Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

Keep Doing & Keep Growing: Encouragement & Admonishment in the Form of Service Review

One of the greatest things I learned while a pastoral intern at Redeemer Church of Dubai and through my attendance at a 9Marks Weekender was the tool of service review during staff meetings in the days immediately following the worship gathering. I benefited greatly from the safe space for criticism and encouragement to be offered so that we could think more deeply about the things we do as a church and grow in faithfulness to our calling.

Of course, I admit that it is possible for service review to be unhelpful. Its helpfulness is entirely in relation to its aim, and in relation to the earnestness of those involved to be honest, humble, and to actually take to heart and grow as a result of what is learned in the review. It is also possible for service review to merely become technical, about aesthetics. But when the right questions are honestly asked with right aims, it becomes a wonderful tool for growth and encouragement.

The big questions with service review should be: How can we grow in or persevere in faithfulness to our calling as a church? Is what we are doing building up the body of Christ? Is the whole church being considered? Are we clearly communicating and keeping central the matter of first importance – the good news of Jesus Christ?

As we aimed to use service review in this manner, I found it to be so helpful for myself. Most often I see this utilized among staff or elders at churches, but if you are at a small church with little or no staff, like I was at Immanuel, I encourage you to include members of the church who are willing to give feedback.

In fact, in my last months at Immanuel, I developed a service review form that elders received and then at random I would hand one or two out to others members and ask them if they would please help me serve the church better by filling it out after the service.

Below is an image of the form I developed and found helpful which follows the different elements of our weekly service. Whether you use this or something else, I do encourage greatly that you create a time and space for encouragement and admonishment.

Final Note: If you are a church member and your feedback is not often invited, I encourage you to make a point to lovingly share encouragements with those who were involved in the service, point out things specifically that were helpful to you. In the context of affirmation, also feel free to ask questions about something that was done that perhaps could have been done better. But remember, accountability like this should go both ways – make a point to approach your elders often with the question “How can I better love and serve the body right now”? And if you serve in some public way, such as music, prayer, or Scripture reading you take the initiative and ask “What should I keep doing and in what ways can I keep growing?

Hint: In the from below, encouragement of something to continue doing is “Keep Doing” and an admonishment for growth is notated by “Keep growing”. Remember to be specific. Vagueness doesn’t usually help or encourage.

Service Review Form-1Service Review Form-2

5 Lessons My Dad Taught Me

Over the past couple of months I have had the amazing opportunity to work side by side with my Dad on a couple of construction projects for my small business. I am always super less stressed when he works with me, simply because his life experience makes navigating how to get a job done much easier. The process of “figuring it out” goes much smoother when he helps! It is also just a plain privilege to get to spend time with him and it causes me to reflect on the many years of working alongside him growing up and I am reminded of how much of an impression he has left on me. 

My dad and I are a lot alike, we are both very imperfect, we both view the world in a very “black and white” manner. But many of our similarities have to do with the lessons that my dad has taught me over the years. And by that, I don’t mean he set me down and gave things to me as lessons, but I mean those things he taught by example, by emphasis and by discipline – things that have stuck with me and shaped me, both what I am and what I one day aspire to be. And as I reflected today on the lessons he taught me, there were five that stood out as fundamental and formative in my life.


  • Scripture is the highest authority – While my dad and I disagree on some points of theology, we disagree precisely because he taught me all throughout my life that the Bible is the final determiner of reality. He never said those exact words and he didn’t sit me down and give me a class on the doctrine of revelation, but the way he handled Scripture, spoke Scripture, and approached Scripture throughout my life spoke loud and clear “This has the ultimate authority in our lives.” His reverence for the word of God was the greatest gift he gave me, it is a grace from God which gave me “wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15)


  • “You do what you gotta do” – Another way of saying this could be “do your duty”. Again, my dad never said those words, but his pattern of life and approach to work and caring for his family always said, no matter how hard things got “you do what you gotta”. For most of my life, my dad had no hobbies, he didn’t spend money on himself, he didn’t feel a need to be constantly entertained. This doesn’t mean he didn’t have things he enjoyed, things that made him smile, but his life was marked by doing what needed to be done and without a whine or a complaint. He is the hardest worker I have ever met, a hard worker who then feels no need to unwind in some frivolous way. We had times of great want and times of great plenty over the years, but through it all, without a gripe, my dad would simply get out there and do what needed to be done. And he does so to this day. 


  • Don’t live for the approval of man – One of the disappointments of being in ministry was seeing so many holy men that I admired bogged down in the opinions of others. I have found myself in this place too often! But my dad communicated through his life that what God thinks of us is what really matters. The thought of my dad trying to strut and preen for the applause of his fellow man is almost laughable. Now I am not naive enough to think that my dad has no human or prideful influence on his performance in life, but it is remarkable to me how little of that is there and how simple that has made many aspects of life for him. My dad communicated to us a fear of the Lord and a concern for eternity that bred an awareness that the Eye that sees all is the one that counts and this was huge for me when I came to Christ and it has echoed down to today. The fear of God that I was taught led to an awe that the God who knows my every thought loved me and sent his Son to suffer to bring me to himself. 


  • Don’t whine about hard work -or- hard work is a good, noble thing – This is almost the same as my second point, but it bears repeating with an emphasis on work. My dad is in his sixties and he still can work harder than most men a third of his age. He will put in the hours, he will strain the muscles, he will wear himself down – not to get rich, not to earn man’s approval, but to simply do his duty in providing for his family. Beyond his wage he does not ask to be applauded, he does not ask to be pampered, he just works, showing through it that work – hard work – is a good and noble thing. 


  • Love is best shown through a life of sacrificial service – My dad has not been perfect. At times he could be rigid and harsh over the years. He has not been one for “sappy” language. But. None of us children in his home ever had the slightest doubt regarding the intensity and steadfastness of his love for us and the reality of it has only strengthened as we look back. And his love has been always expressed through sacrificial service. Doing the things mentioned above, working so hard, not seeking to be pampered or to make a name, but year after year showing love by doing the hard, and the messy, and the mundane with little thanks and little reward, over and over and over again simply because he was devoted to us. I have come to believe that this is the best and loftiest kind of love. It is a love that has echoes of the gospel in it, or one further, pictures of the gospel. So many of his shortcomings are shuttered by the depth of conviction that I have of his love for me which he has shown over a lifetime of sacrificially living to love his family in the deepest way possible – doing his duty no matter how hard it got. I see men who are affectionate, kissy, always joking and saying the right words – but they are lazy, worldly, immature, petty, selfish. The love my dad has always shown us is real love, because the grit behind it, because it has substance. 

Much of who I am, the good and the bad, are traces of my dad. Like him I am a sinner. Like him I am saved by Christ. And it is my hope that one day my children will be able to look back and say that like him I loved them by sacrificially doing what needed to be done day after day, working hard without man-pleasing to the honor of my Savior and Lord revealed in the Scriptures. 

God bless, Jay Jennings. For I have been blessed through him. 


Thanksgiving Day – An Opportunity To Revolt

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him…

Romans 1:21 ESV

According to the Apostle Paul one of the core issues of our fallen condition is that we are unthankful. All the sin in the world, the idolatrous pursuit of created things for rest and joy, stems in part from our failure to give thanks to God.

This is an echo of what happened in the Garden of Eden at the beginning, when the first man and woman failed to give thanks. They had a home, they had a meaningful calling, they had an abundance of food, they had each other, they had the honor of being a special creation made in the image of God, but when tempted with the impossible possibility of more… they lost sight of those things which they had. They ceased to be thankful and this deficit of gratitude toward their Creator gave birth to a humanity which is constantly reaching for more and never able to come to a place of rest with what they graciously have.

