church was “birthed,” new converts were “added to the number” of the church (v. 47; cf. 4:5, 32; etc.). Later Paul could speak of a “majority” in the church (2 Cor 2:6) or the “whole church” gathering, indicating an awareness of the number of the people. The importance of this observation is that God has not simply given pastors to be spiritual mentors or life coaches to Christians in general. He has called them to manage local gatherings of God’s household.

For good reason, most pastoral literature focuses attention on the multivalent duties of the pastor/overseer/elder. However, focus on these three labels without consideration of the fourth gives us an incomplete picture. There needs to be equal emphasis given to the idea of the pastor as God’s steward. In fact, such a notion focuses the high calling of a pastor within the parameters of a local church and clarifies the importance for Christians to be members of a local church. Without disregarding the vital importance of the universal church, the pastor as steward corrects amorphous understandings of spiritual leadership and church life.

What is a Steward?

In the New Testament, oikonomos and oikonomia are two words related to the oversight of a house. Continue reading

Preaching a Definite Atonement

Sometimes people ask “Why did you write your dissertation on limited atonement?” To which I have two answers.

The academic answer is “because I wanted to apply a biblical theological approach to a contentious doctrine.” I believe that only by approaching the extent of the atonement with the whole canon of Scripture in view is it possible to rightly hold its absolute efficacy for the elect with its cosmic scope for all creation. That’s the academic answer.

The other answer is evangelistic: “I wrote my dissertation on the extent of the atonement to stress the fact that what God designed, he accomplished.” What Jesus did on the cross was not to pay for some of it. Jesus paid it all, by divine design and sovereign grace. For me this has tremendous practical, missional, and homiletical effect. Every sermon I (have) ever preach(ed), stands on the glorious reality of Christ’s definite atonement and calls sinners to believe in him.

This week while at Together for the Gospel (more on that soon), we saw the above video, which perfectly expresses this same conviction. The preacher is E.J. Ward, a powerful herald of God’s gospel whose Lexington Pastor’s Conference encouraged primarily African-American brothers and sisters the doctrines of grace. His short message takes its language from the old hymn, “Jesus Paid It All,” and shows why definite atonement is necessary for preaching the gospel as good news. (For more on this point, see my chapter in Whomever He Wills).

Listen to Elder Ward’s message and marvel at this fact: Jesus death did not pay some of it. Jesus paid it all. Then, ponder this question: How can we proclaim the power of the cross if we must call our hearers to add faith? Far better, Christ’s death pays the penalty for sin and establishes a new covenant which gives to the elect all that God requires—chiefly saving faith.

Brothers, preach the definite atonement of Jesus Christ. Universally call men and women to repent and believe. And trust that all God designed in eternity and accomplished in time, he will bring to effect by means of Christ’s death and the Spirit’s life.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Reading the Bible Better: What Makes a Valid Chiasm?

chiasm_textStructure is not simply artificial device or literary elegance. It is a key to meaning. Oversight of structure may result in failure to grasp the true theme.
— Ernst Wendland —

This week, I enjoyed participating in my second Simeon Trust workshop. To those who teach the word regularly I can think of few ways to invest three days that will encourage and equip you more in your “Word work.” (You can also find great resources on their website).

At our workshop we focused on Prophetic literature, specifically on the book of Isaiah. Therein, the topic of finding a text’s structure was discussed, which brings us to the point of this post: chiasms.

Chiasms are literary structures that shape the words of Scripture in a X-like manner (hence, chiasm for the Greek letter X [Chi]). That is, chiasms work like a series of concentric circles, with an outer ring (A, A’), an inner ring(s) (B, B’), and an emphasized center (C). For instance, Jonah 1 presents a chiasm, with multiple layers.

