Ten Things About Deuteronomy 4:9–31: Or, What Moses Says to Us About Gathered Worship and Jesus Christ

10 thingsIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon on worship, here are ten observations from Deuteronomy 4:9–31.

1. The middle section of Deuteronomy 4 can be divided into three time-plotted windows.

The first window looks back to the gathering of Israel at Horeb (4:9–14). The second window looks at the people present before Moses. It warns Israel to remember their covenant and not worship idols (4:15–24). Then, te third window looks to the future, to a day when Israel will be scattered because of sin; it also offers hope and the promise of Israel’s restoration because of God’s mercy (4:25–31). From this chronological presentation, Moses shows how the covenant with Israel extends from past to present and from his present to future.

2. The main point of each section is related: Guard your heart!

In verses 9–14 Moses says (twice!), Guard your heart by remembering the covenant made at Mount Horeb. The double command of guarding is seen in verse 9, when Moses says, “Only take care (šmr), and keep (šmr) your soul diligently, . . . ”

Next, verses 15–24 repeat the focus on guarding as Moses exhorts, “Therefore watch (šmr) yourselves very carefully.” In this section, the warning moves to the present, as he urges Israel to guard their hearts from idolatry by remembering who they are—a people redeemed by Yahweh (v. 20).

Last, verses 25–31 foretells a time when Israel will forget God and break their covenant. In other words, they will fail to guard their hearts. Nevertheless, in their failure, God will remain faithful. And Moses promises Yahweh will guard Israel’s future by remembering “his covenant” (v. 13) . As verse 31 states, “For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.”

From this reading, we can see how “guarding” is a theme that runs throughout Deuteronomy 4. Continue reading

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

sermon photo

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

‘Body Language’ in 1 Corinthians

body languageE. Earl Ellis summarizes his article on “Soma in First Corinthians” (Interpretation, 44 no 2 Apr 1990, pp 132–144) by saying,

Paul’s concept of the “body,” so obscure for our modern way of thinking, nevertheless underlies the whole of his theology, and is decisive for understanding Paul’s teaching on ethics, sacraments, ministry, and the Christian hope. (132)

In this article he shows how ‘body’ is a significant concept in 1 Corinthians and in all Paul’s writings. Indeed, in our body-obsessed culture we need to recapture a biblical theology of the body. Ellis’s article is a helpful starting point.

Applied to the church, the term soma (“body”) is a significant metaphor (see 1 Corinthians 12:12–26) that informs the whole letter. As I argued in my sermon yesterday (“Body Life in Christ’s Household: An Overview of 1 Corinthians“), to be a member in Christ’s church is to fundamentally change the way we think about the body. Whereas the unbeliever is dead in their union with Adam (Romans 5:12–14, 18–19; 1 Corinthians 15:22), the child of God is made alive in Christ and baptized into his body (1 Corinthians 12:12–13). The implications of this union for ecclesiology—the doctrine and practice of the church—are manifold.

Following the content of 1 Corinthians we might say that when the modern individual is gripped by the reality of their union with Christ and his body, it produces unity and knocks down divisions (ch. 1–4); it produces holiness and empowers purity (ch. 5–7); it motivates love and self-sacrifice (ch. 8–11); and it builds the body in love (ch. 12–14) because individual members use their spiritual gifts for the common good of others (12:7) and not for themselves (14:4). Most significantly, when believers live self-conscious of their place in God’s body, they are ready to deny self and live in love, holiness, and unity with their brothers and sisters in Christ. In short, they display the resurrection power of God to raise the dead to manifest life as Christ’s body.

Next time you read 1 Corinthians keep an eye out for Paul’s body language. It unites the whole book. And provides a powerful antidote against selfishness and a motivation to live for the glory of God in all things.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Preaching Larger Sections of Scripture

bibleIn creation, God put beauty and design into the largest galaxy and the tiniest cell. Accordingly, we have, for centuries, used different instruments to behold the glory of God in creation: the microscope enables us to see God’s miniscule  handiwork; the telescope opens our eyes to heavenly vistas. From both ends of the spectrum, we benefit from considering God’s micro-creation and macro-creation.

