The Struggles of the Believer (Part Three)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4 NIV)

Previously, we have thought on the believer’s struggle with fear. We have seen that fear is an emotion given by God. Sadly, sin twists what is a good gift for our preservation into a sinful fear that disrupts our fellowship with God and people. We also saw that we need to replace fear with faith in the living God. Next, let’s think of two other practical steps to take when we struggle with fear.

Resolve not to fear. To have a proper resolution requires a sound, practical theology. Who is this one I should trust in when I am afraid? I should trust in God. The resting place of faith is in God himself. The Christian does not look for a favorable turn in events, the successful application of a method, or an empty hope that the problem will just go away. No, he “gets God involved in his problem.” He says to the Lord, “Things look rather dismal here, Lord, but I know that you are able.”

The content of faith conforms to God’s revelation of himself in his word. We do not expect God to act contrary to himself or his ways, but we do look with certainty for the help that he has promised in the Holy Scriptures. This means that you and I must know what God has promised. We learn what God has promised by carefully reading and studying his word. God may graciously carry the young saint through situations, when the believer has not had opportunity to learn God’s promises and ways. But do not assume that he will do the same for those who ought to have attained some degree of spiritual maturity.

A proper resolution also requires self-control, which is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). Faith is not an exercise in passivity or inactivity. Faith is a conscious dependence to trust God and to do what he wants you to do. Consider Abraham (Hebrews 11:8-9, 11, 17-18). He believed God and did what God told him to do.

This means that you must “take charge” of yourself. You tell yourself, “There is more in this situation than my physical senses can perceive. God is with me, and he is holy, sovereign, good and wise. Therefore, I choose to depend on him whatever may happen.” George Mueller many times prayed to the Lord for food for his orphanage. He depended upon God to meet great needs.

Reevaluate your situation. Having faith in God does not require us to close our eyes or put our head in the sand. Believers are not little children who put their hands over their eyes and boldly proclaim to trouble, “You can’t see me!” Sight operates within the limits of this space/time material world. The rebel sinner refuses to see anything beyond what his or her senses can perceive. The unbeliever says to the believer, “Why pray? Why hope in God?”

Faith sees everything that sight does, but it also considers what is spiritual and eternal. The believer replies to the unbeliever, “You may twist my words, you may plot and conspire, and you may watch my steps, eager to take my life. But God is on my side and you have the greater problem.”

Having faith in God does require us to wait on God for his time of deliverance. Faith will calmly watch the problem worsen, because it knows that God will act. Think of Gideon trial as Israel’s leader. He watched his army shrink from 32,000 to 10,000 to 300, and then those 300 were told to prepare for battle with trumpets and torches. The public opinion polls probably said that Gideon and his army were going to get slaughtered, but they were wrong. But true faith is then at the place where the believer can glorify God. Abraham did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body to be already dead (since he was about a hundred years old) and also the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver in unbelief at God’s promise but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, because he was fully convinced that what God had promised, he was also able to do (Romans 4:19-21 CSB).

As believers, we will come into situations of fear, as David did. Sometimes it will be due to our own mistakes and sins, like happened to David. But regardless of how we arrive at a fear-inducing situation, we must be ready to think and to act Biblically. That means that you must replace fear with faith, resolve not to fear, and then reevaluate your situation to give glory to God. In the same way, we must be gracious and considerate (Galatians 6:1) when we see other believers overcome by fear. We ought to help them in their struggle of faith, and not add wounds to their consciences. A bold faith should not be brusque or harsh with others. We can encourage others kindly and compassionately. May we learn to help others with the comfort that we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Grace and peace, David

Follow by Email

The Struggles of the Believer (Part Two)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4 NIV)

The first struggle of the believer we will consider is the struggle of faith with fear. What should you do when you are afraid? Do not be mistaken. You will have to struggle with fear. You are not yet in eternal glory. One of the issues that causes tension or a pull between opposites is what is called “the now” and “the not yet”. We are now richly blessed with all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3), but since the Lord has not yet returned, we must wait in faith for the full realization of all blessings. For example, we continue to struggle with suffering (Ephesians 3:13), unity (Ephesians 4:3), communication issues (Ephesians 4:25-29), etc.

In this struggle, we must replace fear with faith in God. Fear can cripple us as we seek to walk with the Lord. However, the time of fear is the opportunity to exercise faith.

