Paul, Slaves, and the Church: How the Gospel Creates a People Passionate for Love and Justice

museum of the bible

In Washington, D.C. the Museum of the Bible has an exhibit tracing the impact of the Bible on slavery, and the impact of slavery on the Bible. Tragically, as the artifact above reveals, slave holders invited God’s judgment on themselves (see Revelation 22:19), in order to control their slaves and defend their institution of slavery.

In another exhibit, Ephesians 6:5 (“Slaves/Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ”)  is cited as one verse among many that were used out of context to control God-fearing slaves. In reading this verse by itself, you can see how it could be misused to do horrendous damage. But how should we understand this verse? Did Paul condone slavery? Are his words to be ignored, rejected, or attributed to some cultural blindness of his day? Why didn’t he speak against slavery?

To be sure, questions like these need answering. But denying the veracity of God’s Word, as some like to do, is not the answer. Rather, we need to understand Paul’s words in their historical context and how his commitment to the gospel both liberated individuals from slavery to sin/death/hell and, in time, led to emancipation for slaves across the Mediterranean.

To get at his historical context, lets consider two questions:

  1. What did slavery look like in first century Ephesus?
  2. What did Paul think of slavery?

By getting a handle on these two questions, it will help us understand Paul’s words and how his witness shows how far pro-slavery Christians deviated from God and his Word. At the same time, by considering Paul’s unswerving commitment to the gospel, we will see how that message (alone) forms a foundation for all genuine pursuits of love and injustice, liberty and emancipation. Indeed, by understanding more clearly the way the gospel works, we can see more clearly the wisdom of God, the goodness of Paul’s words, and the reason why he, as God’s chosen apostle, addressed slaves and their masters as members of Christ’ church, rather than a class of people suffering under an unjust system. Continue reading

Psalm 46: Two Sermons, One Message of Hope

cross.jpeg God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
— 
Psalm 46:1–3 —

In a(n election) season of great consternation, the Christian’s hope and joy does not change if she keeps her mind fixed on the Lord. This is the promise of the prophet Isaiah and our Lord Jesus.

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

For followers of Christ, peace is not gained (or kept) by a calm and consistent world. Rather, steadfast communion with our Lord secures our peace and overcomes our anxieties.

With that in mind, I preached yesterday a message from Psalm 46 at Castleview Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. What a joy it was to gather with God’s people to remind ourselves that our God is with us and our God is working for us. At the same time, I was even more encouraged when on my way home I listened to Dave Ross—not the World Series catcher, but one of our elders at Occoquan Bible Church—hit a home run as he preached Psalm 46.

In preparation for the Sunday before Election Day, he and I collaborated on our messages, only he opened his message with a powerful retelling of 1 Corinthians and how it calls the church to retain its focus on Christ and the gospel. A very powerful and timely reminder. In both our messages we preached to ourselves and others about the Lord’s sovereign purposes and his gracious promises.

This week, if you are feeling overwhelmed with fear going into tomorrow’s election, let me encourage you to listen to his message (“Election Daze vs. Kingdom Praise“) or mine (“God with Us, God for Us: Two Truths in Troubled Times“).

On that note, you may find help in few other reflections too.

In this uncertain world, may God enable you to put all your trust in the prince of peace, so that you have wisdom and power to walk by faith in this world and not by sight.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Take Hold of God and Give Grace: Sixteen Considerations for Election 2016

 

electionWhat do we say to our church in the face of the impending election? Pastor, what will you say to a church divided on the issue? Christian, how are you holding fast to the gospel and protecting your church from the divisions that this election could produce in the church? What is most important in this electoral season—winning the presidency or preserving the Church’s witness to the world?

As a pastor, these are just some of the questions on my mind, and so I write this post as an attempt to help shepherd our church and to think biblically about how Christians might maintain a focus on Christ in this tumultuous season. My prayer and aim is to see Christians of different political convictions retaining focus on Christ and his kingdom, even as they live out their faith in the public square.

And so in 2016, I offer 16 considerations—six ways we can take hold of God and ten ways we can give grace to one another, even as wrestle with the challenges of this year’s election. May God use these to encourage and challenge your heart. May he be pleased to use them to purify our hope in him and our church’s commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Six Ways to Take Hold of God

1. Take heart in God.

God is sovereign and we can rest in his rule (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:34–35). No matter what happens on November 8 (or on any other day), it will not overturn his work in the world. In fact, for good or bad, God will use this election to expose idols, test faith, and ultimately gather sheep. Scripture repeatedly tells us no king, no nation, no president has the absolute power to halt God’s kingdom. We must remember this, preach this to one another, and take comfort in this fact—God’s kingdom has come and is coming. Continue reading

How ‘Be Still and Know’ Is a Call to Arms: Five Ways to Labor from Rest

dc
[This post depends largely on yesterday’s exegetical consideration of Psalm 46.]

