June 9, 2008
There are no perfect churches in the world. As long as churches have people in them… there will always be problems, because we are all a bunch of sinners.
Christians of all people should recognize this. After all, we believe that all people are sinners. That is why we need a Savior. Jesus Christ died for our sins. He suffered the punishment we deserve for our sins so that we might be forgiven.
But the fact that we are forgiven doesn’t mean that we are sinless. Our sinfulness doesn’t end the moment we are saved. No! Unfortunately, it continues on during this lifetime.
Because we remain sinners in this world, there will always be problems in the church.
One of the problems we see most often in the church is that we often can’t seem to get along. One thing Christians know how to do is disagree. That is particularly true among my own tradition (“bickering Baptists.”)
Sometimes these disagreements are silly, like arguing over the color of the carpeting. Sometimes these disagreements are necessary, because they are tied to important Christian doctrines.
But I have found that most disagreements in the church are not tied to either one of these two extremes. Usually it is a disagreement over practice in ministry.
1) When should we apply church discipline? When should we confront an sinning Christian brother and when should we overlook their mistakes? There are differences of opinion regarding the answer to this question.
2) Or we may agree on the biblical qualifications for those in church leadership and yet disagree on whether or not a particular individual meets those qualifications.
3) Or we may agree that as a church we are called to make disciples and yet disagree on how best to accomplish that ministry.
What happens when the disagreement becomes so great that we can no longer minister together? Then what?
We see an example of this in Acts 15:36-41…
Acts 15:36-41 (ESV) – 36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Paul wants to go back to the churches that he and Barnabas had recently planted in Asia Minor (Acts 13-14) and make sure they are okay. This makes perfect sense, because there had been considerable opposition to the Christian faith in virtually every place they had ministered. Although we don’t know for sure whether or not the persecution continued after they left, it is safe to assume that at least some of it continued. After all, these new Christians were passionate about their Savior and we are told that they were zealous in sharing the gospel with others (Acts 13:49.) Since it was the proclamation of the gospel which had set off the persecution in the first place, it is safe to assume that it would continue as long as these Christians were preaching the gospel.
But this is probably not the only concern which Paul had in mind. Paul and Barnabas had already dealt with Jewish Christians in Antioch who insisted that Gentiles had to obey the Mosaic Law in order to be saved (Acts 15:1-2.) And Paul’s letter to the Galatians makes it clear that the same teachings had begun to infect some of these churches which they had planted in Asia Minor. I think it is very likely that he wanted to pass along the decision from the Jerusalem council that Gentiles could be saved without converting to Judaism before this heresy spread among these new believers (Acts 15:23-29.)
Not to mention the fact that these Christians… just like us today… though their sin was forgiven… their sinful natures still remained. Everyone of us is prone to stumble and wander away from the truth into sin. That is why we need godly shepherds to keep us on the right track and guide us in the direction which God would have us to go. Over and over again, Paul speaks of the Christians in the churches he planted as if they are his children (I Thess 2:7-8, 11-12, Gal 4:19.) He cared about them and wanted to make sure they “grew up” to be healthy Christians… joined together in healthy churches.
Notice that Paul is the one to bring this up to Barnabas, but Barnabas is in full agreement with him. They both want to go and visit these newly formed churches. They both want to see these churches be strengthened and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
But this is where they agreement ends. Though they both agree on what is to be done… they disagree on how it is to be done.
Barnabas wanted to take along with them John Mark. The Greek is pretty strong here (βούλομαι - imperfect tense.) He was insistent about it. He was continually pressing the issue. He wanted to take John Mark with them on this trip to strengthen the churches in Asia Minor and he wasn’t about to take no for an answer.
Who is John Mark?
We have seen him before in our study through the book of Acts and I told you we would come back to him later.
Let me refresh our memories on who this young man is…
1) Tradition… not Scripture… but tradition tells us that the Last Supper took place in the home of John Mark’s parents. We don’t know this for sure, but there is good reason to think that it is at least possible that Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples in this man’s home.
2) Part of the reason some people think this is because of an odd passage found in the gospel of Mark in chapter 14…
Mark 14:51-52 (ESV) – 51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
Most scholars agree that this is probably a young John Mark, fleeing the scene of the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested. How could this young man have been present at the betrayal of Jesus? It is at least possible that he followed Jesus and the disciples from his home to the Garden.