Something similar takes place in the Bible. When we read Scripture, we can find gospel truth in a word (propitiation), a phrase (‘it is finished’), a verse (John 3:16), a story (Job’s suffering and restoration), or a series of songs (the Psalter). Indeed, from every angle, we behold God’s wisdom and goodness in his word. Yet, unless we are intentional, it is easy to focus on the smaller parts of the Bible and to miss the larger ones.

There are many reasons for that—lack of time, lack of understanding (what is Revelation about?), lack of interest (why do I need to read the minor prophets?). In our fast-paced world, it is easy to overlook the Bible’s big picture, and often pastors have not helped their people “put the Bible together.” Still, I am convinced that if we are to have minds renewed by the Scriptures, we must not simply have a collection of unrelated memory verses free-floating in our heads; we must also understand the larger framework(s) of the Bible. For that reason, I want to suggest five reasons why I preach larger sections of Scripture. Continue reading

The Need for Expositional Preaching (pt. 4): Apostolic Preaching is Expositional

pulpit2I recently shared this article with our deacons. This post which focuses on the pattern of preaching in the New Testament is part four of four. (Parts onetwo, three).

Not surprisingly, from the pattern of Old Testament priests and prophets to the teaching ministry of Jesus, the church continues a pattern of expositional preaching. This is most evident in the book of Acts.

The Expositional Acts of the Apostles

In Acts, Luke gives a selection of exemplary sermons by Peter (Acts 3-4), Stephen (Acts 7), and Paul (Acts 13-14, 17). In these sermons, the Spirit-filled preachers are regularly appealing to the Old Testament, retelling the history of Israel, and explaining how Jesus Christ fulfills the Old Testament patterns, promises, and prophecies.

For instance, in Acts 13:15 Paul and Barnabas are invited to give a word of exhortation (a sermon?) “after reading from the Law and the Prophets.” It is easy to see the pattern of exposition here: read the word, preach about the same word. Paul paid attention to his audience, but he faithfully proclaimed God’s Word according to the pattern of sound words that was found in the Old Testament.

Of course, from the terse details in Acts, we cannot replicate the form of the apostle’s exposition, but we can see their commitment to explaining the Old Testament Scriptures: They showed how the Old Testament related to Jesus, and called their audiences to repent and believe.

Moreover, when Paul handed off his ministry to the Ephesians elders, he said to them, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (vv. 26-27). His reference to blood harkens back to the watchman’s role in Ezekiel (ch. 3, 33); he likens the preacher’s task of protecting the flock to the watchman’s task of warning the city, and the way he tells the Ephesians elders to guard the flock is by means of teaching the whole counsel of Scripture.

Therefore, from the book of Acts, we can discern a flexible pattern of exposition intended to proclaim Christ from all the Scriptures. Still, there is one more place in the New Testament that demonstrates the validity and vitality of expositional preaching. And this final illustration is arguably the most convincing, as it is the only sermon full-length sermon in Scripture—Hebrews.

Hebrews: An Expositional Sermon

While we read Hebrews today as a letter, it has every indication that this epistle was a sermon first, and a letter second. On that point Dennis Johnson observes a number of sermonic features ( Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures, 167-78):

  1. The book closes with the words, “my word of exhortation,” which in other contexts including Acts 13 indicate a sermon;
  2. Hebrews regularly exalts in God’s spoken word (1:1-2; 2:1-4; 12:25-29);
  3. the Scripture citations are introduced as words spoken, not just written (3:7, 15; 5:6; 10:15);
  4. the author of Hebrews twice abbreviates his comments in order shorten his sermon (9:5; 11:32);
  5. unlike other letters that begin with doctrine and transition to application, Hebrews unites exposition and application, such that in each section of the sermon there is biblical quotation, explanation, and exhortation;
  6. there is a discernible outline to the sermon—Jesus is better than angels (1:4-2:28); better than Moses (3:1-4:13); better than Aaron (4:14-7:28); better than old covenant sacrifices (8:1-10:31); better than the patriarchs (10:32-12:17); better than Moses as the mediator of worship (12:18-29);
  7. the length of Hebrews read aloud totals about 55 minutes, which is in the ballpark for a sermon.