The futility we experience now in a broken world stems from this unthankfulness. Our jealousy, anxiety, covetousness, lust, anger, can be traced to this fallen nature we share with our first parents. The system of this world is a system born, in half, by unthankfulness.

But every day that we wake up with breath is an opportunity to revolt against this system. And Thanksgiving Day, because of its emphasis on this issue of gratitude, is especially an opportunity to consciously rebel against this ungrateful nature that mars our humanity. It is an opportunity to pause and to recognize the good things we have which we have done nothing to merit – which is every good thing. The chance to put the brakes on the destructive cycle of ingratitude.

And if Thanksgiving Day is a great opportunity to revolt, the greatest resource for revolt is the message of the Cross of Christ. In the message of the cross we have the greatest instance of us getting goodness we do not deserve. We see not merely a kind gift, like friends or jobs or a good meal, but a gift that is the direct opposite of what we have invited by our unthankfulness.

It is in the good news of God’s love seen in Christ that we find how we can be thankful in every circumstance on any given day. Because it is in the cross that we find the gift of something good, the Greatest Good, which never fades, never goes away, that cannot be lost – even when the heart-monitor flatlines.

So today, on Thanksgiving Day, revolt by ceasing to look forward to all the things you are chasing for peace and rest. Revolt by taking stock of the goodness you have. And revolt by resting content in the finished work of Christ which has delivered to you – through faith – life and love which you do not deserve and which will never be lost.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.                

1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV





A Crucial Text For Testing Preaching

As the pastor of an international church in a region known for rapid transience, one of the greatest burdens that I developed for my congregation was that they would be able to discern what right, biblical teaching is. Wherever the turnstyle of life takes them they will doubtless not find a church that is a copy of mine, which is perfectly fine! But when they walk into a church in the next city of their sojourn, will they be able to see beyond the charisma or oratorical skill of the pastor – or lack thereof? Furthermore, will be equipped to tell if that sermon clip from YouTube is actually helpful? Will they be able to discern what is right, biblical teaching? How will they know if the preaching they are hearing is from the Spirit of Christ or the spirit of antichrist? 

Whatever preacher they encounter, that preacher will likely invoke the Spirit’s presence in their preaching, they will likely quote from the Scriptures. And so how will they know whether or not to trust their message? How will they know if it is truly from the Spirit and truly faithful to Scripture? 

In order to answer this question, there is a text of Scripture that I believe is crucial for testing the rightness of someone’s preaching. 

The text is John 15:26-27. And we find this passage in the middle of a precious passage where Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure, giving them a realistic view of days ahead, joined together with precious promises so that when hardship, and persecution, and confusion, and falsehood arises, they will not stumble (John 16:1). And if we think carefully about this text, it can help keep us from stumbling as well by providing at least two vital tests, each of which is indispensable, for whether preaching/teaching is right and biblical. 

“When the Counselor comes, the one I will send to you from the Father ​— ​the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father ​— ​he will testify about me. 27 You also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning. — John 15:26-27 (CSB)

The Counselor, which is the “Spirit of truth” who guides into all truth as it relates to Jesus Christ, has now come and in the purpose of his coming we see two crucial tests for whether or not teaching is from the Spirit, whether or not it is right and biblical. 


1) Is this about Jesus?

The defining mark of the sermons delivered in the days following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was that they were about Jesus and the unfolding of God’s promises and redemptive purposes in and through him. 


Notice in that crucial text in question, the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus and the Jesus says “you also will testify”. Preaching that comes from the Spirit points Jesus, teaching that is right brings clarity to who Christ is and what he has done, is doing, and will do. The fundamental attribute of Spirit-filled preaching is that it magnifies Christ. It puts him on display to be seen and marvelled at. 

Therefore, it makes sense that Paul points out the simple purity of his ministry as deciding “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” — 1 Corinthians 2:2 (CSB) And “For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” — 2 Corinthians 4:5 (CSB) He believed his teaching ministry was summed up as “to proclaim… the incalculable riches of Christ” — Ephesians 3:8 (CSB)

Right biblical preaching, that comes from the Spirit will help you know and love Jesus better. Such that even the imperatives of the Christian life are all implications of knowing Christ (i.e. Eph. 5:2; Col 3:1; 1 Peter 2:21, etc). 


2) Is it faithful to the apostolic witness found in the New Testament?


Notice that Jesus says, “You also will testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” The ministry of the apostles was the result of the Spirit giving them understanding of their own eyewitness encounters with Jesus. It is to this which John himself appeals in his first epistle when he says, “That which was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life ​— ​2 that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us ​— ​3 what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. — 1 John 1:1-3 (CSB)

The apostolic witness was one of transmitting what they had seen and received to be held onto until the day when Jesus comes to be marvelled at by his church. Therefore, Paul instructs Timothy to guard the good deposit he had been entrusted with and he rebukes the Galatians, telling them that if even an angel delivers to them another message than what we (the apostles) have delivered to you that they should be regarded as accursed. 

Preaching that is new, that is innovative, that appeals to fresh revelation or a “coming of age” in Christian doctrine, is not in line with the apostolic witness in the New Testament. A witness which is guarded as we take what they proclaimed and we hold on to it, passing it on to faithful men who will teach it to others also. Preaching that is right and biblical, in other words, from the Spirit, will confirm, clarify, and apply the apostles’ witness contained in the Scriptures. 


According to Jesus, to have eternal life is to know God through him (John 17:3,26). The Spirit gives this life by showing us Christ through the Apostolic witness contained in the Scriptures and proclaimed by the Church. Therefore, right preaching is always going to have the aim of showing Christ in a manner faithful to the testimony of the Apostles. Even preaching and teaching from the Old Testament must be done through the lens of its relation to who Jesus is and what he has done.

Therefore, when you listen to preaching or pick up a book teaching about the Christian life, apply this test to see if it comes from the Spirit of God. Is it about the Jesus the Apostles bore witness to? Does it help you know him, and love him, and live in a way that flows from knowing him? Does it help you treasure him above everything else? 

These two questions that flow from this text in John are not fool-proof, but they are a good starting place for discerning the rightness of someone’s teaching – starting with the rightness of your own thoughts and convictions. 

If it is right, if it is biblical, if it is from the Holy Spirit, it will point to Jesus and it will agree with the witness of the Apostles. 


Church-Planting Teams or Teams That Are Church Plants?

Christian community is supposed to be one of the most compelling testaments to the truth and power of the gospel[1]. Jesus made this clear when he prayed for the loving unity of his people which would prove to the world that he was in fact from the Father. And Paul time and again points to the community of believers – the local church – as the place in which the truths of the gospel become tangible, where the hidden wisdom and power of the word of the cross are put on display, even to the degree that the traditional hostility between Jew and Gentile disappears as both become one body through the cross-work of Christ applied by the Spirit.

This should greatly impact how we view the local church and how we do ministry. But in my experience, often the very thing that is supposed to testify to the gospel’s truth and power – the local church – is often left out of the mission the church has been given in a very crucial way. Especially, in the context of pioneer missions.[2]

This is not to say that the church as a missional institution or that an emphasis on creating community is neglected in pioneer missions, on the contrary, in the realm of Great Commission strategy the aim usually is church planting[3]. But in this quest to create communities of disciples, I fear that the greatest tool in that quest is being underutilized – and that is communities of disciples as a whole. This tool is in fact the very mechanism by which God’s mission is accomplished – the local church[4]. This is ironic, that the very thing missionaries hope to create is left out of the process in a way which I think is crucial for being a faithful witness and planting healthy churches.