3) Whether or not the Last Supper was held in Mark’s home or not is a matter of debate, but we know for sure that his home was a regular meeting place for the early church. Back in Acts 12:12, when Peter was miraculously freed from prison by an angel, he went immediately to the home of John Mark’s mother and that is where he found Christians gathered and praying for his release.
4) We also know that he was Barnabas’ cousin (Col 4:10.)
5) And if you remember, he went with Paul and Barnabas when they began their 1st missionary journey back in Acts 13, but he didn’t complete the journey with them. He traveled with them as they preached the gospel throughout the island of Cyprus. He was there when the magician Bar-Jesus was struck down by God for opposing the gospel. He went with Paul and Barnabas to Pamphylia in Asia Minor, but then he left and went home to Jerusalem.
Barnabas wanted to take this young man with them on this 2nd missionary journey and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Why? We don’t know for sure. Maybe it was because John Mark was his cousin. I think it more likely because this fits the character of Barnabas. His name means “son of encouragement” and this very aptly describes his character. He was constantly pouring himself into the lives of others and attempting to build them up. He was always encouraging others and I think it is safe to assume that he wanted another chance to encourage this young man in ministry.
But Paul would have none of this. He didn’t want to take John Mark with them. Literally he didn’t think it was worthy or wise (ἀξιόω) to even consider taking John Mark with them. And the Greek implies that he was just as set against taking John Mark as Barnabas was set on taking him. He and Barnabas were continually disagreeing about this.
Why was Paul opposed to taking John Mark with them?
Because he had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and didn’t go with them to the work. Some translations render it that John Mark “deserted” them… and it seems safe to say that is how Paul saw things. Eugene Peterson in the Message paraphrase of the Bible renders this, “But Paul wouldn’t have him; he wasn’t about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia.” Although this is not a literal translation of the Greek, it does capture the sense of what is going on here.
Paul deemed him unfit to go with them because of his past failures…
How many of us have ever made a mistake? If we are honest, then we must admit that we make mistakes all the time.
Do you want people to continually hold your mistakes against you?
Don’t we all want the opportunity to live down our mistakes?
Don’t we all want a second chance when we make a mistake?
It seems that Paul is unwilling to give John Mark a second chance here. His mistake from the past is still haunting him.
Now Scripture is clear that there are some sins which seem to disqualify a person for ministry (I Cor 9:24-27), but does going home in the middle of a mission trip disqualify someone from ever engaging in ministry again?
Peter denied Jesus three times (Lk 22:54-62) yet he was not disqualified for ministry.
Did Mark’s failure disqualify him from future ministry? Apparently Paul thought so… at least at this juncture in his life.
We don’t know why John Mark turned tail and went home during the 1st missionary trip, but here we see him back in Antioch after time has passed and apparently wanting a second chance to go and minister the gospel to those in need.
But Paul won’t let him live down his earlier mistake. At least, this is probably the way in which Barnabas saw things.
On the other hand, they are about to walk into some very difficult ministry situations. And remember…John Mark left them the first time before things really got bad. He left long before they were run out of Pisidia Antioch. He left them before Paul was nearly stoned to death in Lystra.
Paul and Barnabas may have been ignorant about what they were walking into the first time, but not so this time. They knew what they would encounter. They knew they would face hardship and persecution.
Do you take someone with a track record of cowardice with you into hostile territory?
Don’t you only take those who you can be reasonably sure will watch your back and see it through to the end?
Which one is right here? Paul… or Barnabas? The text doesn’t tell us. But either way, they both keep pressing their opinion and neither one will bend.
As a result, there arose a “sharp disagreement” (παροξυσμός) between them. The term παροξυσμός is derived from a verb which means “to sharpen” (παροξύνω) and it tells us that this dispute resulted in anger, irritation and exasperation (Bock, Baker, 519.) Things got really heated between them. So heated in fact that they separated from one another. We have another strong Greek term here… ἀποχωρίζω … and it is only used one other time in Scripture. In Revelation 6:14 it is used to describe the sky splitting apart when the 6th seal is broken. In the same way that one day the heaven will be torn asunder… this partnership was completely severed.
I find this to be incredibly sad. These men had a long history together. Remember… Barnabas had mentored Paul…
1) After his conversion, when no one else would have anything to do with Paul because he had previously persecuted Christians, it was Barnabas who took a chance and put his arm around Paul and vouched for him with the apostles (Acts 9:27.)
