Maintain a Good Relationship with Christians from Other Churches

“Dare to discover Forbidden Island! Join a team of fearless adventurers on a do-or-die mission to capture sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise. Your team will have to work together and make some pulse-pounding manoeuvres [around the board], as the island will sink beneath every step! Race to collect the treasures and make a triumphant escape before you are swallowed into the watery abyss!”

I read the box lid with skepticism. “Join a team?” “ Work together?” This was a far cry from the dog-eat-dog board games of Monopoly and Risk I’d grown up with. Nevertheless, Forbidden Island has become a firm family favorite. Believe it or not, three somewhat competitive children (and one very competitive Dad) sit around the kitchen table and work together discussing strategies for capturing treasure and escaping an imaginary flooding island before our little counters sink.

What’s the key to victory? Bizarrely, in this particular board game, it’s all about players maintaining good relationships with other players. If The Engineer doesn’t cooperate with The Explorer, we lose. If The Messenger refuses to give The Navigator their treasure cards, it means defeat for all. If The Pilot declines to rescue The Diver, game over.

Sadly, when it comes to real life, it can be tempting for many Christians (conceivably those of us who love our own local church most of all) to live like we’re playing Monopoly or Risk. When it comes to other local churches, we think about competition. I want the most money, the most territory, the most treasures, the most people—for our church , of course. If relationships with other Christian players outside our own local church suffer, so be it. We want our church to win.

Some churches, sadly, cultivate this kind of philosophy. But many don’t. It’s our natural bent, after all.

When it comes to the Christian life, when it comes to how members of different gospel-preaching churches ought to relate to one another, we need to change our strategy. We need to remember we’re playing Forbidden Island—not Risk or Monopoly.

The Why

Here are a few reasons why:

1. Good relationships with other Christians occur because we’re on the same team.

We should work hard to maintain good relationships with Christians from other churches because ultimately, we’re on the same team. The common goal in this real-life game is not our personal glory but God’s. Our opponents are the world, the flesh, and the devil (Ephesians 2:2–3). We fight for victory over these fierce powers, not for victory over brothers and sisters from different churches. Christians, therefore, strive to be a united team. And not only in their own local church, but as the church universal. For the church is one, as God is one. Christ saw the importance of this one team mindset and prayed that you and I might have it: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you” (John 17:20–21).

Practically, if we are Christians in a large city-center church and a gospel-preaching church plant sets up around the corner, we shouldn’t scowl and draw our treasure cards close to our chest. Likewise, if we belong to the fledgling church plant, we should see resource-abundant Christians up the road as allies in a victory march, not as other players who could potentially scupper our chances of “winning.” God’s people rejoice when new players join. As Stephen Witmer helpfully writes, “In Psalm 48 we see God blessing his spectacular city, Mount Zion, the wonder of the whole world—and the villages and towns of Judah aren’t jealous. Instead, they’re jubilant, rejoicing along with the city. In the end, neither the city nor the country is ultimate: instead, it’s God who gets the glory.” [1]

2. Good relationships with other Christians help us capture more treasure.

In Forbidden Islandeach player ascertains a certain skill at the start of the game. Some players can move around the board more rapidly; they often get the glory of capturing the most treasure. Other players keep the island from flooding. The Messenger has the very humble power of sharing his or her resource cards with others! To get as many treasures as possible, every player must use their own talents for the whole—even if that means some players collect none.

The same is true when it comes to real-life gospel success. The opportunity to unearth very real treasure—namely, unbelievers coming to Christ and Christians growing to be more like Christ—is often set in motion by recognizing our own aptitude, limitations, and location on the board.

One Christmas, when pastoring in London, I recalled that another local church had a plethora of gifted musicians. Last minute, I asked if they could help us put on an evangelistic carol service. They happily agreed (indeed, even their pastor played!) and the gospel was proclaimed. A few weeks later, a short-term mission team I knew was staying in London. I realized they couldn’t serve our church as we were too far away, but I knew of an opportunity to serve another needy church. Good relationships with other Christians allowed more treasure to be gleaned.

3. Good relationships with other Christians help us shore up our island.

Christian success isn’t only about collecting gospel treasure, but also about building up the church (Ephesians 4:11–16), and therefore keeping weary believers from going under. The very best way to keep Christians afloat is to foster deep relationships within local churches. By joining a certain church, we give certain pastors and certain Christians permission to support us amid the rising floodwaters of temptation, worldliness, and false doctrine.

But sometimes, we need other Christians from other churches to graciously and patiently counsel us. We especially need this if we’re discontent or discouraged about something that’s happening inside our own church. We often need people who are not personally absorbed in what we’re facing to see it clearly. This is not to minimize the work of the local church in the pastoral situation. Indeed, I’ve often found that my best friends outside my church have supported me in such a way that has turned me back to my local church with empathy, compassion, and resilient commitment. Such shoring up can only happen if we work hard to maintain good relationships with Christians from other churches.

4. Good relationships with other Christians remind us our time is short.

There’s a final characteristic of Forbidden Island which parallels the Christian life: time is short. In real life, we only get so many moves to capture sacred treasures from the ruins of this perilous paradise. The sands of time are sinking. As a result, Christians must work together locally and quickly. If we spend all our time squabbling over resource cards and planning others’ next moves, then we’ll lose. We should look at the clock as we strategize together for the sake of the lost and the immature. Sometimes we will plant the seed, and it won’t germinate at our church. Sometimes we will faithfully water the plant, only for it to flower elsewhere. The fleetingness of our days here should make us care a little less.

The How

With all this is in mind, how can we maintain good relationships with other Christians from other churches? Here are a few tips.

1. Spend time with other Christians from other churches.

When I pastored in London, once a month I’d go out with a Christian neighbor who was firmly committed to a large Anglican church in the center of London. On a personal level I’d really enjoy it. But spending time with him also reminded me that the Kingdom of God was bigger than my own church. And as he told me all the wonderful things that his church was able to resource, my pride and jealousy were revealed, which consequently helped me to fight them.

2. Encourage your pastor to spend time with pastors from other local churches.

Deep relationships take time. Don’t sigh if you see your pastor out for lunch with his local pastor buddies, and think “Why isn’t he in his study or at the hospital?” Amid all the laughter, he’s hopefully fostering a trust and a unity, which in turn will benefit him, you, and most of all the whole church.