Let me try to explain…

Church-Planting Teams

Wisely, the bulk of organized missions endeavours take place in the context of teams. These teams, which often have a leader or leaders who answer to an organization or sending church, serve to provide encouragement, accountability, safety, and equipping for the team-members engaged in the work of making disciples.[5]This is a good thing, but a good thing that is wasted and falls short of its full usefulness because while doing many of the things a local church does, it does not view itself as being a church nor does it intend to become a church. And these teams while seeking to do the work of the church often operate outside of obvious biblical categories for the way in which Christians organize themselves.

Missions teams will often gather weekly for prayer, for study in the word, for worship, for fellowship and sometimes even for communion – all of which are clearly things a local church does. But often a few crucial elements are missing – preaching is absent, while there are leaders there are not pastors per se, and while being evangelistic, intent on making disciples, this outreach is done “out there” and not in order to gather in. People are not invited to come and see the most compelling witness to the truth and power of the gospel, people are not invited to sit under the preaching of the word, people are not invited to observe the fellowship of a beloved, eternal family. And this is a tragedy.

The mission of the church gathered

God intended that we would not simply be individuals sent out from the church on mission but that we would be a church – a living institution that as one is engaged in the mission of Jesus. It is the church gathered, again, which displays the power of the incarnation, the wisdom of the gospel, it is a peopleand not merely persons who proclaim the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his light. Certainly the church goes out on mission into the world when it scatters, but the church also plays out crucial aspects of its mission to the world as a body gathered. We gather not simply in order to be equipped and encouraged to go and do mission “out there” but we gather as a means of doing mission “out there”.

Teams that are church plants

Teams are a good idea, biblical even, but there needs to be a shift in how we view these teams. Not “church-planting teams”, that is teams that plant churches, but rather teams who are in fact church plants! [6]

Churches plant churches by sending people to proclaim the good news, to gather believers in that good news around that news and its signs[7], and to build them up in walking according to that good news until they receive the full benefits promised in that good news in the age to come. The example we see most clearly in Scripture, namely in the ministry of Paul, is when a missionary is sent to a new city, he gathers believers, lives as one of them – a part of the local church – where he shepherds them, trains leaders and then while maintaining a relationship with those churches for their building up and encouragement, he moves on[8].

At this point, I think it is important to talk in practical terms about what I have in mind.

What if six or eight people went to a place with no gospel witness and they began to live life and they covenanted to gather together around the gospel and its signs? What if they appointed leaders tasked with building up the body of Christ for the work of the ministry, and they invited the world to come and see? This is what I have in mind when I speak of teams as church plants. I mean simply teams being sent as the seed of the church – as church plants themselves, doing what the church does.

When teams are church plants a group of Christians is sent to a gospel-needy place where in that place they begin simply to do what a church does, with all the traditional marks of a local church – right preaching, right use of the sacraments, and church discipline (formative and corrective). And as through their collective witness, by the Spirit’s power, people are added to their number, they are brought in and raised up, faithful men are taught and trained and after time another team breaks off and starts a new church in a new area. It may take longer for the church to become purely indigenous[9], but over the decades the church will, by God’s grace, more and more take the shape of the community in which it exists.

I want to argue that viewing missions teams as church plants, and using them as such, is right on multiple levels. Christians are supposed to gather themselves in local churches where they live out their calling together in a way that is visible to the world around them. All Christians, even missionaries, need not only sending churches, they need the local church.[10]And the unreached need healthy churches among them. They need communities formed and shaped by the gospel among them to point them to who Jesus is and what he has done and is doing.

Local churches are really the fruit of the gospel, they are organic institutions that take the shape of what God is doing in history. Therefore, a missionary team, a gathering of believers living on mission together, should take the shape of a local church. This is what the gospel they proclaim creates!

If anyone reads this, there are a few things I would like to come out of it. I wish that churches would support church plants to the farthest reaches of the world. I wish that weekly meetings of cross-cultural workers in gospel-needy places would begin to think biblically about what they actually are – churches- and would aspire to be this faithfully and fully. I wish that more missionaries would invite people to church, to their local gathering where the gospel is proclaimed and displayed. And I hope that from these church plants would come many, many more church plants.

So missionary, perhaps have a conversation with your teammates about how you view your team.

Churches, have a talk with the teams or individual missionaries you support.

Are we sending church-planting teams or are we sending teams that are church plants? I believe the difference between those two things is crucial.





[1]John 17:21,26; Ephesians 3:10;1 John 3:14

[2]By this I mean the work of taking the gospel to gospel-needy or unreached places or peoples

[3]Another conversation is how a “church” is often defined in these contexts

[4]By “local church” I mean a gathering of baptized believers who have devoted themselves to one another around the gospel proclaimed in Word, displayed in the sacraments, and lived out in discipline both formative and corrective

[5]In many cases the leaders are appointed using the qualifications for an elder found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1

[6]Two possible reasons this has not been done, in our era at least, is because of the fear that it will stifle rapid multiplication and lead to a church that is too dependent on foreign leaders. However, we must not allow fear of what could be, cause us to stray from what is faithful.

[7]Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

[8]1 Thessalonians 2:8-11, Acts 14:21-28; Acts 18:1-11,18; Acts 20:18

[9]The quest for independent, purely indigenous churches, while a well-intentioned corrective to the paternalism often seen in missions history, has certainly extra-biblical and in some sense idolatrous. Language should really be the only homogenizing factor in the life of a church.

[10]I would argue that the old, all-too-common attitude among missionaries which says “I’m a member of my sending church” grossly misunderstands what a church is and what a church does

Divorce & Remarriage In Light of Redemptive History & The Perspicuity of Scripture

  1. Introduction & Thesis

The topic of divorce and remarriage is not new to the Church but it has perhaps never before been so relevant as it is now. With the rise of individualism and the erosion of the authority of Scripture, particularly in the west, divorce has become accepted and remarriage celebrated within the Church. It is time for an honest assessment of our reasoning and exegesis as we approach the relevant texts. The pressure of culture has led to truncated arguments and complicated exegesis in what appears to be a constant quest for exceptions. Much of the research in favor of allowing remarriage fails to see the trajectory of redemptive history in regards to marriage under the new covenant, employing a somewhat pessimistic retrieval ethic. Those in favor of remarriage seem to imply that though divorce and remarriage is not what should be, it is what must be at this time. Such capitulation to the world has led to a church plagued with divorce and remarriage. And how did the church get here? By failure on the part of pastors and teachers to hold to the Scriptures when it was difficult. As should be expected this has led to much harm to the institution of marriage in the west.

The thesis of this paper is simply this, that considering the clarity of Scripture[1]and the trajectory of redemptive history, the teaching of Jesus and Paul on divorce and remarriage should be taken with the simplest reading, which is to say that Christians may never instigate a divorce, and in the case of divorce remarriage is never allowed, except by the death of the spouse.

  1. Commentary on the relevant texts in Scripture

As evangelicals the Holy Scriptures, not culture or bare reason, are the authority for all of life. This should be especially true of the institution of marriage which God set forth as his good design for mankind in Genesis 2. Marriage is portrayed as the final, crowning touch to a good creation and for God to declare something to be good it must be good. I will speak more on the subsequent fall and its effects on marriage later when dealing with the trajectory of redemptive history, but it is sufficient to say this matter is of no small importance.

The importance of the divorce and remarriage issue should strike us considering that the Gospels address it four times, twice in Matthew, once in Mark, and once in Luke. There are so many things that could have bee recorded and the fact that there is so much on divorce and remarriage in a relatively small canon, should be of note.