2) Years later, it was Barnabas who went and found Paul in Tarsus and brought to Antioch to minister alongside him in this newly formed Gentile church (Acts 11:25-26.)
3) It was Barnabas who had started out in the lead when he and Paul had set out on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:2.)
Shouldn’t Paul have listened to the voice of his mentor?
On the other hand, Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ.
1) He had seen the risen Lord Jesus (Acts 9:1-6.)
2) He had been handpicked by the King of kings and Lord of lords to be His apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16.)
3) He was a man who was without peer when it came to knowing the Bible.
Shouldn’t Barnabas have listened to him?
Shouldn’t Barnabas have yielded to the opinion of the Apostle Paul?
We don’t know. Maybe one was right and the other wrong. Maybe they were both wrong. Or maybe they were both right. Either way… they separate…
Barnabas took John Mark and sailed away to Cyprus while Paul took Silas and traveled overland to Asia Minor.
Some have suggested that the fact that we are told the brothers commended Paul and Silas to the grace of the Lord implies that the church thought Paul was right and Barnabas was wrong. Most scholars don’t think this is the case at all (i.e. F.F. Bruce, Richard Longenecker, Darrell Bock, J.A. Alexander, etc.) Luke is simply recounting the ministry of Paul, therefore he mentions his commission and passes over Barnabas.
This is clearly seen by the fact that Barnabas disappears here from the book of Acts. Not that he ceased to be involved in ministry. Paul mentions him fondly about 5 years after this event in I Corinthians (I Cor 9:6) and it is clear that he is still involved in ministry. Luke’s purpose is simply to recount the history of Paul’s ministry efforts.
It is incredibly sad that these two great men of God part ways here. Yet still notice what happened…Paul and Silas travel through Syria and Cilicia and the churches are strengthened. These early Christians grow stronger in their faith through the ministry of Paul and Silas.
Isn’t this what Paul and Barnabas both wanted to see accomplished? Although they differed in regards to how to accomplish this ministry… God still accomplished His work among His people, despite their disagreement.
What happened as a result of Barnabas and John Mark traveling to Cyprus? As I said, we don’t know anything about this ministry, but we do know what happened to John Mark.
1) About 10 years later, we find John Mark with Paul in Rome and the apostle is about to send Mark to Colossae to minister to them (Col 4:10.)
2) And at the end of the his life, as the Apostle Paul waited in a Roman prison to be executed, he wrote to Timothy and asked him to bring John Mark to see him because he “is very useful to me for ministry” (II Tim 4:11.)
3) Not to mention the fact that this young man… whom Paul didn’t want to accompany them on their 2nd missionary journey… would be used by God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to write the Gospel of Mark.
We don’t know much about what happened in Cyprus under Barnabas’ ministry, but I think we can draw some conclusions about what God was doing though Barnabas at this time in his life. He was mentoring another young man, just as he had the apostle Paul years before, so that John Mark could be used mightily in the service of God.
Was Paul right to separate from Barnabas and John Mark and take Silas to Asia Minor? It seems so…
Was Barnabas right to give this young man, John Mark, a second chance and continue to mentor him in ministry? It seems so…
In the providence of God, these two men were separated in order to accomplish different purposes for the kingdom of God. And in the end, God caused all things… even the painful things… even the sinful things… to work together for their good and His glory.
Most often the disagreements we have in the church are sinful. Often we fight over things that are ridiculous, like the color of the carpeting.
Sometimes disagreement is necessary. For example, we must be willing to fight to the very end to hold onto the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But sometimes the disagreement is a little more vague. For example, when we disagree about how to functionally apply certain passages of Scripture in the life of the church.
This is always unfortunate, especially when it causes a gospel partnership to be severed. But we can be assured that God will cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, despite our mistakes and sinfulness (Rom 8:28.)
How do you hold up in the face of persecution? Do you stand your ground? Fight back? Or run away?
What would you do if you are commanded to recant your faith in Christ or face imprisonment?
Follow this link (http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1258_the_wonder_of_idiotic_perseverance/) and read an account of true Christian perseverance in the face of persecution.