3. Speak well of other churches.

When we mention other churches in passing, there’s the temptation to define them only by their faults. “Do you mean the dancing-in-the-aisles megachurch? Or the stuffy little one where they only let you in with a suit?”

Amazingly, Paul addressed the church at Corinth as “the church of God, those sanctified in Christ, who are not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:2, 7) not “the proud, disorderly, sexually licentious Greeks who sue one other and get drunk at the Lord’s Supper.” In the same way, we should work hard to define other churches by their virtues and their standing in Christ. Speak well of those whom you will share eternity with.

4. Pray for other churches.

As we have opportunity, we should pray for all Christians, even those who might attend churches that we have some reservations about. At my current church, we pray for any church in our city that preaches the gospel. We pray for such churches by name in our pastoral prayers in our main weekly gathering. Every week, our small group Bible study notes have a section with names of other local churches to pray for.

5. Give to other local churches.

Again, the primary church we should give to is our own. We have the responsibility and joy to contribute generously and regularly to the ministry we glean the most from. Nevertheless, there may be opportunities to support other churches either directly, or through the encouragement of our church leaders. I remember my former church supporting the work of another in our city. I had some real questions about the robustness of their ecclesiology and their discipleship philosophy. But ultimately, they were moving into an area with no gospel witness. I wouldn’t have made some of the moves they made, but I came to see that they were searching for treasure that I would never be able to exhume. We gave to them, and we rejoiced to hear of their labors for Christ.

Conclusion

We must work together on this sinking island as fearless adventurers on a do-or-die mission. We must play the game in front of us. We must play as best we see fit with the opportunities and skills graciously given. And we must play cooperatively, lest we become an island unto ourselves.

[1] Stephen Witmer, A Big Gospel In Small Places, p. 163

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at the 9Marks blog and is used with permission.



The Body and The Bread

As we reached across the communion table last Sunday, my husband whispered in my ear,

“The crackers are bigger today because Rita didn’t prepare them.”

We laughed initially, but then sank back a bit, remembering the reality: two of our members, an elder, and his wife, had recently announced a sudden move to a new ministry.

“Canaan-bound,” some said, and in a matter of weeks, they had left to follow the Lord’s call, selling nearly everything to pack their truck and move across the United States.

Their loss to our church was devastatingly bittersweet.

For my husband and I, it was bitter for us both personally and individually. They were key mentors and disciplers as we walked through dating, engagement, and now marriage. They shepherded us as we learned to counsel, guided us through serving the church, and exhorted us in everything from our decision-making to ministering to unbelievers in our lives.

For our church as a whole, the loss is bitter. Our “living-room-church-plant-roots” linger in the way we are intimately involved in each other’s lives. Even as our body has grown, our members have done the hard work of staying connected with each other, and this couple paved the way: lending their toolboxes, fixing probably all of our cars, hosting monthly game nights — you know the kind. Many of us don’t know our church without them. Their fingerprints are everywhere. Their example of humble, gracious service and generosity has been a gift to us in so many ways corporately.

But although we are sad, it has been such a sweet season, too.

It is such a sweet gift to witness radical obedience to God. Their willingness to hear from Him and obey, no matter how sudden, is a challenge to us all. It is good to remember that this earth is not our home, much less the state of Kansas — hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit and following the pull is so much more valuable than keeping the same zip code as your friends.

But no matter how sweet it was, and how sure we were that this was indeed the right decision, the first Sunday wasn’t quite the same, communion crackers notwithstanding.

One of our most cherished practices during our Sunday morning service is the taking of communion together. Every time we gather, we file down the carpeted aisle, then back to our seats, and we eat and drink together, taking the bread and the blood and remembering the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf so that we might be restored into God’s family.

Our church family remembers God’s family as a whole, and what God himself has done to bring us together. The first Sunday they were gone, our church felt their absence, and rightly so.

The Bible tells us that the church is a body, and each member has a different role. When members come and go, we should notice. It should be significant to us when the body changes. And boy, did we feel the loss — we had lost a listening ear, a discerning eye, and at the very least, a hand that prepared the bread for us. And yet, although the absence was there, so was the hope that always accompanies the Lord’s table.

As we eat and drink together, we don’t just take and remember with our immediate body and family, but we remember the body of Christ at large, the family that extends across state lines and cultures and peoples and nations. The taking of communion sets our hope on the bread and the blood that we will take together at the marriage supper of the lamb. What a day of rejoicing it will be as we reunite with brothers and sisters who left father and brother and mother and sister to follow the Lord’s call, forsaking all else that they might be obedient. What a gift to know these kinds of people — what an exhortation to be like them, too.

May we all put our hands to the plow and resolve to not look back, and to fix our eyes only on Jesus, the founder and finisher of our faith.

The Lord gives, the Lord takes,

Blessed be the name of the Lord.



Learning Church Commitment from Lucy Hutchinson

One of the greatest benefits of learning from Christians in past eras is that it changes you as a person.

Thus, even if you can explain who historical figures were and what they did, you know in your heart that this explanation is a bit of a sad attempt to paint a picture of real humans who, like yourself, are just too complex and wonderful to describe in words. If I attempted to write what I have learned from the Puritan author, poet, and theologian Lucy Hutchinson, I could not perfectly communicate all that it entails. The best advice I could give is to read her yourself, and be changed yourself, and yet, I have to try.

I think on a regular basis about how Hutchinson fully appreciated the importance of committing to care for the church despite its weaknesses, and how she had a deep sense of personal responsibility to do this as a lay person and mother. This comes through best in her theological treatise, “On the Principles of the Christian Religion,” which Hutchinson wrote for her daughter Barbara, after she married and moved away to start an independent life as an adult in order to reinforce her love bond with the church. Something that parents today may take less seriously, Hutchinson lost sleep over, as she described this document as: “a testimony of my best and most tender love to you who cannot consider the age and temptations you are cast upon without great thoughts of heart and earnest prayers for you.”[1] Yet, she was not only concerned for Barbara but also Barbara’s own children and employees, to whom Hutchinson instructed her to pass the faith. Interestingly, Hutchinson wrote this document during the most burdensome time of her life, when, after her husband died, she was left to secure financial stability for herself and her children.

