John and His Message (Part Two)


Luke 3:7-9

He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (CSB).

John the Baptist did what the Lord called him to do. He went out in the desert and proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3 CSB). It seemed like an unlikely and unpromising place to start a great work of God, such as the coming of the Messiah was promised to be (cf. Isaiah 35.) However, God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8). Who would go out into the desert to hear a preacher? The Lord did everything to make sure that John’s ministry would not rest in the power of man but the power of God. This is what most contemporary churches need to hear, because their “back door is as big as their front door.” Human schemes are no substitute for God’s word, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Some churches will do some sort of “40 Days of Prayer” program, be excited during it, and then… “We prayed for forty days, revival didn’t come, so let’s try something else.” That was not what John the Baptist did. He went out to the desert, preached the Lord’s message, and God sent the people. Crowds came to be baptized by him with a baptism of repentance. So then, what were John’s sermons like?

He did not try to please people (3:7). You do not please people by calling them a brood of vipers! Imagine entering any contemporary church and being a viper, which is clearly symbolic of being an evil person. The crowds in our time would not stay; they would walk out. Contemporary churches are ashamed of sin and afraid to call people sinners. They want everyone to feel comfortable. They want to be thought well of in their local community. They want everyone to like them. John the Baptist lacked such concerns. Please listen carefully. I am not talking about being rude and obnoxious. We ought to welcome people with joy. But that must never obscure the truth of the sinfulness of all people everywhere. We must tell people who they are in the presence of the holy God. That is what John was doing as he preached to his people. He was not afraid to challenge people “in his church” that they might actually be a brood of vipers! How would you react if your pastor dared to say something similar in your local church this Sunday?

He told people to change (3:8). Repentance is a change of mind, as we said in our previous post in this series. Repentant people think differently in their hearts about God, themselves, sin, Christ, and the way of salvation. This inward turn produces changes in people, both internally (ideas, attitudes, expectations, etc.) and externally in the behavior. The repentant person changes the way they walk and talk. By the way, many professing Christians need to stop using the substitute obscene and profane language they use to color their speech. So that no one misses the point, I mean all the substitute “F” words and “bathroom” words. Consider Ephesians 4:29; 5:4; Colossians 3:8. Crude speech is not the right means to lead others in godly ways. The fruit of repentance is godliness, the character that shows that a person is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:10 NIV). It is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and “the new clothing” of the new person (Colossians 3:12-17). It is what we add to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV).

He turned people from false hopes (3:8). As the last of the old covenant prophets and the forerunner of the new age, John warned the people not to trust in their ethnic heritage. Far too many rely on their descent for assurance that God accepts them. The people of God in the new covenant are only repentant believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Your physical heritage counts for nothing in God’s sight (John 1:11-13; Romans 2:9; 3:23; 9:6-8; Colossians 3:11). What does count is the grace of God freely given through Jesus Christ. In him, you can be part of the people of God!

He warned them of the wrath to come (3:9). Yes, John did not make people feel comfortable. He wanted all outside of God’s grace to feel very uncomfortable! Again, the contemporary church doesn’t want to offend anyone. Political correctness rules the day, unless it is something distasteful to their own political agenda, but that is another subject. People do not want to hear of the fires of the wrath of God. They are like people whistling as they pass a cemetery, but in this case, it is not a cemetery but hell itself. The are like toddlers playing “peekaboo”, assuming that if they don’t hear about hell, it doesn’t exist. John told the crowds the truth. We do not help people by failing to tell them their very serious problem before the throne of God.

John the Baptist was faithful to his mission. May we be faithful to the mission the Lord Jesus has given us (Luke 24:45-47).

Grace and peace, David


Colossians 1:29

To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (NIV).

My wife and I each have a car, which we need to get to the places God has called us to go. This is hardly an amazing fact, but the cars have different keys. My key will not start hers and vice versa. I carry both sets of keys on one ring, and this provides a time for contemplation, since when I’m in my car, I have a push button start. Her car requires the insertion of the key into the ignition switch. Since I drive my car more often, it is easy to reach for the button rather than inserting the key when I’m in her car. Habit is a good gift from God, but it doesn’t replace thinking.