Beware! If you are like me… this will be devastating to your self-righteousness…
June 6, 2008
John Piper has an edifying, short post on the promise of prosperity to the righteous in Scripture. You can find it here http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1256_do_the_righteous_always_prosper/
June 4, 2008
There is a great Q&A with Mark Dever on how to conduct our personal devotions over at the New Attitude blog. You can find it here http://www.newattitude.org/articles/mark_dever_on_personal_bible_reading
June 3, 2008
There is a great post by John MacArthur over at the Pulpit Magazine website on the importance of being able to rightly interpret Scripture. It is worth the time to read it. You can find it here http://www.sfpulpit.com/2008/06/02/what-does-it-mean-to-me/#more-1306
We live in an age of information overload. Everywhere we go… we are bombarded by messages which vie for our attention. “Eat at Joes!” “Shop at Quickie-Mart!” “Vote for ______ (you fill in the blank.)” Everywhere we go we are bombarded by messages which vie for our attention. There is no way that we can remember them all, so we have to make choices.
How do we choose what we will remember? How do we choose what we will focus on? Often we choose subjectively. For example, if baseball is your game, then you will probably know who played this week. You’ll know won and who lost. Why? Because this is important to you.
If you are person who is interested in the weather, then you could probably tell me the 5-day forecast. Why? Because this is important to you.
I could go on, but you get the idea. We tend to focus on that which is most important to us.
So tell me… what is the most important message in all the world? What must we always remember? What must we focus on above all else? We don’t have to guess… God tells us in no uncertain terms in I Corinthians 15:1-8:
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (ESV) – 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Notice that Paul is speaking to Christians here, since he calls them “brothers.” They were followers of Jesus and Paul knew this because Paul knew them and he knew them well. Paul had spent 18 months among the Corinthians functioning as their pastor (Acts 18:11.) During this time, Paul had preached among them… they had received his message… and they had become Christians.
But notice that there seems to be a problem here. They seem to be a little forgetful. He is writing to remind them… literally “to make known to them” (γνωρίζω) something he had already preached to them.
If we are honest, most of us tend to forget that which we hear proclaimed on Sunday morning. Often the message we hear goes in one ear and out the other. We think about it for a moment… we say to ourselves, “Yeah… that makes sense…” then within a day or so… if we are lucky… we have forgotten everything that was said.
In Corinth, it seems that this tendency to forget had caused a lot of problems. They had forgotten… or at least displaced… what was most important in the Christian life. And this wreaked havoc among these Christians. In this letter alone, we learn that they were:
- Confused about the death of Christ ( I Cor 1:18-31)
- Divisive (I Cor 1:10-17.)
- They were tolerating horrible sin in their midst (I Cor 5.)
- They couldn’t get along and were suing each other (I Cor 6.)
- They failed to understand God’s plan for marriage (I Cor 7.)
- They were flirting with idolatry and immorality (I Cor 8-10.)
- They were selfish… thinking only of themselves and their own wants and needs (I Cor 9-11.)
- They had perverted the Lord’s Supper through their selfishness (I Cor 11.)
- They were abusing spiritual gifts (I Cor 12-14)
- Their worship services were a mess… they were anything but worship… (I Cor 14.)
Despite all this, Paul still calls them “brethren.” They are fellow Christians, but they have just forgotten that which is most important. So here we see Paul reminding them of what is of first importance.
What is he reminding them of? The gospel.
The Greek word translated “gospel” is εὐαγγέλιον (pronounced euaggelion.) It is made up of two word: εὖ, meaning “good” and ἄγγελος, meaning “messenger.” Literally, the term refers to a “good message” or “good news.”
What is this good news that Paul is reminding them of?
Skip forward if you will to verse 3 and Paul details it for us in 4 distinct points:
1) Christ died for our sins accordance with the Scriptures.
To understand what Paul is saying here, we must first have to understand what sin is. That may sound obvious to many of us, but please humor me for a moment, because most of us have a somewhat skewed view of what sin is. We live in the midst of a culture which has pretty much jettisoned the idea of sin. We are constantly taught to feel good about ourselves… to think of ourselves as relatively good. “I’m okay… you’re okay.” But that isn’t what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that each and every person is a sinner. That is true of me… and it is true of you.
What is sin?
Pure and simple… sin is failing to live up to God’s standard.
We sin in many different ways. We sin through the things we do wrong. But sin is more than just the bad things we do; it is also the good things we don’t do.