It is remarkable to think about how Hutchinson wrote her most theologically technical document for this purpose and at this time, and it is equally striking to see how, in it, she continually recognized both the difficulties of church life and the necessity of maintaining love between fellow believers. For example, she told Barbara:

Sects are a greate sinne and Christians ought all to liue in the vnity of the spiritt and though it cannot be but that offences will come in the Church yet woe be to them by whom they come. It is the Apostles rule that wee should not haue the faith of Christ with respect of persons and he warns vs that wee should not follow them further then they are followers of Christ Loue is the bond of perfectnesse and they that breake the Communion of saints walke not charitably and will be accountable to God for it…In his name therefore I beg of you to study and exercise vniversall loue to euery member of Christ vnder what denomination soeuer you find them.[2]

Elsewhere, in one of her statements of faith, she similarly affirmed that the catholic church is made up of believers who are united by the same Spirit and love and added, “all whose true members vnder what errors or weaknesses souer they be I desire to owne as brethren and sisters in Christ and to exercise towards them all offices of charity.”[3] Hutchinson claimed that though the visible church contains true believers and hypocrites, it is so beneficial to meet together that each member is required to uphold this as best they can. Thus, she also suggested that it was convenient for Christians in the same neighbourhood to gather together, since they had so many opportunities to care for one another in practical ways by living near each other.

After a year of being prevented from fulfilling some of our regular duties of meeting together as believers, the goodness of coming together, taking care of one another, and owning each other as family despite weaknesses, rings true from Hutchinson’s writings. The truth is, before 2020, there were many things that threatened to loosen our love bond with the church, and there will be more in years to come. What Hutchinson inspires me to do is recognize my own neediness for these people, renew my commitment to them, and encourage others to do the same—through personal contact or other ways—whether it be those in my own local congregation, those in my neighbourhood who are part of a different denomination, or those who live in other areas of the world, who are perhaps suffering or are in danger. Whatever difficulties and temptations arise this year, I hope you can think of Hutchinson as your own mother, a spiritual one, pleading with you to walk charitably instead of becoming lax or finding excuses to argue and divide.

[1]  Hutchinson, “On the Principles of the Christian Religion,” in The Works of Lucy Hutchinson, vol. 2, Theological Writings and Translations, part 1: Introductions and Texts, ed. Elizabeth Clarke, David Norbrook, Jane Stevenson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 2:193.

[2] Hutchinson, ‘Principles,’ Works, 2:191.

[3] Hutchinson, ‘My owne faith and attainment,’ Works, 2:119.

 



Exchanging Truth for a Lie: Image, Idolatry, and the People of God

The Apostle Paul reserves some of his harshest, most theologically poignant words about sin for Romans 1:18-32. In 1:18 he states, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people.” Paul pulls no punches here. If we read Romans 1:18-32 in isolation, we arrive at a distorted view of God, sin, and his wrath. But if we read it against the storyline of the Bible, then Romans 1 resonates well with all of Scripture. The aim of this essay is to explore the nature of idolatry and God’s subsequent wrath in Romans 1:18-32, tying it to the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden and the fall of Israel at Sinai. What we will find should not come as a surprise–history repeats itself.[1]

Image and Idolatry in Genesis 1-3

To grasp the nature of idolatry in Romans 1 and God’s subsequent wrath, we must begin with the beginning of the story—the creation of Adam and Eve in the garden. Genesis 1-3, though only three chapters, forms the core of the Bible’s storyline. It’s here where we learn about God’s intimate relationship with creation and his ultimate intention for it.  We also learn about the great “cosmic tragedy,”[2] yet God’s commitment to preserving his people through a coming redeemer.

Genesis 1-2 narrates how God created Adam and Eve in his “image.” When God creates Adam and Eve in his image, they are to become his official representatives on earth. According to 1:26, God intends to create “man” in his “image” so that “they will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” One verse later, God fulfills his intention, and “man” is “created” in God’s “own image” (1:27).[3] Extensive research in the last several decades on ancient creation accounts and a continued interest in ancient Near Eastern archaeology have sharpened our understanding of “image” here in Genesis.

Just as God rules over the entire cosmos, so mankind, created in the “image” of God, was to rule over the earth and its inhabitants. Fundamentally, being created in God’s image means that Adam and Eve represent him on the earth in all their thoughts and actions. It is the divine imprint of God that reflects his divine attributes and functions in the threefold office of king, priest, and prophet.

Following Adam and Eve’s marriage in 2:22-25, the narrative immediately turns to the serpent’s deception of Eve. The serpent is introduced as being “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (3:1). We learn here that the serpent is part of the created world, the same world that Adam and Eve were to exercise dominion. By associating the serpent with creation, the implication is that Adam and Eve were tasked with ruling over the serpent.

The serpent’s lie is that Adam and Eve can cast off the divine image and become gods themselves. In their eyes, representing God on earth wasn’t good enough. They wanted to be him, to have what he has, and to know what he knows. The temptation threatens all three offices of Adam and Eve, striking at the heart of being created in God’s image. As God’s images, the first couple represents him on the earth and serves on his behalf. But the serpent allures them to rid themselves of God’s image and become independent of God and function at his level.

Immediately after partaking of the fruit, Adam and Eve “realized they were naked” (3:7). The word here for “naked” is related to the Hebrew word for “crafty” (Exod 21:14; Josh 9:4; Job 5:13). A few verses earlier in 3:1, the serpent is considered “more crafty than any of the wild animals.” The point is that the couple is, as a result of the fall, beginning to take on characteristics of the serpent. [4] Instead of representing God on the earth, Adam and Eve are now beginning to represent the serpent.

This insight brings us to an important principle: images will always be transformed into the object of their worship. G. K. Beale rightly states, “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.”[5]  Images are meant to imitate God on earth, so if Adam and Eve obey God, they become more like him. Their divine image was to become more and more aligned with God’s character. But, because they believed and trusted in the serpent instead of God, they began to transform into the serpent’s image. Instead of manifesting the traits of God on earth, they and their descendants will manifest the traits of the serpent. In the following verses, Adam and Eve shift the blame and are unwilling to answer the Lord truthfully (3:11-13). They, like the serpent, are attempting to deceive.