In Matthew 5, Matthew 19, and Mark 10, Jesus speaks on divorce and remarriage in direct connection to Moses’ allowance in Deuteronomy 24. Jesus brings up the subject on his own in Matthew 5 where he is the middle of contrasting the application of the Law under Moses with the application of the Law in the Kingdom. Matthew 5:31-32 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”[2]At first glance this text seems to provide an easy out, but a couple of problems arise. One that is worth noting is the Jewish audience and the use of the same Greek root in Matthew 1:19, when Joseph contemplated divorcing Mary because of here supposed sexual immorality. Proponents of this view would argue that Jesus is allowing a dissolution of the betrothal in the case of sexual immorality, but not after consummation of the marriage.[3]It is pointed out that Jesus uses the porneia, meaning sexual immorality, instead of the more exact term moicheia which he uses elsewhere for “adultery”. This view is interesting and possible, but not necessary when the text is considered closely.[4]

Notice that Jesus says that the man who divorces his wife for a reason other than porneiacauses her to commit adultery and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Therefore,“whether she became an adulteress by her own volition or by the situation forced on her, the man who married her also committed adultery.”[5]This statement by Jesus, taken prima facie, nullifies the claim that an innocent party who is put away is free to remarry. It behooves anyone looking into this debate to feel the weight of that wording in the text.

In Matthew 19 Jesus is tested by the Pharisees. They want to know if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause. Quoting from Genesis 2 Jesus reveals the absurdity of divorce in light of God’s created order, exposing the ignorance of his interrogators. Their error was rooted in the fact they had taken permission from Moses and turned it into a command[6], for they said to Jesus, “Why then did Moses commandone to give a certificate of divorce and send her away.”[7]Moses did not command divorce, but permitted divorce, and the only reason he did this was because of the hardness of their hearts. It was “sin-management” you could say for a covenant community that was mixed with regenerate and unregenerate people.

Jesus ends his Matthew 19 encounter by restating the standard set in Matthew 5. And it would appear that the “loophole” of remarriage after divorce on proper grounds might stand, until you read on and see the disciples’ reaction. If Jesus allowed remarriage then his view would not have been much more radical than that of many Pharisees of the school of Shammai[8], but the response of the disciples leads us to believe that Jesus has a higher standard in mind. “The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man and his wife, it is better not to marry.”[9]Jesus did not relieve their anxiety with some quick qualifications, instead he implied that if a man cannot imagine such enduring faithfulness, then it is better for him not to get married, thus Jesus launches into his discourse on eunuchs, most likely not referring to castrated males[10]but to those who choose a celibate life or as Wenham asserts[11], considering the context, Jesus is likely including those who are divorced and must not remarry. Considering the reaction of the disciples and the context, this appears as a compelling interpretation.

In Mark 10 we have the parallel to Matthew 19 and Jesus once again roots his prohibition against divorce and subsequent remarriage in God’s original design for marriage rather than in Moses’ sin-managing permissiveness. But here we see a new wrinkle introduced that we do not see in Moses, where the woman is now the instigator of the divorce. Again, Mark’s account gives no indication of an allowance for remarriage. Notice thus far that divorce is its own sin which precipitates, in the case of remarriage, the sin of adultery.

Luke is the strictest of all of the accounts. It is worth quoting the Lukan passage in its entirety because it is so direct and succinct. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”[12]What catches our attention here is the inclusive language “everyonewho divorces his wife and marries another….” Even more astonishing is the assertion that “he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”[13]This seems to say that in a remarriage there is no innocent party. Counter to the appeals to reason made by John Murray[14], whatever the cause for divorce, subsequent remarriage is portrayed as adultery from every angle.[15]

Now we get to the Pauline discourse on this issue and the so called “Pauline Privilege” found in I Corinthians 7. Having just addressed the rampant immorality in Corinth and perhaps the tendency to react with asceticism, Paul lays out expectations for marriage and encourages singleness. After stating his desire, but not command, in verses 8-9 that the unmarried and widows remain unmarried, he gives direction to those that are married. He reflects here the teaching of Jesus that marriage is indissoluble. He says in verse 10 that the “the wife should not separate from her husband, but if she does she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband, and the husband should not divorce his wife.” The words for “separate” and “divorce” are different in the Greek here than in the Gospels, in fact Paul employs two different words here[16], but it is well within the same semantic range. Verse 11 is especially important, for it implies a time when divorce might be allowed, but clearly forbids marriage to another man.

In verses 12-16 Paul deals with a mixed marriage. His address of this issue makes two things clear: first, divorce between Christians is sin and unacceptable. Second, Paul clears an innocent party in a mixed marriage of the shared guilt of divorce, while not necessarily allowing that innocent party to remarry, rather the instruction given in verse 11 should still be considered as applying.

Finally, in verse 39, Paul says that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives and after he dies she is free to marry. You would think that he might insert a caveat like “as long as they are married she is bound.” But he makes no such qualification in this final word of his discourse on marriage.

  1. Two options given by the relevant texts

Considering the texts that we have briefly, and admittedly in a very cursory manner, examined, I want to consider two of the most likely interpretations.

  1. Divorce allowed in some circumstances, remarriage allowed in those circumstances

This has been the predominate view in much of the church since the Reformation. The reformer John Calvin[17]held to this view and some Puritans such as Richard Baxter agreed.[18]However, it is worth noting that those closer to the culture of the day, men such as Augustine[19]and Tertullian[20], both North African church fathers, held to a strict permanence view, which we will address soon.

This view, in its narrower interpretation posits that in Matthew we see that adultery effectively breaks the marriage covenant, which frees the innocent party to remarry. In response to the relevant texts in Mark and Luke, proponents of this exception clause would say that the clause is implied. “It goes without saying”, as it were, that adultery breaks the covenant, freeing the innocent party. In defense those that hold this view will sometimes appeal to places in the Old Testament where God expresses his intention to divorce Israel for her spiritual adultery[21]. In those cases, God is the analogical “victim” in a marriage relationship and will therefore leave his adulteress “bride” and be joined to another.

Furthermore, in favor of this view you could argue that the exception clause in Matthew is shocking as it appears because it is more narrow than Moses’ allowance. For Moses allowed divorce for “indecency” which could be more broadly interpreted, whereas Jesus said sexual immorality alone was reason, thus narrowing the Mosaic permissiveness. Also, whereas the conservative rabbinical school of Shammairequired divorce for porneia, Jesus merely allowed it.[22]There are problems with this view, which we will see shortly.

The second ground for divorce and remarriage is the “Pauline Privilege” of I Corinthians 7. In this case, if a believing brother or sister is abandoned by their non-believing spouse most take the words “is not enslaved” to implypermission to remarry “in the Lord”.[23]Meaning they are free to marry another believer.

So there are two grounds for divorce in this view, adultery and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse. And both of these, it would be argued, imply the freedom to remarry.


  1. Divorce allowed in some circumstances, remarriage never allowed[24]

Admittedly this has been the minority view since the reformation, but this would not be the first time a crucial truth was a minority view.[25]As Wenham points out, “The early church, up to AD 500, maintained that Christ allowed separation but not remarriage.”[26]The Shepherd of Hermas, a second-century writing that was circulated widely enough in the church that it was a disputed book when considering canonicity, directly addresses the matter of divorce and remarriage, forbidding remarriage even in the case of adultery.[27]  In American evangelicalism few have dared to take this position, but most notable among the proponents of it would be John Piper.[28]Church history is not our authority, but when the relation of the Markan and Lukan texts with the Matthean record is in question and two possible interpretations are before us, we should give weight to church history.