We are sinners. Every one of us. The Bible doesn’t teach that “I’m okay, you’re okay.” No! The Bible teaches us that “I am not okay and you aren’t either.”
We are all sinners and that means we are all in trouble, because God is a holy and just God. He is holy, meaning He is separated from all that is sinful and worldly. He is morally pure and hates sin. He is also just, meaning that He always does what is right. This means that He must punish sin. What is this punishment? Death (Rom 6:23.) Physical death… and spiritual death… being separated from God for all eternity in hell.
The message which Paul is reminding us of here is “good news.” It is good news that despite our sin, God has made a way for our sin to be forgiven through Jesus Christ.
Jesus Chris is the only begotten Son of God… very God of very God… who took on human flesh and walked among so that He could die for our sins. He suffered the punishment we deserve for our sin, so that our sin could be forgiven forever.
Notice that Paul says this wasn’t an accident. It was all part of God’s plan, because it was “in accordance with the Scriptures.”
There are a lot of people out there today who are trying to say that Jesus’ death was the result of a mistake on His part. This is the position taken by the Jesus Seminar and other liberal theologians. We saw this proclaimed in a popular way just a couple of years ago in the book “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown, which claimed that Jesus was nothing more than a radical, counter-cultural rabbi… who died for his social and political agenda.
Hogwash! The death of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was the will of God and we know this because it was foretold in Scripture. 700 years before the death of Jesus Christ, the prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned these words…
Isaiah 53:5-6 (ESV) – 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Jesus Christ suffered the death we deserve for our sin. He died in our place so that we would not have to suffer the wrath of God for our sin.
That in and of itself is good news… but that is just the beginning…
2) Christ was buried.
This is Paul’s way of affirming that Jesus was truly dead. He didn’t just pass out and come to later and heal from His wounds. He was dead… and everyone knew it. And no one expected Him to come back.
3) But Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
His resurrection was predicted by Jesus Himself on numerous occasions prior to His death… not to mention the fact that in passages like Psalm 16:10 it was foretold 1,000 years ahead of time.
This is important, because, if Jesus died and stayed dead, what good would this news be for us? If God didn’t raise His only begotten Son from the dead, who perfectly fulfilled God’s plan of salvation for sinners like us, then how could we ever expect God to raise us from the dead and grant us eternal life? How would we know that God was satisfied by the sacrifice of Jesus?
We know this because God vindicated His only begotten Son by powerfully raising Him from the dead… victorious over sin and death and hell forever and ever.
People today will often say, “Sure… you say Jesus rose from the dead. But do you have any proof?” Paul says, “Yes! We do!”
4) Christ appeared to many witnesses.
Peter… the apostles… James… Paul… not to mention 500 other Christians… many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this letter.
Paul’s point is that this good news is no fairy tale. It is real. And there were witnesses… hundreds of witnesses who could verify this message.
This is the gospel! This is good news! This is the best news ever proclaimed on this earth! Nothing else in all of human history even comes close. There is no better news than the fact that we can have our sins forgiven and be granted eternal life with God through Jesus Christ. This message alone is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16.)
Paul is reminding the Corinthians of this. Had they completely forgotten this? No… a Christian can never fully forget this message and still be a Christian.
But we can allow this message to lose its prominence in our lives. It can fade from center stage and be relegated to the edges of our life.
Let me share with you an illustration which I heard given by Joshua Harris which describes how easily it is for us to “forget” the importance of the gospel. Have you ever gone out and bought some artwork to decorate the walls of your home? Whatever your taste in art, you go out and buy a painting. And it is beautiful. And you love to look at it. You are so proud of it. So what do you do with it? You stick it front and center on your mantle. Right smack dab in the focal point of your living room. And there it hangs for all the world to admire.
But time passes. And your affection for the painting fades. It isn’t that you don’t like it anymore; you just get tired of looking at it.
So you go out and buy a new painting and the old one gets moved to the hallway. People still see it there once in a while… but it no longer has a place of prominence in your home.
More time passes and you eventually move it even farther from the center of your house. You hang it back to your bedroom… where no one ever sees it but you and your spouse. Then eventually, it ends up in the basement, wrapped in paper so it won’t get ruined, but rarely to seen again.
If we aren’t careful, this can happen to the gospel in our lives. It isn’t that we have completely forgotten it. It isn’t that we don’t like it anymore, but, as time passes, we are all in danger of allowing other things to take center stage in our hearts and minds and lives.