We need a godly view of fear, and by godly, I mean more than saying, “We should not fear.” Fear by itself is an emotion given by God for human preservation. Fear motivates us to seek protection from what may harm us. For example, we ought to fear God. Jesus said, “I say to you, my friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will show you the one to fear: Fear him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the one to fear! (Luke 12:4-5 CSB; cf. 1 Peter 2:17) We ought to fear God, because he is holy and almighty. But since he is also loving and gracious, we sinners may find refuge in Christ that God has provided. Fear is a problem when it hinders us from drawing near to God or from serving God and others in love. Consider again what Christ says in Luke 12.

The way to confront fear is to replace it with faith. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. It is a mistake to assume that you can simply stop being afraid. Someone who merely quits being afraid is an unemployed worrier, who will fear again when another problem arises. “Faith is seen here as a deliberate act, in defiance of one’s emotional state” (Kidner). In other words, when fears starts to control, you choose to trust. You think on the overwhelming greatness of the Lord God. You realize that God is leading you through the present situation so that you may turn from your insufficiency to his all-sufficiency.

The replacement for fear is not merely faith, but faith in the living God. The whole phrase is crucial. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (my emphasis). We should avoid saying trite phrases like “You just need to believe!” Biblical faith requires the proper object, who is the true and living God. And God must be approached through the Lord Jesus Christ. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:18 ESV). David is not suggesting that faith by itself will deliver. The Bible never tells us to have faith in our faith. Instead, David instructs us to trust in God. Our faith must have an object that is worthy of trust. And God is worthy! “Only God is the object of Biblical faith… This simple truth can be an immeasurable help in the Christian life. Faith is not blind. It is not an ambiguous trust in some abstract entity. It is not a leap in the dark. God is the object of faith” (Matthews, Growth in Grace, p. 117).

Observe this in the life of Paul the apostle, as he neared the end of his earthly journey. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 4:18 NIV). He turned to the Lord in the midst of evil attacks. His confidence was in God, not in pleasant circumstances.

Grace and peace, David

Follow by Email

The Struggles of the Believer (Part One)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4 NIV)

Please imagine the following scenes for a few moments.

  • See a Christian weeping in their living room — a dear spouse of many years has died. This person has been alone in sorrow for a few days, but now a Christian friend comes to visit. Knowing that the spouse was a believer, the friend offers the following words of consolation: “You shouldn’t cry like this! You should rejoice that their suffering is over. You’re acting like an unbeliever. Don’t you know that your spouse is with the Lord?” What is wrong with this picture?
  • See a Christian waiting for surgery or concerned because he might lose his job. A fellow believer senses his uneasiness after church and talks with him about his problem. The fearful follower of Jesus receives this counsel, “Why are you afraid? Don’t you know that God will take care of you? Have you forgotten Proverbs 3:5?” What is wrong with this picture?
  • See a Christian who has entered into temptation and then sinned. Everyone knows what she has done. She feels miserable, though she has confessed her sin. Some won’t talk to her in church. Everywhere she looks, she sees stares of condemnation. What is wrong with this picture?

Perhaps these three scenes are all too real for you, because you have been the mourner, fearful, or the believer overtaken by sin. In each case, the person needs to experience God’s overflowing grace. The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21 CSB). However, the struggling believer instead experiences more guilt feelings because of their failure to perform as a — are you ready for this? — a perfect Christian.

Many errors have crippled the evangelical church for over a hundred years. We must always avoid the tendency to trace all weaknesses to one source and then apply a cure-all solution. Having said that, we should understand that both sinless perfectionism and psychological perfectionism have created an atmosphere of unreality in the church. No one is allowed to struggle because… well, after all it’s so easy to be perfect! The wrong idea is that a Christian only needs to have a “transforming experience” to lift them from defeat level to victory level. Then, they can live as perfect Christians. The problem is that no believer is perfect. Someone might try to sidestep this problem by claiming, “Look pastor, I know Christians aren’t perfect. Haven’t you read my bumper sticker that says, ‘Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven?’” Well, yes I have read those bumper stickers. Leaving other matters aside for a moment, my question is, “Do you treat other Christians that way, as not perfect but forgiven?”