Though God mercifully begins to restore Adam and Eve’s image and the first couple once again enjoys harmony with God, the damage has been done. The first couple and the entire created order is severely affected by the Fall. Sin dwells within them and affects every aspect of their image, both functionally and ontologically. Humanity and creation are now in a state of rebellion against the creator. With Adam and Eve’s corrupted image and proclivity to assert independence of God (3:22), the Lord expels them from Eden. Ironically, Adam and Eve were to expel the serpent from the garden, but because they disobeyed, they are now expelled. Adam and Eve are unclean and deserve of God’s wrath.

Adam and Eve’s transgression in the garden plunged humanity and creation headfirst into sin. As a result, God banished them from the garden sanctuary and “drove” them out and “placed” cherubim “on the east side of the Garden of Eden…to guard the way to the tree of life” (3:23-24). Adam and Eve now find themselves exiled from God’s presence in the garden. When Cain murders his brother later in the narrative, he too is “driven from the land” and becomes a “restless wanderer on the earth…[away] from the Lord’s presence” (4:14, 16). The remainder of Genesis narrates the story of God’s people moving farther away from God’s garden sanctuary heading eastward (13:11; 25:6). As the effects of the fall begin to take root within the created realm, humanity repeatedly fails to obey God resulting in increased estrangement from God. Sinful individuals cannot dwell in God’s holy presence and survive. Sin must be punished and God must restore humanity.

Image and Idolatry in Romans 1

Much of what we’ve discovered in Genesis 1-3 is iterated in Romans 1. As many commentators point out, Paul’s mind is attuned to the Genesis narrative, especially, the fall. The result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience is exile and estrangement from God’s life-giving presence. As humanity spirals into sin, they become more and more consumed with worshipping themselves and creation, thus deserving God’s wrath.

The New Testament authors were convinced that the “latter days” had dawned and that Israel and all of humanity were experiencing an unparalleled time of restoration and tribulation. Oddly, while the Old Testament expected that tribulation would precede restoration, the New Testament states that both, tribulation and restoration, overlap. John himself even admits, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus” (Rev 1:9).

The “overlap of the ages” is important to our understanding of Romans 1 because as we read the opening chapter to the book we must realize that Paul is articulating the nature of sin and idolatry in the context of the “latter days.” What the Old Testament expected to take place at the very end of history is now beginning to be fulfilled in the first century. The sinful behavior that stretches from Romans 1:18-32 is not a list of generic sins, but a list of eschatological sins that culminate in sexual perversion.

Romans 1-4 confronts this issue of eschatological hostility from God without mincing words. Sin’s tyranny affects both Gentiles and Jews. Both groups must grasp that, because of their rebellion and idolatry, they deserve physical and spiritual death. Paul must also convince Gentiles that, although they do not have the “Mosaic Law” in written form, they remain legally culpable. Gentiles, according to Paul, have a clear knowledge of God. They have a natural law to convict them of idolatry and “unrighteousness” (2:15). Jews, on the other hand, contend that since they have the Mosaic Law they are righteous, without blame, and surely not idolaters. So, Paul must convince them that although they had “Law,” they were still unrighteous before God because they had grievously broken the Law. Though all humanity remains guilty before God: faith in Christ saves humanity from their sinful plight.

In 1:17, the positive side of God’s righteousness comes to the fore. It is righteousness that comes to the aid of believers and is credited to their account. Romans 1:18-3:20, however, concerns the other side of God’s righteousness: God pronounces judgment upon all those who are idolaters: “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness” (1:18). Again, this is not generic “wrath,” but “eschatological wrath.” This is the same wrath that the Old Testament predicted would arrive at the very end of history when God would consummately judge the pagan nations and idolatrous Israelites (Ezek 38:18; Dan 11:36).

According to Romans 1:18, the behavior of the Gentiles is indistinct from the behavior of idolatrous Israelites at Sinai. They, too, have failed to worship the creator and have turned to worship figurative idols. Unbelieving Gentiles believed the lie that knowledge of salvation could be attained outside of the sphere of God, outside his revelation. They were convinced that they could indeed procure independence from him (1:21). Adam and Eve’s fall is repeated here in the behavior of Gentiles. They worshiped creation instead of the Creator, a behavior is antithetical to being in God’s image. Humanity is designed to worship only God, but because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, humanity is ensnared in a spiral of idolatrous behavior. Lack of trust in God’s word inevitably leads to trust in ourselves. When we trust ourselves, we commit idolatry. When we commit idolatry, we conform to our idols. When we conform to our idols, we become enslaved to them. When we trust ourselves, we commit idolatry. When we commit idolatry, we conform to our idols. When we conform to our idols, we become enslaved to them. Click To Tweet Left to ourselves, there’s no way out.

Unbelieving Gentiles remain condemned because they have access to a “law of God,” a “law” that is evident from creation and their conscience (2:12-16). Since all Gentiles have “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image” (NASB), they are deserving of judgment. The result of this heinous idolatry was that God “gave them over” to their own wickedness and lusts (1:26-32). Paul’s words recall Psalm 106:20, where the Israelites “exchanged” the object of true worship or “their glory” for an idolatrous image. Psalm 106 alludes to the episode of the golden calf at Sinai. By referring to the idolatry of the golden calf, Paul has tapped into the first formal sin in Israel’s existence as a nation. Exodus 32 portrays Israel’s idolatrous worship of the molten calf in language describing rebellious cattle to convey the idea that Israel had become like the object of its worship. Israel is called a “stiff-necked people” who were “running wild” and “out of control” (Exod 32:9, 24-25). Sinful Israel is mocked by being depicted metaphorically as rebellious cows running amuck because the nation had become as spiritually lifeless as the inanimate golden calf.[6]

Resembling their parents in the garden, the Israelites immediately break God’s law by committing idolatry through worshipping the golden calf (Exod 32). This is, as one commentator, states, “Genesis 3 all over again.”[7] It’s not entirely clear, though, how they broke God’s law. On the surface, yes, Aaron forged a golden calf, and Israel explicitly broke the first two commandments (Exod 20:3-4). But the breach of the commandments revealed a fundamental issue in the hearts of the Israelites—a lack of trust in God’s word. God promised that he would dwell his people and that his life-giving presence would nourish and protect them (Exod 19:5-6). But they failed to believe him and took matters into their own hands. Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, God’s word was deemed insufficient. The Israelites wanted to dictate the terms of their preservation. They wanted to be in charge of their destiny. They wanted to be gods.