Paul tells us here that the gospel is “of first importance.” It must occupy first place. It must set center-stage on the mantle of our hearts.
Think about this for a moment. Only one thing can occupy first place in our lives. Only one thing can sit on the mantle at a time.
What occupies first place in your life?
For many of us it is our families… our jobs… our bank accounts… our hobbies. These things aren’t necessarily sinful in and of themselves, but even though they may be important, they are not to be first place in our lives.
What occupies first place in your life?
What do you think about more than anything else?
Paul tells us here that the gospel of Jesus Christ… the good news that God has loved us and sent His Son to save us from our sin… this is to be of first importance to us. This message should occupy first place in our thinking… first place in our conversation… first place in our affections. If we are Christians… then the gospel should be more important to us than anything else.
And in verse 1, Paul describes three things that we will do with the gospel if it is of first importance to us.
First… the gospel is to be preached.
Paul preached it to the Corinthians when he first came to this city. In fact, I Corinthians 2:2 tell us that Paul “determined to know nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Paul was committed to preaching the gospel to those who had never trusted in Jesus Christ so that they might be saved.
But Paul was also committed to preaching the gospel to Christians. After all, that is what he is doing here. He is reminding them of the good news of Jesus Christ, because we all have that tendency to bump the gospel out of first place in our lives.
This is something that we should expect of preachers. They should preach the gospel to us. We should expect the gospel to be of first importance to them. Why? Because we all need to hear it… over and over and over again. Like the old hymn writer said, we should plead with our preachers to “Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard” (Fanny Crosby, “Tell Me The Story of Jesus.”)
But this isn’t something we should only expect of preachers. The Greek word translated “preach” here is εὐαγγελίζω (pronounced euaggelizo) and it is not the typical word for preaching. It doesn’t mean to get up in front of people and stand behind a pulpit and speak to a seated, quiet audience. It simply means “to announce good news” and over and over again in Scripture it is used to describe Christians sharing the message of the gospel with others (i.e. Acts 11:20.)
Is this something we do?
Do we talk about the gospel with those we come into contact with in life?
We tend to talk about the things which matter most to us.
Have you ever met that guy who does nothing but talk sports? Why? Because sports is important to him, therefore his favorite team’s stats are his favorite subject.
Have you ever met that parent or grandparent who just won’t stop talking about their child? Why do they do that? Because that child is important to them, therefore they talk about the child constantly.
If the gospel is of first importance to us… then we will talk about it with others won’t we?
The second thing we see here is that the gospel is something to be received.
The Greek term here (παραλαμβάνω (pronounced paralambano)) literally means “to take from” or “to take to oneself.”
Over and over again in his writings, the Apostle Paul speaks of “my” gospel. His gospel was no different than the other apostles. All Christians trust in the same Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But Paul had taken the gospel to himself. He owned it. It was his gospel.
The fact that Jesus lived and died and rose again for us doesn’t automatically save us. This is free gift which is offered to us, but we must receive this gift. And we receive this gift through repentance and faith.
Repentance is recognizing our sin and turning away from it to God for salvation.
Faith is putting all of our hope in Jesus Christ to save us for eternity.
Have you repented of your sin? Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone to save you from God’s wrath in the day of judgment? Then this is “your” good news. God has saved you by the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The third thing we see is that we are to stand upon the gospel.
The idea here is to “stand firmly” upon the gospel and not be moved.
We can have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ, if we turn from our sins and trust in Jesus and remain steadfast in trusting in Him. This begins the process of God transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ. This is what Paul means here when he says that by the gospel we are “being saved.” Notice the present tense of this verb. They are “being saved”… right now and continuously.
Salvation is an all-encompassing term in the Bible. It is true that there is a sense in which we are saved once-for-all when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. This is called “justification.” When we repent of our sins and trust in Jesus Christ, then our sins are forgiven… once for all… and we are granted eternal life with God in heaven. And nothing can take that away from us.
But that is just the beginning of the Christian life. What follows is the process of God molding us into the men and women that He would have us to be. We call this “sanctification.” Sanctification is the process by which God works in us… shaping us, changing us, and conforming us to the image of Jesus.
Paul tells us here that the gospel not only saves us at the beginning of our Christian life, but it is the means by which God continually conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ.