We live in a world in which we are taught from infancy to do things for ourselves and to be self-reliant. This also is good, because Sharon and I expected our children to tie their own shoes, as soon as possible. But self-reliance can easily become twisted by sin to become reliance on ourselves, instead of trust in God. There is a “fine line” where this happens. You cannot draw it on a map or describe it in a book. We might talk about this a long time in a small group and not reach a definite conclusion. Life is not lived by acting in conformity with manuals for behavior. But that is not the topic of this post. Instead, it concerns more simply serving the Lord consistent with his glorious person.

It is far too easy to carry the “keys” of worldly self-reliance into service for the Lord. Programs, the performance of “worship teams”, form of “church government”, rituals, buildings, training for ministry leaders, and so on occupy center stage in the conversations and planning meetings of local churches. “If we would do what that successful church does, then we would enjoy the same success” is a widespread attitude, regardless of how it is nuanced. I am not arguing for untrained leaders, dirty and uncomfortable buildings, and woeful music. However, I am addressing an attitude that is far too pervasive and dominant.

Our Lord invested time in training the apostles for the work he called them to do. He gave instructions on how to do it. But part of his instruction concerned the need to rely on him for spiritual power. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5 NIV). We all need to return to “Christ-reliance”. We all need to… excuse me while I use a ‘four-letter-word’… We need to pray.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul provides examples of prayer to that church. He began that short letter with along section on thanksgiving and prayer (1:3-14). He asked for prayer (4:2-4). He pointed out how the founder of their church wrestled in prayer for them (4:12). What does prayer have to do with all this?

Prayer is a believer’s conversation with his or her God. We come as his adult children, friends, and coworkers. We acknowledge to accomplish spiritual good that we require his almighty power. We want to serve the Lord with all the energy Christ so powerfully works. There is simply no other way that we can accomplish anything of spiritual and eternal value. It brings great joy to see the Lord at work in the lives of many people. When a person begins to live according to Christ (cf. Col 2:8 ESV), it is an artwork of spiritual beauty. Godly ideas, attitudes, words, and actions flow out from him or her, as the Spirit forms Christ in them. This is what we long for, but it is beyond our ability. Only the power of God can produce godliness.

We must pray.

Grace and peace, David


Isaiah 53:3

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem (NIV).

Most people can understand the bitter pain of rejection. It is often experienced in childhood on various levels. We might have felt rejection in being the last person picked for kickball or because we wore glasses at a young age. Teen years might have brought the rejection of being “shot down” or never asked regarding dates, being excluded from the “in” social groups. Young adulthood might have brought rejections by colleges and employers, or even the rejection of a broken engagement. Adults experience a multitude of rejections, until finally, older adults sit alone in nursing homes, rejected by most everyone. If you feel rejected, you may weep.

Our verse, however, points us not to what bitterness we might feel from rejection, but to one who came into this world to be rejected, in order that his people might be accepted. The bitter cup of rejection he accepted for our benefit. Take a few minutes to ponder the depths of rejection that Jesus the Messiah felt to bring us salvation and joy. The baby in the manger became the despised man and held in low esteem on the cross. If you sense somewhat of the rejection he received, you may weep.

I wish that his rejection had ended, and that all people everywhere might accept him, bowing before the Lord Christ in repentance and faith. But most of the world prefers to reject him continually, despising both him and his offer of saving grace. Father in heaven, pour out your Holy Spirit, that people might see the glory of your dearly loved Son and turn to him!

While we pray that fervently, we must face the ways that we his people still reject him. This is ugly, but we must understand this ugliness, in order to turn from it.