Paul’s wording in Romans 1:26-32 also echoes Genesis 1-3. The language of “exchanging the glory of the immortal God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (1:23; NASB) recalls the early chapters of Genesis. Instead of worshipping God and giving him glory, Adam and Eve worshipped themselves in pursuing independence and committed idolatry. Paul, therefore, concludes that Adam and Israel sinned by committing heinous idolatry, and such behavior continues to be recapitulated among all sinful individuals.

Image and Idolatry Today

In a very real sense, when we sin, we repeat the fall of Adam and Eve and the nation of Israel. The story always remained the same. It wasn’t until the coming of Christ that the pattern was broken. Though he was tempted just like Adam and Eve and the nation of Israel, he remained faithful. His faithfulness is passed on to those who trust in him. It is only through Christ’s perfect life that we are freed from our idolatry and escape the wrath of God. Christ bore the unfaithful, idolatrous behavior of his people so that we could become perfectly restored images in the sight of God. We would do well to remind ourselves daily of the seriousness of our sin but the grace that is found in Christ’s work on our behalf.

[1] Portions of this essay are drawn my from forthcoming book, From Adam to Israel: A Biblical Theology of the People of God (ESBT; Downers Grove: IVP, forthcoming).

[2] Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (NSBT 15; Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), 66.

[3] Unless noted, all translations are from the NIV (2011).

[4] Meredith G. Kline, Genesis: A New Commentary (ed. Jonathan G. Kline; Peabody, 2016), 22.

[5] G. K. Beale, We Become What We Worship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008), 16.

[6] Beale, We Become What We Worship, 76-86.

[7] Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus (Int; Louisville: John Knox, 1991), 279.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at the blog for Credo Magazine and is used with permission.



Are You In God’s Kingdom?

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Mark 12:28-34

The scribe made a great first move. He came to Jesus. But he didn’t come close enough. He came to Jesus to ask a question but he didn’t draw close enough to see the true answer. If he had, he would have seen that Jesus not only knew God’s law but obeyed God’s law. He would have seen Jesus wasn’t only a teacher but a savior, a man like himself in appearance but unlike him in divinity. He would have seen a perfect man there before him who loved God with all he was, who never disobeyed for a second, and loved his neighbor as himself, headed to the cross to prove it. But the scribe didn’t see that because he didn’t come to Jesus as a sinner in need of saving but as a scribe in need of a theological answer.

How have you come to him?

Jesus told the scribe he was not far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:34). But being not far doesn’t mean being in, and the difference between being near and being in the kingdom of God is simple, though I admit, not easy. It comes down to this: What do you do with Jesus? Is he a teacher or a savior? Can you see him for who he is and what he did or do you merely admire him for what he taught?

Standing before Jesus, the scribe never saw him for who he truly was. He who transcribed the Old Testament events about God’s glory coming into the temple didn’t see it when glory stood before him. He never saw the crushing weight of the law. He never realized the man before him was a Rescuer, the Son who, as Paul said in Galatians 4, “God sent forth…born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus was there to pull him from under the law by taking his place. The scribe remained a slave to the law, but how close he was to being a son! How close he was to finding in God not only a great law-giver but a loving Father! Jesus was there for that very reason, but he missed it! And because he missed it, he was outside the kingdom. He wasn’t far, that’s true, but to be not far is to be altogether out.

Let’s beware of missing Jesus. Let’s beware of standing in the presence of God and missing the hope of the gospel. Let’s beware of our knowledge and agreement shielding us from repentance and belief. Let’s not merely discuss matters with Jesus but fall down in worship before him, crying out for rescue. There is only one way to enter the kingdom of God, and the Bible is clear from cover to cover that the one way is faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone.

So here’s the hope for any of us that feel not far from the kingdom but want in. As great as his teaching was, Jesus did not come only to give you tips on how to live. He did not come merely to show you how to be kind to others. He came to rescue you from sin and death. He came to save you from the crushing weight of the law. He came, as he said in John 10, to be the door by which you enter the kingdom of God. He came to have his flesh torn open so that by his blood you find cleansing and hope. He suffered the separation on the cross that you deserve to give you the peace of God that you don’t deserve.

So if you want to be a citizen of his kingdom, all you have to do is ask him to bring you in. He will gladly do it. If you’re tired of trying to obey a law you’ve already failed and you’re tired of gaining more knowledge for knowledge’s sake and you’re tired of just agreeing with God and you’re ready to lay it all down at his feet and ask for new life, he’s ready to welcome you. How do I know? Because he said he would. To all who are weighed down by their sin and their failed attempts at obeying the heavy yoke of the law, Jesus says this morning, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The kingdom of God is not for high-achievers. It is for repenters. If you can repent and admit your need for Jesus, the kingdom of God can be yours. If you see the law is killing you, Jesus will be your life.

I want you to know about God and I want you to agree with everything God says, but that alone won’t get you into heaven. And, in fact, the first step is knowing and agreeing with God that you’re a sinner in need of a savior. You enter God’s kingdom by coming to Jesus as your only hope and laying every other merit down at his feet. Your hope cannot be in your obedience. It cannot be in your character. It cannot be in your knowledge or agreement with God or anything else. Your hope must be placed in the power of Jesus Christ crucified, raised, ascended, glorified, and coming again. If it is anywhere else—even God’s law—you stand outside the kingdom looking in. But you must be in. Life is in there!

That’s not a matter of theological debate. It’s the truth of the gospel—something to rejoice in and enter into.

And if you’ve not come in yet, well, the door is still open. Hurry inside.

Editor’s Note: This originally published at Things of the Sort



Returning to ‘Normal’: The Gift of Harmonious Living

The Jews, on their ascent to Jerusalem, sang many songs in preparation for their festivals. Psalm 133 was one of them:

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord has appointed the blessing: life forevermore.