Let me give you a couple examples of this:
1) If you proclaim the gospel to yourself often…if you are constantly receiving it to yourself… making it your own… and standing firm upon it… than the gospel will affect the way you worship God. You will be constantly reminded of the great and gracious God who saved you and that will lead you into praise and worship.
2) The gospel reminds us that we are sinners… deserving of death and hell… and it is only by the gift of God that we can be saved. What better way to put to death our self-righteousness and pride then to preach the gospel to ourselves and take it to heart and stand firmly upon it.
The gospel is the means by which God “saves” us… both once-for-all… and every day during the Christian life. But notice that there is a condition attached to this.
This is only true “if you hold fast to the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”
What does it mean to “believe in vain”?
This is referring to an empty belief. This comes in many styles and flavors, but most often it is when people believe with their heads, but not with their hearts. It is giving intellectual assent to the gospel, but never committing oneself to Jesus. We see this when people believe that Jesus was a real person… that He lived and died… maybe even that He was the Son of God. They may believe the facts, but they don’t receive the message to themselves. They aren’t trusting in the message.
Those who are “being saved” hold fast to the gospel. They cling to Jesus like a life preserver in the midst of a stormy sea… knowing that nothing but Him can save them.
There are a lot of messages which are scrambling for first place in our lives and many of them are not bad or wrong. Some of them are important. But there can only be one thing that is of first importance in our lives and it must be the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Are you a Christian? Have you repented of your sin? Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone to save you? If not, then I urge you to call upon God today. Admit your sin and plead with God for forgiveness. Trust in Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose again to save you for all eternity.
If you are a Christian, then I urge you to take this seriously. Strive to make the gospel of first importance in your life. Never grow weary of the gospel. Never grow weary of the message by which are saved and by which you are saved for all eternity.
Preach it to yourself every day.
Preach it to others every day.
Meditate on it.
Hold fast to it… for it is the most important message in all the world.
May 30, 2008
Psalm 5:11-12 (ESV) – 11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. 12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.
The Psalmist calls for God’s people (i.e. “all who take refuge in You”) to rejoice… to sing for joy… to exult in God for He has spread His protection over us.
Think about this. God has blessed us beyond compare as His people. He covers us with His favor like a shield. He gives us His presence for all eternity, despite our sin, in Jesus Christ. He graciously gives us… not only that which we don’t deserve… but the exact opposite of what we do deserve. Recognizing this should cause us to rejoice…
Are you a joyful person?
I must confess that I am not nearly as joyful as I should be. I spend far too much time in “the Slough of Despond”, as John Bunyan put it in “Pilgrim’s Progress.” I spend far too much time seeing a half-empty glass, drained as a result of my own sin and living in a sin cursed world, rather than rejoicing in the overflowing cup of blessings which God has graciously given me in Jesus Christ.
The Psalmist tells us here that God’s people are joyful, because (“for” in verse 12) of the blessings which God has bestowed upon us and the proper response is joyful singing.
I am not much of a singer. That is probably being too generous… I am a bad singer. But that doesn’t change the fact that joyfully singing to the Lord should be a part of my life, because I have experienced the blessings of God in Christ Jesus. I need to remember what God has done for me… and express the resulting joy in song.
I have found the music produced by Sovereign Grace Music to produce this effect in me. I do not know of any musicians who are more intentional about focusing on the greatness and glory of God in Christ Jesus than those who produces the albums for Sovereign Grace Music. I find it hard to listen to this music and not be reminded of the cross and my salvation. I find it hard to listen to this music and not be moved in remembering my God who loves me and gave up His only begotten Son to death for me. I find it hard to listen to this music and not be moved to joyful praise of God in song (even if it is off-key.)
I thank God for the men and women of God at Sovereign Grace Music. They are a gift for this generation. Perhaps my thought at this particular moment is that they are a gift from God to me.
If you are interested in learning more about Sovereign Grace Music or purchasing some of their albums, you can find them here http://www.sovereigngracemusic.org/
May 22, 2008
Psalm 37:4 (ESV) - 4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
This verse is often misinterpreted by Christians as meaning that God will give me whatever I want (i.e. earthly blessings) if I delight in Him. But think very carefully about what the Psalmist is saying here…
1) “Delight yourself in the Lord…”
The Hebrew word translated “delight” (עָנַג, pronounced aw-nag) literally means to be delicate or feminine (Strong’s, עָנַג.) It carries the idea of being pliable or sensitive. In this particular context, it means to be dependent upon God and to derive one’s pleasure from Him.