In order to help one another, we must accept the fact that Christians struggle, that we ourselves know how to struggle, and that we know how to help others who struggle. Our theme in this study is the struggles of true believers and how to help yourself and others in these struggles.

The writer of this psalm is David, the man after God’s own heart. Yet he wrote this psalm after one of the lowest points of his life. King Saul was intent on killing David, and so he had to run away. Strangely, David went to Gath in Philistia, the hometown of Goliath, whom he had killed in battle! (And you thought you made poor decisions!) The Philistines seized him, and he had to feign insanity in order to escape (1 Samuel 21:10-15). David learned from his sin and wrote this psalm to help others. Next, we’ll think on how he received help.

Grace and peace, David

Follow by Email

A Pattern for Church Ministry (Part Five)

Acts 14:21-23

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church… (14:23a NIV).

It has been said that it is easier to criticize what is in place than to replace it with what is better. I agree! The Biblical way is to transform our ideas, attitudes, and actions according to the scriptures. How can a local assembly of believers transform their view of church structure and leadership?

First, we must transform our thinking about the church itself. It is not an organization but an organism. The church is the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, its members the branches of Christ the Vine, the brotherhood (brothers and sisters) of Christ, and so it is the living building of Christ. For easy recall, we can call these the “Five Bs of the Church” (Ephesians 5:23-24; 1 Corinthians 15:12-13; John 15:1-8; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:4-5; etc.) Each of these metaphors speak of the church as a living organism. They are all Christ-formed and draw their life from Christ, (which is the reason I repeated “of Christ” in the above list.) Christ is the head of this living organism. He is also the head of the body, the church (Colossians 1:18 CSB). Observe very clearly that Christ is the head of the church, not a group of elders, bishops, or a pastor. Christ is the Chief Shepherd; elders merely shepherd God’s flock under Christ’s direction (1 Peter 5:1-4). A local church and its leadership must maintain this view of being a living body, vitally connected with Christ that apart from Christ can do nothing. The current organizational view of churches suppresses a proper focus of life with Christ. The sense of fellowship with the Ascended Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:1) should saturate all the meetings of local churches.

Second, we must be willing to listen to what the New Testament Scriptures actually say about church leadership. Here is an example. When it was made, the Authorized or King James Version was the best translation of the Bible that had appeared in English. It served English speaking churches well from the early 1600s to the 1950s. However, like any human product, the KJV had weaknesses. The one that concerns us now is that it was a political translation in places. King James I required that certain passages dealing with “church government” be translated to conform with his views of the church (hence, the translation “church” for the Scottish “kirk”, when the Greek is better translated as assembly or something similar.) For example, consider Philippians 1:1. Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons (AKJV, my emphasis). Compare to a better translation of this verse. Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers (NABRE, my emphasis). While most modern English translations have cast off “bishops” of the AKJV, they wrongly continue to use the transliteration (letter by letter) “deacons”. The subject of ministers is not the point in this post. But the continued use of a transliteration still hinders clear views of church leadership, and that is the point. It masks what the Spirit has breathed out in the Word. Strongly held church traditions dating back to at least the early 1600s make people refuse to discuss the actual meanings of elder and “deacon” and their interrelated functions in the local assembly. This must change.

Why is this important? It becomes important in the relationship between “pastor” and “elder”. I think that many would hold them to be equivalent based on Acts 20:17, 28. From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church… Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God… (NIV, my emphasis). Then what happens in contemporary North American churches is “interesting” (in the negative sense of that word).

  • The elders and members of a church want a (usually) seminary trained man to be “the pastor” to handle the preaching of the word and other “pastoral and administrative” duties. They want a “senior pastor” or “lead pastor” who will be “the face of the church”. They may hire other “pastors” to handle other aspects of pastoral work, such as youth pastor, counseling pastor, visitation pastor, small group pastor, women’s ministries pastor, etc., if the church is large. While the lead pastor and the elders are theoretically equals, the senior pastor is the man everyone looks to for vision, leadership, and the Sunday morning preaching.
  • Depending on the doctrinal beliefs, spiritual gifts, skills, personalities, and spiritual maturity of the pastors and the elders, they can have a more or less harmonious relationship. If the church is “successful” (an increasing number of “nickels and noses”), it is in everyone’s best interests to make it work. “Success” can mask the wrong underlying ideas, attitudes, and actions until a crisis comes.
  • When something does go wrong, the blame game starts. In a larger church, it is easy to blame the staff and dismiss the assistant pastors, since they are not the face of the church. If there is a moral failure of the senior pastor or a power struggle between him and the elders, a church has very serious problems. It is rare to resolve such power struggles in a godly manner. Either the senior pastor or the elders must leave the church. Which happens is a matter of personalities, their popularity in the church, and their ability to manipulate people.