From this text, we learn that harmonious living between brothers and sisters is both good and good for us. The phenomenon that is the church’s unity—the church’s commitment to one another—is astounding and almost unbelievable.

First, the psalmist says that “brothers living together in harmony” is “good.” Unity is good. It’s what God wants. Love and peace, after all, are a part of the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5. God’s desire is that his people would be a true brotherhood, not joined necessarily because of their relation to one another, but because of their relation to God, himself. And thus, the “brothers” mentioned in verse 1 aren’t just the narrow kind of “brothers,” as if blood relation is required. Also in mind is a broader kind of “brothers”: the nation of Israel, which according to Scripture, included debtors, slaves, and offenders. So, the language here is familial, but the family being spoken of is the family of God—the people of God, which then, was Israel, but is now, the church. So, it’s no wonder that Luke describes the church as he does in Acts 2:42-47, one of the most essential texts on the church.

Second, the psalmist says that “brothers living together in harmony” is “pleasant.”  Unity is pleasing. So, not only is our unity good, in and of itself, but unity is also practical: it is good for us. My own church’s purpose is to “live in light of the gospel through worship, community, and mission.” We believe that “the gospel enables and empowers Christians to develop intimate relationships with one another, as it frees us from having to disguise our sins and short-comings.” Gospel-centered relationships made “intentionally with other church members,” help serve the “purpose of encouragement, accountability, and spiritual maturity.” During the hardest days of COVID-19, this is why we missed gathering together. This is why we missed regularly seeing one another, face to face. We were missing out on one of the most pleasant blessings that God has given the church.

Why is this unity both good and good for us? Why should we be so intentional about community and unity in our local churches? That’s what verses 2 and 3 tell us. We are offered two metaphors to explain what is so “good and pleasant” about harmonious living—about church unity, community, and fellowship.

#1 – Harmonious living is “good and pleasant” because it makes us holy.

In verse 2, David says that harmonious living is “like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes.” The anointing mentioned here was a unique process. We might envision a picture of good, fine, precious oil on the head of Aaron, running down his beard, and then onto his robes. There’s certainly a noted abundance. This anointing is mentioned in Exodus 30:22-33. It’s the ordination oil on the head of Aaron and his descendants. It’s oil that made priests holy. When Moses speaks of this oil in Exodus 30, the word “holy” is mentioned five times.

Our harmony or unity with one another is like this oil: it’s holy. A part of our becoming separate from the world is our unity with one another. In the Old Testament, we are reminded, at times, that it was the norm for people—even relatives—to separate over trivial reasons such as the distribution or use of land. So, what God’s people did—dwelling in unity—was radically different from what was expected. As the New Testament tells us, in our unity, we are carrying out our calling in the world to be holy (Matt 5:16; John 13:35).

What we seek to do in the local church—living as one family with one mission—makes us odd and strange in the world’s eyes.

  • Our corporate gatherings…
  • Our community groups…
  • Our daily living together…
  • The ways that we pray for and keep up with one another…
  • The fact that we recognize our dependency on one another for physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being…

All of it makes us set apart from the rest of this world. Harmonious living is “good and pleasant” because it makes us holy.

#2 – Harmonious living is “good and pleasant” because it makes us fruitful.

In verse 3, David says that harmonious living is “like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord has appointed the blessing: life forevermore.” Like the oil, the dew mentioned here is significant because of its abundance. David says that our unity is not like some normal dew; it is the dew of Mt. Hermon, a high, snowcapped mountain at the northern end of their land. The dew that came down in this region was an unnaturally heavy dew. For those who lived there, this dew led to a rather nice crop; that is, it led to fruitfulness.

Dew was crucial for vegetation, especially during dry seasons. The Bible notes this over and over again (e.g., Gen 27:28; Zech 8:12). When harmonious living becomes our reality, we get the fruitful “blessing” of “life forevermore” (v. 3). And this “dew,” be it normal or heavy, is all of God himself. Proverbs 3:20 tells us that, “By his knowledge… the clouds dripped with dew,” and in Haggai 1:10, that God “[withholds] the dew and the land its crops.” And so, our unity is only possible through the sovereign Lord.

So, the thought here is that harmonious living—which only comes through the sovereign enabling of God—leads to a “fruitful land.” Holiness, which is exhibited in our love and affection for one another, is what will lead to fruitfulness. Our harmonious living doesn’t guarantee fruitfulness, but it seems to be near impossible without it. If we want to see the fruit we so desperately long for in our churches, we need to set ourselves apart through our harmonious living. We want to be known for our community and for our unity.

These reminders of the goodness of harmonious living should remind us of someone else. As John 15:13 reads, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” As we dwell on Psalm 133, we are reminded of our ultimate brother and our ultimate friend, Jesus Christ, for he is the reason our community exists in the first place. His work on our behalf is the grounds for our salvation and the motivation for our mission. According to Hebrews 2:11, Jesus is “the one who sanctifies,” and we are “those who are sanctified,” and together, we “all have one Father.” And so, the writer of Hebrews says, “That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters.”

Though COVID-19 still tries to make its presence known and still seeks to dominate our lives, we are anxious and hopeful for better days. Our hope should be that, in the days to come, churches all around the world will get to gather together in full to experience God’s gift of harmonious living. The stench that COVID-19 has been should make the gift that much sweeter.



When Online Education is Best

Online education has forever altered theological education. No longer is distance education a niche product operating on the fringes of the seminaries and divinity schools, rather it has become the dominant form of education in most evangelical schools. While some lament this development, online education is neither second rate nor less desirable for students. Indeed, like the New Testament Epistles, online theological education brings the truths of the Gospel to where believers are, in the local church.

Online theological education will often be best for students who are presently serving in vocational ministry. While those serving in unhealthy church contexts might need to consider moving, most churches need their pastors. When staff leaves churches, ministries are disrupted, relationships are severed, and gospel work is often reduced. If Paul could provide theological education to Titus and Timothy from a distance for the sake of the churches, what an opportunity now exists for pastors to learn for their church while within their church. When moving to seminary harms a local church, online education is best.