  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in the theological systems people build. Our knowledge of God and the story of his glory ought to be built on and formed by the Lord and his work. Yet too often, the church’s viewpoints have been crafted around things like covenants, dispensations, rituals and rules, and church structures. I am glad for a few recent books about seeing Christ in the whole Bible, but most fall woefully short in presenting the Bible in line with the Lord of glory.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in the way we worship. Someone will object, “But we sing about Jesus in our songs and say, ‘in Jesus name’ when we close our prayers.” Yes, I know that, and I also know that most cannot explain what ‘in Jesus name’ means. Worse still, Christ is our high priest and mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:1; 9:11; etc.), but we do not consciously worship the living God through him. When was the last time that your church was called to worship God through Jesus Christ our mediator? Jesus is the latest forgotten member of the Trinity.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in our goals and purposes, both individually and corporately. I’m not talking about church mission statements, which are crafted by people who know they ought to say such things like, “Our mission is to make followers of Jesus Christ.” I’m speaking of the attitude of the local congregation. Too often, a church caters to the whims of church shoppers that want their perceived needs satisfied. We ought to say and to mean, “We gather to make you think like Christ, have his attitudes, and make choices that express his glory and goodness.” Philippians 2:1-11 might be preached and admired, but it is rarely performed.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in our love. Listen to what Jesus himself said to the church at Ephesus long ago. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first (Revelation 2:4 NIV). It is one thing to sing, “O come, let us adore him.” It is another to adore him with the choices you make. Will we choose to love Jesus today in our hearts and way of life? He desires our love, and he wants us to share his love with others. Let us return to him today.

Grace and peace, David

The Church at Prayer (Part Two)

Acts 4:29-31

And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly (CSB).

Our subject is the church at prayer, specifically during a time of crisis. The church is in a crisis time now across the world. Western churches are just beginning to wake up to the attacks from the spiritual forces of evil and evil people. The Lord Jesus taught his followers to be ready for such times. In the report of Peter and John to their church about the threats made against them, we see the first response that Christ’s church ought to give.

After humbling themselves before God and praising him for his sovereignty, they made specific requests (4:29-30). They prayed for the spiritual strengthening of the church. Notice that they did not ask for God to act against their enemies. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:17-21), and we ought to leave God’s acts to his sovereign will. In a time of crisis, we need to make sure that our hearts are in tune with God’s interests and ready to serve him and others.

Their primary concern, as expressed in this prayer, was the kingdom of God. We need to focus on the cause of God rather than our own ease. This is difficult for a people who live in a culture that constantly lusts for personal pleasure. They knew that their mission was to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah. So, they asked accordingly. We do well when we stop to consider what God wants us to do in situations, before we get revved up in our own desires. To put it this way, they kept focused on the vision for a great witness. Prayer for God’s help is an essential part of effective witness. We cannot be bold apart from his almighty power.

They prayed for a continued work of God’s power. What? One miracle provoked such antagonism (Acts 3:6-11; 4:7) and they ask for another? But they were interested first of all in God’s honor. The contemporary church wants to make it easier for people to believe, and in its wimpy ways it has abandoned the honor of God as God. Not so the early church. We should seek more of what the Lord is able to do. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NIV; cf. Ephesians 3:20).

What was the result of their prayer (4:31)? God manifested his power by a physical phenomenon. He shook the room in which they met. This cannot be explained psychologically. This was a miracle, a direct act of Almighty God to assure the early church of his power. Those who want to rid the Bible of the supernatural often misread the text or deliberately change it. The God who made the world and who controls history can easily shake a building. “It is nothing else than a token of the presence of God” (Calvin).

God gave spiritual benefits. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Let’s think through what is meant by the filling of the Spirit?

  • What is the primary new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit? The exaltation of Jesus Christ (John 16:14).
  • What is a Christian? He or she is a person who has experienced the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:8).
  • So then, what is it to be filled with the Holy Spirit? It is to have the glory of God in Christ as the greatest reality in the world! Acts 7:55-56.

The filling of the Spirit produced boldness in witness. This is one of the great needs of the church in our time. As the world presses against us with mockery, threats, and persecution, we need to press back with bold witness. Let’s focus on the glory of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit boldly tell all people of salvation and acceptance with God in him.