Next time, I want to talk more about pastors and elders and the biblical idea of leadership. However, I don’t want this post to end on a negative note. I am very glad that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church! As one who served for thirty-five years as a pastor, I rejoice in what the Lord does for the good of his people through the Holy Spirit and the Bible. He loves his church dearly, and he wants the churches to welcome him back as their functional Lord (Revelation 2-3). This will require transformation of the structure of local churches. Healthy organisms require healthy structures. We need better ideas of church leadership than the contemporary board room model, which produces power struggles. The transformation can happen as leaders and members understand what the Lord has actually set up for the leadership of his people.

Grace and peace, David

Follow by Email

Psalm 70 (Part Two)

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, “The Lord is great!” (70:4 NIV)

We continue our study in Psalm Seventy. David next prays against his enemies three times. There was nothing wrong in David doing this, since he was asking for justice. The apostle Paul makes a similar statement in 2 Timothy 4:14. However, there is a different perspective that we learn in the new covenant. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV). The Lord Jesus wants us to be merciful people.

Verses two through four do show the character of the ungodly, especially in their attitude to the people of God. They want to kill and to ruin and to abuse those who love the Lord. See Romans 1:29-31. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful (CSB; cf. Romans 3:13-16).

David provides an insight about their end. Yes, they appear to be winning now, and they think that they are! But their end will be shame and confusion and disgrace. For all eternity they will be disgraced while God’s now disgraced people will be exalted (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). The ungodly may rejoice now and say, “Aha! Aha!” But their glory will be turned into shame. They settle for far too little.

David turns the psalm in another direction and offers two requests for the godly. First, let us notice two characteristics of the godly.

  • They seek the Lord. Notice the contrast with the malicious quest of the wicked (70:2). All God’s people know the Lord—all know the Shepherd’s voice and come boldly and personally to the Holy One as Father. But it is also true that we are on a lifelong spiritual adventure of knowing Him who is gloriously infinite. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10 NIV).
  • They love God’s salvation. There are three senses in which this is true. They love it in the sense of delighting in it. The wicked do not share this delight. They love the way of salvation—that it is a way of grace, not works. They love the Savior (Isaiah 62:11; Luke 2:25-32; 1 Peter 1:10-11).

In David’s requests for the godly we can see the essence of a true relationship with God. It is to exalt God’s name. It is to rejoice and be glad in the Lord (Philippians 3:1; 4:4; Romans 14:17-18). Why do we rejoice in the Lord? We do because he is the greatest good. To know him is to know true happiness.

  • God is the universal A person may have a number of excellent qualities, but God has all excellent qualities.
  • God is unmixed Every earthly pleasure has some gall mixed with the honey, but God is perfect.
  • God is satisfying Fresh joys come from him constantly (John 7:37f).
  • God is delicious “There is a certain sweetness about God’s person which delights, nay, rather, ravishes the soul.” 1 Pt 1:8
  • God is superlative There is none like him. Is 40:18,25
  • God is eternal He lasts forever with no change.

David speaks of the saint’s lack of merit as a reason that God should answer. “Poverty and necessity are very good pleas in prayer to a God of infinite mercy…” (Henry). We should remember that when we are weak, they we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Here is the proper perspective of Romans 8:37. Yes, we are “more than conquerors”, but it is “through him”.

Compare the first and the last verses with Psalm 139:1, 23-24, where the perspectives are reversed. Prayer in both places is based on what we know of God’s character, whether as Omniscient or as Helper.

Grace and peace, David

Follow by Email

Psalm 70 (Part One)

Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me (70:1 NIV).