Additionally, online education should be the first choice for those who want formal theological education but do not desire to serve in vocational ministry. A few years ago, Dr. John Witt, a neurologist outside Nashville, completed his MTS at MBTS. Dr. Witt desired both to equip individuals in his church with theological training and to better prepare for evangelism and discipleship as part of medical mission trips. Moving to seminary would have hindered Dr. Witt’s present ministry, forced him to establish a new medical practice, and removed him from his present place of service in a local church. For Dr. Witt, and for many other professionals seeking to better serve their local churches, online education is best.

Lastly, online education is the preferable option for those being discipled well by their local churches. On-campus theological education is unique in providing students in-person direct access to well-known theological minds and proven practitioners. The residential model also provides a cohort of peers to refine one’s day-to-day walk with Christ. For a student who is being well-discipled in his local church, online education provides an equivalent educational outcome without the need to start the discipline process fresh.

There are, of course, many students who should consider moving to seminary or bible college: those needing more in-depth discipleship, those who would be well-served living around other committed Christians, those just starting out in life and ministry, and those considering a career in the theological academy. Nevertheless, for many thousands of Bible students, online theological education is not a second-rate option but is the absolute best option. At MBTS & Spurgeon College, we offer a world-class Biblical education, both on-campus AND online. We would love for you to join us.



The Lasting Influence of Carl F. H. Henry

Various interests occupied Carl F. H. Henry throughout his life.

He was a journalist as a young man, ascending the newspaper ranks as he covered athletics, politics, and local stories on Long Island. He was an illusionist, an act he trotted out at parties and gatherings. Later, travel consumed his schedule, and he was fascinated by the diversity that dots the globe.

More than anything, Henry was occupied by a singular fascination from his conversion in 1933 until his final breath in 2003. It gripped him early and did not relent. He was the happy captive of this amazing thought: the Trinitarian God of all creation saw fit to reveal himself to fallen man. God voluntarily spoke and revealed himself in the incarnate Son and inscripturated Word. Henry was a man of the Book, and a man amazed by the Book—not only for what it said but that it existed at all. God was under no obligation to present himself so clearly and graciously to his creation. God’s revelation was revolutionary for Henry’s world, and he recognized the ramifications of such a reality. It meant that the Bible, breathed out by God himself, was relevant for all areas of life. Nothing escapes its reach. This controlling thought led Henry to pen some of the most important contributions to American evangelicalism as he emerged as one of the movement’s key figures.

Carl F. H. Henry (1913—2003) was an American Baptist theologian primarily remembered for his writings on the nature of Scripture, the relationship between the church and wider culture, Christian ethics, and for his role in the establishment of important evangelical institutions in the mid-20th century, such as Fuller Theological Seminary and Christianity Today. He also traveled the world providing theological education for pastors and students from China to Romania to Latin America.

What does Henry offer by way of encouragement and instruction today? Because of his massive output, it is impossible to summarize all that Henry affords in a few words, but certain themes do arise in his work, themes that continue to arise in our world today. Three of his convictions seem especially relevant in 2021: the power of the gospel, a theologically-informed mind and ministry, and a commitment to the Great Commission.

The Power of the Gospel

Henry understood that the gospel demands a personal response, but that it is not limited to an individual appropriation of biblical truths. He thought the gospel should shape people, families, churches, communities, and institutions. In The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Henry highlighted the social dimension of the Kingdom of God, a dimension he thought was important for Christians to recognize and give attention to. One of his favorite designations for God was “The God of Justice and Justification.” Henry thought God spoke to both issues, and, therefore, Christians should as well.

As believers today grapple with issues surrounding the relationship between the church and the wider culture, politics, systemic social sin, the nature of justice, and the gospel’s ramifications for institutions and structures, Henry has much to offer. The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism provides pertinent insight into these very issues—issues at the forefront of today’s dialogue. As one not easily pigeonholed into any contemporary ideological camp, Henry’s voice provides clear and compelling reflection on the very issues that confuse and divide evangelicals today—all from over 70 years before our current moment.

A Theologically-Informed Mind and Ministry

Much of Henry’s ministry was devoted to correcting aberrant views of Scripture that were gaining steam in American evangelicalism. He was convinced that to combat deviant theology, one needed to construct and articulate rich, rooted, and informed theological positions. He was not interested in simply tearing down; he wanted to produce thoughtful theological reflections that engaged the best of modern theology from around the world.

Christianity Today was designed to help translate advanced theological conversations into digestible articles for leaders and lay-readers. Why give himself to this project that consumed so much time and energy? Because he was convinced that Christians ought to think theologically about the issues of the day. He thought doctrine deserved a seat at the table of every Christian’s discipleship. Some of Henry’s work is theologically heavy and philosophically winding. I would not start with Volume I of God, Revelation and Authority, for instance. Nevertheless, Henry intended to draw attention to the importance of theological accuracy, faithfulness, and beauty for the Christian life.

A Commitment to the Great Commission

Throughout his career, Henry championed cooperation for the Great Commission. He kept the bumpers on various denominational lanes low because there was a greater game at play than denominational squabbling. He was a theologian; he took theological convictions seriously. He didn’t diminish or avoid them; he sought to cooperate, not quarrel. He included in his circle leaders from a wide swath of denominational backgrounds who affirmed the Reformation understanding of the gospel. He knew the danger of requiring rigid agreement to the nth degree. He saw that firsthand and was unimpressed by it. He was committed to a different path forward. Henry’s approach deserves continued attention, and, where possible, adoption.

Much more could be added regarding Henry’s importance for today. Reading him firsthand on these issues and more, one wonders, “How could he see this coming?” Pick up The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. It is a great place to start, and you will work through it at a good clip. He wrote reams of Christianity Today articles and editorials, available in their online database. God, Revelation and Authority awaits the willing reader. There you will encounter detailed and formidable doctrinal thought undertaken with a devotional heart. It is an investment, but the return on reading Henry firsthand is significant.

By God’s grace, that is what I did about ten years ago as a seminary student. I was fresh out of a secular English undergraduate program at a state university. I did not have the traumatic experience one often hears of; my faith wasn’t challenged at every turn. I did, however, leave with questions about how best to read texts—could I trust them? Did what the author intended matter, or was meaning constructed elsewhere—in my mind, experience, or community? I knew the Bible was God’s word, but I had some uncertainties about interpretation. My seminary professors helped iron out these wrinkles, but Carl F. H. Henry was the lasting influence I did not expect. Because of him, I too remain amazed that God has revealed himself to us in the inspired, inerrant, and authoritative Scriptures. That thought has not relented yet, and I pray it never does.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the Spring ’21 edition of Midwestern Magazine. The full issue, entitled They Still Speak: Wisdom Today from the Voices of Yesterday, is available free online at mbts.edu/magazine.