If the first step in troubled times is to take refuge in the Lord, it is not the last step. Only by reading Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God”) in isolation from the historical context of the Psalter or the whole counsel of God found in the rest of Scripture could we walk away from Psalm 46 and believe passivity is proper.

Rather, the best reading of that classic devotional verse is to see that it is a word spoken by God to the nations that he will subdue them (cf. vv. 8–9). For us, in other passages then he tells us to take up arms—the sword of the Spirit and the prayers of faith (Ephesians 6)—to engage in the battle we find all around us.

Indeed, to believe in God is not “nothing.” Rather it is the foundation of all good works (see Galatians 5:6; Ephesians 2:8–10; James 2:14–26). Likewise, Word-inspired intercession is not “nothing.” To the world, prayer seems like pious but powerless chore. Yet, James 5:16 rightly corrects us: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Therefore, as we abide in the shadow of his wings, we find that abiding in his Word and prayer are two powerful actions. Still ,such Godward devotion is not a cul-de-sac but a rest area that leads God’s people from the church gathered to the church scattered, from worship to work in the community, the state, the nation and beyond.

Indeed, with that centrifugal framework in mind, we are ready to move from the safety of God’s refuge into a sin-cursed world desperately in need of redemption. And to help us think about how to move into the culture from the firm foundation of refuge in the Lord, let me suggest five ways to labor from rest. Continue reading

A Call for *Public* Spiritual Disciplines

dcBooks on practicing the Spiritual disciplines typically have about a dozen topics. For instance, Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life lists ten: (1) Bible intake (in two parts), (2) prayer, (3) worship, (4) evangelism, (5) serving, (6) stewardship, (7) fasting, (8) silence and solitude, (9) journaling, and (10) learning. Likewise, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline enumerates twelve disciplines under three orientations: inward disciplines include (1) meditation, (2) prayer, (3) fasting, and (4) study; outward disciplines involve (5) simplicity, (6) solitude, (7) submission, and (8) service; and corporate disciplines consist of (9) confession, (10) worship, (11) guidance, and (12) celebration.

Because Scripture does not publish an authorized list of disciplines, an exhaustive list cannot be produced. Even a cursory reading these two lists invites comment on the best way to think about practicing the habits Jesus commanded. Is worship only corporate? How is solitude outward? Does solitude have to be silent? Whitney and Foster discuss these questions in their books with different emphases based on their different theological and ecclesial backgrounds. (As a Reformed Baptist it’s not surprising that I find Whitney’s book, full of Puritan Spirituality, the better book).

But what makes both of these books the same is their challenge to individuals to grow in personal godliness. Indeed, both books highlight the personal model of Jesus, a man who  undeniably practiced the spiritual disciplines and taught his followers to do the same. In short, personal spiritual disciplines are part and parcel of faith in the Lord.

That said, personal disciplines are not private disciplines. As Foster rightly identifies there is both an outward and corporate aspect to the Christian’s spiritual life. Understanding this interpersonal dynamic, Donald Whitney wrote a companion volume, Spiritual Disciplines within the Church to correct the hyper-individualism  fostered by an unbalanced concern for personal, spiritual disciplines.

Third Horizon in Spiritual Formation

Still, I wonder if there is something more that ought to be stressed in the spiritual formation of a believer? Is it possible that those who attend regularly to Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, and even fasting may be incomplete in their spiritual development? Could it be that there is a third horizon—the first two being the individual in relationship with God (worship) and the individual being in relationship with the church (fellowship)—that must be developed in order for a man or woman to walk worthy of the gospel? Continue reading

The Image of God and Public Theology

Earlier this week, I considered the personal effect of meditating on and living in the truth of being made in God’s image. Today, I want to show how the image Dei should inform our public theology and social ethics. In a sentence, the image of God should inform the way we look at the world, because only when we keep the image of God at the forefront of our mind will we rightly be able to glorify God in all of life.  Here are five ways the image of God should inform our ethics—four specific, one generic. Continue reading