This psalm is very similar to 40:13-17. There are just a few minor alterations. Compare the similarity between Psalms 14 and 53. Both Psalms 40 and 70 are ascribed to David, who probably took the last section of Psalm 40, modified it, and set it forth to God’s people as a brief prayer for help (cf. Mt 13:52). There is a time to repeat truth. In addition, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is a safeguard for you (Philippians 3:1 CSB). In fact, there are times to highlight a part of former teaching and use it for a particular purpose.

Many evangelicals are accustomed to freestyle prayer, but we must remember that it is not superior to praying a set form of words. When I was young, I was taught that to repeat prayers was wrong, that it was something done only by people that called themselves Christians but weren’t. Many arguments were used for this that aren’t worth repeating. The attitude of the heart and faith is far more important than whether or not we are original. Jesus himself prayed the same words over again, and on at least two occasions gave the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

This psalm is characterized by a sense of urgency (70:1, 5). God knows that though he is eternal, we are bound by constraints of time. Here the Holy Spirit inspires words that plead for a quick answer from the Lord. Here the children urge God the Father to hurry! However, we should balance this by some other thoughts.

  • We may need to wait humbly before God in order to gain understanding. Consider the experience of Daniel the prophet. In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three full weeks. I didn’t eat any rich food, no meat or wine entered my mouth, and I didn’t put any oil on my body until the three weeks were over… “Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me after I had been left there with the kings of Persia” (Daniel 10:2-3, 12-13 CSB). Sometimes the laborious wait is God’s route to blessing.
  • We may need to wait because God has other plans he is working out before he can bring about our desired answer. Think of Jesus delay when he heard that his friend Lazarus was sick. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:5-6 ESV). Why did Jesus wait? He knew God’s plan to do a greater miraculous sign for the glory of God—the raising of Lazarus from the dead. God may not be doing something as dramatic in our lives, but we ought to trust his timing. I had someone complain to me a few times (yes, this happened more than once) that God always seemed to answer her prayers at “one minute to midnight”, and she didn’t like his way of doing that. We ought to rejoice whenever God answers! We are often unwise, impatient, even demanding children. Perhaps God simply sees the need to teach us patience and humility.
  • We may wait expectantly because God can do his work swiftly. Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you… Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. The least one shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it (Isaiah 60:1, 20-22 ESV).

David knew that he needed God to be involved in his life, so he asked God to save and to help. His example of faith shows us to abandon self-reliance. Quit trying to be the problem-solver in your life! Believers know that we need the Lord to lift us up and do what we are unable to do. Since the saint is alive to God, he understands that God is able to act in history and to carry out a rescue operation. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Follow by Email

A Pattern for Church Ministry (Part Four)

Acts 14:21-23

In this passage, the Holy Spirit records a pattern of ministry for building up local churches (gatherings of followers of Christ). If we are wise disciples (learners of Christ), we will listen to and think carefully about what he has made known for our benefit. Next, we come to the appointment of elders in the local assemblies. This might seem to be simple and obvious. “Every church needs leadership.” Agreed. But our contemporary situation is complex and difficult. Let me point out some matters that make the question of elders rather problematic in North American churches in our time. Another time, we’ll consider what the Bible says on this subject.

Most churches choose leaders that conform with corporate business models and strategies, rather than the New Testament Scriptures. This attitude is not stated, but drives the ways that churches are “governed”. By the way, the concept of “church government” derives from the nations, not the Lord. Listen to what the Lord Jesus said. But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave” (Matthew 20:25-27 NLT). Many churches wrongly believe in “elder rule” based on a mistranslation (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV) of 1 Timothy 5:17. Compare the better translation of the CSB: The elders who are good leaders…. Elders are not to mimic worldly practices, where corporate executives sit around a board room table and make decisions for the organization. Instead, the church is a spiritual body and the Lord Christ is her head (Colossians 1:18; 2:19).

People are content to be passive in churches. “Let someone else handle the business stuff. We just want to attend to fulfill our religious obligation.”

It is impossible to have a proper idea of elders, unless you have a Biblical idea of the local church and how it is to be led. Too many church leaders look at the congregation as a motley collection of immature or wayward or reluctant or obstinate sheep that must be ruled with a firm hand. Some leaders even view some in the church as “dragons”. Do they actually suppose that they are on a higher spiritual level because they are elders or deacons… or pastors? Until elders have a biblical view and respect for their brothers and sisters in Christ, they will be unable to lead and care for them. This requires commitment to biblical teaching about every believer’s identity in Christ.