Speak Only What Is Good to Give Grace

Take a glance at Twitter, cable news, or your most active group texts. To say that kind words have been in short supply over the past year would be an understatement. On any number of issues, consider how many words people have deployed to divide rather than reconcile, to hurt rather than heal, to demean rather than lift up. Sticks and stones still break bones, but you can’t tell me words don’t hurt.

From your computer to your church to your kitchen table, what’s been your strategy for choosing your words this year? As those who confess and serve the God who speaks, who created the world by his Word, and whose Word gives life, have we forgotten how eternally important and powerful the gift of speech is? After all, the Triune God has revealed himself through his words. In Christ, he has freed us to use our speech for astonishing and enduring ends.

How do I know this? The book of Ephesians.

Ephesians begins with soaring expressions of God’s sovereignty over all things (1:11). Paul shows us God’s election of and love for his people from before the foundation of the world (1:4). He considers how God raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life (2:1–5). He unfolds how God includes us in his cosmic plans to unite not just Jew and Gentile (2:15) but all things in Christ (1:10). In Ephesians, Paul leads us to the breathtaking mountaintop vistas of God’s glory.

And yet, he doesn’t leave us there. He calls us to respond—or, more specifically, to speak. Paul draws out for us how God’s great work of redemption in Christ transforms our lives, and in so doing transforms our speech. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Read that again! Ephesians teaches that God’s glorious purposes for the universe and his people in Christ extend to our speech. Apart from faith in Christ, sinful hearts spew words that amplify the death and decay of the fallen world. But now in Christ we can use our speech to give what was previously impossible: grace.

Let’s consider two ways this teaching should shape our speech.

1. God uses your speech for ends you can’t fully fathom.

I bet you can easily recount words that have hurt you. But I hope you can also remember times when a fellow Christian spoke intentionally to build you up—when someone surprised you with a kind response when you expected a harsh word or shared the gospel with you when you felt far from God. In those ordinary moments, God did something eternally glorious through your brother or sister’s speech. He used those believers to speak what is good in order to give grace.

What if we really believed our words could give grace? I suspect we would start to look for ways to deploy our words for this eternally good end. What if—based on Ephesians 4:29—we looked at our church’s weekly gathering as an indispensable opportunity to speak good into the lives of others? Given what we read here in Ephesians, the God who speaks must get particular glory by using the words of his redeemed people to accomplish goals that we cannot fully fathom on this side of eternity.

We don’t yet comprehend the extent of God’s grace to his children, but we know he uses our speech to extend a measure of grace.

2. God uses your speech for what lasts.

If we took an inventory of everything we wasted over the last year, how many words would make the list?

As with any other scarce resource, even the most verbose have a limited amount of words in a lifetime. What a tragedy it would be to come to the end of our lives and realize that we wasted our words on speech that had no lasting value.

But if we speak what is good to give grace, then God uses our ordinary words for his extraordinary purposes. He even uses them to build his people together into his dwelling place in the age to come (2:22). In Christ, God means to use our speech to build what lasts.

We shouldn’t reduce this command to mere positivity or flattery. The speech that gives grace is saturated in the gospel! This means sometimes delivering a hard word when it’s appropriate because that will do the most eternal good. It means apologizing when we’re wrong or encouraging someone in their gifts, even when that means ours take a backseat.

Consider what a wonderfully countercultural place our local churches would be if we all strategically planned to use words for what will be celebrated on the last day. God’s Christ-exalting, universe-transforming, destiny-shifting plans in Christ include deploying our words for eternal ends. In this present cultural moment where words seem to be many but good ones seem so few, let’s make it our ambition to spend the years the Lord gives us speaking what is good to give grace.

My generation was rightly summoned, “Don’t waste your life!” In order to fulfill that call, we need to hear another one “Don’t waste your words!”

Our days and our words are numbered, and before long we will have to give an account to God for how we used them. His words are always true, always good, and never wasted. As his children, may the words we speak bring glory to his great name and grace to all his people.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at the 9Marks blog and is used with permission.



Pastor, Preach Your Sermon

Editor’s Note: The weekend can be an incredibly distressing time for many pastors to enter into. The desire to spend quality time with family while juggling the pressures of an unfinished sermon can be an exhausting reality. What many pastors need are not more tips on how to prepare better sermons as much as some encouragement to better prepare their hearts to preach the sermon they have. Join Ronnie Martin every Friday for The Preachers Corner, where he offers some words of comfort and stories of hope to help preachers enter the weekend encouraged by the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus. 

Well, who knew that sermons would be the latest topic to emerge in our ongoing social-media controversies? And while we’re on the subject, I’m not here to get mired in the intricacies of the debate, but to encourage you with these simple words: pastor, preach your sermon.

Two reminders:

  1. You have a people given to you by God to shepherd.

  2. You have the Word given to you by God to shepherd your people with.

Here’s what gospel preachers are called to do with the Word (among other things):

  1. Pray the Word

  2. Observe the Word

  3. Explain the Word

  4. Illustrate the Word

  5. Apply the Word

I’m not your schoolteacher. I know you know this. And I know I’m writing to faithful preachers who labor week in and week out to shepherd their people with the grace and truth of God’s word.

But here’s what is also true. We preachers share a common enemy who would like to obscure our hearts and clutter our minds during the painstaking process of preparing to preach God’s Word. He knows we’re still going to preach it, but He would love for our consciences to feel as condemned as possible when we step into the pulpit on Sunday.

He would like us to feel empowered to preach with the wrong motivations. He would like us to be motivated to preach with the wrong inspirations.

So don’t cave into his whims. Don’t let your integrity be ravaged by your adversary, the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8). Instead, preach your sermon during this out-of-season moment and be confounded once again that the Word you speak is a death-defying proclamation of illuminating light that has the power to bring lost souls back into the land of the living.