In defense of this view, first it must be clear that saying that divorce is “allowed” must be qualified. Neither Jesus nor Paul ever give permission for pursuing divorce, rather they clear the innocent party of guilt should they be divorced.[29]It may be argued that Matthew allows the offended party to instigate divorce, but it could also be argued that the unfaithful spouse is the de factoinstigator of divorce, especially if Paul’s instruction to seek restoration has been followed. As F.F. Bruce says, “For a Christian husband or wife divorce is excluded by the law of Christ.”[30]Furthermore, the Christian victim of divorce is given no reason to believe that remarriage is allowed in any case, because though the marriage bond be violated it is not dissolved, for it can apparently only be dissolved by death.[31]For Jesus clearly does not command divorce in the case of sexual infidelity, but rather allows it. If the marriage bond was truly broken by adultery, then any sexual relations between the husband and his wife after adultery by either party would then be fornication because their covenant would be dissolved.

Furthermore, Luke says “he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery”. If a woman divorced by her husband is truly separated from her husband, why is it adultery to marry her? Or why, in the case of Matthew 5, is a woman wrongly divorced committing adultery if she remarries? It is adultery because the pronouncement of man cannot dissolve what God has established. And as Romans 7 and I Corinthians 7 make clear, it is only by death that God ends that bond.

The conclusion is that what God has joined man cannot separate. So in a sense one must say that divorce is never allowed, though there is exemption of guilt for divorce for those that are divorced by another.[32]And if divorce is never allowed, then remarriage is never allowed. Paul seems to make this expressly clear in I Corinthians 7 when he says that if a woman is separated from her husband she is to be reconciled or remain unmarried. This instruction in light of Matthew 19 and Luke 16 makes this position the most acceptable.

This leads us to consider why this view is such a minority in the church today. We want to take care here because we all see that to be a loner theologically is never a good idea, but the reality is that until the time of Erasmus in the 16thcentury permanence was the predominant view in the church and vestiges of this reality remain in the Roman church to this day.[33]


  1. Egalitarianism, homosexuality, divorce, and remarriage: Cultural pressure on exegesis

Many of the arguments for the majority view sound like the same arguments made today for egalitarianism, homosexuality, and other such hot topics. Too often the question that is being asked of the texts is “When is this allowed?” Rather than asking the question, “What does God intend?” Many in mainstream Christianity look at the passages on homosexuality and by digging deep into cultural nuances and semantics, they attempt to remove stigma from homosexual relationships. As we look at much of the material on divorce and remarriage, it seems that this same approach is being taken to soften the statements of Jesus and Paul on divorce and remarriage. Perhaps it is time for us to consider that the pandemic of divorce and remarriage in the church is simply a forerunner to the sexual revolution overtaking us; a revolution that cannot be stood against as long as cultural forces are allowed to spawn unnatural readings of Scripture and complicated exegesis. This matter directs us to the next point.


  1. Divorce and remarriage and the perspicuity of Scripture

The doctrine of the perspicuity, or the clarity, of Scripture seems to have been left out in the cold in most dealings with this highly sensitive and culturally explosive issue. Those that hold to perspicuity of Scripture should affirm that knowing what certain rabbinical schools believed or what Roman divorce law was should not be required to understand the text before us. The same God who has supernaturally preserved his word is able to preserve it in a way which is clear, timeless, self-interpreting, and self-authorizing. To assert that extra-biblical data is needed to understand Jesus’ teaching on divorce is to undermine the doctrine of the clarity of the Bible. Complementarianism, as an example, is a clear issue when one reads the relevant texts naturally and in light of all of Scripture. Even egalitarians scholars agree with this.[34]If we accept Paul’s appeal to the created order as the foundation for complementarianism, why don’t we do the same with Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage?

The Scriptures do have a cultural context, but they are also timeless and preserved by God in order to be revealed to the simple, even to children. Knowing the Scriptures well is needed for good exegesis of them, but knowledge of Scripture alone seems to be in favor of the permanence view.

The complicated arguments should be avoided, especially when the result of those arguments could be giving license to adultery. An appeal to safety must be made here. Singleness damns no one. Paul even encourages it under the New Covenant.[35]Adultery is another story. Taken prima facie, the relevant texts forbid divorce except perhaps in special cases and they always forbid remarriage. To make the text say anything different requires some measure of eisegesis. At the very least, considering the texts, it is disturbing how confident most evangelicals are with their permissiveness.

Furthermore, a clear view of the scope of Scripture points us both back to a good creation and forward to a restored creation of which the church is to be a reflection, which leads to consideration of the next point.


  1. Divorce and remarriage and the trajectory of redemptive history

Genesis 2:18-25 sets forth the “good” design of God for the marriage covenant. It is this design which Jesus later appeals to. After the fall the immediate result of sin is a fracture in relationship between husband and wife, something God said would be characteristic of their fallen state. In the generations that followed perversions of God’s good design followed, such as polygamy. After God makes his covenant with Israel at Sinai, in Deuteronomy 24 we find permission being given by Moses for divorce in certain circumstances and Moses forbidding it in others. But what Moses established was not normative. It was sin-management in a community mixed with regenerate and hard-hearted people. By the time Jesus arrived the Pharisees had come to see Moses’ permission as a command to be followed, rather than a sad indictment of the state of humanity under sin. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus got to the heart of the matter. Then in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 he directly addressed why Moses allowed divorce, but unlike Moses, Jesus did not come to manage sin, but to do away with it. As those belonging to the kingdom inaugurated, the church is not to bow to the tyranny of sin and settle for sin management, but cry with life and lungs against the tide of rebellion, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

If one considers the new covenant in Ezekiel 36 with the promise of new, soft hearts, a change in marriage should be expected. Relationships that reflect more fully the restoration to come. Jesus brought up Genesis 2 because the kingdom standard for marriage is the original standard for marriage. As those united together already in Christ believers reflect as a people the work of reconciling all things together in Christ. And “all things” includes marriage.

Under the old covenant a retrieval ethic was employed by Moses, but Jesus wasn’t interested in retrieval, he was interested in restoration. The current reality of sin does not demand that we bow to sin’s tyranny, but that we fight the good fight, even if it means being single. Sadly, the church has been content to manage sin by providing for its constrained exercise – namely through marriage that is at best disordered and possibly not even marriage of any kind.

Under the New Covenant we see a new dignity to singleness not found in the Old. So if the question is asked whether or not there is a retrieval ethic in the New Covenant for victims of divorce the answer is the glory of singleness outlined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. The ruin of marriage here in this age does not change the marriage to come, to Christ our betrothed. In the new heavens and earth we will be “neither married nor given in marriage, but will be like the angels in heaven.”[36]Marriage for Christians is a good thing, but it is not ultimate.[37]Our identity as Christians is not ultimately found in our status as married or single, but in our status as “in Christ”[38]. A union which God has joined and no man can separate.


  1. Pastoral implications and conclusion

The permanence view raises an array of pastoral questions, some of which may be answered by the previous paragraph. All of these questions are difficult, as a pastor I can testify to this. But when pastors are not faithful in one generation, they inevitably make the job more painful for the next.

If the problem of divorce and remarriage in the church is going to be changed it has to start with pastors proactively teaching on it and raising the next generation with the view that marriage is for life and that divorce is never an option for believers. For those that are divorced, there is a need for biblical teaching on the dignity and purpose of singleness in the kingdom of God. For children that are victims of divorce the church needs to compassionately shepherd them, giving them a vision of something greater.