Church members have wrong views of leadership, such as being content to allow a small group of (usually) men to conduct the “business” of the local church. This might be because of their personal history, in which church “business meetings” were quite contentious and they “just want to go to church” from now on. Others might have attended a church with a “congregational” form of government, in which the leadership was a pastor and deacons. When problems arose because of abuses of power by either the pastor or the deacons or both, they listened to arguments for a plurality of elders and consequent elder rule. Those arguments seemed persuasive because nearly all of the numerous references in the New Testament Scriptures to elders are in the plural. They took the bait without further examination of the teaching from the Bible.

People believe there is a single, mandatory system of church government set out in the New Testament Scriptures. And it is the one that their church teaches. Period. To borrow an illustration, they assume that they have found the black cat on a totally dark, moonless night, in a basement, when the electricity is out, and their eyes are shut while they are blindfolded. People will discuss and debate election and predestination, prophetic schemes, counseling methods, and so on. But to study out from the Scriptures what is actually written about church leadership is taboo. It is far easier to simply accept what they’ve been told or to read books by the experts on “the biblical form of church government as taught by our group.” I should say, it is easier until they are spiritually hurt and wounded by abuses of power in the church.

And then they wonder, “Why did this happen?”

Grace and peace, David

Follow by Email

Better by Far! (Part Two)

Philippians 1:23

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far… (NIV).

What kind of desire did Paul have?

He had a desire that was eminently spiritual. An old catechism question asked, “What is the chief end of man?” With some input from John Piper’s writings, I’ve modified the traditional answer to say, “The first goal of mankind is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. This includes everything we do in life, including the outlook we ought to have. The New Testament Scriptures direct us to be watching for Christ’s return in power and great glory. When Christ comes, all his people will be with him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Then we will fully be able to fulfill God’s purpose for us.

True Christianity is personal. It involves a personal relationship with God in Christ. It is fellowship with the Lord! A Christian has the zeal of love to know his or her Lord! Since this is so, I think it is proper to consider the following questions. Are you really a Christian? Do you love the Lord? Do you really want to be with him forever? If you do, then why do we see so little zeal for the Lord from you right now? Do you think you will really like heaven? To be in heaven means that you will be with the Holy God forever! Does this really interest you?

He had a desire that grew from his present experience. Paul already considered the knowledge of Jesus Christ to surpass everything else. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith (Philippians 3:8-9 CSB). He had already evaluated all things in the light of Christ’s surpassing excellence. Yet he wanted to know more of Christ. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10-11 NIV). Could it be that a reason for a lack of heavenly-mindedness among professing Christians is a present lack of the knowledge of Christ? Should we seek to know him better? Are you seeking to know Christ better?

He had a desire that affected his whole life. He longed to bring every thought captive to Christ. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV).   He lived in order to gain an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). How is the knowledge of Christ remaking your life? What is different today in you today compared with three months or one year ago?

How can we have the same godly desire that Paul had? Let us set our hearts on things above.  If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1 ESV). God has so ordered all things that people can only put treasure in one place at a time. See Matthew 6:19-24, 33. “There is no man’s soul comes into heaven, but his mind is there first” (Sibbes).

Let us cut our affections loose from the world. A soul that is crucified with Christ and raised with Christ should be living for the one who loves it. This is a core idea of our new life in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-7:6).

Let us seek assurance of our salvation. Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you (2 Peter 1:10-11 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

Follow by Email

Better by Far! (Part One)

Philippians 1:23

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far… (NIV).

The church at Philippi was a good church, though like every other gathering of believers, it was not perfect. Wherever you have people, you will find problems, since we all sin. In this blog, I write of God’s grace for sinners and strive to help people that struggle with sin. But I openly confess that I, like the Philippians, am far from perfect. Writing from prison, the apostle Paul sent the Philippian church this letter, because he was troubled about a weakness in their fellowship. They needed to work together in joyful love for the spread of the gospel, but they were pulled apart by strife between people.

Paul sought to bring his friends to greater unity by various means. Our text is taken from a section in which he did not hesitate to use himself as an example. What he urged them to do was not merely some fine theory. Instead, it conformed to how he was living at that time. He told them that he lived to advance the gospel. That was very important, but he was torn between two alternatives. He wanted to live on to preach the gospel, though he suffered, yet he also wanted to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. He used his desire to be with the Lord to motivate them to change the way they currently lived. Today, we ask the first of three questions about this desire.