Grace and peace, David

The Church at Prayer (Part One)

Acts 4:23-31

The setting of our text is the arrest of Peter and John. The religious leadership of Jerusalem made threats against them. The apostles reported this to the church. Notice that they shared their problems with other believers. “This is essential for the children of God—to encourage one another, and to join in godly fellowship so that under the banner of Christ they may vanquish the common enemy” (Calvin).

But experience tells us to add a caution. Some personal problems are not for public knowledge. The Bible does not encourage busybodies. Do not polarize between an excess zeal for sharing in your local church or small group and the violation of an individual’s right to privacy.

The church responded to the problem with corporate prayer. Individual prayer is surely important, and so is family prayer. But corporate prayer is an indispensable part of a gospel church. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42 CSB).

What did the church do when they met to pray? They responded with meaningful worship (4:24-28). Again, we must be careful at this point. Their example is not a formula for how to pray. We pray in the Spirit as our hearts respond to his wonderfulness. Having said that, we ought to learn from their example, though we must not turn examples into forms or steps.  They were thinking of how the character of God related to their problem. Knowing the greatness of the Father in heaven, as little children they cried out in their distress.

  • The worshiped God as Creator (4:24) Consideration of God’s creative work involves meditation on his power (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20). The One who can create is able to meet our most crucial needs.
  • The worshiped God as Revealer (4:25) The Old Testament speaks about Christ (Psalm 2:1-12). They listened to the word as God spoke regarding their problem. Since they were followers of Christ, opposition to them was opposition to Christ as well. (cf. 4:7, 17-18). The Scriptures are applicable to our needs. As we grow to understand our union with Christ, we come to realize what it means to approach God in Christ’s name.
  • The worshiped God as Controller (4:26-28). They recognized that a spiritual battle was being fought; that is, the then present situation of threats against the apostles was really opposition to Christ. We must not live as though there was no supernatural dimension to life. If we do so, we are living as natural men, rather than spiritual men. The disciples needed to learn in this area’ as in the feeding of the 5,000 (cf. John 6:5-6).

The church’s confidence is in God’s sovereignty. The Lord of all nations has set limits to what sinful people are allowed to do. We have recently experienced several tragic events in the mass murders of many people. It has looked like prayer is useless and that his people are left helpless. But God’s plan for his glory in Jesus Christ will be successfully accomplished. Atheists may mock on their Twitter accounts. Their callous lack of compassion is another matter, and their heartlessness toward grieving and suffering people has been exposed and will be dreadfully judged on the last day. But God’s will is the determinate factor, and his power always achieves what his will designs. Like the suffering early church, we also may confidently pray. Grieve over the fallen. Weep with those who weep. But it is time for the church to pray!

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on the Reformation (Part One)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV).

The Reformation (1517-1648) was one of the great awakenings (like Pentecost and the First Great Awakening) in the spread of Christ’s kingdom on the earth. Centered in Northern Europe and Great Britain, the power of the Spirit of God and God’s word brought about a very strong witness to the good news of Christ and salvation. Many were born again from above, and a new way of life began in the regions it touched. It showed the value of human life in the here and now, and multitudes lived for the glory of God, including in the 1600s, North America. Like any matter in which people are involved, the Reformation was far from perfect, but that should not prevent us from rejoicing in the salvation of people and much good that resulted through people who had been brought from darkness into God’s marvelous light. Let us avoid the destructive trap of smashing good things because of a few flaws we perceive. It is right to point out errors, so that we can walk more precisely in the truth. But it is very wrong to reject God’s work because of the remaining sin among his people.

The Bible tells us that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, at his appointed time: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son (Galatians 4:4 NIV). The Reformation also came in this way. The sovereign God prepared the times and the seasons for the quick spread of the good news through people chosen by him. Among the many preparations were the rediscovery of ancient languages (to rightly understand the Bible in its original languages) and the printing press (which enabled the inexpensive publication of the Bible and messages based on the Bible). God used many men to translate his word into the languages of people, so that men and women could hear, read, and meditate on his message to them.

This was an important development, because prior to this the corrupt medieval church had strictly controlled access to the Bible, and its leaders had told people that they could only know truth through the church. This meant that the church told people that the way of salvation was through its sacramental system. However, when people could read the Bible, they discovered that people are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When any sinner trusts in the Lord Jesus, he or she is declared right with God. With this in mind, we can appreciate why the first point of Reformation theology is “according to the Scriptures alone”.