Does this describe us?
Do we rely solely upon God?
Do we derive our greatest pleasure from Him?
To determine the answer to this, let me ask us a very simple diagnostic question: Would we rather spend time communing with God (in worship, the Word, prayer, even in our vocation) or with other people, engaged in other activities?
I can only speak for myself here, but I am often guilty of preferring the things of this life to the living and true God. It is not uncommon for God to seem distant or abstract in our sojourn here on this earth. At the same time, the good gifts which God has given to us (for example: family, friends, food and shelter) are often so accessible and provide instant gratification. I confess that I am often guilty of delighting in them more than God. How about you?
The Psalmist calls us to delight ourselves in God. In fact, He does more than just make a suggestion here. The verb translated “delight” is an imperative in the Hebrew, meaning this is a command. This is not a helpful suggestion which the Psalmist sets before us… no… this is a command from the pen of the inspired Psalmist to strive to delight completely in God.
How do we do this?
I have just confessed that I am not always good at this, so I am probably not the best person to answer this question. However, I have found that when I am most focused upon God… when I am bathed in the revelation of God found in His Word… when I spend considerable amounts of time in prayer… most importantly, when I remember the greatness of my salvation as found in Jesus Christ… then my delight in God is always greater. Therefore… for me… it seems that the key to delighting in God is spending much time in His Word and prayer and worshipping my God who has saved me eternally in Jesus Christ.
This is not an isolated command in Scripture. We see this set forth as the normal experience of believers all throughout Scripture…
Psalm 27:4 (ESV) – 4 One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.
Psalm 42:1-2 (ESV) – 1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
Psalm 63:1 (ESV) - 1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Philippians 3:8 (ESV) – 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…
Notice in this last example (Phil 3:8), the Apostle Paul states that he is willing to give up “everything” so that he may know Jesus Christ. Delighting in God can be costly… but it is worth it. The Psalmist tells us that this desire for pleasure in God will not be ignored…
2) “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
The term translated “desires” (מִשְׁאָלָה, pronounced mish-aw-law) refers to petitions or requests (TWOT, מִשְׁאָלָה.) In Hebrew thought, the heart was primarily the seat of the inner man. It was the source of the will. In other words, the Psalmist tells us that God will honor our delighting in Him by graciously giving us what we are asking of Him from the very depths of our being.
Now think carefully here… if we are delighting ourselves in God… then what are the desires of our heart?
If we are relying upon God and deriving our primary pleasure in Him, then He is the desire of our heart. The promise here is not that God will give us the things of this world if we delight in Him… no… the promise is that God will give us Himself, if and when we delight ourselves in Him.
The greatest blessing which we can ever receive is to know God and bask in His glory. Jesus said that eternal life is ultimately all about knowing God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent (Jn 17:3.) The greatest blessing imaginable is for God to make His face to shine upon us (Num 6:22-27.)
God promises that when we delight in Him… when we are relying upon Him… when we take pleasure in Him… then He will give Himself to us. The Apostle Paul was willing to give up everything in order to experience this (Phil 3:8.)
How about us?
Does this describe us?
Do we bask in the blessing of knowing God?
If not… then are we truly delighting ourselves in the Lord?
May our prayer be that God will set our affections upon Him, first and foremost. May we desire Him more than anything else. May we seek Him earnestly. May we pant after Him. May we count all things loss for the sake of knowing Him. May we delight ourselves in the Lord… and may He give us the desire of our hearts.
May 19, 2008
Read the post entitled “God Will Heal My Faithlessness” by Tyler Kenney over at the Desiring God Blog (you can find it here http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1232_god_will_heal_my_faithlessness/)
Mr. Kenney is not alone in this. I am ashamed to admit how often I, too, allow my circumstances to affect my joy in Christ.
How about you? Spend some time meditating on this… and pray that God will give us believing hearts!!!
May 17, 2008
Over at the Desiring God Blog, Lukas Naugle reminds us through the writings of William Wilberforce not to waste our lives. You can find the post here http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1230_wilberforce_on_the_wasted_life/ .
Read it… remember that Wilberforce wrote this back in the 18th century… then ponder how the sinfulness of humanity never changes…