In the meantime, we face the most difficult pastoral situation. Is there a retrieval ethic for those that have already been divorced and remarried? The answer is an uneasy “yes”.  Entering into the illicit union needs to be acknowledged as sin, but the union is still a union. Jesus still refers to the adulteress union as a marriage. It is a disordered union, but still a union, somewhat akin to the “one flesh” union that occurs when a man is joined with a prostitute.[39]Therefore, they should repent and not do it again. This is admittedly an unsatisfying response, because it could be argued that they are continuing in adultery and that a more radical repentance, such as separation may be required. Such a response is not beyond the realm of possibilities and would admittedly appear to be the more consistent, though much more harsh, view.

A clear implication is that pastors should never perform weddings for people divorced for any reason. Furthermore, if a member of a church engages themselves to a divorced person they should be warned and disciplined if they continue.  For those divorced prior to becoming Christians and wanting to get married as a believer, we must acknowledge that as the Bible treats it a marriage outside of the household of faith is still a marriage.[40]

This issue certainly raises a number of moral and pastoral quandaries. But generations of compromise always do.[41]Doing faithful pastoral ministry in an environment that has abandoned or never had the authority of Scripture is going to lead to sticky situations. So the clarion call should be for a return to faithfulness while praying desperately for wisdom. Pastors should take every case of people who are already divorced and remarried with great care and have a determined vision for the future of marriage in the church as permanent.

In conclusion, attempting to be aware of cultural pressure, in light of the clarity of Scripture, and the trajectory of redemptive history, the Bible teaches that New Testament marriage is for life, a believer may never be the instigator of divorce, and remarriage is always forbidden. Looking to Jesus and to Paul, this means that if one cannot embrace this truth they should not get married, if you are married you are in it for good, and if you are currently divorced your identity is not found in a spouse, but in Christ. May Christian marriages reflect the exclusivity and the permanence of our eternal bond with Christ.






Baxter, Richard, and J. I. Packer. The Christian Directory. Vol. 1. (Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 1996)

Bruce, F.F., Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977)

Calvin, John, and John Pringle. “Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids(2010).

Eden, Kathy. “Rhetoric in the Hermeneutics of Erasmus’ Later Works.” Erasmus Studies11, no. 1 (1991): 88-104.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., and David Wayne Jones.God, marriage, and family. Crossway, 2010. 2ndEdition

Plumpe, Joseph C., and Johannes Quasten. Ancient Christian Writers: the Works of the Fathers in Translation. Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1946.

Murray, John. Divorce & Remarriage, RPM, Vol. 11, Num. 9 (March 1, 2009) accessed November 9, 2015,^^^articles^joh_murray^joh_murray.divorce.remarriage.html/at/Divorce%20and%20Remarriage

Pierce, Ronald W. Rebecca Merrill Groothius, Gordon Fee, Editors, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, (IVP Academic, 2005, Kindle Edition) Location 1989

Piper, John. “Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper.” Pages: Desiring God(1986).

Augustine, Aurelius. “‘On the good of marriage’.” Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, first series3 (1997).

Warden, Duane. “The Words of Jesus on Divorce.” Restoration Quarterly39, no. 3 (1997 1997): 141-153. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed November 10, 2015).

Wenham, Gordon J. “May Divorced Christians Remarry?”(1981): 150-161.


[1]An objection often raised to my appeal to the clarity of Scripture is that if the issue were so clear it would not be so debated across the history of the church. I believe that the reason for the debate is not so much an issue of clarity as it is our tendency to respond to the Bible’s teaching on this in the same manner that the disciples did in Matthew 19.

[2]All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (Crossway) unless noted otherwise

[3]John Piper, Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper, Desiring God (1986) 10

[4]I personally do not consider this to be an airtight argument. I think there are clearer, more compelling arguments to be made, but this one is worth recording for consideration.

[5]Duane Warden, “The Words of Jesus on Divorce.” Restoration Quarterly39, no. 3 (1997 1997): 143. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost(accessed November 10, 2015).

[6]As a command this would have been in contradiction with God’s revealed pattern for marriage

[7]Matthew 19:7

[8]A rabbinical school which interpreted the indecency in Deuteronomy 24 as being sexual in nature only and required divorce if discovered

[9]Matthew 19:10

[10]Considering the law of Moses, celibacy rather than castration is what Jesus clearly has in mind; see Deuteronomy 23:1

[11]Gordon J. Wenham, “May Divorced Christians Remarry?”(1981): 158.

[12]Luke 16:18

[13]For those that address the all-encompassing language in Luke 19 with the appeal to consider Luke in light of Matthew, could it not just as easily be argued to consider Matthew in light of Luke? Is not the general rule in exegesis that the simpler, more clear text interprets the more ambiguous text?

[14]John Murray, Divorce & Remarriage, RPM, Vol. 11, Num. 9 (March 1, 2009) accessed November 9, 2015,^^^articles^joh_murray^joh_murray.divorce.remarriage.html/at/Divorce%20and%20Remarriage

[15]If it be argued that adultery breaks the marriage bond therefore creating the one allowance for remarriage would this not mean that divorce is required? Also, that that there would be more freedom for those than commit adultery?

[16]χωρίζω to divide, separate; αφιημι send away, dismiss

[17]John Calvin and John Pringle, “Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians.”Christian Ethereal Library (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) Vol. I

[18]Richard Baxter and J.I. Packer, A Christian Directory. Vol. 1(Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 1996) pg. 444

[19]Aurelius Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, I in NPNF3:406.

[20]Joseph C. Plumpe and Johannes Quasten, Ancient Christian Writers; the works of the Fathers in Translation, (Westminster, MD: Newman Pres, 1946) 13:93

[21]Jeremiah 3:8

[22]Andreas J. Kostenberger and David Wayne Jones, God, Marriage, & Family, (Crossway, 2010) 229.

[23]I Corinthians 7:15, 39

[24]John Piper, Divorce and Remarriage: A Position Paper, Desiring God (1986)A possible variation of this asserts the Matthean betrothal theory.

[25]Example: Justification by faith alone

[26]Gordon J. Wenham, “May Divorced Christians Remarry?”(1981): 151.

[27]Trans. Lightfoot, 29:7. I recognize of course that this is not canon and therefore not binding on conscience. However, because it was so widely read it does give an indication of the early church’s understanding of the issue.

[28]Andreas J. Kostenberger and David Wayne Jones, God, Marriage, & Family, (Crossway, 2010) 230. Note: Piper holds to the “no divorce, Matthean betrothal view”

[29]Granted, Hermas, which I just mentioned, required divorce in the case of ongoing, known adultery while forbidding remarriage after the fact.

[30]F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 267.

[31]I Corinthians 7:39

[32]The topic of lawful, celibate separation for the sake safety is another issue.

[33]Kathy Eden, “Rhetoric in the Hermeneutics of Erasmus’ Later Works.” Erasmus Studies11, no. 1 (1991): 88.

[34]Ronald W Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothius, Gordon Fee, Editors, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, (IVP Academic, 2005, Kindle Edition) Location 1989

[35]Pastorally speaking, if I take the permanence view and require that divorced people remain single, I have led no one into sin. If the mainstream permissiveness is wrong, then the implications for many pastors are devastating who will be held to a stricter measure of judgment. James 3:1

[36]Matthew 22:30

[37]For those that would retort to this with 1 Corinthians “it is better to marry than burn” offers a retrieval ethic for those divorced, they need only consider what such an argument would imply for those who burn with homosexual desire? Clearly there are some cases where celibacy is the only faithful option.