In religion, we often see a divided authority. The usual scheme is a holy book, an accumulation of traditions and/or folk practices, and a group of “holy people” that interprets the holy book and the traditions for the adherents of the religion. In practice, this means that the “holy people” are the final authority. This is what happened in the medieval church. It had morphed into a religion that the bishops and priests controlled to keep people paying money in the sacramental system. As long as they controlled the authority structure, they controlled the people. As the Reformers studied the Scriptures, they came to realize that the Bible itself was the written word of God and therefore, our final authority for what we believe and our way of life. The Bible, not the church, declared the way of salvation. Anyone reading the written word of God in a normal manner can clearly understand how to know God and to be right with him, and how to please him.

This first point of Reformation has ongoing value. We do not have to rely on church traditions or her leaders. God wants us to listen to him directly. The practical questions are do we accept the final authority of God’s written word and do we read it carefully, so that we know what God has revealed to us?

Grace and peace, David

Discover What Unites Us

Philippians 2:1-2a

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete… (NIV).

Philippians is a very rich letter to a local church that had been longtime partners with the apostle Paul in his ministry. If the apostle needed help, they did all they could to provide it quickly. We might almost want to think of them as the ideal gathering of believers, except for the stern reality that ideal churches do not exist in this world. A close reading of the book reveals that they needed transformation in various areas. One of them was their unity.

Paul spoke to their need, first, in sort of in a “back door” manner. He did not bluntly tell them to be like-minded, to share the same love, to be one in spirit, of one mind, and to get rid of selfish ambition, which was the root of their disunity. Instead, he first asked them to make his joy complete. They needed to think of someone else’s joy first. Then, he presented some areas in which they needed change. We all can learn from his tactfulness. He built a better way of life through better relationships.

Christians have been too task-oriented, trying to achieve perfection in themselves and others by beating people with a code of conduct or steps to change. While repeating the cliché, “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship,” to the unsaved, we quickly forget this as we pursue perfection to have a better life.

How did Paul motivate his friends to make his joy complete? He wrote about what they possessed through their relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. He emphasized spiritual relationships.

  • He reminded them of their encouragement from being united with Christ. Observe that they knew about their union with Christ. It was the relational core of their Christian experience. We ought to wake up thinking about the truth of being united to Jesus the Messiah. This is intended to affect how we think of ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we confront the events of our lives. I have just received word of the “homegoing” of a dear sister in Christ. Praise God for the eternal encouragement that we have because of the gospel.
  • He pointed to the comfort from his love that all in Christ share. We are people that are loved by the Lord; in fact, we are his dearly loved children. Wherever we go and whatever we encounter, we live as his sons and daughters.
  • He recalled their common sharing in the Spirit. We have fellowship with the Spirit of God. He leads us in ways of godliness. He strengthens us in the inner person of the heart. He intercedes for us, because our prayers seldom make sense. He helps us endure, making God’s peace real in our souls.
  • He recollected the tenderness and compassion they had experienced. Paul wrote in part to prepare them for the suffering for Christ that was coming to them. They were in the Lord’s plan together, and they needed to be ready to help one another when the journey to glory would become harder. It makes no sense for Christians to quarrel with one another, when there is a real enemy who delights in our suffering.

Let us remind ourselves of what we share in Christ. The believer that you suppose is a problem is someone who can build you up, or rather, someone whom you ought to bless, strengthen, and comfort. It’s a matter of spiritual relationship in the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

When a Church Gathers

But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3 NIV).

The local church is a gathering or assembly of God’s people committed to the Lord and one another for worship, the spread of the good news of Christ, and the good of each other. The first century Corinthians wrote to the apostle Paul with some questions. Though they were richly blessed (cf. 1:4-9), they struggled about spiritual matters. So, they reached out for help. (Too often these aspects of the Corinthian church are overlooked. They had issues, and they knew they had some and sought help for them, even as they failed to take other issues seriously. This sounds like a typical church to me!)