In this outline, it becomes clear that the content of Hebrews is a series of biblical expositions. Specifically, the author cites, explains, and applies Psalm 8:4-6 (Hebrews 2), Psalm 95:7-11 (Hebrews 3-4); Psalm 110:1, 4 (Hebrews 5-7); Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Hebrews 8-10); Habakkuk 2:2-4 (Hebrews 10-11); Exodus 19:16-23 (Hebrews 12). By citing, explaining, and applying these six passages (plus drawing attention to other Old Testament persons and passages), the author models a kind of biblical exposition that is loaded with Scripture, well-illustrated, and filled with application. For this reason, it serves as conclusive support that the kind of preaching modeled by Scripture is expositional preaching.

The Pastoral Epistles

But Scripture goes even further. God’s word not only models exposition; it also commands it. If we take seriously the words of Paul to Timothy as words of instruction for the church, we find that Paul actually commands pastors to preach expositionally. In his first letter to Timothy Paul writes,

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4:11-16)

Stressing Timothy’s role of teaching (mentioned 3x, plus “commanding” and “exhortation”), Paul tells his son in the faith: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” Like the priests of old (who functioned as pastors in their own right), Paul instructs Timothy to read the Scripture and teach the Scripture with exhortation. In short, to turn back the false teachers and the false teaching in the Ephesian church, Timothy is to herald the truth of the gospel, trusting that the word of God will sufficiently equip the saints, expose the wolves, and build up the church.

A Final Plea for Expositional Preaching

The same is true today. Pastors do not build true churches by managerial excellence, neither do they comfort souls with modern psychology. Rather, pastors are to lead the flock of God to read the Scriptures, understand the Scriptures, and apply the Scriptures.

When pastors are faithful to do that, churches will grow and be built up in the doctrines of the faith. When they fail to do that, they are left to the most popular strategies and psychologies that the world has to offer. In our Southern Baptist context, expositional preaching has been out of fashion in local churches for too long. Only by returning to it, will the word of God be given room to purify the church, sanctify the saints, and convert the lost.

May God be pleased to give us ears to hear the whole counsel of God word preached and heard from faithful expositors of God’s word.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

What Does the Flood Teach Us About God?

floodAs it so often happens in preaching, to make one point from the text of Scripture, requires glossing over another. This is especially true when working with large chunks of Scripture.

Yesterday, I did that as I preached the Flood narrative (Gen 5:28–9:17). In that section, Moses records that God was ‘sorry’ that he had created man (6:6), which raises a whole host of questions related to God and his relationship to the world: Can God suffer? What does it mean that he is sorry? Does God change his mind? Does God know the future? Etc.

As I mentioned those things in the message, my mind was thinking: “I am not spending enough time explaining this.” But since the goal was not verse-by-verse exposition but the exposition of the whole narrative, I pressed on.

Still important questions remain about what Moses meant in Genesis 6:6. Whole revisionist theologies have been created on the basis of those questions. Open Theism, a view that denies God’s absolute knowledge of the future along with his foreordination of contingent events, arises from the emotional problem with evil and passages like Genesis 6:6 which on the surface insinuates that God changes his mind or grieves over mistakes in history.

In yesterdays sermon, I did not get a chance to answer some of those questions, but here are a few places where I or others have addressed the subject of God’s impassibility and his relations with the world.

Can God Suffer?

Immutability and Impassibility: Essential Truths in an Uncertain World

God Does Not Repent Like a Man (John Piper)

Here’s the sermon audio from yesterday:

This message kicked off a series on the holiness of God in the Old Testament. Admittedly, the message focuses more on God’s justice and mercy than his holiness per se. Nevertheless, as the first major display of God’s action in redemptive history (post-fall), it displays a vital reality: In his holiness, God is dreadfully severe towards sin and awesomely gracious towards his covenant people (cf. Rom 11:22).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

“God is for God,” And Why That is Good News

Last week, I wrote a blog that listed a number of passages that demonstrated that God saves his people for the sake of his name. Aside from Ephesians 1, my post only listed the Old Testament passages that prove this theological point. The New Testament references were left wanting.