[38]Ephesians 2:6

[39]I Corinthians 6:16

[40]We do not require married couples to remarry each other when they become believer and Paul’s instruction to people with unbelieving spouses in 1 Corinthians 7 makes clear that marriage is not dependent on being in the church. However, the strict expectation of permanence or celibacy is only holding on Christians. We cannot expect unbelievers to be held to “soft-heart” standards, the permissiveness under Moses makes that clear.

[41]As an example, think of missionaries dealing with the issue of polygamy in new converts

The Mercy in Hunger, Exhaustion, & Loneliness

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that anyone may eat of it and not die.                   — John 6:48-50 (CSB)

In John 6, Jesus performed perhaps his most iconic sign, the feeding of the 5,000. The result of which was predictable if we understand what the Bible says about human nature – the fed crowds wanted to take Jesus and forcibly make him their king, they wanted to follow him around. Why? Because they knew they would get hungry again and they thought that they had finally found the solution to their recurring hunger. Someone who could give them endless bread.

The problem, we find out from Jesus, is that they were missing what their hunger was really telling them. Knowing the people wanted to take him as their endless bread-dispenser and make him into a king, Jesus withdrew to the other side of the lake, but the crowds, now hungry again, found him the next day. And it is there that Jesus tries to get their attention, but in doing so ultimately ends up losing most of them. Jesus tells them, “You are looking for me not because you saw the signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.

Like us all, they were hungry. They toiled to simply satisfy that hunger. But in doing so they missed what that hunger told them about their real need.

They missed the mercy in their hunger. Because what Jesus goes on to show them is that while the perpetual problem of hunger seems to say that what I need to be satisfied is bread, actually the recurring emptiness in our stomach is to show us that life is notfound in bread. This is what Jesus emphasizes when he reminds them that through Moses God gave their fathers bread in the wilderness daily, and yet they all still died![1]Bread could satiate them for awhile but in the end it could not give them life. Hunger was always meant to point beyond bread.

We know this is the case and the point Jesus is trying to make because in Deuteronomy 8:3, Israel is reminded that “God humbled you by letting you go hungry; then he gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” — Deuteronomy 8:3 (CSB)

God allowed ancient Israel to experience hunger, to know deprivation, the futility of an empty stomach once full so that when he gave them this strange bread from heaven, a bread unfamiliar to them, something that was different than they thought they needed, they would know that at the end of the day it was not bread in of itself that they needed rather what they needed was the creating, sustaining, unfading, word of the Lord.

This immediately brings to mind the book of Ecclesiastes, where the writer has had wealth, wine, and women and found perpetually that the money gets spent, the buzz gets killed, and the lust is unsatiated. He concludes that everything is vapor, striving after wind. We eat, we get hungry again.  Futile.

This is something everyone has experienced and can identify with – futility. It seems cruel. Which would lead us to assume that this is judgment and in a way that is true! Genesis 3 seems to make that clear[2]. The created things we have rebelliously turned to for life will turn out to be incapable of satisfying us. And yet in this judgment we see the creation of a longing – a merciful longing. A gracious futility that Paul picks up on in Romans 8 when he says that “ the creation was subjected to futility​— ​not willingly, but because of him who subjected it ​— ​in the hopethat the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” — Romans 8:20-21 (CSB)

This hopeful futility is shown throughout scripture to be God’s gracious way of creating a longing for redemption, a longing that only he can fill. When Noah is born to Lamech, the day-to-day toil Lamech experienced caused him to hope that his son would be the one to finally bring rest.[3]In Hosea, God tells a rebellious Israel that he is going to cause her to experience deprivation so that he can tenderly remind her that wealth, crops, and military protection is not what she ultimately needed – she needed him.  But the tragedy, as we see in the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, as is that we constantly misinterpret our perpetual longings. We fail to see that our hunger points beyond bread. The fact that we eat and a few hours later we are hungry again is supposed to point us beyond food. The fact that we can eat bread daily and still die is supposed to cause us to not settle for bread. And this merciful deprivation doesn’t end with our need for food.

We sleep and a few hours later we are exhausted again. We spend an evening of fun with friends, but then they all go home and we are lonely again. Our natural inclination is to think this means we just need more sleep or we just need to get to the weekend so we can fellowship with friends again. But the reality is that our hunger, exhaustion, and loneliness points us beyond the simple fix which will wear off again when the food is gone, when the day is done, and when our friends go home. To take the picture Jesus uses we see that we go to bed again, but eventually we will wear down and our bodies will give out. We see our friends again, but one day they will die and so will we.

It seems cruel and depressing, to think that the hunger always returns and then we die. The exhaustion always returns and then we die. The loneliness always returns and then we die. But here is the truth…

There is mercy in these things, because what they show us is that food, sleep, and friends can’t give us life. They are wonderful gifts, good things, even necessary, but they are terrible as ultimate things. They are good gifts but they make cruel masters, impotent gods, and empty goals.

Returning to John 6, this feeding of the 5,000 and the response of the bread-seeking crowds, is really a great picture of humanity. Everyone wants to fill their proverbial belly and they will serve whatever and whoever they think will do that.[4]We will serve, we will give our lives, to whatever we think will give us life – whatever will give us food, rest, and relationships.

But in the end, it was never bread, or sleep, or friends that we needed for life – it was for God to speak, for God to show us himself, because it is there that we would see what alone can satisfy and delight in a way that will never end and never fade. It is there alone we see and know unending life.

It is because of this that Jesus pled with the crowds looking for more bread, “Don’t work for the food that perishes, but for the food that lasts for eternal life.”[5]And what is this food, this bread that lasts forever – always satisfying and never running out? “I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them.“No one who comes to me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty again. — John 6:35 (CSB)

 Jesus, the ultimate Word from the Father[6], the one who reveals the glory of the Father[7], the one who is the eternal life[8], which in its essence is knowing God intimately[9], he stands and says, “I am what your hunger is all about! I am what your weariness and your loneliness is all about. It is all to point you to me! Bread can’t give you eternal life, but I can. Sleep can’t give you eternal rest, but I can. Friends can’t be with you forever, but I can give you eternal fellowship that even death cannot interrupt.”

I just ate lunch but in a few hours there will be a pit in my stomach, even now I am tired and prepared to warm up a cup of coffee to get me through the day, and in a few weeks I will get on a plane and experience the pain of loneliness as I jet away from my family for three weeks. But these sensations, if I will but see it, are mercies. They remind me that my soul was made to be satisfied by God, that my being was made to rest in his care, that I was made for uninterrupted friendship with my Creator.

The bread Jesus fed the crowds was never about Jesus’ ability to create bread, it was about Jesus being the bread. Bread is necessary, sleep is essential, friends are good, but all of these things point to greater realities. But we miss this constantly and this is because we have made these things ends in of themselves[10]. That is why we need to experience hunger, exhaustion, and loneliness, so that we can be awakened to hunger for God, restless till we find rest in him[11], to be brought to the place where we are able to stare death in the face and say, “To be with Christ is far better.”[12]

Let us listen to this merciful futility! And let us not live for what cannot satisfy. We must eat, we must sleep, we were made for community – but all of these things point to what is ultimate, to Christ who made God known and opened the way for us to be satisfied with his goodness, to have eternal rest in his Fatherly care, and to experience eternal fellowship in his presence. Without the cross the futility experienced in hunger, exhaustion, and loneliness would have no merciful function. The sane would simply be led to cynicism as they recognize the hamster-wheel of life that ends in death. But the cross changes everything. Because Jesus doesn’t just show us the God we were made for, he brings us to him. Our sin made a separation between us and the One we were made for, but Christ suffered for our sin – our sin of ultimately looking for life in what we crave – so that he could bring us to God. Jesus does not stand far of and cruelly show us what we need only to leave us in our deprivation. No. He uses this futility to awaken us, he shows us what we need -himself- and then he does everything that is necessary to be brought in where our soul’s hunger, exhaustion, and loneliness can be forever overcome.