Paul wrote his brothers and sisters in Christ to help them apply the instruction of the Lord to their local situation. Believers in Christ have heard the good news, yet we need the teaching of the word to know how the message ought to transform our thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and actions. We have the benefit of this instruction, but we need to listen to it carefully and to apply it to our local gatherings.

We can lose sight of the point of the above verse through discussions about the exact nature of prophecy and other related spiritual gifts. The point that Paul makes in 14:1-25 is that all verbal contributions during worship must be intelligible to all, or they are profitless and so loveless (13:1-13). Paul told them that intelligible prophecy was far superior to speaking in tongues, which required an interpreter for anyone to profit. Using prophecy as an example in contrast to tongues (14:2), Paul set forth what people ought to experience when a church gathers. I mean a shared experience. Each one is to contribute according to their growth in grace, spiritual gifts, and wisdom. We should not attend as mere consumers but as helpers of one another.

We should experience strengthening. Every local gathering is to build itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16). This requires each part of a local body of believers to function. In this chapter, Paul spoke to their failure repeatedly (14:3-5, 12, 17, 26). He told them to speak in an intelligible way that would build up the church.  We must sense that the spiritual strength of others is our responsibility. We need to look at ourselves. How has the Spirit of the Lord equipped me to make others stronger:

  • In their consecration to God (sanctification)?
  • In their participation in the mission (shared evangelism)?
  • In their communication with God (prayer)?
  • In their understanding and application of the word of God (Bible study)?

The contemporary church has “staffed these things out”, with the result that strengthening has been selectively and inadequately done. Paul did not write chapter fourteen to “the elders and the staff.” He wrote to all, and all are to contribute to strengthening. Our churches need immediate and drastic change.

We should experience encouraging. Like strengthening, encouragement requires knowledge of one another. We need to grasp the life experiences and present situation of our brothers and sisters in the Lord to be able to encourage them. This necessitates an atmosphere of trust, awareness of acceptance, and the absence of perfectionism. People sin, people fail, and people suffer. We must expect others to need encouragement from us. We come with hearts taught by grace (Titus 2:11-12) and motivated to lift others up graciously and kindly.

We should experience comfort. To comfort, we draw upon the comfort that we have received from our God and Father (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). We receive comfort, and we act from comfort to comfort. This is one reason that a close walk with the Lord is important. We have learned how the Lord reached out to us in our misery or shame, and we apply those principles to our interactions with those hurting. Some matters cannot be learned from sermons and seminars. The Lord teaches us in the furnace of affliction, and because we have felt the heat, we know what cools and calms the soul, so that it again produces fruit.

These three ought to be an important part of our gatherings as a church. Wise words, kind attitudes, and beneficial actions show forth the beauty of the glory of the Lord. Become a part of what the church ought to be and not a contributor to what it is not.

Grace and peace, David

The Christian Ministry

1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them (NIV).

We all have heard of too many scandals involving men who are ministers of the good news about Jesus Christ. A week ago Sunday, Sharon and I heard about another serious one. Thankfully, we were spared the details. Power and authority turn the heads of many pastors and elders, even if they don’t fall into sexual sin, like the man we recently heard of. We seem to have an abundance of men that want to manage or control slick, efficient organizations. I pity the people under such leadership. The apostle by the Spirit presents God’s alternative through the example of Timothy, who was a young man at the time of the writing of the first letter to the Thessalonians. Young men can be good men, useful to the Lord in caring for his dearly loved people.

First, Paul recommended Timothy to the Thessalonian believers. He gladly called Timothy his brother. Later in 2 Timothy, Paul talked about Timothy’s faith and salvation. Here, true to his theme in this letter about spiritual relationships, he simply called him brother. Every leader must have this outlook about the congregation in which he serves the Lord. It is a family gathering. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord. We share an equal standing in the family. In other words, leaders are not “super brothers”, with a better position. In God’s family, there is mutual acceptance and appreciation. Leaders must model this attitude, because each one is a co-worker in God’s service. A leader serves God and his people, not himself. He is content to be known as a co-worker because service is what matters, not prominence (cf. Matthew 20:25-28; 23:8-12).

