Profiting from Teachers (Part One)

Ephesians 4:11-12

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (NIV).

The Lord Jesus cares for his people, the church. The letter to the Ephesians displays the Lord’s love for us in numerous ways; one of these is the giving of gifted people in the church to help them serve. As all the people serve, the spiritual body of Christ, his gathering of people saved by his grace, is built up. Today, we want to focus on benefiting from teachers that Christ has given to us all, including teachers profiting from teachers.

The NIV translation follows the structure of the Greek text, which speaks of four types of gifted men, the last mentioned being “pastor-teachers”. It is too easy for us to want to read this fourth type through the grid of 2,000 years of church history and our denominational views that rigidly control our thinking. I also know that some want to divide the last mentioned into two kinds, pastors and teachers. Without getting hopelessly tied up in such disputes, I want us to recognize that the Lord Christ has given us teachers for our benefit.

During much of church history, Christ’s people could be helped by teachers in one of two ways, which are still available to us. They could listen to the teacher in person or they could read what the teacher had written or spoken. Hearing skilled and Biblically faithful teachers was limited by transportation issues. Even by the time of Whitefield (1730- 1760), people had to walk or slowly ride distances of five to ten miles to hear the famous preacher. That required a tremendous investment of time and energy for hardworking subsistence farmers and shopkeepers. By the mid-1800s, it was much easier for preachers like Spurgeon to travel around Great Britain for people to hear him personally. Before the printing press, access to the written word was limited because books were expensive to produce in time and money. The invention of the printing press dramatically increased the spread of Biblical teaching. God also used the skill of notetakers to record the spoken words of men like Luther and Calvin in those days, so that their sermons, lectures, and “table talk” were spread across Europe and eventually North America.

We ought not to underestimate how all this contributed to healthy, critical thinking about our faith. People could read many teachers that they never had an opportunity to hear personally. Coupled with the regular teaching by pastors through books of the Bible, a store of knowledge gradually accumulated on many books of the Bible. This was, and remains, uneven in accuracy and usefulness, but it still has aided the church’s overall knowledge of God’s Word.

Another help has been the study of the three Biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) since the time of the Reformation, coupled with the discovery of many more ancient manuscripts than were available for about 1,400 years. This has enabled teachers to better understand what God the Spirit actually says in his word. Historical and archaeological research have also aided teachers in learning the Biblical message. In addition, the rise of Biblical theology (knowing the storyline of God’s revelation of his glory in Christ) has helped the overall interpretation of the Biblical text.

In this digital age of information, we have enormous and fast access to Biblical teaching from the early church to the present day. This is a great help, if we are wise and discerning. We must know the faith once delivered to the faith to be able to process this information accurately. The question is, “How is the typical Christian able to profit from all this information?” To provide a starting point, we will provide some suggestions in the next post.

Grace and peace, David

The Baptism of Jesus

Luke 3:21-22

Have you skipped stones on a lake or pond? Many people have. It is a fun pastime with friends, or on a date on a sunny afternoon, a playful challenge between male and female to see who can have the most skips or skip a stone the farthest.  Please don’t do it if someone is fishing nearby!

Over many years of teaching the Bible, I have found that many people like to play another kind of skipping. When they ought to be focused on the passage of Holy Scripture before them, they like to play, “Let’s skip this passage and talk about these other verses or ideas or something else.” I’m not sure what their problem is. Perhaps they have difficulty concentrating, or their minds were on something else in the first place, or they’re uncomfortable with what the passage is teaching, and they want to run away, Jonah style.

The problem with this, besides endless spiritual distraction, is that such skippers miss what the Holy Spirit has caused to be written for their benefit in the passage they’re supposed to be reading. This is one reason (there are others!) that cross references and study notes in a Bible might be hindrances rather than helps for some people.

So then, let’s focus on Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus and listen to what he wrote, instead of thinking about Matthew, Mark, and John, which are excellent presentations. What does Dr. Luke tell us about the great event?

Jesus joined with the crowds in baptism. When all the people were being baptized… (3:21 NIV). At this point, we must remember the context. Their baptism was a sign of their repentance or change of mind. They said by this act that they needed to have a world and life view that was ready for the Lord to appear among them. They confessed they needed the forgiveness of sins (3:3). They became learned who were to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (3:8). But Jesus needed neither repentance or forgiveness. Then why was he baptized. He, the Lord, had arrived and he joined with the people to proclaim that his world and life view was centered on God and that he would live accordingly.

Jesus prayed at his baptism. And as he was praying… (3:21 NIV). Jesus didn’t merely participate in a ritual; he worshiped; he prayed to his Father in heaven. He demonstrated that our life in God’s presence is to be characterized by prayer. The prayer life of Jesus is a theme in the Gospel of Luke (5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-29; 11:1; 22:32, 41; 23:35, 46). John had taught his disciples to pray (11:1), and so Jesus acted as a follower at his baptism. We all should pray as we participate in worship at our local gatherings of believers. It is what genuine disciples do.