A The LORD HURLED a storm (4)
A1 The mariners were afraid and joined YHWH in hurling cargo (5a)
A2 Jonah was unafraid and went down to sleep (5b)
B The captain confronted Jonah with God’s Words (‘Arise, call out …)
C The sailors query Jonah (7–8)
D Jonah identifies himself (9)
E The sailors are exceedingly afraid (10a)
       10b                  X Fleeing the Presence of the LORD = God’s Discipline
                           E’ The sailors want to know what they can do (11)
D’ Jonah suggests that the sailors drown him – repent? (12)
C’ The sailors try to save him and themselves (13)
B’ The sailors call out to YHWH ‘let us not perish’ (14)
A’ The men HURLED Jonah into the sea – the storm stopped (15)
A1’ The men feared YHWH exceedingly (16)
A2’ Jonah was swallowed by a fish (17)

(For other chiasms see Genesis 1–11Matthew 3:1–4:17; 1 Corinthians 11–14).

While most acknowledge the use of chiasms in Scripture, there is greater disagreement on what designates a true chiasm. Put into the form of a question: How do we know when a passage is truly “chiastic” and not just the literary creation of the interpreter? What validates a chiasm? Continue reading

The Cross of Christ Shapes Every Area of Life

obc-1 corinthiansYesterday, I preached on “The Wisdom of the Cross” from 1 Corinthians 1:18–25. While most of the message concentrated on the doctrinal message of the cross and its radical contrast to way the world approaches life (i.e., man’s wisdom), I closed the sermon with a handful of quick applications, listed below.

For the church, the cross must be our shared story that shapes our communion.

For individuals, the cross must be the wisdom that shapes every area of our lives.

  • In your hour of decision, let the self-sacrifice of Christ crucify your false desires; let the promise of resurrection embolden you to take God-honoring risks. (Luke 9:23–27)
  • In your hour of temptation, remember you are already dead to sin; sin no longer has dominion over you. (Romans 6)
  • In your hour of faith, praise Christ for purchasing your belief and obedience. (Ezekiel 36:26–27; Ephesians 2:8–9)
  • In your hour of failure, look again to the cross for your pardon and acceptance. (1 John 1:9–2:2)
  • In your hour of prayer, come boldly before God because of Christ’s blood. (Hebrews 4:14–16)

As we go into the week, may we give praise to God for Christ’s work on the cross. And may we continue to center our lives on Christ and his cross. As Paul teaches he is not an additive to our already full lives; he is the wisdom of God to bring our lives in conformity to God’s will.

May Jesus receive all praise and glory, as we live with ever-deepening dependence on the wisdom and power of the cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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

Putting the Psalter Together: How the Superscriptions Tell the Story

bibleIn canonical studies on the Psalms (i.e., studies that read the Psalter as one unified book, intentionally arranged to communicate a message of messianic hope), Jim Hamilton has provided a helpful reading of the Psalter by paying attention to the superscriptions of the Psalms. Because this Sunday’s message will depend heavily on the superscription in Psalm 20 (“to/for/about David”), I have asked Jim if I could share a large section of his explanation of the Superscriptions and how they relate to the whole of the Psalms.

The following excerpt is taken from his excellent survey of the Bible, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. (You can find more about his book here, with ideas for incorporating it into your Bible reading). Continue reading

Shepherds After God’s Own Heart

sheep‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
– Jeremiah 3:15 –

In a chapter lamenting the spiritual adultery of Israel, Yahweh promises to give his people shepherds who will feed them with knowledge and understanding. He calls these “pastors” “shepherds after his own heart.” In the context of the prophets (and in Jeremiah especially), the arrival of these God-centered pastors marks the coming of the new covenant. While there were  faithful shepherds in the Old Testament, there were few. It would take the arrival of the Spirit to fulfill this verse and to supply God’s people with shepherds after God’s own heart.

Today, firmly situated in the era of the new covenant, this verse prompts pastors and churches alike to consider the gift, calling, and responsibility pastors have to shepherd the flock of God among them. And from this verse we can see at least four truths worthy of remembrance and application. Continue reading