So maybe when we get hungry today, maybe when we yawn, maybe when we wave good-bye, we will release a  sigh of satisfaction and praise God for the bittersweet mercies that direct us to our forever food, our unending rest, our ever-present Immanuel.

[1]John 6:48

[2]Genesis 3:19

[3]Genesis 5:29

[4]The prosperity preachers capitalize on this reality. Whereas Jesus fled across the lake from his bread-crazed constituency, prosperity preachers and corporations embrace the willingness of the masses to crown the dispensers of what their bellies crave.


[5]John 6:27

[6]John 1:1

[7]John 14:9

[8]1 John 1:2

[9]John 17:3

[10]Romans 1:25

[11]“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Confessions, St. Augustine

[12]Philippians 1:21-23

Church Membership & The Death Bed

Have you ever watched a show like America’s Got Talent or American Idol and grimaced when someone gets on stage who has no business being there? You watch as they face the embarrassment of being told on a national stage that they can’t sing and as the news breaks (with the family fuming backstage) the singer’s world comes crashing down in a moment. As you see this unfold time and time again, one is always left asking the question, “Why didn’t someone love them enough to tell them they couldn’t sing before it got to that point?”

I wouldn’t want to be outed as a phony on a national stage. To find out that I was delusional about my abilities. And yet, so many of us live our lives insulating ourselves from the reality about ourselves. Now whether or not you are a good singer is really irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but there are greater realities that we also avoid. Namely, spiritual realities about the standing of our soul before God and it is from these realities that we tend to hide. This is tragic, foolish, and it is dangerous. Because the truth that we see in Scripture is that every single man and woman will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ – as the writer of Hebrews says, “It is appointed for people to die once ​— ​and after this, judgment” (Heb. 9:27) Therefore, we should not wish to face that day, be it tomorrow or fifty years from now, on the basis of our own subjective assessment of our standing before the Judge

God has not designed for that to be the case – he has not designed for us to be independent of others, he has not designed us to base our sense of justification before him on self-assessment alone. Because we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we need others and we need others because of at least three realities that we see in Scripture.


The heart is deceitful – We all know the familiar words “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable ​— ​who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The story of the Bible is a case-study of humanity which proves the truth of those words. Our feelings are poor indicators of our standing before God. Our heart can condemn us when the truth is that we are justified. And our heart can justify us when the truth is that we are condemned. 

When pleading with his readers, Paul will make the appeal multiple times  “Do not be deceived”. In the case of the Corinthians, Paul saw their arrogance in relation to the fruit of their lives which was disconnected from their claim of faith in the gospel of Christ. He is concerned for them that they would be deceived and so he warns them and even instructs discipline in at least one case so that a so-called brother will not be deceived.

Satan is on the hunt – We have a real enemy who roams about seeking someone to devour. He is a liar, who loves to say “peace, peace” when there is no reason for peace or to incite fear when there is reason for assurance. Whatever his angle, his aim in all his devices is to “steal, kill, and destroy”. How do you combat this deadly liar? With truth. But when you combine his lies with our propensity toward deception, we understand that we need truth to comes at us from the outside, we need people who are “speaking the truth in love” on a regular basis, combatting the lies that would either cause crippling fear or deadly calm.

Endurance is necessary – Perseverance is the most profound mark of genuine faith. And the writer of Hebrews points out that even the most radical, most godly, most genuine of Christians should have a healthy sense of their need for endurance and they should understand the role that the local church plays in that endurance. He writes that we should not neglect to meet together, that we should exercise watchfulness over each other, that we should stir each other up to love and good works, especially in light of the day of judgment. Why? Because we need to endure. Baby Christians need endurance. Seasoned saints need endurance. And we should not expect to endure apart from the means of church membership that God has ordained.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on my deathbed with only my own subjective, self-assessment of the condition of my soul. Of course I claim faith in Christ, but is there evidence of a faith that works, a love that labors, and a hope in Jesus that endures? Are there others that I have invited into my life who then in my hour of greatest need can say, “Steve, I know you are loved by God because I have seen his grace in your life. There is no condemnation for you.”

Now God has in his wisdom designed a community that provides just that – the local church. And it is membership in the local church that is God’s mechanism by which he guards from deception, strengthens our sense of assurance, and helps us endure.

Obviously, not just any so-called “church membership” will do. It must be meaningful, it must have substance, it must be something that has authority behind it which can provide safety, direction, and assurance. To merely have your name on a list is of no use.

We need…

  • Clear boundary lines – a biblical understanding of conversion. That is, we need to be members of a church where a clear understanding of how someone becomes a Christian is taught and where this is the standard for affirming an individual and bringing them into the church.
  • The expectation of discipleship – a biblical understanding of the Christian’s calling to walk in a manner that makes sense with the gospel and to be conformed into the image of Jesus is essential to avoiding deception. Jesus’ sheep hear his voice and they follow him. We need membership where our commitment to each other is a commitment to provoke each other to love and good works.
  • The practice of discipline – a biblical understanding of congregational authority and responsibility to affirm, and if needed to revoke, a person’s profession of faith must be present. We need a membership that is devoted to loving watchfulness and that is ready to affirm or rebuke/remove a member on the basis of their ongoing response to the gospel and the clear commands of Scripture. Paul could not be more clear, it is not loving or merciful to continue to certify someone as a brother or sister in the faith while they refuse to submit to lordship of Jesus. Why? Because then we become enablers of their deception.

To be at a church that does not have these things could be harmful to your soul. Don’t go to a church where you can be a member in anonymity. You need to approach church membership with the commitment to know and to be known by your fellow members. Furthermore, if you go to a church where you do not know a pastor/elder on a personal level, you need to either pursue one of the elders of that church or find another church.

Life is short, eternity is long, our hearts are weak, and our enemy is real. Therefore, we need church membership, especially as we see “the day approaching”.

One day, when the heart monitor flatlines and the respirations cease and I cross into eternity, I don’t want to walk through that door on the basis of my own subjective sense. Whether in that moment I am tempted with false hope in my goodness or the terror of doubt because of my sin, I want brothers and sisters in my life who reminded me of the gospel, who rebuked my sin, and who encouraged the evidence of God’s grace in my life. People who will hold my hand and hand me off to Jesus.


Descending to Ascend – A Christmas Poem

Dead and defeated

Our souls were cast down

Trapped in Adam’s cycle

With curse in place of crown

Unable to rise above

All those that have gone before

It seems our quest is futile

We have already lost the war

Happy and content

Many seem to be

To remain in woeful ignorance

Of what was designed for me

To know the Holy Sovereign

This was humanity’s call

Living in his lasting love

From this we did fall

Weak and unable

To climb above the rest

No works that we can offer

Can give us what is best

But Christmas an exception

At this happy time of year

We remember how the wayward

To Him may draw near


He came with what we lacked

To offer pure hands

A blessed substitution

To fulfill the Law’s demands

He came to be forsaken

By the very world he built

To face our execution

To take away our guilt

He loved what we had hated

He spoke truth instead of lies

He lived for what matters

A perfect sacrifice

Dying and rising

Descending to ascend

His purpose to remove

What would Heaven offend

Down he came at Christmas

So we could rise above

He took our life and death

So we could know Eternal love

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