Second, Paul described the work of a minister. He labors in spreading the gospel of Christ. Leaders in the church have their focus on telling the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus to all people everywhere. They have large hearts, concerned about the eternal welfare of those whom the Lord brings into their lives. They look for possible opportunities to offer the free gift of salvation. For example, a friend of mine told me how he and his son started math tutoring to gain contacts with people in their community. They do good to others by helping them with math, which is excellent in itself. And they meet new people to whom they might be able to tell the good news. One of our biggest obstacles in telling the gospel is meeting people. I’m sure you know this already.

At the same time, ministers seek to strengthen and encourage you in your faith. This implies some measure of spiritual experience and maturity. They know what it is to be strong in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10). They have received comfort and encouragement from the Father, and understand how to lead other believers to the Father’s care (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

Third, Christ’s ministers keep the spiritual stability of their local assembly in their hearts. They do not want anyone to be unsettled by these trials. In our time, the faith, hope, and love of God’s people are weak. It seems like even the slightest opposition or difficulty can turn people from the way. A wise leader understands the character of the times, the weakness of his people, and the way to strengthen and encourage others in their trials. He knows that he will have to invest time and work in their lives to keep them from becoming unsettled. He realizes that with some he will need to repair their foundation, while with others, he will need to help them clear out the clutter. He can evaluate and serve them in their needs. May the Lord give you leaders like this!

Grace and peace, David

On the Pilgrim Way (Part One)

Hebrews 6:11

Now we desire each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the full assurance of your hope until the end (CSB).

Sharon and I recently watched a series of video lectures on Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Many times the lecturer pointed out how Bunyan portrayed the concern of pastors and other ministers for people on pilgrimage. He also commented many times on Bunyan’s emphasis on perseverance. Perhaps both were on my mind the other day as I read the second half of Hebrews six.

In our time in our culture, professing Christians have taken a strange turn from the concepts of pilgrimage and perseverance. For too many, it has become a quasi-religious, entertainment, program-driven experience. It has become something for them to consume. But Christianity is a way of life in which believers endure or persevere to the end. Christians are on a journey to the heavenly city and ought to be motivated with that goal in their thoughts. So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2 CSB). As a minister of Jesus Christ and the gospel, I want to encourage you to follow Christ in the walk of love, and as this and the next verse declares, the walk of faith and hope. One of the first hymns that I can remember hearing says, “O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, leaning on the everlasting arms.” Our way of life is one of “Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus, safe and secure from all alarms.” I want to build you up to diligently pursue your hope.

However, we should not skip over the opening words.

The Spirit says through the writer, “Now we desire each of you….” Desire is a strong word. It is used for greediness (Romans 13:9), hunger (Luke 15:16; 16:21), and sexual lust (Matthew 5:28). Ministers, pastors, and elders ought to show a deep desire for the spiritual well-being and progress of those to whom they minister. Part of the problem with American churches is that the pastor(s) and elders are much more interested in running a business than in caring for and nurturing people. As one of these neglected saints recently said of her church leaders, “All that matters is money.” Very sad!

The task of Christ’s servants is to serve him by serving his dearly loved people. They ought to, we dare to say, lust for their spiritual good. If you deeply desire someone, you make sure you are with them, you show that you care about them, and you shower them with kindness. This is a task for spiritually mature people, who possess a strong faith that their Father in heaven has already met their needs.

This strong desire is for each of you. Yes, everyone who is part of a local gathering of believers. However, local churches have become places where the oldest are neglected and the older leaders forced out. The rich are loved, while the poor are mere ministry “projects” or worse. And we could list others. But Christ’s servants are to have a deep desire for the imitation of the Lord Jesus in everyone.

Pray for leaders of your local church that possess strong desires for the spiritual progress of all its people. Pray that the Spirit of the Lord would transform the leaders, so that they follow Christ and pursue others to join them on the heavenward journey. “O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way!”

Grace and peace, David