The first question is, why is it better to depart and to be with Christ? By the way, notice that Paul clearly believed that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord. The Bible nowhere teaches soul sleep or purgatory.

To be with Christ is to be freed from suffering and trials. The apostle knew a great deal about these hard events of life. It was not pleasant to be in a first century prison. Consider also his other sufferings for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Let us not pretend to be more spiritual than we are. No one likes suffering. The apostles rejoiced that they suffered for the sake of Christ’s name. We can rejoice in the blessed fruit that suffering brings. But suffering itself is not joyous.

After Christ’s servants die, this world can do nothing more to harass (Revelation 7:15-17; 14:13; 21:3-4). Certainly this is better by far!

To be with Christ is to be freed from sin. During our time on this old world, sinful desires wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). This war lasts our entire Christian life. We sometimes ask, “When will this war be over?” But then we will be like Christ in purity and holiness. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27 CSB; cf. 1 John 3:2-3; Hebrews 12:23). Certainly this is better by far! Is your hope to be like Jesus Christ? It is one of the signs of having new life.

To be with Christ is to be where God is always praised. Now we must live among a people that revel in their own perversity (Romans 1:28-32). They take pleasure in violence and moral degradation. They mock what is pure and good and right. But when we are with the Lord, we will only hear the voices of those who magnify the Lord with us (Revelation 5:9-14; 15:3-4; 19:5-8). Certainly this is better by far!

To be with Christ is to be with one who has overflowing joy. Even now we should rejoice, since we are in Christ (Philippians 3:1; 4:4). Too often, our joy is mixed with sorrow (2 Corinthians 6:10). To be with the Lord will be the experience of eternal joy. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11 ESV; cf. Matthew 25:21, 23). Certainly this is better by far!

Grace and peace, David

Follow by Email

Psalm 63 (Part Eleven)

Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced (63:9-11 NIV).

Though in soul-refreshing, heart-encouraging experience of personal fellowship with the living God, David in fact was still in a dry and weary land (63:1 NIV). This is life in this fallen world. Our God has plans he acts toward, and they involve keeping and sustaining his dearly loved people in unpleasant situations. Yet David confidently expected God to act in his dangerous state. On the run from his enemies, he did not abandon his hope. Since he is able to draw near to God, he is confident. This is the benefit of knowing God according to his revelation of himself in the Scriptures. Outward circumstances may not improve, they may even get worse. But believers in God are certain of the ultimate triumph of God, his truth, and that they will share in that victory.

On the one hand, David was certain of the defeat of his enemies. If this refers to the revolt of Absalom, his enemies had a decided military superiority. The plot had been well-laid. David and his men had been taken by surprise. But Absalom’s advantage would disappear, and David’s enemies would be defeated. Observe that David envisioned a battle: given over to the sword. He did not expect to escape without a fight. Confidence in God should never promote a lazy, careless attitude. God’s sovereignty does not eliminate human responsibility. Jackals “are the final scavengers, consuming the remains of the kill rejected by larger beasts. The wicked are, in other words, the very leavings of mankind” (Kidner). No one cares about their graves.

Notice the justice of God. David’s enemies plotted to throw off their lawful king, the one anointed by God as their leader. So then, God threw them aside for everlasting contempt. Unlike Absalom and his fellow rebels, many evil people escape justice in this world. But they cannot escape the final Judgment Day. God chose to make David’s enemies an example of what will surely happen to his enemies.

On the other hand, David was confident of his victory and of all who know the Lord. He looked forward to being able to rejoice in God, along with all those who were faithful to the Lord. Notice that David called himself the king. While this provides us information about the time of this psalm, it does more than that. David expected victory because he knew that God is always faithful to his covenant promises. God had said that he would build a house for David (2 Samuel 7:1-17; 1 Chronicles 17:1-15; cf. Psalm 89:1-2; Isaiah 55:3-4). Much in God’s plan depended on David’s safety, so David could be confident.

We should also claim God’s covenant promises (Hebrews 8:8-13). Events might look bleak; any outward confidences might disappear, but God’s promises cannot fail!

Grace and peace, David

Follow by Email