This week, I came across a sermon by Matt Chandler entitled “God is for God.” In his conference message, he gets at the same point that God’s pursuit of his glory is the foundation of the good news. He points out the Old Testament passages that speak of God saving his people for the sake of his name. But he also goes further.

Citing passages that speak of God pursuing his glory, he lists off a bevy of New Testament texts that affirm God’s pursuit of his glory. You can see how he introduces his point above, and in his sermon, he goes on read the following passages. Continue reading

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

pure2

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Matthew 5:8

Today I preached Matthew 5:8, which promises that the pure in heart will see God. In truth, everyone will one day see God. The question becomes, Will that beatific vision be a reason for rejoicing? Or, will it be a moment of terrifying judgment?

I pray for all who read these words or listen to this message, that seeing God would be the pinnacle of joy, and that God would purify your heart so that you might see Him. In this sermon, I considered three points

  1. What does it mean to see God?
  2. What does the Bible say about the heart?
  3. How can you have a pure heart?

If you long to see God, ponder the words of Matthew 5:8 and ask God to make your heart pure as only he can.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Blessed are the Merciful: Giving, Forgiving, and Thanksgiving

samaritan“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”

Matthew 5:7 was the text I preached yesterday. In my sermon, I answered three questions:

  1. Does God show mercy to everyone?
  2. Why does Jesus say “Blessed are the merciful” instead of “Blessed are the faithful?”
  3. What does mercy look like?

In answering that final question, I gave the answer: True mercy gives generously and forgives sincerely in order to increase thanksgiving to God (cf. Rom 15:8-9). In response to the mercies of God (i.e., the gospel), mercy proactively schemes, plans, and prays for the increase of thanksgiving to God by means of our giving to those in need and forgiving those who have offended us. In short, genuine mercy involves giving and thanksgiving in order to cause thanksgiving to God.

If you have struggled with understanding how we can be merciful, or if you—like me—have struggled to be merciful, consider this beatitude which calls us to cry out for mercy, so that we too might be merciful!

Here’s the audio:

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Audio: Deviation from God’s Design (Romans 1:16-32)

Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

— Romans 1:25-27 —

After four weeks of considering God’s design for marriage, sex, and gender, I turned to the subject of homosexuality today—a subject that has and is dividing our nation, and one that Scripture addresses with candor and the message of grace.

In today’s message, I argue from Romans 1 that the great problem is not homosexuality but humanity. All who are born ‘in Adam’ are sexual sinners. Idolatry is the chief sin and as a result of this inward deviation, all men and women experience various kinds and degrees of illicit sexual desires.

I fear some Christians have been to quick to dismiss people who experience same sex attraction. Too much of the message has been, “Just change.” To support our cause, many Christians have cherry picked verses to contest homosexuals instead of sharing the full doctrine of humanity and sin, which tells us that all of us have us have sinned, and none of us have natural (read: true and righteous) sexual desires according to the flesh.

As Paul argues in Romans 1, humanity has exchanged the glory of God for the glory created things, therefore God has given the human race over to the lusts of their flesh. As Romans 3:23 concludes, “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” This is the great problem. Man has suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, because their natural state is not good or righteous. Sexual deviation is the ‘natural’ result of a fallen human condition. Homosexuality—like pornography, fornication, adultery, and divorce—is but one outward expression of this deeper deviation.

I am still grappling with how to state these things, but I pray this message will help you avoid some traps and give you light to better understand what God has said about humanity’s fallen condition. As I state at the front, the message is directed at Christians, but it is also applicable to those non-Christians who are willing to hear how all of us have sinned and how God has provided salvation in Jesus Christ.

Deviation from God’s Design (Romans 1:16-32)

For the rest of the sermons in this series (‘God’s Design for Marriage and Sex’), go to Sermon Audio.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss