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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

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Christian Life

On Miracles….

In response to the question of why in many church contexts and at various points in church history we do not see many obvious miracles being performed ultimately it must be understood that God in his infinite wisdom gives miracles according to his good pleasure and he distributes gifts according to his grace which are then exercised to the extent of the faith granted. It is important to understand this first of all. Now in a natural sense we must examine if we are at fault. The lack of expectation for miracles cannot be linked entirely to scientific rationalism or modernity for the days of the reformers and the days even of Augustine and the church fathers are not know for large numbers of miracles. I think miracles have been something that have been misunderstood and not sought for because we have historically misunderstood their purpose and been led astray by them. Of course any good doctrines divorced from a Gospel hermeneutic are standing on dangerous ground, so we must not fear the doctrines, that of miracles in this place, but seek to understand their role in a cross-centered context. I believe that some of us in the realm of evangelical orthodoxy are on the verge of realizing with proper balance the role of miracles in the church today in such a way that we see and increased awareness of them, an increased prayer for them, and an increased working of true miracles in an orthodox context all with a Christo-centric, God-exalting, Gospel-propogating end in mind.

Tough Love That Can’t Be Outwitted

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11 ESV)

  Tough love is something that we have all experienced at some point of our lives and usually from those that love us most, like our families. We accept this as a normal part of family life and see it even as a refining virtue. The Scriptures are clear that this should be no different in the life of the church. People have a tendency, despite their natural family experiences with genuine tough love, to recoil at the thought of tough love in the church. In the sphere of ecclesiology this tough love in the church is called “Church Discipline”. Despite how ominous that sounds and how unpopular the idea is in the modern church, church discipline is a merciful form of tough love if carried out in a biblical manner.

The Church is also known as the “bride of Christ” and God is at work sanctifying that bride to make for himself a bride without spot or wrinkle (Eph 5:27-29). It is important that the church, as Christ’s representatives on earth, be growing in grace and Christ-likeness. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he warns the church about the one in their midst who was sexually immoral and was unrepentant. He warns them that a “little leaven leavens the whole lump” (I Cor 5:6). The body of Christ, His church, is a made up of many members that are all joined together (1 Cor 12). I believe it is not inappropriate to use this analogy to say that if I stub my toe the whole of my body reacts! In a local congregation there is no such thing as sin that only affects the individual. We see this lesson taught in the Old Testament when the sin of one or a few put the whole of Israel in danger (ie. Joshua 7, Ezra 9, etc). The practice of removing from fellowship a “so called brother (or sister)” living in unrepentant sin, which we call church discipline, is a form of tough love that must be in a church if that church is supposed to be healthy, biblical, and faithful to its calling as Christ’s bride and his representative body on earth.
In II Corinthians Paul find himself at the tail end of an episode of tough love that he likely oversaw from a distance. With a grief laden heart he explains in the beginning of chapter two why he delayed his coming to visit them. It was Paul’s wish that in coming to them he would be able to impart “a second experience of grace” (1:15, likely a second chance to give to give to the famished Jerusalem believers) and it was his desire that “his joy would be the joy of them all” but this was to be impossible if matters of discipline were unresolved for then he would come and have no reason to be glad on the account of the one to whom he had caused pain by means of discipline (2:2-3).

Before Paul can come to the church it is his desire that they have this matter in order. It is often debated as to whether this individual being disciplined is the fellow guilty of sexual immorality in I Corinthians 5 or if this is an individual who was stirring up rebellion against Paul. Either way the result here is what they had hoped for, the individual has repented, this is the goal of church discipline. This individual was put out by the church, under the direction of Paul (assuming this is the continuation of the I Cor 5 episode) “to deliver [him] over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (I Corinthians  5:5). The man has suffered enough in Paul’s estimation (2:6) and his repentance has proved genuine (II Cor. 7:5-13). However the danger for the church in this situation is not over yet! The pain and sorrow caused by this individual has been far-reaching. The leaven has had its swelling effect and the searing pain of a limb severed is still keen. Now we will look at the heart of our text, Paul’s plea for loving and victorious restoration of the offender.

A Wounded Body
The pain that was caused by the discipline of this individual was not a pain felt only by Paul, but by the entire church. Church discipline should never be a joyous occasion, but one of tender grief and loving jealousy for the name and reputation of the bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Paul is an example of the posture of a leader who understands the gravity of the situation. In 2:4 Paul exclaims that he wrote to Corinth “out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause [them] more pain but to let [them] know the abundant love that [he had] for [them]“. With this in mind Paul acknowledges that he is not the only one that has been pained by this ordeal, but that this individual who had sinned had caused pain to the entire church.
It is important for Paul to recognize this. Anyone that has experienced church or family life shattered by sin knows the pain and even bitterness that can be caused by it. By recognizing that the entire church has been pained he is then able to admonish them with credibility as to their further action. Paul speaks as one who is not distant emotionally but one who has shared in their sorrow. Paul knows that this time for the church is crucial for its health and we will examine this closely but first we look at what Paul requires of the church in relation to the disciplined individual.

Restoration
The church in Corinth sits on a sort of precipice with this repentant brother. He has borne the discipline and has clearly repented. The church has been hurt and wounded. Perhaps there are a few who didn’t desire the discipline, but we know that it was done by the agreement of the majority (2:6) and it is possible that more than a few did not wish to restore this man who might only disappoint them again or be a constant reminder of the pain that was wrought. Into this atmosphere Paul “begs” the church to reaffirm their love for this brother. After identifying with their grief he orders that they should “turn to forgive and comfort him” stating that the “punishment by the majority is enough“. The purpose of the discipline had been reached now it was crucial that the church move on to fully restore this brother in love. Paul was in blood earnest in this, for he knew that for the church to fail to obey his direction would lead to a serious blow by the enemy both in the life of the church and the certainly in the life of the one seeking to be restored. Disobedience to Paul’s direction would have led to a victory for the enemy on at least two fronts:

(1) Overwhelming Sorrow
The goal of church discipline is that the flesh may be destroyed by Satan in order that the soul may be saved. In this act we see God’s sovereignty at work over Satan to purify the church. Satan walks about the church, seeking whom he may devour and when one is removed from the protective fellowship of the church, whether by removing himself or by being put out in church discipline, Satan is ready to pounce. Now it is impossible for those that are among the elect to be entirely devoured (Rom 8:38-39) but Satan is cunning and his desire is to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). Paul is concerned that the church, by not receiving this man back into the protective fellowship of the church gathered, would cause him to despair (2:7). Such despair is dangerous.

Paul realized that the enemy would love to see this man be driven to despair and utterly destroyed and rendered useless rather than being made whole. This situation was ripe for Satan to exploit. It is possible that the indignation of some could have led them to believe that they were right in not receiving the offender back into the fellowship. The longer they tarried in forgiving and comforting the offender, the longer he was left outside to be afflicted and ravaged in mind and spirit by the enemy. The result of this would have been tragic for the man put out of the church and a weakening of the Corinthian church’s Gospel foundation….

(2) Unforgiveness
Jesus taught clearly that the mark of one that is forgiven is that he forgives (Matt 6:14-15). Mercy is foundational in the life of one who has received mercy (Matt 5:7). John Piper once said (paraphrase) that “one who does not show mercy should have no expectation that he himself is a recipient of God’s mercy”. Yet a very real mark of a person(s) that has been wounded is the difficulty to show mercy. As Paul tells them to “turn to forgive and comfort him” he knew that a proper understanding of the Gospel was as stake here in the matter of forgiveness.

Satan would have loved for the church in self-righteousness to hold this man at arm’s length, not forgive him (and feel they were just in doing so) and thus see him consumed.

Amidst the pain and sorrow the danger of this was real. Paul takes the first step in forgiving this man from a distance, just as he had judged him from a distance (I Cor. 5), saying “Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything has been for your sake in the presence of Christ,…” Paul knows that in this situation it is not only the life of the individual who needs forgiving that is at stake but the life of the entire church! For he goes on to say that he did this “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his devices”. Paul, who had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees and a persecutor of the church, knew all too well how Satan will exploit a perceived rightness. In fact in his testimony Paul testifies that he was “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless“(Phil 3:6) yet utterly without mercy.
By not forgiving, by not showing compassion to one who had repented, the church would have forgotten in their hearts the center of the Gospel, which is that is that a holy God saves sinners. The Son of God was despised, rejected, forsaken, spit-on, beaten, and finally slaughtered in order that he might save his enemies. Satan would relish that we forget this in the church, not only so that he may devour the ones put out of the church but so that he may watch as those within the fellowship of the church devour each other.

Conclusion
All of our perceived righteousness and all of our propensity to harbor bitterness when hurt must be left at the foot at the cross. The church is a community of sinners saved by grace being changed from one degree of glory to the next. As the church we must never lose our zeal for the reputation of our God and Savior and we must never cease from our pursuit of personal and corporate purity, but we also must never cease being a people who are desperately aware of how much we need the Gospel each and every moment.
Paul knew that almost any command can be abused and church discipline is one of those commands. Most churches have discarded this biblical practice because of its harsh nature and sadly because it has been often abused throughout church history. However, the potential of abuse did not stop Paul from practicing church discipline and it shouldn’t stop us either. In order for us to discipline rightly we must understand that mercy is at the foundation of church discipline.

Just as tough love is found in the life of every healthy family so also it will be found in every healthy church. What determines if that tough love is in fact healthy and truly loving lies in how the church responds to the call to restore the offender who repents. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to test them and see if they were “obedient in everything” (2:9) this included forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an option for us, no matter how deeply we have been hurt by the sins of others. Satan would love to convince us that we have a right to be bitter or to withdraw, pout, and lick our wounds. It is not that our wounds are not real, even Paul was afflicted in his soul as a result of the situation he faced at Corinth, but we must understand those emotional wounds in light of the thorn pierced brow, the nail scared hands, and shredded back of Christ.

Keep the Gospel fresh in your heart and mind, “Pursue holiness without which no man shall see the Lord,”Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”,and you will not be outwitted by Satan. (Heb12:14, Eph 4:32)

 

My Feeble Exegesis: II Corinthians 1:12-24,2:1-4

His Unchanging Plans & Purposes

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge— just as you did partially acknowledge us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:12-24 ESV)

   Have you ever had a situation where someone said that they were going to do something with you, only for them to bail or delay at the last moment? I am sure you have and maybe for you this is not a big deal. It is for me. I struggle with having grace for people who are regularly late or backing out on what they say they are going to do. I have often viewed being late or constant changing of plans as vacillation at best with perhaps a tinge of dishonesty. It would seem in the passage that we are faced with today that there were some in Corinth that felt or would feel this way towards Paul as they received this second letter from him.
To understand these feelings it is important to have some background of Paul’s plans in regards to the Corinthians. At the close of his somewhat less than pleasant at times first letter that he wrote to the church in Corinth, he puts forth his desire for his future journey, in 16:5-7 “I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go . For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits”. I highlight this last part because I will refer to it later. But the point now is that the Corinthians fully expected this visit from Paul, but instead they receive another parchment and the situation was only made worse by the fact that Paul had his share of detractors in Corinth, it would seem, as he spends much time in II Corinthians defending his apostleship.
We see that Paul knew that some were accusing him of vacillating or being inconsistent and they were likely using this to only strengthen their stiff arm of him, holding him and his teaching to some extent at arms length. However, rather than addressing this directly after the greeting, Paul waits and builds because he wants them to know a thing or two before he brings it up. We see this by the “for” and “because” that follow verse 11. He is building up to his defense, which is not ultimately a defense of himself, but of the message that he preached.
With an interesting connection to his stated purpose for coming in 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul tells them, in his obvious absence, that they should help them “by prayer”. Knowing myself, I can only imagine that at this point the detractors and critics of Paul’s authenticity and sincerity were thinking “Why should we do that? Why should we trust the “apostle” on the other side of this letter so much that we would labor in prayer that God would bless him and Silvanus and Timothy… if that is even their names! Get real!” At this point Paul inserts a “For” into the passage where he proceeds to give evidence to what he knows they will at least partially acknowledge about him and his companions, that is their conduct towards them. Paul’s boast, or “confidence” as the Holman Bible puts it, is that they have a clear conscience in regards to their conduct. Paul’s defense is that they “behaved in the World with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely (especially) so towards (the Corinthian church).” Paul’s desire is that the Corinthian believers would stop and take stock of these claims and come to admit fully that they are indeed true in order that they may have mutual boasting on the day of the Lord Jesus, that is that would be able to both affirm and rejoice in these evidences of God’s grace in each other in eternity.
Paul has a clear purpose in directing them to reflect on his “purity and God-given sincerity” and the fact that they had always operated not in “fleshly wisdom, but by God’s grace”(HCSB). With his testimony of a clear conscience laid before them, along with his confidence that they will acknowledge these things to be true, he tells them what his purpose for wanting to come to them was in the first place. He says “I wanted to come to you first so that you might have a second experience of grace”. Now there has been some debate on what is meant by this “second experience of grace”. I will not join that debate at this time, but simply defer to the way the Holman Christian Standard Bible translates this, which is that Paul wished for them a “double-benefit” by his coming to them. Whatever this benefit or grace was, it was meant for the good and joy of the church. It is important to note two things at this point: The purpose of Paul’s plan in coming to them was they they would receive a benefit and Paul’s testimony of having purity and sincerity towards them at all times, not operating in his wisdom but in God’s grace.
Now Paul brings up the “elephant in the room”, which was the fact that he said in his last letter that he planned to come to them and now he had changed his plans. This seeming deviation threatened to tarnish his credibility, which is why he gives the testimony of his conscience, and not his only but of his companions as well, before addressing the issue. He ask what some of them already were thinking “Was I vacillating (being inconsistent) when I wanted to do this (come to them first)?” Now he connects this to his former testimony which he is certain the would concure with by asking “Do I make plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “no, no” at the same time?” He has already testified that he and his companions had always operated toward them by God’s grace and not with worldly wisdom.
I find it interesting that at this point he does not simply end it all by directly invoking the sovereignty of God, which he could have done, for we have already seen in the last letter that he conditioned all of his plans with the words “if the Lord permits”. He could have rightly stated that the Lord simply did not permit it, end of story. God had done this before in the book of Acts, that is halted them from entering certain places in which they intended to go.This is however, not the argument that the inspired Apostle takes, not directly. Instead, he appeals to the steadfast faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ, how that all of the promises of God are “yes” in Him. Paul was very careful here that this perceived inconsistency would not cause them to suppose any such inconsistency in their message which they had proclaimed. We see here the jeoulosy of Paul for the message that he preached. Paul has already made his defense for himself, Timothy, and Silvanus, but now  he wants it to be supremely clear that there is no inconsistency in Christ, that in fact not only are all of the promises of God “yes” in Christ, but he also has sealed them together and established them with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that God will make good on all of his promises.
Paul’s argument is this: “we have not planned according to the flesh but according to God’s grace. So though it seems to you that we are inconsistant in changing our plans, it was not, for we have walked in God-given sincerity towards you in the grace of God, such that our word to you is a “yes” and an “Amen to God for his glory”.” So how was this change of plans a “Yes”? How was it in agreement with what they had determined to do? To understand this we must remember what Paul said their purpose was in coming to them. It was not to “shoot the wind”, to drink some iced tea and talk some circus maximus with a little systematic theology thrown in, but in order that the church in Corinth might receive a “double benefit”. The “Yes” was behind this purpose in coming to them, a purpose which still held true.
The problem then was not that Paul and his compadres were vacillating, but that as we see starting in verse 23, they would have been unable to fulfill their purpose in coming if they had done so when they originally determined to. Paul says that “…it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith (have control of), but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.” There were apparently still unresolved issues in regards to the sin that was addressed in the first letter to Corinth and if Paul had come when he intended he would not have been able to bestow the blessing that he wished on them. The opposite would have been the case for he would have needed to bring something that would only cause pain. Thus it was neccesary for Paul to write this letter instead, in order that the church would be able to put things in order so that when Paul came he would be able to come with the intent and purpose for which he planned to come. For he says “I wrote this very thing so that when I came I wouldn’t have pain from those who ought to cause me joy, because I am confident about all of you that my joy may be yours” 2:3 (HCSB).
So we see that though Paul’s plans changed, his purpose never did. In fact, it could have been vacillation if he had come according to plan but changed the reason for his visit upon arriving. Thus, this is in keeping with God who always works out his purposes, even in the midst of circumstances that seem suspect to us. When our lives don’t go according to plan, we can always trust that the purposes of God are fixed and true and that in Christ his promises toward us are always “Yes” and he will do what he must according to the council of his will to bring those promises/purposes about for us. We have the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee of this.
We should find great comfort then from this passage in our everyday lives, that we serve a God who is not inconsistent. Even if suffering and hardship befall us today in such a way that makes the promises of God look inconsistent, we can be certain that his word is good and does not change. Even when what we plan does not work out, His plans are never frustrated. To the eyes of the Corinthians this change in plans seemed like a deviation it what was promised when in fact it was in keeping with the end goal/purpose of the plan. It would appear that Paul was zig-zagging on his path to fulfill his plans for them and we view life this way often. It is then that we must remember that what we see as a path that zigs and zags, is actually a straight line in the eyes of our Sovereign God who is ever at work for the good of His children. Read the Old Testament with this in mind sometime. Amidst God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Issac, amidst Joseph being sold into slavery, amidst God’s people wandering in the desert, amidst invasions and exiles, amidst a Messiah’s birth in a stable and a flight to Egypt, it would seem in the moment there was inconsitency, deviation from a promise, a covenant. But there was no deviation nor will there ever be. All of the promises of God have found and will continue to find their “Yes” in Christ. May we trust him and never doubt that he fulfills all of his purposes towards us according to his inscrutable plan.

                                          “…acccording to the purpose of Him who works all

                                            things according to the counsel of His will” Eph 1:11

The Potency of a Thought

For all of the fallacies that were in the hit film Inception (2010) I was struck by something that was the main premise of the movie and where the title came from, which was the idea that in the science-fiction world the film presented that if thoughts could be extracted from someone’s mind that perhaps a thought, a simple thought which would lead to a chain of actions, could also be placed with subtlety into a person’s mind; a simple thought or impression that would change the course of a person in their decision making process. I was struck with how true this is, how a person can have such simple thoughts put in them that over time they deviate in their perception of truth and thus their conduct from day-to-day.
This has been seen to happen throughout history, seemingly innocent fallacies and exploratory mind-sets that set the course of civilizations. The Enlightenment period of history began, without committing blatant blasphemy, to exalt man, giving us among other things an idea of inherent rights of divine origin that mankind has. This idea seemed innocent enough and was embraced by much of Christendom, but the problem is that the road such a thought led down did not lead to a cross-centered, Gospel-oriented way of thinking and reasoning over time but to subjectivity, humanism, and arrogant exaltation of the rights of man (namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness/property) over a sovereign God who has so mercifully worked redemption for men that according to their nature had sold their rights for a piece of bread and retained no rights except to rightfully perish. It is no small wonder that the root of secular humanism is in a thought, the mere tweaking of perspective.
That is why we leaders, whether in the church or at home, should with humble reliance on God’s grace seek to be free from all thinking that is not rooted in Gospel. I have heard many messages from many pulpits over my few years, some of them have held obvious error, very few of them were rock-solid Gospel truth, and a great many of them had a little something in them that was not rooted in Bible. I think that the later often came from preachers who were very well-meaning, but just not very careful. Here are some observations of why and how this may be happening:

1. The one speaking, whether in a small group or before a large congregation, means well and is well grounded in truth. In preparing for the message he hears a quote or comes up with an observation or anecdote that in his mind packages the truth quite well. The problem is that though where he is coming from with this thought may be clear to his well-grounded and mature hearers, it may be something that someone who is shaky in doctrine or a baby in the faith will hear and run with in a different direction than the speaker intended. Fathers should also consider this when leading family devotions as to which books they should use or what curriculum their children should be exposed to.

2. Another issue is perhaps when by the fear man, and this can often occur in cross-cultural, pioneer church planting, one will be tempted to articulate or avoid Biblical truth in such a way that will not offend, rather than in such a way as to make it most clear. This is wrong for many reasons and most who have been involved in the work mentioned above have probably been guilty of this at some point. The long-term result, if you are even succesful in planting a church, will be an eventual breakdown in the doctrine of the church.

3. One of the worst scenarios is that the teacher, with sin in his own life that he is seeking to justify, may decide (perhaps unwittingly) to tweak the paradigm behind a teaching and then feed that to his flock as a way of easing his own conscience as he sees the nodding heads of relieved audience members and they then will walk away feeling like, “Here is what that passage says, but Pastor —- says…. Isn’t that comforting that our Jesus is like that?” One of the biggest warning signs that we as teachers may be doing this with a passage is if we find ourselves inserting into one of our sermons a line like “…now I am not saying that it is wrong to….” or “God doesn’t expect you all to go out and….”

4. Many of us need simply a good dose of the Gospel and careful study of God’s word to combat the influences of the world. Much teaching goes awry simply as a result of the “inception” of thoughts contrary to God’s objective truth that have been planted in our minds over the years (via errant teaching, friends, education, entertainment, etc). Our struggle as leaders in this world is to be constantly combating lies.

A thought is a potent thing and most often it is a subtle thing because usually a cocktail of thoughts produces a perception, a worldview. If one of those thoughts is contrary to real, objective truth then it produces a weak link in our thinking process. No one is immune to this and at this moment every one of us has a number of weak links in our chain of reason, but this should not lead us to the subjective, fatalistic mind-set that “Well, no one has it all together” or “No one has perfect theology”. This is a dangerous thought in of itself! Instead, knowing that as fallen people that we have weak links, we should with great humility and vigor approach God’s word and seek a life of combating lies with truth, For, as potent and powerful as a false thought is (partial truth is false) truth is even more powerful for the Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth.

The bulk of this has been addressed to those that teach on some level, but sadly there a not many faithful teachers, though many mean well. The implication of this for the rest of us as hearers is that we learn to be careful, God-centered, truth-saturated hearers. The Bereans in Acts were such and we should aspire to be as they were, ever studying the Word to see if what is being taught is true. Glorify God in your hearing by seeking out faithful, truthful teachers for yourselves and not ones who will “tickle your ears”. Here are a couple of pitfalls for hearers:

1. How often I have heard a preacher say something that sounded good and seemed true, but the wording and reason behind it if followed did not lead to truth or agreement with the whole council of God’s word. I have often latched onto things like this, only to discard them by God’s grace at a later date.

2. Emotions. A sticky one that is tied to the first. We will believe something to be true because it resonates with our heart and feels right or we will interpret what we are hearing based on our emotional inclinations. A huge pitfall that will lead to the ruin of many. Our passions and emotions are poor discerners of truth. We should use Scripture to teach us what is true about what we are feeling or in spite of what we are feeling and not our use feelings to verify what is true. When we ride the wave of emotion we often fail to see the rocks and reefs lying beneath the foamy surf waiting to dash us to pieces.

3. The last of many warnings that could be written is the call to not harden your heart by grasping for words and teachings that will authorize the false peace that you are speaking into your heart in the midst of unrepentant sin.

4. All of this has so far been in the context of teaching and preaching but it should be noted that some of the most potent thoughts that are placed in our mind are placed there by sources outside the church which eventually leak inside. One primary avenue is entertainment. Through entertainment we are presented with a myriad of thoughts that run contrary to sound doctrine and we eventually find ourselves desensitized to these ideas. Beware of what you watch and read and what you allow your family to watch and read. It is not maturity to say “I am mature so I can discern what in this film should be discarded from my mind” for a truly mature person recognizes his fallen tendency to gravitate towards lies and with sober vigilance recognizes and rejects untruth. Flee dangerous thoughts, exposing them for what they are before they become rooted in your mind and lead to a course of action that ends in ruin.

Pastors, take care. Fathers, take care. Children of God, take care. Satan would wish to perform “inception” on you. To place a thought, however small, in a man’s mind is a powerful thing that shapes civilizations! It is not very often that we will overnight decide to deny the deity of Christ, reject total depravity, deny the exclusivity of the Gospel, etc, but with the right thought we might down the road and if not us then our posterity will. The Enemy can be very show great patience about these things, subtlety is after all one of his primary attributes.

There is much more that could be said, but I would like to close on a positive note. We can do war against the untruth that has bled its way into our hearts. By the grace of God, the light of His word, and the help of the Holy Spirit we can begin to replace the weak links in our chain of reasoning with unbreakable links forged of the unchanging, inerrant, and authoritative Word of God Almighty. Our God is faithful to keep his elect in the truth, so with that knowledge we should fill ourselves with the truth, knowing that he will root it in us. We can praise God that as the years come and go and lies arise and perceptions decay, that we have a sure standard of truth that we can always look to. If you look to God’s word and see where you have been in error, humble yourself, repent and return to the truth.

Resolved ~ Reflections on The Life & Writings of Jonathan Edwards

Heavenly Reality

    In an earlier post I wrote about the upbringing that Edwards had in the harsh environment of colonial New England that placed in him a firm grasp on reality; a reality in which heaven and hell are very real and very close at hand. As he grew to adore Christ and came to be captivated with God’s glory he also grew very fond of heaven and meditating deeply on its splendor. For him it was not fantastical, but very real and very near.  Others have done a much better job of applying and expounding on Edward’s thoughts on the eternal that I will not presume to add anything or offer a commentary of his writings, but only to share how my heart was stirred and continues to be stirred by this heavenward concentration of thought.

    As I have considered my own weakness and sin I have noticed that at my most selfish point, my most prideful moment, I am not living in the reality of a kingdom that I have never seen, but in a kingdom of my own making that is like a flimsy façade on a film set. This version of reality that I often fabricate looks pretty real to me and the special effects may even stun those looking on in the  theatre of life, but those thrilling special effects are only a strong wind or flame away from revealing what they are; real only to the extent that they are made of matter and can be touched, but they disappoint because that exterior represents a false sense of what is.  We are very familiar with the words of the preacher of Ecclesiastes who declares “Absolute futility. Everything is futile” Eccl 1:2(HCSB). In fact the apostle Paul declares that since the fall “creation was subjected to futility” Rom 8:20. For us in Christ we need not be fatalists about this, but cling to the rest of Romans 8:20 which says that creation was subjected to futility “… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption….”  It will finally be set free in full one day and we must be aware of our default gravitation to futile and vain things and look to the reality that is ahead….

   We are daily in danger of believing what we can taste, touch and feel rather believing the promises of a good and trustworthy God.  The old saying that one can be “so heavenly minded he is no earthly good” is satanic and untrue. To be heavenly minded is not to be disconnected from reality here on earth, but to understand truly what is and what will be. If we have our gaze focused on heaven we will not waste time here, but the opposite. Now it is possible to have a wrong view of heaven; a pop culture “better place” view that is absent of what heaven is all about, which is Christ. I am speaking of believing in going and seeing Christ face-to-face and beholding with no barrier the radiance of his beautiful face! I fear I would have to write for many days to scratch the surface of how grasping the reality of that moment for the saved and how believing in it will change our lives! If only we would think on and yearn for what is waiting for us we would agree with Paul that “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Paul did not use this as an excuse to lock himself in a cloister and wait for death or the trumpet sound but he says “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” Philippians 1:23-24 . Rooting ourselves in the reality that after we have run the race hard Jesus will wipe the tears from our eyes makes us fearlessly bold! There is no such thing as burnout for the one that has counted the heavenly as realest of realities.

  Paul knew that a crucial element to our endurance and our war with the flesh was to be fixed on what is above. Colossians 3:1-2 says “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not things that are on the earth.” He also encourages in the epistle to Titus obedience fueled by setting hope in what is to come! In his greeting “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began….” And after a long string of instructions for the church he declares that they should “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions… waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,…” And again he says that we have become “heirs according to the hope of eternal life”. Our holiness and the degree to which we view heaven as real coincide. There are many factors to this, I understand, but I believe this one is huge, because it is in the Bible and it has been very real in my life.

  I could go on and I hope to God that I will be able to take this further. I fear in my own heart I have often viewed Heaven, eternity, as being about as real as Tolkien’s Middle Earth; we are moved by it, even in awe of it, but it’s not real. We go through life, expecting to get to heaven one day, but the way we live says that we really think that we will just die like a dog. Heaven is so real! What is eternal is real! So much of what we see here that we think is real is just our finite mind and futile heart fooling us! I don’t want to be fooled! Jesus said that he went to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:3) and he prayed to the Father that we may be with him and behold his glory (Jn 17:24). I want to see his glory! I want to gaze on the beautiful face of the one who saved me! I want to worship him as I stare face-to-face without the fetters of sin and self! And I will! By his grace I will! Now I must go and I must work and I must give every ounce of what I am because that day will come soon when I will eternally rest! Rest to labor no more for millions and billions and trillions of ages! I know this is a lot of exclamation marks but I don’t know how else to plead! Jonathan Edwards knew that heaven was real and he lived a life dedicated to the glory and majesty of God. God grant us grace to be people that watch the sky, people that long for true reality, people that  live for a kingdom that they have never seen…. May our lives bear evidences of what is real and to come….

“These all died in faith, not having received the things

Promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged

That they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people

Who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had

Been thinking of that land from which they had gone out,

They would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better

Country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called

Their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

Hebrews 11:13-16

My Feeble Exegesis: II Corinthians 1:11

Petition That Aims At Praise

II Corinthians 1:11

“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our

Behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many”.

  Paul explains in the verses prior to this that they (Paul & Timothy) endure deadly peril based on the hope which they have that they will ultimately be delivered in the resurrection, for they relied not on themselves “but on God who raises the dead”. Then in verse eleven Paul allows the church to participate in their endurance by entreating, even commanding them, to help them by prayer. I could use this as a chance to write about the corporate role of the church in the perseverance of the individual saint, but instead I would like to inspect what this passage speaks about prayer.

As there seems to be three successive parts to the idea set forth in verse 11, I would like to inspect them in the order that they appear.

  •     1.  “You also must help us by prayer….” With this simple command Paul speaks to the power of prayer in respect to their ministry and endurance. Paul set the example for this time and again as he lifted up the saints with whom he interacted. Take for a couple of examples, Colossians 1:9 “…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,….”, 1 Thessalonians 1:2 “We give thanks to God for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers….”. Paul believed that the prayers of the church in Corinth would help them and bless them in their ministry. He is not relying on the people or the prayers themselves for his hope and supply of strength but is testifying that God is trustworthy in such a way that if they would pray God would act in the granting of a blessing. He is pointing them to his supply for endurance and entreating them to believe that God is that good Father that Jesus Christ testified of, one who does not grow weary like an unrighteous judge, but will “give justice speedily” “to his elect who cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:7). Paul gives no “maybe” or “perhaps” in this passage, but displays unwavering confidence in a God who answers the prayers of his children.  One might say to never underestimate prayer but I believe it would be better to say to never underestimate the God who hears the prayer. Be diligent to pray for your brothers and sisters and especially your leaders as they will give an account for your souls and are often assailed in their labor for the Gospel. Be active in the endurance of each other, O Church! Help by prayer to the One who is the source of all help. Trust in his faithfulness and believe his word.
  •    2.  “…so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us….” It is interesting that Paul expects that the ultimate result of the help by prayer will be thanksgiving toward God. This displays the God-exalting and God-dependent mind that Paul had when writing this passage under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The end of our prayers in not the blessing, which would seem to be the end, but the praise of God. One would think that when you make a request to God it is like when you order something and then receive it a week later in the mail. In that example the receiving of the item is the end, but this is not what Paul has in mind. Paul wants to be helped in order that God would be praised through thanksgiving! We find here an amazing truth about how we go about prayers of supplication and intercession in regards to the posture of our heart when we consider what the end goal of that prayer is. As we search our motives we should always check to see that our prayers of petition, supplication, and intercession flow from the desire that God would be worshiped in thanksgiving.
  •    3. “…the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” It is Paul’s desire that this should be a corporate exercise in prayer. If the prayers of many leads to praise and thanksgiving for blessings granted, then no one person will be able to rob an ounce of glory from the Supplier of the blessing who hears their prayers. This is not to diminish the role of individual prayer, but to remind us that our time in the closet of prayer are being collected in bowls like incense (Rev 5:8) to be poured out before the throne and that we may not be alone in our petitions and thus should not take any credit. Many pray and many gives thanks so that the only one who receives praise is the Father who hears and pours out his blessing.

I hope that this verse can help us to pray with confidence for others, believing that our Father hears and acts according to his will which is ever for the good of his elect and that we would pray in order that God may be praised and thanked and that we would never seek our own praise and thanks as we labor on our knees but declare, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory…” Psalm 115:1  

Resolved ~ Salvation: Beholding the Glory of God in Christ

Reflections on the Life & Writings of Edwards

  In reading the thoughts that transpired in Edwards’ heart and mind as he was converted as a young adult I find myself pleased with the confirmation of what I have experienced, what others have testified to, and what God’s word teaches about what happens to us when we are truly born again. Mainly, that when someone is truly saved by the grace of Christ there is a common and necessary shift that occurs that impacts us on a spiritual and intellectual level. Those that have truly perceived the nature of their salvation have become aware of certain and distinct glories of God that are hidden from those that are perishing and are yet in the dominion of darkness with a veil imposed by Satan and a futile, darkened nature inherited from Adam.

   What I am speaking of is not an instant apprehension of all spiritual mysteries or any sort of immediate perfection, but of an immediate exaltation in the heart and mind of God and his Gospel. This is a posture of the soul towards God that is present in the elect, those for whom Christ pled to the Father “that they may behold my glory”, from the moment of new birth. In fact, unless this fundamental shift, awakening, or enlightening occurs no one may be saved. From the dawning of the first morning of the “new creation” there is a continual growing and forming but it all stems from the event in which the Creator declared “Let there be light”. Thus the creation of the universe by the Almighty stands as an allegory of the Gospel.

   If person has not been enlightened or made alive in Christ yet he claims to be a Christian he will in two fashions approach the Gospel. The one will see the Gospel and the obedience that God expects of his children and he will work very hard to fulfill the demands of the law and thus have the appearance of one who has been sanctified. He will accept these acts of human sovereignty and will-power as a proof of his right standing and will speak false peace into his darkened heart while disbelieving the state of his soul and the nature of the Gospel. The other is perhaps more dangerous and the most prevalent in this day. This one will see the call to only believe, to say a prayer, to go to church and thus know he is saved. There is no vexation in his soul over his sin for all is of grace in his mind and he believes that God accepts who he is. After all (I speak facetiously) he has said a prayer and now God must save him. His view of God is low, perhaps even blasphemously so, and he believes that the center of the Gospel is himself. Both have read the Word and both have come to darkened conclusions of what is being said.

    The shift that occurs when one goes from darkness to light, from death to life is one that occurs when God looks into the inky void of a darkened, lifeless heart and says, “Let there be light!” (II Cor 4:6). As light breaks into the darkness and a young, tender creation begins he is unable to make any boast in his own effort or intelligence. Now the question is of what does this burst of light and this new breath make the child of God aware? What shift occurs that allows someone to come to faith in Christ and to be sanctified, that is conformed into the image of Christ? II Corinthians 4:6 teaches us that what we are made to see is the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. It is in considering this that we find the distinction between those that are dead and those that have been made alive. So now we will consider with the help of Edwards’ testimony what happens when we behold “the glory of God in the face of Christ”.

1.    Beholding the Glory of God in Christ makes us aware of our sin and depravity

   Many assume the Gospel and are never saved because they never come to a place where they weep like Peter or plead like the Philippian jailer “what must I do to be saved?” Many a so-called saint cannot identify with the great Apostle Paul when he declares “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” If we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ the result is the same as Isaiah who when God displayed his glory to him in the temple he declared “Woe is me! For I am lost!”. Isaiah did not need a seminary lecture on depravity to become devastatingly aware of his sinfulness; he only needed to get a glimpse of the glory of God. Those that have had their eyes opened have beheld the glory of God by the Holy Spirit through the word of Christ.

2.    Beholding the Glory of God in Christ causes us to see magnitude of God’s mercy in Christ to satisfy his just wrath towards us

   The same aspect of having our eyes opened that causes us to see our depravity causes us to begin to comprehend the magnitude of God’s mercy. I say “begin” because we see through a glass darkly now and only in eternity when we behold perfectly God’s glory will we understand the incalculable magnitude of what God accomplished in the cross. As we are made to sense the majesty and holiness of God and to behold it in the narrative of Scripture we come full circle to the cross. This is where we behold the “Gospel of the glory of Christ”. We see at this time the graciousness of our adoption and election which was “to the praise of his (Christ’s) glorious grace” (Eph 1:6). In this we avoid presuming upon God’s grace but learn to live in humble amazement of God’s mercy towards us.

3.    Beholding the Glory of God in Christ is the means of our sanctification

   As we behold the glory of God we begin to reflect that glory from one degree of glory to the next (II Cor 3:18). It is by this that sanctification is realized in our lives without descending into the Christ-belittling swamp of legalism and dead works. It is impossible not to persevere in holiness once one has been enlightened. In fact the effect of this beholding is of such magnitude that if one were to turn away in a final state of apostasy once being enlightened it would be impossible to again turn that person to repentance so reprobate they would have to be (Heb 6:4).

   Finally, our sanctification is part of our glorification. Romans teaches us that those whom God called “he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” Rom 8:30. Our sanctification is part of our glorification, because God alone is glorious then we must become like him. The apex of our glorification will be when we see Christ for “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”(1 John 3:2). This becoming like Christ starts now as we reflect what we behold of him in the Gospel and it will be complete when we behold him fully after the resurrection. We are being sanctified by degrees as we behold with unveiled face the glory of God in the Gospel (II Cor 3:18).

  The next aspect of beholding the glory of God in Christ is also part of our glorification via sanctification. Christ declared that the road is narrow and so sanctification would be joyless were it not for this next aspect which is that….

4.    Beholding the Glory of God in Christ makes us see Christ as more beautiful and valuable than anything in this life

    This practical effect of beholding the glory of God in the Gospel is what separates obedience from legalism. This is perhaps one of the greatest proofs of our salvation in this life while we are yet in these corrupt bodies and yet it is the very thing that should set us apart from the world.

    This is one of the intangibles about those that have been called. In spite of our struggles and our battle with sin we press on because we know not with our minds but with our entire being that there is nothing more valuable than Jesus Christ. Those that have beheld the glory of God in Christ do not recoil when they hear hard truths from God’s word or are called to leave comfort for the sake of the Gospel. If they have beheld Christ as more beautiful than anything then they have no problem with him having the preeminent place in all things. When their young ears hear the Gospel preached in a way that glorifies God their hearts soar within them. These are the ones that uphold scripture even if it calls them to a life of suffering. How few I have met who have experienced this! It is a silent gravity within that points you to Christ again and again as the source of all joy. This is what Edwards experienced when he was saved and he puts it well:

I began to have new kind of apprehension and ideas of Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. I had an inward sweet sense of these things…. My mind was greatly engaged… reading and meditating on Christ; and the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation of free grace in him” (Works 16)

And he had:

A real sense of the excellency of God and Jesus Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God revealed in the Gospel. There is a divine and superlative glory in these things; an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind, and more sublime nature than in other things; a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal. He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends it and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy… but there is a sense of the loveliness of God’s holiness. There is not only speculative judging that God is gracious, but a sense of how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute.” (Works 17)

5.    Beholding the Glory of God in Christ makes us long for heaven

   Finally in this short writing is the fact that those that have beheld the glory of God in Christ long to behold it more fully, namely face-to-face. Those that are beholding the glory of Christ feel less and less attached to their life here and more focused on things that are eternal, which also plays a role in their sanctification. The Puritan preacher, John Owen, in his work The Glory of Christ says, “No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight in heaven who does not, in some measure, behold it by faith in this world…. Many will say with confidence that they desire to be with Christ and behold his glory. But when asked, they can give no reason for this desire, except that it would be better than going to hell…. So it is only as we behold the glory of Christ by faith here in this world that our hearts will be drawn more and more to Christ and to the full enjoyment of the sight of his glory hereafter.”

   Paul had beheld the glory of Christ and this is why he could truly say that it is far better to depart and be with Christ (Phil 1:23). If that is not our ultimate desire then we should tremble and ponder if we have ever had our eyes enlightened. Is what we think we have seen really that beautiful priceless pearl which is the glory of God?

   I have been encouraged greatly to meditate on these things. It causes an unsurpassed joy and excitement to well up in me. I am poor, needy and so full of sin and self, but I have seen something that is worth everything! I have not seen it in my own wisdom or intelligence but because God according to his glorious mercy looked into the inky blackness of my heart and said “Let there be light!” Now all that I know, amidst my brokenness, is that all I want is to see more of him!

My Feeble Exegesis: The Comfort We Are Comforted By

II Corinthians 1:3-10

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
    For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”

   God is the God of all comfort just as he is the Father of mercies manifest in Christ which was discussed in the last exposition. Just as the death of Christ on the cross was the apex of God’s mercy and the perfect demonstration of a mercy that agreed with God’s character so the resurrected Christ is the perfect manifestation of God’s eternal comfort amidst and following suffering.

  The distinction between this comfort and the comfort of a nice mattress  or easy-chair is that this comfort comes in the midst of suffering and brings relief (vs 4) which is not an immediate escape from suffering (vs 5) but a sure hope that as Christ endured suffering “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb 12:2) so also we may be comforted with the hope set before us (vs 9).

  The comfort that we are comforted by amidst our affliction is not an escape from that affliction, but a comfort to endure it (vs 6). Sharing in and not escaping from the same sufferings that Christ suffered (scorn, rejection, torture, and even death) we can have confidence that we will also share in Christ’s comfort, which is our resurrection from the dead and eternal bliss in the presence of His glory. Christ is the source of our comfort because he is proof that God raises the dead (vs 9). Christ is the first-fruits of those that sleep and Paul points out that if Christ is only dead and not risen that we are of all men most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19, 20).

   Those of us that are in Christ should not expect to share in this comfort without also sharing in his affliction (vs 5). Also, just as the comfort with which we are comforted is not for us to hoard so also our suffering is not for ourselves (vs 4, 6). Our affliction comforts others as they behold and hear of our comfort, which is ultimately our confidence that God raises the dead and will deliver us. This comfort is experienced as we patiently endure suffering. Affliction and comfort go hand in hand. Without the affliction Christ endured there would be no comfort, without the affliction of the Apostles there would have been no comfort conveyed to others throughout the world. The invitation to comfort is an invitation to suffering. It is only by picking up our cross that we may experience resurrection, it is only by losing our life that it may be save it. We do not seek out suffering as the legalistic monastics of old did, for this would defeat the purpose. Just as Christ took on flesh and suffered and was afflicted so that we may be comforted, we comfort others in the same fashion. Our lives as comforted ones should be marked by sharing in the afflictions of Christ so that others may be comforted in their affliction. This is the rondoesque pattern of Christ’s church, suffering but being comforted in order that we may comfort others who are suffering.

   Let us not be afraid to experience the comfort of Christ knowing that it is born of affliction. We dare not think that God has called us to stay held up in a fortress of our own fabrication that we think to be the comfort of God, but let us go outside the gates in order that others may be comforted. May we set our hope and confidence in the God of all comfort, that is that God raises us from the dead (vs 9). Because Christ who was so greatly afflicted is being comforted, so we may hope in the same! Praise be to God for His Son who was the original one to be afflicted in order the we may be comforted and comforted so that we may have a sure comfort that touches us even now in the midst of our affliction.

Resolved – Reflections of the Life & Writings of Edwards

Leadership: Aspiration & Preparation

As I read about the rigorous road of academia that was Edward’s path to the pulpit, I was struck with the amount of preparation that was expected of those that would take the noble office of pastor and teacher. There was no Sunday morning pep talk about how everyone is a leader that was followed by a sign-up sheet and a weekend long crash course on biblical leadership; there was only a long road of becoming grounded in the word and skilled in how to exposit scripture that eventually led to the right to stand at the lectern and magnify the glory of God to his elect.

In the 21st Century American church it seems that we have perhaps taken the ideology of empowering everyone to be a leader too far or not far enough.

By too far I mean that we have swung the door open wide, regardless of qualification, for people to exercise spiritual, ecclesiastical leadership in the context of small groups. In the effort to mass produce leaders, especially in the context of mega-churches that are trying to manage their exponential growth, leaders are commissioned in an assembly line fashion with little penetration into whether they meet biblical criterion (i.e. 1 Timothy 3,  Titus 1). Many fail to exhibit spiritual maturity or have situations that would historically disqualify them from leadership (i.e. divorce & remarriage is the most common in America). This loose and easy approach to leadership, especially in the absence of mature accountability, can have manifold damaging effects.

The other side of the coin is that perhaps we just don’t go far enough with our empowerment of leaders. It cannot be denied that there is a shortage of leaders and that problem must be addressed, but I don’t believe we should feel compelled to lower the threshold, but to make the biblical threshold for leadership more accessible through training and rigorous accountability. If I were the lead pastor of a church I would want to know that I was leaving my sheep in able hands and not just willing hands. The fact that currently many leaders are unqualified does not mean that they must always be unqualified. Knowledge and grounding in the scriptures can be obtained, sin can be repented of, and accountability can be reality. In this way we should seek to empower all believers to aspire to leadership and then set the bar for what that looks like. In 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul says that “Anyone who aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” We seldom aspire to things that are easily obtained. I have long aspired to be an airline pilot, but the long and expensive road of training makes it just that… an aspiration. I would not like the medical board to decide one day that anyone can be a doctor, give a couple of weekend classes to those interested and then set them lose to prescribe medication, perform appendectomies, etc! Imagine the absurdity! It should be our longing that many would aspire to church/spiritual leadership and that many would become qualified but it doesn’t come easy.

It is a “noble” things to aspire to a position of leadership, but I think we can learn a lot about how that desire is fulfilled by examining the lives of past church leaders and what was expected of them. Even on a small group level we are not dealing with cold and flu patients, airplane passengers, or social club members; we are dealing with eternal souls. I think the realization of that magnifies that importance of being trained, grounded, and qualified. I was immensely challenged as I considered the path that Edwards took to the pulpit, despite the advantage he had coming from a rich, godly heritage. I hope that I may with sobriety and tireless equipping serve the office I have been entrusted with well.

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