Jesus received honor at his baptism (3:22). At this time, he was anointed by the Spirit for his ministry. Notice how God pointed out that this was a significant event.

Heaven was opened. Luke did not write all the details that we would like to know, but in some way the Father let Jesus have a vision of the glories of heaven after about thirty years in human form. This would provide encouragement and certainty to the man, Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove in bodily form. I think this is the only time in the Bible that the Spirit came on someone in bodily form. The point of this in Luke’s Gospel will be discussed in 4:14, 18. Here is the event; the interpretation of the event comes later.

A voice from heaven identified him as God’s Son. We should hear “echoes” from two important texts from the Old Testament Scriptures. The first is Psalm 2:7, where the Messiah is identified as God’s Son. The second is Isaiah 42:1, where the Messiah is identified as God’s Servant, in whom the Lord delights. We should hear the Father in heaven talking of the Son as a covenant for the people and a light for the nations (Isaiah 42:6). All three Persons of the Trinity join to mark the dawn of the new covenant era, the age of freedom and light!

We all personally ought to invest time in thinking through the implications of Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42:1-9 and their connection with Jesus, his baptism, and his ministry. God is pleased in his Son. Is he our delight?

Grace and peace, David

No Replay Button

img_19782 Chronicles 19:1-11

As you might know, I am a pro football fan, especially of the Eagles. I also root for the Browns, since I grew up near Cleveland. I like to watch the games, but I rarely have time or opportunity to watch a whole game, especially live. NFL Network has a handy program series in which they replay the best games of the previous week sometimes with all the extraneous stuff cut out. But I have noticed an utterly amazing fact. Regardless of how many times they replay the games, the team that won on Sunday still wins throughout the week! Every touchdown or fumble recurs in the same way with the same result. So, though it is being replayed, the game always ends with the same score.

In life, there is no replay. You live, and you can’t go back and relive the same experience, and you surely can’t change the past. It’s just there, frozen in history. Yet its effects continue. This can be either a cause for sorrow or joy. Although the past can never change, God is able in Christ to make changes in us for his glory and our good. Though I don’t know what sorrows and regrets you might be carrying around today, I do know that the Lord’s power and love can rebuild your life, to make it shine brightly for his praise. Let’s learn about this from Jehoshaphat, as we continue to consider the subject of “When Desires Clash”. He couldn’t hit the replay button, so that he could make better choices. But God was able to give him something different.

So, Jehoshaphat received correction (19:1-3). That does not sound very dramatic. It doesn’t sound like exciting stuff for the Christian media to trumpet. But the correction of his people is important to the Lord God. God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness (Hebrews 12:10b NIV). It came after he had returned safely from the battle, in which God rescued him from death (cf. 18:30-32). Jehoshaphat had escaped from human hands, but he was still in God’s hands. The dangerous events of life can strip away the illusion of being in control. Now God will confront Jehoshaphat about his control over his life. Let us stop and think about what the Lord is doing in our lives.

The correction came through a seer or prophet, Jehu the son of Hanani. We first read of Jehu the prophet in 1 Kings 16:1-7, when God spoke to Baasha, king of Israel, about 886 BC. This incident occurs during 853 BC, about thirty-one years later. In other words, Jehu was an older man at this point. When Elijah complained to the Lord, “I’m the only one left,” he forgot about other good men like Jehu. The Lord sent Jehu into a doubtful situation, from a human point of view. Jehoshaphat had days before failed to listen to Micaiah, another of the Lord’s prophets, and his father Asa had put this same Jehu into prison, because Asa had not liked the message from the Lord that Jehu had delivered (16:7-10).

My friends, Jehu was just as much the Lord’s prophet as Elijah and Micaiah, but Jehu and Micaiah both spent time in prison for their faithfulness to the Lord, while the Lord delivered Elijah in amazing ways. All three lived at the same time in history, and served the same Lord. Not everyone gets to stop rain from falling or to call fire down heaven. Jehu was faithful to the Lord over a long time period, yet, unlike Elijah, we don’t sing, “These are the days of old Jehu, declaring the word of the Lord.” Jehu declared God’s word, and we don’t sing about him. Your service for the Lord might go unnoticed and be very plain. Remember that you are serving the Lord, as he wills.

Let us build our theology properly. Some read the life of Elijah and decide to rewrite their systematic theology to include something about “power ministries” or whatever words they use. But exegetical and biblical theology must inform and develop our systematic theology to keep it from going astray. Based on our time period, it would be just as plausible to over-concentrate on Jehu and Micaiah and write about “suffering ministries”. We have too many trashy books following that kind of selective methodology today.

Listening to the message of the Bible can require hard work. We must know the meaning of words and the context of verses in the Biblical narrative. However, this effort yields spiritual benefits when the Holy Spirit applies what we have learned to our hearts. For example, we can accept joyfully our place in God’s mission in Christ. This gives us new, godly desires to serve God and others, instead of the old desires of wondering “how can I have a happy life now.” God does not raise up many to serve like Elijah. Most of the time he will use people like Micaiah and Jehu, invisible to the watching world, but very precious to God and loved by him.

Grace and peace, David